Literary Shelf

Humane and Multifaceted Virtuoso

Adivi Bapiraju 1895-1952

Statue on RK Beach, Visakhapatnam. Credit: Aditya Madhav, Wikipedia

The knowledgeable and highly revered contemporaries only can pay encomiums to the activity and personality of a luminary. Of Adivi Bapiraju Kavi Samrat Viswanadha once said, “How can I ever repay the seer’s debt (rishi runa) I owe to this Seer Valmiki and sage Vedavyasa?’ He wrote the following about his beloved Bapiraju:

The line he draws becomes a picture
The words he speaks become a song
The softness of his heart
Becomes a crescent moon
The glance he throws
Becomes a lightning
The thing he thinks of
Becomes radiance
The sweetness of his living
Becomes ambrosial music.

Veturi Prabhakarasastry, the doyen of scholarly chronicles, went into rhapsodies describing the Nayaka Kings, especially Raghunadha Nayaka and his guru Govinda Deekshita. Raghunadaha Nayak the clever warrior and a great winner of fights was proficient in musicology too. Sastry wrote in the preface of his Tanjavuru Nayaka Rajula Charitra that he wrote the book with a desire to worship the greatness of the Tanjavur Nayaka kings. He also felt that Adivi Bapiraju’s novel ‘Madhuravani’ was about real happenings, not just fiction. Madhuravani is the title Raghunadhanayaka bestowed on Shukavani, also called Chenchulakshmi for her all-round skills, abilities and scholarship.

Eminent poet Rayaprol Subbarao wrote a poem about this genius wondering that Bapiraju’s mother must have conceived him under a glorious star and must have fed him with such milk pudding that his voice and words got such sweetness.

Mudigonda Sivaprasad the great scholar and devotee paid an encomium to Bapiraju acclaiming his acumen and grandeur in writing historical fiction. ‘Many historical writers came before and after Bapiraju. But there is only one writer who wrote clearly a research-oriented work. As a rasa siddhaa (the one with the splendour of rasa with a vision of the entire gamut of the beauties of art), the one who can stand comparison to Bapiraju is Bapiraju alone.’

The renowned painter Dr Sanjeeva Dev (he used to fill even a letter he pens to his friend or admirer with a painting) wrote that Bapiraju is creator of a letter, a line, a shade of colour or a musical note, besides being creator of many an other.’

In 1943 Indraganti Hanumathshastry wrote this panegyric on the illustrious Adivi:

‘In his brush that moves
And the verse he writes
Wondrous worlds moved.
The brush making the verse
Melted into mellifluous songs.
Going into whorls
It opened the wonders of dance
To the land of the Telugus.
May the poems and the brushes
Live long in our land.’

Bapiraju was called “Baapi Baava” by his friends. He is lyricist too and at his speeches the audience demanded him to sing his songs. He composed spontaneously the song on Lepakshi Basavanna when he saw the sculpture of Basavanni at the entrance of the pilgrimage. He broke our singing emotionally “ Some Basavanna (the mount of Shiva)! Come rising! Come moving like the peak of Mount Kailash!’ Another unique quality of this lyricist is that he set the lyrics to music also. He wrote the lyri ‘Poola vanamuna’ in the garden of flowers and set it to Raag Vasantha: ‘In the garden of flowers we met, my queen and mw, Glowed with the fragrance of flowers…in the garden of flowers.’

The first revolutionary poet of great eminence like Sri Sri and Bapiraju together used to chisel their compositions to brilliance and sharpness. Bapiraju wrote the poem ‘Jwaalalu’, Flames in 1934:

‘Let the flames fly
Let them rising fly!
Old ideas stinking
Old thoughts gone rusty
Old words rank smelling
Let all those stored in grounds dug
Be put to raging flames of fire.’

He wrote an impassioned lyric on River Krishna:

‘Flow Krishna
Flow Goddess
Flow in our orchards of life
Like the running around
Of the youthful beloved?’

As a genius of multifarious activities, singer, artist, painter Bapiraju has great insight and understanding of the glories of pulchritude, splendid beauty. He painted Paramashiva as Sri Chandrashekhara. The painting fascinated the art critic Cousins, who immediately took it from the great lover of painting and the homeopath Guduru Namassivaya, giving him a cheque for Rs 5,000/-.

A serious thinker of the nature, realities and the condition of human existence, Ghana Shyamalaprasad made a poignant remark that Adivi Bapiraju’s literature was the moonlight that enlivens wilderness, ambrosia that was ocean-hidden and the one that horripilate mother earth with joy. Shyamalaprasad said ‘literature’, for it is much more than just writing.

An ardent ‘worshipper’ of Bapiraju, the one who completed his novel Madhuravani of which the great historical novelist wrote only the first 117 pages, Dr Dittakavi Shyamala remembers the great luminary saying once: “I’m a poet a thousand years behind, and the one who would a poet after a thousand.’ Bapiraju was acclaimed as the confluence of three rivers, trivenisangam, of music, literature and painting.

‘For historical novel in Telugu, Bapiraju’s is the first and unique pattern’, wrote Kalidindi Venkata Rama Raju. He goes further that it was one of Adivi Bapiraju’s several achievements. His novels dealing with the history of Andhra royal dynasties like Satavahanas, Ikshwakus, Kakatiyas and the contemporaries of Chanakyas like Tanjore Nayakas stand unparalleled. In fiction writing, historical novel is Bapiraju’s forte and the pride of Andhras. He took the readers into the old world values and splendours. The novel ‘Himabindu’ is the first of such delineating the nuances in the culture under the Satavahana dynasty. ‘Adavi Santi Sree’ portrays the culture and life patterns under the Ikshwakus. The life and culture of people and rulers under the Kakatiyas is shown in the novel “Gona Ganna Reddy.’ He died midway writing about Tanjavur Nayaka’s brilliant life styles, arts and culture. The 117 pages with the last one left midway were brilliantly completed by Dr Shyamala Devi adding nearly three hundred more pages. The first edition of ‘Madhuravani’ was published in 1987. All the historical novels from Bapiraju’s pen delineate the artistic taste of a high order in the rulers as well as the commoners. However it is not always radiance or moonshine. The villainy of the crooked among both of those in power and the crudeness of their henchmen are not left out. These historical novels enliven perceptions and our thinking too.

Bapiraju as a painter is highly esteemed for his convictions and practice both in sculpture and painting. His painting of Chandrashekhara is acclaimed as his best. (Copy of this painting along with the photograph of the artist Adivi is at the bottom of this article.) An artist with extraordinary eminence, he disdained the idea of showing Shiva with a moustache. His picture of Chandrashekhara has the blueness of the sky in the background. He showed the crescent on the jataajoota with the thin stream and the gushing Ganga very suggestively. Rambhatla Krishnamurty wrote a lucid essay on this. The half closed eyes, the brows, the snakes round the neck and the fascinating posture of dance shown in the feet, hands and the whole gesture are indicative of the painter’s devout imaginativeness, ‘bhaavukata’. The Supreme Being in His dance is highly praised by art-critics.

The painter-fiction-writer, patriot is basically a humanist his heart ever flowing with the milk of human kindness. It is recorded by a friend and admirer of his that he bought a basket full of jasmines just for the joy of seeing the poor woman have a full meal for the day. As a lover of motherland he had the highest reverence for the Mahatma. His verse on Gandhiji, the father of the nation, is remembered even today. Gandhiji is described as the highest peak of the Himalayas and his life as the delectable dance of Umapati, the other appellation for Paramashiva. Dr Dasarathi, a very renowned poet himself, wrote that as Bapiraju sang about the Mahatma the listeners used to think of the splendid whiteness of the moonlight of the full moon in the season of sharat.

Bapiraju was not eminent just as a novelist, short-story writer, lyricist, powerful speaker, essayist and journalist. As a painter he had done admirable work in painting in oil colours, producing excellent pencil sketches and even giving sketches for illustrations in books and journals. He painted Chandrashekhara to his own liking, in his own style. All this he did in spite of the unusual tribulations at home. Suffering never embittered him or dampened his spirit. He is an ardent lover of motherland. He adored Mahatma Gandhi and was in the freedom fight. A lover of motherland he was a freedom fighter too and had gone to jail.

Behind the Bars (1922)

Standing, rubbing the big toe on the floor
Seeing the clouds of her eyes
Hugged I the weight of my heart on the bars
Falling flat at Motherland’s feet
With palms joined in worship
Came I behind those bars
Boasting that her begotten son a warrior brave
In you hiding tears
Saw I shade and flowers
Saw the direction of the Supreme
Wanted the Father’s touch
With permission from mother’s love
The nectar of peace touched by hope
Agreeing and touching the tummy
Mother’s hand is the touch of ambrosia
Mother is the ocean!

(In 1922, when Bapiraju was in Cuddalore Jail, his mother went to see him in prison with tears in her eyes. The poet responded with this lyric that oozed out of his heart.) He wrote the following poem in 1936:

The Aeon Ahead

Play grounds are the Himalayas
Poles sans trees are areas for promenading
Mars and the Moon are worlds for migration
Travel in countries of other inhabitants
Roaming in garden of flower gardens
Entire globe just one kingdom
All religions combining into one faith
All races coalescing into one race
This fabulous dream
Would come true for all time
When would this glorious feeling
Come to us, my friends!

A distinguished freedom fighter and lover of peace he wrote the following poem in 1934:

This very morning becoming cool and fascinating
Threw around peace like rose petals
Thoughts becoming honey drops
Becoming mother of song
The heart turns lights of incense
Manas* sprinkles fragrant drops all around
Life itself blossomed: became fruit and flowers.

(Manas cannot be translated into a single word in English for it stands signifying heart, mind and intellect.)

Bapiraju was studious as a student and an ardent lover of his teacher, O.J.Couldron, the Principal of Govt. Arts College, Rajahmundry. He translated his gurudev Couldron’s poem Endymion. Years later, the great man wanted Bapiraju to be the Principal of Andhra Jaateeya Kalasala in Masula. Mutnooru Krishna Rao gave him Bapiraju the title ‘kulapati’.

Great minds live long and their memories enlighten the later generations. He remains an icon for all time.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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Views: 3394      Comments: 3

A very fine tribute to a great humanist.


08-May-2014 05:57 AM

Comment thanks, mouli
we have to do our best and i am doing my bit
his madhuravani completed by dr dittakavi syamaladevi needs to be
brought into the prsent literary domain
all the best

vvb rama rao
29-Apr-2014 21:00 PM

Comment Thanks for your erudite, informative and affectionate tribute to one the best Telugu writers.He was in no way different from Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore except that he did not attempt scripting a drama.I am not sure whether he wrote any drama.

He is one of the few writers who did not get the required attention or appreciation of myriad half-baked critics of the present day because he can not be reduced to fit into any of the so called 'slots' used to assess a genius.His works have an abiding charm and he is a Yuga Purusha!

T.S.Chandra Mouli
29-Apr-2014 04:23 AM

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