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The divine poetry

Brinda and T Mukta, the yesteryear duo of honourable musical lineage, make you think inevitably of the dynamics of maadhurya bhakti.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2006 19:01 IST

I’ve been catching up on Carnatic music all of last week and in this spell of high religious holidays, many of which were about tyaag (fasting) and way away from bhog (feasting), it made an intriguing emotional contrast. The padams or devadasi love songs sung by T.

Brinda and T Mukta, the yesteryear duo of honourable musical lineage, make you think inevitably of the dynamics of maadhurya bhakti (“honeyed devotion”).

This is most graphically expressed in very physical terms, by the 17th century Telugu composer Kshetragna, also called Kshetrayya. Many of us may know Kshetragna through the late scholar-poet AK Ramanujan. Provocatively called When God Is A Customer his translation of Kshetragna’s erotic padams  can make prudes faint.

The padam  was basically composed for a devadasi  to dance to and expresses the fervent love of the composer for God. These delicious love songs are usually sung at a slow pace and are still vehicles for the modern dancer to exhibit her skill in conveying emotion. More, she is expected, as a brave and solitary figure, to weave a magic web, to create a forcefield of feeling, into which she draws us, the spectators. We’re supposed to transcend with her, through the lyrics, music and dance, to a sense of one-ness with the One.

Kshetragna is applauded as the master of this delicate, complex form. Not much is known about him except that his real name was Varadayya, he belonged to the Andhra village of Muvva and his padams are always about his village deity, Muvva Gopala (Krishna).

But hark at T. Subba Row’s Theosophical Society notes on the Bhagvad Gita 13:1-4: “O son of Kunti, this body is called Kshetra (Upadhi or vehicle). That which knows this (Kshetra) the wise call Kshetragna (the real self or Ego).