Sunday, August 31, 2014

SrI kALahastISa - husAni

 I start this post with an apology to myself and the followers of this blog. An apology for having breached my 15 day per post deadline. With Diwali coming up, work has been quite hectic and I have also been occupied with numerous other things due to which, I have not been able to sit down and pen my thoughts. I need to make up for lost time and will try to publish two posts in quick succession to catch up.

Today, I had a wonderful time with one of cousins and her husband. We had such a great time that I wished we could've spent many more such afternoons and evenings together. It had a bit of everything - fun, laughter, music and of course, good food :). Anyway, now that we have realized how beautiful it is to spend time together, I am sure we will meet more often and enjoy good company and great food :).

Continuing with the pancabhuta linga kritis of shri muthuswAmi dIkshitar, we will today look at the beautiful composition "SrI kALahastISa" in rAga husAni ("husEni" as its name has changed over time) where dIkshitar describes in detail, Lord Shiva embodying the primordial element of vAyu (Air). The significance of this temple is seen in the form of the lamp that endlessly flickers in the airless, almost-vacuum chamber thereby showing the presence of Lord Shiva in the form of air here. The first time I visited this temple, I had a pretty bad headache and we were in a rush on the way back from tirupati. But I still vividly remember the majestic white gopuram with the beautiful river swarnamukhi washing the walls of the temple and seeing this wonderful site, my headache disappeared in a fraction of a second.

The temple town and the Lord here derive their name after the staunch devotees, the spider (Sri), the snake (kAla) and the elephant (hasti) who according to folklore are supposed to have killed each other while demonstrating their great devotion for Lord Shiva. The Lord, having witnessed this, chose to grant them a boon of everlasting fame by merging their names with the vAyulinga at this temple. Even to this day, the symbols of these three devotees are seen on the linga at kAlahasti. Also, since the linga at this kSEtra is predominantly serpentine in shape, this shrine has been associated with performing rituals to get oneself rid of sarpa dosha by performing rAhu-kEtu puja.

The temple is also mentioned in all the tamil scriptures, with the first mentions dating back to the 1st century. The temple is also referred to as dakshin kailAsa and dIkshitar too alludes to this in the caraNam of this composition. In addition to this kriti, dIkshitar has also composed the beautiful samashti caraNam kriti "jnAnaprasUnAmbikE" in kalyANi studded with such brilliant phrases adorning the beautiful consort of Lord Shiva here.

Before I start the kriti, I thought I will make a small mention about the rAga husAni. It is usually treated as a sister rAga of the bhairavi-mukhAri system. However, there are many references to this rAga as Osani from even prior to the sangam era and this is quite evident in some of the sharp, folk-ish prayOgas of this rAga which probably makes it older than bhairavi. To further enhance the distinctions between these rAgas, the dIkshitar school clearly describes this rAga as a bhAshAnga janya of the 22nd mELakarta (shri rAgam) while bhairavi, mukhAri and even mAnji are delineated as bhAshAnga janya of the 20th mELakarta (nArirItigouLa). The rakti-ness of husAni are primarily attributed to the dIrgha madhyama and the nyAsa nishAda and the raga is usually established by characteristic phrases such as "rgMgrs", "ssppndm" and "pndns". All said, the beauty of a phrase-based rakti rAga such as husAni is to be experienced and probably not to be analyzed. The fact that dIkshitar chose a rAga such as husAni to sing the praises of the Lord at such an important saivite kSEtra speaks volumes about the popularity of this rAga in the good old times and the kriti today serves as a standing instruction for all students of music who would like to get a good glimpse about this beautiful rAga

Moving on to the composition, dIkshitar in his usual style embellishes this kSEtra with such brilliant play with the grammar and the language that one can only admire the genius at work and enjoy the brilliance. He steps it up stone by stone as he moves through the composition. In the pallavi, he clearly sets the context, the location and the vAyulinga reference. In the anupallavi, he describes the esoteric significance of the temple and in the process, beautifully weaving in the rAga mudra. Finally, in the caraNam, he makes references to the temple folklore, the Lord's consort, some more interesting play with the words and finishes off with the mention of the great devotee kannappa nAyanAr. All this while the composition smoothly flows along in jhampa tALa. The pallavi goes like,


SrI kALahastISa SritajanAvana samIrAkAra
mAm pAhi rAjamauLE Ehi


dIkshitar starts off the composition by clearly establishing the kSEtra and cries out "Oh Lord of kALahasti!, the Lord in the form of wind ("samIra" + "AkAra") and the one who protects those who take refuge in Him ("Srita jana"), please protect me ("mAm pAhi"), the one who wears the moon ("rAjamauLE").

In his typical clear and succinct way, dIkshitar brings forth the name of the kSEtra and the form of the Lord in this abode. He clearly establishes that this is a pancabhuta sthala and what makes it interesting is his choice of words. He never uses the term vAyulinga in the kriti even though he refers to the primordial elements on quite a few occasions. This is where dIkshitar's stature as a grammatical genius comes forth. He uses the word "samIra" for "wind" to preserve the adyAkshara prAsam in the pallavi. And perhaps the most beautiful part of the kriti is the "Ehi" which he employs to round off the pallavi. The lilting "rgMgrs" is so soothing that it caresses the listener like a peacock feather. To add to this, the "Ssndnp" phrase at "AkAra" and the usage of the corresponding symmetric samvAdi phrase "Ppmgrs" at "pAhi" makes the pallavi in itself a strong decoction with the full flavor of husAni on display. Moving on to the anupallavi


pAkAri vidhi hari prANa-maya kOSAnilAkASa-
bhUmi salilAgni prakASa Siva


dIkshitar describes the Lord as "the vital life force ("prANa-maya kOSa") of Lord Indra ("pAka" +"ari" = Enemy of pAka), Brahma ("vidhi") and Vishnu ("hari")". He continues to address the Lord as "the one who illumines ("prakASa") the five elements, wind ("anil"), ether ("AkASa"), earth ("bhUmi"), water ("salila") and fire ("agni")".

Clearly, the highlight of the anupallavi is the great master's use of vocabulary while referring to the five elements, once again using "anil" to refer to "wind" and in the process embedding the rAga mudra at k"OSAni"l. What can one say about such brilliance except just surrender and enjoy. Once again, look at the careful use of words- clearly cherry-picked by dIkshitar's brilliant mind. Using pAkAri and prANa to keep the prAsa in tact.

Musically, he starts off the anupallavi with the "Pdpmgrs" and goes into the tAra sthAyi with "rgmgrs" at "bhUmi". The DKJ version of the kriti beautifully brings out all the different possible sangatis and is definitely a treat to listen to. Now that the significance of the kSEtra is established, dIkshitar moves on to describe the other aspects of the Lord in the caraNam.


jnAna prasUnAmbikApatE bhaktAbhimAna-
dakshiNa kailAsa vAsAbhishTa dAna-
caturatarAbja dIna karuNAnidhE
sUna sara sUdanAjnAna hara paSupatE
jnAnaguruguha saccidAnanda-maya mUrtE
hIna jAti kirAtakEna pUjita kIrtE


dIkshitar begins the caraNam by referring to the Lord as "the Lord of His consort, jnAnaprasUnAmbikA and the one who is dear to all his devotees ("bhaktAbhimAna")". He brings in reference to the kSEtra once again by referring to the Lord as "the one whose abode ("vAsa") is dakshiNa kailAsa". dIkshitar then moves on to the describe the merciful and compassionate side of the Lord by describing Him as "the one whose lotus hands ("caturatara"+"abja") grants ("dAna") the desired boons ("abhishTa") and the one who is an ocean of mercy and compassion ("karuNAnidhE") to the helpless ("dIna")".

dIkshitar then continues to describe the Lord as "the one who destroyed ("sUdana") cupid, the one who bears arrows of flowers ("sUna sara") and the Lord of all beings ("paSupatE") who removes ignorance ("ajnAna" + "hara"). The one who signifies knowledge ("jnAna") in the form of Lord Guruguha and the embodiment of truth, bliss and consciousness ("saccidAnanda")".

dIkshitar concludes the composition by paying rich tribute to the great devotee kannappa nAyanAr by referring to the Lord as "the one who is famous ("kIrtE") for having been worshipped ("pUjita") by a low-caste ("hIna jAti") hunter ("kirAtaka")." 

The consort jnAnaprasUnAmbika  as Her name indicates is known to be the mother who makes knowledge ("jnAna") blossom ("prasUna") in an individual. dIkshitar again shows his brilliance with words in the caraNam at two places. First, he refers to the Lord's act of burning manmatha with his third eye and to describe this incident, he literally uses "flowery language" by referring to the cupid carrying a quiver full of flower-arrows :). Once again, the choice of words is what keeps the tempo and momentum of the song building up to the crescendo. Second, dIkshitar uses the words oxymoronic words "ajnAna" and "jnAna" almost back to back, with the latter reference being to the incident where Lord guruguha becomes swAminAtha and explains the import of the praNava mantra to Lord Shiva Himself. This very beautifully adds to the rhythm and builds on to the madhyamakAla sAhityam.

dIkshitar finishes off the kriti in style. He pays probably the biggest tribute that any devotee would've attained by referring to kannappa nAyanAr in the final line of the composition. As the story goes, kannappa was a hunter who used to worship the Lord at kALahasti with staunch devotion. One day, he noticed that there was blood oozing out of the Lord's eyes on the linga. Without flinching, he plucked his own eye out with an arrow and placed it on the lingam's eyes. The next day, he noticed that the lingam's other eye had also started bleeding and being the supreme devotee that he was, he was about to pluck his other eye and cover the Lord's bleeding eye when Lord Shiva Himself appeared and restored his eyesight and rewarded him for his staunch devotion by granting him boons and later, the nAyanAr status.

If you look closely, dIkshitar refers to the Lord of having got famous because of the great devotee and not the other way around. How else could have anyone paid a richer tribute to the great kannappa nAyanAr? The other day, I had an argument with one of my friends when he accused of dIkshitar being a racist for using words like "hIna jAti" in this kriti, "Arya vamsajAta tUrya jAti" in the kriti "pAhi mAm ratnAcala nAyaka" and "vaisya jAti strI vESa dharaNam" in "shri mAtrubhUtam". While superficially, it does look as if dIkshitar uses racist remarks, you will always notice that he uses it in all these kritis to bring out the fact that the Lord is completely indifferent to the concept of castes and that true devotion is actually way beyond the societal caste structures. So, actually, dIkshitar was a secularist even back in those times and was trying to promote the greatness achieved by these members of the so-called other/lower castes. I still haven't convinced my friend completely but at least managed to get the "racist" tag removed with my arguments :).

I guess that's enough said about this brilliant composition. I would sincerely urge rasikas to listen to both the DKJ's as well as the more SSP-centric TMK's version of this kriti. Both are beautiful in their own way, the former purely because of the variety of sangatis and the latter more because of the interesting prayOgas and the completely different flavor of husAni that TMK's version brings forth. Would be more than happy to share the links if you are not able to find these recordings yourselves.

I will try to make up for lost time by starting to work on the final kriti of the pancabhuta linga series today itself. "Ananda natana prakASam" describing the ethereal cosmic dance in the mellifluous kEdAram rAga concludes this series at the Chidambaram temple. So, come join me next time as we continue to explore these beautiful compositions together. Till then, keep listening to good music and please share with me your thoughts and suggestions. shrI gurubhyO namah!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

aruNAcalanAtham smarAmi - sArangA

And so I am back with yet another post, continuing to write about the majestic pancabhUta linga kritis of shri muthuswAmi dIkshitar. Last couple of weeks have been filled with a bit of travel and a lot of good music, two brilliant concerts to be specific. I was fortunate enough to listen to an amazing concert by shri Vijay Shiva last Sunday. A very interesting concoction of rAga choices (kalyANi, abhEri and an absolutely mind-blowing virutham) and brilliant accompaniments made the concert a memorable one. It had such an impact on me that the music was ringing in my ears and haunting me for the next 3 days. The very next day I was immersed further in musical brilliance through Sanjay sir's concert. Curiously, he too chose abhEri and the "nagumomu"s on both days took me time-travelling back to the Golden recordings of the 50's and 60's. He also sang kAdambari priyAyai in mOhanam and the kamalAmba navAvarNam in Shankarabharanam and being a guruguha maniac, I couldn't have asked for a better treat :).

I also reconnected with a couple of my old school and music friends over the last two weeks and I am slowly but surely re-establishing the connections that I have lost over the years (for no reason). After a long time, I have begun to feel the vibrant vitality in my life that went missing after I relocated to India in 2009 (again, for no reason).

Before I jump into the composition, as always, I would like to set the context, giving a few insights about the temple, its folklore and its significance. The tiruvannamalai temple town itself is perhaps one of a kind with the divine vibrations that gives the devotee goosebumps. The huge temple complex with its four towering gopurams is set in the foothills of aNNAmalai hills, the mountain in itself being worshipped as an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is worshipped as "agni lingam" and the main deities are aruNAcalEswarar and Goddess apitakucAmba (unnAmalai in tamizh). According to mythology, Goddess pArvati is known to have closed Lord Shiva's eyes with her hands (playfully) in Kailash and at that moment, the whole universe went devoid of light and was submerged in darkness. The Goddess is supposed to have performed a penance, following which Lord Shiva took the form of a column of fire atop the aNNAmalai hills and thereby returning light to the world.

Also, the other famous version of the origin of this temple is that when the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma were trying to establish their supremacy, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a column of fire and challenged Vishnu and Brahma to find the source of the fire. While Brahma took the form of a swan and flew towards the sky in search of the source of the flame, Vishnu took the form of a board and went underneath. Neither were successful and while Vishnu accepted defeat, Brahma is supposed to have lied to Shiva and said that he had indeed found the source of the fire. Shiva is known to have punished him for this lie and cursed him to not have any temples for his worship.

Hence, the amsha that Lord Shiva embodies at tiru aNNamalai is fire. His resplendent form dispels darkness and drives away ignorance. The power of the Lord here is indeed well documented in the form of so many yogis and great saints who have attained moksha at tiru aNNAmalai. Saint ramaNa maharishi is the foremost of these noble souls and the cave in which he meditated and his beautiful ashram in the foothills are a must visit for every human being. The temple gets mention in all the old scriptures, notably in tEvAram and all the works of appar, sundarar and mANikkavAcakar. Regardless to say, this is one of the most significant shrines for all Saivites and is also deeply associated with the astral body of the human anatomy, especially the third chakra, manipura located in the solar plexus. It is one of the most important chakras and is probably the most difficult to surpass. The tatwa element governing this chakra is fire and signifies itcha Shakti, hence it is believed that by meditating on Lord Shiva in the agni form, this chakra can be easily activated and help the spiritual seeker to progress much faster as his kundalini unwinds.

To do justice to such a major kSEtra, dIkshitar uses sArangA, a mellifluous yet majestic rAga. This kriti is such a jewel that the rAga itself will be proud of the way that it can mend and dIkshitar being the genius he is, uses the phrases beautifully, lilting along in rUpaka tALa and creating a magnificent sculpture in the process, a sculpture that defies time. The structure itself is so beautiful with the pallavi being a prayer, the anupallavi describing the Lord and the temple and caraNam extolling the greatness of the agni lingam and the spiritual significance of the Lord at this kSEtra. The kriti starts as:


aruNAcala nAthaM smarAmi aniSaM
apIta kucAmba samEtam


dIkshitar sings "I always ("aniSaM") meditate ("smarAmi") upon Lord of aruNAcala, the one who is along with his consort ("samEtam") apIta kucAmba".

The pallavi is very simple yet very, very beautiful. dIkshitar makes things very clear as to which Lord this composition is dedicated to and who is the Goddess. He defines the kSEtra and pretty much doesn't talk about anything else in the opening few lines of the kriti. The word aruNAcala itself means the "mountain of fire" or "red (aruna) mountain (acala)" and I don't think there could have been a better word to describe the presence of Lord Shiva as an embodiment of fire residing in this mountain.

Musically, the beauty of rUpaka tALa is what stands out in this pallavi. It flows along with the words, adding more beauty to the sAhitya and kind of weaves in along with the rAga flow. The "rrgmp" start at "aruNA" followed by the very sArangA-ish "dnsDpp" at "nAtham" and the beautiful characteristic avarOhaNam phrase "sndpmrgmrs" being used as it is at "smarAmi" shows the brilliance of dIkshitar as a musical genius who just captures the essence of such a phrase-based rAga in the first three words of his kriti. He not only establishes the rAga but also kind of sets the tone for exploring beyond the typical prayOgams of the rAga with having finished off the basics in the pallavi itself.

Having started off quite simple, he moves on to the anupallavi to dive deeper in describing the Lord and continuing to explore the nuances of the rAga


smaraNAt kaivalya prada caraNAravindaM
taruNAditya kOTi saMkASa cidAnandaM
karuNA rasAdi kandaM SaraNAgata surabRndam


dIkshitar describes the power of the Lord as "The one with the lotus feet ("caraNa"+"aravindam"), just the thought of which ("smaraNAt") bestows ("prada") salvation ("kaivalya"). The one who is the embodiment of pure bliss consciousness ("cidAnandam") and the one who is as resplendent as a million ("kOTi") young ("taruNa") suns ("Aditya"). The one who is the root ("kandam") of the essence ("rasa") of all mercy ("karuNA") and the one unto whom hordes ("bRndam") of celestials ("sura") surrender ("SaraNAgata")".

The first thing that strikes the listener is perhaps the grammar and the rhythm that dIkshitar manages to blend into the composition by starting off the anupallavi with "smaraNAt". It rhymes with the "aruNA" in the pallavi and sets the platform for him to use the subsequent words in the anupallavi such as "taruNA, karuNA and caraNA". Perhaps the greatest beauty of his compositions are the way he uses yati and mOnai and it doesn't feel like he is trying to force-fit anything into the grammatical structural discipline but rather, it just flows and blends so coherently that any other word in something's place will just destroy the beauty completely.

dIkshitar again emphasizes on the Shakti of the Lord at this kSEtra and His ability to grant salvation to the ones who meditate upon him. Great saints such as shri ramaNa are testimony to this. dIkshitar also uses a beautiful volte-face in the anupallavi. Even though the kriti is about the Lord being in an agni form (which signifies energy and ugra), he describes the Lord as an ocean of compassion by bringing in karuNA rasa.

Musically, my favorite part of the anupallavi is the beautiful gamaka-laden "ppmpdnsrsdp" at "tarunAditya". It just melts the listener's heart and is a joy to sing/play. He rounds it off very nicely with "pmDpm rgmrs" at "SaraNAgata surabRndam" looping back to the rishabha start for the pallavi. Moving on to the caraNam,


aprAkRta tEjOmaya lingaM
adyAdbhuta karadhRta sAraNgaM
apramEyaM aparNAbja bhRngaM
ArUDhottunga vRsha turangaM
viprOttama viSEshAntarangaM
vIra guruguha tAraprasangaM
svapradIpa mauli vidhRta gangaM
svaprakASa jita sOmAgni patangam


dIkshitar continues to describe the Lord as "the effulgent ("tEjOmaya") lingam which does not have a beginning ("aprAkRta") and the one who wields a deer ("sAraNgam") in his wonderful ("adyAdbhuta") hands ("kara"). The one who is immeasurable ("apramEyam") and the one who hovers over the lotus (pArvati) ("aparNa"+"abja") like a bee ("bhRngam"). The one mounts ("ArUDhottunga") the sacred bull ("vRsha") as his vehicle ("turangam")".

The madhyamakAla sAhityam beautifully gallops along as the composer continues to describe the Lord as "the one who is the superior special ("viSEsha") inner conscience ("antarangam") of the scholarly and the learned ("vipra") and the one who is dear to the valorous ("vIra") Lord Karthikeya ("guruguha"), the one who explained the praNava mantra ("prasangaM"). The self-luminous one ("sva"+"pradIpa") who wears ("vidhRta") the Ganges ("gangam") and the moon ("mauli") on his head. The one whose luster ("prakASa") is superior to ("jita") to the moon ("sOma"), the fire ("agni") and the sun ("patangam")".

The caraNam is actually pretty simple (grammatically as well as musically) for a dIkshitar kriti and that too, being a pancabhUta linga kriti. He describes the "immeasurable nature" of the lingam and also the resplendence of the Lord in this form to be superior to all sources of light (sun, moon, stars and fire) that humans are usually exposed to. dIkshitar also brilliantly employs the rAga mudra by referring to the physical design of the Lord at this kSEtra and brings in the composer mudra by referring to Lord subraHmaNya as the one who expounded the praNava to His father.

He starts off the caraNam with a sedate "sPmp" at "aprAkRta" and slowly builds up through the Madhya stAyi entering into the tAra stAyi with the rishabha at "bhRngam". The flat madhyama usage at "apramEya" and the "sndnsrssdp" at "ArUDhottunga" are special phrases that embellish the composition and the rAga so beautifully. And to top it off, the crescendo in the madhyamakAla sAhitya with phrases such as "psDpmp" at "svaprakAsa jita" and "Dpmrgmrs" at "sOmAgni patangam" which brings in symmetry is probably what makes the kriti a masterpiece. More than me describing it, listen to the recording of Hyderabad Brothers or DKJ sir uploaded at to fully experience the beauty and brilliance of this composition.

As we continue our journey through the pancabhUta linga kritis, our next stop will be the brilliant composition in rAga husEni (or huSAni as it was called in the olden days) "shrI kALahastIsha" extolling the greatness of the mystical "vAyulinga" at kALahasti. This is probably the kriti where dIkshitar steps it up one big notch as he moves into the more abstract elemental forms of air and space(ether). I will aim to publish the post as soon as possible and try to wrap up the series by end of this month. Before I sign off, I would like to thank all the rasikas who have been sending me mails, suggestions and supporting me with their words of encouragement :). With all your support and the blessings of God and gurus, I am sure I will continue to share my thoughts on these amazing compositions by probably the greatest treasures that mankind has witnessed till date. Until next time, keep drowning in the ocean of music. Ciao!!