He was a very naughty little boy, always getting into trouble. His mischief knew no bounds. His poor mother, Yashoda, had to listen to the complaints of the neighbourhood ladies every single day. She scolded Him, she begged Him– but all to no avail. He would turn his beautiful eyes on her and claim innocence, sure of his ability to twist His mother around his little finger. And did He listen to her entreaties? Oh no! He would get into the next scrape even before He was out of the first! What a handful! And yet, one cannot help laughing at His mischief, was there one as inventive as He?
One day while Yashoda was sitting churning butter, He came along demanding to be fed. She stopped her work and picked Him up with pleasure, feeding Him and loving Him. Noticing that the milk pot on the fire was about to overflow, she kept Him down half-way fed to attend to her work. The little scamp, enraged at being put down before He had His fill, broke the butter churn with a stone and started eating the butter. When Yashoda came back, He was feeding the rest of the butter to a monkey!
Always she had given in to His cajoling ways but today she had caught Him red-handed! Is it not the job of a mother to discipline as much as to love? Hardening her heart, she grabbed Him and looked for a rope to tie Him to the big stone mortar. The oddest thing was that whichever rope she found, it was always short by a two-finger length. Even when she tied all the ropes together, it was still short by the same two-finger length! The watching neighbourhood ladies, who had all suffered from Krishna’s mischief, laughed at her efforts which discomfited her. Seeing His mother’s discomfiture, Krishna allowed Himself to be tied. When she left Him, He dragged Himself, mortar and all, to the two trees which stood close by. Pulling the mortar between the trees, He uprooted them and released the curse on the two sons of Kubera who stood grateful before Him.
This story from Srimad Bhagavatam is the one that the poet-composer Papanasam Sivan refers to in my song choice of today, the charming Enna Tavam Seydanai set to raga Kapi. ‘What penances did you do Yashoda that the ultimate Brahman who is everywhere called you Mother?’ he asks. ‘What penances did you do that you could hold the One who created the fourteen worlds in your arms, loving Him, nursing Him, and rocking Him to sleep?’. We Hindus believe that good Karma is what gets us the privilege of a good life. But a life as the mother of God? Is it not beyond any good Karma that we can possibly do? ‘Making even Brahma and Indra envious, you tied Krishna to the mortar and made Him beg you to release Him’ he continues. For the full lyrics and translation, see footnote.
What exactly does this story indicate? It is true that the ultimate Brahman is beyond our grasp, our understanding even. This is symbolised by the rope being too short in our story above. And yet when Krishna sees the mother who loves Him struggle to contain Him, He contains Himself and allows her to grasp Him. And likewise does the Nirguna Brahman who is beyond description takes form as the Saguna Brahman for the sake of those who love Him, a form which even our limited understanding can grasp. Yashoda’s love tied Krishna to the stone mortar, our love ties God to the stone or metal idols which we worship.
Today I have chosen to present a couple of unusual performances. First listen to a light, non-classical approach by talented playback singer Karthik, sung in a leisurely style.
For an instrumental version, I have chosen a more traditional approach by a couple of untraditional musicians – the two young ladies Lavanya & Subbalakshmi on the saxophone. Their brisk delivery is an interesting contrast to Karthik’s easy paced one. Click here to listen.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Tamil
என்ன தவம் செய்தனை யசோதா
எங்கும் நிறை பரப்ரம்மம் அம்மா (வெ/)என்றழைக்க
ஈரேழு புவனங்கள் படைத்தவனை
கையில் ஏந்தி சீராட்டி பாலூட்டி தாலாட்ட, நீ
ப்ரம்மனும்(/பிரமனும்) இந்திரனும் மனதில் பொறாமை கொள்ள
உரலில் கட்டி வாய் பொத்தி கெஞ்சவைத்தாய், தாயே
சனக்காதியர் தவ யோகம் செய்து வருந்திச்
சாதித்ததை புனித மாதே எளிதில் பெற, நீ
enna tavam seydanai yashOdA
engum niRai parabrahmam ammA (v)endrazhaikka
IrEzu bhuvanangaL paDaittavanai
kaiyil Endi shIraTTi pAlUTTi tAlATTa nI
brahmanum (/biramanum) indranum manadil poRAmai koLLa
uralil kaTTi vAypotti kenjavaittAy tAyE
sanakAdiyar tavayOgam seydu varundi
sAdittadai punida mAtE eLidil peRa
What penances did you do Yashoda that
the ultimate Brahman who is everywhere called you Mother?
(What penances did you do that ) you could hold the One who created the fourteen worlds in your arms, loving Him, nursing Him, and rocking Him to sleep?
Making even Brahma and Indra envious, you tied Krishna to the mortar and made Him beg you (implied: to release Him)
(What penances did you do) O Holy Mother, that you achieved with ease what the Sanakadi* rishis achieved with great effort and yogic austerities?
*Sanakadi is the combined name for the four sons of Brahma, the rishis Sanak, Sanandana, Sanaatana and Sanatkumara, also knows as the Kumaras. To read about them, click here.
Footnote (Raga) :
The scales of Raga Kapi are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S R2 M1 P N3 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N2 D2 N2 P M1 G2 R2 S
This raga is most beautiful when rendered in slow or medium-slow speeds. It gives a sense of sadness and pathos as well as devotion. Some well known compositions in Kapi are Jagadodharana by Purandaradasa, Enna Tavam Seydanai by Papanasam Sivan, Meevalla Gunadosha and Inta Sowkhyama by Tyagaraja.
Kapi is a janya raga, derived from Kharaharapriya (below), 22nd on the Melakarta scale.
Tamil readers may enjoy this Isaipayanam episode on Raga Kapi by Charulata Mani.
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.