Dattatreya Rama Rao Parvatikar (1916-1990), though not one to care much for worldly recognition, left a lasting impression on this earthly plane. Living for years as a monk at the remote Himalayan Badrinath Temple, his music was far removed from the concert stages of the cities, and the urban tempos and trappings that came with them. In fact, some of his daily routines differed little from the ascetic lifestyles of the pre-technological era.
Little seems to be on record about his early life, but it is evident that his musical-spiritual dedication garnered great renown over time – worshippers would flock to his free temple performances to experience the meditative textures of the rudra veena, an ancient seven-string instrument long associated with Vedic prayers and yajna fire rituals. He also played the Dattatreya veena – an extraordinary creation of his own, designed as a more ‘piercing’ rudra veena variant, with other features borrowed from the sitar and a swarmandal-like capacity to be strummed. It almost has an electric guitar-like heaviness in places (e.g. 9:30):
Parvatikar soon became known as ‘Veena Baba’ by his students. He integrated lengthy music sessions into his ascetic practices as a sanyasi – a Sanskrit term meaning ‘to renounce everything’. He aimed for total spiritual purification, through a simple, ritualised lifestyle focused on prayer and meditation, with an emphasis on finding one’s own path to the divine.
He is known to have founded a music-oriented Nada Yoga School in Rishikesh in the 1950s, and also seems to have established the Shri Raghavendra Mission in Bangalore in the 1970s. To him, music was a personal, spiritual endeavor rather than a career, but – fortuitously – he was recorded in full flight in the 1950s by Alain Daniélou, an eminent musicologist and eventual Hindu convert who was travelling across India to record a UNESCO collection:
Parvatikar seems to have been a man of few written words, and there appears to be little out there (in English…) on the finer details of his life and thought. But his divine musical dedication was clear enough, captivating thousands over the years and eventually gaining him recognition as a Hindu saint. In the words of one listener, Jagarlapudi V. Suryanarayana, “I heard his Raag Pilu in the 60s, and carry the feeling of joy even today”.
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