The life and works of Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi

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.






14 responses to “The life and works of Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sanjay Subrahmanyan. Sanjay Subrahmanyan said: The life and works of Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi: […]

  2. harini Avatar


    This is Harini …I just went through this article about Manavalli Sri Ramakrishna kavigaru…….This is just to clarify If this is the Kavigaru of tirupati Whose Elder son was Sri Manavalli Radhakantham,Who is my.maternal grandfather.I have heard stories about my great grandfather which is very much the same mentioned here…..Would be great if u can help me know further info about him….

    1. sriramv Avatar


      I was merely reporting the presentation. You may want to contact the speaker directly. I dont have the details of the person. Thanks

    2. Potturu Ranganayakulu Avatar

      I am Dr Ranganayakulu, Chief Museum Officer, S.V.Museum in Tirumala. I am compiling a presentation in several languages about Mavalli kavigaru to exhibit in the SVMuseum. I am searching for a good portrait of Manavalli. You can reach me 09701793210.

  3. […] until 1957. Source: Click here to read more about Sri Ramakrishna Kavi 12.899404 77.579852 Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  4. ramakrishnan Avatar

    Hi.i am grandson of MANAVALLI RAMAKRISHNA KAVIGARU.i am proud to be a grandson of him..and i found in the above given matter they stated that he begged at his last year .how u can say that the great scholar like that.. and he wrote more than 123 books and the above furnished detail is hurts my heart too.he didnt died because of poverty. “he died because of cheating by many stone hearted peoples in family and others”.finally i say dont furnish details like he begged like that without having any proper evidence.if u came to know details of him contact me ..

    1. Gargi Pal Avatar
      Gargi Pal

      Pranam. I am Gargi Pal. I want to know about Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi’s work elaborately. How can I get his written and edited books?

  5. manavalliramakrishna Avatar

    hi i am also Grandson of manavalli ramakrishna
    kavi. i already post comment but it is not appear. actually he cheated by his relation so he go this stage. but this is wounded for our generation. by the way i already post comment about this article.

  6. venugopal 9840170930 Avatar
    venugopal 9840170930

    hi, I am also great grandson of manavalli ramakrishna. Actually ramakrishna kavi’s daughter parvathi and leelavathi. I am parvathi”s grand son venugopal residing at periyar nagar, chennai. Can contact me at 9840170930 and 04425506909.,For the past few days mr. ramakrishna having contacts with omy family and he is regularly talking to my mother

  7. Krishna kadapa Avatar
    Krishna kadapa

    Krishna Kadapa 9985983540 12.02.2015 says .I , the grandson of the great poet SrimanManavalli RamaKrishnaKavigaru.He had two daughters whose nameswere Leelavathi and Parvathi I one ofthe sons of Parvathiammal[the great mother of us].I Saw him when Iam five at Tiruathi and shared his affection.Iam really very proud of my grandpa.He who follows SATHYAM,DAYAand KSHAMA and one of the person who ever in the nature of begood,dogood,seegood and saygood.He wrote many booksand poems which brought him very good name which doesnot fed his stomach.he was caught by the oldage and brought him to leed a miserable life .No money,no food and no affectionate hand had hugged him which causes sometimes to beg.The above line wrote with my heartfelt.I as one of the grandson of sriManavalliRamaKrishnaKavi requesting the GOVT of INDIA to honor him with some purashkar and celebrate his birthday every year in the universities.”MATHRUBHYONAMAHA,PITHRUBHYONAMAHA,GOMATHAAINAMAHA,BHUMATHAAIENAMAHAand DURGAMATHAAIENAMAHA.

  8. manavalliramakrishna Avatar

    one person life, up @ down stage all childrens hand only, kavi garu wife 1928 Rajamundry (our grand mother) died, nearly 4 sons, 2 daughters. kavi garu belived many peoples but nobody care kavi garu.
    1 elder son manavalli Durai samy is (puttur) (nearly 30 years died) (one daughter ) 2 Manavalli Radha kantham (Bombay) (2 daughters) 3 my father Manavalli Meenakshi sundaram (salem ) 3 sons, 3 daughters, now that vamsa valli i am only one person (my two brother died.) 4 parvathy (Bitra gunta) 4 sons 3 daughters,’ 5 leelavathy (kavi garu sister son married) 3 daughter 2 sons 6 santha moorthy puttur 25 years died. kavi garu wife 1928 died nearly 29 years many way suffered 1957 my grand father died

  9. geetha Avatar

    m very proud to be one of his heir.But the some of the sayings in the article make me and my mother to feel very bad.

  10. Marvin Coltharp Avatar

    m very proud to be one of his heir

  11. […] ( For a note on the Life and Works of Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi, please click here.) […]

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