Oh Venkatesa you are my sole refuge, please come to protect me. Lord Brahma and Lord Indra worship your feet. You are the saviour of your devotees afflicted with a multitude of sufferings. I heard the stories of your greatness and was eager to worship you. I saw the hills, the towers and the pavilions studded with gems. I have become your devotee.
Tirupati Sri Venkateshwara has been on my mind for a while. There is a quiet desire to go visit the temple once more. Yet this is one God who will never miss me; is the temple not one of the most visited sacred sites in the world? Why would He even notice one amongst the 10-12 million who visit each year? But yet…there is this call I feel.
In my childhood, Tirupati visits were an almost annual affair. My father held a lot of faith in the power of the Lord of the Seven Hills; He is the kula daivam of my birth family, the special God of our clan. My father would undertake sankalpams or special vows every now and again. He made vows to climb the hill on foot, all 3400 steps over 11 kms. He made vows of donation. He took vows to shave his hair. Once he took a vow for angapradakshinam or rolling bodily around the circumference of the temple. This is a physically demanding vow and I remember watching with both fascination and sympathy as he rolled in prayer, in wet clothes in the pre-dawn darkness. It induced terrible nausea but he went on; belief kept him strong.
In my own adult life I have been but a couple of times. It is odd to think that I might have been to Tirupati 20 times during the first 20 years of my life and only 2 or 3 times for the next 30+ years. My mother would say எல்லாம் கொடுத்து வெச்சிருக்கணம், one must have enough good karma to get even the opportunity to visit the temple. Have I run out of good karma then?
Yet the thought of long queues is so off-putting. The alternative, paying to get ahead in the queues, leaves me feeling guilty about my wealth. Should we not be all equal before God? Yet I have been softened by the very wealth that the good God has bestowed upon us. I am unable to withstand the discomforts of long waits under a hot sun. Is this physical discomfort part of what we offer up to God? This theme of physical discomfort as an offering to God has always made me uncomfortable. I could not watch the the kavadi carriers hook themselves to their loads, I could not watch the Muslim faithful lashing themselves at Muharram or the thought of Christian mortification of the flesh, even in film. I could not even watch with ease my father throwing up as he rolled around the temple, body bare to the rough stone below. Of course all this is much more extreme than standing in long queues under a hot sun, still the principle is the same. Does God want you to torture yourself in faith?
All my instincts shout NO! Is God not like a the kindest of parents, the dearest of friends, the love of your heart? How could He even bear to watch us hurt? But what about all the difficult sankalpams people take up, both in our faith and others? It is all so confusing!
So for the moment, not knowing when/how/if I shall make it to Tirupati again, I lose myself in the Raga that reminds me most of Sri Narayana. Hameer Kalyani is a lovely, gentle raga and Subbaraya Shastri has created a beautiful composition in his Venkata Shaila Vihara.
In honour of my father for the father’s day which just passed, I am featuring the great Maestro of yesteryears Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar whose music my father enjoyed and like whom he too proudly wore his thiruman and srichurnam all his life. The sound quality is not very good but the music is still good.
Alternate link here (song 10)
I very much like Malladi Brothers’ rendition here (wrongly labelled). Do listen.
Language : Telugu
I was aided in transliteration and translation by a native speaker. As I do not speak Telugu, I have transcribed it in Devanagari script below.
वेङ्कट शैल विहारा
नीवे गति ब्रोव रादा (श्री)
पङ्कज भव सुरपति नुत चरणा
किङ्कर संकुल संकट हरणा (श्री)
विन्टिनिने नी वरगुण कथलनु
वीनुलकेन्तो आनन्दमुग (alternate : युण्टिनि एपुडु सेविन्तुननि)
गण्टिनि गिरिनि गोपुरमुल मणिमय
मण्टपमुल(नु) ने बण्टुड नैति नी
venkaTa shaila vihArA
nIvE gati brOva rAdA (shrI)
pankaja bhava surapati nuta charanA
kinkara sankula sankaTa haraNA (shrI)
viNTininE nI varaguNa kathalanu
vInulakentO Anandamuga (alternate : yunTini epuDu sEvintunani)
gaNTini girini gOpuramula maNimaya
maNTapamula (/mulanu) nI baNTuDa naiti nI
Oh Venkatesa who dwells on the Venkata mountain, you are my sole refuge, please come to protect me.
The Lotus Born (Brahma) and the Lord of Devas (Indra) worship your feet. You are the saviour of your servants (should be read as devotee here) afflicted with multitude of sufferings.
I heard the stories of your greatness that are so pleasing to the ears (alternate: I heard the stories of your greatness and I was eager to worship you) I saw the hills, the gopuras (towers) and mantapas (pavilions) studded with gems. I have become your servant/devotee.
Footnote (Raga) :
The scales of Raga Hameer (or Hamir) Kalyani are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S P M2 P D2 N3 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N3 D2 P M2 M1 G3 P M1 R2 S
It is a Janya raga, derived from Mecha Kalyani which is 65th on the Melakarta Scale (see below).
This is an import from Hindustani Music but has become an integral part of Carnatic Music now. An elegant raga, it has a weave and flow built into it which, I think, makes it very pleasing indeed. It can be sung to show a sense of supplication; it can also convey a sense of gentleness and peace. There are some beautiful compisition in this raga, such as the Venkata Shaila by Subbaraya Shastri, Manamu Leda by Tyagaraja, Parimala Ranganatham by Muthuswami Dikshithar and Gangeya Vasana by Swathi Thirunal. But the first song I always remember is Thoomani Madathu, the Thiruppavai song set to Hameer Kalyani by the great Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.
Tamil speakers may enjoy this excellent episode on Hamir Kalyani 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) and prayogas (signature phrases) are a very important part of a raga.