Sunday, November 18, 2018

shrI varalakSmI namastubhyam - shrI - rUpaka

After a hiatus of four long years, the musical scientist is back with a post :). While I am definitely trying to make a come back to my good old blogging days with today's post, I do not want to stake claim that I am fully back yet, as I have made such claims in the past and have failed miserably to live up to them. But for some reason, it definitely does feel different as I can feel the enthusiasm rush through my veins as I write these words, just like how I used to feel in those golden good old days probably 10 years ago.

So, the reader might wonder, what made me go into hibernation and just disappear off the radar like that? I would attribute it to a combination of many things (primarily professional life) that made me succumb to a banal, mundane lifestyle which further resulted in a lack of time and creative urge to express myself like I used to. In all fairness, it was more of my doing driven by my choices in life than anybody else's. And trust me when I say this, I did try to resuscitate the blog and my creative juices quite a few times in the past 4 years but somehow, I never could get that enthusiasm and love for writing back.

The next question (that I am asking myself), would be what has changed since the last time I blogged and the answer would be nothing much :) !! The world continues to go around its axis, probably a bit more dirtier, hotter and closer to its eventual destruction and a geopolitical situation that is not helping its cause. If anything, as a person, I have become more mature and my love for our music and the nAdajyOti (and the trinity) has increased further, up to a point where nothing else really seems to matter any more in life :).

A final question would probably be, what has made me come back now and the answer to that one would be straightforward. In the last 4 years, I would have received at least a hundred comments and requests from the rasikAs who follow this blog, mentioning how they have benefited and learnt from this blog, requesting for new posts and my thoughts on specific compositions. So, in a way, you can definitely say that I am back by popular demand and thanks to all of you who have pushed me and helped me wake up and come back to writing about these great compositions. Of course, now that I am writing this, I know how much I missed this feeling of having a high/getting a kick and feeling on top of the world, while at the same time feeling grounded/humble and like a tiny speck of dust in front of these magnum opuses and the brilliance of the nAdajyOti. And so without further ado, let me jump into the composition for today, shrI varalakSmI in the rAga shrI.

There are three primary reasons why I am beginning my comeback with this gentle yet powerful composition. The first one being the fact that I miss my mom, sitting 7000 kilometers away in Luxembourg (which is where I have been for 2.5 years now) and hence I wanted to resume with a composition on the divine mother, seeking strength and Her love in the physical absence of my mom. The second one being it is deepavali season and Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in the form of Lakshmi puja during this part of the year. The last reason I chose this composition was I thought I should resume with a nice, auspicious composition and what better a rAga to choose than the most auspicious rAga of them all, shrI, whose very name itself means auspiciousness :). And before jumping into the composition, as always, I will start with a bit of background about the deity and the temple where this was composed which will better explain some of the references that dIkshitar uses in the composition to describe the divine mother.

Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu signifies predominantly wealth and well-being and like the other divine mothers (pArvati and saraswati), is worshipped in many forms and amshAs signifying prosperity, strength and well-being. The first references of Lakshmi are seen in both Rig and Atharva vEda (transcribed ~1000 BC) as "bhadraiṣāṁ lakṣmīrnihitādhi vāci" in which, more than referring to Her as a Goddess, the word is used to signify "auspicious fortune". The first references of Goddess Lakshmi as a consort of Lord Vishnu comes much later in some Hindu texts believed to have been written around 500 BC. Since then, the Goddess has been depicted as one either sitting/standing on a red lotus, wearing red attire (signifying auspiciousness) and having four hands signifying the four ways of Hindu life, dharma, artha, kAma and mOksha.

As the consort of Vishnu, in VishnupurANa, Lakshmi is described in two primordial forms of bhUdEvi and shrIdEvi, who both reside along with Lord Vishnu in vaikunTam and are basically considered the energy forms that help Vishnu protect the universe, very similar to Goddess pArvati being the the shakti force supporting Lord Shiva. As the names suggest, bhUdEvi is considered to signify all that is physical and material matter while shrIdEvi is considered to be pure auspicious energy of the spiritual world. From these two primary manifestations, came eight more secondary manifestations, with each form signifying the eight different forms of wealth, namely, (1) primordial (AdiLakshmi), (2) monetary (dhanaLakshmi), (3) granary (dhAnyaLakshmi), (4) courage (dhairyaLakshmi), (5) progeny/continuity (santAnaLakshmi), (6) fertility, raw power and memory (GajaLakshmi), (7) victory (vijayaLakshmi) and (8) knowledge/education (vidyALakshmi). While different treatises and scriptures have different stories behind origins of Lakshmi, the primary two versions are (1) emergence of Lakshmi from the ocean when dEvAs and asurAs churned the ocean during Lord Vishnu's kUrmAvatar and (2) birth of Goddess Lakshmi as the daughter of sage bhrigu and hence aptly named bhArgavi, on whom dIkshitar composed the magnum opus "shrI bhArgavi" in the beautiful rAga mangaLakaishiki (oh what a kriti, need to go in depth for another time). In this particular composition of shrI varalakSmI, dIkshitar refers to all these amshAs of the Goddess, describing her as pure wealth and auspiciousness.

Another quick and very important mention with reference to this particular composition is how dIkshitar beautifully brings in the allusion to varalakshmI vratam, a divine occasion when the Goddess is celebrated across every household in India during the monsoon months. Unlike other countries in the world, India is unique, for it is the only country blessed with two monsoon seasons. It is the two months of the "second/return" monsoon, Shravana and Bhadrapada on the traditional Hindu calendar that are considered as time for prayers and celebrating nature and life. While a 16 day fast is observed in North India during the month of Bhadrapada (September/October), in South India, the Friday before the full moon night in the month of Shravana (second monsoon in August/September) is celebrated as 'Varalakshmi Vratam' to commemorate Shravana Shukravara and pray for wealth, prosperity and long, healthy life for their husbands. dIkshitar starts off the caraNam with this reference addressing the Godddess as "shrAvaNa paurNamI pUrvastha shukravArE", as the one who is worshipped on the Friday ("shukravArE") before ("pUrvastha") the full moon night ("paurNamI") in the month of shrAvaNa.

With that, let us get into the composition itself and go through the three traditional parts of the composition, the pallavi, anupallavi and the caraNam.

shrI varalakSmI namastubhyam vasupradE
shrI sArasapadE rasapadE sapadE padE padE

dIkshitar sings "Salutations ("namastubhyam") to the auspicious ("shrI") Varalakshmi! The one who bestows ("pradE") fortunes and wealthy dwelling ("vasu"), whose divine ("shrI") feet ("padE") are like a beautiful lotus ("sArasa"), the one from whose feet ("padE") originated the essence ("rasa") of life, the one whose feet is graceful at every step ("sapadE"), and protects in every occasion/step ("padE padE") of all lives."

Just like many other occasions, dIkshitar starts off the composition with the most apt and beautiful word "shrI", thereby achieving at least three different purposes. The first being the literal meaning of the word "shrI" which translates to "auspiciousness", the single most important quality that is attributed to Goddess Lakshmi and hence the best word to address the divine mother. The second, being the esoteric fact that Goddess Lakshmi is also called shrI or thirumagaL in tamizh, because she is endowed with six auspicious and divine qualities, or gunas, and as I mentioned before, is the divine strength of Lord Vishnu himself. The third being the musical reference to the rAga shrI in which the composition itself is structured, thereby becoming the rAga mudrA.

dIkshitar again brings in multiple possible interpretations by using the word "vasupradE" due to the fact that the word "vasu" itself can be interpreted in multiple ways. One meaning as I have mentioned in the explanation is reference to fortunes and wealthy dwelling. The other meaning can be made in relation to the eight primordial elements or "ashTavasu" referenced in both mahAbhArata and brhadAranyaka upanishad" alluding to the eight elements of earth ("prithvi"), fire ("agni"), wind ("vAyu"), water ("varuNa"), sky/ether ("AkAsa"), sun ("Aditya"), moon ("candramAs") and stars ("nakSatrANi") with Goddess Lakshmi being referred to as the one who gave rise ("pradE") to all these eight elements, in relation to the material bhUdEvi that I mentioned earlier.

Then comes probably the highlight of the pallavi, the beautiful wordplay showing the mastery that dIkshitar had over Sanskrit. As I have mentioned in my many previous posts, dIkshitar exploits the yatis structure in Sanskrit in many compositions and in this composition, he employs the gOpuchcha yati, called so due to its resemblance to a cow's tail which starts thick and trims down, while conveying infinite meanings in the process. This can be better imagined as shown below where he starts off with the main word and peels off one letter at a time to generate infinite more meanings:

Musically, again, this structure yields itself beautifully to the rUpaka tALa, giving musicians the ability to sing this sAhitya in all the three speeds with even a khanda version possible once again showing why he is the master and by far the greatest composer in Sanskrit in history. The words of "padE" and references to "rasa" and "sa" that he uses in the process of developing this yati can again be interpreted in infinite different ways which will probably require a separate post in itself.

Finally, a comment on the swaraprasthAras that make the pallavi flow like this beautiful stream. He starts off with the majestic "Rgrss" at "shrI varaLakshmi" that establishes the shrI rAga in the very first phrase itself. At "namOsthubyam", he uses "Rsnp" and ventures into the mandira sthAyi, coming back to the middle pitch by using "rsNsR" at "vasupradE", a mellifluous swarasAhitya of r"S" at shrI "Sa"rasa before launching into the tAra sthAyi and the gopuchcha yati formation completing the structure and rounding up the pallavi as I mentioned like a beautiful river that resumes its flow after going over some rapids. All in all, I would say, this pallavi is heavily underrated, as you can see, the brilliance, the majesty and the comprehensiveness of it is unparalleled.

Moving on to the anupallavi,
bhAvaja janaka prANavallabhE suvarNAbhE
bhAnukOTisamAna prabhE bhaktasulabhE
sEvakajanapAlinyai shritapa.nkajamAlinyai
kEvalaguNashAlinyai kEshavahRtkhElinyai

As in many other compositions, dIkshitar uses the anupallavi to describe the physical references of the Goddess, establishing Her with reference to how She is known in daily life and described in the scriptures. He begins the anupallavi, describing Her as "the one who is the soul/primordial force and beloved ("prANa vallabhE") of Lord Vishnu". He refers to Lord Vishnu as the father ("janaka") of cupid ("bhAvaja") and goes on to describe the physical beauty of the Goddess as "one who shines like molten gold("suvarNAbhE") and as the one whose effulgence ("prabhE") is equal to ("samAna") that of a crore ("kOTi") of suns ("bhAnu")". dIkshitar then brings up Her protective and devotee-loving qualities by describing her as "the one who is easily accessible/grants virtues ("sulabhE") to Her devotees ("bhakta")", following which he starts the madhyamakAla sAhitya again on a similar note describing Her as "the one who protects ("pAlinyai") those who are devoted to Her and serve Her ("sEvakajana"). He continues with the madhyamakAla sAhitya by describing the Goddess as "the one who is adorned ("shrita") with a garland ("mAlinyai") of lotus ("pa.nkaja"), the one who is a resplendent paragon ("shAlinyai") of good virtues ("kEvalagunA") and sports/finds a spot ("khElinyai") in the heart ("hRt") of Lord Vishnu ("kEshava")".

In the anupallavi, dIkshitar again shows his linguistic prowess as he cherry picks words that convey the right meaning while maintaining the prAsam of the grammar, such as "bhAvaja" and "kEshava" to refer to Lord Vishnu. Musically, the phrases are again mesmerizing as he begins the anupallavi with "Pnpmpm" at "bhAvaja janaka" before using a beautiful "Grs" at "prANa" and then landing with "RNsR" at "suvarNAbhE". The smooth "Grs" again at "bhAnu" setting up the sudden ascent to "nmp" at "kOTi" before going into the tAra sthAyi with "RgrsnPsnsr" at "sEvakajanapAlinyai". He follows it with a beautiful descending prayOga of "srnspnmprmp" at "shritapan.kaja" before finally bringing in the first dhaivata prayOgam with "Pdnpm" at "kEshava" to stamp the gOvindAcharyA version of mELakartas, with this dhaivata prayOgam being the main and only way to make shrI rAga the rAgAnga version of the 22nd mElakarta and establishing it as the equivalent to the other school's karaharapriya.

The anupallavi sets up a strong platform for the caraNam to build on and crescendo.
shrAvaNa paurNamI pUrvastha shukravArE
cArumatI prabhRtibhih pUjitAkArE
dEvAdi guruguha samarpita maNimayahArE
dInajana sam.rakSaNa nipuNa kanakadhArE
bhAvanAbhEdacaturE bhAratIsannutavarE
kaivalyavitaraNaparE kA.nkSitaphalapradakarE

As I mentioned in the introduction to the composition, dIkshitar begins the caraNam by bringing in the reference to varalakSmI vratam by describing the Goddess as "the one who is worshipped ("pUjitAkArE")  by suvAsinis ("cArumatI prabhRtibhih") on the Friday ("shukravArE") before ("pUrvastha") the full moon night ("paurNamI") in the month of shrAvaNa". He then brings in his composer mudra of "guruguha" by describing Her as "the one who wears a garland of gems ("maNimayahArE") offered by Lord kArtikEya ("Guruguha") and other celestial beings ("dEvAdi") . He again brings forth the compassionate form of the divine mother by describing Her as "the one who is an expert ("nipuNa") in protecting ("sam.rakSaNa") the afflicted ("dInajana") and resembles a shower (“dhAre”) of gold ("kanaka")". dIkshitar then sets up the crescendo for the composition by moving on to the madhyamakAla sAhityam where he describes the Goddess as "the one who is smart and capable ("caturE") in differentiating ("bhEda") emotions ("bhAvanA"), is worshipped ("sannutavarE") by Goddess Saraswati ("bhAratI"), is a path to/bestower of ("vitaraNaparE") liberation ("kaivalya") and bestower of ("pradakarE") desired boons ("kA.nkSita phala")".

Musical highlights are when dIkshitar explores some amazing phrases in the caraNam such as "snnpNM" at "shrAva Na paurNamI" and "MpnsRGrs" at "dEvAdi guruguha". The madhyamkAla sAhityam as always is a treat with phrases such as "Pmrgrsrpm" at "bhAvanAbhEdacaturE" and predominantly tAra sthAyi "nsrgrsnprsr" at "kaivalyavitaraNaparE". I love the TNS version with kalpanaswaras at "bhAvanAbhEdacaturE" and the more sedate and clean version of the composition presented by the young Ashwath Narayanan here and would recommend listening to these renditions to soak in the composition in its entirety.

I will conclude this post by saying that this composition ranks way high up and among the six beautiful dIkshitar compositions in shrI rAga , probably second in the list, right after the magnum opus "shrI tyAgarAja mahAdhvajArOha" composed at the tiruvArUr temple. I hope some of you musicians who are reading this post are able to re-visualize this composition, expand further on it and present it on the music stage giving this composition the full status and depth that it rightfully deserves :).

Writing this post has definitely reinvigorated the passion for dIkshitar and my love for explaining his compositions. I hope this is the beginning of a new purple patch for me as I expound my creativity by immersing myself in the great man's compositions and bring forth the gems that adorn the magical horizons of dIkshitar's star-studded night sky. I will set myself a target to publish the next post before the end of November, take it one post at a time and see how it goes before I can proudly claim "I am back"!!