Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hamsageethe - Tale of an Indian Classical Singer

TaRaSu or T R Subbarao is a big name in Kannada literature. His novels have been a big hit among Kannada readers and some of them have been made into films like - Aakasmika, Chandavalliya Thota, Gaali Maathu, Naagara Haavu, Benkiya Bale, Masanada Hoovu and Hamsa Geethe in Kannada. I recently read his novel Hamsa Geethe and was moved. Hamsa Geethe was made into Hindi Film, Basant Bahar as early as in 1956. It was made into a Kannada movie, Hamsa Geethe in 1975, by well known director G V Iyer with Anant Nag playing the lead role. Hamsa Geethe is the story of fictional character, Venkata Subbayya, depicted as a singer in the court of rulers of Chitradurga, the Nayakas.

Novel is in first person narration of the author himself, going in search of information pertaining to Bhairavi Venkata Subbayya. Initially, you will feel what was the need to bring present day scenarios into this historical fictional story. But then once you finish off reading the book, you will realize why it was done so. The novel is primarily about the life of Venkata Subbayya and there are references about the concepts of Classical music. But, even if you are not a fan of Carnatic/Hindusthani music, once you complete reading the work, you may want to listen to the Bhairavi Raaga.Hamsageethe, a Kannada novel by TaRaSuPlot : TaRaSu's friend Raghavendra Rao gets a photocopy of some old legal document, which says about the gifting of plot of land near Toreyooru(in Chitradurga district) to Venkata Subbayya by Tippu Sulthan. When Venkata Subbayya refuses to sing before Tippu and instead cuts off his tongue, Tippu is moved. As a mark of his respect towards the great singer, Tippu gifts the land to him. Curious to know more about the life of Venkata Subbayya, TaRasu starts off his journey to find details about the singer, contacting various people in and around Chitradurga like chief priest of Ekanaatheshwari Temple, drama artist Chinnappa etc.

Venkata Subbayya's childhood, his music competition with his own guru, Thirumalayya, his firm decision to not to sing in the court of Nayakas after a heart-rending incident, his search of guru once Thirumalayya departs, his hard work to become a great singer is well depicted and TaRaSu takes the readers to a different aesthetic level. In the end, episode of Tippu-Venkata Subbayya's face-off is touchy. Though the incidents in Venkata's life are not in chronological order in the novel, this does not alter the flow.

Advaitha philosophy(or non-duality) consolidated by Adi Shankaraachaarya is also briefly discussed in the novel. Paulo Coelho in his famous work, The Alchemist talks about similar school of thought. Also, there is a mention that before the times of Tyagaraja, Shyama Shastri and Muttu Swamy Dixit there was no differentiation of streams in Indian Classical music like Carnatic and Hindusthaani. Even now, TaRaSu asserts that though the names of the raagas are different in these streams, they are basically the same.

I had seen the Kannada movie Hamsa Geethe before reading the novel. Even then, I liked the novel more than the film. Also, having been to Chitradurga fort added a familiar feeling whenever the author described about the places in Chitradurga and I was thrilled.

If you get a chance to read this novel by TaRaSu, jump on it. I have no doubt in my mind to say that it is one of the best novels to have been written in Kannada.

You can now read the Kananda novel, Hamsageethe online here.

For Kannada version of this article, click here.



  1. Hey good writeup, well narrated !!
    I had watched this movie 2 times. I came to know some more things from this article.

  2. Meanwhile your Kannada blog is not allowing me to comment.

  3. Thanks Shivananda for the encouraging words.

    And regarding comments not being allowed in Kannada blog, I have now changed the comments settings. You should now be able to post your comments there too.

  4. Enjoyed reading your blog.
    Could you let me know the details of publication of this novel. Publishers, date of publication and place.
    I need this for a research I am doing on books and films on classical musicians. I cannot read Kannada.

  5. Thank you for the details of the novel. I saw the movie and loved it with my limited understanding of Kannada. I saw that the online version is the original. Is there an English translation available?

  6. I dont think English translation of the novel is available.



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