Lines of love

Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao. K. Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K_Murali_Kumar

Interviewing a scholar can be exhausting. Especially one as vastly knowledgeable as Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao –– eminent musicologist, dance critic, litterateur, author, scriptwriter, composer, and Secretary, Madras Music Academy. My pen struggles to keep pace with his eloquence and the cascade of scholarly insights that every question evokes.

There are dance scholars and there are music scholars. Pappu is that rare phenomenon who is both. Pappu's lectures on dance/music have been adjudged the season's best at Harvard University, Tufts, Krishna Gana Sabha, and Madras Music Academy.

His mastery over the prosody and poetics of Sanskrit and Telugu literature, theory of Carnatic music and south-Indian classical-dance all give him a uniquely holistic perspective on these art forms considering their inter-linkages. He has written 15 dance-dramas, 15 books, over 100 lyrics as also the Suprabhaatam of Dwaraka Tirumala temple.

His latest object of research is javalis and Rasamanjari, a treatise on nayikas and nayakas. A book is due soon. Why have javalis caught his fancy? “Firstly, they are a great form of music. Secondly and sadly, they have receded from music concerts surviving only in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and therein also with much-reduced importance. Javalis merit intensive study.”

Pappu's ongoing study has uncovered interesting aspects. Javalis originated around the late 19th or early 20th century. The etymology is debated –– it was either a Kannada term, as a kind of lewd poetry or has Telugu origins indicating a metre with the gait of a horse of ashwagati chandhass. There are about 1,000 javalis extant today though popularly performed ones are only around 50, he reveals.

Javali composers belonged to all four southern states but 90 percent of javalis are in Telugu following the belief of carnatic-music composers that Telugu with its nectarine quality and natural mellifluousness is the best vehicle for musical expression. Composers include Dharmapuri Subbaraya, Pattabhiramayya, Tirupathi Narayanaswamy, Swathi Thirunal, and Bangalore Chandrashekhar.

Javalis are shringara-oriented, that is love-poems, mostly dealing with unfaithful nayakas (infidel male-lover) and in madhyama or vilamba kaala (medium and slow tempo), Pappu explains. Many of them are openly erotic with some even using obscene language accounting for their gradual disappearance from concert platforms as musicians probably felt squeamish about rendering them. The British banned their publication contributing to this trend. So, many publishers went to Yanam and Kakinada -- where the arm of the British law couldn't reach them easily –– to secretly print a few books.

The only non-love oriented compositions are the Kannada vairagya javalis of Kappana. Javalis –– like padams –– are exceptions to the overwhelming bhakti-orientation of south-Indian classical music. But what of the opinion that the human lovers of javalis are allegorical representations of God and devotee? Pappu disagrees: “It is hypocritical and prudish to attribute bhakti bhaava to javalis.”

Also, with fast-paced songs and shorter-duration concerts becoming today's trend, these languorous compositions requiring tremendous breath control, find no place today, notes Pappu. “The last great javali renditions were by Brinda and Mukta.”

The shringara-rasa of javalis gives them great abhinaya potential accounting for their enduring popularity in dance. “The legendary Balasaraswathi and Vempati Chinna Satyam who were abhinaya-masters were great exponents of javalis as is Kalanidhi Narayanan,” opines Pappu. Many javalis have featured in south cinema.

The musical merit of the javali is tremendous, he says. They are superbly-crafted; reveal great raga-gyaana illumining the grandeur, nuances, and beauty of the melody; their tempo and words are wonderfully evocative of shringara-rasa, and they offer much scope for manodharma.

Popularly employed ragas are desi ones like Pharaj, Senjuruti, Behaag, Hamir Kalyani, and rakthi ragas like Khamas, Mohana, Kapi, Hindustani Kapi and Jhenjhuti. “My collection of 471 javalis are in 63 ragas.

Some use swara prayogas which enhance their beauty. Ramnad Srinivas Iyengar's ‘Chanaro' in Khamas uses kakali nishadam,” explains Pappu, adding that largely used thalas were Roopakam and Viloma Chaapu.

Since time is cyclical, Pappu hopes the heyday of the javali will return.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 5:09:23 AM |

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