While the past few weeks have been "heavy" from a work perspective, it has also been dotted with some very nice happenings as I have started reconnecting not only with my blog space but also with quite a few of my cherished friends who, more than being just friends have been a constant source of inspiration. Last week, I spoke to my dearest friend Shreekrishna, a fellow contributor on this blog and one of the most knowledgeable and sharpest musical brain ever. Even though we reconnected after 5 long years and realized how much we probably missed talking to each other, I felt like nothing had changed and we pretty much took off from where we had left off. And of course, needless to say, the conversation reinvigorated some beautiful thoughts from the mid-2000s including singing Shri kAntimatIm at the Galveston beach, while sitting on rocks amidst the waves, dedicating this song to the majestic Atlantic Ocean and what we called as "hemavati on the rocks" :).
And this was followed by a few e-mail exchanges with our dear Bala Sir, from whom, I had the privilege of learning metallurgical sciences at NIT, Trichy and who has been a friend, philosopher and guide for the past 15 odd years. He and his daughter Varshita's music are the real reason behind today's post on this beautiful composition. So, thank you Bala sir and Varshi :). The composition that I am going to write about, pAhi mAm ratnAcalanAyaka was composed by dIkshitar in the early 1800s at the auspicious Shiva shrine of Ratnagiri at Iyermalai/vAtpokki. I first heard this composition in 2006 from an old recording in which shri DK Pattammal had rendered the kriti so beautifully. As always, it was love and reverence at first listen, as I was dumbstruck with so many observations that I possibly cannot describe with sufficient adjectives here. Needless to say, I listened to this kriti probably non-stop for a few weeks, uncovered another version rendered by Musiri and did my own research on pretty much every syllable that dIkshitar has used in this composition to understand and fully appreciate the depth and the musical import of this masterpiece, some of which, I hope to share in today's post.
Before jumping into the composition, a few words about the temple, its history and folklore. As the name suggests, this temple sits beautifully perched on top of a hill in Karur district along the kAvEri river and is believed to be 1300 years old making it one of the oldest and most significant saivite shrines in Tamil Nadu. The main deities of Lord Shiva in the form of ratnagirIswarar and Parvati in the form of Goddess araLakESi reside on top of the hill and only with ardent devotion can one endure the arduous climb of 1000+ steps to get to the top and get darshan. The temple is steeped in tradition and history with first references to this shrine in the holy saivite treatise of "Thevaram" by ThirunAvukkarasar in 7th century AD. It is also believed that the sage Agastya worshipped Lord Shiva at this holy place.
The temple also has multiple specialties that even dIkshitar references in this composition. Viewed form different locations, the hill resembles various forms of Lord Shiva and Parvathy with temple itself being said to be in the form of the pranava mantra (Om) and Lord Shiva being seen as a form of the Shri Chakra here. The main deity is surrounded by eight rock temples inside the main mandapam and in combination with the main lingam in the sanctum sanctorum, these appear spectacularly like a garland of nine gems. The Lingam itself is tall, is believed to be a svayambhu (originated naturally by itself) and has a prominent scar at the top, which folklore attributes to the result of King AryarAjan having cut it with a sword, hence giving this temple the other name of "vAtkoppi" as it is referenced in Thevaram.
The folklore associated with the king's story results in another tradition that dIkshitar sings about in this composition about members of the Arya community providing water to anoint the Lingam here. It is believed that King Aryarajan lost his crown that was studded with nine gems and he came to Iyermalai and prayed to Shiva. Shiva came in the guise of an old Brahmin and asked the king to fill a big bowl called Kopparai with water from the Kaveri. Despite the king bringing water from the river and trying to fill the bowl repeatedly, the bowl would strangely never become full even after pouring water endlessly. The angry king is then believed to have taken his sword and threw it on the Brahmin, who immediately showed his swarupam, blessed the king, gave his crown back and turned into the form of the lingam here (and hence the scar on the lingam). Till date, this fascinating tradition continues with someone from the village going to the river, which is eight kilometers away, carrying the water all the way, climbing up the hill and finally emptying it into a large cauldron kept beside the Linga. With all this background, I will now move on to the composition itself, structured fully in sambodhana pratama, the eighth vibhakti.
pAhi mAm ratnAcalanAyaka bhaktajana shubhapradAyaka
dIkshitar starts the composition by seeking refuge and singing "Oh Lord of the jewel ("ratna") mountain ("acala"), please protect ("pAhi") me ("mAm")". He describes the compassionate and merciful nature of the Lord in this kSEtra by referring to Him as "the one who bestows ("pradAyaka") welfare and good fortune ("shubha") on his devotees ("bhaktajana")".
Just like how the initial steps leading to the hill top of this temple, the pallavi starts off with a simple gradient to help the listeners ease into the majestic mukhAri that follows. While he establishes the kSEtra of the composition in the pallavi itself, dIkshitar also clearly establishes the rAga bhAva of mukhAri musically with the opening phrases of "pdpMGR" at "pAhi mAm" and "sndSRM pmdd" at "rathnAcala nAyaka". Straight off the bat, dIkshitar starts of with the swara sAhityam of "pA" hi hinting that something more beautiful is coming in this composition. Also, in line with the folklore and history associated with this temple, the Lord is believed to have shown extreme compassion and patience and blessed King AryarAjan even after his devotee threw a sword on His face in a fit of anger. dIkshitar again emphasizes this characteristic of the Lord in the pallavi by referring to Him as one who gives welfare to his devotees. A final comment on the pallavi would be in reference to how beautifully the rhythm scheme of the retta kaLai Adi tALa fits in with the prAsa rhyme scheme that dIkshitar establishes in the pallavi, which sort of lays the foundation for this masterpiece to take shape in the anupallavi.
Moving on to the anupallavi,
muktiprada nata viriHnci mAdhava
rOhiNIsha ravi vahninayana
bhavarOgaharaNa nipuNatara caraNa shiva
dIkshitar continues to establish the physical precincts of the temple complex by referring to the Lord as "the divine husband ("varadhava") who is enchanted/smitten by ("mOhaja") Goddess araLakEshi and the one who bestows ("mukti") salvation ("mukti") and is worshipped ("nata") by Brahma ("viriHnci") and Vishnu ("mAdhava")". Goddess pArvati is given Her own shrine in the temple, midway along the walk up the hill. She takes the form of a beautiful Goddess with curly hair and hence Her name of one with the curly ("araLa") hair ("kEshi"), referred to by the locals in tamizh as Surumbar Kuzhali.
dIkshitar then proceeds to start the madhyamakAla sAhitya referring to the Lord's three eyes and describing Him as "the one who has the sun ("ravi"), moon ("rOhinIsha") and fire ("vahni") as his eyes ("nayana")". dIkshitar again beautifully cherry picks his words here showing his mastery over the language. For example, to keep the prAsa and rhyme scheme intact with "mOhaja" and bhava"rOga", dIkshitar uses the word "rOhinIsha" to refer to the moon as the consort of the star Rohini and this reference deserves a parentheses here which I will delve into. In Hindu mythology, there are multiple legends surrounding the moon and dIkshitar uses one such reference here. The moon is always known to have a direct influence on the mind, triggering lustful thoughts and hence dIkshitar sings candram bhaja mAnasa ("Oh mind!! medidate on the moon") in the navagraha kriti. In one of these mythological portrayal of the moon, he impregnates tAra, the wife of Brihaspati (planet Jupiter), giving birth to Budha (planet mercury). This upsets Brihaspati, who declares a war leading to the dEvas intervening and returning tAra to Brihaspati. The moon is said to have had an emotional breakdown because he couldn't satisfy his lustful feelings and so he pursued Daksha's 27 daughters to curb his ever-growing desires for sexual union. Hence the Indian monthly calendar has the 27 stars associated with the 27 days splitting the waxing and waning cycle of the moon. After marrying all the 27 daughters, the moon is said to have preferred only Rohini (one of the stars) among all of His 27 wives and dIkshitar uses this reference here to describe the moon. The other 26 wives become upset and complain to their father, Daksha who then curses the moon for His terrible sins. To overcome this sin, the moon becomes a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva, who partially releases him from the curse by giving the moon a place in His Head.
Coming back to the composition, dIkshitar nicely rounds off the anupallavi by describing the Lord as "the one whose feet ("caraNa") are incomparably skilled ("nipuNa-tara") at destroying ("haraNa") the disease ("rOga") of wordly existence ("bhava")". These words are in reference to the great sages who have attained salvation and relief from the world existence by worshipping the Lord at this shrine such as appar, thirunAvukkarasar (the one who composed thevAram) and sage Agastya who is known to have visited this shrine on his way to podhigai malai.
Final comments on the musical beauty that dIkshitar weaves through the anupallavi. The unique phrase to begin the anupallavi, "pdNdp" at "mOhaja" kind of leaves a buzz in the listener's ears, generating a feeling of smitten-ness that dIkshitar uses to describe the Lord Himself in these lines. Personally for me, on many occasions I have felt that the sound that this phrase generates feels like a deep humming sound that a bee might generate when wafting through the curly locks of Goddess araLakEShi here. The madhyamakAla is again mesmerizing with phrases such as "ndsrm gr" at "rOhinIsha ravi" and "mpSS ndp" at "bhavarOga haraNa" before concluding the anupallvi with "rm" at "Shiva" and beautifully using this as a bridge to loop back to the swara sahityam of "pA"hi at the beginning of the pallavi. In the interest of the length of this post, I will move on to the caraNam.
sadyOjAtAdi paHncamukhAri-SaDvargarahita hRtsaHncAra
avidyOdaya viyadAdi prapaHnca vikalpAtIta tatva vicAra
vidyAtmaka shrI cakrAkAra vicitra navaratna girivihAra
gadyAnuviddha padyAdivinuta gaHNgAdhara Agama sAra
adyApyAryavamshajAta tUryajAti bhRtAkhaNDa kAvErI-
nadyOdakAbhiSikta sharIra anAdi guruguha kumAra mArahara
Just like many other of his kritis, dIkshitar kind of "escalates" and takes the composition to a whole new paradigm in the caraNam and leaves you dumbfounded in the process. He starts off the composition with a Grand Slam Home Run by describing the Lord as "the one who has five faces ("paHncamukha") starting with sadyOjAta etc ("Adi")" and as "the one who resides ("saHncAra") in the hearts ("hRt") bereft ("rahita") of the six ("SaD") categories ("varga") of enemies ("ari")". While it is impossible to do justice to describing the beauty of this one line in this composition except probably prostrating at the brilliance of dIkshitar. This line has to be probably in the top 10 usages of hidden rAga mudras that dIkshitar has used among all his compositions as he brings out the rAga name split between two words at paHnchamukha-ari SaDvarga while conveying great meaning and depth in the process. He refers to the form of Lord Shiva where He is described as having five faces signifying the five elements and thereby representing the entire universe. The top face is known as Ishana or Sadashiva, who is rarely depicted and governs zenith and the sky ("AkASa"). The east face that is referenced in this composition is Sadyojata or Mahadeva, the regent of the earth ("pritvi"). The west face is Tatpurusha or nandivaktra (the face of Nandi), denoting the wind ("vAyu"). While Vamadeva or Umavaktra (the face of Parvati) faces north and represents water ("varuNa"), aghora or bhairava looks south and denotes fire ("agni").
The brilliance of dIkshitar does not come in just using the five-faced reference but in actually linking it with the reference to the six evils/enemies of the mind and thereby using this combination to produce the rAgamudra. In Hindu theology, arishadvarga are the six enemies of the mind, which are: lust ("kAma"), anger ("krodha"), greed ("lobha"), attachment ("mOha"), pride ("mada") and jealousy ("matsarya"); the negative characteristics of which prevent man from attaining moksha or salvation. Again, in the interest of the length of this post and inability of English words to describe the brilliance of this line, I move on to the next lines of the composition.
dIkshitar continues to describe the Lord as "the one who is beyond the diversities ("vikalpa-atIta") of the universe ("prapaHnca") that results from ignorance ("avidya-udaya"), and is made of the elements starting with space ("viyat-Adi")" and as "the one is the scientific embodiment ("vidyAtmaka") of inquiring ("vicAra") the truth/origin ("tatva")". He continues to describe the Lord as "the one who takes the form ("AkAra") of the Shri Cakra signified ("vihAra") in the resplendent ("vicitra") mountain ("giri") of the nine gems ("navaratna")". As I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, the temple and the mountain structure in itself is supposed to signify the Shri cakra when viewed from above and dIkshitar uses this reference. Here, on a surface level vicitra stands for "resplendent/beautiful". But we can contemplate and come up with a slightly deeper meaning too. The lingam here is a swayambu and it emerges from amidst eight other rocks in the sactum. Hence, the lingam itself becomes the ninth rock and hence it is referred to as navaratnam. In order to differentiate the lingam (the 9th rock) from the other eight rocks, dikshitar has probably chosen the word "vicitra" referring to the lingam as a rock which is different/weird compared to the other eight.
dIkshitar then goes on to describe the Lord as "the one who wears ganges on his head ("gaHNgAdhara"), is the essence ("sAra") of all the scriptures ("Agama") and one who resides in/permeates through ("anuviddha") and is praised/worshipped ("vinuta") by all prose ("gadya") and poetry ("padya")". These lines go together. Since He is the origin of all knowledge in the first place ("Agama sAra"), it only makes sense that He is worshipped and praised by all forms of literature (prose and poetry). Further, the scriptures show high reverence for this temple as it is mentioned in the works of thirunAvukkarasar, appar and the famous tirupugazh by arunagirinathar.
dIkshitar then creates magic in the madhyamakAla sAhitya, invoking the references to the traditional practices carried out in the temple. He writes it in a "pesudo present tense" that actually makes us feel that he is right there narrating this whole thing. He refers to the act of the Lord being bathed by waters of the Kaveri by Brahmins by describing Him as "the one whose form ("sharIra") is bathed ("abhishikta") in the waters of the vast, inexhaustible Kaveri ("akhaNDa kAvEri") river carried by ("bhRta") the ones of the arya vamsa and washed by the brahmins ("turya jAti"), even today ("adya api")". turya jAti here refers to the brAhman priests who eventually perform the abhisheka with the water brought from the river. dIkshitar refers to the brAhmans as turya jAti or as a race born from the fourth state of consciousness (state of silence beyond the state of wakefulness(gross body), dream(subtle astral plane) and dreamless sleep(causal body)). He then completes the composition by bringing in the composer mudra and describing the Lord as "the destroyer ("hara") of cupid ("mAra") and the one whose progeny ("kumAra") is the beginning-less ("anAdi") guruguha".
The caraNam is a one of the most dense, intense and esoteric set of words that we encounter in dIkshitar kritis. A grand theme that seems to run as a single thread throughout the caraNam is the contrasting ends and dichotomy that dIkshitar portrays showcasing his great mastery over the language, perhaps signifying the vicissitudes of human life. Some of these dichotomies being:
1. Specific and Generic: The caraNam is steeped in references that are both generic to Lord Shiva such as "paHNcamukha" and "AgamasAra" as well as being specific to this particular temple such as references to the tradition in the temple, "vicitra navaratna girivihAra".
2. Five Six, pick up the sticks: Using "panHncamukha" (five) and ari"SaD" (six) one after the other, creating a sequence of numbers while at the same time bringing in the rAgamudra in one master stroke.
3. Knowledge and Ignorance: He refers to the Lord using both references to knowledge ("vidyAtmaka") and the lack of it ("avidyOdaya") again showing that the Lord resides in both these dichotomies equally.
4. Prose and Poetry: Apart from the only similarity that both are forms of expression, prose and poetry can't be more distinct and different from each other in structure, emotional content and grammar. However, just like how dIkshitar weaves poetry with prose in each of his compositions, he refers to the Lord also as one who is worshipped by both these different forms of grammar.
5. Beginning and End, Birth and Death: In the final lines of the caraNam, dIkshitar conveys these huge, oxymoron-ic concepts using a combination of four words back to back, while in the process bringing in the composer mudra of guruguha. He describes the Lord as a creator by showing Him as the one who brings about the birth of the beginning-less guruguha while at the same time describes Him as the destroyer who brings an end to cupid.
Musically, the caraNam is again extremely rich as it pretty much exhausts the whole spectrum of prayOgams that mukhAri has to offer. The DKP and the Musiri versions I mentioned capture the beauty of the caraNam in its entirety and I would also recommend listening to this beautiful version rendered by Ramakrishnan Murthy. I wind up my explanation on this composition here and leave it to the listening experience of the readers to transport themselves to an alternate dimension the next time they hear this kriti being rendered by anyone. As I sign off for today, I make a note to myself to visit Iyermalai in my next visit to India and sing this kriti at the abode of Lord Rathnagiriswarar :). In my next post which I target to publish within the next 10 days, based on request from one of my dearest friends, I will write about a beautiful composition on Goddess kAmAkSi which also happens to be one of my favorites as well. Until then, enjoy the beautiful month of mArgazhi :). shrI gurubhyO namah!!