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 kSEtra..how 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-
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