Thursday, September 10, 2009

guruguhAd anyam na jAnEham - balahamsA

I started writing this post on 10th September (as the date above indicates) and today is the 30th of November :(. I have not been able to post anything for the past 2 months because of some "logistic issues". My laptop blew its motherboard and it took over 40 days of ping-ponging between the computer repair guys and finally, my laptop is now running on a factory-refurbished motherboard (which I sincerely hope will not give me any more troubles for at least one more year). We also changed over from one internet plan to another and hence I have been stuck in cyber-graveyard (as my friend Srividya Angara termed it) for nearly 2 months now. Further, I have also been a bit busy preparing for a few exams I am taking in the next 10 to 15 days. My unsuccessful job hunt has come to a grinding halt, I feel pretty much lost and tired and I don't know what I am going to do next. I have to admit that the fears of a premature end to my professional career have been looming large, especially for the last 2 months or so.

Anyway, on a more cheerful note, I went on a nice trip with my cousins to a few places of attraction around 150 kms from Bangalore. First we went to the rAmapramEya swAmi temple in DoddamAlUr. The kSEtra is famous for the sannidhi of baby Lord Krishna crawling on his palms and knees and overwhelmed by this sight, shrI PurandaradAsa composed the beautiful krithi "jagadOdAraNa" in kApi. We then proceeded to TalakkAd, a nice hangout spot on the banks of kAvEri river where we dived into the river to cool off a bit :). The final stop for the day was Somnathpura which is home to an archaeological masterpiece, the kESava temple built by hOysAla kings in 12th century A.D. The artwork and sculptures were absolutely mesmerizing to say the least and we spent a good few hours just roaming around the temple with our eyes and jaws wide open in wonder. You may want to check out the pictures of this trip here. Other than that, life has been pretty peaceful with music and meditation as usual :).

Moving on to the krithi that I will be taking up today, it was out of pure curiosity that I actually ventured into listening to this krithi and understanding it. Probably around 1.5 years ago, while Hari (close friend and guru) and I were chatting on skype as usual, he mentioned this krithi is amazing and sang the pallavi for me. We were both a bit perplexed because we had not listened to anything in balahamsa and the scale sounded just like the kEdAragouLa-nArAyaNagouLa genre. I had just then learnt "mAmava raghuvIra" in mAhuri and that added further to my confusion for its based on pretty much the same scale :). To clear all this confusion, I sat down with our faithful SSP and spent time seeing how the gamakAs and distinguishing phrases work for these rAgas. After listening to the krithi a few times and the other sancAris in the SSP, I could finally get a decent picture of this beautiful rAga. balahamsa, classified as an upAnga janya of harikEdAragouLa (28th mELa) has "srgmpdS-Sndpmgrs" scale (though that doesn't help anyone at all). It is one of those really tough phrase based rAgas that I have come across and phrases like "srgmpmr" and "rsnpds" centered around the rishabha as jIva swara gives this rAga its unique flavor.

Unfortunately, the confusion comes in because one does not find the "srgm" phrase neither in this krithi nor in the gItams/tAna varNams in the SSP. It is always phrases like "srmp" or "srmgrr" which are repeatedly used and this gives a clear kEdAragouLa effect. Well, I guess listening to the krithi probably gives an OK idea of the rAga..probably we should request SRJ mama to elaborate on rAgas such as this and mAhuri to help us understand better. Enough about the rAga, moving on to the krithi now, dIkshitar exclusively uses the panCami vibhakti (fifth/ablative case) to beautifully continue the Lord/guru theme while employing a rare rAga. The fact that dIkshitar uses a rAga such as balahamsa in only his 5th composition ever speaks volumes about the great genius. The pallavi goes like,


guruguhAd anyam na jAnEham
guptAgamArta tatva prabOdhinO


dIkshitar confesses "I know ("jAnEham") of none other than ("anyam na") guruguha, the one who taught and brought to light ("prabOdhinO") the esoteric, hidden ("gupta") meanings ("arta") and principles ("tatva") of the Agamas".

The first thing I noticed after going through the krithi was that dIkshitar seems to have dwelled in a slightly higher meditative realm than the first four krithis of this series..atleast, thats how I felt. Also, one can notice that he successfully manages to further erase that thin line of demarcation between the Lord and the guru. In the pallavi itself, he extols the Lord/guru by addressing them as perhaps the most knowledgeable people he has come across. He clearly makes use of the tale in which Lord SubrahmaNya teaches his own father Lord Shiva and thereby highlights the AchArya amsha of the Lord. And if you see from a disciple's view point too, it is the guru who unravels the mysteries of the sacred texts and enlightens the student about the shAstrAs.

The Agamas are basically sacred texts giving details of certain techniques and modes of worship of Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu. Each Agama consist of 4 parts. The first part deals with philosophy and spiritual aspects. The second part usually talks about yogic techniques for controlling the mind and senses. The third part extensively deals with rules that need to be followed for construction of temples and sculpting idols and statues. The final part talks about rules one needs to observe while performing rituals and other ceremonies. So, dIkshitar clearly chalks out the idea behind this krithi while he attributes the "dispeller of ignorance" status to the Lord and the guru simultaneously.

Coming to the musical aspects, dIkshitar kick-starts the composition with the "srmp mgrr" phrase at "guruguhAd anyam" followed by the beautiful "rpmgrsr" phrase at "tatva prabO"dinO. We can also observe that he primarily deals with ArOhaNa phrases in both madhya and mandira stAyis and hence does not employ the niSAdam in the pallavi at all. Moving on to the anupallavi,


aruNOdayAnanda kOti braHmANDAkAra-
SivAdidharAnta tatva svarUpiNO


dIkshitar describes the Lord/guru as "the embodiment of ("svarUpiNO") thatness ("tatva") which pervades everything beginning from Lord Shiva ("SivAdi") and ending with the manifested worlds ("dharAnta") and the one whose form ("AkAra") is as resplendent as sunrise ("aruNOdaya") happening in crores of universe ("kOti braHmANDa") at the same time".

dIkshitar clearly shows his inclination to advaita vEdAnta in these lines of the anupallavi. He takes the Lord/guru theme to a new high when he describes the Lord as the embodiment of that universal truth which pervades everything right from the supreme consciousness (Shiva) to all the creations in this world and beyond, a clear allusion to the jivAtma-paramAtma concept. The guru too becomes a representation of that universal truth/consciousness which a disciple wishes to reach through continuous God-union and having attained a divine high position, the guru too resonates with the supreme consciousness and traverses everything from that paramAtma to individual jIvAtmas. dIkshitar further compares the resplendent form to the lustre of crores of sunrises. It makes me wonder as to the high levels of consciousness which dIkshitar must have ascended in order to give such a wonderful description.

Musically, in my opinion, it is this anupallavi which dIkshitar uses as a wonderful platform to completely exploit and milk the beauty of this rAga in its entirety. The anupallavi starts off with my most favourite phrase in this krithi, "mgRpM" at "aruNOdaya" followed by a simple yet compelling "PDPDS" phrase at "kOTi brahmANDa". He then smoothly slips into the tAra sthAyi and employs the "rgrsn" phrase at "AkAra SivA"di and by this time, dIkshitar has completely differentiated balahamsa from kEdAragowLa. And he hits the final nail in the coffin when he uses the killer phrase "mGrmggr" to finish the anupallavi. If someone wants to really get a good picture of this rAga, it is this anupallavi where one should start..just brilliant!! If the rasikA has still not had enough (in the good sense :)), the caraNam that ensues is a real treat. Oh, and here I must make a small mention about tyAgarAja swAmi's compostion "daNDamu peTTedanurA" in balahamsa. There are many striking similarities in the way the two geniuses have handled this delicate rAga starting with the strange coincidence (?) of tyAgarAja swAmi using the word "brahmANDa" in the anupallavi when he describes Lord Rama as brahmANDa nAyaka.

The fact that thyAgarAja has composed 2 krithis (incl ika gAvalasina) in this rAga and that dIkshitar has composed a major krithi in the guruguha vibhakti series clearly shows that balahamsa was quite a popular rAga in the good old times. Unfortunately, many such gems seem to have vanished into the horizon over time thanks to our excessive indulgence in the same old kAmbhOjis, bhairavIs and tODIs :(. Atleast for the sake of pains taken by these majestic composers, I sincerely hope some of the qualified musicians perform a balahamsa or a ghaNTA more frequently. Anyway, moving on to the caraNam,


sahasradaLa sarasija-madhya nivAsinaH
sakala candra bhAskara tEjaH prAkASinaH
sahajAnandastitha dAsa viSvAsinaH
saccit-sukhAtmaka viSvavilAsinO
aharahaH prabalahamsa prakASAtmanO
daharavidyA pradAyaka paramAtmanO
jahad-ajahallakSaNayA jIvaikyAtmanO
rahaHpujIta cidAnandAtmanO


dIkshithar continues to describe the Lord as "the one who resides ("nivAsinaH") in the middle ("madhya") of the thousand-petalled ("sahasradaLa") lotus ("sarasija"). The one who gives light ("tEjaH prakASinaH") to the suns ("bhAskara") and moons ("candra") of all the different worlds ("sakaLa"). The one who expresses faith ("viSvAsinaH") in those devotees ("dAsa") who are established ("stitha") in the bliss of sahaja ("sahajAnanda"). The one who manifests ("vilAsinO") in this world ("viSva") as truth, consciousness and bliss ("saccit-sukha")".

dIkshitar continues to waltz through the madhyamakAla sAhityam describing the Lord as "the one who again and again ("aharaha") reveals the form of the effulgent self ("prakAsAtmanO") to the famous ("prabala") yogis. The supreme soul ("paramAtmanO") who bestows ("pradAyaka") knowledge of dahara vidyA. The one who reveals the harmonious union of the individual soul with the supreme soul ("jIva+ikyAtmanO") through jahal and ajahal lakshanas. The one who is the form of cidAnanda, who is to be worshipped ("pUjita") in seclusion of the soul and by performing esoteric rituals ("rahaH")".

In typical dIkshitar-ish caraNam style, he directly jumps into the yogic aspects and further establishes the idea and the importance of a guru in a soul's spiritual progress. dIkshitar once again shows the meditative realm in which he exists by clearly describing his spiritual experiences in the caraNam. He describes the Lord as the one who dwells in the sahasrAra cakra and as the one who loves His devotees and their unconditional love. And simultaneously he weaves this magical fabric by employing phrases like "snpds" at "sakaLa candra" and "rgsr" at "prakASinO". It is with phrases such as this that dIkshitar brings out the jIva riSabha beautifully. He choreographs the ending of each line in the caraNam with delicate precision as he continues to employ some eye-popping phrases like "Spdnp"..amazing brilliance yet again from the genius. You can easily see that I have run out adjectives a long time back :P.

The madhyamakAla sAhityam is a stroke of genius once again. How else can you explain the way he embeds the rAga mudra balahamsa as prabalahamsa without distorting the meaning? Infact, he sort of kills 2 birds in 1 stone as he brings in the "famous swan" to emphasize the advaita relevance. dIkshitar continues to incorporate upanishadic references. He mentions dahara vidyA, one of the 32 vidyAs mentioned in the upanishads through which a soul can attain brahman. When one practises any of these 32 vidyAs, he/she perceives the brahman with certain qualities and attributes highlighted. For eg, chhAndokya upanishad describes the brahman as "the imperceptible ether within the heart" and this upanishad along with brihadAranyaka upanishad specifically dwells on characteristics of dahara vidyA.

dIkshitar then uses vEdAnta paribhAsha when he refers to jahallakSaNa and ajahalakSaNa in order to further establish the advaita philosophy of union of the supreme soul and the individual soul. vEdAnta paribhAsha is basically a treatise which discusses the origin, nature and validity of the knowledge as expressed in advaita vEdAnta. So, it basically is in-depth grammar. In short, the relationship between a word and its meaning is called vritti and is classified as either Sakti vritti and lakSaNa vritti. Sakti vritti as the name indicates refers to those relationships (between a word and its meaning) which can directly generate knowledge of the meaning of the word and the resulting meaning is called vAchyArtha. With the help of this vAchyArtha (direct meaning), we can derive implied meanings called as lakSaNa vritti.

This lakSaNa vritti is further classified as jahallakSaNa, ajahallakSaNa and jahadajahalakSaNa/bhagatyagalakSaNa. Since this post has already gone way beyond readable, digestible length, I request the readers to click here to understand these concepts in depth explained with clear examples. Musically, the madhyamakAla dispels the idea that this is a slow rAga. With audacious phrases such as "srgrgr" at "prakASAtmanO" and "pSpmgr" at "rahaHpUjita", dIkshitar beautifully captures the essence of the rAga and sort of gives a complete picture of this "rare" rAga. To further emphasize the delicate structure of the scale, dIkshitar caps it off with an awesome citta swara section. I have always felt that I am not good at notating (esp with the tools available in this blogspot) and thats why I abstain from posting citta swarams. And when you have a magnum opus such as the SSP which gives clear distinct notations, why should I bother. I request the readers to kindly look into the SSP and follow the citta swarams (please do check it out..shtud it is).

Sorry for being in a kind of hurry to finish this post (too long already as I mentioned above). Finally, I once again request all performing artists who grace this blogspace to learn this krithi and perform on stage and popularize this beautiful piece. Such gems should be cherished for our future generations and should not disappear into the dead. I shall next take up "shrI guruguhasya dAsOham" in pUrvi and continue with this vibhakti series. Till then, keep listening and have fun :). Salutations to the great gurus!!