WE HAVE OFFERED but a teeny drop of our devotion to Ganakalasindhu, Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma in the pages of The Dharma Dispatch in this deeply ennobling and elevating episode. As the saying goes, the more we study the lives of epitomized savants, the profounder our quest becomes. Sri Rallapalli, the chosen infant of Sarasvati, who in P.T. Narasimhachar’s memorable words, “generously fed him milk from both her breasts,” served this divine mother with a reverence permeated with an aeolian quality.
Fierce, uncompromising cultural self-confidence is the most defining quintessence of Sri Rallapalli’s entire legacy including but not limited to music and literature. He was the rare diamond that cut through and dazzled brightly from underneath the dust of cultural inferiority complex that had enveloped legions of his otherwise brilliant peers. Even in a delicious essay describing the splendor of Sri Krishnadevaraya’s sprawling, epicurean empire of fragrance, food, feast, celebration and abundance, Sri Rallapalli does not forget to reserve his utter contempt for the “modern” Hindus whose capacity for real enjoyment has become enfeebled in direct proportion to their all-round weakness of the spirit. This he says, is what has led Hindus to the viper-pit otherwise known as a slavish imitation of the West.
In another fiery discourse on the progress of Telugu literature in the twentieth century, we observe the same resolute confidence searing us in acid-burnt prose. Arguably, Sri Rallapalli stands erect among the tallest luminaries who saved classical Telugu literature from sliding down into the unclimbable abyss that Kannada literature has fallen into.
Sri Rallapalli’s unflinching attachment towards and unswerving faith in our eon-honoured literary, musical and cultural traditions stemmed from a twofold reason. The first was the un-erasable Samskara that was instilled within him from infancy, which he fine-tuned like the strings of a Vina which produces no wrong note, and whose Naradaesque music flowed in his veins. The second was his unerring recognition that an imported product is…alien, that it is akin to the deceptive embrace of a harlot whose ultimate outcome is fatal no matter how alluring the short-lived pleasure might b
Sri Rallapalli was willing to earn unpopularity for these unyielding views and on several occasions, his friends and well-wishers found it more palatable to distance themselves from him than swallow his bitter pills of truth. But he remained tranquil and undisturbed owing to the aforementioned edifice of his inner Samskara. An elevating verse composed by his Guru and Acharya, Sri Krishna Brahmatantra Swami, which he was fond of quoting, gives us a clue:
nindatu vā nandatu vā mandamaniṣo
niśamya kṛtimetāṃ |
harṣam vāmaharṣam vā sarṣapamātramapi
naiva viṃdema ||
No matter who criticizes or praises my work
It bothers me not even to the extent of a mustard-seed
Neither am I happy nor unhappy
This inner attitude of equanimity not only made him fiercely independent but gave him the sinews to not aspire for recognition, fame and awards. In fact, he defines independence in words that can emanate only from seasoned experience:
When Sri Rallapalli echoes this in verse, it transports us to a world from which we wish we never return.
pāravaśyam bhavadvaśe |
paśyatāṃ naḥ sadā cittaṃ
samādhattām śamādhvani ||
What we call independence is the Sankalpa of the divine. We are forever under his submission. When this realization dawns upon us, our mind will automatically embrace the path of contentment.
In Sri Rallapalli, this realization was akin to his heartbeat.
Given this backdrop, it was but natural for him to bludgeon anyone who injured these deeply-held convictions. A notable episode is directly related to the so-called ‘modernist’ trend in Telugu literature that gathered steam after the 1930s.
Sri Rallapalli’s senior contemporary was a famous Telugu writer whose family name was Pendyalavaari (literally, “from the Pendyala village”). He was fired with revolutionary zeal, influenced by the intense atmosphere of Communism that had spread like wildfire all over Andhra. Quite obviously, his literary mantra was premised on a thorough rejection and violent denunciation of everything in the Sanatana past. Pendyalavaari’s special targets included the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and our traditional classics of literature.
Although Sri Rallapalli was personally acquainted with this writer, he had maintained a studied distance over the years. Then in his old age, Pendyalavaari lost his eyesight and lapsed into depression and self-pity. One day in a casual conversation, he lamented to Sri Rallapalli:
“People keep telling me that I am suffering this sorry fate because I wrote horrible things about the characters of the Mahabharata. They say that my blindness is the fruit of such sins. Can there be anything crueler!”
Sri Rallapalli instantly shot back:
“I am also one among those people.”
A stunned Pendyalavaari probed further:
“Why? Aren’t you a votary of the truth? Have I written anything that is untrue?”
Sri Rallapalli replied in a decisive tone:
“Swami, even if we accept your stand that our ancients were indeed endowed with faults, can’t you forget them at least now, after the lapse of so many centuries? All of them belong to an era of untold antiquity. What is the ultimate purpose of your love for truth that unearths only their faults and advertises them to the world once again? If such advertisement is your only purpose, why do you need to travel to the era of the Pandavas and Kauravas? It is far easier for you to excavate the childhood or teenage mistakes of your parents and publicize those stories and establish your great love for truth. Right?”
Sri Rallapalli’s retort was polite and spoken in a refined tenor but its impact was akin to a backhanded slap, reminding us of Rumi’s famous couplet:
Sri Rallapalli had shown Pendyalavaari his true place as a Dharma-Drohi (traitor to Dharma) without a trace of malice. To his credit, Pendyalavaari took the criticism in his stride.
But we live in an era of abundant Dharma-Drohis whose vandalism of our sacred literature is so thorough that the term obscenity itself sounds like satire. That era had a Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma who could effortlessly reduce them to dust. Our own era has Hindu “activists” and TV panelists whose lung power exceeds their ignorance.
Cultural self-confidence cannot be learned but must be incessantly cultivated by watering the Sanatana farm within and plucking out the weeds that intrude on it from without.
Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma was one such exalted cultivator leading Prof. D.L. Narasimhachar to remark that his speech and writing were clean, pure, and clear like Sphatika. Those who have gazed at alum, held it lovingly in their hands will understand the full meaning of this remark.
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