Notes On Culture
A Slice of Srimad Ramayana in Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma’s Life
A deeply moving and enriching incident in the student days of the towering scholar and musician, Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma
Of the numerous roads one can take in Tirupati to reach the foothills of the Tirumala mountain, one is adorned with the bronze life-size statue of Ganakalasindhu Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma. The tragedy is that it took about thirty years after Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma‘s death before the authorities realized that it was in the interest of cultural good to install the statue sometime in August 2008. But better late than never.
Even then, the statue is but a minor tribute to this great savant of Sanskrit and Telugu and literature and music, and more importantly, a modern sage who almost singlehandedly revived the bulk of the corpus of Tallapaka Annamacharya’s Kritis. Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma continued this noble and painstaking endeavour that the Tirumala Tirupati archives department had entrusted to Sri Veturi Prabhakara Sastry who died in 1950. Beginning in October 1950, Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma worked with assiduous love and devotion to revive the lost and scattered Kritis of Annamacharya and in 1975, brought out the twenty-second volume! His predecessors including Sri Veturi Prabhakara Sastry had already published eight volumes. In this manner, Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma had performed a profound Seva to Sri Venkateshwara over these twenty-five years.
Neither was this merely some kind of blind or routine devotion he had towards Sri Venkateshwara. It was a cultivated life in every sense. Cultivated and constantly refined by focused study and continuous practice. It was a pristine Sanatana cultivation watered by the Seven Sacred Rivers (Saptasindhu) that included but was not limited to a traditional Vedic education, Sanskrit, literature, music, teaching, scholarship and spirituality. Here is a glimpse into the kind of training that went behind this grand evolution of Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma.
Like most traditional Brahmanas of the time, Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma (1893 – 1975) had endured the ardour of a modest childhood spent in a tiny village named Rallapalli in the Kalyanadurga Taluk, Anantapur District. He was sent to Mysore for higher education when he was just thirteen, where he spent some time at the home of a relative. Then he became a residential scholar in the renowned Parkala Matha (of the Srivaishnava Sect), which enjoyed the status of being the Rajaguru to the Mysore Wodeyar Royal Family. Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma’s experiences at this Matha in his formative years indelibly shaped the rest of his life.
His Guru and the head of the Parkala Matha was the impeccable Vidwan, Sri Krishnabrahmatantra Yatindra who had grown old by the time Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma became his disciple. His eyes were weak and his vision was failing him. At that time, Sri Krishnabrahmatantra Yatindra was in the process of composing a tough, scholarly work titled Alankaramanihara (literally, The Gem-Studded Garland of Poetic Embellishment).
On one occasion, his Guru was looking for some verse in the Ramayana in order to cite it as an example in this work. So, Sri Krishnabrahmatantra Yatindra instructed his disciple to locate it. As Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma opened the Ramayana and began turning the pages, he read out some Slokas at random. The verse he was looking for was located a few pages ahead. When Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma flipped the pages to get to the specific verse, his Guru said, “Don’t stop. Read the same portion you’re now reading.”
The portion in question related to the episode where Sumitra was consoling Kausalya who was profusely weeping at the news of Sri Ramachandra’s banishment to the forest. Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma read the Slokas from this portion at a slow pace. After reading several Slokas, he paused and looked sideways. Swami Krishnabrahmatantra Yatindra’s eyes had filled with tears.
This scene would keep recurring on scores of occasions. The Guru would say, “What is the hurry to complete our work? Let it happen tomorrow or the day after. But where and how will we derive this kind of poetic joy? It is impossible for me to continue to write today. Read some more. Let’s listen to it and feel happy and peaceful.” This extraordinary Swami enjoyed this kind of poetic joy (Rasananda) in the innermost recesses of his Atman. Needless, Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma assimilated this selfsame joy and regarded it as a counsellor who moulded both his inner and outer life.
It is this inner radiance of Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma which elicited the following remark from Sri P.T. Narasimhachar:
Neither was Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma’s unwavering conviction in and devotion to Santana culture, arts and spiritual tradition restricted merely to the realms of aesthetic enjoyment and spiritual elevation. He epitomised the timeless proverb, vajrādapi kaṭhorāṇi mṛdūni kusumādapi (The Noble people are as hard as a diamond and as soft as a flower). One can cite this example to illustrate it.
A famous Communist “revolutionary” Telugu writer hailing from the Pendyalavari family had authored several tracts showing the celebrated characters in the Mahabharata in perverse light. In his old age, this writer completely lost his eyesight and went into depression. On occasion, he confided in Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma: “Some people claim that my blindness is the fruit of humiliating the venerable characters in the Mahabharata.”
Immediately, Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma replied: “I am also one of those people.”
The constant markers of Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma’s well-lived life are the following: unremitting self-study, pursuit of music and literature, avoidance of fame, and a Himalayan sense of contentment. The following Sloka, his own composition, vividly and movingly encapsulates the Darshana (Philosophy) of his life.
anālasyam ca sādhyeṣu
kṛtyeṣvanugṛhāṇa naḥ ||
Let me not be unhappy about that which I have been unable to accomplish
Let me not be proud of that which I have accomplished
Let me not be lazy about that which I am capable of accomplishing.
The aforementioned verse is his prayer to Bhagawan, found in the collection of his verses titled Nyaasakalaanidhistava.
The interested reader is referred to two extraordinary profiles written on Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma by Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy (Divatigegalu) and Prof S.K. Ramachandra Rao (Purushasaraswati), who was the direct disciple of Sri Sarma. I am indebted to both these luminaries for the present essay.
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