Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasu

Pandit Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (b. 31 August 1864, d. 2 January 1945) is known as the versatile genius of Andhra Pradesh. He was a poet, musician, dancer, linguist and philosopher. He was born in Ajjada village, near Bobbili, presently in Balijipeta mandal of Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh, India.


Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy, eminent litterateur, educationist and founder Vice Chancellor of Andhra University described Adibhatla Narayana Das as a ‘university’. Sir Ramalinga Reddy was not exaggerating for Narayana Das was a linguist with proficiency in as many as eight languages including such alien languages as Arabic and Persian, poet, philosopher, writer, composer, dancer, actor and the creator of the unique art form, Hari Katha.

It is well nigh impossible to find a parallel for him in the history of Indian literature. Narayana Das was the only scholar who had mastery over four classical languages (Sanskrit, Telugu, Arabic and Persian) and translated from Persian and English into Sanskrit and Telugu; the only litterateur who wrote a comparative treatise on the works of Kalidas and Shakespeare; the only writer-composer who translated into Telugu and set to music Rig Vedic hymns and the only writer-composer who composed a geeta-malika comprising 90 Carnatic ragas. As a writer-composer who composed music in all the 72 Carnatic ragas he was next only to Saint Thyagaraja.

Enraptured by his rendering of Hindusthani Bhairavi raga, Rabindranath Tagore sought to introduce in Visva-Bharati University the curriculum followed by Narayana Das in his music college.

He had mastery over several Indian and classical languages like Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, English, Arabic and Persian. He was also a performer of Astavadhanam. He has written over a hundred books in Telugu, Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu or Telugu unmixed of Sanskrit. His works ranged from children’s literature to philosophical treatises.

His literary output was voluminous. He wrote original Kavyas and Prabandhas that reflect a rare creative genius, erudition and great felicity of expression. He wrote over fifty books in Telugu, Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu (Desyandhramu or Telugu unmixed of Sanskrit). His works included original story-poems (Kavyas and Prabndhas), Harikathas, prose works, musical works, dramas, translations, treatises in philosophy and Vedic studies and children’s literature.

He felt that Edward Fitzgerald’s English translations did not do justice to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s poetry. In order to demonstrate his viewpoint he translated both the original quatrains of Omar Khaiyam and Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation into two languages - Sanskrit and Atcha Telugu in different metres. The work entitled The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1932)[1] was acclaimed as a rare literary feat by the literati of his time. In a rare tribute, a leading newspaper reviewed the book as an editorial entitled A Monument of Scholarship.

In another voluminous display of scholarship he compared the works of the Sanskrit dramatist Kalidas with those of Shakespeare. Entitled Nava Rasa Tarangini (1922) the book annotates passages consisting of the nine rasas or moods from the dramas of both the dramatists by translating them into Telugu.

His magnum opus was his two volume philosophical work entitled Jagad Jyothi, in which he recorded his musings on various Indian philosophies, even accommodating atheist viewpoints.

His Sanskrit works include Harikadhamrutham a compilation of three Hari Kadhas, Tarakam an original allegorical poem and two Satakas Ramachandra Satakam and Kasi Satakam. A Satakam usually consists of 100 verses written in the same prosody.

He composed a lyric, entitled Dasa Vidha Raga Navathi Kusuma Manjari employing 90 ragas in the Manjari metre. Such a composition has never been attempted and is a testimony to his rare mastery over poetry and music. He set to musical notation 300-odd select ruks from the Rigveda in a work entitled Ruksangraham and taught playing them on the veena to students but also translated them as poems in Telugu.

His musical accomplishments left him peerless in his time. Maestros of the musical world honoured him with titles like Laya Brahma and Panchamukhi Parameswara for his ability to sing to five different Talas, beat with the two arms, two feet and the head. Five different musicians used to keep time with him when he performed Panchamukhi.

The literary and musical elite of his time joined to honour him with the title Sangitha Sahitya Sarvabhauma.

Fusing the sister realms of poetry, music and dance he created a new art form which he called the Harikatha. Harikatha has a divine mythological core with poetry and music as the medium. Dance and histrionics form the visual expression.

The exponent of Harikatha should be able to compose and recite extempore the objective of the performance being to entertain and educate both the layman and the erudite scholar. Having invented the vehicle, he wrote twenty one Hari Kadhas, seventeen in Telugu, three in Sanskrit and one in Atcha-Telugu.

He was the first principal of the Maharajah's Government College of Music and Dance (Vijayarama Gana Pathasala) established by the Maharajah of Vizianagaram in 1919. The Maharajah in fact established the Music College, which was among the first few in South India, to honour the Pandit and enable enthusiasts to learn music from him. Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu the well-known Violin maestro was a lecturer in the college during the Pandit's tenure and succeeded him as principal.

He entranced Rabindranath Tagore with his rendering of Hindusthani Bhairavi. Tagore sought the curriculum of the Vizianagaram Music College to be introduced in Santhiniketan.

A characteristic trait we notice in a number of instances in the life of Narayana Das is a compulsive urge to excel in everything he did. The conception and renunciation of ‘Naa Eruka’, his autobiography is an example that provides a fascinating insight into his complex personality. He began writing what would have been the first autobiography in Telugu and sent the initial chapters, narrating his life story from birth to the age of about thirty, to the printers. There was a delay at the printers due to pressure of work and in the meantime another famous writer’s autobiography came out. Narayana Das called off the project because of his obsessive desire to be ‘second to none’. Thus was lost to the public not only an opportunity to read the great man’s life story told in his own words with remarkable candour, but also his perspective of his literary output and the literary and cultural zeitgeist of his time.

In the parlance of modern behavioural sciences the phrase ‘self-actualisation’ is defined as a ‘fundamental tendency to maximum realisation and fulfillment of one’s potential’. In the case of an artiste this means he tends to write, compose or perform to satisfy an inner urge oblivious to the environment. He competes only with himself. He sets his own standards of performance and after achieving them keeps raising them to a higher level. It is a continual upward spiral.

Self-actualisation was the leitmotif of Narayana Das’ life in all the fields he worked in, be it literature, music or other performing arts such as Avadahanam, and Hari Katha. He brushed aside fame and fortune. For example it was said that he did not approve of a move to nominate him for the Nobel literary prize. The philosopher in him made him decline offers to be made court musician by the Maharajah of Mysore and later by the Maharajah of Vizianagaram, instead preferring an independent life lead in the service of God.

Even when he consented to head ‘Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala’, the music college the Maharajah of Vizianagaram founded for the express purpose of honouring him, he insisted that it be treated as a temple for Sri Rama and him as His servant. The only vanity he permitted himself was that he wanted to be second to none!

References and external links


  1. ^ Omar Khayyam; Edward FitzGerald; Azzada Adibhatla Narayana Das (1932). Rubāʻiyāt-i ʻUmar Khayyām = Rubâiyât of Omar Khaiyâm. Mazgon: British India Press. OCLC 498612579. , reprinted 1936 OCLC 2836529

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