Come Pongal, I cannot but think longingly of my mother’s wonderful Chakkarai Pongal (sweet jaggery rice). She was indeed a master of this dish; she had it perfected to a T. Actually I have what I think is her recipe but I can never get it to taste like hers. Too bad! Hmm…Is it only me who thinks of food at the thought of festivals before I think of the spiritual significance of the occasion? Sigh! Will I ever gain spiritual maturity?
As a harvest festival, Pongal acknowledges and celebrates the bounty of nature. Though I do not remember my parents saying special prayers for Surya, the Sun God, it is to Him that we must address our thanks on this occasion. We mustn’t think of the sun as just the star around which our home planet revolves but see it as a symbol of the force which provides all that we need to create and sustain life. The sun illuminates our physical world, God illuminates our metaphysical world. The sun sustains life on earth, God sustains our bodies and souls. The sun is the anchor around which we revolve in the physical world, it is God who plays that role in the metaphysical world. The sun is a wonderful metaphor for God and in worshipping Surya, we pay homage to that aspect of the infinite Brahman which we are reminded of by our own star.
To celebrate the day, I have chosen one of the Navagraha Kiritis by Muthuswami Dikshithar. These 9 Kritis are said to have great curative properties, both for health and the ailments of life. To read more about these Kritis, click here. In this Kriti set to the Raga Saurashtram, the poet-composer pays homage to Surya by naming His many qualities. My attention was grabbed especially by the poet’s reference to Surya as ‘karma kAranAtmaka’ ‘He who is causative of all deeds’. As I ponder over this, I think that yes, aren’t all physical processes on earth caused and controlled by the sun, directly or indirectly? From the creation of Earth, to the Physics, Chemistry and Biology of whatever happens on Earth, all are irrevocably connected to the sun. So Surya can be seen as causative of all deeds. There is another reference to Karma – ‘karma sAkshinE’ ‘Witness to all deeds’ says the poet. God is indeed a witness to all our actions, actions for which we need to give account one day. But invisible as he is, it cannot be only me who finds it easy to ignore His presence and go about my merry (and often wrong) way. The sun as a witness is a better concept, for it always makes its presence felt, even at night by its reflection on the moon. Perhaps thinking of the sun as a physical witness to our deeds will enable us to follow better the right path. For the lyrics and translation, see footnote.
To present this song, I have chosen a rendition by the great Madurai Mani Iyer. I understand that he was a great believer in the powers of the Navagraha Kritis. He is said to have sung them everyday as part of his daily prayer ritual. After 1950, his concerts would also include the the song appropriate for the day of the week. Listen below to his rendition :
For an instrumental version, I have the violin maestro M.S.Gopalakrishnan presenting the song for you :
Language : Sanskrit
सूर्यमूर्ते नमोस्तुते सुन्दर छायाधिपते
कार्य कारणात्मक जगत् प्रकाश सिंह राश्याधिपते
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम् )
आर्य विनुत तेजःस्फूर्ते आरोग्यादि फलद कीर्ते
सारस मित्र मित्र भानो सहस्र किरण कर्णसूनो
क्रूर पापहर कृशानो गुरुगुह मोहित/मोदित स्वभानो
सूरिजनेडित सुदिन मणे सोमादि ग्रह शिखामणे
धीरार्चित कर्म साक्षिणे दिव्यतर सप्ताश्व रथिने
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम् )
सौराष्टार्ण मन्त्रात्मने सौवर्ण स्वरूपात्मने
भारतीश हरि-हरात्मने भुक्ति मुक्ति वितरणात्मने
sUryamUrtE namostutE sundara CHAyAdhipatE
kArya kAranAtmaka jagat prakAsha simha rAshyAdhipatE
Arya vinuta tejahsphoortE ArogyAdi phalada kIrtE
sArasa mitra mitra bhAno sahasra kiraNa karNasUnO
krUra pApahara krshAnO guruguha mOhita/modita svabhAnO
sUrijanEDita sudina maNE sOmadi graha shikhAmaNE
dhIrArchita karma sAkshiNE divyatara saptAshva rathinE
saurAshtArNa mantrAtmanE sauvarNa svarUpAtmanE
bhAratIsha hari harAtmanE bhukti mukti vitaraNAtmane
(I am a bit doubtful about some parts, they are marked in red)
Salutations (namOsutE) to the embodiment of the Sun, Lord of the beautiful CHAyA (Goddess ‘Shadow’, consort of Surya).
He who is causative (kAraNAtmaka) of all deeds (kArya), who illuminates (prkAsha) the earth (jagat) and is the Lord (adhipatE) of Leo (astrological sign) (simha rAshi), He is paid homage to (vinuta) by noble (or wise) people (Arya), throbbing (sphUrta) with brilliance (tEjas), famed (kIrta) as giver of boons (phalada) such as good health (Arogya).
Friend (mitra) of the moon (sArasa), Lord Surya (mitra and bhAnu are names of sUrya), of many (sahasra) rays (kiraNa), father of Karna (karNasU), the fire (krshAnu) which destroys (hara) cruel (krUra) vices (pApa), the self-luminous (svabhAnu) one who enchants (mOhita) Guruguha (signature of poet), Lord (sUri) of the people (jana), gem (maNi) of an auspicious day (sudina), crest-jewel (shikhAmaNi) of planets and satellites (graha) such as (Adi) the Moon (chandra), worshipped (archita) by the brave (dhIra), witness (sAkshin) to all deeds (karma), carrier (tara) of the celestials (divya), He who has a chariot (ratha) driven by seven (sapta) horses (ashva), essence of the ashtArna or eight-part hymn of Surya (saura=solar)(which one is this referring to?), golden (sauvarna) formed (svaroopa), whose essence (Atman) is Brahma (bhArati Isha=Lord of Saraswati), Vishnu (hari) and Shiva (hara), bestower (vitarana Atman) of both worldly enjoyment (bhukti) and salvation (mukti).
Footnote (Raga) :
The scales of Saurashtram (also spelt as sowrashtram) are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S R1 G3 M1 P M1 D2 N3 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N3 D2 N2 D2 P M1 G3 R1 S
Saurashtram is a janya raga, derived from Suryakantam which is 17th on the Melakarta Scale.
Saurashtram is arguably the raga most familiar to listeners as it is included in almost all concerts! I am, of course, referring to the Mangalam or the last song sung in a concert, which is almost always Pavamana (or Ni Nama) by Tyagaraja set to Saurashtram. In fact, there are many songs set to this raga, a number which rather surprised me when I researched for this post. Listeners will probably be familiar with Ninnu Juchi by Patnam Subramanya Iyer, Sri Ganapatini by Tyagaraja and Surya Murte by Muthuswami Dikshitar but there are many other less known songs. The raga does not lend itself to elaborations and the songs are normally quite short pieces, sung quite slowly. The bhava or mood of the raga is both bhakti (devotion) and courage.
Note : The 12 notes in the octave are named as below. Please note that C is used as Sa for the sake of simplicity as the scale is relative in Carnatic Music. Also note that the scales paint only a superficial picture of the raga as the gamakas(ornamentations) are a very important part of a raga.