Book Of The Month - Pallaki Seva Prabandha

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Pallaki Seva Prabandha

An 18th Century work that is remarkable piece of poetry and music is a must read for all those interested in History and Music.

Shahaji's Pallaki Seva Prabandhamu is an opera based on a ritual offering in the temple of Tiruvarur. The hero of this story is Tyagesha and the heroine is mentioned as Parvati, leaving us to surmise who the heroine of the story is - Neelotpalamba or Kamalamba.

This is a Geya natakam. Historically, one can trace the roots of geya natakam to Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam, Krishna Leela Tarangini of Narayana Teerthar. Other well known ones are Shri Tyagaraja’s ( 1767- 1847) Nouka Charitram, Prahlada Bhakta Vijayam, Arunachala Kavi’s (1711-1779) Ramanatakam and Gopala Krishna Bharati’s ( 1811- 1896) Nandanar Charitram.

The manuscript of the Pallaki Seva Prabandha is available at the Saraswati Mahal Library in Tanjavur. Prof Sambhamoorthy mentions that Dr. V. Raghavan brought to his notice,the text of the opera in a work of Subbarama Dikshitar in 1896 and subsequently he traced the songs in the oral tradition. He heard it being rendered by one Veerammal and notated the songs. He then brought out the lyrics in Telugu and the song and notation in Tamil script in a book and also presented it on All India Radio as a musical presentation

Three books are available at the Music Academy Library, each covering a different aspect of the opera:

Pallaki Seva Prabandham - Telugu Opera of Shahaji Maharajah (1684-1710) by P.Sambamoorthy (1955)

Pallaki Seva Prabandha - A Musical Opera of King Shahaji by Gowri Kuppuswamy (1977)

Pallaki Seva Prabandhamu- An Opera by Sahaji Maharaja (A collection of Essays) (2012)

The first book contains an introduction to the Sankara Pallaki Seva Prabandha with significant details both in Telugu and Tamil. The notation of all the darus is given in Tamil along with the meaning of the songs. This book also contains the text of the Vishnu Pallaki Seva Prabandha.

Gowri Kuppuswamy on the other hand, traces the genealogy of the ruler Shahaji, gives an introduction to the patron king and goes on to explain her interpretation of the contents of the Prabandha. She also speaks of the musical contribution of Shahaji before going into detail about the literary forms and allusions in the opera.

The third is a more recent work. This contains a preface by Gopalkrishna Gandhi and essays by Dr. Davesh Soneji on the Sankara Pallaki Seva Prabandha, Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao on the Literary Merit of the Prabandha, and a note by R. Vedavalli on the musical exposition and interpretation of the Prabandha. Apart from this, there is the text in Telugu and transliteration in English as well as a translation of the entire Prabandha.

The story line is simple. Parvati is suffering pangs of separation from her lord. Though she is the heroine, she is seen briefly, her sakhis make up much of the story. They see Siva surrounded by gods and Nandi wielding a stick standing in front of him and they wonder how to approach him. They wonder whether to approach him through his ornaments - the Ganga that flows through his matted hair, the little deer in his hand, the serpent that adorns his head and the moon but they find each of them unsuitable for some reason and muster courage and approach him directly. Siva calls for a palanquin and comes to Parvatis abode where they are united.

There are

  • Daruvus or darus which are derived from the word from Dhruva , a song with a story line
  • Vacanas or prose lines used to provide the link to the story line to convey scene changes, actions performed etc sung almost like a recitation without any ragas
  • Vruttam or metric poems in different Telugu metres like kanda padyam, campakamala, utpala mala. These are sung without the tala or beat cycles

The opera begins with a dvipada in praise of Siva and Parvati and with a prayer that Shahaji's poetry remains forever, as long as the stars and moon shine!

This entire opera is based on a real ritual practised in the Tyagesa temple of Tiruvarur. Naturally Shahaji included all the other ritual offerings to the lord in the form of his darus. They include heccarika, lali, unjal, pavvalimpu and aragimpu or offering of prasadam

To give an example of some verses from the work:

In this work Nandi says the heccarika as a prologue. A kandapadya before the heccarika describes Nandi with a cane. Nandi is the guard when Siva is doing penance. Surely Shahaji must have been influenced by the literature that existed and was in vogue in his time as there is a similar verse written by Kalidasa picturing Nandi with a cane under his arms and a finger on his lips. This kanda padyam uses the word Nandi many times as a pun

||ka|| brundāraku landaru haru vandanamulonarpa nandi vaḍibettamucē nandi sadānandi gaminnandi nutiñceḍini jalajanayanaro vinavē

The Sakhis try to approach Siva but find it difficult as Siva is surrounded by Devas. 'The Lord with the 3rd eye is holding full court, There is such a crowd around him, says a sakhi- there is no place even to put down a raised foot!'

The sakhis wonder how they can approach Siva and ask him to come

  • at a time when he is conversing pleasantly with the one with ten guises/ avatars padi veṣamula sāmi ( Vishnu)
  • at a time Brahma is briefing him about the ways of the world
  • at a time when Indra is placing the affairs of his state at his feet and Siva is assuaging his fears
  • and Parvati’s sakhis are even more diffident to call the Lord while he is listening to the fine poems of Saha Maharaja

One can see the subtle way in which the poet brings his own name into the verse. One can also see a clear protocol where Vishnu gets to meet Siva first followed by Brahma, Indra and then the others.

The sakhis finally gather courage and approach Siva and explain the plight of Parvati as she pines for her Lord. He orders for his gem decked pallaki to be brought. Kadalimpaku royi pallaki is a masterpiece both in terms of the poetry and the music. This verse describes the movement of the pallaki – a vehicle carrying Lord Tyagesa. kadalimpakurōyi pallaki kadalanīkurōyi cāla kadalimpakurōyi pallaki

'Don’t swing the pallaki so – move it gently from shoulder to shoulder
Step gently so that the lord Tripurantaka may not tire
Move in the steady pace so that the three worlds inside the lord’s stomach may not
churn – the Brahmanda is not disturbed'
What a vivid poetic imagination!

The poet concludes his opera with a lilting  mangalam in raga Pantuvarali – the first line describes Siva and the second line his consort- mother of Ganesha and Kumara

māpāli dēvuniki maṅgaḷam mamu kanna talliki maṅgaḷam gaṅgādharuniki karuṇābdhiki divyamaṅgaḷa dēhuniki maṅgaḷam sanġīta rasikaku jalajākṣiki sarva maṅgaḷaku dēviki maṅgaḷam

The opera began with a prayer to Ganesha in a dvipada and it also concludes with a dvipada – Shri Sankaruni pera. This dvipada too alternates between a line in praise of Siva and one on Parvati. He concludes by saying …. ācandra tārārkamuganu... May the poem shine as long as the moon and stars shine.

Dr. Sumathi Krishnan