When a reader requested me to write on this song last week, it was easy for me to acquiesce. I have listened to and enjoyed Pibare Ramarasam for many years after all. I always prepare myself for writing a post by listening to multiple renditions of a song, both vocal and instrumental; I want the song to permeate my being, I want to absorb the words, the meaning, the sounds, the emotions and the moods invoked by a piece of music before being able to write of it. I also listened to a lot of Raga Ahir Bhairav in Hindustani Music and what a pleasure that was! To know more about this raga, click here.
Coming back to Pibare Ramarasam, I kept getting distracted by the mispronunciations of Sanskrit by almost all the vocalists. पिबरे (pibarE) pronounced as पिभरे (pibharE) is bad enough, but as बिबरे (bibarE)? I shudder!! Even the maestro who can normally be depended on to pronounce Sanskrit correctly slipped up; I distinctly heard पीठम् (pITam) instead of पीतम् (pItam) which changes the meaning totally. As this hobby horse of mine threatened to take over this post, I have put my rants in a separate page, the better to refer to it in future posts when my annoyance at mispronunciations takes over everything else! To read my rants, click here; I need an audience for my rants and raves too!! In the meanwhile, I beg vocalists and students to please please learn Sanskrit compositions in Devanagari script and learn to pronounce the words properly. Please.
It is indeed appropriate to stress on pronunciation in relation to this song; after all, the poet talks of the power of the name of Rama, the power of the sound itself. Sadasiva Brahmendra (17th-18th century) was an avadhoota, an ascetic who had renounced everything, and who has contributed some beautiful and mystical works to Carnatic Music. ‘Drink the essence of the name of Rama, O tongue’, the poet extolls, ‘for it will keep you far from sins and fulfill you with many rewards’. This is not a reminder for the mind, but a reminder for the tongue. This is an acknowledgement of the power of the sound energy in the name of Rama. Hinduism has always recognized the power of sound. I had written of this in a post last year, of Mantras and Bija Mantras and the power they carry. Sadasiva Brahmendra says that so too is the power of the name of Rama. ‘The poet then goes on to describe the rewards, such as ‘removal of the grief of the birth-death cycle’, ‘purify even the worst of sinners’ etc. For full lyrics and translation, see footnote.
This song used to be sung in Yamuna Kalyani but the great Maestro Balamuralikrishna has made his Ahir Bhairav version very popular. I have a great affection for this latter raga; the notes themselves seem to imbue the song with a deep mystical sense. There is no question about it, the Maestro’s version is the best, especially if you listen to the ones sung when his voice was at its peak. If you haven’t heard him, here is a link. But wanting to present an alternate version, I have selected a very pleasant and peaceful rendition by Unnikrishnan. Click here to listen.
For an instrumental version, there is this perfect little rendition by flute Maestro Shashank. Ahir Bhairav and the flute seem to have been made for each other!
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Note: Its common to sing only lines 1,3 and 5 but I have heard a complete version too.
पिबरे राम रसम् रसने पिबरे राम रसम्
दूरीकृत पातक संसर्गम् पूरित नानाविध फल वर्गम्
जनन मरण भय शोक विदूरम् सकल शास्त्र निगमागम सारम्
परिपालित सरसिज गर्भाण्डं परम पवित्री कृत पाषाण्डम्
शुद्ध परमहम्स आश्रम / आश्रित गीतं शुक शौनक कौशिक मुख पीतम्
pibarE rAma rasam rasanE pibarE rAmarasam
dUrIkrta pAtaka samsargam pUrita nAnAvidha phala vargam
janana maraNa bhaya shOka vidUram sakala shAstra nigamAgama sAram
paripAlita sarasija garbhANDam parama pavitrI krta pAshANDam
shuddha paramahamsa Ashrama gItam shuka shaunaka kaushika mukha pItam
Drink (verb piban) (implied: absorb) the essence (rasam) of the name of Rama, o tongue (rasana).
It will help you (implied) remove or be distant (doori krta) from association with sin(pAtaka) (or be distant from those who cause you to sin) and you will be fulfilled (poorita) with many kinds (nAnAvidha) and types (varga) of rewards/gains (phala).
It will help you be far removed (vidUram) from the grief (shOka) of the cycle of birth and death (janana–maraNa), it is the essence (sAram) of all (sakala) the religious treatises (shAstra), the Vedas (nigama) and sciences (Agama).
It protects (paripAlita) all creation. Brahma was born of a lotus (sarasija) from a golden egg (garbha anda, womb & egg) and then he created the whole universe. So this phrase implies that Rama nama protects the whole universe. It will purify (pavitrI) even the most (parama) impious or heretic (pAshANDam).
It is the pure (shuddha) song (gItam) that paramahamsa (signature of poet) has taken refuge in (Ashrama/Ashrita), it is the same which has been drunk (pItam) by sages like Shuka, Shaunaka and Kaushika.