Monday, January 1, 2024

chandram bhaja mAnasa - asAvEri

दधि-शंख-तुशाराभं क्षीरोद्धार्णव-संभवं |
नमामि शशिनं सोमं शम्भो: मुकुट-भूषणं ||

dadhi-shankha-tushArAbham kSheerOddhArNava-sambhootam |
namAmi shashinam sOmam shambhO: mukuTa-bhooShaNam ||

I salute chandra, also known as sOma, whose complexion resembles that of curd and a conch (a tinge of pale yellow on a background of brilliant white), the one who emerged from the ocean of milk, during the samudra-mathanam (churning of the ocean of milk), and the one who is glamorously adorned by shiva as his crown, with grandeur.

After a long hiatus of 15+ years, I am completing this beautiful post that my dear friend Shreekrishna (SK) had left halfway through. I will continue the Navagraha kriti series that he so beautifully started 15 years ago on this blog space with the brilliant krithi "sUryamurthE namostutE" in sourAshtram. I will aim to complete the rest of the navagraha kritis over the next few months, including the spurious compositions on rAhu and kEtu (for the sake of completion) that are disputed and very unlikely that they were composed by dIkshitar but rather composed by some disciple later in the years just to complete the master's set.

This lovely masterpiece of dIkShitar is in asAvEri, a rAgam which I have only come across dIkShitar exploit to its fullness, both in this krithi and to outdo this, in kumAraswAminam, another of his masterpieces, which I've heard only Sri Sanjay Subrahmanyan sing.

A little about the rAgam before I progress onto the krithI as such. asAvEri is easily, at least in my experience and opinion, amongst the most difficult rAgams to sing elaborately and with a sense of control. What makes it so is the rather intricate structure of the rAgam. It is a bhAShAnga-janyam of tODi, with two bhAShAnga swarams - chatushruti RuShabham (R2 henceforth) and shuddha niShAdham (N1 henceforth). While the R2 usage is more common, SSP says the N1 usage is something that vaiNikAs can demonstrate best. (I know very little about this rAgam to elaborate a huge deal, and hence I refer the aspirant to SSP, which I was just perusing before writing this, and I found the lakShaNageetam to be slightly too majestic to describe! Hence, the referral!). There are also chAyams (shadows) of a teasing shuddha gAndhAram, though to the best of my knowledge, there is no 'explicit' usage of this swaram.

Anyway, the ArOhaNam is pretty much that of sAvEri with R2 instead of R1. This is more of canonical practice than theory. The usage of R1 is of course also seen, just that the R1 usually possesses an anuswAram of the shaDjam. In some sense, the R in asAvEri is what is referred to as the 'trishruti' RuShabham - harmonically, it is between R1 and R2, which means that the common usage of RuShabham would be that of R1 with an R2 anuswAram, perhaps being weighted more towards R1. The avarOhaNam is traditionally sung with a vakram - S N2 S P, although SSP okays S N2 D1 P, which is a usage that can be found in the krithis of MD - especially the D1 P M1 G2 R1 S usage (sudhAkaram anisham in chandram bhaja, ashESharanjanam in kumAraswAminam, for example).

As such, mere verbal description and qualifying of the rAgam is far from giving a complete idea of the beauty it brings with it. I once again refer the aspirant to the magnum opus, SSP for a very exhaustive study of the rAgam.

Moving onto the krithi now. This is set to the 2nd of the suLAdi-saptatALams, viz., chaturashra jAti maThya tALam. The tALam follows a laghu-dhRutam-laghu (1-0-1) structure. The krithi is usually rendered in Eka-kaLa (each beat once), and I have seen no contrary cases. This is one of the only 2 krithis by the trinity that is in this tALam. The other one is MSD's bAlAmbikE pAhi in manOranjanI, the 5th mELakarta rAgam in MSD's school. MSD aptly chose the tALam based on the fact that this is the 2nd navagraha krithi and that maThya tALam is the 2nd of the suLAdi-saptatALams after chaturashra jAti dhruva tALam (1-0-1-1).

The krithi runs throughout in the dwitIyA vibhakti (accusative case), save the sambOdhana vibhakti (vocative case) usage in mAnasa. The only verb in the entire kriti is bhaja, a लोट verb (commanding verb) in the second person, simple present tense, singular.

|| pallavI ||
चन्द्रं भज साधुजनहृदयसदृशं
chandram bhaja mAnasa! sAdhu-jana-hRudaya-sadRusham

The pallavi starts off grandly with the classical asAvEri phrase - R2 M1 P D1 P (chandram bhaja). The rAga-ChAya in the first line pretty much "finishes" up asAvEri. The meaning is pretty lucid, and translates to "Pray to chandra (chandram bhaja), the one (who shines) with purity as that of the heart (thoughts) of noble men (sAdhujana-hRudaya-sadRusham)". It is perhaps of value to note here that from an astrological perspective, chandra is supposed to influence the mind, thought processes and the stability and harmony of the mind. It is hence not without substance to say that the usage "chandram bhaja, mAnasa" could be a particular reference to this, though the term "mAnasa" is almost always used in musical literature to refer to the "conscious mind" as an entity. 

In Vedic astrology, the Moon is considered the karaka, or significator, of the mind (manas) because it is believed to influence a person's emotions, mental state, and psychological well-being. The Moon's position in a person's birth chart is thought to indicate their emotional nature, sensitivity, and intuition. Its phases are also believed to affect human behavior and moods. This association between the Moon and the mind is deeply rooted in Vedic astrological traditions and is an important aspect of interpreting a person's chart. Moon is fickle, like the mind. Every day it changes, moves faster than any other planet and just like the mind, a moment it here and a moment it is there. Someday it is full and white, just like a fully alert mind. Someday it just goes black, like a grieving mind. It grows bright and it grows dark from time to time. Moon is responsible for the high tides and low tides of the ocean. Just like the mind is responsible for the flow of emotions, the highs and lows. 

Hence, dIkshitar having studied astrology himself and having great command over this subject, aptly chooses the words here asking the mind to pray to the moon to hopefully appreciate the influence of the moon over the moods of the mind and gain control over it.

I also believe dIkshitar chose the matya tALam specifically for this composition on Chandra as the matya tAla structure of 1-0-1 is also how the moon goes from being a full moon (1) down to being fully absent on new moon (0), as Chandra transitions through the 16 phases. This is also a beautiful segway to the Anupallavi where he describes this.

इन्द्रादि लोकापालेडित-तारेशं
इन्दुं षोडशकळाधरं निशाकरं इंदिरा-सहोदरं सुधाकरं अनिशं || ||

indrAdi lOkapAlEDita-tArESham
indum ShODashakaLAdharam nishAkaram, indirA-sahOdaram, sudhAkaram anisham

The anupallavi as such, is very conveying. Chandra is one who is extolled by indra, varuNa, agni and other lOkapAlakas (divine beings who oversee the ecological harmony of the universe). He is the husband of the 27 nakShatrams (tArEsham = eesha: (the lord of) tArANam (the stars), tam (to him - accusative usage). (I'll list the 27 wives of chandra in order in an appendix.). 

The reference to Chandra as the husband of tAra here also reflects the folklore of how Chandra made tArA, the wife of Brihaspati fall in love with him, abducted her and made her his queen. Brihaspati, after multiple failed peace missions and threats, declared war against Chandra. The Devas sided with their teacher, while Shukra, an enemy of Brihaspati and the teacher of Asuras, aided Chandra. After the intervention of Brahma stopped the war, Tara, pregnant, was returned to her husband. She later gave birth to a son named Budha (the planet mercury), but there was a controversy over the paternity of the child; with both Chandra and Brihaspati claiming themselves as his father. Brahma once again interfered and questioned Tara, who eventually confirmed Chandra as the father of Budha. dIkshitar aptly references this in the pallavi of his navagraha kriti on Budha (budhamAshrAymi in nAtakurinji) and calls Budha as the son of the moon and tAra ("chandra-tArA sutam").

What follows is the madhyama kAlam, which is an amazing exploitation of asAvErI. chandra is described as the one who manifests in 16 phases ("ShODashakaLAdharam", of 22.5 degrees each) (during a cycle of the moon - amAvasyA (new moon) to pourNamI/pourNimA (full moon)), the one who defines night (nishAkaram, as opposed to dinakara, who is sun), the brother of lakShmI (indirA-sahOdaram). dIkshitar also describes the qualities of the moon's rays as cooling ("indum") and references Chandra as the one whose rays are as sweet as nectar ("sudhAkaram"). Finally, he reminds all of us to worship him always ("anisham") and uses that as a beautiful pivot back to the pallavi lines.

Yet another reference to unpack in the anupallavi would be indira-sahOdaram where dIkshitar describes Chandra as the brother of Goddess Lakshmi. This goes back to the dhyAna Sloka at the beginning of this blog post which describes Chandra's birth during the churning of the ocean of milk. Goddess Lakshmi is also known to have been born from the same churning incident and hence Chandra is referenced as Goddess Lakshmi's brother. 

Musically, dIkshitar exploits the harmony in the notes of this rAga to the fullest in the anupallavi. The trishruti rishabam in many places quite conspicuously such as "srGrsr" at "indum-shodasha" followed by the beautiful "pdpmpds" phrase at "nishAkaram". dIkshitar rounds up the anupallavi with the very grandiose "nsdpgrs" phrase at "sudhAkaram anisham" which neatly puts a bow on this beautiful anupallavi, looping back to the pallavi seamlessly. It is also worthy to note that the sangIta sampradAya pradarshini lists a really beautiful chitta swara portion in this composition which is usually sung at the end of the caraNam to complete the entire picture of the rAga that dIkshitar presents in this amazing composition.

With that, we will move on to the caraNam which further elaborates on the characteristics and kAraktwams of the moon.

शङ्कर मौलि विभूषणं शीत किरणं
चतुर्भुजं मदनच्छत्रं क्षपा-करम्
वेङ्कटेश नयनं विराण्मनो-जननं
विधुं कुमुद मित्रं विधि गुरु गुह वक्त्रम्
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
शशाङ्कं गीष्पति शापानुग्रह पात्रं
शरच्चन्द्रिका धवळ प्रकाश गात्रम्
कङ्कण केयूर हार मकुटादि धरं
पङ्कज रिपुं रोहिणी प्रिय-कर चतुरम्||  ||

Sankara mauli vibhUshaNaM SIta kiraNaM
caturbhujaM madana-chatraM kshapA-karam
vEnkaTESa nayanaM virAN-manO-jananaM
vidhuM kumuda mitraM vidhi guru guha vaktram
SaSa-ankaM gIH-pati SApa-anugraha pAtraM
Sarat-candrikA dhavaLa prakASa gAtram
kankaNa kEyUra hAra makuTa-Adi dharaM
pankaja ripuM rOhiNI priya-kara caturam

In the caraNam, dIkshitar continues to describe the moon and his various qualities. He describes him as "the one who adorns ("vibhUshaNam") Lord Shiva's crest ("Sankara mauli"), emits cool rays ("Sita kiraNam"), possesses four arms ("caturbhujaM") and has the cupid/manmatha as his parasol ("madana-chatram"). dIkshitar continues to describe him as "the one who shines during/creates the night ("kshapAkaram") , the one who is one of the eyes of Lord Vishnu ("vEnkaTESa nayanaM") and is born ("jananaM") out of the mind ("manO") of the supreme cosmic being ("virAt"). The one also known as vidhu, the friend ("mitraM") of the lily flower ("kumuda") and the one who is the face ("vaktram") of Lord Brahma ("vidhi") and Guruguha.

dIkshitar then enters the crescendo portion of this composition with the madhyamakAla sAhityam, describing many more facets of the moon including a few which are quite scientific. He starts this passage by referring to the moon as "the one whose blemish resembles the rabbit ("SaSa-ankam") and the one who who was both blessed ("anugraha") as well as cursed ("SApa") by Brihaspati ("gIHspati"). The one whose body ("gAtram") shines bright ("dhavaLa prakASa") like the autumn moonlight ("Sarat-candrikA") and the one who wears ("dharaM") bracelets ("kankaNa"), shoulder-ornaments ("kEyUra"), necklace ("hAra") and crown ("makuTa"). The one who is the enemy ("ripuM") of the lotus ("pankaja"), the one who is skilled ("caturam") in pleasing ("priya-kara") his favourite rOhiNI."

While most of the caraNam is straight forward with direct references to either the qualities or the physical characteristics of the moon, there are a few of dIkshitar's allusions which deserve a double-click. Let us start with some of these "scientific" or "derivable" characteristics that dIkshitar brings in such as - "kshapAkaram" which fundamentally resonates with most of us as moonrise basically indicates the onset of the nightfall as Chandra takes over from the sun. Other derivable references include "SaSAnkam" (the rabbit shape which we all see due to the craters on the moon), "kumuda mitram" and "pankaja ripum" (which are again well-known observations that one can make everyday with lilies blossoming in the night while lotuses shrinking during the night, awaiting the next sunrise). 

Perhaps the most interesting usage in the caraNam is the double reference that dIkshitar employs to describe the moon. He uses the autumn moonlight to describe the brightness of the object, which is the moon itself, which makes complete sense as there is probably no other true equivalent by which one can define the shining, resplendent nature of the moon. And just to signify how most of the things about the moon revolve around deception and mental interpretations of the mind, he describes Chandra as the one who was born from the manas of the supreme being itself. Which correlates again with how we talk about the moon as this shining, resplendent body while in reality it poses no real light of itself and just merely reflects the sun to get this shining stature.

One final word to explain is "vidhum" and how the moon got this word to signify it. Based on my research, it seems that this is a direct reference to the moon in the rig veda where Chandra is alluded to as 'wandering solitary in the midst of many’ (vidhum dadrAnam samane bahunAm).

While we could go on and on and sing the praises of both Chandra as well as dIkshitar who constructs this amazing imagery of the moon, I will stop here and let the rasika dwell further and explore this masterpiece. 

On that note, I wish you all a fantastic start to this new year tomorrow and may there be peace and happiness in this world. In my next post, I will continue to explore the navagraha kritis with the majestic composition on the planet Mars, "angArakamAshrayAmyaham", set in probably my most favourite raga Surutti. Until then, take care and continue to celebrate the treasures that these great vAggEyakArAs have given us. Shri gurubhyO namaH

Monday, October 31, 2022

vINApustaka dhAriNImAshrayE - vEgavAhini

My original intent was to publish this post before the end of Dusshera. However, this got delayed due to multiple cascading events related to work, home and travel. The past few weeks have indeed been a bit too packed with a lot of action for me and the upcoming weeks also look a bit challenging, particularly from a work and work-related travel perspective. Given that today's composition is a magnum opus with very many things to cover, I am going to keep the intro short and just jump straight into the composition and the various nuances that possibly make this composition a Top 10 candidate of all of dIkshitar's compositions.

I realised a couple of months ago that I have not written much about the compositions of dIkshitar on Goddess Sarasvati. Out of the ten known compositions (plus one nottu swara) of dIkshitar, I have so far only written about one (Sri sarasvati namOstutE in Arabhi). And as if the universe conspired to make me write about Her, one of my very good friends reached out to me and requested me to publish a post on this beautiful composition "vINApustaka dhAriNImAshrayE". I heard this composition for the first time in 2006 when my good friend Shreekrishna sang this during one of our marathon Skype sessions. And as they say, it was definitely Love at first sight for me. I got quite a few goosebumps while he was singing and then I couldn't stop listening to this kriti for two or three days straight, completely engrossed and consumed by dIkshitar's beautiful creation and handling of this rAga. 

As most of us know, Goddess Sarasvati is worshipped as the divine Mother of speech, fine arts, creativity, knowledge and wisdom, thereby earning Her many epithets such as "vAgdEvi, Sarada, vINApANi" etc. She is depicted with thick locks of hair, a crescent and with 4 arms holding the vINA, manuscripts (pustaka), akshamAla and the chinmudra. The color white is attributed to Her, showcasing the purity of the things she symbolizes such as knowledge, wisdom and arts. She is seated on a white lotus, wears white clothes and is decorated with golden ornaments that go along with her white, resplendent lustre.

The other significance of Sarasvati in Hindu mythology is the river Sarasvati which is thought to be a divine, white river that is visible only to the eyes of the souls that have attained the highest levels of wisdom. And as if to reflect this, the Goddess Sarasvati is also synonymous with river or a moving force of water. dIkshitar shows his brilliance by aptly choosing the rAga vEgavAhini (which literally translates to fast-flowing river) to create this magnificent composition on the Goddess. Interestingly enough, for all of his 10 compositions on Goddess Sarasvati, he has chosen rAgAs that are either synonymous with:
1. A river - vEgavAhini, sharAvati (sharAvati thatavAsini)
2. Color white - chAyAgauLa (Reflection of white light, sarasvatya bhagavatya), chAyatarangiNi (waves of light, sarasvati chAyAtarangini)
3. Her form - Arabhi (from Arabhati meaning arts and music), gIrvANi (voice of the vedas, namo namastE gIrvaNi), kalAvathi (one who is adept in art forms, kalAvathi kamalAsanayuvati), mAnji (from mAnjIra or anklets, Sri sarasvati hitE) and finally devamanOhari (the one who is dear to all the Gods, bhArati maDIshAna jADyApahE)

I would like to make a special reference to the beautiful lecture demonstration given by R.K. Shriramkumar anna here where he explains in detail all of these 10 compositions on Sarasvati while highlighting many of the nuances that I try to capture here. He so aptly gives this lecture demonstration at Vani Mahal in Chennai and I would highly recommend you all to watch it on youtube, available here. All of these compositions also have the rAga mudra and because of this brilliant choice of rAgAs for these compositions, they all also directly refer to Goddess Sarasvati, thereby making the incorporation of the rAga mudra, a simple yet beautiful construct. This careful and delicate handling of compositions on this particular Goddess perhaps goes to show how important Goddess Saravati is, especially to dIkshitar who was a Shakti upAsaka, a man who had attained the heights of knowledge and wisdom and grammatic perfection and a composer who played the vINA and had imbibed all the scriptures. 

This majestic composition in the rAga vEgavAhini also delineates some of the key phrases of this rAgAnga rAga and pretty much serves as the best pointer for learning and contemplating on this rAga. dIkshitar also very carefully cherry picks the words that he uses in this composition, describing some of the unique physical, representational as well as esoteric attributions of Goddess Saravati. He starts the Pallavi as

vINApustaka dhAriNImAshrayE
vEgavAhinIm vANImAshrayE

dIkshitar sings "I seek the blessings ("AshrayE") of Sarasvati, the goddess of speech ("vANIm"). The one who holds ("dhAriNIm") the vINA and the sacred scriptures ("pustaka") and the one who symbolises a swift-flowing river ("vEgavAhinIm")."

In the very first line of the pallavi itself, dIkshitar very clearly establishes which deity he is singing about. In fact, the entire pallavi consists only of the various names of Goddess Sarasvati such as vINApustaka dhAriNI, vANi and vEgavAhini and the fact that he is seeking refuge in Her. It is also a known phenomenon that when dIkshitar repeats the same word at least twice in the pallavi ("AshrayE" in this case), it is a composition that is of utmost significance and one in which dIkshitar just surrenders to the God/Goddess that he is singing about. One can observe the same in compositions such as the Ahiri navAvaraNam (where he repeatedly says Goddess kamalAmba wins), tyAgarAjAya namastE namastE (bEgaDa), shrI sUbrahmanyAya namastE namastE (kAmbhoji) and so on.

Perhaps what really contributes to the goosebumps in the pallavi itself is the way dIkshitar scripts this musically, exploiting the beauty of the rAga to its fullest and showcasing some of the flat notes and prayOgams that really establish vEgavAhini, differentiating it clearly from chakravAkham. He starts the composition with the beautiful "SnS mgm" at "vI NA") which in itself is a pradhAna prayOgam of this rAga and on top very beautifully sounds just like the majestic gait of how one would move between these svarasthAnas when it is played on a vINa. He then continues up the ArOhaNam with "PpmgMP" at "pustakA" bridging beautifully to the svarAksharam and phrase "D psndp" at "dhA rinIm". He rounds off the first line of the song by bringing in the rishabam finally at "AshrayE". 

You would observe the very sparing use of rishabam throughout the composition, showcasing clearly vEgavAhini in all its beauty and you would also observe that dIkshitar consistently uses the rishabam only to close out the structure of the song across pallavi, anupallavi and caraNam, kind of using it as a crescendo in these places. The highlight of the pallavi perhaps is in "vEgavAhiniM" where he not only employs the rAga mudra to directly address the Goddess by Her name, but also brings the goosebumping phrase of "S Nn D dsndpdM" which flows down fast just like vEgavAhini itself, representing the avarOhaNam as well as the depths of the rAga.

Moving on to the anupallavi, 

ENAHNkayuta jaTAjUTa makuTAntAm
EkAgracitta nidhyAtAm vidhikAntAm

dIkshitar continues to describe the Goddess as "the one whose crest ("makuTA") consists of thick locks of hair ("jaTAjUTa"), adorned by ("yuta") the deer-marked moon ("ENAHNka"), the one who is meditated upon ("nidhyAtAm") by yOgis with full-focus and undivided attention in the mind ("EkAgra-citta"), the one who is the consort ("kAntAm") of Lord Brahma ("vidhi")".

The anupallavi also kind of shows how Goddess Saravati rules from the grossest physical forms (first 3 words of the anupallavi is only about Her divine form) to the esoteric and various, unattainable levels of knowledge (signified by the second set of 3 words)

The seemingly simple yet beautiful anupallavi perhaps is the most beautiful six-worded anupallavi ever composed. dIkshitar brings together the beauty of vEgavahini with the rhythmic flow of the mishra jhampa/khanda Eka tALam structures in these six words. Musically, he starts with the mellifluous phrase "P S nd P PndpmM" at "E NA HNka yuta jaTA" which then flows beautifully into "dppMg MP" at "jU Ta" and "nD pS pdNd" at "maku Ta AntAm". To close out the anupallavi, dIkshitar again employs the rishabam sparingly with very characteristic phrases such as "drSR rsrg" at "E kAgra" and "dppmG r mmgr" at "vidhikAntAm". 

With this beautiful and succinct anupallavi, dIkshitar pretty much sets the stage for a magnum opus of a caraNam, a magnificent concluding act.

parAdyakhila shabda svarUpAvakAshAm
paurNamI candrikAdhavaLasaHNkAshAm
karAravindAm kalyANadAm bhASAm
kanakacampaka dAmabhUSA vishEshAm
nirantaram bhaktajihvAgravAsAm
nikhilaprapaHnca saHNkOca vikAsAm
narAdhamAnana vilOka shOkApahAm
narahariharaguruguhapUjita vigrahAm

dIkshitar uses multiple references in the caraNam, again alternating between the gross physical to the subtle esoteric planes that the Goddess spans. He starts the caraNam by visualising the Goddess as "the one who personifies ("svarUpAvakAshAm") all ("akhila") the different forms of speech/sound ("shabda") such as parA". Here, he refers to the four different forms of speech ranging from the subtlest to the grossest - parA (the highest and primordial form of sound), paSyanti (state of word that has color and form, seen by the yogis in meditation), madhyama (the intermediate unexpressed sound heard in the heart) and vaikhari (the spoken word).

He then describes the Goddess's beauty as "the one whose appearance resembles ("saHNkAshAm") the brilliant white ("dhavaLa") of the full moon ("paurNamI candrikA"), the one whose hands ("kara") are like lotuses ("aravindAm"), the one who bestows fortune and auspiciousness ("kalyANadAm"), the one who signifies speech/language ("bhASAm")".

dIkshitar continues to describe the Goddess as "the one who is decorated ("bhUSA") specially ("vishEshAm") with the golden ("kanaka") campA garland/necklace ("dAma")" before moving on to the madhyamakAla sAhityam which goes like "the one who is eternal/absolute ("nirantaram") and resides ("vAsAm") on the tip of the tongues ("jihva-agra") of the learned and pious devouts ("bhakta"). The one who is the cause for the contraction ("saHNkOca") and expansion ("vikAsAm") of the entire universe ("nikhila prapaHnca"). The one who removes the ill-effects/distress ("shOka - apahAm") caused by the glance ("vilOka") of ill-minded individuals ("narAdhamAnana")." 

dIkshitar then beautifully concludes the composition by bringing in the composer mudra and describing the Goddess as "the one whose form ("vigrahAm") is worshipped by ("pUjita") by men ("nara") as well as Gods such as Vishnu ("hari"), Shiva ("hara") and Guruguha". 

Now where do I start to describe the beauty of this amazing caraNam. It is probably impossible to do justice whichever way one tries to go about it. What is probably most visible in the caraNam is how dIkshitar mixes a few lines describing the Goddess's physical form along with a few lines that make subtler references as to where She resides and how She protects the knowledgable and pious devouts. This "mix", I believe is dIkshitar's way of paying tribute to Goddess Sarasvati and the vINA which she holds and pretty much signifies Her to begin with. 

The vINA apart from being a physical, musical instrument also acts as an aid to spiritual progress. This is summarized in the YAjnavalkya smrti as "vINAvAdana tatvajnayah shrutijAtI vishAradaH. tAlajnashchAprayAsena mokshamArgam niyacchati" which translates to "One who is well versed in the secrets of the art of playing the vINA attains liberation without much effort". Now dIkshitar being a vainika himself is very much aware of this and portrays this aspect beautifully with interspersing the gross and subtle aspects in the caraNam. 

The other significant reference is that the spinal cord in the human body is also referred to as the vINA daNDa. Through intense yoga sAdhanas, the kundalini (coiled up snake which signifies the Goddess) rises from the bottom of the spine and ascends swiftly along the column sushumna (the raga again suggests swift movement) flanked by the channels iDa and pingaLa, flowing through the six energy centers and uniting with Shiva in the thousand petalled sahasrAra at the topmost part of the brain, thus enabling the sAdhaka to attain liberation. All the nerve endings in our body are connected to this vINA daNDa and hence as a result of that, whoever knows the secrets of how to play the vINa (not just the physical one but also the subtle sushumna), the Goddess bestows the power of discretion and cognition, and governs the intellect and guides them to achieve salvation easily.

Musically, the prayOgams are way too many for me to even highlight as pretty much every prayOgam in this special caraNam is really special :). I will still mention the start of the caraNam "Sd-dpsndP M Pdp" at "para-adhyakhila shabda" and the beautifully hanging deivatam used in avakA"ShAm". Continuing with the peace-instilling "M dpPmp gmP mnD" at "paurNamI candrikA dhavaLa" and the first rishabam usage in the caraNam at campaka"dAma". Finally the goosebumps in the madhyamakAla sAhityam ranging from the eternal (pun-intended) "sRsM" at "nirantaram" climbing through the full Arohanam with "GmPDnsnS" at "bhaktajiHvAgravAsAm" and then descending beautifully with "nsn dnD pdp mg MP" at "nikhilaprapaHnca saHNkOca vikAsAm". dIkshitar then majestically ends the composition with "sRsMgrs" at "narAdhAmAnana" combined with the full avarOhaNam descent of "s n d n   d p – d p m p  – M    m p – M   M  mg R" at "naraharihara  guruguha pujita vigrahAm" looping back seamlessly to the beginning of the pallavi.

As I mentioned, it is pretty much impossible to explain the beauty of this composition in words. I would highly recommend the readers to listen to some pure versions of the kriti rendered by vINa dhanammal's family and school and listen to some other beautiful renditions such as this one from the Parampara school of music.

With that, I will sign off for today on this post. I will probably go to bed now with this composition running on infinite loop in my head. I will hopefully soon come back with another post next week. If you have some specific requests or compositions that you would like me to write about, please do let me know below in your comments. Until next time, shrI gurubhyO namaH!!

Sunday, October 2, 2022

SRngAra rasa manjarIM - rasamanjari - rUpakaM

And finally after a break of 3 years, I am here to post something again!! I guess there is always something special in the air around Navaratri time that makes me come back here and reinvigorate my passion for music and divinity. When I blogged the last time in September 2019, I definitely did not think it would take me 3 years to come back. I actually still cannot believe it has taken me that long but well, here I am trying to muse and amuse. 

A lot has happened in these 3 years, including a pandemic that changed all of our lives and retirement of some true sporting legends such as MS Dhoni, Serena Williams and Roger Federer. During this time, I moved from Luxembourg to Berlin and changed 2 jobs. Personally, I have also grown a bit more wiser (or so I think) and definitely have a few more white hairs on my head. While I might not have published anything in this forum, I believe I have only gone more deeper in my pursuit of music. So much so that I do feel music is always there within me, an extension of myself and a lifelong companion, accompanying me through happiness and sorrow alike. 

Without blabbering on any further, I will jump into today's composition. When I left off 3 years ago, I had said my next post would be one on Goddess Kamakshi again and so here I am writing about this hauntingly beautiful, short and pretty rare composition of dIkshitar called SRngAra rasa manjarIM in the 72nd rAgAnga rAga, rasamanjari (Venkatamakhin school's equivalent of rasikapriya). This was composed by dIkshitar in praise of Goddess "Bangaru Kamakshi" at the temple in Tanjavur, the same Goddess who was propitiated extensively by Sri Shyama Sastri, the other member of the trinity. The name of the temple itself indicates that the idol of Kamakshi is made of pure gold though it appears black due to the fact that it is covered with punugu, a black fragrant substance. The idol of Kamakshi here is in standing posture holding a parrot in her right hand. Though this temple is small with one prakaram, it is venerated as one of the fifty-one shakti peetams. Going a bit into history, actually this idol was in the Kamakshi temple in Kanchipuram. But when there was invasion by Moghul kings, this precious golden idol was secretly brought to this place by the chief temple priest, father of Shyama Sastri in 1786. Later a temple was constructed here thanks to the Maratha kings of Tanjavur and Sri Shyama Sastri being the son of this temple priest, himself became the main archakar and sang many beautiful hymns in praise of the Goddess.

Destiny brought dIkshitar close to Shyama Sastri and Goddess kAmakshi as he was invited to Tanjavur to teach music to the Tanjavur Quartet and he chose to live on West Main Street and became a neighbour and close friend of Syama Sastri. The two, along with dIkshitar’s younger brother Chinnaswami collaborated in the creation of three caraNams for an incomplete shri ranjani varnam of Ramaswami Dikshitar. It is also well documented that Subbaraya Sastri, the son of Syama Sastri was a disciple of dIkshitar which shows in the quality of his compositions. Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi being a famed deity of Tanjavur, besides being the object of his good friend Syama Sastri’s worship, dIkshitar composed quite a few compositions on this deity during his stay at tanjAvur.

It is also very interesting to note that dIkshitar's composition on the 1st rAgAnga rAga (kanakAmbari kArunyAmrita lahari in the rAga kanakAmbari) and the 72nd and last rAgAnga rAga (the composition I am writing about today) were both composed in praise of Goddess bangAru kAmAkshi in tanjAvur. In this composition, apart from using the rAga mudra to describe the devi, dIkshitar also brings in the number 72 and states that the Goddess delights in the 72 rAgAnga rAgas. This small samshTi caraNam composition is fully composed in the dvitIya vibhakti with many other beautiful aspects that I will try to delve into below.


SRngAra rasa manjarIM
SrI kAmAkshIM gaurIM
Srita jana kalpa vallarIM cintayE(a)ham


dIkshitar sings "I contemplate upon ("cintayE(a)ham") Goddess kAmAkshi, the fair-complexioned one ("gaurIM")". He continues to describe Her as "the one who is a divine wish-yielding creeper ("kalpa vallarIM") for the ones who have surrendered themselves to Her ("Srita jana")". And dIkshitar shows his brilliance by directly using the rAga mudra in the very first line of the pallavi, describing the Goddess as "the one who is a bouquet of blossoms ("manjarIM") filled with the emotion of love ("SRngAra rasa")". 

It is very interesting to note dIkshitar's choice of words here. He uses the words manjari and vallari in the pallavi, both words being almost synonyms to each other, describing the Goddess in biological terms. The floral attributions also complement well, the faunal attributes of the Goddess here who is famous for holding the parrot in her hand. Poetically, the meter sits beautifully with the rUpaka tALa as the words flow with the 7-beat cycle almost interwoven like a delicate saree draped around the Goddess. Grammatically, the composition is again majestic as it uses the "rIM" prAsam through the pallavi, setting the rhythm.
And finally, musically, dIkshitar uses the svarAkshara for rI, throughout the composition, beautifully highlighting the shatshruthi rishabam that is prominent for this rAga. He also embeds more svarAkshara in the pallavi with phrases such as "sMpR" for ra"samanjarIM and then delivers the magical phrase of "rgsn dnpSsR" at "Sritajana kalpavallarIM". This one phrase, in my opinion is musically the highlight of this composition as it brings out the essence of the rAga and in a way kind of makes you feel that this rAga was just created for this particular composition. Overall, the pallavi is a connoisseur's delight, creating a haunting magic and a yearning for more beauty, which the small caraNam and chittaswara more than amply deliver on.

samashTi caraNam

angArakAdi graha dOsha nivAraNa-karIM
ananga kusumAdi Sakti priya-karIM dvi-saptati -
rAgAnga rAga mOdinIM
matanga bharata vEdinIM mangaLa dAyinIM
rasika pungava guruguha jananIm


dIkshitar continues to the describe the Goddess as "the one who cures ("nivAraNa-karIM") the ill-effects ("dOsha") of planets ("graha") such as Mars and others ("angArakAdi")". He further praises Her, bringing in Shakta philosophy and describing Her as "the one who is the pleasing one ("priya-karIM") to ananga kusamA and other Shaktis". dIkshitar being a Shakti upAsaka himself, brings in the esoteric references from Shaktism to describe the Goddess here, where ananga kusuma refers to one of the eight Kaula consorts of Kāmākhya (eastern face of Lord Bhairava).

dIkshitar then quickly moves into the madhyamakala sAhityam, describing the Goddess as "the one who delights Herself ("modinIM") in all of the 72 rAgAnga rAgas ("dvi-saptati-rAgAnga rAga"), the one who was probed and understood by sages Bharata and Matanga and the one who gives ("dAyinIM") welfare and auspiciousness ("mangaLa")". And finally, dIkshitar seems to end the composition with a cheeky reference to himself by describing the Goddess as "the mother ("jananIm") of Guruguha, who is the foremost among rasikas who savour the art forms ("rasika pungava")".

The small caraNam is yet another proof of why dIkshitar is a composer beyond any comparison. The succinctness and the minimalistic brilliance with which he describes the Goddess in very, very few words while bringing in esoteric and purAnic references, alluding to the rAga being the 72nd rAgAnga raga and at the end striking pure gold by bringing in the composer mudra while also referring to himself is just audacious brilliance. The caraNam is an epitome of minimalism with each word and syllable seemingly chiseled by a master sculptor at work. 

As if the words and the grammar are not enough to mesmerise you, dIkshitar takes you to 7th heaven through the musicality and phrasings he uses in the composition. He starts the pallavi with "srgsPM" at "angArakAdi", a typical rasamanjari phrase and then shows the complementary beauty of the rAga by employing "gmpSnDnSR" at "grahadOSha nivAranakaRIM" while using a beautiful svarAksharam at dO"Sha ni". Other beautiful phrases to note are "mrgs" at "ananga" and "RgsR" at "dvi-saptatI" which then leads into the cascading phrases used for the madhyamakAla sahityam. dIkhitar then majestically winds down the composition with a chittaswaram that probes the rAga to its fullest. I would highly recommend you to listen to the version of this composition sung by Amritha Murali, available here to fully enjoy the beauty of this composition as well as the brilliance of the chittaswaram which I cannot really explain in words.

In the true spirit of the composition, I would also stop here, minimising my words and just leaving you in that realm of aesthetic brilliance that dIkshitar brought to you through such a small but powerful and haunting composition. Truly one composition whose impact lingers on and makes you keep humming the song for days on end. 

I will stop here and sign off for today. In the spirit of navarAtri, I will next publish a post on Goddess Saraswathi on the day of Saraswathi puja, a majestic composition, an all time favourite of mine and also as requested by one of my close friends, who is a great nAdopAsaka herself. Wishing you all a great navarAtri and a divine second half of this beautiful festive period. See you all soon!!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

avyAja karuNA kaTAkSi - sAlanga nAta - tripuTa

Hope you all had a wonderful week. After a long time, I am publishing posts back to back in consecutive weeks. It already gives me a great feeling and hopefully, without jinxing, this streak continues :). Last week was a pretty productive week at work with teams visiting from Seattle and engaging with our team in a Summit. For the better half of this year, I have been a part of sustainability-related initiatives at Amazon and contributing in my own small way, positive impact on the environment. On that note, it is also heartening to see the protests carried out across the world last Friday (and expected to continue every Friday going forward), with people from all age groups and backgrounds standing strong together for the noble cause of saving our planet. I hope strong actions are taken both at an executive level by all countries and also at an individual level, by each one of us taking a pledge to reduce our own carbon footprints and positively impacting the society and environment around us.

Today's composition, avyAja karunA kaTAKSi always evokes strong emotions in me, as it reminds me of the good old times that we, as a music group, nAdOpAsana used to enjoy and share together in late 2000s. Continuing with the post on kAnCi kSEtra and Goddess kAmAkSi from last week, I thought it would be a good follow up post and it struck me that may be I can do a "kAmAkSi" series before moving on to another kSEtra thereby making this blog a pilgrimage tour in itself :). Before jumping into the composition, I will narrate a small incident of how I came across this composition for the first time. I vividly remember it was a winter evening in Michigan back in 2006, when we (Hari and myself) stumbled on a beautiful lecture demonstration by the great research scholar, Prof. SR Janakiraman. In that lec dem, he explained the structure of sAlanganATa, an upAnga janya of mAyAmALavagowLa (MMG) and burst into this small but powerful composition on dIkshitar. It was so beautiful on so many dimensions that Hari and I both kind of gave up, got emotional, and played it over and over again to enjoy the beauty. We then got on a call with our dear friend Shreekrishna (SK) and made him listen to share our joy. It turned out to be a beautiful evening, as it set the tone for us to delve deeper into other compositions on MMG and its plethora of janya rAgAs that dIkshitar has composed extensively in.

A word or two about the rAga and the composition itself before jumping in. sAlanga nAta is a rare, upAnga janya rAga of the 15th meLa, MMG. The ArOhaNa is a straightforward srmpds (similar to malahari). The avarOhaNa is where the matter is. While sangIta sampradAya pradarshini gives the avarOhaNa scale as sampUrNa (Sndpmgrs), the Sndp phrase does not exist and is instead replaced by SnSdp. This structure is well-established in the gIta prabandhas and is strictly adhered to in this composition by dIkshitar too. Similarly, in the descending purvAnga phrase, mgrs is also not very prominent and is replaced by mgmrs. This makes the structure symmetric on the descent and also adds an extra beauty to the rAga and this composition.

The composition itself is a simple, small samASTi caraNam kriti and like many of his other compositions, dIkshitar embellishes it with a beautiful citta swaram at the end which helps to clearly establish the structure and the significant prayOgas of this rAga. He also shows his brilliance in word play by bringing in the rAga mudra in the caraNam effortlessly while conveying a very important aspect of the Goddess and mAya/delusion in general. The whole composition is written in sambOdhana pratama vibhakti, directly appealing to the Goddess. Starting with the pallavi,

avyAja karuNA kaTAkSi aniSam mAmava kAmAkSi

dIkshitar sings "O kAmAkSi! The one whose glances ("kaTAkSi") bestow unconditional/unbiased ("avyAjA") mercy/compassion ("karuNA")! Please always ("aniSam") protect me ("mAmava")".

In this simple pallavi, dIkshitar appeals to the merciful/compassionate side of Goddess kAmAkSi and seeks protection on behalf of all humanity. As the folklore goes, this is a very important KSEtra for Srividya upAsakAs, as the mEru in this temple is made of sAligrAma and is supposed to have been installed by sage durvAsa, a primordially renowned Srividya upAsakA himself. However, over time, due to neglect and rise of more inequality and greed with kali yuga, kAmAkSi became a ugra (angry) version of the Lalita tripurasundari, that led to droughts and damage of the land surrounding this temple. It is believed that the great advaitin, Adi Shankara, himself pacified the Goddess and reinstalled the shrI cakra in this temple thereby making Goddess kAmAkSi the epitome of mercy and compassion.

dIkshitar hence appeals to this side of the Goddess to protect him and all of us who sing the dEvi's praises along with him. It is also worthy to note that dIkshitar directly borrows the beginning words of the composition from Lalita sahasranAmam, where tripurasundari is described as "avyAja karuNA mUrti". Musically, dIkshitar establishes the gAndAra-nishAda varjya ArOhaNam in the pallavi itself with the opening phrase of "RMP" at "avyAjA" followed by the beautiful avarOhaNam of "dpmgmrs" at "karunA kaTAkSi".

Moving on to the caraNam,

ravyAdi nava grahOdayE rasAlanga nATaka kriyE
divyAlamkrtANgASriyE dInAvana guruguha priyE
savyApa-savya mArgasthE sadA namastE SukahastE

dIkshitar begins the caraNam by describing the Goddess as "The one who is the origin/one responsible for the rising ("udayE") of Sun ("ravi") and the other ("Adi") nine celestial bodies ("navagraha")". Since kAmAkSi is the amSa of Goddess tripurasundari, the ruler of all the three worlds, this is indeed an apt description both from a physical as well as from a celestial standpoint.

He then demonstrates his musical and lyrical brilliance by slipping in the rAga mudra, while describing the Goddess as "the one who is the enabler/creator ("kriyE") of the drama ("nATaka") comprising of ("alanga") all the different rasAs/emotions". This is probably the most beautiful part of the composition as he weaves in the rAga mudra effortlessly while conveying a very deep meaning. dIkshitar seems to refer to the whole creation as a cosmic drama, born out of delusion and related to human emotions of the navarasAs. He then refers to the Goddess as the creator/conductor of this whole drama, while in the process, slipping in the rAga mudra, making you once again wonder how dIkshitar does this. Does he choose a rAga for the composition while thinking of what to compose or does it happen the other way around? After thinking about this a lot in the past (as there are so many beautiful compositions which tend to create the same thought in your head), it seems to be a symbiotic process, where the whole composition is built, not piece by piece, but as one single integral product from the very beginning, with the whole composition arriving in his thoughts as a finished product before bursting forth in a single outflow. This is the only possible explanation to such brilliance.

Moving on, dIkshitar continues to describe the Goddess as "the one whose body ("aNga") shines ("ASriyE") decorated by the divine ("divya") ornaments ("alamkrta") and is the favorite ("priyE") of Lord Guruguha, the protector of the destitute ("dInAvana")". This line, establishes the centre/backbone of the small caraNam, acting as a bridge/platform for dIkshitar to jump into the madyamakAla sAhitya.

dIkshitar finishes the composition by describing the Goddess as "the one who represents the right and left/prohibited paths ("mArga"), "savya and apa-savya" of upAsana. Salutations to you ("namastE"), always ("sadA"), the one who holds a parakeet ("Suka") in Her hand ("hastE")". The savya and apa-savya paths that dIkshitar alludes to here, corresponds with the dakSinAcAra and vAmAcAra forms of worshiping the divine respectively. The savya/dakSINAcAra way of worshiping refers to spiritual, orthodox practices of following one of the well-established yogic margas (karma, bhakti, gnAna) to unite with the divine. The apa-savya/vAmAcAra way of worshiping is the more darker, tAntric, unorthodox version, used more to attain special powers/siddhis and utilize for personal power/manipulation of the elements rather than seeking divine union. While the divine energy is again unconditional and available to both forms of worship, needless to say, the former way of worship is most preferred and hence practiced traditional. The latter, is more gross and prohibited as it restricts the practitioner to the physical realm and does not help in transcending/uniting with the divine.

Coming back to the composition, musically, my favorite phrases in the caraNam are "dSrmg" at "rasAlanga" and the predominantly mandira prayoga of "sdmpmppds" at "guruguha priyE". dIkshitar rounds it off nicely with a beautiful citta swaram that clearly establishes the rAga svarUpa. The citta swaram gives goosebumps with some amazing prayOgas with dIkshitar saving the best for the last as it ends with the whole avarOhaNam in its entirety as "sdpmgmrs" before looping back beautifully into the pallavi.

Overall, an amazing, amazing composition, probably the only one in this rAga and thereby requiring extra attention/care. We need to preserve and pass on this composition to our future generations so that sAlanga nAta as a raga is available for posterity and this composition continues to withstand time and tradition and serves as a strong demonstration of how this rAga is unique and needs to be handled. Lastly, if you have not heard this composition, please google and find Prof SRJ's version, enjoy the beauty and learn it. Signing off for today, with the hope of coming back with yet another post on Goddess kAmAkSi next weekend. Until then, wish you a great musical week ahead!!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

nIrajAkSi kAmAkSi - hindOLam - rUpaka

I can't believe it has been 9 months since I published my last post on this blog. Even today's post, I am publishing after being gently nudged by one of closest friends (Thank you!!) asking me not to slack :). And so, here I am with my first post in 2019. Though nothing much has changed in the past 9 months, I think age is finally catching up with me. I have become a little less sharper, gained a few more grey hairs on my head and have probably become a little slower with anything I do. As typical mid-life crisis sets in, there are of course things that I love which I hold on to and survive the tug of war between the passionate heart and the analytical brain.

Today, I will write about one of my most favorite morning compositions of dIkshitar, nIrakjAkSi kAmAkSi in rAga hindOLam set to rUpaka tALa. Before I jump into the composition itself, a few words about the rAga, the importance of this particular composition and the significance of this kSEtra to set the stage and create the complete context which will help us enjoy and understand the composition much better.

hindOLam is predominantly a north indian rAga, has its roots in hindustani music and goes by the name mAlkauns. This pentatonic scale subsequently transcended into the South Indian music scheme with purandaradAsa composing the first carnatic composition in this rAga. The beautiful audava structure without rishaba and panchama automatically yields a symmetry to this rAga, which is probably the greatest hallmark of this scale and the main reason why it is so pleasant and mellifluous to the ear. Capable of conveying both shringAra and bhakti rasAs, the raga is attributed to vasanta ritu and is best experienced in the mornings. Again because of the symmetry, the rAga can be subjected to Graha bedham, yielding 4 other major/beautiful pentatonic scales of mOhanam, suddha sAvEri, udayaravicandrikA and madyamAvati.

While tyAgarAja's sAmajavaragamanA is probably the most famous composition in this rAga, dIkshitar weaves his own magic in his three compositions showcasing both the carnatic as well as the hindustani aspects of this rAga thereby paying tribute to its true roots. He handles govardana girIsham and sarasvati vidhiyuvati in typical carnatic hindOLam style with gamakAs and movement-laden prayOgas. However, in this particular kriti of nIrajAkSi kAmAksI, he constructs the composition in a dhrupad/north indian style, aptly supported by the rUpaka tALa, with the rAga's scale itself being used purely with more flat notes, relatively lesser gamakAs and finally rounding off with a citta swara that again has prayOgas supporting the hindustAni style of swaraprasthAras. In other words, this seems to be a conscious experiment by dIkshitar to showcase the origins of the rAga while at the same time, interweaving it into traditional carnatic music once again showing his musical genius.

Briefly explaining the significance of this kSEtra, Goddess kAmAkSi (whose name literally translates to "one whose eyes evoke desire") resides in kAnchipuram and is considered the ultimate form of LalitA tripurasundari, whose name resonates in Lalita sahasranAmAm. At this kSEtra, the Goddess is seated in the majestic padmAsana posture, signifying links to yoga and prosperity, instead of the traditional standing pose, holding sugarcane bow, flowers, lasso (pAsha) and goad (ankusha). There are no other Goddess temples in kAnchipuram showing the importance of this particular temple, with links to the great Adi Sankara who is believed to have calmed down the dEvi from her earlier ugra swarUpa and re-instated the shrI cakrA at this temple. dIkshitar being a shrI vidyA upAsaka, aptly highlights all of these significant features in his composition, bringing in the nava-Avaranas and using references such as "nIla cikura", "tripura" and "gaurI" which are directly borrowed from LalitA sahasranAmam.

With the context set, I will start with the pallavi of this composition.

nIraja-akshi kAmAkshi nIrada cikurE tripurE

Setting the tone for the entire composition, written in the eighth vibhakti (sambOdhana pratama), dIkshitar directly addresses the Goddess as "O lotus-eyed ("nIraja-akshi") Goddess kAmAkshi! The one with tresses ("cikurE") akin to dark water-bearing clouds ("nIrada")! The one who is the Queen of the three worlds ("tripurE")! (Protect me!!)"

In my opinion, the pallavi is probably the highest point of this composition. dIkshitar starts off on a high, kicking it off with swarAkshara "nI" in "nI"rajAkshi. He then beautifully sketches a waterfall by using the avarOhana to land the typical "gMgs" phrase at "kAmAkshi" which more importantly, sets up the stage for the knock-out punch, a mandira sthAyi swarAkshara "nI"rada. He then uses "sns" at "cikurE", followed by "Mgsgm" at "tripurE" which gives the dhrupad effect of hindustAni music and helps loop back to "nI"rajAkshi".

One can't appreciate the pallavi more here with the beautiful swaraprasthAras and the kAla pramAna that dIkshitar sets for this majestic composition. He also uses terms such as "nIrada cikura" and "tripurA" which are direct references to lalita sahasranAma. One should also observe the usage of flat notes in the pallavi, not your typical hindOLa prayOgas. It is apparent, that the usage of flat notes is conscious throughout the composition, clearly dIkshitar showing his prowess and making an exhibition of how a north indian rAga can be used for a carnatic composition. This also creates a sense of calm and peace throughout the entire composition, as he traverses the octaves with no fuss, little gamakAs, as if a ship sailing the waves of the calm Pacific ocean.

Moving on to the anupallavi,

SAradA ramA nayanE sArasa candra-AnanE
vArija pAdE varadE tAraya mAM tatva padE
dIkshitar describes the Goddess as "The one who has Goddesses sarasvati ("SAradA") and Lakshmi ("ramA") as Her eyes ("nayanE")" physically describing how Goddess kAmAkshi is flanked on either sides by these two Goddesses and who they rule the three worlds together in unity. He continues to describe the beauty of Goddess kAmakshi by calling Her as "the one whose face ("Anana") is as beautiful as the swan ("sArasa") and as radiant as the autumnal moon ("candra")".

He then continues to describe the merciful and compassionate aspects of the Goddess by describing Her as "the one who has lotus-like ("vArija") feet ("pAdE") adept at granting boons ("varadE")". He then requests the Goddess to "protect and help him ("mAm") transcend ("tAraya") to the other side by showing the truth/essence ("tatva") of which She is the authority ("padE")".

Musically, he starts off the anupallavi with a serene shadja, again creating swarAkshara at "SA"rada flowing down to the gAndara and ending with madhyama at naya"nE". He then lilts from madhyama directly to nishAda at "sA"rasa before coming down to the flat dhaivata which is what brings the utmost beauty of this interpretation of hindOLa. Throughout the composition, dIkshitar consciously avoids the straight "gmdn" prayOga typical of hindOLa and always uses "gmndn", thereby bringing in that additional beauty of the north indian version.

As a final embellishment, dIkshitar unleashes a beautiful citta swaram that is hard to describe in words. The prayOgas once again extract the maximum possible beauty of this rAga, transcending all the three sthAyis with such grace and aplomb that all one can do is just relish and experience the sancArAs he exposes. The citta swara finally culminates with "sgs, ndmggmm" setting the platform to loop back to the swarAkshara "nI"rajAkshi, thereby completing the magic thread that he wove in the anupallavi.

dIkshitar then moves on to the caraNam, which again starts with a sedate shadja setting the ground for a crescendo.

gaurI hindOLa dyuti hIra maNi-maya-AbharaNE
Sauri virinci vinuta Siva Sakti-maya nava-AvaraNE
nArImaNi-Adi-arcita nava nAtha-antaHkaraNE
sUri jana saMsEvita sundara guru guha karaNE
dIkshitar starts off the caraNam with a beautiful "sm" phrase with a direct reference to Lalita sahasranAmam by using the word "gaurI" which literally translates to "one who is white/golden in complexion". He then brings in the rAga mudra by describing the Goddess as "the one who is bedecked with ornaments ("AbharaNE") that is filled with ("maya") resplendent ("dyuti") diamonds ("hIra") and other gems ("maNi")". Hindola also literally translates to "ornamental swing/cradle" and this line can be interpreted as dIkshitar comparing the Goddess's necklace/ornaments to a beautiful swing/cradle.

He then describes the Goddess as "the one who is worshipped ("vinuta") by Lord Vishnu ("Sauri") and Brahma ("virinci")". Dikshitar then begins to bring in the esoteric references to Sri chakra (which, as I had earlier mentioned was re-established in this shrine by Adi Shankara himself) by describing the Goddess as "the one who resides in the nine realms ("nava-AvaraNE") of the Sri cakra which houses Shiva and Shakti". He then begins the madhyamakAla sahitya by referring to the traditional worship of the Goddess by women seeking to attain purity and greatness by worshipping Her on Fridays and describes Her as "one who is worshipped ("arcita") by gems ("maNi") among women ("nArI")".

He then brings in references to the navanAthas sampradaya, the school of thought which believes in the nine saints, beginning with the trinity themselves, who spread the philosophy of one ultimate truth. dIkshitar describes the Goddess as "the one who resides in the hearts ("antaHkaraNE") of the navanAthas" and as "the one who is worshipped ("saMsEvita") by men of knowledge/wisdom ("sUri jana"). dIkshitar concludes the madhyama kAla sAhitya by using his composer mudra and describes the Goddess as "the one who is responsible for the creation ("karaNE") of the handsome ("sundara") Lord Guruguha".

To complete the structure, dIkshitar once again employs the citta swaram (sometimes sung in second/third speed) to once again loop back to the beginning of the pallavi. He again employs some amazing prayOgas in the caraNam, my favourites being Sauri virinci where he uses "nsdm gmns" and the lilting "snsnsmgs" at "nArimanyA". Even if you have listened to this composition before, I would highly recommend you try and listen to this again after reading this post. I am sure you will be able to enjoy it that bit more and probably enjoy it as much as I did :).

On that wonderful note, I will close this post. I hope to ride this wave of new found enthusiasm and pick up another majestic composition to post next weekend. Until then, wish you a great week ahead and hopefully a week in which you the get the chance to indulge a bit more in music :). Shri gurubhyO namah!!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

pAhi mAm ratnAcalanAyaka - mukhAri - Adi

As I write this post, I strum my guitar on a rainy Sunday morning watching the birds outside finding shelter from the rain and the cold. The month of December especially is paradoxical as on one side you have the darkness and the gloom associated with the winter that settles in here in Europe, while on the other hand, so does a feeling of Holidays and Festivity leading into Christmas and the New Year. As snowflakes start to descend, the Christmas Markets open up in pretty much every town square, filled with an array of shops and small trucks where you find the local artisans/foodies selling exactly that (local art and food). These markets are especially beautiful in the night as the lights turn on on the Christmas Trees, kids and parents skating in ice rinks with unabated joy and the boulevards leading to the square lit up with Stars and Ribbons.

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 brains 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 reasons 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,
mOhajArALakEshi varadhava 
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!!