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The colourful world of the Nayaks


Grace and grandeur mark the lifestyle of the Nayaks. Fourth in the series on Sarasvati Mahal Library.

The Telugu language is represented by more than 1,000 manuscripts in the Sarasvati Mahal Library. They are on epics medicine and astrology. Our ancestors seem to have preferred Telugu as a language medium for literature. The best works on music, dance and drama can be found in this library.

One of the earliest composers of Carnatic music was Purandaradasa. Several of his songs, with notation, are in the Telugu script and are found as manuscripts called `Suladhi' (song in Kannada/Bandira Basha). An 18th century work, `Ragalakshanamulu' describes the methods in which ragas are to be sung and supplies swarams for the musicians to practice. While the swarams carry no diacritical remarks, explanations are very clear and most texts teach the raga in the same manner.

Just as Raghunatha Nayak is known as the most musical among the Thanjavur Nayaks for his changing the veena to incorporate additional frets and for inventing ragas Jayantasena, Maratha King Shahaji was probably the most musical in his dynasty. His favourite deity was Tyagaraja and that was his mudhra in the songs he composed. It is said that it was this king who got the name Tyagaraja into popular use. His padams (love poems) are dedicated to several of the temples in and around Thanjavur. A Dwijavanti padam, "Mannaru deva ninnu rammanaru" on the Rajagopala temple is of particular beauty since all lines begin and end with Mannaru. Shaji's keerthanais are also soaked in deep devotion.

Worthy of special mention is Vijayaraghava Nayak's (1633-75) work on his father Raghunatha Nayak. Raghunathabhyudayamu is an epic-drama with Raghunatha Nayak as the hero. The story is about the heroine's love for the hero and how they are united with the help of a messenger. The work gives us minute details of the lifestyle in the palace. Significantly the Marathas seemed to have added on to the Nayak palace and several of today's buildings were around even in Nayak times. And the king's sartorial splendour and jewellery are described in vivid detail.

King's procession

A scene depicting the king inspecting the several fine elephants — Ramabanam, Rajasimham, Muddumurari — he had. Our royal writer informs us that the elephants were beautifully painted especially on their foreheads and wore red coloured cloth of Gujarati design — "Gujarati jathi kempula" and several pearl strings.

Having chosen his elephant, the king and his two sons mount the wooden howdah and the king holds a "muthu chendu" (pearl bouquet) in his hand. The procession moves around the city to the accompaniment of music from several varieties of horns (Kombu), Argajam, Tavil, Beri, Dhaka all preceded by holders of the Garuda dhwaja. Returning from the procession, he rests for a while in the Lakshmi Vilasa on a chair with lion motifs — the durbar hall of today's palace in Thanjavur. He then grants audience in the Rama Soudhan beneath the Indira Mandiram (today's arsenal tower), both of which are part of the complex that houses the art museum in the palace complex in Thanjavur. The Nayak listens to accounts of what is due from different vassals and also watches padams danced in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada (the Nayaks after all were from Karnataka). The verses mention the presence of Punnai trees in both these areas since they were favoured of the principal deity of the Nayaks. The text also mentions a Rajagopalaswami temple in the vicinity.

The king's feast and the vessels used to dispense the delicacies are a pleasure to read. The feast over, the ruler retires to Sringaravanam, and is seated on a "parangi naarkali" of an orchard that has a fountain (jalasutram). . The Nayaks were great lovers of music. The text lists the names of several of the dancing girls in the court and also what they were proficient in. Pappamaal was famous for Chauka kaala padams, Moorthiambal was famous for the Jakkini Dharu, Komalavalli for rendering Kuram songs, Sashirekha for folk songs, Bagirathi for her troupe of 10 girls. Women sat on either side of the king and played instruments such as the kinnara, dakki, tambura, "gettu", rubab, mukhaveenai and dhandai. At this juncture, the Nayak is enamoured of our heroine and finally accepts her.

As the verses are recited and translated, one is transported to a different world.

Fortunately, this book like most of the important books, has been published by the library with the original text and translations, predominantly in Tamil.

(The author thanks N. Viswanathan, the Telugu Pandit in the library, for helping him with the research.)

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