Father of Sringara Padams - Kshetragna

Ashok Madhav (madhav_pgh@yahoo.com)

Possibly the padams like ‘samiki sarievvare’, ‘vadiga gopaluni’  may have been heard in dance repertoires. These padams have been composed by one Varadayya from Muvva village in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh.  He was called Kshetrayya  or Kshetragna.  He lived in the 17th century although his exact date of birth is unknown.  He was a prolific composer having composed several thousands of padams.   He  is rightfully  called  the father of Sringara padams.  Though he was born in AP, he moved to Tanjavur (Tanjore), the seat of music and fine arts. He  made a name for himself in the courts of Raghunath Vijayaraghava Naik, Tanjavur  and he later went to Madurai.  There he composed many many padams.  His padams have all aesthetic beauty and romantic aura.

Kshetragna was a devotee of Lord Gopalaswamy, presiding deity at Muvva. He used to go on pilgrimages to nearby places - kshetrayatra, and that is how he got the name Kshetragna, according to Prof. Vissa Appa Rao, who has written a book on him. It is believed that a yogi of repute  initiated Kshetragna with mantra of ‘Gopala mula’.This initiation triggered him to compose his first piece ‘Sripathi Sutubariki’ in Ananda bhairavi. He was fortunate enough to  live in the nearby places  of art and culture like Muvva, Kuchipudi, Gantasala and Srikakulam.   Kshetragna imbibed all fine aspects of the culture. He would have had opportunities to study Telugu and Sanskrit  and also became well versed in puranas, music, natya/ sastra etc.  He has composed many of his padams in praise of  Muvva Gopalaswamy.  The padams are in colloquial Telugu set in slow tempo using common ragams. The theme in all his padams show sringara bhavam -nayaka/nayaki devotion, pangs of separation and ultimate happiness of union. The padams are well suited to be sung in concerts and for abhinaya aspects in dances.  

He has used ‘Muvva gopala’ as his mudra for thousands of his compositions. Manchella Jagannatha Rao notes that these padams have so much beauty and artistry and not a word of obscenity. They show dignified love and no vulgarity any where.

Though Kshetragna was married, he was infatuated with a devadasi of the Temple, called Mohanangi. She suggested he should compose padams for the Lord Gopalaswamy showing his devotion  to the Lord. Seeing his commitment to the Lord,  Mohanangi surrended and  became Kshetragna’s disciple.   

Composers like Karvetinagar Sarangapani, Ghanam Krishnaiyer,  Subbarama Iyer and others have also composed padams  in Telugu and Tamil. But Kshetragna’s output is voluminous. Though Kshetragna composed thousands of padams — close to 4000, only about 340 padams are available and quite a few of them have been notated. 

Kavetinagar Sarangapani has composed about 200 padams. Ghanam  Krishnaiyer’s padams are popular and he is nicknamed as Tamil Kshetragna for the quality of his padams. The Dhanammal family have been foremost in popularizing padams of Kshetragna, Saranagapani and other composers.

A few padams/ of Kshetragna are mentioned:

Aligithe- Huseni
Emani telupudu- Ananda bhairavi
Evvade vadu- Sankarabharanam
Vadavaka poove-Kamboji
Ninnu joochi-  Punnagavarali
Indendu- Saveri
Mundativale- Bhairavi
Yekindi Nestamu- Saranga