Music

Legacy kept alive

Enriching experience: The ashram of Kaivaram Thathayya. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Driving past the somnolent villages and desolate paddy fields and uneven roads on a blistering hot afternoon we came to Chintamani in Karnataka. We were bound southwards but took diversion and drove into a village called Kaivara. And as we looked on the small lane opened out to a sprawling ashram ground with large white buildings looming in the background.

Curious, we entered the lane. It turned out to be a highly rewarding visit. This was the ashram of Kaivaram Thathayya or Kaivara’s grandfather, as he was endearingly called during his time. Sri Yogi Nareyana Yathindra (1726-1836, estimated) as he is respectfully known, was a saint-composer who lived here.

Steeped in bhakti

Like the long line of composers who have enriched Carnatic music - Tyagaraja, Syama Sastri, Muthuswami Dikshitar, Annamacharya, Narayana Tirtha, Bhakta Ramadas, Purandaradasa, etc. – Nareyana was also steeped in the bhakti tradition and his lyrics are paeans to God. In one keerthana, he says: ‘Narula Prasthuti Jeya Naalukallaadadhu’ (My tongue cannot utter praises of humans). It is reminiscent of Tyagaraja’s masterpiece ‘Nidhi Chaala Sukhama.’ And like them, Nareyana too had an ishta daivam (favourite deity) to whom most of his works are dedicated ‘Amara Nareyana’ (also the ankitha namam in his songs). “There are 300 lyrics extant including those in his geyanatakam, ‘Sri Krishna Charithamrutha Yogasaaramu,’ though he could have written more. The available ones include about 150 Telugu keerthanas, and 21 dasarapadas in Kannada,” reveals Vanarasi Balakrishna Bhagavatar, convener, Yogi Nareyana Sankeerthana Project. One keerthana is bilingual.

Originally a bangle-seller by profession and a householder who renounced the material world at the age of 50, Yogi Nareyana became a great philosopher, and master of ashtanga yoga. He composed a Kalajnana (book of prophecies) in Telugu. His other works, also in Telugu, include ‘Amara Nareyana Shatakamu,’ ‘Nada Brahmananda Nareyana Kavi Shatakamu,’ ‘Brahmandapuri Shatakamu’ and ‘Taraka Brahmananda Dwayakanda Shatakamu.’

Extempore compositions

Like Tyagaraja, many of varakavi Nareyana’s lyrics were extempore compositions. He would burst into delivering songs when stirred by a powerful emotion. Nareyana acknowledged being inspired by Bammera Pothana, author of Telugu Bhagavatham.

Similar to Annamacharya, the yogi’s musical compositions were left behind with just the raga mentioned in some cases but without notation. Veteran musician Nedunuri Krishnamurthi, who set to music about 25 compositions and recorded several, said: “I admire the sweetness, and overwhelming bhakti bhaava of Nareyana’s compositions. They may not be as technically complex as that of the Trinity and only a few can take on raga alapana and briefly at that. But they have sprung straight from the heart of a great saint. They are closer to Ramadasa’s lyrics in style and format. All Nareyana’s works are deeply devotional and richly emotive in nature. They reflect his mastery of bhakti, gnana and vairagya yogas. There are thatva (pure philosophy) compositions too.”

Krishnamurthi changed the original raga of some songs to the one he felt was more suited to the composition’s mood. His disciples Malladi Brothers are among those who have recorded the yogi’s compositions under his guidance. The legendary M. Balamuralikrishna has also tuned and rendered select Nareyana compositions with his characteristic mastery over mood and technique. He said: “Nareyana’s songs are deeply moving with their richly devotional and philosophical content. I feel they deserve to be rendered by more musicians with more frequency.”

Yogi Nareyana also became a social reformer by virtue of his outspoken utterances and writings against social evils, and by his acts of social defiance. His disdain for worldly pleasures, revolutionary pronouncements about social institutions and ascetic ways seemed insance to many around him. But for Nareyana it was a spiritual high he was experiencing. He shrugged off the derision and mockery and actually revelled in that so-called madness. He sang ‘Verri Battera, Manchi Verri Battera’ (I am afflicted by madness, a wonderful madness!) And continued in the same lyric: ‘Moksha Saaramaina Verri Sookshmamuna Dorike Naaku’ (Madness is the essence of moksha and I have found it!)

For decades after he attained jeevasamadhi at the age of 110, according to his biographers, his legacy was kept alive and the ashram is being maintained by his disciples and many devotees including several prominent philanthropists. The former Dharmadhikari of Yogi Nareyana Math, the late M.S. Ramaiah renovated the temple. His son and current Dharmadhikari M.R. Jayaram continues to preserve the yogi’s heritage.

“We have published all Yogi Nareyana’s works in Telugu, Kannada and English; set up the Yogi Nareyana Sankeerthana Project to popularise his musical compositions; and a Yogi Nareyana Indology Centre in Bangalore,” said Jayaram.

“These apart, we regularly hold mass marriages, nagarasankeerthanas and a grand annual classical-music festival featuring leading Carnatic musicians during Gurupournima as a tribute to Nareyana Guru and all he stood for,” he added.


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 3:17:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/legacy-kept-alive/article2128527.ece

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