Gōpālakṛṣna Bhārati

Gōpālakṛṣna Bhārati, the illustrious composer of Nandanār Caritram was born at Narimaṇam, a village near Nāgapaṭṭiṇam in 1810. He was a Tamil Brahmin. He belonged to Vaḍama sect and Bharadvaja gōtra. He belonged to a family of Musicians and Scholars. His father Śivarāma Bhārati, grand father Rāmasvāmi Bhārati and great grand father Kōdaṇḍarāma Bhārati were all vainika-s and Sanskrit scholars. Bharati lost his parents when he was very young. Therefore he started wandering from place to place trying to earn a living. For sometime he even had to be a cook in a temple at Kūttanūr, Tañjāvūr District.

Gōpālakṛṣna Bhārati had a great thirst for learning. He learnt Vēda-s from Gōvinda Yāti. The song 'Engal gurunātharudaya' in Suraṭṭi rāga is a fitting expression of his indebtedness to his Guru. Later he studied Hindustāni music under Rāmdāsa who was the court musician of Amarasimha Mahārāja of Tiruviḍamarudūr. This helped him to handle rāga-s like Hamīrkalyāṇi and Behāg. He accquired proficiency in many languages. Bhārati wandered from place to place staying for prolonged periods in certain places. He stayed for some time in Muḍikoṇḍan and was often reffered to as Muḍikoṇḍan Bhārati.

In about his 24th year he came to Ānantāṇḍavapuram and there he lived with Aṇṇāvayyar, a rice mirasdar, for some years. Aṇṇāvayyar had many learned friends with whom he had discussion on religion and philosophy. Bhārati listened to these conversations and often converted them to a song. Bhārati used to accompany these friends to the periodical visits he made to the fields and cēris and studied the habits and customs of these people. It is this study which later on helped him immensely in his portrayal of the parayā-s and their cēris in his opera, Nandanār Caritram.

Gōpālakṛṣna Bhārati lived a very simple and austere life. He was a strict Brahmacāri through out his life. Very often he disappeared fron his familiar surroundings and after some time appeared again. All his time was spent in composing songs and studying the vēda-s. He carried with him just a few palm leaves and a stencil to write with. When the palm leaves were completely written upon, he handed them over to the disciple who happened to be with him at that time and took a fresh set of palm leaves. It is because of this that his compositions lie all over Tamil Nādu where ever his disciples took them.

Gōpālakṛṣna Bhārati decided to create Gēyanāṭaka-s because he knew that he could easily express his bhakti and many philosophical truths through the song and story in a Gēyanāṭaka. Because of the great devotion he had for an image of Nandanār which is installed in Cadambaram temple, he chose Nandanār Caritram to be his first Opera. His friends also requested him to relate the story of the Śiva bhakta in the form of kīrtana-s. Therefore he finally decided to compose this opera.

From the meagre account given by Sēkkizhār in Periyapurāṇam running to about 37 verses, Bhārati had developed a story full of interest with the introduction of fictitous characters like the orthodox, obdurate and tyrannical landlord Vēdiyar and the venerable old man Nandanār, the farmer-cultivator but a Harijan. They are two strongly drawn characters and the author has painted them with unfalling vividness.

Nandanār Caritram which was begun at Nāgapaṭṭinam was completed at Māyāvaram. The first performance was given at Nāgapaṭṭinam. He performed it for three days. After this he was invited to many placs to give recitals of the opera. Thus his fame spread far and wide. At Kāraikkal, the French Collector was also present at the performance and he was so impressed that he got it published in 1862. The Nandanār Carutram was also appreciated by the great Tamil scholars of the time.

Where ever Bhārati gave Kālakṣēpam performance, he usually left with the person who arranged the performance the money due to him. Whenever a needy person came to him for help, he was sent to one of the men who owed him money with a request to give him what he needed. Towards the close of his life he collected the unspent balance and established charities in temples at Cidambaram and Māyāvaram.

Apart from Nandanār Caritram, he composed three other small gēyanaṭaka-s namelt – Iyarpagaināyanār Carutram, Kāraikkāl Ammayyār Caritram and Tirunīlakaṇṭha Nāyanār Caritram. He is also the author of Jñāna Cindu, Jñāna kummi, Viḍuti kīrtana-s, Cidambara kaṇṇi and Māmināṭakam. His Cidambara kaṇṇi was created specially at the request of some girls. This is in the form of verses to be sung as the girls goes from shrine to shrine in the Cidambaram temple. The māmināṭakam is a work of lower order, humourusly depicting the tug between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. By including Rāgamālika-s, Viḍuti kīrtana-s, Viruttam, Vacanam, Daru-s, Lavaṇi, Khaḍga, Daṇḍaka, Cindu, Dvipadī, Tripadī, kaṇṇi, Tōḍayam, Savai – dialogues and humourous songs – he enriched his gēyanāṭaka-s. His Viḍuti kīrtana-s can be easily identified since they have the mudra and independent themes. He used the Mudra Gōpāla kṛṣṇa or Bālakṛṣṇa.

Bhārati had many friends. One was Ānanda Bhārati of Tiruvidaimarutūr who had great respect and appreciation for Bhārati's talent. Another good friend was Kṛṣṇānandha Yōgi who helped him in recording all his songs. Through him Bhārati became acqainted with Vēdanāyakam Pillai, the then Munsif of Māyāvaram who became the disciple and friend of Bhārati. Mahā Vaidyanātha Ayyar and Rāmasvāmi Śivan also were his good friends.

Bhārati also had the good fortune of meeting the great composer Tyāgarāja. Hearing of Tyāgarāja's Rāma-bhakti and his wonderful music, Bhārati went to him. Tyāgarāja also had heard much about Bhārati. On this occasion Tyāgarāja's disciple sang a kṛti of their guru in the rāga Ābhōgi. Bhārati had not handled this rāga. On his return home, he composed the kṛti 'Sabhāpatikku' in the same rāga and sang it before Tyāgarāja the next day and received his blessings.

Bhārati lived to a ripe old age. In 1896, at the age of 86, he passed away on Mahāśivarātri day.

Bhārati's viḍuti kīrtana-s and Kaṇṇi alone number 180. The number of songs figuring in his own operas comes to 426. The total number of his compositions will exceed a thousand.

Among his operas Nandanār Caritram is Bhārati's gift to South Indian Music. It is the most rnowned and frequently performed gēyanāṭaka in Tamil. It is his aster piece. Nandanār Caritram is also given frquently as Kālakṣēpam by Bhāgavatar-s. Through Nandanār, Bhārati tells us his own concept of Bhakti even as Tyāgarāja tells us through Prahḷāda in his gēyanāṭaka Prahḷāda Bhakti Vijayam.

Bhārati's genius as a playwright, his capacity for effective characterisation, his skill in introducing fictitious characters and incidents, his sense of humour, his dramatic instinct and insight into human nature, intimate knowledge of the daily life of the peasants, his gift for melody making, his poetic skill, his talent for conceiving musical dialogue and soloquies and his feeling for rāga and rasa are all vividly seen in this gēyanātaka. The beauty of the language employed by him, the sweetness of his diction, the jingle of the ending rhymes, the philosophical truths enshrined in some of his sāhitya-s, the graceful flow of their music, the abundance of feeling running through them and the beautiful jāti-s adorning some of his have earned for him a praise even from the most uncompromising critics of his time.

The flowing nature of the music, the vigour of the verses, the telling manner in which the author works up our sympathies for Nandanār and hatred towards the Vēdiyār, the beautiful irusoll-alaṅkāram and Noṇḍicindu-s, all speak volumes concerning his dramatic genius. The rustic simplicity of some of the songs of the opera is fascinating. In songs like 'Ādiyapāda', he has used the jati syllables like 'Tam' with a double meaning i.e. as the rhythmical syllable and as 'I'.

His appearance was of a medium stature and medium complexion. Around his neck he wore a red thread with a single rudrākṣa bead. He was quite humble and sensitive.