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!!

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