• Srikantham Nagendra Shastry

Veena Padmanabhaiah - Life History

Early life

Veena Padmanabhaiah was born to a Hoysala Karnataka brahmin couple, Sri Venkatanarayana Shastry (Gunda Bhatta) and Smt. Lingamma, in budhihalu, a village situated in the district of Chitradurga in Karnataka. It is believed that Gunda Bhatta, a purohit by profession, was blessed by Lord Ananta Padmanabha and hence the child born on Bhadrapada Bahula Chaturdashi of Shubhakritu samvatsara viz., in the year 1842 ( 15 days after Anantha Padmanabha Vratha), was named after lord Padmanabha. At the young age of three, the boy lost his mother. Since then, he was brought up by his uncle Sri Narasimha Jois and received Bramhopadesham at the age of seven. Though the boy was trained to continue his family profession, "pourohitya", his interest was always towards music which was naturally opposed by his father. Padmanabhaiah's wish was granted when Avadhani, an old friend of the family, convinced his father to send him to Vidwan Venkatesha Shastry of Hosadurga for learning music. Venkatesha Shastry after laying a strong foundation in vocal & veena, advised Padmabhaiah to continue his advanced lessons from his own Guru Veena Shamanna of Mysore.

Veena Shamanna (1828-1908 AD), a junior contemporary of Mysore Sadashiva Rao, served as a court musician for three kings of Mysore - Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, Chamaraja Wodeyar & Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. Shamanna's house was a centre of cultural activities. Many great musicians like Parameshwara Bhagavatar, Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer, Pallavi Shesha Iyer, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer & many more visited his house. Apart from music, Padmanabhaiah also learnt sanskrit from Raja Purohit Krishna Shastry & Asthana Vid. Tammayya Shastry at Maharaja's samkrutha paatashala.

Padmanabhaiah had also mastered the theoretical aspects of music. Once in the royal court, he opposed Veena Sambayya's misinterpretation of a sloka in the treatise Sangita Ratnakara which led to the latter's ire. It was believed that Sambayya was noted for black magic. Krishna Shastry, sensing the danger to Padmanabhaiah's life, preached rama taraka mantra & advised him to chant it the whole night. Next morning, though Padmanabhaiah was alive, his nails were swolled and had turned black. After this episode, he had to use artificial silver nails to play the Veena.

Padmabhaiah was appointed as court musician by H.H Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in appreciation to his enormous knowledge. He continued to be so, during the reign of Chamaraja Wodeyar also.

Padmanabhaiah married Smt. Venkamma of Shettikere in the midst of family quarrels. He being depressed by the rude behavior of his kith and kin, left the house with his wife and stayed in the outskirts of his village Budhihalu. He lived in utter poverty & also lost his two children. During his miserable days, his disciples Pattabhiramaih and Sundara Shastry stood by his side and supported him in every aspect of his life.

Padmanabhaiah was invited for the post of Music teacher in Mysore Maharani's high school and Maharaja's Samskruta Paatashala. So, he returned to Mysore with his wife and also accepted the appointment order to teach music for the Royal ladies and children. He was allotted the first house from he west side in Sita Vilasa Agrahara in Mysore and 5 acres of land in KR Nagar from the Queen Sita Vilasa Sannidhana. Though Padmanabhaiah was short tempered, he was kind at heart.

With his contemporaries:

There was always a difference of opinion between Padmanabhaiah of Agraharagroup and "Veena Sheshanna" of Kote group on flexibility in practical music. As said earlier, Padmanabhaiah being a staunch orthodox musician, never agreed for any modifications. But, Sheshanna being slightly flexible in adopting modern techniques was of the opinion that absolute traditional music was not always appreciable. This rift ended only when Padmanabhaiah's son Shivaramaiah became a disciple of Sheshanna after his father's death.

Chintalapalli Venkata Rao met Padmanabhaiah along with his guru Hanagal Chidambaraiah. Padmanabhaiah had given his compositions to Chikkanayakanahalli Venkateshayya to scrutinize. After the death of Padmanabhaiah, when Venkata Rao met Venkateshayya, the former sang a javali of Padmanabhaiah in the raga Khamach. Venkateshayya was extremely happy and gave all the compositions of Padmanabhaiah which was in his possession. Mysore Vasudevacharya was Padmanabhaiah's disciple at Maharaja's Samskruta Paatashala and also tool tuitions in his house. The tambura with which Padmanabhaiah taught Vasudevacharya is still with the former's descendants. Vasudevacharya was privileged to serve his guru till his death. He also attended the shraaddha karmas every year for prasadam.

Last Days

Vasudevacharya has described Padmanabhaiah as an innocent, sincere human being from Kruta yuga. The devaranama "Tanu ninnadu jeevana ninnadu" of Kanakadasa was his favorite song. He was a religious person and chanted Rama Taraka mantra which saved him from the calamity of Sambayya's wrath. He was fond of Tyagaraja's compositions and played Ksheerasagara Shayana in all his concerts.

But, fate played a cruel role in his life. He was infected by the dreaded disease, an epidemic, Plague. On Ashwayuja Shuddha Shashti of Sharvari nama samvatsara i.e. on saturday 29th september 1900, which was the auspicious day of Saraswathi pooja, Padmanabhaiah the devotee of Kala Saraswathi reached the heavenly abode. He lived a life of an ascetic in the field of music and never aspired for any laurels. Though he lived for a short period, he contributed a tradition of his own to the music field. The saying "Hateshu deheshu Gunadharante" befits Padmanabhaiah.

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