Sunday, December 2, 2018

pAhi mAm ratnAcalanAyaka - mukhAri - Adi

As I write this post, I strum my guitar on a rainy Sunday morning watching the birds outside finding shelter from the rain and the cold. The month of December especially is paradoxical as on side you have the darkness and the gloom associated with the winter that settles in here in Europe, while on the other had, so does a feeling of Holidays and Festivity leading into Christmas and the New Year. As snowflakes start to descend, the Christmas Markets open up in pretty much every town square, filled with an array of shops and small trucks where you find the local artisans/foodies selling exactly that (local art and food). These markets are especially beautiful in the night as the lights turn on on the Christmas Trees, kids and parents skating in ice rinks with unabated joy and the boulevards leading to the square lit up with Stars and Ribbons.

While the past few weeks have been "heavy" from a work perspective, it has also been dotted with some very nice happenings as I have started reconnecting not only with my blog space but also with quite a few of my cherished friends who, more than being just friends have been a constant source of inspiration. Last week, I spoke to my dearest friend Shreekrishna, a fellow contributor on this blog and one of the most knowledgeable and sharpest musical brain ever. Even though we reconnected after 5 long years and realized how much we probably missed talking to each other, I felt like nothing had changed and we pretty much took off from where we had left off. And of course, needless to say, the conversation reinvigorated some beautiful thoughts from the mid-2000s including singing Shri kAntimatIm at the Galveston beach, while sitting on rocks amidst the waves, dedicating this song to the majestic Atlantic Ocean and what we called as "hemavati on the rocks" :).

And this was followed by a few e-mail exchanges with our dear Bala Sir, from whom, I had the privilege of learning metallurgical sciences at NIT, Trichy and who has been a friend, philosopher and guide for the past 15 odd years. He and his daughter Varshita's music are the real reason behind today's post on this beautiful composition. So, thank you Bala sir and Varshi :). The composition that I am going to write about, pAhi mAm ratnAcalanAyaka was composed by dIkshitar in the early 1800s at the auspicious Shiva shrine of Ratnagiri at Iyermalai/vAtpokki. I first heard this composition in 2006 from an old recording in which shri DK Pattammal had rendered the kriti so beautifully. As always, it was love and reverence at first listen, as I was dumbstruck with so many observations that I possibly cannot describe with sufficient adjectives here. Needless to say, I listened to this kriti probably non-stop for a few weeks, uncovered another version rendered by Musiri and did my own research  on pretty much every syllable that dIkshitar has used in this composition to understand and fully appreciate the depth and the musical import of this masterpiece, some of which, I hope to share in today's post.

Before jumping into the composition, a few words about the temple, its history and folklore. As the name suggests, this temple sits beautifully perched on top of a hill in Karur district along the kAvEri river and is believed to be 1300 years old making it one of the oldest and most significant saivite shrines in Tamil Nadu. The main deities of Lord Shiva in the form of ratnagirIswarar and Parvati in the form of Goddess araLakESi reside on top of the hill and only with ardent devotion can one endure the arduous climb of 1000+ steps to get to the top and get darshan. The temple is steeped in tradition and history with first references to this shrine in the holy saivite treatise of "Thevaram" by ThirunAvukkarasar in 7th century AD. It is also believed that the sage Agastya worshipped Lord Shiva at this holy place.

The temple also has multiple specialties that even dIkshitar references in this composition. Viewed form different locations, the hill resembles various forms of Lord Shiva and Parvathy with temple itself being said to be in the form of the pranava mantra (Om) and Lord Shiva being seen as a form of the Shri Chakra here. The main deity is surrounded by eight rock temples inside the main mandapam  and in combination with the main lingam in the sanctum sanctorum, these appear spectacularly like a garland of nine gems. The Lingam itself is tall, is believed to be a svayambhu (originated naturally by itself) and has a prominent scar at the top, which folklore attributes to the result of King AryarAjan having cut it with a sword, hence giving this temple the other name of "vAtkoppi" as it is referenced in Thevaram.

The folklore associated with the king's story results in another tradition that dIkshitar sings about in this composition about members of the Arya community providing water to anoint the Lingam here. It is believed that King Aryarajan lost his crown that was studded with nine gems and he came to Iyermalai and prayed to Shiva. Shiva came in the guise of an old Brahmin and asked the king to fill a big bowl called Kopparai with water from the Kaveri. Despite the king bringing water from the river and trying to fill the bowl repeatedly, the bowl would strangely never become full even after pouring water endlessly. The angry king is then believed to have taken his sword and threw it on the Brahmin, who immediately showed his swarupam, blessed the king, gave his crown back and turned into the form of the lingam here (and hence the scar on the lingam). Till date, this fascinating tradition continues with someone from the village going to the river, which is eight kilometers away, carrying the water all the way, climbing up the hill and finally emptying it into a large cauldron kept beside the Linga. With all this background, I will now move on to the composition itself, structured fully in sambodhana pratama, the eighth vibhakti.

pAhi mAm ratnAcalanAyaka bhaktajana shubhapradAyaka

dIkshitar starts the composition by seeking refuge and singing "Oh Lord of the jewel ("ratna") mountain ("acala"), please protect ("pAhi") me ("mAm")". He describes the compassionate and merciful nature of the Lord in this kSEtra by referring to Him as "the one who bestows ("pradAyaka") welfare and good fortune ("shubha") on his devotees ("bhaktajana")".

Just like how the initial steps leading to the hill top of this temple, the pallavi starts off with a simple gradient to help the listeners ease into the majestic mukhAri that follows. While he establishes the kSEtra of the composition in the pallavi itself, dIkshitar also clearly establishes the rAga bhAva of mukhAri musically with the opening phrases of "pdpMGR" at "pAhi mAm" and "sndSRM pmdd" at "rathnAcala nAyaka". Straight off the bat, dIkshitar starts of with the swara sAhityam of "pA" hi hinting that something more beautiful is coming in this composition. Also, in line with the folklore and history associated with this temple, the Lord is believed to have shown extreme compassion and patience and blessed King AryarAjan even after his devotee threw a sword on His face in a fit of anger. dIkshitar again emphasizes this characteristic of the Lord in the pallavi by referring to Him as one who gives welfare to his devotees. A final comment on the pallavi would be in reference to how beautifully the rhythm scheme of the retta kaLai Adi tALa fits in with the prAsa rhyme scheme that dIkshitar establishes in the pallavi, which sort of lays the foundation for this masterpiece to take shape in the anupallavi.

Moving on to the anupallavi,
mOhajArALakEshi varadhava 
muktiprada nata viriHnci mAdhava
rOhiNIsha ravi vahninayana
bhavarOgaharaNa nipuNatara caraNa shiva

dIkshitar continues to establish the physical precincts of the temple complex by referring to the Lord as "the divine husband ("varadhava") who is enchanted/smitten by ("mOhaja") Goddess araLakEshi and the one who bestows ("mukti") salvation ("mukti") and is worshipped ("nata") by Brahma ("viriHnci") and Vishnu ("mAdhava")". Goddess pArvati is given Her own shrine in the temple, midway along the walk up the hill. She takes the form of a beautiful Goddess with curly hair and hence Her name of one with the curly ("araLa") hair ("kEshi"), referred to by the locals in tamizh as Surumbar Kuzhali.

dIkshitar then proceeds to start the madhyamakAla sAhitya referring to the Lord's three eyes and describing Him as "the one who has the sun ("ravi"), moon ("rOhinIsha") and fire ("vahni") as his eyes ("nayana")". dIkshitar again beautifully cherry picks his words here showing his mastery over the language. For example, to keep the prAsa and rhyme scheme intact with "mOhaja" and bhava"rOga", dIkshitar uses the word "rOhinIsha" to refer to the moon as the consort of the star Rohini and this reference deserves a parentheses here which I will delve into. In Hindu mythology, there are multiple legends surrounding the moon and dIkshitar uses one such reference here. The moon is always known to have a direct influence on the mind, triggering lustful thoughts and hence dIkshitar sings candram bhaja mAnasa ("Oh mind!! medidate on the moon") in the navagraha kriti. In one of these mythological portrayal of the moon, he impregnates tAra, the wife of Brihaspati (planet Jupiter), giving birth to Budha (planet mercury). This upsets Brihaspati, who declares a war leading to the dEvas intervening and returning tAra to Brihaspati. The moon is said to have had an emotional breakdown because he couldn't satisfy his lustful feelings and so he pursued Daksha's 27 daughters to curb his ever-growing desires for sexual union. Hence the Indian monthly calendar has the 27 stars associated with the 27 days splitting the waxing and waning cycle of the moon. After marrying all the 27 daughters, the moon is said to have preferred only Rohini (one of the stars) among all of His 27 wives and dIkshitar uses this reference here to describe the moon. The other 26 wives become upset and complain to their father, Daksha who then curses the moon for His terrible sins. To overcome this sin, the moon becomes a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, who partially releases him from the curse by giving the moon a place in His Head.

Coming back to the composition, dIkshitar nicely rounds off the anupallavi by describing the Lord as "the one whose feet ("caraNa") are incomparably skilled ("nipuNa-tara") at destroying ("haraNa") the disease ("rOga") of wordly existence ("bhava")". These words are in reference to the great sages who have attained salvation and relief from the world existence by worshipping the Lord at this shrine such as appar, thirunAvukkarasar (the one who composed thevAram) and sage Agastya who is known to have visited this shrine on his way to podhigai malai.

Final comments on the musical beauty that dIkshitar weaves through the anupallavi. The unique phrase to begin the anupallavi, "pdNdp" at "mOhaja" kind of leaves a buzz in the listener's ears, generating a feeling of smitten-ness that dIkshitar uses to describe the Lord Himself in these lines. Personally for me, on many occasions I have felt that the sound that this phrase generates feels like a deep humming sound that a bee might generate when wafting through the curly locks of Goddess araLakEShi here. The madhyamakAla is again mesmerizing with phrases such as "ndsrm gr" at "rOhinIsha ravi" and "mpSS ndp" at "bhavarOga haraNa" before concluding the anupallvi with "rm" at "Shiva" and beautifully using this as a bridge to loop back to the swara sahityam of "pA"hi at the beginning of the pallavi. In the interest of the length of this post, I will move on to the caraNam.
sadyOjAtAdi paHncamukhAri-SaDvargarahita hRtsaHncAra
avidyOdaya viyadAdi prapaHnca vikalpAtIta tatva vicAra
vidyAtmaka shrI cakrAkAra vicitra navaratna girivihAra
gadyAnuviddha padyAdivinuta gaHNgAdhara Agama sAra
adyApyAryavamshajAta tUryajAti bhRtAkhaNDa kAvErI-
nadyOdakAbhiSikta sharIra anAdi guruguha kumAra mArahara

Just like many other of his kritis, dIkshitar kind of "escalates" and takes the composition to a whole new paradigm in the caraNam and leaves you dumbfounded in the process. He starts off the composition with a Grand Slam Home Run by describing the Lord as "the one who has five faces ("paHncamukha") starting with sadyOjAta etc ("Adi")" and as "the one who resides ("saHncAra") in the hearts ("hRt") bereft ("rahita") of the six ("SaD") categories ("varga") of enemies ("ari")". While it is impossible to do justice to describing the beauty of this one line in this composition except probably prostrating at the brilliance of dIkshitar. This line has to be probably in the top 10 usages of hidden rAga mudras that dIkshitar has used among all his compositions as he brings out the rAga name split between two words at paHnchamukha-ari SaDvarga while conveying great meaning and depth in the process. He refers to the form of Lord Shiva where He is described as having five faces signifying the five elements and thereby representing the entire universe. The top face is known as Ishana or Sadashiva, who is rarely depicted and governs zenith and the sky ("AkASa"). The east face that is referenced in this composition is Sadyojata or Mahadeva, the regent of the earth ("pritvi"). The west face is Tatpurusha or nandivaktra (the face of Nandi), denoting the wind ("vAyu"). While Vamadeva or Umavaktra (the face of Parvati) faces north and represents water ("varuNa"), aghora or bhairava looks south and denotes fire ("agni").

The brilliance of dIkshitar does not come in just using the five-faced reference but in actually linking it with the reference to the six evils/enemies of the mind and thereby using this combination to produce the rAgamudra. In Hindu theology, arishadvarga are the six enemies of the mind, which are: lust ("kAma"), anger ("krodha"), greed ("lobha"), attachment ("mOha"), pride ("mada") and jealousy ("matsarya"); the negative characteristics of which prevent man from attaining moksha or salvation. Again, in the interest of the length of this post and inability of English words to describe the brilliance of this line, I move on to the next lines of the composition.

dIkshitar continues to describe the Lord as "the one who is beyond the diversities ("vikalpa-atIta") of the universe ("prapaHnca") that results from ignorance ("avidya-udaya"), and is made of the elements starting with space ("viyat-Adi")" and as "the one is the scientific embodiment ("vidyAtmaka") of inquiring ("vicAra") the truth/origin ("tatva")". He continues to describe the Lord as "the one who takes the form ("AkAra") of the Shri Cakra signified ("vihAra") in the resplendent ("vicitra") mountain ("giri") of the nine gems ("navaratna")". As I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, the temple and the mountain structure in itself is supposed to signify the Shri cakra when viewed from above and dIkshitar uses this reference. Here, on a surface level vicitra stands for "resplendent/beautiful". But we can contemplate and come up with a slightly deeper meaning too. The lingam here is a swayambu and it emerges from amidst eight other rocks in the sactum. Hence, the lingam itself becomes the ninth rock and hence it is referred to as navaratnam. In order to differentiate the lingam (the 9th rock) from the other eight rocks, dikshitar has probably chosen the word "vicitra" referring to the lingam as a rock which is different/weird compared to the other eight.
dIkshitar then goes on to describe the Lord as "the one who wears ganges on his head ("gaHNgAdhara"), is the essence ("sAra") of all the scriptures ("Agama") and one who resides in/permeates through ("anuviddha") and is praised/worshipped ("vinuta") by all prose ("gadya") and poetry ("padya")". These lines go together. Since He is the origin of all knowledge in the first place ("Agama sAra"), it only makes sense that He is worshipped and praised by all forms of literature (prose and poetry). Further, the scriptures show high reverence for this temple as it is mentioned in the works of thirunAvukkarasar, appar and the famous tirupugazh by arunagirinathar.

dIkshitar then creates magic in the madhyamakAla sAhitya, invoking the references to the traditional practices carried out in the temple. He writes it in a "pesudo present tense" that actually makes us feel that he is right there narrating this whole thing. He refers to the act of the Lord being bathed by waters of the Kaveri by Brahmins by describing Him as "the one whose form ("sharIra") is bathed ("abhishikta") in the waters of the vast, inexhaustible Kaveri ("akhaNDa kAvEri") river carried by ("bhRta") the ones of the arya vamsa and washed by the brahmins ("turya jAti"), even today ("adya api")". turya jAti here refers to the brAhman priests who eventually perform the abhisheka with the water brought from the river. dIkshitar refers to the brAhmans as turya jAti or as a race born from the fourth state of consciousness (state of silence beyond the state of wakefulness(gross body), dream(subtle astral plane) and dreamless sleep(causal body)). He then completes the composition by bringing in the composer mudra and describing the Lord as "the destroyer ("hara") of cupid ("mAra") and the one whose progeny ("kumAra") is the beginning-less ("anAdi") guruguha".

The caraNam is a one of the most dense, intense and esoteric set of words that we encounter in dIkshitar kritis. A grand theme that seems to run as a single thread throughout the caraNam is the contrasting ends and dichotomy that dIkshitar portrays showcasing his great mastery over the language, perhaps signifying the vicissitudes of human life. Some of these dichotomies being:
1. Specific and Generic: The caraNam is steeped in references that are both generic to Lord Shiva such as "paHNcamukha" and "AgamasAra" as well as being specific to this particular temple such as references to the tradition in the temple, "vicitra navaratna girivihAra".
2. Five Six, pick up the sticks: Using "panHncamukha" (five) and ari"SaD" (six) one after the other, creating a sequence of numbers while at the same time bringing in the rAgamudra in one master stroke.
3. Knowledge and Ignorance: He refers to the Lord using both references to knowledge ("vidyAtmaka") and the lack of it ("avidyOdaya") again showing that the Lord resides in both these dichotomies equally.
4. Prose and Poetry: Apart from the only similarity that both are forms of expression, prose and poetry can't be more distinct and different from each other in structure, emotional content and grammar. However, just like how dIkshitar weaves poetry with prose in each of his compositions, he refers to the Lord also as one who is worshipped by both these different forms of grammar.
5. Beginning and End, Birth and Death: In the final lines of the caraNam, dIkshitar conveys these huge, oxymoron-ic concepts using a combination of four words back to back, while in the process bringing in the composer mudra of guruguha. He describes the Lord as a creator by showing Him as the one who brings about the birth of the beginning-less guruguha while at the same time describes Him as the destroyer who brings an end to cupid.

Musically, the caraNam is again extremely rich as it pretty much exhausts the whole spectrum of prayOgams that mukhAri has to offer. The DKP and the Musiri versions I mentioned capture the beauty of the caraNam in its entirety and I would also recommend listening to this beautiful version rendered by Ramakrishnan Murthy. I wind up my explanation on this composition here and leave it to the listening experience of the readers to transport themselves to an alternate dimension the next time they hear this kriti being rendered by anyone. As I sign off for today, I make a note to myself to visit Iyermalai in my next visit to India and sing this kriti at the abode of Lord Rathnagiriswarar :). In my next post which I target to publish within the next 10 days, based on request from one of my dearest friends, I will write about a beautiful composition on Goddess kAmAkSi which also happens to be one of my favorites as well. Until then, enjoy the beautiful month of mArgazhi :). shrI gurubhyO namah!!           

Sunday, November 18, 2018

shrI varalakSmI namastubhyam - shrI - rUpaka

After a hiatus of four long years, the musical scientist is back with a post :). While I am definitely trying to make a come back to my good old blogging days with today's post, I do not want to stake claim that I am fully back yet, as I have made such claims in the past and have failed miserably to live up to them. But for some reason, it definitely does feel different as I can feel the enthusiasm rush through my veins as I write these words, just like how I used to feel in those golden good old days probably 10 years ago.

So, the reader might wonder, what made me go into hibernation and just disappear off the radar like that? I would attribute it to a combination of many things (primarily professional life) that made me succumb to a banal, mundane lifestyle which further resulted in a lack of time and creative urge to express myself like I used to. In all fairness, it was more of my doing driven by my choices in life than anybody else's. And trust me when I say this, I did try to resuscitate the blog and my creative juices quite a few times in the past 4 years but somehow, I never could get that enthusiasm and love for writing back.

The next question (that I am asking myself), would be what has changed since the last time I blogged and the answer would be nothing much :) !! The world continues to go around its axis, probably a bit more dirtier, hotter and closer to its eventual destruction and a geopolitical situation that is not helping its cause. If anything, as a person, I have become more mature and my love for our music and the nAdajyOti (and the trinity) has increased further, up to a point where nothing else really seems to matter any more in life :).

A final question would probably be, what has made me come back now and the answer to that one would be straightforward. In the last 4 years, I would have received at least a hundred comments and requests from the rasikAs who follow this blog, mentioning how they have benefited and learnt from this blog, requesting for new posts and my thoughts on specific compositions. So, in a way, you can definitely say that I am back by popular demand and thanks to all of you who have pushed me and helped me wake up and come back to writing about these great compositions. Of course, now that I am writing this, I know how much I missed this feeling of having a high/getting a kick and feeling on top of the world, while at the same time feeling grounded/humble and like a tiny speck of dust in front of these magnum opuses and the brilliance of the nAdajyOti. And so without further ado, let me jump into the composition for today, shrI varalakSmI in the rAga shrI.

There are three primary reasons why I am beginning my comeback with this gentle yet powerful composition. The first one being the fact that I miss my mom, sitting 7000 kilometers away in Luxembourg (which is where I have been for 2.5 years now) and hence I wanted to resume with a composition on the divine mother, seeking strength and Her love in the physical absence of my mom. The second one being it is deepavali season and Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in the form of Lakshmi puja during this part of the year. The last reason I chose this composition was I thought I should resume with a nice, auspicious composition and what better a rAga to choose than the most auspicious rAga of them all, shrI, whose very name itself means auspiciousness :). And before jumping into the composition, as always, I will start with a bit of background about the deity and the temple where this was composed which will better explain some of the references that dIkshitar uses in the composition to describe the divine mother.

Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu signifies predominantly wealth and well-being and like the other divine mothers (pArvati and saraswati), is worshipped in many forms and amshAs signifying prosperity, strength and well-being. The first references of Lakshmi are seen in both Rig and Atharva vEda (transcribed ~1000 BC) as "bhadraiṣāṁ lakṣmīrnihitādhi vāci" in which, more than referring to Her as a Goddess, the word is used to signify "auspicious fortune". The first references of Goddess Lakshmi as a consort of Lord Vishnu comes much later in some Hindu texts believed to have been written around 500 BC. Since then, the Goddess has been depicted as one either sitting/standing on a red lotus, wearing red attire (signifying auspiciousness) and having four hands signifying the four ways of Hindu life, dharma, artha, kAma and mOksha.

As the consort of Vishnu, in VishnupurANa, Lakshmi is described in two primordial forms of bhUdEvi and shrIdEvi, who both reside along with Lord Vishnu in vaikunTam and are basically considered the energy forms that help Vishnu protect the universe, very similar to Goddess pArvati being the the shakti force supporting Lord Shiva. As the names suggest, bhUdEvi is considered to signify all that is physical and material matter while shrIdEvi is considered to be pure auspicious energy of the spiritual world. From these two primary manifestations, came eight more secondary manifestations, with each form signifying the eight different forms of wealth, namely, (1) primordial (AdiLakshmi), (2) monetary (dhanaLakshmi), (3) granary (dhAnyaLakshmi), (4) courage (dhairyaLakshmi), (5) progeny/continuity (santAnaLakshmi), (6) fertility, raw power and memory (GajaLakshmi), (7) victory (vijayaLakshmi) and (8) knowledge/education (vidyALakshmi). While different treatises and scriptures have different stories behind origins of Lakshmi, the primary two versions are (1) emergence of Lakshmi from the ocean when dEvAs and asurAs churned the ocean during Lord Vishnu's kUrmAvatar and (2) birth of Goddess Lakshmi as the daughter of sage bhrigu and hence aptly named bhArgavi, on whom dIkshitar composed the magnum opus "shrI bhArgavi" in the beautiful rAga mangaLakaishiki (oh what a kriti, need to go in depth for another time). In this particular composition of shrI varalakSmI, dIkshitar refers to all these amshAs of the Goddess, describing her as pure wealth and auspiciousness.

Another quick and very important mention with reference to this particular composition is how dIkshitar beautifully brings in the allusion to varalakshmI vratam, a divine occasion when the Goddess is celebrated across every household in India during the monsoon months. Unlike other countries in the world, India is unique, for it is the only country blessed with two monsoon seasons. It is the two months of the "second/return" monsoon, Shravana and Bhadrapada on the traditional Hindu calendar that are considered as time for prayers and celebrating nature and life. While a 16 day fast is observed in North India during the month of Bhadrapada (September/October), in South India, the Friday before the full moon night in the month of Shravana (second monsoon in August/September) is celebrated as 'Varalakshmi Vratam' to commemorate Shravana Shukravara and pray for wealth, prosperity and long, healthy life for their husbands. dIkshitar starts off the caraNam with this reference addressing the Godddess as "shrAvaNa paurNamI pUrvastha shukravArE", as the one who is worshipped on the Friday ("shukravArE") before ("pUrvastha") the full moon night ("paurNamI") in the month of shrAvaNa.

With that, let us get into the composition itself and go through the three traditional parts of the composition, the pallavi, anupallavi and the caraNam.

shrI varalakSmI namastubhyam vasupradE
shrI sArasapadE rasapadE sapadE padE padE

dIkshitar sings "Salutations ("namastubhyam") to the auspicious ("shrI") Varalakshmi! The one who bestows ("pradE") fortunes and wealthy dwelling ("vasu"), whose divine ("shrI") feet ("padE") are like a beautiful lotus ("sArasa"), the one from whose feet ("padE") originated the essence ("rasa") of life, the one whose feet is graceful at every step ("sapadE"), and protects in every occasion/step ("padE padE") of all lives."

Just like many other occasions, dIkshitar starts off the composition with the most apt and beautiful word "shrI", thereby achieving at least three different purposes. The first being the literal meaning of the word "shrI" which translates to "auspiciousness", the single most important quality that is attributed to Goddess Lakshmi and hence the best word to address the divine mother. The second, being the esoteric fact that Goddess Lakshmi is also called shrI or thirumagaL in tamizh, because she is endowed with six auspicious and divine qualities, or gunas, and as I mentioned before, is the divine strength of Lord Vishnu himself. The third being the musical reference to the rAga shrI in which the composition itself is structured, thereby becoming the rAga mudrA.

dIkshitar again brings in multiple possible interpretations by using the word "vasupradE" due to the fact that the word "vasu" itself can be interpreted in multiple ways. One meaning as I have mentioned in the explanation is reference to fortunes and wealthy dwelling. The other meaning can be made in relation to the eight primordial elements or "ashTavasu" referenced in both mahAbhArata and brhadAranyaka upanishad" alluding to the eight elements of earth ("prithvi"), fire ("agni"), wind ("vAyu"), water ("varuNa"), sky/ether ("AkAsa"), sun ("Aditya"), moon ("candramAs") and stars ("nakSatrANi") with Goddess Lakshmi being referred to as the one who gave rise ("pradE") to all these eight elements, in relation to the material bhUdEvi that I mentioned earlier.

Then comes probably the highlight of the pallavi, the beautiful wordplay showing the mastery that dIkshitar had over Sanskrit. As I have mentioned in my many previous posts, dIkshitar exploits the yatis structure in Sanskrit in many compositions and in this composition, he employs the gOpuchcha yati, called so due to its resemblance to a cow's tail which starts thick and trims down, while conveying infinite meanings in the process. This can be better imagined as shown below where he starts off with the main word and peels off one letter at a time to generate infinite more meanings:

Musically, again, this structure yields itself beautifully to the rUpaka tALa, giving musicians the ability to sing this sAhitya in all the three speeds with even a khanda version possible once again showing why he is the master and by far the greatest composer in Sanskrit in history. The words of "padE" and references to "rasa" and "sa" that he uses in the process of developing this yati can again be interpreted in infinite different ways which will probably require a separate post in itself.

Finally, a comment on the swaraprasthAras that make the pallavi flow like this beautiful stream. He starts off with the majestic "Rgrss" at "shrI varaLakshmi" that establishes the shrI rAga in the very first phrase itself. At "namOsthubyam", he uses "Rsnp" and ventures into the mandira sthAyi, coming back to the middle pitch by using "rsNsR" at "vasupradE", a mellifluous swarasAhitya of r"S" at shrI "Sa"rasa before launching into the tAra sthAyi and the gopuchcha yati formation completing the structure and rounding up the pallavi as I mentioned like a beautiful river that resumes its flow after going over some rapids. All in all, I would say, this pallavi is heavily underrated, as you can see, the brilliance, the majesty and the comprehensiveness of it is unparalleled.

Moving on to the anupallavi,
bhAvaja janaka prANavallabhE suvarNAbhE
bhAnukOTisamAna prabhE bhaktasulabhE
sEvakajanapAlinyai shritapa.nkajamAlinyai
kEvalaguNashAlinyai kEshavahRtkhElinyai

As in many other compositions, dIkshitar uses the anupallavi to describe the physical references of the Goddess, establishing Her with reference to how She is known in daily life and described in the scriptures. He begins the anupallavi, describing Her as "the one who is the soul/primordial force and beloved ("prANa vallabhE") of Lord Vishnu". He refers to Lord Vishnu as the father ("janaka") of cupid ("bhAvaja") and goes on to describe the physical beauty of the Goddess as "one who shines like molten gold("suvarNAbhE") and as the one whose effulgence ("prabhE") is equal to ("samAna") that of a crore ("kOTi") of suns ("bhAnu")". dIkshitar then brings up Her protective and devotee-loving qualities by describing her as "the one who is easily accessible/grants virtues ("sulabhE") to Her devotees ("bhakta")", following which he starts the madhyamakAla sAhitya again on a similar note describing Her as "the one who protects ("pAlinyai") those who are devoted to Her and serve Her ("sEvakajana"). He continues with the madhyamakAla sAhitya by describing the Goddess as "the one who is adorned ("shrita") with a garland ("mAlinyai") of lotus ("pa.nkaja"), the one who is a resplendent paragon ("shAlinyai") of good virtues ("kEvalagunA") and sports/finds a spot ("khElinyai") in the heart ("hRt") of Lord Vishnu ("kEshava")".

In the anupallavi, dIkshitar again shows his linguistic prowess as he cherry picks words that convey the right meaning while maintaining the prAsam of the grammar, such as "bhAvaja" and "kEshava" to refer to Lord Vishnu. Musically, the phrases are again mesmerizing as he begins the anupallavi with "Pnpmpm" at "bhAvaja janaka" before using a beautiful "Grs" at "prANa" and then landing with "RNsR" at "suvarNAbhE". The smooth "Grs" again at "bhAnu" setting up the sudden ascent to "nmp" at "kOTi" before going into the tAra sthAyi with "RgrsnPsnsr" at "sEvakajanapAlinyai". He follows it with a beautiful descending prayOga of "srnspnmprmp" at "shritapan.kaja" before finally bringing in the first dhaivata prayOgam with "Pdnpm" at "kEshava" to stamp the gOvindAcharyA version of mELakartas, with this dhaivata prayOgam being the main and only way to make shrI rAga the rAgAnga version of the 22nd mElakarta and establishing it as the equivalent to the other school's karaharapriya.

The anupallavi sets up a strong platform for the caraNam to build on and crescendo.
shrAvaNa paurNamI pUrvastha shukravArE
cArumatI prabhRtibhih pUjitAkArE
dEvAdi guruguha samarpita maNimayahArE
dInajana sam.rakSaNa nipuNa kanakadhArE
bhAvanAbhEdacaturE bhAratIsannutavarE
kaivalyavitaraNaparE kA.nkSitaphalapradakarE

As I mentioned in the introduction to the composition, dIkshitar begins the caraNam by bringing in the reference to varalakSmI vratam by describing the Goddess as "the one who is worshipped ("pUjitAkArE")  by suvAsinis ("cArumatI prabhRtibhih") on the Friday ("shukravArE") before ("pUrvastha") the full moon night ("paurNamI") in the month of shrAvaNa". He then brings in his composer mudra of "guruguha" by describing Her as "the one who wears a garland of gems ("maNimayahArE") offered by Lord kArtikEya ("Guruguha") and other celestial beings ("dEvAdi") . He again brings forth the compassionate form of the divine mother by describing Her as "the one who is an expert ("nipuNa") in protecting ("sam.rakSaNa") the afflicted ("dInajana") and resembles a shower (“dhAre”) of gold ("kanaka")". dIkshitar then sets up the crescendo for the composition by moving on to the madhyamakAla sAhityam where he describes the Goddess as "the one who is smart and capable ("caturE") in differentiating ("bhEda") emotions ("bhAvanA"), is worshipped ("sannutavarE") by Goddess Saraswati ("bhAratI"), is a path to/bestower of ("vitaraNaparE") liberation ("kaivalya") and bestower of ("pradakarE") desired boons ("kA.nkSita phala")".

Musical highlights are when dIkshitar explores some amazing phrases in the caraNam such as "snnpNM" at "shrAva Na paurNamI" and "MpnsRGrs" at "dEvAdi guruguha". The madhyamkAla sAhityam as always is a treat with phrases such as "Pmrgrsrpm" at "bhAvanAbhEdacaturE" and predominantly tAra sthAyi "nsrgrsnprsr" at "kaivalyavitaraNaparE". I love the TNS version with kalpanaswaras at "bhAvanAbhEdacaturE" and the more sedate and clean version of the composition presented by the young Ashwath Narayanan here and would recommend listening to these renditions to soak in the composition in its entirety.

I will conclude this post by saying that this composition ranks way high up and among the six beautiful dIkshitar compositions in shrI rAga , probably second in the list, right after the magnum opus "shrI tyAgarAja mahAdhvajArOha" composed at the tiruvArUr temple. I hope some of you musicians who are reading this post are able to re-visualize this composition, expand further on it and present it on the music stage giving this composition the full status and depth that it rightfully deserves :).

Writing this post has definitely reinvigorated the passion for dIkshitar and my love for explaining his compositions. I hope this is the beginning of a new purple patch for me as I expound my creativity by immersing myself in the great man's compositions and bring forth the gems that adorn the magical horizons of dIkshitar's star-studded night sky. I will set myself a target to publish the next post before the end of November, take it one post at a time and see how it goes before I can proudly claim "I am back"!!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ananda naTana prakASam - kEdAram

As yet another week flew by, I still wonder why and how the time went. The pace at which this life is aging is quite concerning and the fact that I can't control or do much about it, though is quite humbling, is making me more anxious. I guess the only way forward is to be on one's toes all the time, live in the present and live every moment to the fullest because though there are still miles to go before I sleep, the miles are disappearing much faster than I would like them to. Given this is the reality, I realize that there are many things that I have to give to this world both personally and professionally and it is my duty to ensure that I don't while away time and focus on spending every minute productively.

As we continue to explore the depths of the pancabhUta linga kritis of the nAdajyOti, we move on to the majestic cidambaram temple for the culmination of the series in the form of the soothing kEdAra rAga singing the praises of Lord Shiva who resides in this temple complex in the form of ether/space. The name of the temple town itself comes from the tamizh word, "cittrambalam" or "cittambalam" literally translating to "the open area of consciousness". The sthala vriksham here are the mangrove trees since essentially this area was a mangrove forest and hence it is also known as tillai (mangrove) natarAja temple or tillai vanam. The temple is also associated with sage vyAgrapAda, the saint with tiger feet (references will be explained while discussing the kriti) and hence called puliyUr in tamizh with the Lord called puliyUran.

The temple itself has multiple great esoteric significances, the explanations of which in itself will demand a separate post from me. The temple is supposed to be located at the lotus heart of universe. The temple has five main ambalams or sabhais -

1. Citt-ambalam: the sanctum sanctorum housing the Lord and his consort sivakAma valli.
2. Pon-ambalam: the golden roofed hall where the rituals are performed and which houses the nishkala space, also referred to as the cidambara rahasyam.
3. nritya-sabhai: the stage where Lord Nataraja is supposed to have outdanced kALi and displayed his supremacy, thereby establishing this temple as the birthplace of nATya.
4. rAja-sabhai: the 1000-pillared hall alluding to the thousand-petal lotus, sahasrAra cakra of yogic significance
5. dEva-sabhai: the hall housing the main deities of the temple including Lord Ganesha, sOmAskanda and gOvindarAja perumAL.

 The temple has nine gopurams or gateways signifying the 9 openings of the human body. The gopurams themselves are breath-taking pieces of art with the east gopuram depicting all the 108 postures of bharatnAtya. I still vividly remember how I was awed when I entered the temple for the first time, overwhelmed by the divine vibrations of the kSEtra and the sheer magnificence of the temple and its construction.

The temple finds mention in all of the significant saivite scriptures and is established as kSEtra where the Lord performed the divine cosmic dance or the Ananda tAndava. The naTarAja tAndava position itself with the Lord lifting his left leg and striking the divine pose has so much of esoteric significance again, some of which are present in the picture that I have uploaded in this post. As I mentioned earlier, I guess it will make sense to have a separate post explaining the greatness of this temple and the folklore of the kSEtra. Will try to do that soon. And of course, dIkshitar reduces that pain a bit by actually composing so many beautiful kritis in this temple, with many brilliant references in this composition itself which will give me a chance to bring all the significant stuff to the forefront. So, I will stop here and jump directly into the composition and will hopefully point out some more crucial points about the kSEtra as the kriti progresses.


Ananda naTana prakASaM citsabhESaM
AsrayAmi SivakAma vallISaM


dIkshitar seeks refuge ("AsrayAmi") in "the consort of Goddess SivakAma valli, the Lord who displays his effulgence ("prakASaM") through His blissful ("Ananda") cosmic dance ("naTana"), the one who is the Lord of the divine citsabha".

The pallavi of this composition possibly rates among the grandest beginning of all of dIkshitar's kritis. And he indeed chooses to start it with the word "Ananda". The composition in itself is pure bliss and brings happiness to the listener's soul. In the first four words itself, he clearly sets the context and establishes the kSEtra with its significance. Lord Shiva's tAndava rUpam is brought forth in its full majesty and just the way that His resplendent dance illuminates crores of universe, this pallavi also shines brilliantly among the universe of compositions out there.

dIkshitar refers to the sanctum sanctorum as citsabha, the hall of consciousness, which is how the garbagriham is featured. He completes the physical description of the main deities by mentioning the consort, Goddess SivakAmavalli. Also, one should carefully observe how dIkshitar uses the same word "ISa" in different contexts in the pallavi itself, first as "Lord" and then as "husband/consort".

The beautiful start is probably best embellished by the deep, resonating voice of shri MD Ramanathan when he opens with the "snpss" in mandira stAyi. This being followed by the "gmpnsnpm" phrase at "naTana prakASaM" is so beautiful that one gets the feeling that kEdAra rAga itself came into existence only for this kriti. It meanders and lends itself just like a well-prepared clay lends itself to the potter. And the potter here, the genius dIkshitar, handles the lilting phrases of the raga with such tender hands that the final pot that shapes up is grand and graceful. And being the skilled potter that he is, dIkshitar chooses to use the cApu tALa for describing the Lord who dances his Ananda tAndava at this much more apt could he get. Moving on to the anupallavi,


bhAnu kOTi kOTi saMkASaM
bhukti mukti prada daharAkASaM
dIna jana saMrakshaNa caNaM
divya patanjali vyAgrapAda-
darSita kuncitAbja caraNam


dIkshitar describes the Lord as "the one whose appearance is as resplendent as ("saMkASaM") crores and crores ("kOTi kOTi") of suns ("bhAnu"). The one who is adept in bestowing ("prada") bliss ("bhukti") as well as salvation ("mukti") and the one who is worshipped as the form of daharAkASa, the space within a yogi's heart. The one who is well-known ("caNaM") for protecting ("saMrakshaNa") the weak and down-trodden ("dIna jana")".

dIkshitar then alludes to folklore and describes the Lord as "the one who bent and raised ("kuncita") his lotus-shaped ("Abja") feet ("caraNam") to give the vision ("darSita") of his cosmic dance to the divine ("divya") sages patanjali and vyAgrapAda".

In the anupallavi, dIkshitar brings in reference to the primordial element that the Lord represents at this temple, space. Right beside the main deity in the citsabha, is empty space which is famously referred to as "cidambara rahasyam", for the Lord is known to pervade this space and the space itself has no origin or end and hence it remains a mystery. This space which the Lord pervades and dances in with all His glory is compared to the heart of a staunch yogi/devotee, since that beautiful space is also pervaded by the Lord in all His glory and He dances his resplendent cosmic dance in the heart. This space is called daharAkASa and dIkshitar uses this beautiful word in the anupallavi.

In the last line of the anupallavi, dIkshitar refers to the saints patanjali and vyAgrapAda and the famous event in which the Lord is known to have given darshan to these two divine souls with his foot raised, the same posture that is depicted in the form of the natarAja idol. Saint vyAgrapAda, as his name suggests, was a saint with tiger feet. He is known to have requested the Lord to grant him the feet of a tiger so that he can climb the foliage of big trees and bring back flowers from the tree tops and creepers to decorate the Lord and worship him. The Lord is supposed to have been so pleased with the saint's devotion that He chose to name this kSEtra itself as puliyUr ("tiger town") and in tamizh, the Lord Himself is referred to as "puliyUran". While the Lord is known to wear the tiger skin and this could be a possible explanation for "puliyUran", I find the vyAgrapAda reference to be more apt for this particular kSEtra. What more could the noble yogi saint have asked for with the Lord Himself being named after the devotee's tiger feet.

Musically, every phrase is a stamp of beauty beginning with the lilting gAndara usage at "kOTi" and the smooth pancama-shadja usage at "bhukti" followed by the "gmpnsnpmgrrs" at "daharAkASaM". The galloping cApu tALa's majestic gait is brought forth in its full grace in the madhyamakAla sAhityam. This, combined with the musical structure of the sAhityam traversing gently into the tAra stAyi and landing back in the madhya stAyi is just a stroke of genius and one that cannot be described in mere words and probably not even experienced in full when listened to. And then to top it off, dIkshitar has constructed beautiful soll-kattus to round off the anupallavi, completely in line with the theme of the dancing Lord at this divine kSEtra. The cApu's movement, the rAga's beauty and the soll-kattus rhythm all come together in an amalgamation of brilliance that can probably never again be constructed by a human. It is while listening to such beautiful things that one realizes how blessed this soul is to have even listened to and tried to comprehend the genius of dIkshitar. Salutations to the great master and his art.

With such a strong anupallavi, dIkshitar has to capitalize on the beautiful platform that he has built. And the edifice that he builds in the form of the caraNam is just outrageously gorgeous, the structure as beautiful as the physical gopUrams and the artwork in the temple itself.      


SItAMSu gangAdharaM nIlakandharaM
SrI kEdArAdi kSEtra AdhAram
bhUtESaM SArdUla carmAmbaraM cidambaraM
bhUsura tri-sahasra munISwaram viSvESwaram
navanIta hRdayaM sadaya guruguha tAtaM
AdyaM vEdavEdyaM vItarAgiNaM-
apramEyAdvaita pratipAdyaM
sangIta vAdya vinOdha tAndava-
jAta bahu-tara bhEda cOdyam


dIkshitar describes the Lord as "the one wearing ("dharaM") the ganges and the moon ("SItAMSu") and the one with the blue neck ("nIlakandharaM"). He is the foundation ("AdhAram") of all sacred places ("kSEtra") beginning with the auspicious ("SrI") kEdAra. He is the Lord of all living beings and elements ("bhUta") and is the one whose dress ("ambaraM") is made out of tiger ("SArdUla") skin ("carma"). The one who dwells in cidambaraM, the ethereal medium of consciousness. He is the Lord ("ISwaram") of the three thousand ("tri-sahasra") Brahmin ("bhUsura") sages ("muni") and the Lord of the universe ("viSvESwaram")".

dIkshitar continues to portray the compassionate amsha of the Lord by describing Him as "the one whose heart ("hRdayaM") is as soft as fresh butter ("navanIta"), the ever-compassionate ("sadaya") father ("tAtaM") of Lord Guruguha. He is the primordial one ("AdyaM") and the one whose praises is sung ("vEdyaM") in the vEdas. The one who is free of all desires ("vItarAgiNaM"), immeasurable ("apramEya") and expounded ("pratipAdyaM") the monoism philosophy ("advaita")."

dIkshitar nicely rounds off the madhyamakAla sAhityam by describing the Lord as "the one who derives pleasure ("vinOdha") in music ("sangIta") and instruments ("vAdya") and the one whose cosmic dance ("tAndava") both causes ("jAta") and distinguishes ("bhEda") the various ("bahu-tara") questions ("cOdyam") (about life and beyond)".

After the soll-kattus and the dancing rhythm, dIkshitar does a complete volte-face as he re-establishes a complete state of calm and grace similar to the one observed in the pallavi. He begins with a calm, undulated pancamam at "sItAMSu" and continues to describe the Lord in line with the space theme. He refers to the Lord's blue-colored neck and thereby alluding to the color blue, which once again signifies space. dIkshitar establishes the importance of this great kSEtra as a saivite shrine by referring to the Lord natarAja at this temple to be the founding basis for all other shrines. It is indeed well-established in the scriptures that it is the divine cosmic dance of the Lord that built and sustains this whole universe. In the process, dIkshitar brilliantly slips in the rAga mudra and his genius is truly reiterated as he uses the beautiful "p-s" phrase while employing the rAga mudra itself. If I ever get the chance to meet the divine soul, right after prostrations, my first question to him would be how did he manage this ;(.

dIkshitar then goes on to showcase his grammatical skills as he plays with words. He uses the word "ambaram" consecutively in carmAmbaram and cidambaram, with the first ambaram referring to the tiger skin that the Lord wears while the latter reference alludes to the esoteric nature of the space that the Lord pervades. dIkshitar also brings in folklore while referring to the 3000 sages in the caraNam. Legend has it that 3000 sages left for cidambaram from Kailash and on reaching the destination, one was found missing. As confusion prevailed among the sages, the Lord Himself is known to have appeared and clarified that He was one of the 3000 in that group that left Kailash for He wanted to manifest Himself in the south in this great temple.

dIkshitar then brings in references to the Lord being the origin of the universe and how he symbolizes the advaita doctrines. It is quite touching and unexpected that the Lord also shows his merciful side at this shrine as dIkshitar invokes the "navanIta hRdaya" phrase to begin the madhyamakAla sAhityam. The last few lines of the caraNam are as esoteric as the space element itself that it can be interpreted in multiple ways. While it is clear that He rejoices in the divine sound of music, it is also equally true that the Lord actually used sound ("praNava mantra") and his divine damaru while dancing to actually create the universe and its beings. dIkshitar leaves the last few lines open to interpretation because he just describes the Lord's dance as a phenomenon that creates and answers all the questions. This is probably the cidambara rahasyam itself since he chooses not to clarify which are the particular questions he is referring to here. And dIkshitar embellishes the composition again with the beautiful soll-kattus in line with the cosmic dance itself. As I struggle for words to depict the beauty of this composition further, I also realize it is best left to the rasika to listen and drown himself in the sweet nectarine genius that this composition and dIkshitar is.

With this post, the pancabhuta linga series comes to an end. I hope I did decent justice to these magnificent compositions as each kriti in itself stands as five gopurams to attaining the Lord. The rich grandeur that these compositions compel are what makes these kritis stand the test of time and probably become more and more beautiful as we sing it everyday. I request all the artists out there to preserve these gems for posterity so that the genius of dIkshitar is witnessed and experienced for generations to come.

As I sign off, I don't know which composition to take up next. If there are any particular compositions that you would like to see here, please send me an e-mail. If I don't get any request as such, I will venture into some other beautiful piece based on my mood the next time I sit down and decide to blog :). I will probably try to make some quick, short posts to catch up with time that I have lost. Till then, have a divine, musical week ahead. shrI gurubhyO namaH           


Sunday, August 31, 2014

SrI kALahastISa - husAni

 I start this post with an apology to myself and the followers of this blog. An apology for having breached my 15 day per post deadline. With Diwali coming up, work has been quite hectic and I have also been occupied with numerous other things due to which, I have not been able to sit down and pen my thoughts. I need to make up for lost time and will try to publish two posts in quick succession to catch up.

Today, I had a wonderful time with one of cousins and her husband. We had such a great time that I wished we could've spent many more such afternoons and evenings together. It had a bit of everything - fun, laughter, music and of course, good food :). Anyway, now that we have realized how beautiful it is to spend time together, I am sure we will meet more often and enjoy good company and great food :).

Continuing with the pancabhuta linga kritis of shri muthuswAmi dIkshitar, we will today look at the beautiful composition "SrI kALahastISa" in rAga husAni ("husEni" as its name has changed over time) where dIkshitar describes in detail, Lord Shiva embodying the primordial element of vAyu (Air). The significance of this temple is seen in the form of the lamp that endlessly flickers in the airless, almost-vacuum chamber thereby showing the presence of Lord Shiva in the form of air here. The first time I visited this temple, I had a pretty bad headache and we were in a rush on the way back from tirupati. But I still vividly remember the majestic white gopuram with the beautiful river swarnamukhi washing the walls of the temple and seeing this wonderful site, my headache disappeared in a fraction of a second.

The temple town and the Lord here derive their name after the staunch devotees, the spider (Sri), the snake (kAla) and the elephant (hasti) who according to folklore are supposed to have killed each other while demonstrating their great devotion for Lord Shiva. The Lord, having witnessed this, chose to grant them a boon of everlasting fame by merging their names with the vAyulinga at this temple. Even to this day, the symbols of these three devotees are seen on the linga at kAlahasti. Also, since the linga at this kSEtra is predominantly serpentine in shape, this shrine has been associated with performing rituals to get oneself rid of sarpa dosha by performing rAhu-kEtu puja.

The temple is also mentioned in all the tamil scriptures, with the first mentions dating back to the 1st century. The temple is also referred to as dakshin kailAsa and dIkshitar too alludes to this in the caraNam of this composition. In addition to this kriti, dIkshitar has also composed the beautiful samashti caraNam kriti "jnAnaprasUnAmbikE" in kalyANi studded with such brilliant phrases adorning the beautiful consort of Lord Shiva here.

Before I start the kriti, I thought I will make a small mention about the rAga husAni. It is usually treated as a sister rAga of the bhairavi-mukhAri system. However, there are many references to this rAga as Osani from even prior to the sangam era and this is quite evident in some of the sharp, folk-ish prayOgas of this rAga which probably makes it older than bhairavi. To further enhance the distinctions between these rAgas, the dIkshitar school clearly describes this rAga as a bhAshAnga janya of the 22nd mELakarta (shri rAgam) while bhairavi, mukhAri and even mAnji are delineated as bhAshAnga janya of the 20th mELakarta (nArirItigouLa). The rakti-ness of husAni are primarily attributed to the dIrgha madhyama and the nyAsa nishAda and the raga is usually established by characteristic phrases such as "rgMgrs", "ssppndm" and "pndns". All said, the beauty of a phrase-based rakti rAga such as husAni is to be experienced and probably not to be analyzed. The fact that dIkshitar chose a rAga such as husAni to sing the praises of the Lord at such an important saivite kSEtra speaks volumes about the popularity of this rAga in the good old times and the kriti today serves as a standing instruction for all students of music who would like to get a good glimpse about this beautiful rAga

Moving on to the composition, dIkshitar in his usual style embellishes this kSEtra with such brilliant play with the grammar and the language that one can only admire the genius at work and enjoy the brilliance. He steps it up stone by stone as he moves through the composition. In the pallavi, he clearly sets the context, the location and the vAyulinga reference. In the anupallavi, he describes the esoteric significance of the temple and in the process, beautifully weaving in the rAga mudra. Finally, in the caraNam, he makes references to the temple folklore, the Lord's consort, some more interesting play with the words and finishes off with the mention of the great devotee kannappa nAyanAr. All this while the composition smoothly flows along in jhampa tALa. The pallavi goes like,


SrI kALahastISa SritajanAvana samIrAkAra
mAm pAhi rAjamauLE Ehi


dIkshitar starts off the composition by clearly establishing the kSEtra and cries out "Oh Lord of kALahasti!, the Lord in the form of wind ("samIra" + "AkAra") and the one who protects those who take refuge in Him ("Srita jana"), please protect me ("mAm pAhi"), the one who wears the moon ("rAjamauLE").

In his typical clear and succinct way, dIkshitar brings forth the name of the kSEtra and the form of the Lord in this abode. He clearly establishes that this is a pancabhuta sthala and what makes it interesting is his choice of words. He never uses the term vAyulinga in the kriti even though he refers to the primordial elements on quite a few occasions. This is where dIkshitar's stature as a grammatical genius comes forth. He uses the word "samIra" for "wind" to preserve the adyAkshara prAsam in the pallavi. And perhaps the most beautiful part of the kriti is the "Ehi" which he employs to round off the pallavi. The lilting "rgMgrs" is so soothing that it caresses the listener like a peacock feather. To add to this, the "Ssndnp" phrase at "AkAra" and the usage of the corresponding symmetric samvAdi phrase "Ppmgrs" at "pAhi" makes the pallavi in itself a strong decoction with the full flavor of husAni on display. Moving on to the anupallavi


pAkAri vidhi hari prANa-maya kOSAnilAkASa-
bhUmi salilAgni prakASa Siva


dIkshitar describes the Lord as "the vital life force ("prANa-maya kOSa") of Lord Indra ("pAka" +"ari" = Enemy of pAka), Brahma ("vidhi") and Vishnu ("hari")". He continues to address the Lord as "the one who illumines ("prakASa") the five elements, wind ("anil"), ether ("AkASa"), earth ("bhUmi"), water ("salila") and fire ("agni")".

Clearly, the highlight of the anupallavi is the great master's use of vocabulary while referring to the five elements, once again using "anil" to refer to "wind" and in the process embedding the rAga mudra at k"OSAni"l. What can one say about such brilliance except just surrender and enjoy. Once again, look at the careful use of words- clearly cherry-picked by dIkshitar's brilliant mind. Using pAkAri and prANa to keep the prAsa in tact.

Musically, he starts off the anupallavi with the "Pdpmgrs" and goes into the tAra sthAyi with "rgmgrs" at "bhUmi". The DKJ version of the kriti beautifully brings out all the different possible sangatis and is definitely a treat to listen to. Now that the significance of the kSEtra is established, dIkshitar moves on to describe the other aspects of the Lord in the caraNam.


jnAna prasUnAmbikApatE bhaktAbhimAna-
dakshiNa kailAsa vAsAbhishTa dAna-
caturatarAbja dIna karuNAnidhE
sUna sara sUdanAjnAna hara paSupatE
jnAnaguruguha saccidAnanda-maya mUrtE
hIna jAti kirAtakEna pUjita kIrtE


dIkshitar begins the caraNam by referring to the Lord as "the Lord of His consort, jnAnaprasUnAmbikA and the one who is dear to all his devotees ("bhaktAbhimAna")". He brings in reference to the kSEtra once again by referring to the Lord as "the one whose abode ("vAsa") is dakshiNa kailAsa". dIkshitar then moves on to the describe the merciful and compassionate side of the Lord by describing Him as "the one whose lotus hands ("caturatara"+"abja") grants ("dAna") the desired boons ("abhishTa") and the one who is an ocean of mercy and compassion ("karuNAnidhE") to the helpless ("dIna")".

dIkshitar then continues to describe the Lord as "the one who destroyed ("sUdana") cupid, the one who bears arrows of flowers ("sUna sara") and the Lord of all beings ("paSupatE") who removes ignorance ("ajnAna" + "hara"). The one who signifies knowledge ("jnAna") in the form of Lord Guruguha and the embodiment of truth, bliss and consciousness ("saccidAnanda")".

dIkshitar concludes the composition by paying rich tribute to the great devotee kannappa nAyanAr by referring to the Lord as "the one who is famous ("kIrtE") for having been worshipped ("pUjita") by a low-caste ("hIna jAti") hunter ("kirAtaka")." 

The consort jnAnaprasUnAmbika  as Her name indicates is known to be the mother who makes knowledge ("jnAna") blossom ("prasUna") in an individual. dIkshitar again shows his brilliance with words in the caraNam at two places. First, he refers to the Lord's act of burning manmatha with his third eye and to describe this incident, he literally uses "flowery language" by referring to the cupid carrying a quiver full of flower-arrows :). Once again, the choice of words is what keeps the tempo and momentum of the song building up to the crescendo. Second, dIkshitar uses the words oxymoronic words "ajnAna" and "jnAna" almost back to back, with the latter reference being to the incident where Lord guruguha becomes swAminAtha and explains the import of the praNava mantra to Lord Shiva Himself. This very beautifully adds to the rhythm and builds on to the madhyamakAla sAhityam.

dIkshitar finishes off the kriti in style. He pays probably the biggest tribute that any devotee would've attained by referring to kannappa nAyanAr in the final line of the composition. As the story goes, kannappa was a hunter who used to worship the Lord at kALahasti with staunch devotion. One day, he noticed that there was blood oozing out of the Lord's eyes on the linga. Without flinching, he plucked his own eye out with an arrow and placed it on the lingam's eyes. The next day, he noticed that the lingam's other eye had also started bleeding and being the supreme devotee that he was, he was about to pluck his other eye and cover the Lord's bleeding eye when Lord Shiva Himself appeared and restored his eyesight and rewarded him for his staunch devotion by granting him boons and later, the nAyanAr status.

If you look closely, dIkshitar refers to the Lord of having got famous because of the great devotee and not the other way around. How else could have anyone paid a richer tribute to the great kannappa nAyanAr? The other day, I had an argument with one of my friends when he accused of dIkshitar being a racist for using words like "hIna jAti" in this kriti, "Arya vamsajAta tUrya jAti" in the kriti "pAhi mAm ratnAcala nAyaka" and "vaisya jAti strI vESa dharaNam" in "shri mAtrubhUtam". While superficially, it does look as if dIkshitar uses racist remarks, you will always notice that he uses it in all these kritis to bring out the fact that the Lord is completely indifferent to the concept of castes and that true devotion is actually way beyond the societal caste structures. So, actually, dIkshitar was a secularist even back in those times and was trying to promote the greatness achieved by these members of the so-called other/lower castes. I still haven't convinced my friend completely but at least managed to get the "racist" tag removed with my arguments :).

I guess that's enough said about this brilliant composition. I would sincerely urge rasikas to listen to both the DKJ's as well as the more SSP-centric TMK's version of this kriti. Both are beautiful in their own way, the former purely because of the variety of sangatis and the latter more because of the interesting prayOgas and the completely different flavor of husAni that TMK's version brings forth. Would be more than happy to share the links if you are not able to find these recordings yourselves.

I will try to make up for lost time by starting to work on the final kriti of the pancabhuta linga series today itself. "Ananda natana prakASam" describing the ethereal cosmic dance in the mellifluous kEdAram rAga concludes this series at the Chidambaram temple. So, come join me next time as we continue to explore these beautiful compositions together. Till then, keep listening to good music and please share with me your thoughts and suggestions. shrI gurubhyO namah!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

aruNAcalanAtham smarAmi - sArangA

And so I am back with yet another post, continuing to write about the majestic pancabhUta linga kritis of shri muthuswAmi dIkshitar. Last couple of weeks have been filled with a bit of travel and a lot of good music, two brilliant concerts to be specific. I was fortunate enough to listen to an amazing concert by shri Vijay Shiva last Sunday. A very interesting concoction of rAga choices (kalyANi, abhEri and an absolutely mind-blowing virutham) and brilliant accompaniments made the concert a memorable one. It had such an impact on me that the music was ringing in my ears and haunting me for the next 3 days. The very next day I was immersed further in musical brilliance through Sanjay sir's concert. Curiously, he too chose abhEri and the "nagumomu"s on both days took me time-travelling back to the Golden recordings of the 50's and 60's. He also sang kAdambari priyAyai in mOhanam and the kamalAmba navAvarNam in Shankarabharanam and being a guruguha maniac, I couldn't have asked for a better treat :).

I also reconnected with a couple of my old school and music friends over the last two weeks and I am slowly but surely re-establishing the connections that I have lost over the years (for no reason). After a long time, I have begun to feel the vibrant vitality in my life that went missing after I relocated to India in 2009 (again, for no reason).

Before I jump into the composition, as always, I would like to set the context, giving a few insights about the temple, its folklore and its significance. The tiruvannamalai temple town itself is perhaps one of a kind with the divine vibrations that gives the devotee goosebumps. The huge temple complex with its four towering gopurams is set in the foothills of aNNAmalai hills, the mountain in itself being worshipped as an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is worshipped as "agni lingam" and the main deities are aruNAcalEswarar and Goddess apitakucAmba (unnAmalai in tamizh). According to mythology, Goddess pArvati is known to have closed Lord Shiva's eyes with her hands (playfully) in Kailash and at that moment, the whole universe went devoid of light and was submerged in darkness. The Goddess is supposed to have performed a penance, following which Lord Shiva took the form of a column of fire atop the aNNAmalai hills and thereby returning light to the world.

Also, the other famous version of the origin of this temple is that when the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma were trying to establish their supremacy, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a column of fire and challenged Vishnu and Brahma to find the source of the fire. While Brahma took the form of a swan and flew towards the sky in search of the source of the flame, Vishnu took the form of a board and went underneath. Neither were successful and while Vishnu accepted defeat, Brahma is supposed to have lied to Shiva and said that he had indeed found the source of the fire. Shiva is known to have punished him for this lie and cursed him to not have any temples for his worship.

Hence, the amsha that Lord Shiva embodies at tiru aNNamalai is fire. His resplendent form dispels darkness and drives away ignorance. The power of the Lord here is indeed well documented in the form of so many yogis and great saints who have attained moksha at tiru aNNAmalai. Saint ramaNa maharishi is the foremost of these noble souls and the cave in which he meditated and his beautiful ashram in the foothills are a must visit for every human being. The temple gets mention in all the old scriptures, notably in tEvAram and all the works of appar, sundarar and mANikkavAcakar. Regardless to say, this is one of the most significant shrines for all Saivites and is also deeply associated with the astral body of the human anatomy, especially the third chakra, manipura located in the solar plexus. It is one of the most important chakras and is probably the most difficult to surpass. The tatwa element governing this chakra is fire and signifies itcha Shakti, hence it is believed that by meditating on Lord Shiva in the agni form, this chakra can be easily activated and help the spiritual seeker to progress much faster as his kundalini unwinds.

To do justice to such a major kSEtra, dIkshitar uses sArangA, a mellifluous yet majestic rAga. This kriti is such a jewel that the rAga itself will be proud of the way that it can mend and dIkshitar being the genius he is, uses the phrases beautifully, lilting along in rUpaka tALa and creating a magnificent sculpture in the process, a sculpture that defies time. The structure itself is so beautiful with the pallavi being a prayer, the anupallavi describing the Lord and the temple and caraNam extolling the greatness of the agni lingam and the spiritual significance of the Lord at this kSEtra. The kriti starts as:


aruNAcala nAthaM smarAmi aniSaM
apIta kucAmba samEtam


dIkshitar sings "I always ("aniSaM") meditate ("smarAmi") upon Lord of aruNAcala, the one who is along with his consort ("samEtam") apIta kucAmba".

The pallavi is very simple yet very, very beautiful. dIkshitar makes things very clear as to which Lord this composition is dedicated to and who is the Goddess. He defines the kSEtra and pretty much doesn't talk about anything else in the opening few lines of the kriti. The word aruNAcala itself means the "mountain of fire" or "red (aruna) mountain (acala)" and I don't think there could have been a better word to describe the presence of Lord Shiva as an embodiment of fire residing in this mountain.

Musically, the beauty of rUpaka tALa is what stands out in this pallavi. It flows along with the words, adding more beauty to the sAhitya and kind of weaves in along with the rAga flow. The "rrgmp" start at "aruNA" followed by the very sArangA-ish "dnsDpp" at "nAtham" and the beautiful characteristic avarOhaNam phrase "sndpmrgmrs" being used as it is at "smarAmi" shows the brilliance of dIkshitar as a musical genius who just captures the essence of such a phrase-based rAga in the first three words of his kriti. He not only establishes the rAga but also kind of sets the tone for exploring beyond the typical prayOgams of the rAga with having finished off the basics in the pallavi itself.

Having started off quite simple, he moves on to the anupallavi to dive deeper in describing the Lord and continuing to explore the nuances of the rAga


smaraNAt kaivalya prada caraNAravindaM
taruNAditya kOTi saMkASa cidAnandaM
karuNA rasAdi kandaM SaraNAgata surabRndam


dIkshitar describes the power of the Lord as "The one with the lotus feet ("caraNa"+"aravindam"), just the thought of which ("smaraNAt") bestows ("prada") salvation ("kaivalya"). The one who is the embodiment of pure bliss consciousness ("cidAnandam") and the one who is as resplendent as a million ("kOTi") young ("taruNa") suns ("Aditya"). The one who is the root ("kandam") of the essence ("rasa") of all mercy ("karuNA") and the one unto whom hordes ("bRndam") of celestials ("sura") surrender ("SaraNAgata")".

The first thing that strikes the listener is perhaps the grammar and the rhythm that dIkshitar manages to blend into the composition by starting off the anupallavi with "smaraNAt". It rhymes with the "aruNA" in the pallavi and sets the platform for him to use the subsequent words in the anupallavi such as "taruNA, karuNA and caraNA". Perhaps the greatest beauty of his compositions are the way he uses yati and mOnai and it doesn't feel like he is trying to force-fit anything into the grammatical structural discipline but rather, it just flows and blends so coherently that any other word in something's place will just destroy the beauty completely.

dIkshitar again emphasizes on the Shakti of the Lord at this kSEtra and His ability to grant salvation to the ones who meditate upon him. Great saints such as shri ramaNa are testimony to this. dIkshitar also uses a beautiful volte-face in the anupallavi. Even though the kriti is about the Lord being in an agni form (which signifies energy and ugra), he describes the Lord as an ocean of compassion by bringing in karuNA rasa.

Musically, my favorite part of the anupallavi is the beautiful gamaka-laden "ppmpdnsrsdp" at "tarunAditya". It just melts the listener's heart and is a joy to sing/play. He rounds it off very nicely with "pmDpm rgmrs" at "SaraNAgata surabRndam" looping back to the rishabha start for the pallavi. Moving on to the caraNam,


aprAkRta tEjOmaya lingaM
adyAdbhuta karadhRta sAraNgaM
apramEyaM aparNAbja bhRngaM
ArUDhottunga vRsha turangaM
viprOttama viSEshAntarangaM
vIra guruguha tAraprasangaM
svapradIpa mauli vidhRta gangaM
svaprakASa jita sOmAgni patangam


dIkshitar continues to describe the Lord as "the effulgent ("tEjOmaya") lingam which does not have a beginning ("aprAkRta") and the one who wields a deer ("sAraNgam") in his wonderful ("adyAdbhuta") hands ("kara"). The one who is immeasurable ("apramEyam") and the one who hovers over the lotus (pArvati) ("aparNa"+"abja") like a bee ("bhRngam"). The one mounts ("ArUDhottunga") the sacred bull ("vRsha") as his vehicle ("turangam")".

The madhyamakAla sAhityam beautifully gallops along as the composer continues to describe the Lord as "the one who is the superior special ("viSEsha") inner conscience ("antarangam") of the scholarly and the learned ("vipra") and the one who is dear to the valorous ("vIra") Lord Karthikeya ("guruguha"), the one who explained the praNava mantra ("prasangaM"). The self-luminous one ("sva"+"pradIpa") who wears ("vidhRta") the Ganges ("gangam") and the moon ("mauli") on his head. The one whose luster ("prakASa") is superior to ("jita") to the moon ("sOma"), the fire ("agni") and the sun ("patangam")".

The caraNam is actually pretty simple (grammatically as well as musically) for a dIkshitar kriti and that too, being a pancabhUta linga kriti. He describes the "immeasurable nature" of the lingam and also the resplendence of the Lord in this form to be superior to all sources of light (sun, moon, stars and fire) that humans are usually exposed to. dIkshitar also brilliantly employs the rAga mudra by referring to the physical design of the Lord at this kSEtra and brings in the composer mudra by referring to Lord subraHmaNya as the one who expounded the praNava to His father.

He starts off the caraNam with a sedate "sPmp" at "aprAkRta" and slowly builds up through the Madhya stAyi entering into the tAra stAyi with the rishabha at "bhRngam". The flat madhyama usage at "apramEya" and the "sndnsrssdp" at "ArUDhottunga" are special phrases that embellish the composition and the rAga so beautifully. And to top it off, the crescendo in the madhyamakAla sAhitya with phrases such as "psDpmp" at "svaprakAsa jita" and "Dpmrgmrs" at "sOmAgni patangam" which brings in symmetry is probably what makes the kriti a masterpiece. More than me describing it, listen to the recording of Hyderabad Brothers or DKJ sir uploaded at to fully experience the beauty and brilliance of this composition.

As we continue our journey through the pancabhUta linga kritis, our next stop will be the brilliant composition in rAga husEni (or huSAni as it was called in the olden days) "shrI kALahastIsha" extolling the greatness of the mystical "vAyulinga" at kALahasti. This is probably the kriti where dIkshitar steps it up one big notch as he moves into the more abstract elemental forms of air and space(ether). I will aim to publish the post as soon as possible and try to wrap up the series by end of this month. Before I sign off, I would like to thank all the rasikas who have been sending me mails, suggestions and supporting me with their words of encouragement :). With all your support and the blessings of God and gurus, I am sure I will continue to share my thoughts on these amazing compositions by probably the greatest treasures that mankind has witnessed till date. Until next time, keep drowning in the ocean of music. Ciao!!