This was not the caption of the lecture of Dr CN Premlatha at the Music Academy. This took place on the 16th of December. The actual title (I think) said the Manuscripts of Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi, whom, in the interests of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome I will refer to as MR Kavi. Dr Premlatha comes from the Sri Venkateswara Oriental Research Institute, Tirupati.

It is very rarely that anyone sheds tears during a lec dem. But on that day, the life of MR Kavi had everyone, ranging from the oldest member TK Govinda Rao, down to the youngest, weeping freely. MR Kavi was born in 1866 in Nungambakkam, Madras. He acquired an MA in Telugu and Sanskrit from this University here though the college where he did his graduation is not identified with certainty. Some have it as Madras Christian while others say it was Pacchaiyappa’s. At the age of 16 he wrote a poem titled Mrgavati and was given the suffix of Kavi. He worked for some time at the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library (GOML) and was later a Private Secretary at the Wanaparthi Estate. He began collecting manuscripts and one of his discoveries was the Abhinava Bharati. In 1916 he stayed at Nidadavolu Venkatarao’s home and copied the Natyasastra and a commentary on it while there. In 1916 he was Assistant Curator at the GOML. In 1940 he became a Reader at the SVORI and continued there till 1951.

Kavi died in Tirupati in1957 at the age of 91. His last years saw him face poverty and he was found frequently begging on the streets. He was taken care of by rickshawallahs who ensured that he got at least one meal a day. Towards the end of his life, his mind was a complete blank and he could not even discern what to do with food. And when he spoke, he could only recite faultlessly, extracts from the Bharatakosa, his magnum opus.

Kavi’s life can be summed up into three parts – his collecting manuscripts, his editing the Abhinava Bharati and his compiling the Bharatakosa.

His collection shows that he travelled all over the country and there are references to his having gone to royal courts in Nepal, Bikaner, Baroda and Travancore, libraries at Lahore, Jodhpur, the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, the GOML and the Saraswathi Mahal, Tanjavur. He made over his entire collection to the SVORI. There are plenty of lakshanagranthas concerning music and dance in this collection. It must however be pointed out that the collection largely comprises copies made by Kavi in longhand on various sheets of paper. These can also not be termed true copies as he has sometimes made what he feels are corrections to the original. In some cases, he has mainly made a summary of a manuscript. Interestingly, he has cited differences in versions in manuscripts found in various libraries and used different coloured inks to cite these. Sometimes, he uses numbers and code words to indicate the sources.

Kavi was the first to edit the Abhinava Bharati, a commentary of Abhinava Gupta on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. He studied almost all works on natya, sangita and kavyalankara for this and spent a few decades of his life on this work. This was published in four volumes by the Baroda Government beginning from 1926. It has still not been possible to identify which one of the 40 manuscripts of Abhinava Bharati was used by Kavi as his main source and this has been a criticism levelled against him at times. But the mammoth nature of his task cannot be trivialised.

The Bharatakosa is a dictionary of technical terms used in Natya, Sangita and related topics, found in various sources. It has 1200 pages and explanations of words are supported by copious extracts from various lakshanagranthas. It has since been published by the TTD.

Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao in his summing up said that the best tribute to Kavi would be for people to buy the Bharatakosa.