King Janaka of Mythila is worried. How is he to find a suitable groom for his beautiful and virtuous daughter? Many years ago he had found her in a furrow in the fields that he was ploughing in order to perform a yagna. He named her Sita (furrow). Now she was of age and his responsibility as a father was weighing heavily on him.
‘Ah, I’ll arrange a swayamvara (swayam = self, vara = groom) ceremony’ he decides. He will set a test so that noblemen can prove their mettle and Sita can make her own choice by garlanding her chosen husband.
What test to set? As he worries over it, he gets a brainwave! When Sita was but a child, she had playfully moved the box in which Rudra’s divine bow was kept. This bow had been presented to Janaka by Varuna. Normally it could not even be budged by grown men! And the child had pushed it in play! So he decides that only a man who could lift the bow and string it was worthy of Sita.
In the meanwhile, Dasharatha too is worrying about finding a suitable young girl for his eldest son, Rama. Just as he is lost in thought, Vishwamitra, the Brahma-Rishi (sage) comes to Dasharatha. After welcoming him with warm words, Dasharatha offers the sage whatever he wishes for. Vishwamitra promptly asks for his elder sons to come and fight against the Rakshashas (demons) who were troubling his ashram. Dasharatha is taken aback. His son was not even 16! Too young for war surely? But his word was given, his offer made so he sends his sons with Vishwamitra.
Thus Rama and Laxmana leave with Vishwamitra to his ashram in the forest. There they defeat and kill all the Rakshasas. On the way home, Vishwamitra takes a detour through Mythila.
In Mythila there is a party atmosphere! Many kings and noble families have already arrived for the Swayamvara. Sita, glowing in her bride’s clothes observes the proceedings. In the centre of the hall, Rudraa’s bow is on display. One by one the noble men attempt to string the bow. They cannot even lift it, let alone string it. Is poor Sita never to find a man worthy of her?
When Rama and Laxmana enter, everyone stares at these young men who are evidently noble. ‘But who are these handsome teenagers?’ they wonder. As the people stare in amazement, Rama lifts the bow with one hand and as he bends it with ease to string it, it breaks with a resounding noise! Ah, the one truly worthy of Sita has arrived!!
The news is sent out to Dasharatha, seeking permission for this wedding. He is delighted, for this is indeed a good match! He soon arrives with his retinue. And thus is set the stage for Rama and Sita’s wedding.
Can you imagine this wedding? Sita, gloriously beautiful as a bride and Rama, handsome beyond imagination, surrounded by royalty and noblemen, exchanging wedding-garlands to the sound of auspicious music, Janaka offering his daughter’s hand in panigraha (holding of hand), the circumambulation of the holy fire, the shower of flower petals on the young couple ….how beautiful it would that have been!
Like most Indian Puranas, there is vedantic and allegorical significance to the story. Sita represents Jeevatma (individual soul) and Rama is Paramaatma (ultimate soul=God). The wedding of Sita and Rama is the joyous amalgamation of the Jeevatma and Paramaatma, Yin and Yang, Lakshmi and Vishnu. Poets and saints have been enchanted by the vision created by the wedding of Rama and Sita. By singing and meditating on this vision, our individual jeevatmas are drawn to being one with the Paramaatma.
Today, I present you with one such kriti (composition). Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer, about whom I have talked in previous posts, has a special talent for descriptive verse. In Kalyana Rama, written in Sanskrit, he describes the beauty of Rama as a groom.
कल्याण रामा रघु राम रामा कनक मकुट मरकत मणि लोल
हार दशरथ बाल सीता (कल्याण …)
मल्लिकादि सुगन्धमय नव मालिकादि शोभित गलेन
उल्लास परिशीलन चामर उभय पार्श्वेन कुंडल खेलन
आगत सुरवर मुनिगण सज्जन अगणित जनगण घोषित
alternate: आगत सुरवर मुनिगण सन्नुत अगणित गुणगण शोभित
राम राघव राम रघुराम राम जनकजा रमण मनोहर, सीता (कल्याण …)
See footnote for lyrics in Tamil script with translation. The transliterated lyrics are available here. This is set to raga Hamsanaadam (sound of the swan).
To present this song, here is Aruna Sairam with her incomparable performance so very full of energy, emotion and devotion. She does pronounce some Sanskrit words as if she was reading from Tamil (all Sanskrit consonants don’t exist in Tamil). This for me is a constant issue with many Carnatic musicians. But in front of Aruna Sairam’s superb music talent, it matters little. Note on 28/12/2013: As the performance I had chosen originally has been removed from youtube, I give an alternate version below. Listen from 32:30. It does not have the kalpana swarams I liked so much in the version I had selected previously. For a better rendition, listen to her CD Uthukadu Vaibhavam.
Footnote 1: Lyrics in Tamil script and translation
கல்யாண ராமா ரகு ராம ராமா
கனக மகுட மரகத மணி லோல ஹார தசரத பால சீதா (கல்யாண)
மல்லிகாதி சுகந்த மய நவ மாலிகாதி சோபித கலேன
உல்லாச பரிசீலன சாமர உபய பார்ச்வேன குண்டல கேலன
ஆகத சுரவர முனிகண சஜ்ஜன அகணித ஜனகண கோஷித
ராகவா ரகு ராம ராம ஜனகஜா ரமண மனோஹர சீதா
Rama the groom, of the Raghu clan, with a golden crown, emerald garland swinging, the son of Dasharatha, Sita’s (Rama the groom)
Neck adorned with new garlands of fragrant flowers like jasmine, splendorous/joyful, fanned by fly-whisks on both sides, ear ornaments swinging (Rama the groom)
Innumerable gods, sages and virtuous people herald His arrival as Rama, of the Raghu dynasty, who is the attractive husband of (who pleases) the daughter of Janaka, Sita’s (Rama the groom)
Footnote 2: Raga
The scales of Raga Hamsanaadam are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S R2 M2 P N3 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N3 P M2 R2 S
(Originally this was sung with a D3, which is still acceptable)
It sets a romantic and joyous mood. The Hindustani equivalent is Malarani. For Tamil readers, this video by Charulata Mani is a good introduction to the raga :
This is a janya raga, derived from Neetimati (see below), 60th on the Melakarta scale.
The most famous composition in Hamsanaadam is Bantureeti Kolu by Tyagaraja. I also enjoy Pada Vendume by Dandapani Desikar.
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.