Ah! So this is the sacred site of Thillai! Alas, I did not really know it all these days! Like a madman I wandered wondering is it this? or is it that? He promised to show the way and beckoned me here. In Varanasi, I have heard everyone refer to it as Kailasa (the holy abode of Shiva) but (till now) I did not observe and really know it.
Even the names of some places carry power, don’t you think? You hear the name Kashi and think of Lord Shiva, of salvation, of Adi Shankaracharya being asked by a Chandala ‘Who are you asking to move aside, the body or the Aatman?’. When you think of Srirangam, you think immediately of the immensity of Sri Vishnu, of the banks of Kaveri, of ancient shlokas and hymns which reverberate to this day. Such is also the power of the name Thillai. The Nataraja Temple is the most celebrated of temples for the worshippers of Lord Shiva. How many wonderful songs have been dedicated to the dancing Lord here! But I never had the opportunity to see it until last week. I was on a temple tour and the last stop was at Chidambaram. If you would like to read of my travel experiences, click here.
‘Ah finally’ I said to myself as we stepped into the temple. It was crowded where people stood peering into the sanctum from outside. We paid for the archana and were allowed into the hall in front of the sanctum. It was difficult to see the deity as He is much decorated with garlands and jewels. We arrived just in time for the Abhishekam of the crystal Lingam. The priest showered the icon with sandalwood paste, with curd, with rice and with ash. As I saw this, I was taken back to a memory from my teen years. We, as a family, were visiting the shores of Ganges close to Delhi for a dip. I asked my grandmother doubtfully ‘Truly? Our sins are all washed away?’ . That night as we camped near the river, I had a lucid dream of being showered by holy ashes as I sat still in lotus position. The dream was startling in its clarity; I can still picture it today. I felt washed of all evil, born anew. I woke the next morning and my dip in the Ganges felt like a confirmation of my dream.
All these thoughts flashed through my eyes as I watched the abhishekam conclude with the ashes. My sixteen year old self did not have many sins to wash out; my fifty-four year old self is burdened heavily indeed. As the icon was showered with ashes, I felt my soul being showered by them as well. Tears flowed from my eyes as as I watched, feeling the magic that is Thillai ambalam (temple). And I sang to myself இது தானோ தில்லை ஸ்தலம்- Ah, so this is the sacred site of Thillai!
To listen to this wonderful song by Gopalakrishna Bharathi in Behag, I would very much like that you hear both the versions I present below. The first version is by Ranjani and Gayathri. It is reverential, with a sense of amazement almost. This is how I felt when I stepped into the temple.
The second version by Abhishek Raghuram is joyous, elated. It is a discovery, a wonder, a celebration. This is what I felt as I sat amongst the old stone pillars afterwards, thinking of my experience. The young man is in superb voice, I feel joyful every time I listen to this song!
Footnote (Lyrics) Language: Tamil
இது தானோ தில்லை ஸ்தலம்
இத்தனை நாளும் அறியேனே
அதுவோ இதுவோ என்று அலைந்திடும் பேயனை
கதி தருவேன் என்று கை காட்டி அழைத்திடும்
காசியினில் இதை கயிலை என்று எல்லோரும்
பேசக் கேட்டதே அன்றி பேணிப் பார்த்தறிந்திலேன் (alt: பார்த்தறிந்திடும் )
idu dAno tillai sthalam
ittanai nALum aRiyEnE
aduvo iduvo endru alaindiDum pEyanai
gati taruvEn endru kai kATTI azhaittiDum
kAsiyinil idai kayilai endru ellOrum
pesak keTTadE andri pENip pArttaRindilEn (alt: pArttaRindiDum)
Ah! So this is the sacred site of Thillai!
Alas, I did not really know it all these days!
Like a madman I wandered wondering is it this? or is it that?
He promised to show the way and beckoned me here.
In Varanasi, I have heard everyone refer to it as Kailasa (the holy abode of Shiva) but (till now) I did not observe and really know it.
Note: I am unsure how to translate the alternate version as the sentence feels incomplete.
The scales of Behag are as follows :
Arohanam (Ascending) : S G3 M1 P N3 D2 N3 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N3 D2 P M1 G3 M1 G3 R2 S
It is a Janya Raga, derived from Dhira Shankharabharanam, 29th on the Melakarta scale.
This raga is an import from Hindustani Music. Predominantly used for short thukkada pieces and light songs sung at the tail end of concerts, There a number of small compositions in this raga which I enjoy such as Muruganin Maru Peyar Azhagu by Guru Surajananda, Aadum Chidambaramo and Idu Dano Thillai Sthalam by Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Narayana Te Namo Namo by Annamacharya, Saramaina by Swati Thirunal. There is also a lovely Thillana by Lalgudi Jayaraman which I like very much.
For Tamil readers, this episode of Charulata Mani’s Isaipayanam is on this raga.
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.