Sunday, March 3, 2013

cintaya mAkanda - Bhairavi

Three more months seem to have just flown by without me even noticing the turn of the new year. Thankfully, since the Mayans were wrong, I am back on this space, sharing my thoughts on life and music. Not much has changed in life has been very hectic although extremely productive, interesting and satisfying. The daily car drive to and from office has become my only source of listening to music even though I still contemplate about compositions and music whenever I get free. I have also been fortunate enough to gain a new friend in life who teaches music and is probably more passionate about it than anyone that I have seen so far. I am sure this satsangam is going to make me learn even more and share more interesting stuff on this forum :).

Since there is quite a lot to write about in this post, I will directly jump into it. I will try to give a brief intro to the Panchabhuta linga kritis, five beautiful gems composed by shri muthuswAmi dIkshitar and then proceed unto this beautiful kriti in Bhairavi. Writing about something as expansive as the five elements is going to be extremely challenging but I will give it my best shot. The dynamics of our planet (and universe) are governed by five elements - ether (space), air, fire, water and earth. While it is still debatable as to how each of these elements were created and whether the creation of one had any interdependency on the other, taittiriya upanishad seems to have a simple yet complicated answer. In the first anuvaka of the second valli (called Anandavalli) in the taittiriya upanishad, the origins of the five elements is directly attributed to the Brahman, the supreme being. It goes on to say that from the Brahman sprang AkASa (ether,the medium through which we hear). From AkASa, evolved vAyu (air, that which we hear and feel) and from vAyu, evolved agni (fire, that which we hear, feel and see). From vAyu and agni, evolved varuNa (water, that which we hear, feel, see and taste) and from water, sprang prithvi (earth, that which we hear, feel, see, taste and smell). So clearly, it establishes the evolution and the inter-relationships between these elements. It also directly links the 5 elements to the 5 primary senses of a living organism. And Shiva being the supreme being, embodies all these 5 elements and takes 5 different forms in 5 different temples, four in different locations in Tamil Nadu and one in Andhra Pradesh. There is also yet another popular stream of thought that the five downward pointing triangles in the shrI cakra representing shakti are the actual source of the five elements though I don't have much idea about this.

dIkshitar, being the eternal pilgrim, has travelled to all these shrines and composed some amazing music, rich in substance and resplendent in beauty. I will try to do justice to each of these five gems in my next five posts. The word "linga" itself means "mark" and technically, it neither has form nor is it formless. It is more of a symbol of the supreme being's divinity and acts more as a form of the formless and the omnipotent. This aspect of the formless and the "formful" can be seen at all of these five beautiful shrines which seem to have a special mysticism about them.

I would have ideally liked to take up the krithis in the same order of evolution mentioned above. But since the complexity of the compositions (and the elements they signify) increases tremendously as we move from earth to ether and since most of us are more comfortable dealing with abstractions of greater dimensions and gross substance, I thought it would be better to proceed from the simplest element Earth (with which we can relate with all our five senses) and slowly graduate up the pecking order. So here goes the "first" kriti in the panchabhuta linga set, "cintaya mAkanda" in Bhairavi set to rUpaka tALa and composed at the majestic EkAmranAthaswAmi temple in the divine town of kAncIpuram. There are some unique features about these five gems that dIkshitar has composed with each kriti exhaustively listing everything that is to be known about the temple, the significance etc. Musically, each kriti is embellished with beautiful phrases and lyrical content is of the highest order like majority of dIkshitar's kritis are. Each of these kritis enjoy the vintage dIkshitar trademarks such as witty usages of rAga mudra, complex and interesting references to temple folklore etc.   

A bit about the kSEtra before starting off on the composition. The ekAmrESwarar temple is set on a huge sprawling campus on the main temple veedhi of the town. The ekAmra translates to "one mango tree" and the Lord here gets his name directly from the sthala vriksha, the mango tree itself. There is a small temple near the mango tree itself in the temple complex and hence the Lord is also known as mAmUlanAtha. The mango tree is also considered to be an embodiment of the four vedas for it bears fruits of four different tastes each season. The presiding deity is worshipped as Prithvi lingam and there is a somaskanda panel featuring Shiva, Parvati and skanda near the mango tree. The legend has it that Parvati worshipped Lord Shiva in the form of a linga made out of sand and to test the strength of her devotion, the Lord ordered ganges to flood the area. Parvati is said to have hugged the linga in a bid to protect it. The Lord, pleased by this act, appeared in person to marry her. Also, another interesting point to note is that no Shiva temple in kAncIpuram has a sanctum for the Goddess and this holds true in the composition too as dIkshitar does not make a mention about the Lord's consort.

Now that enough background has been set, understanding the nuances of the kriti will be a relatively easy exercise. The pallavi goes as:


cintaya mA kanda mUlakandam cEtah shrI sOmAskandam


dIkshitar starts the kriti off adopting a tone of advice and sings "Oh mind! ("cEtah"), contemplate ("cintaya") on somAskanda, the one seated under the bulbous root ("mUlakandam") of the mango tree ("mA kanda")".

This pallavi is probably one of the greatest displays of dIkshitar's pAndityam. The restrained used of words with perfect yati, monai aspects while conveying all that is to convey about a temple, its deity, its sthala vriksha and all nicely packaged into a single line, like a beautiful sugar-coated pill directed not at the body but at one's mind. The fact that he refers to all with chaitanya (consciousness) is like a wake-up call for all sentient beings who have the power of thought to think beyond material aspects of life and discipline one's mind to focus on the supreme being.

He also brings in the sOmAskanda form of Shiva in which the Lord is accompanied by Parvati and SubrahmaNya ("sa+Uma+skanda"). As I had mentioned earlier in this post, this is the panel that is present in the temple near the mango tree itself. In the depiction of the somAskanda form, skanda sits in-between Shiva and Parvati. If one visits kAncIpuram, the temples of the three are also geographically located in the same way with the kumarakottam temple sandwiched between the ekAmranAtha and the kAmAkSi temples making kAncIpuram probably a perfect sOmAskanda spot in the true sense of the word.

Musically, I have heard slightly different versions of the pallavi with one school stressing on the Nishadam with heavy dhaivata influence and beginning the kriti with "nndpd" while yet another school starting off on a typical bhairavi avarOhaNa-type "Sndp" phrase for "cintaya mA". I am also more used to the rendition in which "cEtah shrI" is sung as "RS nd" with a kampitam on ni while the notations of SSP suggest a completely different shade dropping to the mandira sthAyi nishAda. Both have their own beauty and of course the various sangatis that have evolved over time at "sOmAskandam" (one should listen to the DKJ version of this kriti to experience this part) add so many shades of Bhairavi that the essence of this majestic raga is pretty much captured in this single line of the kriti. Moving on to the anupallavi,     


santatam akhaNDa saccitAnandam
sAmrAjyaprada caraNAravindam


dIkshitar begins to describe the Lord as "one who is immersed in a state of eternal ("santatam"), undivided ("akhaNDa") blissful consciousness ("saccitAnandam") and one whose lotus feet ("caraNAravindam") are capable of bestowing empires ("sAmrAjya prada") on his devotees".

Lyrically, the anupallavi is quite unlike a dIkshitar kriti because of its extreme simplicity. And this simplicity is probably what makes the anupallavi a very strong musical piece of the kriti for it offers ample scope for the musician to extrapolate and pretty much enshrine all the key phrases of Bhairavi. For example, if one listens to the DKJ version of the kriti, the way he expounds the first line of the anupallavi is brilliant. He embellishes it with so many beautiful phrases and also makes brilliant use of the rUpaka tALa when he sings it as "Anandam, citAnandam, saccitAnandam" in 4 Avartanams.

dIkshitar's reference to the Lord being capable of blessing his devotees with empires is a direct allusion to the vast, flourishing kingdoms of the Pallava dynasty. The "mNdpmgrs" at "prada caraNAra" is a treat to listen to and of course sing :). At this juncture, the kriti is nicely set up for a heavy caraNam to consolidate and establish and beautify the composition further. And whattay caraNam follows,


maHNgaLakara mandahAsa vadanam
mAnikyamaya kAncisadanam
angasaundarya vijita madanam
antaka sUdanam kunda radanam
uttuNga kamanIya vRSaturaNgam
bhairavi prasaNgam guruguhAntaraNgam pRthvIliNgam


dIkshitar continues to describe the Lord as "the one with a smiling countenance ("mandahAsa vadanam") who bestows welfare and prosperity ("maHNgaLakara") on his devotees. The one who resides ("sadanam") in the rich abode of kAnCi, filled with carbuncles ("mAnikyamaya"). The one whose splendorous body ("anga saundarya") surpasses ("vijita") that of cupid ("madana"). The one who is the destroyer ("sUdana") of Yama, the God of death ("antaka") and one with teeth as white as jasmine buds ("kunda radanam")".

In the madhyamakAla sAhityam, dIkshitar sings the praises of the Lord as "the one who has the tall and beautiful ("uttuNga kamanIya") bull ("vRSa") as His vehicle and the one enjoys the company of ("prasaNgam") of Goddess Bhairavi (ugra version of Parvati). The one who resides in the interior essence ("antaraNgam") of guruguha and the one who exists in this kSEtra in the form of pRthvI liNgam, symbolizing the earth element.

A major part of the caraNam is quite easily understandable because most of the references are physical in nature and dIkshitar has chosen not to delve into esoteric or yogic references in this kriti. I guess this is in line with the fact that the Earth element itself is quite simple to understand and visualize (when compared to the air or the ether). Musically, the madhyamakAla sAhityam of this kriti is one of my all time favorite :). It pretty much is built like the bull's movement. The "uttuNga kamanIya" part is structured as if the bull jumps and gallops and then comes to a small stop at "vRSaturaNgam". He brings in the rAga mudra beautifully accompanied by a majestic "GRS" phrase. He concludes the kriti with a reference to the purANa of Parvati worshipping the Lord in the form of a sand linga.

There are many good renditions of the kriti available on the net sung by DKJ, Vijay Shiva and T.M.Krishna to name a few. While the DKJ school's rendition is chaste and pleasing, TMK's version has a more stronger adherence to the notations in the SSP and brings out some uncharacteristically beautiful phrases. In my next post, I will take up the beautiful "jambupathE" composed in yamunAkalyANi praising Lord JambukESwara at tiruvAnaikkAval symbolizing the water element. And I will try to ensure that I publish my next post very soon :). Till then, enjoy. Shri gurubhyO namah: