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Kuchelopakhyana- A Harikatha basd on the story of Kuchela and Krishna

For the songs of Kuchelopakhayana , Select Krithi by form and click on Upakhyanam

The advent of Meruswami in Swati Thirunal's court introduced there the art of musical discourse called Harikathakalashepam, in its best traditions. This art originated in the Maharashtra country in association with the Bhakti movement propagated by Tukaram, Namadev and other saints as an interesting and effective means to instill love of God in the people at large. During the time of the Mahratta rulers of Tanjore, the Mahratta immigrants to Tamilnadu brought with them this art. It soon attained great popularity and produced a succession of eminent exponents who embellished the art with the addition of illustrative episodes, supplementary themes and examples from everyday life. The exposition of the theme interspersed with enjoyable songs was an added attraction. Small wonder, therefore, that this art found immediate favour with Swathi Thirunal and Meruswami received great encouragement.

Swati Tirunal, however, felt that an innovation in the texts handled by these discoursers was possible. The texts adopted constituted a compilation of suitable songs of the Mahratta saints themselves and appropriate verses from the Bhagavata and the Ramayana and Tulasi's Ramacharitamanas, as also short prose passages form other works. Although the main trend of the story was adhered to, free play of imagination was resorted to with regard to details. These passages also varied to a considerable extent from discourser to discourser. The Maharaja felt that original texts could be devised for these, and in exemplification of his idea, composed two narratives, Kuchelopakhyana and Ajamilopakhayana, both based on the respective stories with the songs being mostly in the Mahratta types like Saki, Ovi, Dindi and Abhang. The language is Sanskrit.

The Kuchelopakhyama consists of 12 songs and 28 slokas. It deals with the story of Sudama, otherwise known as Kuchela because of his ragged clothes, detailed in chapters 80 and 81 in the tenth skandha of the Bhagavata. The Brahmin Kuchela is a fellow student and companion of Krishna during his stay in the hermitage of Sandipani. In due course, he marries and settles in life but lives a life of penury, but happy, nevertheless, in his devotion to Krishna. His wife persuades him to request money from his affluent companion. Delighted at the prospect of meeting his great friend, Kuchela goes to Dwaraka with an offering of a little beaten rice. Krishna receives him with great joy along with his consort Rukmini and shows him great hospitality and spends the whole day in conversation reminiscent of the days when they were together. In his delight Kuchela never cares to disclose the aim of his visit, but knowing it, Krishna eats a morsel of what his friend has brought him. Instantaneously Kuchela's home changes into one of prosperity. The poor Brahmin returns home and, to his surprise sees the change and fully convinced that all the transformation is due to the kind munificence of Krishna, lives happily with his devoted wife, but always with a sense of detachment from the wealth bestowed upon him.

This interesting story which tells us two things, namely that God removes the poverty of a true devotee even without the express prayer for it and that the devotee should not have any attachment to wealth of any kind, has always been a favourite of religious discourse. Swati Tirunal closely follows the story in the Bhagavata. There are passages in the Upakhyana which echo lines in the Bhagavata. Compare for instance the sloka.

The description of Krishna as seen by kuchela in the song poorna chandranana is the author's own. The anxiety of Kuchela as to what he could tell his wife on returning home is expressed in the charana.

In the song Jalathisutha has also no corresponding passage in the original. These are added by the author for effect in the narration; so too the description of the bazaars and streets in Dwaraka. Quite in tune with the theme of the narration, the work has at its beginning song Bhaja Bheja Marasa calling for the cultivation of Bhakti, and concludes with a sloka emphasizing it again. The work bristles with rhyme and alliteration. There is repetition of the last part of the final words in the charanas.

In the song Ahaha naivajane and this is in accordance with the observation made by some Sanskrit grammar like Melputtur Narayana Bhatta that in utterance under strong feeling, even parts of words may be repeated. This incidentally reveals the intensity of the scholarship of Swati Tirunal since this is not a matter of common knowledge or practice although psychologically fully justifiable.

The songs are all simple in form and of varying lengths, the charanas varying between three and five. Three of them have only Pallavi and Anupallavi. The ragas are also mostly the common ones but those adopted from the North like Bihag. Yamunakalyani, Kafi and Bibhas also figure. The raga of the popular song smarati nu nam sadayam is found given as Madhyamavati, but it is invariably rendered in Bihag. The verses are in diverse meters. Some of these can be sung to tala, as for instance the opening verse in Khandachapu and in Adi.

Meruswami performed Harikatha in the royal presence using this work in February 1838 and the delighted Maharaja presented him with a pair of gold bangles, a golden necklace, a pair of shawls and Rs. 500.

( Extracts from Swathi Thirunal & his Music by Dr. S. Venkata Subramonya Iyer, Courty : College Book House, Thiruvananthapuram)


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