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Saint Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna Krithis Sung by Nani@100

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court

It is 15th Jan,2020, Wedenesday. We had all just been regaled to Saint Thyagaraja’s Pancharatna kritis (Pancharatna in Sankskrit means five gems) on Pushya  Bahula Panchami day, 5th day of the dark half of the month of Pushya, by a huge assembly of carnatic enthusiasts on his 173rd  Aradhana day, at Thiruvaiyaru. Born to Ramabrahmam and Seethamma (some say Santha), as their third child on 4th May,1767, after the family had moved from Andhra Pradesh to Thiruvarur, he grew up to be Saint Thyagaraja, the composer par excellence, and was based at Thiruvaiyaru. He was a truly gifted soul, born to sing in praise of the Lord and is said to have composed between 800 to 24000 compositions. Accounts vary. Among his compositions, the Panchatratna Krithis occupy the pride of place, as the jewels in the crown.

Be it Jagadananda Karaka in Nattai Ragam, a rare Sanskrit piece among the majority Telugu gems, eulogising the divinity of Lord Rama in 108 names or Duduku Gala in Gowlai where he sings on the ills of society and craves for salvation or Sandinchene in Aarabhi, a lullaby on Krishna, eulogising his naughty radiance or Kana Kana Ruchira, in Varali, on the infinite beauty of Rama or his Endaro Mahanubhavalu in Sri Raagam, about the unparalleled rhythmic beauty of carnatic music, they represent the quintessence of the religious fervour and musical brilliance of Thyagaraja. He lived to the ripe age of 80 and died on 6/1/1847, which is now celebrated as his Samadhi day, for the assemblage on the  banks of Cauvery, Thiruvarur, TamilNadu, to render his panchharatnas. He had  premonition of his death and even beseeched the Lord with “Parithamamu Kaniyadina’ (in Manohara- Won’t you take pity and deliver me), just a day before he attained Samadhi.

Carnatic music is divine. It is all about discipline and dedication. It is not only about memory, recall and learning, but it is also equally about originality, uniqueness and innovation or Manodharma. It is, however, founded in strong grammar and classicism.

Law is not far behind. It too is divine, for, the dispensers of justice play God, deciding the fate of the citizenry, be it in relation to human rights, life, limb or properties. Of course, it is rule based and given to strict grammar. Nevertheless, the practitioners can innovate and expound with imagination and excel in it, even as they make a living at the mundane plane. Among the prime practitioners, there is none closer to epitomise these attributes than Nani Palkhivala. He was an Outlier, a genius in the 10000 hour dictum of Malcolm Gladwell. Of course, David Epstein has now challenged this Gladwellian hypothesis in a recent book Range, where he says a Generalist, in early years stands a better bet in ending up as an icon in the Roger Federer mould than a Tiger Woods rarity. Nani Palkhivala, defied both hypothesis, to end up as a literateur, lawyer, author, financial wizard, corporate czar, Ambassador and more.

Born on 16/1/1920  and named Nanabhoy, in a  family of Palkhis-profession of making and fixing palanquins to be attached to horse carriages, he grew up to be the non pareil Nani, the jurist and  the greatest Finance Minister that India never had. That he lost out on a Lecturer’s post at  Bombay University after graduation, which he gratefully celebrated by hosting the lady lecturer for dinner every year without fail and had a terrible stammer, which he overcame with dedicated practice, refused Judgeship of Supreme Court in 1963 and very nearly accepted the position of Attorney General when the Law Minister Govinda Menon persuaded him in 1967, are celebrated landmarks, in his inestimable career.

He began practice at the Bombay Bar in 1946, and his favourite judge was Chief Justice M C Chagla (What a pair they would have made- one can only wistfully be misty eyed on it. Sigh!) and within a decade of practice, he was before the Supreme Court, on Constitutional law, his favourite terrain. And though based in Bombay, he breezed in and out of the Supreme Court, every now and then, to chisel, carve, weave, protect and paint the Constitution in a Leonardo Da Vinci mode.

While his accomplishments are far too many, Palkhivala’s pancharatna krithis, among the jewels, he put together in his glittering career, without fear of contradiction (hopefully, if contradicted would be glad to be responded to, as if in putting together an All Time World XI for a Test  cricket team) shine so glowingly. Minerva Mills case in 1980 (3) SCC 625 where he persuaded the Supreme Court  to declare Art.368(4) exluding judicial review of constitutional amendments   as void could be his Jaganandakaraka, on the supremacy of Law. R.C Cooper or Bank nationalisation case in 1970 (1) SCC 248 his Duduku Gala, talking on the ills of society and taking on the establishment for its anti-private enterprise ethos.

St.Xavier’s in 1974 (1) SCC 717 his Sadinchene, a lullaby to the beleaguered minority educational institutions. Bennet Coleman in 1972 (2) SCC 788 challenging the import control regime on newsprint  to muzzle the free press, his Kana Kana Ruchira, on the infinite beauty of fourth estate, as a pillar  for a living and vibrant Indian democracy. Then the sublimation in Endaro Mahanubhavlu on the eternal beauty of Indian Constitution, as a living organ in Keshavand Bharathi in 1973 (4) SCC 225, on the limits  on Parliament’s power to alter the basic structure of the Constitution.

Incidentally, while Keshavanand arose from Kerala, Endaro Mahanubhavalu was also in response to a show of magic by a Keralite Shatkala Marar. Striking parallels do not end there. While Nani did appear for Indira Gandhi against the Allahabad High Court judgment setting aside her election before Justice Krishna Iyer, during vacations of that year, he refused to plead for her, thereafter, when she  imposed emergency on 26th June,1975. Much like Saint Thyagaraja who refused to sell his soul to a Saroboji Maharaja and sang “Nidhi Chala Sukhama” (in Kalyani – Would abundance of riches bring happiness).

While saint Thyagaraja never made a penny from his richness, for he lived by Unjavarthi (begging for his daily bread), Nani was  silently eloquent at philanthrophy (Nani once quietly put into the pocket of Dr.Badrinath of Sankara Nethralaya fame a cheque for Rs.3 crores, which Dr. Badrinath accidentally noted on returning from Bombay. There is a Nani Palkhivala Block in the hospital). Nani became a patriotic philanthropist, with his spiritual connect to India’s Vedic and cultural heritage. He was President of Veda Pada Nithi Trust, until he died, even after quit as supreme of Tata Sons, to help the cause of those engaged in teaching Veda, in their old age, at the request of Mahaperiava of Kancheepuram Sankara Mutt.

Thyagaraja’s versatility included composing operas and dramas too. Well, Nani was a tax practitioner of unrivalled esteem and his Budget speeches are real time jewels, which any Finance Minister of today too,  can go back to, for practical yet inspirational  wisdom. He was Ambassador to US of A as well. Nani too lived into his 80s until he died on 11/12/2002. The striking parallels can go on. Well, on 16th Jan, 2020, Nani would have been One Hundred. What better time than now, in the backdrop and background of the musical melodies of the maestro Saint Tyagaraja’s Pancharatnas, to recall Nani’s dedicated service to We The People.

(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- an advocate practising in the Madras High Court)

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Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
The author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court
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