Faded Into Oblivion Series (5)
Faded Into Oblivion Series by Vicky Iyengar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
From the Archives – Padyam by Bammera Pothana
చెంచులక్ష్మి (Chenchulakshmi 1958) – “Mandhara Makarandha Madhurya” (మందార మకరంద మాధుర్య); Voice: P Susheela (పులపాక సుశీల); Composed by Saluri Rajeswara Rao (సాలూరి రాజేశ్వర రావు)
Chenchulakshmi, a bilingual (Telugu-Tamil) mythological film produced & directed by the acclaimed B A Subbarao was a musical hit film based on two popular tales neatly woven into one – the Lord Narasimha (Vishnu as half man-lion) blessing Prahlada and marrying Chenchulakshmi (Goddess Mahalakshmi was born as a daughter of the Chenchu tribe Chieftain) after killing Hiranyakasipu. Screenplay & dialogues were by Vempati Sadashivabrahmam with lyrical support from Arudra & C Nageshwara Rao handling the Cinematography. The film ran almost to packed houses. The movie is still remembered for its extraordinary score by Saluri Rajeswara Rao (సాలూరి రాజేశ్వర రావు). The casting included S V Rangarao (Hiranyakasipa), Master Babji (Prahlada), Pushpavalli (Leelavathi), Relangi Venkatramaiah (Narada), Anjali Devi (Mahalakshmi), Akineni Nageswara Rao (Vishnu), A V Subbrao (Chenchu Chieftain), Sandhya (as his wife), Gummadi (Durvasa Maharishi), Nagabushanam (Shiva) & Koderu (Ugra Narasimha). The roles of S V Ranga Rao as Hiranyakasipa & Master Babji as Prahlada were well received by the audience earning them accolades for their near-perfect portrayals on screen.
From the Bhagavatha Purana: After Vishnu (incarnation as Varaha Avatar), kills Asura Hiranyaksha, his brother Hirnyakasipa angered by this act, Hiranyakashipu commences penance to propitiate Brahma and gain a boon from him. The boon was that Hirayakasipa cannot be killed by weapon, human being, animal or other living or non-living entities. Whilst Hiranyakasipa had been performing the penance to be granted this boon, his home had been attacked by Indra and the other devas, seizing the opportunity in his absence. At this point the divine sage, Narada intervened in order to protect Hiranyakasipa’s wife, Kayadhu, who he describes as ‘sinless’. Following this event Narada takes Kayadhu into his care and while under the guidance of Narada, her unborn child (Hiranyakashipu’s son) Prahlada, became affected by the transcendental instructions of the sage even at such a young stage of development. Thus, Prahlada when later growing as a child began to show symptoms of this earlier training by Narada, gradually becoming recognised as a devout follower of Vishnu, much to his father’s disappointment. Hiranyakasipa eventually becomes so angry and upset at his son’s devotion to Vishnu (who he sees as his mortal enemy) that he decides he must kill him but each time he to attempts to kill the boy, Prahlada is protected by Vishnu’s mystical power. When asked, Prahlada refuses to acknowledge his father as the supreme lord of the universe and claims that Vishnu is all-pervading and omnipresent. Finally emerging form a pillar Lord Vishnu as ‘Narasimha” kills Hirayakasipu and blesses Prahlada. Parallel to this runs another story involving Vishnu and his consort Goddess Lakshmi and her parents the ocean king Samudra and his wife. Cursed by Durvasa, Samudra and his wife are born in Chenchu tribe and beget a child after eating a fruit. The little girl (Goddess Lakshmi) and grows up as the fearless Chenchulakshmi. Even after killing Hiranyakasipa none of the present demigods were able to calm Narasimha’s fury, not even Shiva. Narasimha wanders in the forest and it is only after seeing Chenchulakshmi that his anger subsides and marries her with the assistance of Narada.
However, the film’s success has to be partially attributed to the brilliant score by Saluri Rajeswara Rao. The soundtrack consisted of 8 songs & padyams or verses (primarily rendered by P Susheela for Prahlada). The all time hits were ‘Neelagagana Ghanasyama’ (Ghantasala), ‘Chettulekkagalava” (Ghantasala, Jikki), ‘Paala Kadalipai’ (P Susheela – Lyric by Sadashivabrahmam), ‘Ananda Mayee’ (Ghantasala, Jikki), “Adhigo Kanalera” (P Susheela), ‘Chilaka Gorinka’ (Ghantasala, Jikki), ‘Kanaga Raava’ (Ghantasala, Jikki) & ‘Karunala Vala’ (Ghantasala).The other singers included Satyavathi, Vaidehi & Madhevapeddi Satyam.
For the sake of nostalgia, I have chosen a famous ‘prsnotharamaala seesa padyam’ (question-responsorial verse native to Kannada & Telugu literature) of Bammera Pothana (1450-1510 CE) from Andhra Maha Bhagavathamu (Saptama Skandhamu, Poem #150), which is part of the soundtrack sung by P Susheela with such suddhangam and layangam.
Considered the crown jewel of Telugu literature, the Andhra Maha Bhagavathamu is a translation of Srimad Bhagavatham or Bhagavatha Purana (Sanskrit) to Telugu. Born in Bammera (located in present day Telengana), Pothana is considered one of the outstanding poets of the medieval era because of his scholarship in both Sanskrit & Telugu. Nicknamed (in colophon) as “Sahaja Pandithya Pothanamatya Pranitambaina” (self-acquired scholarship) he led a humble and pious life. A staunch devotee of Sri Rama, he had such mastery over the Telugu language that he used rhythm and repetition of sounds giving a majestic grace to the style of writing. He was very skillful in using compound Sanskrit words, alankaras (figures of speech) like similes and metaphors with consummate skill. Even though he was poor, he never cared for the riches or the patronage of the kings thereby facing their wrath often. Pothana is said to have written the following works in Telugu: Virabhadra-Vijayamu, Narayana-Satakamu, Bhogini-Dandakamu & Maha Bhagavatamu. Of the above, Bhagavatam is definitely his most celebrated work, read with great interest & reverence in Andhra, arrests the attention of the reader. Virabhadra-Vijayam (Dakshayajna) is a poem of four cantos containing 1046 verses and prose passages. Pothana’s Bhagavatam is almost double the size of the original Sanskrit Bhagavata. The size of the Telugu version is almost the double of the original. Potana included the different stories relating to Sri Krishna as found in Harivamsa, Vishnu Purana and other works. Especially, stories like Kuchelopakhyanam, Gajendramoksham, Rukmini Kalyanam are very popular and are being widely read even today. Some of the beautiful verses like ‘mandhara makharandha’, ‘alavaikunthapurambulo’, ‘sirikinjeppadu’, ‘lavokkintayuledu’, ‘ghanudabhusurudegen’, constitute the best pieces ever written in any language. The Andhra Maha Bhagavatamu has been printed several times; the first edition was brought out in 1840 by Vedam Vekatachala Sastri; the latest being that of Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, Hyderabad.
Saluri was a trendsetter of light music in Telugu. Some Immortal Compositions in Saluri – Mata Saraswathi Susheelamma’s collaboration are – “Niluvuma Niluvuma” (Amara Silpi Jakkana), “Paadavela Radhika (Iddaru Mitrulu), Ee Musi Musi Navvula (Iddaru Mitralu), “Kila Kila Navvula (Chaduvukunna Ammayilu), “Amma Bangaru Talli ( Palnati Yuddham), “Andala Rupamu” (Bhale Ammiyulu), ‘Balanura Madana” (Missamma), “Ekkada Dachavoi” (Rani Ratnaprabha), “Palakadalipai” (Chenchulakshmi), “Chelikadu Ninne” (Kulagothralu), “Kalam Kani Kalamlo” (Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu), “Mahadeva Shambo” (Bheeshma) to name a few.
The padyam (verse) is Prahlada’s riposte to his father Hiranyakasipa asking him to give up glorifying his mortal enemy, Sri Maha Vishnu reproduced verbatim from the Saptama Skandhamu- Verse #150 of Andhra Maha Bhagavathamu.
మందార మకరంద మాధుర్యమునఁ దేలు మధుపంబు వోవునే మదనములకు
నిర్మల మందాకినీ వీచికలఁ దూఁగు రాయంచ సనునె తరంగిణులకు
లలిత రసాలపల్లవ ఖాది యై చొక్కు కోయిల సేరునే కుటజములకు
బూర్ణేందు చంద్రికా స్ఫురిత చకోరక మరుగునే సాంద్ర నీహారములకు
అంబుజోదర దివ్య పాదారవింద
చింతనామృత పానవిశేష మత్త
చిత్త మేరీతి నితరంబు జేరనేర్చు
వినుతగుణశీల! మాటలు వేయునేల?
mandhara makarandha maadhuryamuna dhelu
madhupambu vovune, madanamulaku?
nirmala mandakini vichikala dhugu rayanca janune, taranginulaku?
lalitha rasaala pallava khaadiyai chokku
koyila cherune, kutajamulaku?
purnendu chandrika sphuritha chakorakam barugune, saandhra nihaaramulaku?
ambujodara divya padharavindha
chintanaamruta paana visesha matta
chitta merIti yitarambu jeya nerchu?
vinuta guna Seela, maatalu veyu nela?
My Interpretation (Emphasis Added): A honeybee reveling in the sacchariferous of Aster-Hibiscus, would he prefer weedy dandelion flowers? A royal swan swaying in the gentle unpolluted breeze of the Mandhakini river, would he prefer the rough dangerous waters of the tumultuous oceans? A nightingale relishing in the juicy young folioles, will he feed on the sharp edgy leaves of the sharp-bladed swamp grass? A chakora bird moon-bathing in the still silence of the night, would he venture into foggy patches & eternal darkness? A Mind’s devotion on the divine lotus-feet (of God), a heightened spiritual plane brought on by that honeyed realistic contemplation. In what way will it redeem to seek another? Listen O kind one, isn’t it obvious where the dialogue leads us?
The roots of music can be traced to poetry in the medieval literature and history. As the saying goes ‘Sama Vedam Idham Sangeetham’, verses & poems (in Sanskrit & other regional languages) have been used to express music. The Vedas themselves have a melodic structure. Take for e.g. the Azhwar’s Divyaprabandham, Jayadeva’s Ashtpadi, Thirupugazh Hymns or Annamacharys’s Kirtans – all have one cardinal element- underlying musicality. In the medieval Telugu literature stories are narrated through poems in standard meters called ‘Chandasus’. Famous among them are the Sanskrit infused ‘Vrutha’ meters such as Uthpalamala, Champakamala, Saardhulam, Mattaebham, and their mutations (Maalikas). Seesa & Kanda Padyams are widely used in Telugu and to some extent in Kannada literature (including Vachanams, Thethageethi & Athevaladhi). Thyagaraja’s “Nouka Charitham” includes both these poetic verses mentioned above. In the Andhra Maha Bhagavathamu Prathama Skandha Verse #222, Pothana uses long Vachanams to show his mastery over both prose & poetry.
Now let us immerse in the immortal verse with a perfect amalgamation of both the ‘Bhakthi Element’ & the ‘Advaitic Thought” of Pothana rendered by Susheela with such ease and grace that one can only wonder in amazement at her musical prowess doused in spiritual nectar. She takes us on a journey via our ears to our soul conveying the natural meaning of the padyam as written by Pothana without farfetched vocal interpretations, giving us an authentic rendition and yet melodiously enamoring. Right from the start not a single strain of fatigue was evident in the length & breadth of her vocalise. Saluri kept the music formulae quite simple, but he let Susheela’s voice (the composer must have known those very feelings) approach our soul laden with ‘dasya bhakthi’ to convey the deep consciousness blending into a transcendental whole – that sense of standing before the Omnipotent, the purpose of human life, the nature of the soul, inner consciousness, and God. Pothana’s employment of metaphysical language (subtly philosophical with simplest metaphors) captures a mortal’s communion with the Divine ascetically taken to celestial heights by our Susheela. Her rendering simply represents merely one of the different angles from which the soul may approach that simple union with God which is its goal.
A Brilliant Kohinoor Gem from P Susheela – A Singer Nonpareil!