Debate Music

Tracing the origins of Javali

Tallapaka Annamacharya.  

Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry was a unique sculptor of Telugu — he chiselled many short stories, two novelettes, a dozen scripts and about a hundred songs for films. In youth he learnt javalis from a sani (traditional entertainer of the Telugu speaking region) in Machilipatnam and retained a soft corner for that form, slipping it into a few of his stories and many of his films.

‘Neeventha nerajanavowra’ from the celebrated Telugu musical with Pendyala’s tunes, “Jayabheri” (1959; ‘Kalaivanan’ in Tamil) is a gem of many facets. Melodious words that fit snug in the melody give room for ‘sringara abhinaya’ (erotic expression) and linger long in the recall of the listener. These are the qualities that distinguish a javali. Not many are heard in concerts today but happily most dancers of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi include it in their programmes as a dessert. Many devadasis of Tamil Nadu recorded them on 78s, from early 1920s till the late Thirties, Bangalore Nagaratnamma, Coimbatore Thayi, etc. The best of them had a lilt that could entrance even a lay listener, which explains their continued popularity.

When and where did it originate, that is the one-crore question. It is taught in some institutions that Swati Tirunal (1813-1846) was the first composer of javalis, naming ‘Itu sahasamulu’ in Saindhavi and ‘Saramaina matalantha’ in Behag, etc., adding that two brothers of the Thanjavur Quartette — Vadivelu and Chinniah — in his court for a time, might have helped him.




But a person who had access to Swati Tirunal’s note-book says that these songs are noted as madhyama kala padams, not javalis. Then from where did this word originate?

Leaving alone those ultra-pious writers who looked down upon this form as lewd poetry (by their yardstick ‘Kapi madhuripuna’ of Jayadeva would be pornography), eminent scholars Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma, V. Raghavan, P. Sambamurthy, Tumati Donappa, Arudra, etc., all expressed different opinions about the term javali.

My proposition: the form evolved much before the term. This theory takes into consideration their tala (meter), vocabulary, subject, length and content. Applying these standards strictly, I conclude that the earliest instance of that prosody, can be traced back to Tyagaraja (1767-1847). Before the piety make haste to arrange a lynching posse, the following songs of Tyagaraja should be considered.

‘Endu kowgalintura’ (Suddhadesi, Adi) — How do I embrace you? O handsome one, your sinuous ways, your sparkle (kuluku, taluku) are the final word. ‘Chera ravademira’ (Ritigowla, Desadi). Why don’t you come to me? This isn’t right on your part (meragadu)! Like an orphan seeking her husband (tana nadhu). In love with you, I melt thinking of your beautiful face (‘Chinnanade na’ Kalanidhi, Desadi). Receiving immeasurable service from me in my youth, you held my hand (china nade na cheyibattitivi) promising to look after me. Did you think of forsaking me or ruling over me?




‘Nee muddumomu joopave’ (Kamalamanohari, Adi) — Show me your caressable face (muddumomu). Thrill me, as I treasure you in my bosom. Entranced I am (marulu konnanu), O Father of Cupid (madanajanaka). ‘Sogasu chooda tarama’ (Kannadagowla, Rupakam). What beauty is yours! Your shiny temples, red fruit-like lips (bimbasama adharamu), your smiles, curly locks, oh my! The words in the brackets are found in many javalis. The subject matter too, ‘I got into a relationship with you while young,’ ‘You have captivated me and my thoughts’, is found in numerous javalis. All these are addressed to Rama but do not come under the category of ‘bhakti’ but ‘anurakti,’ which is infatuation. Nowhere is it established that the singer is a male. The cadence of the songs, their lilt, the use of the intimate imagery, the simplicity of the thoughts, the words used to express them, establish the fact that these are the forerunners of what came to be known as javalis decades later.

I have retraced this prosody of the javalis right up to the first known author of the Telugu Song, Padakavita Pitamaha Tallapaka Annamacharya (1408-1503). His ‘Alarulu kuriyaganadenade’ in Sankarabharanam, Adi, is now sung like a padam, elongating short sounds into long ones — ‘alaarulu,’ ‘kureeyaga,’ — a practice set by the singing of Kshetrayya’s lyrics. This song of Annamayya fits comfortably into the Desadi mould and the subject matter is the dance erotique of Padmavathi.

When I expressed the above thoughts to Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma who created this tune, he heard me out without concurring or conflicting with them. Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, who modified it slightly into its present popularity, expressed interest in my reasoning and thrilled me by saying that it is worth pondering about.

I rest my case before those who revere the two blessings of Saraswathi — ‘sangeetham, sahithyam’ (music, lyric) — above all other considerations.

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Printable version | Jun 8, 2021 2:40:39 PM |

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