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.