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!!