Friday Review

Ogirala Veeraraghava Sarma: Musician for all times

Life and times of Ogirala Veeraraghava Sarma  

Among the galaxy of great Carnatic musicians and composers of the 20th century, an outstanding name was Ogirala Veeraraghava Sarma aka Sri Bhakta Gnanananda Teertha (1908-1989). He is also one of those composers who are gradually being forgotten with his lyrics finding little space on today’s concert platforms.

During his time, however, Raghava and his work as performer and composer enjoyed wide recognition and respect. He gave critically acclaimed concerts. His compositions were much appreciated by legends of Carnatic music.

For all this fame and stature, Raghava was a simple person, with an intense spiritual orientation. He attributed all his success to the ‘grace of Goddess Gayatri’ of whom he was a lifelong devotee and upasaka. He would say: “All my compositions are inspired by goddess Gayatri.”

Born on March 23, 1908, in Dhenuvakonda (near Ongole), Andhra Pradesh, he learnt the Vedas from his father and Carnatic music from musician-composer Hari Nagabhushanam. He performed penance for years following which the name Gnanananda Teertha was bestowed on him by his spiritual preceptor Srinathananda Theertha.

However, his guru told him to become a householder. This spiritual name was first revealed by Raghava to the world including family when he used it in a composition Valasinademi Janani (Reetigowla ragam) in 1976.

He gave hundreds of performances over radio and onstage across south India beginning his music-career in Chennai. Raghava composed lyrics even as a child like Vevega Rava (Kapi) and Amba Nannubrova! Only five or six of these remain. The rest are lost. A few survive in the Dasa tradition in Andhra. As an adult, his first composition was Kavave Kamakshi (Jaganmohini).

His documented body of work (ie, as an adult) consists of 86 compositions — 85 kritis and one tana-varnam — in Telugu and Sanskrit, in 53 ragas. Two use the unusual Sankeerna Triputa talam. He invented two new ragas, Pranavapriya for the composition Paadaravindamule and Srinathanandaranjani for Paratpari, his last composition. His compositions fall into ‘Gyana’, ‘Vairagya’ and ‘Bhakti’ categories. They were published in a book Deviganasudha (available in Telugu and Tamil).

His compositions are likened to that of the trinity. Like Thyagaraja, his compositions were often inspired by an incident and burst forth in a moment of strong emotion. Like Syama Shastri, his documented lyrics are on various forms of the Devi like Madura Meenakshi, Kanchi Kamakshi, etc, and even the grammar is similar.

However, Raghava was probably the first vaggeyakara to compose on goddess Gayatri. The three compositions are Sri Gayatri (Valaji), Devi Gayatri (Huseni), Aparakrupanidhi (Gnanandavardhani aka Gambhiranata). Also, interestingly, as his son and music-disciple Guntur-based Ogirala Ramakrishna reveals: “My father used two mudras for compositions -- Raghava till 1982. After that (1982-89), it was Gnaanananda Teertha beginning with the composition Manasa (Surati).”

Among Raghava’s other disciples were his own daughters who performed as a duo, Vimala-Lalitha, for several years; Dharwada Hanumantha Rao; Krishnaveni-Pushpavathi; etc. Vimala says: “He was a loving father.

However, as a teacher he was very strict and a perfectionist.” Raghava established an ashram Gayatri Panchayathana Peetham at Kovvuru, Andhra Pradesh. His daughter T. Bharathi now takes care of this. She has also instituted an annual award, ‘Bhakta Gnanananda Teertha Memorial Award’. Recipients include Balamuralikrishna and Hyderabad Sisters.

Vimala and her sons have constructed a website from where authentic renditions can be downloaded.

The son Ramakrishna keeps the legacy alive by rendering and teaching his compositions — a few of Raghava’s compositions rendered by him are at Raghava’s compositions occasionally feature on AIR’s Bhaktiranjani and Doordarshan.

Copies of Deviganasudha are available on request for musicians, free of cost, by writing to:

Gayatri Panchayatana Peetham, Shri Gayatri Nilayam, Door No 12/04/28, Bapuji Nagar, Kovvuru, West Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh-534350.

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Printable version | Jan 11, 2022 1:10:38 PM |

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