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.


Ramprasad said...

Excellent Post ShreeKrishna !
Its a gift to all NAthajyOthi rasikas,I am eagerly waiting for your upcoming posts on
ChintayamAm & JAmpUpathe

Especially waiting for your words on
"Nirvikalpaka samAdhi NishtaSHiva
KalpakatharO |

NirvisEsha Chaitanya Niranjana
Guruguha GurO ||

--An absolute Advaitham !!!

Musical Scientist said...

Dearest SK,
God level post. I completely echo Ramprasad's comments above. Shtud_max explanations and very lucidly written. As audi would say, "Shtud,ra!" :). Please do post more often and do write about the other 2 panchabhUta kSEtra krithis at your earliest convenience. :).
And if my guess is right about your next post, please note that I have already blogged about the krithi at "" .If you are going to take up that amazing charaNam and explain in detail, it would indeed be great. Eagerly awaiting your next post :)


Aishwarya said...

I am at a loss for words. That's all I can say.

I feel honored to be a student of Carnatic Music and of a Guru who has taught me one of the most pristine NGs ever.

Sri Gurubo Nama:

prasanna venkatesh.b said...

Hello Shreekrishna,
Are you the one who went to PSBB KKN in Chennai? If yes, nice to see you again, this Prasanna Venkatesh(CMI alumni). Great post!

sarveswaran said...

Excellent and Brilliant Post Sri Krishna

NO words to Explain and Full of Tears What a Mail and Your Interpretation looks too good and as ram said waiting for the next 2 krithis

1. Chintayamaam--- Santhatham akanda Sachidaanandham

2. Jamboopathe -- Nirivikalpa Samaadhi Nista Siva Kalpakadharo

sarveswaran said...

Excellent and Brilliant Post Sri Krishna

NO words to Explain and Full of Tears What a Mail and Your Interpretation looks too good and as ram said waiting for the next 2 krithis

1. Chintayamaam--- Santhatham akanda Sachidaanandham

2. Jamboopathe -- Nirivikalpa Samaadhi Nista Siva Kalpakadharo

Shreekrishna said...

@ Sarveswaran, Ramprasad,

Thanks a lot for your appreciation. These krithis are just inherently so beautiful.

I am currently in the midst of winding up a dicussion on chandram bhaja mAnasa. After I am done with that, I shall surely write about the remaining 2 soon enough. I just need to study them a little deeper before I write though.

@ Prasanna Venkatesh,
No, I am from Bangalore, where I did all my schooling. My only association with Madras is through my undergrad days at IIT Madras.

@ Sai,
I'd not be writing about the one word since you've already done a great job explaining the charaNam. I might just write that one word - an appreciation to Dikshitar's lyrical genius.

Vidya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vidya said...

A couple of points: (apologies for the rather long comment..)

1. I do not believe this vibhakti switch is unDikshitar like or for that ungrammatical usage. for the switch is not in the main case.
Ex.1 rENukA devi samrakshitOham
Ex.2 The one occurring in girijayAjayA are all perfectly valid constructs.

It is only considered 'odd' when it occurs rather abruptly as in SrI shukra bhagavantam. The Shukra bhagavan and then moving back to kEshava kaTAkshaika nEtram and so where the case is switched the subject.
Again ,the ina as SUrya can be considered an alternate intepretation but here there really is no specific reason to add the Sun reference. One can understand obscure splits and odd usages when the composer is trying to make a specific - such as the usage of shri-ku-ranjitha. Here there is no sun reference in any kalahasti sthalamahatmya so I would prefer the meaning with the declension change.

2.The pAkArividhi interpretation is slightly problematic to interpret but this is what I have arrived after due deliberation:
if pAkAri vidhi is an epithet of shiva as you make it out to be, wouldn't the sambhodana form be pAkAri vidhE , hari prANamaya kOsha etc? (do correct me if this is wrong)

Now consider the Dikshitar Text interpretation of lifeforce.. If you use Vidhi to allude to Brahma is fairly common in Dikshitar's compositions So pAkArividhihari prANamayakOsha -(The life force of Indra, Brahma, Vishnu) and so on moving from panchakosha to panchabhUta seemingly flows well. But the word prAnamayakOsha is not typically used to mean 'vital lifeforce' the kOsha is a sheath and a question arises as to what the word kOsha is doing there. If the second meaning is assumed one should take it as pAkAri vidhi hari pRaNa and it becomes rather absurd to refer to Shiva as a lifeforce sheath to beings like Vishnu who is beyond three of the five koshas.

So here is what I would interpret the line as:

As any shakta tantra adept, Dikshitar frequently alludes to Hindu cosmology. The gradation of creatures ,the creation - the manifest and the umanifest are all constant themes. Typically in this the soul in the state of bliss is encapsulated by these five sheaths. Human beings and other creatures have all the five kOshas. Indra and other celestial beings are endowed with four. Brahma and Vishnu are endowed with only the first two and Brahma is positioned subsidiary to vishnu with only the function of wisdom while Vishnu is positioned to be the first person in the hierarchy (after Siva ofcourse since we are talking of a Siva temple here)

So the pancha kosha referrers are anilAkAsha bhUmi salilAgni (the five elements representing annamaya kOsha), prAnamayakOsha, pAkAri or Indra (the being of the realm of mind represented by Indra ie the manomaya kOsha), vidhi - representing selfhood and wisdom, and Vishnu - indicative of Chitta or the contemplative introspection ie anandamaya kosha. And shiva illuminates (prakAsha) all these and lies above and beyond. So the semantic expansion would be:

(anilAkAsha bhUmi salilAgni) , prAnamayakosha, pAkAri, vidhi, hari - prakAsha shiva..
This Siva, the one above and beyond all these illuminating all of the above sheaths. A very technical point made with a high degree of symbolism but succinctly like a sutra.

Shreekrishna said...

Thanks a lot for your very insightful interpretations, Vidya. Was a pleasure reading it. I loved your interpretation of pAkArividhihari.....

Regarding the following - The pAkArividhi interpretation is slightly problematic to interpret but this is what I have arrived after due deliberation:
if pAkAri vidhi is an epithet of shiva as you make it out to be, wouldn't the sambhodana form be pAkAri vidhE , hari prANamaya kOsha etc?

Is it not possible that all the sambOdhanAs are concatenated into one thru a dwandwa samAsa?

Can you also specifically let me know whether my understanding/ interpretation of SrIpura being thiruvArUr is correct?

Thanks a lot again, for taking the time and posting your views on this :)


Vidya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Musical Scientist said...

@Vidya..I once again read through your comments. Amazing interpretation and understanding. Thanks a lot for sharing such invaluable information..beautiful!!

alerts said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hariharan said...

Very informative and provoking indeed. Have you done your work on the other PanchaBhuta kritis and Navagraha Kritis as well. Look forward to seeing them ! Regards