Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

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#1 Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by kittappa » 21 Feb 2012, 12:38

We have read stories about Bobbili Kesavayya and his challenge to the Thanjavur musicians and how Shyama Sastri defeated him. But I heard from a friend recently that this was not true and it was some other musician who defeated Bobbili. My friend himself did not know the whole story. If the incident of Bobbili Kesavayya is different from that written by P.Sambamurti and Rangaramanuja Iyengar, can anyone who knows about it enlighten me?
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#2 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by msakella » 21 Feb 2012, 20:35

Dear brother-member, kittappa, As per the history written by Prof. P.Sambamurthy in his book, when Bobbili Keshavaiah sang a Pallavi in Simhanandana-tala, one among the famous 108 Talas, Shyama Shastry was able to reproduce the same successfully. But, in turn, when Shyama Shastry sang a Pallavi in Sharabhanandana-tala, which is said to have been created by him, Bobbili Keshavaiah was unable even to find the head or tail of this Tala and became defeated as he could not successfully reproduce it. But, there is a hitch in this competition which nobody is aware of. The Simhanandana-tala in which Bobbili Keshavaiah sang his Pallavi is one among the well known 108 Talas. But, the Sharabhanandana-tala in which Shyama Shastry sang his Pallavi is, in fact, a Tala which should not be rendered at all as per Talaprastara. As this Talaprastara, the 10th element of Tala has fully been brought into light in 1980s only. Prior to that this has never been brought out by any author of any century and thus nobody is aware of it. Even though Shyama Shastry is said to have been written some tables of Talaprastara in his note book and accordingly he was also titled as ‘Talaprastara-Shyama Shastry’ it was proved beyond any doubt that he had only copied them from some other book along with some incorrect figures. As none of them is aware that this Sharabhanandana-tala is a Tala which should not be rendered but, knowingly or unknowingly, been rendered by Shyama Shastry this should not be treated as the defeat of Bobbili Keshavaiah. amsharma
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#3 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by RaviSri » 22 Feb 2012, 19:14

Kittappa, your friend is right. Shyama Sastri had nothing to do with the challenge posed by Bobbili Kesavayya. Shyama Sastri’s name was interpolated into the Bobbili story by later day hagiographers. It would be good for Carnatic music if the so-called biographies of Rangaramanuja Iyengar and Sambamurty of the Trinity are not taken seriously. I would only equate them with the ambulimAmA/chandamAmA stories - fertile imagination, dramatic twists and turns, thrilling climax et al., good fiction yes, but very much short on facts. The actual story has been told by U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer and this and other incidents with respect to music have been published as ‘U.Ve.Sa vin urai naDai noolgaL’

The incident is as follows. I’ll try to keep the story as short as possible but without leaving the important details:

Bobbili Kesavayya came to Thanjavur and wanted to exhibit his musical prowess there, since he had heard that Thanjavur was the most prominent seat of music in the South. He asked for and was granted an audience with King Sarabhoji who also granted Bobbili his request for exhibiting his musical prowess in the court. On an appointed day, Bobbili exhibited the Ghanam style of singing. This is supposed to be a very complicated style of singing and includes something called the ‘chakra tAnam' (People may remember that an ancestor of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar was known as Chakratanam Subbier - he might have been an expert in this type of tAnam. Personally I know nothing about either ghanam or chakratAnam).

The vidvans of the Thanjavur court were awestruck at this exhibition of a singing style that they had never heard before, such was the grandeur of the style as well as Bobbili’s prowess at it. The vidvans included Pachimiriam Adiyappayya (composer of the viribONi varNam), Pallavi Gopalayyar (composer), Veenai Subbukutty Iyer, Todi Seetaramiah, Sankarabharanam Narasiah and many other luminaries of those times. After Bobbili finished singing he asked Sarabhoji whether anyone in his court could exhibit this style. Sarabhoji told him that he would inform him and housed Bobbili in comfortable quarters. He later asked his court whether anyone knew the ghanam style. None volunteered upon which Sarabhoji remarked that it would be a shame if Thanjavur could not exhibit this style. “is there none in this sabhai who can learn this style and exhibit it?”, asked he. It was left to Pachimiriam Adiyappiah and Pallavi Gopalayyar to suggest that only one musician had the capability to achieve this feat and that was Krishnayyar. Sarabhoji asked Krishnayyar to learn from Bobbili the essentials of the ghanam style, practise it and sing it in court. Krishnayyar learnt the essential theories that formed the basis of the style.

Sarabhoji requested a zamindar called Ramabhadra Moopanar to provide all facilities for Krishnayyar to practice ghanam. Moopanar, who had much landed property in and around the village of Kapisthalam on the banks of the Cauvery, on the route between Tiruvaiyyaru and Kumbhakonam, constructed a house for Krishnayyar on the banks of the Cauvery and made all arrangements for the musician to practise in seclusion. The practice of the ghanam style involves a lot of physical effort and it seems it heats up the body. To offset this, Moopanar had a person exclusively standing by Krishnayyar with a bowl of butter in hand. Whenever Krishnayyar, in the course of his practice felt that his body was heating up, he dipped into the bowl and ate some butter. Weeks passed by and finally Krishnayyar felt he was competent enough to handle ghanam. Returning to Thanjavur he sang the ghanam style with the chakra tAnam brilliantly. Bobbili himself was happy and conceded that Thanjavur was indeed great. Sarabhoji conferred the title of ‘Ghanam' on Krishnayyar. Thenceforth he came to be known as Ghanam Krishnayyar. There was no pOTTi or triumph or defeat for anyone. Thanjavur exulted that its premier position in music was intact. Bobbili stayed for a few more weeks enjoying the Thanjavur hospitality and left.

Acknowledging the stellar role played by Ramabhadra Moopanar, Ghanam Krishnayyar composed a sringAra padam with Moopanar as the nAyakA and the padam is, ‘mAdE avar sheida vanjanai marappEnO’ in Bhairavi, a favourite of the Dhanammal family. Krishnayyar mentions Moopanar’s name in the anupallavi (nAdanAm ellArkki rAmabhadira sAmikku nyAyamA…).

Incidentally Ramabhadra Moopanar was also a friend of Thyagaraja and the latter is said to have stayed in Moopanar’s place a few times. Moopanar was a patron of the arts, of musicians, poets and also Tamil scholars. Ramabhadran’s father and son were also patrons of the arts and artists. Ramabhadra Moopanar’s great-grandson was the Congress party strongman Karuppiah Moopanar. The latter’s son is now a union minister. They are supposed to be preserving the room in which Thyagaraja stayed in their house in Kapisthalam.

U.Ve.Sa’s account can be taken as authentic because he was born half a century before RRI or Sambamurty and knew people who knew Pallavi Gopallayar, Pacchimiriam Adiyapiah, Veenai Subbukutti etc. He lived in Ariyalur, Tiruvavaduthurai and Kumbhakonam for several years and was besides, learned in music, having learnt from his father and uncle as also from composer Gopalakrishna Bharati.

The dramatic drafting of Shyama Sastri into the 'Quell Bobbili' project and the latter’s plunging headlong into it after composing a chintAmaNi of a song, ‘dEvi brOva samayamidE’, his employment of sharabhanandana to counter simhanandana, all these are the stuff of Tamil/Telugu movies, not serious music history. Thank God, the hagiographers have not written that SS brought Bangaru Kamakshi Herself to the Thanjavur court. That would have been another interesting travel for the Goddess after Her two centuries of wearisome travel from Kanchipuram to Thanjavur where She ultimately settled.
Last edited by RaviSri on 23 Feb 2012, 13:11, edited 1 time in total.
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#4 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by RaviSri » 22 Feb 2012, 19:20

Years ago, in the 1980s, T.S.Parthasarathy brought a descendant of Bobbili Kesavayya to render a lecture on the contributions of the latter. After elaborating his ancestor's contribution to music, in Andhra Pradesh in particular, the descendant mentioned that Shyama Sastri had nothing to do with Bobbili Kesavayya's visit. I heard then that Semmangudi had also endorsed this view in private. I was intrigued but had to wait for several years before reading the actual happening in U.Ve.Sa's book.
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#5 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by mahavishnu » 25 Feb 2012, 01:27

thanks for your scholarly post, RaviSri.
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#6 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by thanjavooran » 25 Feb 2012, 16:55

Many thanx Ravisri avl. The post contains lot of details not appearing in earlier thread Ghanam singing. As regards to chakratanam I remember to have heard this style sung by Madurai Srirangam Iyengar.
With wishes,
Thanjavooran 25 02 2012
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#7 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by kittappa » 25 Feb 2012, 18:59

RaviSri, you are as usual thorough and meticulous. Thanks for enlightening us on the actual story. There must be many such true stories as told by U.Ve.Sa. If you can post any interesting stories like Bobbili's that would be very informative.

Also, the miracles attributed to the Trinity. What do you think of them? Things like Thyagaraja singing 'teratIyaga rAdA' and the screen in Tirupati falling apart. Similar story with Dikshitar at Keevalur, his singing of amritavarShiNi and bringing rain etc. Does U.Ve.Sa or any other objective historian have different stories? You had written in an earlier post that it was a pity that U.Ve.Sa was not a full time music scholar and that was the tragedy of Carnatic music. I also feel the same way. Would appreciate more such objective stories on Carnatic music and its important personalities. Your writings are highly objective, incisive, humorous and highly readable. Thanks again.
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#8 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by Ramasubramanian M.K » 28 Feb 2012, 02:40

Ravi Sri: Thanks for a brilliant exposition on the SS-Bobbili--my family lore relied on the alleged episode--now we stand corrected thanks to your authentic proof. I also did not know that the late Congress leader Moopanar came from a musical patron's family-- I used to see the late Moopanar often in MS Amma's house in Kotturpuram and I was scratching my head as to the connection--at that time TS was completely divorced from politics despite his youth Congress credentials. How fascinating-the story resembles the late Chinnaswamy Mudaliar of Chennai who was instrumental in coaxing Subbarama Dikshithar to write the monumental work Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini.

Such genuine patrons' histories need to be revisited and publicised.

Kittappa: regarding your query about the authenticity of the stories behind Thygaraja's Theradeeyagaradha etc SSI used to debunk these myths and used to say without these myths the Saints works can stand alone and remain for posterity and in a lighter vein used to make fun of the myth behind the Bilahari krithi--Najeevadara(supposedly revived the life of a boy who had died of snake bite). Alluding to the of sangathis in the Pallavi itself which artistes like LGJ TNK et al used to play --SSI used to say in Tamil" Avvalavu sangathi Ayyarval Padi irundarna irukkira usirum poidum--appadi irukka Pona usir eppadi thirumbi varum?(Given the string of sangathis in the song had Thygaraja sung it what little life --if at all any-would have been extinguished and where is the question of revival from death!!)..

SSI was always sceptical(so was PMI) about some of these stories and true to themselves the ones they have been witness to they will relate with authenticity and can be verified(no miracles)
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#9 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by vasanthakokilam » 28 Feb 2012, 03:32

There is a curious side effect created by these stories. People think the Trinity lived in a very distant past. Normally such paranormal/supernatural stories are associated with events happening thousands of years back. The world was supposed to be quite different then and such things were possible.

There is also the general belief that our classical music is quite old. The Trinity composed on religious and spiritual themes. Religion and supernatural/paranormal things go together.

Combine all these categories of vague knowledge and I have encountered quite a few people who intrinsically and intuitively think that the Trinity lived in a distant past and not in our grandfather's (great) grandfather time. Try asking a few people who is marginally familiar with carnatic music ( not the ilk who populate this forum ) about their estimate on when the trinities lived and report back. it will be interesting to know what answers you get.
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#10 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by mohan » 28 Feb 2012, 07:59

RaviSri thanks for the clarification. Only a couple of years ago, a leading musician (who was on a concert tour of Australia) gave a lec-dem about Shyama Sastri and related the 'story' of SS and the contest with Bobbili Kesavayya with the former winning by rendering Chintamani, which the latter could not reproduce.
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#11 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by RaviSri » 29 Feb 2012, 12:46

MKR, Because of their connection with Thyagaraja, the Moopanar family has been associated for a long time with the Aradhana observances at Tiruvaiyyaru. Karuppiah Moopanar was the President of the Thygabrahma Mahotsava Sabha that conducts the Aradhana till he died. Now I think it is his brother Krishnaswamy Moopanar (or Ramaswamy, don't remember the name) who is the President. Ramabhadra Moopanar has also helped the Kanchi Mutt in a big way and was very close to Sri Mahadevendra Saraswati who was the subject of a varNam and a kriti (shankarAchAryam-shankarAbharaNam) by Subbarama Dikshitar. There are authentic stories of the Moopanar family told by U.Ve.Sa.

A funny thing: In the Tamil/Telugu film of the 1940s 'Thyagyya' enacted by Chitoor Nagiah (he was the producer too), there are many funny stories, one of which takes the cake. Bobbili Kesavayya challenges Thyagaraja. He goes to Tiruvaiyyaru and a big congregation is arranged. Bobbili exhibits his prowess (a la Baliah in the Tamil movie 'Tiruvilayadal' - 'remember 'oru nAL pOdumA' by Balamurali Krishna sung for Baliah?). Thyagaraja then sings 'sogasugA mridanga tALAmu' and 'endarO mahAnubhAvulu', listening to which Bobbili gets frightened, admits defeat and flees back to Bobbili. What a dramatic story|

I am really surprised as to why Bobbili did not challenge Dikshitar. He would have passed into history as the only one to challenge all the members of the Trinity. And we would have got another exciting story with a racy, thrilling climax.
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#12 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by mahavishnu » 29 Feb 2012, 20:30

mohan wrote:RaviSri thanks for the clarification. Only a couple of years ago, a leading musician (who was on a concert tour of Australia) gave a lec-dem about Shyama Sastri and related the 'story' of SS and the contest with Bobbili Kesavayya with the former winning by rendering Chintamani, which the latter could not reproduce.
Mohan, I have seen leading vidwans promote this story as well.
As VK says, somehow oral historians have felt the need to confabulate to make the trinity appear "supernatural". I think they are supernatural enough, just by having created such a monumental body of work, that no embellishment is necessary!

I also did not know of Karuppiah Moopanar's lineage. I found his involvement in Thiruvaiyyaru to be puzzling. It seemed like a very small segment of the population for him to cater to for political gain. Now it all makes sense!
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#13 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by classicallover » 20 Mar 2012, 15:27

MKR, RaviSri & others,

All of you can very safely remember these points -

1. There are many different distortions of the histories of the Trinity. In this forum itself, some had posted stories of how Dikshitar went to Thyagaraja's house and sang the Mamava Pattabirama in Manirangu.

The Trinity were definitely born in Tiruvarur, but never met each other . I would think that there was no need for it. They would have heard of each other possibly through their disciples as they say ' fame precedes the person ' .

2. The Trinity were supernatural by themselves due to their compositions as per our standards of today. Other miracles may have taken place. Just because some musicians like SSI had scoffed at these, using their limited knowledge, doesn't mean that they are all false. Are we all qualified to comment on their greatness ?
We would be just better off taking the positive bhakti margam provided by them and get on with our lives. Don't you know the saying - " Rishi moolam evam nadi moolam na anveshayet " . If you start investigating the past history or origins of the saints, sages and rivers, you will have no respect for them.

3. Even though RRI & PS have published the stories, it could be that they might have got it from some source who they could not dispute, unwittingly not knowing that it could be distorted or with the intention that if at all such story is true, it should not vanish altogether. Let us acknowledge the massive contribution made by RRI & PS to music and give them the benefit of doubt instead of hitting out at them with a sledgehammer.

4. Our music has ancient roots but standardised during the Trinity's period. All know that Shyama Sastri was the oldest ( b.1762 ) , next is Thyagaraja ( b. 1767 ) and the youngest is MD ( b. 1776 ). Along with these don't forget Gopalakrishna Bharati who was their contemporary and also his mammoth contribution. Thyagaraja was the last to attain salvation in 1847, just a decade before our first war of independence in 1857. Even though it may seem that , that period is very much within reach , 200 years is really a long time, sufficient for many distortions and warpings to take place - especially given the frugal means of recording, preservation and storage.

5. U.Ve. Swa. Iyer made huge contributions to Tamil literature which possibly he could not have made if he concentrated on music. Everybody cannot do everything. One lifetime is not enough for doing all such things since every field is an ocean by itself. How much have we done in our life so far, to justify our birth ? Do some introspection on these lines.

So stop scoffing and start singing.
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#14 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by Shivadasan » 21 Mar 2012, 18:27

Let me add some information I got from a person who was a leading authority in music and a great scholar in law. I heard him telling some people that in those days there used to be regular meetings of senior carnatic musicians for some of which he was also invited. The purpose of the meeting was to decide which story would suit which kriti. He was so shocked that he never attended another meeting.

It appears that a hundred years ago the musicians sang the kritis of Trinity only rarely. The main stay of a concert was Ragam Tanam Pallavi. But after the stories got into circulation the musicians must have found it profitable to add more kritis to their concerts. Katha Kalakshbams made a vital contribution in bringing the stories into circulation. The musicians in general had a great respect for scholars like Sambamuthy and others and totally believed in their statements. They also supported these stories at every opportunity available. As a young boy I used to listen to these stories with great wonder and I was greatly influenced by these anecdotes until I heard the actual story behind their evolution.

The whole episode has undoubtedly resulted atleast in one benefit for CM . The belief in the stories was possibly one of the main reasons for the success of the CM concert pattern. Even people who did not know anything about CM used to go to concerts to just listen to the krithis in order to gain some punya. For such people a little of dramatic presentation of the songs must have made them lay addicts to CM. Thus the quality of the audience changed from a set of extremely knowledgeable and critical listeners to a group of people who are attracted to CM due to one factor or the other.
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#15 Re: Story of Bobbili Kesavayya and Shyama Sastri

Post by Rsachi » 25 Mar 2012, 21:52

KathA kAlakshEpa is a fine phrase.It means 'a good way to pass time listening to holy stories'. Carnatic music following has a fine collection of stories, and I find the essential spirit of all these stories is to extol the great spiritual aspects of the lives of the 'saint composers'. As long we understand this spirit and absorb the essential message of these stories, there is no harm as such. Exacting research to unearth the true 'facts' is not going to be really easy, just like in any other field of Indian history.
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