Raga Sankarabharana Mortgaged!

Pic Courtesy : The Hindu

The Maratha Kings who ruled over Thanjavur were great patrons of art. They patronised, encouraged and honoured great stalwarts of Carnatic Music and therefore Thanjavur became a prominent center of Carnatic Music. Narasayyar was one of the court musicians of the then ruler Serfoji. On one occasion, Narasayya elaborated and sang the Raga Sankarabharana for hours in the presence of the king. The king was extremely happy with Narasayyar’s mastery over the Raga and declared that in future he would be known as “Sankarabharana Narasayyar”.

 Once, due to some financial crisis, Narasayyar was in dire need of money. He did not know whom to approach and hesitated to ask anyone for help. But when it became inevitable, he went to meet Ramabhadra Moopanar who was a wealthy landlord and a great lover of music staying in Kapisthalam near Thanjavur. Moopanar was very happy to see Narasayyar. He received him, offered his hospitality and asked him to stay in his house for a few days. After two days of stay, very hesitatingly Narasayyar asked Moopanar for a loan. The generous Moopanar was shocked. He would have willingly given Narasayyar whom he adored whatever amount he wanted. And here the great musician was asking for a loan. Taking care not to hurt Narasayyar’s feelings, he asked him how much he wanted. Narasayyar told Moopanar that he wanted 80 gold coins (sovereigns). Moopanar agreed to give 80 gold coins as a loan and asked Narasayya if he would pledge anything, say, an “abharana” as security.

Narasayyar told him that he had with him an unique and special “abharana” to pledge, which could not be seen, but could only be heard! Moopanar was surprised and asked for the “abharana”. Narasayyar told him that he had the rare “abharana” called “Sankara-abharana” Raga which he was ready to pledge in return for the gold coins. Moopanar was stunned and surprised, but restraining himself and his feelings, he formally went through the normal procedure of documenting the transaction. 80 gold coins were given to Narasayyar as a loan, and he pledged his favourite Raga Sankarabharana as security to the money lender. The condition was that Narasayyar would not sing Raga Sankarabharana until he cleared the debt. Narasayyar collected the gold coins and left for Thanjavur. From that day onwards, he refrained from singing the Sankarabharana Raga in all his subsequent concerts. Music-lovers missed Narasayyar’s Sankarabharana Raga, but nobody knew the reason. 

Appu Rayar was serving as the Dewan of Thanjavur and Tiruchirapalli under the East India Company. There was a marriage function in his family in the town of Kumbhakonam. He wanted to celebrate the wedding on a grand scale and decided to arrange music concerts by eminent artists during the wedding. Narasayyar was also one amongst the performers. Large number of people gathered on the day of Narasayyar’s concert. Since Narasayya was known for his rendering of Raga Sankarabharana, Appu Rayar requested him to start the program in Raga Sankarabharana. Narasayyar politely declined to sing the Sankarabharana. After much insistence, Narasayyar told Appu Rayar the reason. Appu Rayar was stunned. A Raga mortgaged for a loan – hadn’t heard of it before. He immediately sent a messenger with 80 gold coins along with the interest to Moopanar’s place and asked him to bring back the promissory note. 

On hearing from the messenger, Ramabhadra Moopanar realized the seriousness of it all and himself accompanied the messenger with the signed deed to Kumbhakonam. He apologized for having agreed for the mortgage of the Raga. He explained to Appu Rayar the reason for handling the sensitive loan transaction issue with so much of formality. He declined to take back the 80 gold coins and asked Appu Rayar to give the gold coins along with all the accrued interest to Narasayyar. Moopanar also released the Sankarabharana Raga and requested Narasayyar to sing his favourite Sankarabharana Raga. All those assembled were astonished at the sequence of events. A musical Raga being mortgaged for a loan! One of the music-lovers ready to repay the loan with interest and another music-lover declining to take back the amount he had given as loan! However, everyone enjoyed the concert with Narasayyar at his best while rendering the Sankarabharana Raga!!

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