Sunday, November 18, 2012

shrI rAjagOpAla - sAvEri

I can't believe that it has taken me two and half years to get back to blogging. Reasons for the long gap? Quite a few but primarily two..the rigorous academic schedule at IIM,Bangalore from June 2010 to March 2012 and some personal heart burns especially over the last year or so. The former is thankfully over but the latter continues to trouble me even today and will probably continue to do so till my last breath ;(. But one good thing about the long break has been the fact that my passion for music has grown tremendously and the fire to learn and the hunger to share more with my fellow rasikas has never been stronger. Over the last couple of years, there have been many requests from many different rasikas through e-mails and phone calls to resume blogging and so, here I am, back by popular demand.

Since the kriti I want to focus on today is jam-packed with details, I think I will jump straight into business. One of my closest friends requested for a post on this kriti and hence I am restarting the blog with this post. The main reasons for me to have waited so long to write about shrI rAjagOpAla, THE epic in sAvEri by dIkshitar are two-fold. One, I was waiting for my dear friend Shreekrishna to write about this krithi since his understanding and rendition(s) of this krii are extremely in-depth and two, I was (and still am) unsure whether I will be able to do justice to this magnum opus. I hope SK reads this and adds his thoughts at least in the comments section.

I think I will set the context for the krithi with a brief background on the origins of the rAga and a bit about the sthala purANa and significance of the deity at mannArguDi. The rAga gets special mention in many of the treatises on carnatic music, the earliest reference being Brihaddharma purAna (11th Century), mentioned as sauviri, a janya of gowLa. In the epic sangIta ratnAkara (13th Century) by sArangadEva, the raga is mentioned as sAvari. The antiquity of the rAga is well-established by the fact that pre-trinity composers such as PurandaradAsa and annamAchArya have composed in this scale. sAvEri's importance as a main raga is underlined by the fact that it is one of the 28 rAgas to have been handled by each of the trinity. The madhyama and the gAndhAra in this rAga are so special that one can uniquely identify the rAga just based on these two notes.

dIkshitar no wonder chose this beautiful rAga to sing the praises of the Lord who is considered one of the most beautiful deities every. The temple at mannArguDi was built in the later half of the 11th Century by the Cholas and the gOpuram is quite intimidating to say the least. It remains a mystery as to why the AzhvArs didn't perform mangaLa sAsanam here as a result of which, this temple is not one among the 108 divya dEsams. Prior to the construction of the temple, there used to be a forest of champaka plants here and hence appropriately, the sthala vriksha is champaka (shenbagha flower). Another very interesting point about the deity in the temple is that the utsava mUrti (with rukmiNi and satyabhAma) is more prominent than the mUlavar in the sannidhi which is why even dIkshitar mentions in the caraNam as "shrI rukmiNi satyabhAma shrita pArSva yugaLa".

The mUlavar is considered one of the most beautiful deities ever with the Lord wearing a half-dhoti, holding a whip in his right hand and in the company of calves. The esoteric significance of the deity at mannArgUDi is that the Lord here is worshipped as shrividyA rAjagOpala, shrI lalita and shri rAjagOpAla worshipped as one. dIkshitar is known to have had a special place in his heart for this shrine and has composed many krithis here. Both the dIkshitar kritis in khamAs (santAna gOpAlakRsNam and sArasa dhaLa nayana) are believed to have been composed here though there are no direct references in the compositions. Yet another majestic composition on the deity here is "shrIvidyA rAjAgOpalam" in the 38th mELa jaganmOhanam. The rendition by Vedavalli maami is a must hear. With that, I will jump into the composition itself. dIkshitar starts off with a very short pallavi which goes like:

SrI rAjagOpAla bAla SRngAralIla SritajanapAla

dIkshitar introduces Lord Krishna as the luminescent boy king of cowherds ("rAjagOpAla bAla") who indulges in divine romantic play ("SRngAralIla") and protects the devotees ("Sritajana pAla") who surrender onto him.

There are many interpretations of the SRngAralIla that dIkshitar mentions here, with some even bordering on comparing the divine rAsa lIla with lust. The adolescent love of the gOpis and the Lord usually depicted in art forms such as paintings is only a fantasy. In fact, Lord Krishna was only 8 years old when he left Brindavan to study under Rishi sandIpani. hence everything that happened between the Lord and the gOpis/Radha was when he was a child. Moreover, the Lord was fully aware that He was Vishnu and the gOpis were not ordinary women but rather, realized beings who were seeking the divine union with the paramAtma.
Lyrically, the antyAkshara prAsam and the crisp use of syllables along with the 2-kalai Adi tALa makes one wonder whether dIkshItar himself would have got goosebumps while composing the pallavi. Musically, starting at the upper Sadja, the "Sri" itself sets the tone of the kriti. The "SndSndp" at SRngAra followed by a killer "mgrs" at lIla by themselves are sweeter than the lIla that the Lord is probably engaging in. The pallavi is perhaps the best example of "calm before the storm". It is very deceiving in its appearance for the crisp and short pallavi does not even give a small hint as to the magnum opus that unfolds.

dhIrAgragaNya dhInaSaraNya
cAru campakAraNya dakSiNa-
dwArakApuri nilaya viSishTAdvaita-
advaita laya mAm pAlaya

The composer describes the Lord as the first among the dhIras ("dhIrAgragaNya"). The syllable "dhI" itself is a very powerful word that seen in many mUla mantras including the gAyatri mantra. dhI also refers to a unique combination of supreme intellect, patience and courage. Lord Krishna noted for all this is aptly referred to as the first among the dhIras here by dIkshitar. By virtue of being a dhIra, the Lord protects the weak who surrender to him ("dhIna SaraNya"). dIkshitar continues to describe the temple as a forest ("araNya") filled with beautiful ("cAru") campaka flowers. There is a tale that Goddess Lakshmi appeared at mannArgUDi in the form of fragrant campaka flower which is why She is sometimes also called as Shenbaghalakshmi. It is also said that even the bees at mannArgUDi refrain from drinking the honey from the campaka flowers here so that the flowers remain pure and unsoiled for decorating the Lord with.

The temple is also known as the southern counterpart of dwArakA, the city of Lord Krishna and this is aptly captured by dIkshitar here by calling the Lord as the one who resides in the dwArakA of South India ("dakSiNa dwArakApuri nilaya"). dIkshitar pleads with the Lord to protect him ("mAm pAlaya") and describes the Lord as the union of two streams of philosophies, qualified or attributive monism ("viSishTAdvaita") and monism ("advaita"). This once again comes back to visualizing the deity as shrIvidyA rAjagOpAla, a unique union of divine forces of both Lalita and Lord Krishna. This is also reflected in the slightly feminine posture of the main deity with an ear-ring on one ear and a dangling kundala on the other ear. This is what makes the deity incomparable in beauty in a physical sense and power in a metaphysical sense. dIkshitar being a shrividyA upAsaka would have feasted his visit to this kshetra.

Lyrically, one can see how dIkshitar toys with the words. While the regular prAsam, yati and mOnai aspects are beautifully preserved in the anupallavi, one can also see how the entire anupallavi is filled with complementary duality. dhIra and dhIna for example which are exact opposites in terms of meaning and of course bringing in the two streams of philosophies. The chitta swaram (usually sung at the end of both anupallavi and caraNam) brings the ultimate closure for it embellishes the beauty of sAvEri with prayOgams that pretty much exhausts the scope. The "sndr" phrase at the beginning of the second Avarthanam of the chitta swaram stirs the heart and brings about a feeling that is indescribable.

As one can clearly feel, there is a definite shift in the seriousness and complexity of the kriti moving from the pallavi to the anupallavi. dIkshitar changes to top gear in the caraNam and leaves the rasika floored.

smErAraNa sEvaka caturAnana nArAyaNa
tAraka divyanAma pArAyaNa kRta-
nAradAdi nuta sArasapada
sadAmOda nArIvEsha dhara vAmabhAga murArE
SrI vidyArAja harE SrI rUkmiNi satyabhAmAsrita
pArSva yugaLa kambujayagaLa
nIra sampUrNa haridrAnadi-
tIra mahOtsav vaibhava mAdhava
mArajanaka nata Suka sanaka janaka
vIra guruguha mahita ramA sahita

dIkshitar continues to describe the beauty of the Lord as one with a smiling countenance ("smErAraNa") and the one who is served by the four-headed Lord Brahma ("sEvaka caturAnana"). The sthala purAna says that Lord Brahma once became extremely arrogant and fell from his position of high stature. Upon the advice of sages Suka and sanaka, Brahma is supposed to have come to campakAraNya, meditated on the deity here with the dvAdasa-kshara mantra and was subsequently elevated to his old position by Lord Vishnu. dIkshitar then refers to the penance and service ("nuta") of devotees such as nArada ("nAradAdi") who constantly chant and spread the glory ("pArAyaNa kRta") of the Lord by chanting his auspicious name ("divyanAma"). Here dIkshitar describes the Lord's name ("nArAyaNa") as a tAraka mantra, a chant that will help one to cross the cycles of rebirth and attain the Lord's feet.

dIkshitar then goes on to describe the physical beauty of the deity as the one with lotus feet ("sArasapada") and the one in floating in eternal bliss ("sadAmoda"). He once again reiterates the ardhanArIshwara style of the Lord whose left-side of the body ("vAmabhAga") is adorned with feminity ("nAri vEsha dhara") and describes the Lord as the one who killed Mura ("murArE"). The composition kind of ends to exist on a physical plane at this point and takes off on a whole new dimension with the next few lines in some ephemeral space.

Foraying into the tAra sthAyi, dIkshitar directly addresses the Lord as the supreme form of shrIvidya ("SrividyArAja hArE") and describes Him as one who is flanked on both sides ("pArSva yugaLa") by Rukmini and SatyabhAma. The composer then pays tribute to the beauty of the deity by referring to Him as one with a neck ("gaLa"), the beauty of which surpasses ("jaya") that of a well-formed conch ("kambu").

No description of a temple is complete without mentioning its temple tank and dIkshitar starts of the madhyamakAla sAhityam by describing the temple tank, haridrA, as one filled with holy water ("nIra sampUrNa"). The tank is so huge that dIkshitar calls it as a river, haridrAnadi, and goes on to describe the Lord as the glorious ("vaibhava") Madhava who is carried along in the flotillas in the temple tank during the months of the great festivals ("mahOtsava") at the temple. dIkshitar once plays with the word "janaka" by addressing the Lord as the father of Manmatha ("mArajanaka") and by referring to sages suka, sanaka and janaka as the ones who praised ("nata") Him. dIkshitar waits till the last line to incorporate his composer mudra by describing the Lord as one who is praised ("mahita") by the valorous ("vIra") Lord Guruguha and the one who resides with Lakshmi ("ramA sahita").

The experience of listening to a nice rendition of this kriti or trying to render the kriti by oneself, I would describe it as physically and emotionally exhaustive. One can't help but feel completely overwhelmed by the beauty of this majestic composition. By the time the second round of chitta swarams come at the end of the caraNam one is completely drained and is saturated with the musical, lyrical, grammatical and literary genius of the nAdajyOti MuthuswAmi dIkshitar. Filled with intricate passages and prayOgams which exhaust the scope of a major rAga like sAvEri, this is definitely one of the biggest feathers in dIkshitar's cap. Until next time (hopefully very soon), a proud dIkshitar bhakta signing off by saying "shrI guruguhasya dAsOham".