A very happy Ganesh Chaturthi to all my readers! I hope that you have enjoyed the prasadam (offering) of sweet kozhakattais or modakas which please our elephant faced Lord! On a constant diet, I dare not make sweets. Instead I offer Lord Ganesha sweet music which I hope pleases him even more!
The form of Lord Ganesha is beloved to millions from India. There is something so appealing about it, don’t you think? Only sometimes do I let my mind wander to the symbolism behind it. One of the interpretations is shown in the image above, but there may be many more insights which can be derived by the iconography. Perhaps today, this day of celebration of our Lord, we should meditate on what the iconography means to us personally. For me, I would like to absorb the lesson of ‘Listen, think, then write’ message from the story of Vyasa’s dictation of the Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha, as represented by His large ears (listen), His large head (think) and the missing tusk (write).
To celebrate this day, I offer you a beautiful prayer song in the raga Gowla written by Mysore Vasudevachar. We Carnatic Music fans have our own raga related symbolisms and associations, don’t we? There are some ragas which immediately evoke the presence of certain Gods or Goddesses. Raga Natta, for example, makes me think immediately of Lord Ganesha for it has the same powerful, strident, confident quality that I find in Lord Ganesha. Natta is considered as auspicious to beginnings as He is. Similarly raga Gowla, our raga choice today, has the a steady and rooted quality to it, as well as a certain majesty and grandeur which echoes the qualities of Lord Ganesha. Gowla is particularly impressive in the Mandra Sthayi (the lower octave) and the lower half of the chosen octave (listen to Tyagaraja’s Dudukugala to appreciate this). This gives it a certain weight which reminds me of the heaviness of the form Lord Ganesha and his quality of being a foundation for everything.
To present this song, I have chosen artists whom I have not so far featured in my blog. For a vocal version, I present V.Shankaranarayan, an artist from Singapore, with a career in banking and still managing to admirably keep up with the demands of Carnatic Music. I do like his voice and energy, but may I humbly point out that pronunciation is important too? पणि is a thief or a miser, फणि is a serpent; these are not interchangeable words! And the word for son is sutam, not sudam.
For an instrumental version, I will go back many decades to Sheik Chinna Moulana (1924-1999), the legendary Nadaswaram player. What a control he has over the instrument! In my mind, this raga suits this instrument very well indeed – an auspicious sounding raga in an auspicious sounding instrument. To listen, click here.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Sanskrit
प्रणमाम्यहम् श्री गौरी सुतम्
फणि तल्प वासुदेव भक्तम् सततम्
गण नाथम् अमर बृन्द सेवितम्
फणि हार भूषितं मुनि वर वन्दितम्
धृत चारु मोदकम् गज मुखम्
सितकरामित (=सितकर + अमित) गर्व भञ्जकम्
नत लोक (alt: भूत) संतोष दायकम्
श्रित भक्त पालकम् सिद्धि विनायकम्
praNamAmyaham shrI gaurI sutam
phaNi talpa vAsudEva bhaktam satatam
gaNa nAtham amara brnda sEvitam
phaNi hAra bhUshitam muni vara vanditam
dhrta chAru mOdakam gaja mukham
sitakarAmita garva bhanjakam
nata lOka (alt: bhUta) santOsha dAyakam
shrita bhakta pAlakam siddhi vinAyakam
I constantly (satatam) salute (pranamAmyaham) the son (sutam) of Gauri, the devotee (bhaktam) of Vaasudeva who uses a snake (phaNi) as a couch (talpa).
Lord (nAtham) of the gang of attendants of Shiva (gaNa), served by a multitude (brnda, assuming it is a form of the word vrnda) immortals (amara), adorned (bhUshitam) by a snake (phaNi) as a garland (hAra), praised (vanditam) by the best (vara) of sages (muni).
Holding (dhrta) his beloved (chAru) sweet (mOdakam), elephant (gaja) faced (mukham), destroyer (bhanjitam) of the moon’s (sitakara) endless (amita) arrogance (garva), giver (dAyakam) of happiness (santOsha) to the world (lOka/bhUta) of those who bow to him (nata), protector (pAlakam) of those devotees (bhata) who worship him (shrita), remover of obstacles (vinayakam) so that we may attain fulfilment (siddhi).
The scales of Gowla are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S R1 M1 P N3 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N3 P M1 R1 G3 M1 R1 S
Gowla is a janya raga, derived from Mayamalavagowla (below), 15th on the Melakarta scale.
Gowla is one of the Ghana Raga Panchakam, a group of 5 ragas namely Natta, Gowla, Arabhi, Varali and Sri in which Tyagaraja composed his famous Pancharatna kritis. Subbarama Dikshithar describes these as particularly suitable for singing from the nabhi (navel). This is a raga with a certain majesty. Some well known compositions in this raga are Dudukugala by Tyagaraja, Tyagaraja Palayasumam by Dikshithar and Pranamamyaham by Mysore Vasudevachar.
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.