Friday, September 5, 2008

mAmava mInAkSi- varALi

It has been nearly a month since I posted anything here. I have been travelling a bit on the weekends and hence have not been able to blog :(. Further, I am winding up here in the US and going back to India for good on October 18th. For Labor day weekend, I had amazing fun with SK, hari and audi. We spent a few days together and had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ajit Bhaskar and his wife Nandini and meeting Prasanna Venkatesh, a devout student of carnatic music :). On the following weekend, I travelled to Indianapolis and met my Ann arbor room mates, Bharath, Aditya and Sharanya :). We had perhaps the best fun ever in those 2 days. At times like these, I profusely thank God to have given me such wonderful friends, without whom life in the US would not have been possible in the first place, let alone boring and dull.

In the last 3 years and 2 months I have spent in the US, I have changed a lot- predominantly for the good and for betterment :). Apart from the maturing experience, it has been a few years in which I have gained so many new and wonderful friends which is ultimately what matters in life. The love my friends have showered on me (and will continue to shower on me for this lifetime) just makes my hair stand up and I immediately get goosebumps. Hence, I do a sAshTAnga namaskara at all these angels that God has sent to love me >--<-o @ All!!

Shri Sanjay Subrahmanyan is performing here at Austin, Texas on October 4th and I am really excited about the fact that I will get to listen to him live after a very, very long time. Hopefully he renders some thalaivar krithis for this guruguha dAsan :).

Today, I will take up the beautiful dIkshithar krithi, mAmava mInAkSi in varALi composed by the nAdajyOthi at Madurai. Before I dive into the krithi, I would like to give a brief introduction about this kSEtram and its folklore. According to mythology, Indra once killed an innocent demon by mistake and in order to escape the effects of this sin, Indra built a small lingam in the forest he was roaming and propitiated Lord Shiva. After severe penance, Lord Shiva forgave him and Indra built a small temple at that site. King Malayadhwaja Pandyan was ruling this part of the country called kadambavanam and he came to know of this small temple. He decided to expand this temple into a big complex and build the city of Madurai around it. The king was childless and did severe penance to please Lord Shiva and beget a child. Lord Shiva answered his prayers and gave the king a 3 year old ayonija (not born out of a womb) daughter. This child was a manifestation of Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti. Due to her beautiful fish-like eyes, the king named her as mInAkSi. She grew up to be a great warrior and after the king's demise, ruled the kingdom ably.

I must mention the yogic interpretation of Goddess mInAkSi. Sage Mathanga was from the lower chandal caste but did not believe in the caste system and wanted to attain brahmin hood through penance. Through the kripa of Lord Indra and Goddess Saraswati, sage matanga was given a beautiful daughter, Matangi. In tantraic tradition, there are ten wisdom Goddesses, Mahavidyas and Matangi is one of them and is believed to be the yogic counterpart of Goddess Saraswathi. On another note, these ten Vidyas are believed to be the source of then ten avatars of Vishnu.

Goddess Matangi is believed to have a dark complexion and she resides in the vishuddhi chakra at the throat. Through upAsana, She can be invoked for command over speech and knowledge. Goddess mInAkSi at Madurai is believed to be this amsha of Goddess Shakti. dIkshithar very beautifully brings this aspect out in the very first lines of the pallavi by addressing the Goddess as "rAja mAtangi-princess mAtangi", thereby consolidating both the physical as well as the yogic beliefs as I have described above. Since mAtangi is the yogic counterpart of Goddess Saraswathi, she holds a veena studded with emeralds and this is once again brought out by dIkshithar in the pallavi itself. With this introduction, I will now delve into the krithi,


mAmava mInAkSI rAjamAtaHNgi
mANikyavallakIpANi madhuravANi varALivENi


dIkshithar sings "Oh Goddess mInAkSI, the fish-eyed one, the princess mAtangi, please protect me ("mAmava")." He describes the Goddess as "The one possessing an emerald studded vINa
("mANikyavallakI") in Her hands. The one with a mellifluous voice ("madhuravANi") and the one with dark hued hair ("vENi") that resembles a swarm of bees ("varALi")."

dIkshithar directly addresses the Goddess and seeks refuge. Being a vainika himself, he promptly salutes Her and refers to Her vINa. Musically, the key "PMGRS" phrase occurs at "mInAkSI" followed by the defining "S n gr G M" phrase at "varALi vENi". dIkshithar once again shows his command over the language by brilliantly incorporating the rAga mudhra as a figure of speech describing the beauty of the Goddess' hair :). Other than that, it is a pretty simple and peaceful pallavi. Moving on to the samaSTi caraNam,

samASTi caraNam:

sOmasundarEshvara sukhasphUrti rUpiNi
shyAmE shaHNkari digvijaya praTApini
hEmaratnAbharaNabhUSaNi Isha guruguha hRdAgAriNi
kAmitArttha vitaraNadhOraNi kArunyAmRtaparipUraNi
kAmakrOdhadi nivAriNi kadambakAnanavihAriNi


dIkshithar describes the Goddess as "The embodiment ("rUpiNi") of the vibrating force ("sphUrti") that delights ("sukha") Lord SomasundarEshvara. The dark-hued ("shyAmE") one who does good deeds ("shaHNkari") and the one who has the glory of conquering all directions ("digvijaya") and is the ruler of the world ("pratApini"). The one adorned ("bhUSaNi") by gem studded ("ratna") golden ("hEma") ornaments ("AbharaNa") and the one who resides in the heart ("hRdAgAriNi") of Lord Guruguha, the preceptor of Lord Shiva ("Isha"). The one who bestows ("vitaraNadhOraNi") all the desired boons ("kAmitArttha") of devotees. The one filled with ("paripUraNi") the nectar of compassion ("kArunyAmRta"). The one who removes ("nivAriNi") lust ("kAma"), anger ("krOda") and all other vices. The one who resides ("vihAriNi") in the kadamba forests ("kAnana")."

Look at how beautifully dIkshithar depicts the entire shrine. He brings the sannidhi right in front of your eyes in all his descriptions in the caraNam. There is once again no yogic or puranic references here that need detail explanations. He employs a vicious "S r ss S n G" at "sukhasphUrti" and the word itself vibrates to bring joy to one's hearts just like the word suggests :). This is followed by a rich "n S G M; D D N" at "shyAmE shankari" that brings out the essence of the pUrvAngam clearly. I also love "S N G R" at "hRdAgArini" and the way the caraNam ends as "nDpmgr-rsGM" at "kadambakAnanavihAriNi" and beautifully merges into the pallavi :). I dont think there is much more to beat upon here and I will promptly wind up.

Since I have given a decent explanation about the kSEtra and since one of the readers had requested, I think I will take up "mInAkSi mE mudam dEhi" in my next post. Though I wanted to reserve this krithi as the very last krithi for this blog (for obvious reasons), I guess I will take it up at this juncture and will provide some insight. I will hopefully post a few more krithis before leaving the US. See you all very soon :). shrI gurubhyO namah:!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Panchabhoota kshEtra krithis - An email excerpt

Being the highly inert character I am, it takes a lot for me to get down to writing something in one shot. However, one fine day, I felt spirited to discuss my understanding of 3 of the 5 panchabhoota kShEtra krithis with a very close uncle (read - nearly father figure) of mine, and sent him a rather verbose email. An excerpt of the same is reproduced here. I, by virtue of being human, may have erred in many a place; I'd only be glad to rectify all such, if any.


I want to share some certain facts about the 3 panchabhoota-kShetrams - chidambaram, tiruvaNNAmalai and SrIkALahastI with you in this mail. Most of these might be superfluous, and already known, but the context in which they are put forth in the krithis of Dikshitar that I will talk about in chunks and how merely singing/these songs is sufficient to appease/woo the deities in these places, is what I want to discuss in this mail. There will be also be instances of Dikshitar's literary genius that I will rave about to no end (where I might begin to get painful to people!) Owing to that, this mail WILL test your endurance, with its length.


Most of these kShEtrams fall in a belt rich with puranic tales and mythological events associated with them. Unfortunately, whenever I have visited these places, my lack of knowledge of the local languauge deterred me from reading and understanding more about the kShEtrams. Also, I have always wondered how to pray to these different forms of the same God at different kShEtrams. It is the same God, and one stOtram should do, but there are differences in the "swaroopa" and "kArya" (groping for an English translation here - in a loose sense, form and purpose of appearance at that kShEtram - Shiva as the Atmalingam in gOkarNam for eg., and as kirAta (hunter) in SrIshailam - difference in form and purpose) from one kShEtram to another, which makes each kShEtram unique. Thanks to widely traveling saints and saintly figures, we have with us, almost always, stOtrams or shlOkams composed and recited in praise of that unique deity at every kShEtram. But then again, due to our limited means to get to them (Such knowledge is far from being digitised 100% still) and inescapable involvement in mundane life, we rarely attempt to get access to such resources.

Luckily for me, and for many of us students of music, the widely traveling, highly knowledgeable and polyglot vaggEyakAras of the yesteryears, have almost always visited all these brilliant kShEtrams, and documented their prayers to the Almighty there, in the form of exceptional and brilliant krithis, which have been passed down generations for our benefit. So, thanks to their scholarship, the average level of understanding and knowledge about various kShEtrams becomes accessible to those associated with Carnatic music. With some effort towards understanding their picturesque sketching of Sanskrit grammar, a whole new level of elevation can be reached, merely by enjoying the lyrical and grammatical beauty of these krithis. Amongst these, Muthuswami Dikshitar stands out, with a notorious reputation of having composed songs even on vaTukanAtha, found in a roadside temple at Thiruvaiyyaru !!

Being a devout student of Sanskrit, my love towards and minuscule understanding about Dikshitar krithis is not very coincidental. So, I will be citing from Dikshitar krithis alone, in a bid to try erase the thin line demarcating carnatic music and bhakti (from a personal perspective).

As you may already know, shiva at chidambara is formless, or more aptly, adorns the form of "ether" - AkAsha, the all pervading formless panchabhootam. Muthuswami Dikshitar, in his krithi called "chidambara naTarAjamoortim", mentions this in the very first paragraph, pallavi, of the krithi as "chidambara-naTarAjamUrtim chintayAmi atanukeertim". The term atanukeertim, meaning "The one who is famous for being formless". ('tanu' means 'body or form', 'atanu' means 'bodiless or formless) qualifies the ethereal form of shiva. He talks about the consort of shiva at chidambara, shivakAmI (often mispronounced in tamil as sivagami), in the 2nd paragraph - madambA shivakAmIpatim. He refers to dEvi as 'madambA', meaning my mother, with a passionate emphasis on "my", seen quite often in his dEvi krithis.

He goes on to describe the naTarAja there as "shining with the ethereal joy derived from the cosmic dance" in his krithi Ananda-naTana-prakAsham (which is a panchabhoota krithi) in the pallavi - "Ananda-naTana-prakAsham chitsabhEsham AshrAyami, shivakAmavalleesham". The consort of shiva is referred to as shivakAmavalli! What a beautiful phrase to refer to pArvati! Further, he goes on to attribute the form of AkAsha to shiva in the phrase "bhuktimuktiprada dharAkAsham" in the anupallavi. The unintentional, yet intentional attribution to the kShEtram as such, comes in the phrase "shArddUlacharmAmbaram chidambaram", in the charanam, which talks of the formlessness of naTarAja and the kShEtram in one word. The beauty of the word chidambaram itself is evident in its grammatical split chidambaram = chit + ambaram. I confess not to have a good understanding of the depth of the meaning of this word, but my interpretation is that of "ambaram iva chit" = "a level of consciousness as pure as that of Ether". chit here refers to the 2nd of the 3 - sat-chit-Anandam. I may be totally wrong with this here. Moving on, Shiva's pose of tAnDava is brought out in the term vinOdatANDava - the cosmic dance which is vinOda, fun and frolic, to him.

The richness of description of Shiva, his concert and a complete qualification of his form at chidambaram are so succinctly put forth in these two compositions. Of course, there are a few more compositions on naTarAja at chidambaram (shivakAmeepatim chintayAmyaham is one that comes to me right away).

The lyrics of these songs are available at the links hyperlinked to the krithi name - AnandanaTanaprakAsham (Lyrics, Audio), chidambaranaTarAjamUrtim (Lyrics, Audio), ShivakAmpatim chintayAmyaham (Lyrics, Audio), chidambaranaTarAjam AshrayE&ham (Lyrics). Also, do listen to shivakAmIshwarIm chintayAmyam, a krithi of dEvi shivakAmI at chidambaram (Lyrics, Audio).

Talking about chidambaram, there is a gOvindarAja temple there, which has also been sung in praise of in gOvindarAjEna rakShitO&ham (Lyrics, Audio).


I will be refering to primarily two krithis here. One of them is a panchabhoota-kShEtrakrithi, SrIkALahastIsha, and another is jnAnaprasUnAmbikE on shiva's consort at SrIkALahastI.

Shiva at SrIkALahasti is said to be in the form of Air (anila, vAyu, sameera etc.). This point is driven home right away by Dikshitar in the pallavi of the krithi on shiva at SrIkALahasti, "SrIkALahastIsha" as "SrIkALahastIsha shritajanAvana-sameerAkAra mAm pAhi rAjamouLE Ehi". The term sameerAkAra describes the AkAra, form, of shiva to be that of sameera, air. [I will not go into describing the legend of SrIkALahasti here (the story of the spider, snake and elephant). I refer you to the temple website for the same.]

The anupallavi of the same song beautifully ascribes the five fundamental elements, panchabhootas, to shiva. It also has one of the most brilliant uses of Sanskrit grammar in - "pAkArividhihariprANamayakOSha-anilAkAsha-bhoomi-salilAgni prakAsha shiva". There are numerous ways of understanding and interpreting this line. One direct understanding is that shiva manifests his jyoti/tejas in the form of anila (air), AkAsha (ether), bhoomi (earth), salila (water), agni (fire) - the panchabhootams. Of course, the panchabhoota-kShEtrams represent this fact. He is also described as 'pAkArividhi' - another lovely usage - which means "fate to the enemies of indra (pAka) - destroyer of all evil". (The link to the lyrics that I shall provide you with at the end of this section puts forth another interesting interpretation of the anupallavi. The difference in meanings could be beacuse, either I am completely ignorant, or Sanskrit is beautiful, or both!).

The charaNam is wonderful again. His consort is brought into picture directly with - "jnAnaprasUnAmbikApatE bhaktAbhimAna-dakShiNa-kailAsa-vAsa". It also talks about shakti in the form of jnAnaprasUnAmbikA. Moreover, the krithi incorporates a reference to SrIkALahastI as dakShiNa-kailAsa. In fact, in another kShEtram - shiva is proclaimed as the "resident" of dakShiNakAshi - kuzhikkarai in Central TN. Of course, the fact that kuzhikkarai is dakShiNakAshi is well corroborated with the use of the exact sanskrit translation, gartateera, in 2 of Dikshitar's magnum opuses - kASi vishwEshwara Ehi and SrI vishwanAtham (a krithi composed in 14 ragams), (as well as annapoorNE vishAlAkShI in sAma). While the former actually explicitly uses 'dakShiNa-kAshi vishwEshwara" for the anupallavi-pallavi joiner, the latter uses "SrIpura-niRRutti-bhAga-gartatIra-sthiratara bhoopAla-pAlanam".

A note on this now. Here, my interpretation, is that SrIpura refers to Thiruvarur, for Kuzhikkarai comes south of NH-67 connecting Tanjavur (which is west of tiruvarur) and tiruvarur. So, kuzhikkarai is indeed southwest of Thiruvarur. I support my claim as follows. The corroboration for SrIpura being thiruvArur comes in Dikshitar's SrI kamalAmbA jayati - in the line "SrIpura-bindu-madhyastha chintAmani-mandirastha shivAkAra-manchastitha shivakAmEshAngastha". Here, Dikshitar seems to be defining the "coordinates" of kamalAmbA, from the city, to the temple, to the position, to shiva himself! (Talk about shiva-shakti union!). Sure enough, the tiruvarur temple is right in the middle of the town - SrIpura-bindu-madhyastha (bindu-madhyastha = center point ?), and there on, the localization of the coordinates of kamalAmbA. Dikshitar never ceases to amaze me with his brilliance! Interestingly, mannArguDi, referred to as dakShiNa dwAraka (Thanks Sai!) in SrI rAjagOpAla, is also southwest of Thiruvarur and south of the NH-67, on SH-66 off nidamangalam! Now, back to kALahastI.

Another term that describes shiva ever-so-wonderfully here is "heenajAtikirAtakEna poojita-keertE" - One who is famous to be worshipped even by the low-caste hunter (kaNNappa, in folklore). I understand this line very differently, which gives a different, perhaps unreasonably ridiculous, interpretation too (Again, I might be stupid here). The term "heenajAtikirAtakEna-poojita-keertE" could be split as above, in which case, the "grammatical case" that flows through the krithi faces a small alteration - with the 3rd case (tRutIyA vibhakti) coming in (with kirAtakEna) and then restoring to the 'reference' case (with poojitakeertE) (called sambOdhana vibhakti in Sanskrit). However, the case can be maintained in the sambOdhana itself, if understood as "heenajAtikirAtaka" + "ina-poojita-keertE". Shiva is himself a hunter, who thrives in the graveyards, so the first term could refer to him. Shiva also has the distinction to be worshipped by Sun (ina = sun). In fact, though I could be taking it a little too far, Lord Rama is referred to as inakAnta in lore. tyAgarAja refers to rAma as inakula mandu in the song kanugoNTini. So, it could also be referring to the event in rAmAyaNa where rAma worships shiva during his search for seeta. (I don't know if there's a story of rAma getting to SrIkALahastI and such. The locals might know.) Multiple interpretations, the latter, possibly erroneous, but the beauty remains unquestionable.

Moving on, Dikshitar sings in praise of Shiva's consort here, jnAnaprasUnAmbikA, exclusively, in his krithi - jnAnaprasUnAmbikE. He refers to her husband in the song as kALahastIsha-manOllAsini.

To the extent that I know, these are the two songs sung in praise of kALahastIsha and kALahastI.

The lyrics of these songs may be found hyperlinked to the title - SrIkALahastIsha (Lyrics, Audio), jnAnaprasUnAmbikE ( Lyrics, Audio).


The panchabhoota-kShEtra krithi aruNAchalanAtham smarAmi talks about shiva here, in the form of fire. The beauty is that there is no explicit mention of the word fire or its synonyms in this krithi. More on that later.

The pallavi goes as "aruNAchalanAtham smarAmi anisham, apItakuchAmbA-samEtam SrI". Clearly, the reference to his consort at TiruvaNNAmalai, apItakuchAmbA has been brought in straight away! The anupallavi is something that makes aruNAchalEshwara unique, because this is a reference that is not come across in the other four. It goes "smaraNAt-kaivalyaprada-charaNAravindam"!!!! By mere 'thought' of shiva here (charaNaravinda = the lotus feet of shiva (aravinda = lotus)), one is granted kaivalyam - mukti! Interestingly shiva is referred to as 'smaraNAt-kaivalyaprada-charaNAravinda' here. So, shiva here is the shiva who grants kaivalyam to one who merely thinks of his lotus feet. (Reiteration for grammatical clarity.).

The reference to the 'fire' form comes in 3 places, metaphorically though. The reference 'taruNAdityakOTi-sankAsha-chidAnandam' is the first ; Shiva is compared to be as bright as crores of 'rising suns' - taruNa+Aditya (taruNa = young, Aditya = sun). Clearly, the energy of the rising sun is more abundant and rejuvenating than that of the setting sun. I admire Dikshitar for his tactful choice for a simile here - taruNAditya, not merely Aditya. Also, crore here doesn't mean a crore, but actually means infinite! So, the interpretive meaning here is aruNAchalEshwara is crores of times brighter than the sun, a reference to his 'fiery' form! The next reference comes immediately after the charaNam starts - "aprAkRuta-tEjOmaya-lingam". Notice the use of the term aprAkRuta - meaning, something not natural, something extraordinary/supernatural. Shiva in the linga form emanates a rather supernaturally extraordinary amount of mystic brilliance/tEjas, a second reference to the fiery form. The third reference is described later.

The rest of the charaNam just makes me cry in awe, with bhakti towards shiva-parvati, with bhakti towards Dikshitar and his brilliance. The lyrical majesty is inexplicable thru an email. Snippets follow however. Shiva is described as - "apramEyam" (unqualifiable, unlimited), "aparNAbja-bhRungam" - the most majestic description of a couple! - aparNA refers to pArvatI (she was on an unbroken fast to woo shiva. aparNA means a lady of unbroken fast), abja = lotus (ap-water, ja-born in), bhRungam = bee. How do we make sense out of this? Shiva is that to the lotus-like pArvati, what a bee is to a flower - the reason for being. Without bees, there are no flowers. Bees and flowers are amongst the first examples of interdependence and complementing that I can think of. Shiva is described later as viprOttama-vishEShAntaragam - the one who dwells in the hearts of austere people (vipra = brahmin, actually), and further as swapradIpa - self illuminating (one who is naturally brilliant), mouLividhRutagangam - the one who is crowned by gangA, swaprakAsha-jita-somAgnipatangam - the one, who, with his innate brilliance, has won over moon, fire and the sun, meaning to say, the one who leaves sun, moon, and fire far behind with his brilliance - another reference to the 'fiery' nature of shiva at tiruvaNNAmalai.

Thus, Dikshitar closes an exceptional, heavy, description of shiva at aruNAchala. I've only been very superficial in interpreting it. Almost 50% of the words herein have multiple interpretation, each more brilliant than the other! It's just a joy to even contemplate on it.

aruNachalanAtham smarAmi - (Lyrics, Audio).

Final comments

I have excluded the 2 other krithis - jambUpatE mAm pahI on jambukEshwara, shiva in the form of water, at the kShEtram - jambukEshwaram and chintaya mAkandamoolakandam on shiva at kAnchIpuram, in the form of earth. Note however, that the pallavi of either song, at once ascribes the respective panchabhoota forms to shiva at those kShEtrams. The philosophical implications that these krithis have from the advaitic viewpoint is a discussion that's very very interesting, and owing to its depth and verbosity, excuse itself from this mail.

Thanks for your patience, for reading all the way through till here!

There are so many such lovely instances of describing the almighty - be it Vishnu, shiva, dEvi, subrahmaNya, whosoever! There is just not enough time in life to live each moment thinking about all these. I also want to tell you about the tiruvArUr panchalingams and krithis associated with them, but that will have to wait a while. Perhaps when we meet next, we will have some time to discuss and deliberate and contemplate on such things.

Thanks for all those patient souls who read all the way down to here. I'll be getting back to writing about the navagraha krithis, as soon as I can.