I have been initiated into Shiva’s worship, I cannot forgo my virtue the least bit. I will not disobey my Guru’s command to take Shiva’s name, I will not join with a Sri Vaishnava. Do not come rushing into the monastery, do not open the door when I am worshipping Shiva. Do not fumble with my ceremonially purified saffron robes, do not keep silencing me.
Seduction, the act of causing someone to do something that they would not usually consider doing by being very attractive and difficult to refuse, from the Latin seducere.
Today, my topic is this rather unusual one for Carnatic Music. Though there are sub-genres like Javalis which have non-devotional themes, most of Carnatic Music is indeed devotional. Seduction has no part in it. Today, however, I have selected a song which uses the theme of seduction to convey a devotional message. And why not? After all, is this not one of the great common experiences of life? Who amongst us has not been seduced at least once in their life by someone or something? In today’s song, Ghanam Seenayya (~1704-1731) cleverly uses this common experience to bring home a rather cheeky point.
To present this song, I am featuring the brilliant dancer Priyadarshini Govind. In fact, this post is to honour her recent appointment as the director of the venerable institution Kalakshetra.
Interpreting the dance is superfluous because it is self-evident. Yet there are many cultural connotations (for example, worship in wet clothes) which may make it inaccessible to those unfamiliar with Indian culture or with Bharatanatyam. For this reason, I shall attempt to do a ‘walk through’ of the dance for you.
Our Nayika, the heroine, is a sanyasini, a monk who has taken deeksha or initiation in Shiva worship. Collecting her water pot, she goes for her ritual bath to the river where she will also collect water for her worship. Testing the water carefully with her feet, she takes a dip, wrings her hair and robes and returns with her now filled pot. As per tradition, she is now ‘cleansed’ for performing her rituals. With great devotion, she performs the abishekam (pouring of water) and then decorates her deity, a Shiva Linga (the dancer shows us the mudra ie. a gesture). When she starts her devotions, she is disturbed by someone who enters the monastery. Who is it? He is so attractive that she can hardly turn her eyes aside. Her hands shoo him away but her eyes…ah, her eyes tell another tale. She is as taken by him as he is with her. ‘I am initiated in Shiva worship’ she tells him, ‘I cannot join with a Sri Vaishnava’ (note the mudra of the Shankha & Chakra). She tries to convince him to leave, but is she convincing him or herself ? We catch a momentary glimpse of him as eyes twinkling, he nods suggestively at her. Her words do not work. First he grabs her hand, but when she pries herself loose, he grabs her clothes. There is pleasure in his touch, yet she denies him. She wraps herself once more in her saffron robes. How conflicted she is as she sends him away and closes the door on him! Both pain and determination flashes through her face. She tries to concentrate on her worship but she cannot, for though she has denied him, she is seduced. Seduction is, after all, a state of the mind and not that of the body.
Who is her seducer? None other than Lord Vishnu himself in the form of Mannaru Ranga, the preferred deity of Ghanam Seenayya. Cheekily, the poet has our Lord himself seduce the Nayika who is a Shiva worshipper. Historically there has always been a certain – shall we say competitiveness? – between the Vaishnavaites and Shaivaites. This surfaces in stories and myths, and in songs such as this one. Written in the early 18th century, the words of this padam are actually quite racy, especially the unsung charanams the translation of which I have read some time back. The song is set to Raga Kurinji, a raga I least associate with raciness of any sort!
How graceful is Priyadarshini! Each movement has meaning, each expression tells a story. There are so many small details she adds to make it all so interesting and convincing. The shift in her shoulder as she lifts a heavy water-pot, the adjustment of her clinging robes before she sits down- these may be small but they make the story real. And her expressions! Her wide-eyed shake of her head when first accosted (4:30), the first signs of attraction with a sidelong glace (4:38), a minute smile (4:54), her determination to be strong (5:05), a shake of denial to herself (5:15) – we are almost seduced along with her! When she momentarily plays Lord Vishnu (9:03), she transforms herself in front of our eyes. Look at her face when He grabs and pulls her clothes (09:30), such a mix of confusion, hesitation, shyness, pleasure..this is abhinaya at its best!
Footnote (Lyrics) :
I am sorry to say that I could not find a reliable source for the lyrics as yet. I am trying to source them and shall update this once I get the lyrics authenticated. The song has many charanams, I give below only what has been sung in the performance above. I am not a Telugu speaker and am grateful to my friends who have helped with the translation.
Language : Telugu
Transliteration in Devanagari
शिव दीक्षा परुरालनुरा ने शीलमिन्तैन विडुवजालनुरा
शिव शिव गुरुनाज्ञ मीरनुरा ने श्री वैष्णवुडण्टे चेरनुरा
वडिग वच्चि मठमु जोरवकुरा शिवार्चन वेळ तलुपु तेरुवकुरा
मडुगु कावि चेरगु दीयकुरा नन्नु माटिमाटिकि नोरु मुय्यकुरा
Transliteration in English
shiva dIkshA parurAlanurA nE shIlamintaina viDuvajAlanurA
shiva shiva gurunAjna mIranurA nE shrI vaishNavuDantE chEranurA
vaDiga vachchi maTHamu joravakurA shivArchana vELa talupu teravakurA
maDugu kAvi cheragu dIyakurA nannu mATimATiki nOru mUyyakurA
I have been initiated into Shiva’s worship, I cannot forgo my virtue the least bit. I will not disobey my Guru’s command to take Shiva’s name, I will not join with a Sri Vaishnava.
Do not come rushing into the monastery, do not open the door when I am worshipping Shiva. Do not fumble with my ceremonially purified saffron robes, do not keep silencing me.
Footnote (Raga) :
The scales of Kurinji are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S N3 S R2 G3 M1 P D2
Avarohanam (Descending) : D2 P M1 G3 R2 S N3 S
Kurinji is a janya raga, derived from Dheera Shankharabharanam (below), 29th on the Melakarta scale.
It is a Dhavaitantya Raga with only limited sancharams as the highest note that can be sung or played in this Raga is the Dhaivatam (D2). This raga is sung within a single octave, giving a very mellow effect. It is therefore very suitable for lullabies as well as for aarati songs. Some well known songs in this raga are Seeta Kalyanam Vaibhogame by Tyagaraja, Bruhi Mukundenti by Sadashiva Brahmendra, Muddugare Yashoda and Ksheerabdhi Kanyakakku by Annamacharya. Annamacharya’s songs were discovered only as lyrics; they have been set to music by other musicians.
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.