Dattatreya Rama Rao Parvatikar

Found among the papers of Leslie Shepard this article on the Indian holy man and musician Dattatreya Rama Rao Parvatikar (1916 - 1990). Shepard refers to him as Sri Ramdatta Parvatikar. The article appears not to have been published. For more on Shepard follow this link to an earlier piece of his on Charles Fort.


A Portrait of an Indian Musician


  It is twilight in the Himalayas, by the side of the sacred river Ganges, a magic moment when the forms of the visible world tremble as night falls. The dark outline of the hills with a shaggy growth of jungle might be a giant's head. Across the water comes the cry of rooks and the call of a boatman. The white domes of temples become unreal in the fading pink glow of the half-light. The sound of rushing water is like the music of dreams.
  From the old Sri Shatrughana Temple comes another music - the notes of a Rudra-Vina, a traditional instrument, played by a master hand. On the temple steps is a picturesque figure with a small group of devotees. Sri Swami Parvatikar Maharaj has the long uncut hair of a sadhu plaited and twisted round the top of his head. He has a majestic beard and keen eyes. He wears a tattered red cloak, and sits in padmasana, the lotus posture, as he plays his instrument in the service of the Lord. A cow stumbles past noisily, but nobody takes any notice, entranced by the subtle and powerful vibrations that pour from the strings of the Rudra-Vina like the swift current of the Ganges.
  Sri Swami Parvatikar is a commanding figure, with an extraordinary dignity and power. He is a sadhu - a wandering monk - but he is also a Bachelor of Science, a radio artist, and one of India's greatest religious musicians. With all his contradictions, the man is inseparably connected with his background...
  The scene is part of a timeless India. Day by day in the big cities, men are struggling with the hard economics of five-years plans, with the new threat of enemies on the border, but here, at Rishikesh, one man is preserving an ancient way of life for the benefit of a modern world.

. . . . . . . . . .

  Sri Ramdatta Parvatikar was born forty-three years ago in an orthodox Kannada Brahmin family of Hyberabad, Deccan. His father, Sri Rama Rao, was a professor of the Nizam's College and a noted sitar-player; his grandfather was a finance minister in the Nizam's government. His mother had been told by a sadhu that Lord Dattatreya the Master Yogi would be reborn in her house, and there is no doubt that some strange destiny guided the life of her son.
  The boy grew up in an atmosphere of music and learning, and from an early age showed great facility and insight. He studied all kinds of Indian music and instruments, Karnatic and Northern styles, and learnt the different religious songs of his district. He was a good scholar of independent judgement.
  After matriculating from the Nizam's College, he took his B.Sc. at the Osmania University, passing with credit, and was able to bring a keen intellect to the study of music.
  Like many young men in India he contracted an early marriage. For some years he lived a settled life, but music was always his first love. The time came when he was impelled to renounce the life of a householder and dedicate himself completely to music in the service of the Lord. He spent many years in lonely meditation by the banks of the Tungabhadra River in Hyderabad. He reveres the memory of his Guru Sri Bapriji Telwade, known as Swami Nadananda, who taught him in the great tradition of the Rishis and Munis of ancient times.
  In 1941 he took sannyasa and renounced the world. As a wandering monk he made pilgrimages to holy places like Kashi, Brindavana and Hardwar, and spent the summer months of each year in seclusion at Badrinath, high up in the Himalayan snows. Here he perfected his technique and developed the study of the infinitely subtle sounds for which he is famous. He became and expert exponent of the main stringed instruments - Sitar, Rudra-Vina and Swara-Mandala. He is the acknowledged expert on Swara-Mandala, an ancient Indian zither which he has revived and brought back to favour wherever he plays. Seated before this small wooden frame strung with steel wires he conjures celestial music from his fingertips as if by magic.
  From time to time he came down from his seclusion to the big cities, to be greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm from music-lovers and win great fame and honour.
  In 1951 he attended the Congress of the World's Ambassadors convened in Delhi by Babu Rajendra Prasad. He became a well-known performer on All India Radio broadcast his music from Dehli, Bombay, Nagpur, Lucknow, Madras and his own Hyderabad. Through gramophone recordings his beautiful music is also known in Europe and America.
  In 1955 he founded a Music College and Institute at the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, where he had often stayed on his way to and from Badrinath. Sri Swami Sivananda Maharaj, one of India's famous spiritual teachers, inaugurated the Music Institute with his blessings and small branches were opened in other parts of the country. A quarterly bi-lingual magazine in Hindu and English was published, to further Swami Parvatikar can conduct his researches into subtle sound vibrations; he wants new instruments and apparatus and would like to build a comprehensive library of books and recordings of the best of the world's religious music...
  In the meantime, Swami Parvatikar sits in a bare hut in the temple, revising his literary work. He rises at 3 a.m. and takes a Ganges bath in all weathers. He practises Hatha Yoga asanas and spends two or three hours every day in prayer and meditation. For a number of years he has been observing Mowna, a religious vow of silence. He uses his voice only in singing, in the service of music and religion which are, for him, inseparable. People come from great distances to visit this versatile genius, and he answers essential questions by writing on scraps of paper, always prefacing the words by 'Om Namo Narayana', a sacred name of God. He refers to himself in third person as 'das' (servant), an expression of great humility.
  He has translated Bhagavata Gita into English verse and has been working many years on a comprehensive treatise on ancient Indian music.
  Day after day, Swami Parvatikar keeps his rigid spiritual disciplines, works at his books and teaches his students, dreaming of the proper establishment of his work and the ideals of Pure Music to which he has dedicated his whole life... wondering where the money is to come from. He does not notice the insects that crawl over him.
  Outside the window of his hut, the tonga-wallahs, the local horse taximen, haggle furiously over their fares while patient pilgrims trudge past on their way to Hardwar...
  It may seem strange that this internationally celebrated musician, a man of education, an author-scholar, a successful radio artist, should live in great poverty and simplicity in an old temple - but this is India! In this land of contrasts, ancient religious doctrines exist side by side with the new morality of industrialisation and the hard business deal. Even in an age of independence, Indian students study the techniques of the West in England and America, and many people have thought that the old ways will be destroyed by engineering, economics, motorcars, radios, cinemas, luxury goods and materialistic philosophy. In the towns and cities people are struggling to maintain their older morality and dignity in a Kali Yuga - an Iron age - where money is king.
  Yet this is only one side of the picture. The old ways are not dead. Throughout India, dedicated men, religious leaders, teachers and musicians, are preserving and passing on the best of the ancient knowledge. Music is one of India's greatest treasures, and the enthusiastic reception given to Ravi Shankar and Ali Akhar Khan at their concerts in Europe and America shows how the West has been captivated by music that will never die.

. . . . . . . . . .

  On the banks of the Ganges, at twilight, the old world and the new merge into one. Sri Swami Parvatikar leads the temple devotees in bhajans, hymns that mirror the ageless belief in a world beyond the senses.
  Nearby, on the main road, a gleaming modern motorcar speeds past on its way to Delhi, picking out in bright headlights a saffron-robed swami walking through the night. The driver sounds his horn and yawns, thinking of business, the cost of living, the education of his children and the Chinese on the frontier. Up in the hills there are still tigers...
  In the temple, the devotees are standing for the Arati ceremony, thinking of God, purified by the eternal mystery of music. The tall figure in the tattered cloak will also be on his way to Delhi the next day, to broadcast to the whole country from All India Radio...
  Sri Swami Parvatikar Maharaj is a symbol of a timeless India that lies between two worlds.

Leslie Shepard,
12 Moatlands House,
Cromer Street,

May 1962.

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