We humans are so vulnerable, are we not? Our bodies can be damaged, by accident or intent, and most certainly by time. Our minds get damaged every single day as violence abounds in the world around us. Knowing our own vulnerability, we use armour of different kinds to protect ourselves. There is armour for the body, be it a medieval steel body-suit, or the knee and elbow pads of skateboarders. The armour of the mind ranges from the ‘masks’ we put on to all kinds of behavioural changes in order to protect ourselves.
For those who believe in God, there is one armour which is above all else. We Hindus have special mantras, called kavacha (armour) which invoke the Gods to act as a shield for us. For myself, I use a visualisation technique in which I place myself in a cocoon of God’s power and inside, I feel invulnerable. Believers also wear talismans or amulets (காப்பு, தாயித்து, ताबीज/ताबीज़, कवच) to protect themselves. Do all these really work? I don’t know. Perhaps it is enough that we believe; perhaps the belief itself is our armour. And sometimes there are stories which make you pause..and think. Here is such a story.
It was a long time back, close to 40 years ago. In a little lane in North Calcutta there lived a kindly woman who was known for her generous alms-giving. Almost everyday somebody would knock at her door with a sad tale of want or perhaps just a silent plea and she would give whatever she could. She must also have been known in the Sadhu-Sanyasi grapevine for never turning away holy mendicants. Her children scolded her thinking that she was falling for cheats but she always did what she believed in.
One day when her son was playing cricket on the street, a sadhu-baba beckoned him and asked to meet his mother. When the boy took him home, his mother smilingly greeted the sadhu-baba and turned to get some alms for him. He stopped her saying ‘Ma, wait! I have something for you’.
Surprised she turned to him. Normally it was she who was the giver. Removing something from a knot in his garment, he put it in her hand. It was an amulet on a string.
‘This is for your son. Tie this around his neck. It will keep him safe, he is in danger’ . So saying he walked away without receiving any alms.
The lady had to force her rather disbelieving sixteen year old into wearing the amulet but he gave in to his mother’s pleading. A month later he fell under a bus and was in a coma for 3 months. The pelvic region was badly damaged and the doctors hardly expected him to live. Even if he lived, they told each other, he would never lead a normal life. For 4 months he lay in a hospital bed, struggling through operations and infections which ate away at his insides. But he fought. The next year he was at school and proceeded to live the normal life that all young men lead – studying, fooling around, getting into trouble and playing sports all day. Years later when his doctors saw him, they would still shake their heads in amazement. ‘It was a miracle’ they would say.
His mother always thought it was the talisman which protected him. And perhaps the young man did too. Because, you see, forty years have passed and my husband still wears that talisman around his neck. The blessing of a holy man and the prayers of a mother together had been an armour which even the bus which ran over him could not penetrate.
For those who don’t know esoteric mantras and are not blessed with visits by mysterious sadhu-babas, what is the way? You can pray to God, like Tyagaraja did, for the Lord to be his ‘companion, in front, back and on both sides’. To be surrounded by God on all sides is the ultimate armour, isn’t it? The rest of the song is in praise of the Lord. Set to the majestic raga Darbar, this invitation to Lord Rama to be one’s armour is a beautifully composed and deeply meditative piece of music. I am especially touched by the entreaty in the words ‘rA rA’ (come, come) repeated throughout the composition.
Today I have chosen a wonderful musician whom I have not featured before. The great Maestro Voleti Venkateswarulu (1928-1989) sings this song with astonishing ease, great bhava and does great justice to this composition.
Strangely, I have hardly heard many instrumental renditions of this song. I wonder why? However, here is a good rendition by the magician on the flute, S.Sashank.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Telugu
As always, I note that I do not speak Telugu and I use various internet resources for the translation. I listened to multiple renditions of the song to verify the lyrics and the pronunciation. This time, I had the support of a kind reader, Srinivas Vuruputuri, who verified the trasliteration and translation for me; my grateful thanks.
मुन्दु वॆनुक इरु पक्कल तोडै
मुर खर हर रा रा
एन्दु कान नी अन्दमु वलॆ रघु-
नन्दन वेगमे रा रा
ओ गज रक्षक ओ राज कुमार
ओंकार सदन रा रा
भागवत प्रिय बाग (alternate: बागुग) ब्रोववय्य
त्यागराज नुत (alternate: त्यागराजार्चित ) रा रा
mundu vEnuka iru pakkala tODai
mura khara hara rA rA
endu kAna nI andamu vale raghu-
nandana vEgamE rA rA
O gaja rakshaka O rAja kumArA
OmkAra sadana rA rA
bhAgavata priya bAga (alternate: bAguga) brOvavayyA
tyAgarAja nuta (alternate: tyAgArchita) rA rA
Please come as my companion in front, in the back and at my two sides, O vanquisher of the Mura and Khara (note: these were two Rakshashas).
Nowhere is there someone as charming as you, O son of the Raghu dynasty.
O protector of the king of elephants, Oh Prince! You dwell in Omkara (the sound of Om), please come. O Lord who is dear to devotees, protect us well. O Lord worshipped by Tyagaraja, please come.
Footnote (Raga) :
The scales of Darbar (Durbar) are as follows :
Arohanam (Ascending) : S R2 M1 P D2 N2 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : R2’ S’ N2 S D2 P M1 R2 G2 G2 R2 S
The descending scale uses all the notes of its parent raga, Kharahapriya (below) which is 22nd on the Melakarta scale.
This raga is a comparatively recent entry to Carnatic Music, possibly in the earlier part of the 18th century. This is not a raga which suits elaboration. A slightly different version is Darubaru of the Dikshithar school. A raga which is suited to both slow and brisk renditions, Tyagaraja’s many compositions act as a how-to manual for this raga. His very racy Yochana Kamalalocha contrasts well with his slow-paced Mundu Venuka. His Aparadhamula and Ramabhirama are also often heard in concerts. Chalamela Varnam by Tiruvottriyur Tyagayyar is another composition that is often heard in concerts. For further details, read a good discussion of this raga here.
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.