Saraswati Mahal Library History & My Association

Spread the love
[Total: 3 Average: 4.7]



NOTE FROM EDITOR: This is an excerpt of the keynote lecture on Saraswati Mahal Library & History given by Prof. Veturi Anandamurthy

I am highly honored by the Celebrations Committee and the TMSSML &RC Library authorities for being asked to contribute an article on the memorable and significant occasion of the Centenary Celebrations of the TMSSML&RC. In view of my association with this Institution, by virtue of being a Tagore National Fellow, and my recent research work experience I have great memories to share. Added to all these, the long association of my revered father, the saint scholar Veturi Prabhakara Sastry Garu (1888 – 1950. VPS], as a mentor and Expert Committee Member of this Library I have many more memories to narrate many of which the present generation may not be aware of.

The name of the present world famous TMSSML & RC has been in vogue with minor variations in the title since 1918. The support of the Govt. of Tamil Nadu in day to day maintenance of this Institution & the financial aid given by the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India in research and developmental activities are the mainstay of this great library. Earlier, it was also known as Saraswati Mahal Palace Library or The Srinagari Granthalayamu built and maintained by the local support of the principal Royal authorities like the great Maratha rulers (1667-1855) and the earlier Telugu Nayaka kings (1550-1673).

In this context, it must be said that the nucleus of this ancient library was formed during the regal period of the Telugu Nayaka Rulers at Thanjavuru and Madurai. The entire story of the legendary emergence of the Telugu Nayaka dynasty was discussed in a book entitled ‘Thanjavuru Andhrajula Charitra.’ It was edited and published in 1914 by Gurudev VPS when he was serving as the GOML, Madras (1907-1939). The book has an illuminating introduction which is based on the rich cultural and literary resources (then unpublished), the then available inscriptions of the period and other available District gazetteers etc. His earlier publication of Chatupadyamanimanjari (1913) also chronicled literary and cultural information relating to Thanjavur which rose to prominence after the fall of Vijayanagar empire.

The Scholar king Raghunathabhupala’s literary merits and political achievements, together with his high-profile erudite minister Govindamantri were described in this book. The other meritorious court poets and poetesses, endowed with rare exceptional talent, were also discussed in the above-mentioned works of VPS.

The fact that the present library, named as “Saraswati Mahal Library,” is situated in the royal palace of the Thanjavur Kings namely “Vijayabhavanamu” is an established research fact. (For more details see VPS’s jottings on royal palaces such as ‘GriharAjasoudha mEDa’ of the Reddy Kings(1324-1424); ‘Bhuvanavijayamu’ of Srikrishnadevaraya(1509-1530). Also see my scholar friend Dr. Arudra’s research article on the inception of this Royal Palace Library).

Incidentally, I may add here that the very first known Royal Palace Library was that of the Eastern Chalukya King Raja Raja Narendra, situated at Rajamahendrapuram (present Rajahmundry), was known as “LakshmI vilAsa nivAsamu”. This library is graphically described by our Adikavi NannayabhaTTAraka in the 11th century (AMB-Adi. I-8).

I may take the liberty here to quote certain extracts from Gurudev VPS’s introduction to his ‘ThanjAvUri AndhrarAjula Charitra’ to highlight the importance of this great library:

“The highly learned Telugu Nayaka Rulers of Thanjavuru established the ‘Saraswati Mahal Library’. There are many valuable texts in that library. Although some were lost during the passage of time we still can find rare palm-leaf texts of scholars like YagnanArAyaNa diikshitulu and RangAji inscribed in their own hand writing preserved there. Although the Nayaka Rulers are not to be seen there today, their wonderful Royal Palace exists. Their court chambers and activity spots, the Ramabhadra idols they worshipped, their structural Chappara-s, Music Halls and armouries exist even today. Having read much about such spectacular descriptions from their contemporary texts I shed tears at their silent grandeur today. Alas! What an irony of fate! I pay my reverential homage to their glorious memory.”

This guide book of VPS surveys in detail the heritage and the historical glorious past of that period.

Gurudev VPS quoted extensively from the then mostly unfamiliar or unpublished works of Govindadeekshita such  Sangitasudha and Sahityasudha, Raghunatha’s multiple texts in saraswati mahal libraryboth Telugu and Sanskrit reflecting his deep scholarship and poesy, Rajachudamanideekshita’s Rukminiparinaya, Rangaji’s Mannaarudasavilasa, Yagjnya Narayana Deekshita’s Sahityaratnakara, Madhuravani’s Sanskrit translation of Raghunatha’s Ramayanam etc. These give a bird’s eye view of the entire scholarship of the period. While commenting upon the unparalleled genius of Govindadeekshita, his sons and their other contemporaries, VPS pleads his inability to describe in words the merits of their scholarship. This is justifiably enough within the short span and scope of this book.

He concluded by saying that “the Sanskrit and Telugu languages thus far never attained the pinnacle as they witnessed during the regal period of Raghunathabhupa. All of them were devoted Somayaji-s, excellent poets and proficient scholars in shastras-s. This jncluded several ladies who were highly talented in fine arts like music, dance and literary fields of excellence. Such a glory was neither achieved in the past nor could be witnessed in future! We could never again see in our life time the birth of such great scholars or unique scholarship. Leave alone praise I do not have the ability to even utter the fact!


Focusing upon the scholarship of Venkateswara Deekshita (also known as VenkaTamakhi), VPS wrote –

Venkateswara Deekshitulu was an adept in puurvOttara mImAmsA shastras, sangita sAstra, highly proficient in poetic craft. He authored literary masterpieces such as Sarvatantraswatantra, sAgnichittyAptavAjapEyayAji, sAhityasAmrAjya, shulbamImAmsA, karmAntavArtika, vArtikAbharaNa, chaturdanDiprakAshikA etc. He was the Guru of NilakanTha Deekshita, one of the greatest poets of the time period. Rajachudaamani Deekshitulu, author of various works like kAvyasarpaNa, karpUravartika, tantrashikhAmaNi, kamalinIkalahamsika, rukmiNIpariNayamu, AnandarAghavamu etc, who adorned the court of Raghunatha raaya, was the son of RatnakhETa Deekshitulu. He was a desciple of the great VishwajidyAGI arthanArIshwara Deekshitulu who had high veneration towards Venkateswara Deekshitulu. I had a great desire to write more about this distinguished Deekshita family, but restricted myself for the moment for want of time and space.”(P.16)

In this context it must be said that VPS, who worked in GOML, Madras from 1907 to 1939, did yeomen service in building up the library by collecting manuscripts under the aegis of the peripatetic section of the Govt. of Madras. He prepared more than 20 volumes of Telugu descriptive catalogs of GOML. These were printed between 1910 to 1940. Ever since he landed in Madras, he developed contacts with the Saraswati Mahal Library, Thanjavur and surveyed the manuscript collections there. Driven by his own personal interest in academic research he used to study vigorously and publish several informative research articles highlighting the treasures of those libraries. Providentially perhaps this led to his special official assignment to Thanjavur in 1916 by the government to asses the total worth of the Library books for some other non academic reasons. This secret mission was narrated in his autobiography briefly (1948). I quote here what he said in his own words about that event.

“After the evaluation work done at the Thanjavur Library we had to do certain follow up work at Madras for nearly three or four months. Hence we had to stay at Madras during that period. Lord Pentland was the Governor of Madras at that time. It was said that somebody, either from England or Germany, instigated Lord Pentland to buy the Thanjavur Library on their behalf. Hence the Government was urged to evaluate the Library’s worth. Consequently, we were sent to Thanjavur. The secret mission of the Governor however was out. As a result there was a great agitation among the public. Finally the Governor had to wind up that mission. In a way the evaluation work we did there was a waste. However the critical notes we prepared were helpful to those who later prepared descriptive catalogues of the manuscripts available in the Thanjavur Library. As our mission was mainly to evaluate the worth of the manuscripts, we gathered and presented only such information needed for that purpose. Since our job was not to describe the manuscript texts we did not present such data in our lists. Nevertheless we thoroughly examined all the manuscripts in the Library. When the mission of the Government failed we submitted all our records to the Library authorities at Thanjavur. In the process of that evaluation work my stay at Madras helped me a lot in restoring my health, study and Yoga practice.” (Chapter 30. Pragjna Prabhakaramu (1st Ed.1951. P. 117-118).”

How lucky we were to have saved our Library from that disastrous event as otherwise we would have had to run for information today either to England or Germany!

In the same context, I would like to bring to light another interesting narrative with regards to Venkatamakhi’s Chaturdandiprakasika Edition of 1917 by the Marathi Scholar Pandita Dattatreya Kesava Joshiji of Pune. In this edition, Pandit Joshi ji inserts a passage in Marathi which talks about one rare Telugu source of information pertaining to Venkata Makhi’s family and scholarship. This has obvious reference to Subbarama Deekshita which quotes all the anecdotes cited above taking recourse to the source from scholar Pandit Kuppuswamy Sastry of the Normal School, Madras. If he is the same scholar by that name as the reputed Curator of GOML, under whose name the descriptive catalogues were published, then the entire source of information of that ‘EkAa Telugu granthAachyA AadhArE’ cited by Pandita Dattatreya Joshi falls back again on the chief source book of Gurudev VPS “AThanjAvUri Andhra rAjula charitra”(1914).

Obviously that source information refers to the descriptive catalogue sources (1) prepared by VPS and published under the name and designation of the then Curator Sri Kuppuswamy Sastry who also worked for sometime in the Normal Model School, and source (2) ThanjAvUri Andhra Rajula Charitra discussed above. (See the inserted extract from the handwritten manuscript copy of the 1918 Marathi Edition of Chaturdandiprakasika of Joshiji).

Regarding the other composers like Muddu VenkaTamakhi and VenkaTavaidyanAthuDu related to VenkaTamakhi, my research has added further information, which was quoted by MahAmahOpAdhyAya R. Satyanarayanagaru who re-edited Chaturdandiprakasika in 2017.

The Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library is a multilayered mine of ancient wisdom deposited in palm-leaves, which is yielding positive results for the researchers in all their required domains, for the past couple of centuries. Still there is ample scope to unearth more information depending on the changing times and the newer perspectives emerging in research. To name a few for example, a lot of work was done on Fine Arts like Literature, Music and Dance by scholars like M R Kavi, VPS, NidadavOlu V Rao, V Raghavan, Sambamurthy, SV Jogarao and Dr. Seetha in the past. But a lot remains yet to be done by many interested like myself. When the available sources at Tirupati discovered Annamacharya of the Tallapaka family of composers and their word content during the early 20th century, no one new about the possibility even of their notated music content.

Fortunately for me, Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library opened up a new path of enquiry in the discovery of their notated musical compositions of the medieval period which were hiding there for the past couple of centuries. This has again paved the way for further exploration in filling the gaps in the field of the evolution of our musicological heritage, revealing the fact that the triple arts like Music, Dance and Literature served as tools and binding forces in building bridges of cultural unity of our great Bharat – India. Let us jointly probe more in that direction as our elders did in the past.

I may further enumerate here a few points that I noticed in the Nodal Institution Sarsswati Mahal Library during the course of my research study as Tagore National Fellow during 2015—2017. This work is under preparation for online publication shortly. The newly discovered content, of my research dissertation, lies in the following facts.

  1. A couple of hundreds of Tallapaka Sankirtanams which are not found in the Tirupati copper plate sources are noticed in their family texts available with the TT Devasthanams. Paralllel texts are available at Thanjavur which are retrieved today.
  2. The Tirumala Music Inscription, located by VPS and his team in 1949 and published in 1999 by our team under my leadership, was an eye opener to the musicological prowess of the Tallapaka composers, which led to further investigation of their notated compositions.
  3. The Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library played a major role in supplying incontrovertible evidences towards their notated giita, prabandha, varna and sankirtana compositions with their signatures in Telugu and Sanskrit languages, at a time when such a possibility was never even dreamt or conceived of.
  4. This led to a further effort in locating many more such notated compositions of the early medieval period in languages like Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi etc., proving the fact that committing music to notation writing was not just a modern phenomena as thought at that time, but an ageold practice that got established in the medeival period itself. Many of these, however meagre they be, are yet to be fully collected, examined and analysed.
  5. Besides all the above, more information on various other names of new composers like ObayAmAtya, VenkaTamantri, GurajAla RangashAyi etc., and new relic compositions deemed to be of that period, like tAnavarNams, experimental innovations like the gadya-padya-gEya-swarasahita compositions, Telugu-Kannada bilingual YakshagAnas began to emerge in research which were cursorily examined in my dissertation.

When judged from the above mentioned backdrop it is increasingly becoming clear now, that the contribution of the Tallapaka family of Telugu composers together with the Kannada Haridasa composers was enormous in the evolution of our Karnataka music and our common cultural heritage. This has resulted in added information on the genesis and evolution of our music teaching methodology which has helped to better frame the curriculum and syllabus of our Karnataka Music.


Your views are valuable to us!