ardhanariReading Yves’s recent movie review had me thinking about Ardhanareeshwara. Is it not odd, I thought quite irreverently, that a culture, whose treatment of  gender-confused individuals may be considered quite inhumane, worships God in a half-male, half-female form?

I was, of course, being too literal. We must always remember that the Hindu Gods are representations of a concept and should be considered allegorical, even though we worship the representation rather than the concept.

The concept of divinity with both male and female aspects permeates throughout Hinduism. Take, for example, the Purusha-Prakriti (Consciousness-Matter) duality. Without going deep into the matter, the word Purusha itself means man and prakriti is seen as woman. The duality represents the experiencer and the experienced, the concept and the conceptualisation, the doer and the deed.

Have you ever wondered about our Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva trinity and the appropriateness of their consorts? Brahma, the creator, has as consort Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge and arts, the manifestation of creativity. Vishnu, he who sustains, is joined by Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, the means of sustenance. Shakti is the consort of Shiva the destroyer, the Goddess of energy and power, the means of destruction and recreation. So we have the Trinity as Creation-Creativity, Sustenance-Wealth & Prosperity, Destruction-Power. Have you noticed that in each pairing, it is again the mating of concept to manifestation?

Magnetic fieldsIn essence, Divinity, though neutral, polarises into a male-female form to become the doer and the deed but they remain two halves of a whole and will eventually merge into one. I like to visualise these male-female divinities as magnets, the two polarities intensely attractive to each other, one but yet separate, with those beautiful fields of attraction and magnetism surrounding them. And I see myself as a happy little iron filing, comfortably aligning myself to these lines of attraction. No doubt I am quite incomprehensible to those who haven’t played with magnets and iron filings (see pic above)!

Shiva’s form of Ardhanareeshwara is a visualisation of that idea, of the polarity between the male and female aspects of Divinity. There is a famous temple in Tirchengode  to this form of Shiva-Shakti. My song choice of today is composed by Muthuswami Dikshithar (1775-1835) in praise of Ardhanareeshawara  and is set to the raga Kumudakriya. The lyrics are just a simple invocation; the beauty of the composition to my mind is the excellent use of madhyamakala sahityam ie. lyrics set to double the basic tempo. In this composition, there is a speed change in all three sections, pallavi, anupallavi and charanam, giving an overall effect of power and energy, which by definition is Shakti. To know a bit more about the raga, click here.

To present this song, I have chosen a wonderful rendition by one of the most respected senior artists of today, T.N.Seshagopalan (born 1948).

There is more detailed rendition by TNS which you can download here, song 3 (free membership needed at Sangeethapriya)

And as we are on the subject of senior Maestros, here is a scintillating performance by the violinist M.S.Gopalakrishnan (born 1931).

Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language: Sanskrit

अर्ध नारीश्वरम् आराधयामि सततं
(मध्यम काल साहित्यं )
अत्रि बृगु वसिष्टादि मुनि बृन्द वन्दितं

अर्ध याम अलङ्कार विशेष प्रभावं
(मध्यम काल साहित्यं )
अर्ध नारीश्वरी प्रियकरं अभय करं शिवं

नागेन्द्र मणि भूषितं नन्दी तुरगारोहितं
श्री गुरुगुह पूजितं कुमुदक्रिया रागनुतं
(मध्यम काल साहित्यं )
आगमादि सन्नुतं अनन्त वेद घोषितं
अमरेशादि सेवितं आरक्त वर्ण शोभितं


ardha narIshwaram ArAdhayAmi satatam
(madhyama kala sAhityam)
atri bRgu vasishtAdi muni bRnda vanditam

ardha yAma alangkAra vishEsha prabhAvam
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
ardha nArIshvarI priyakaram abhaya karam shivam

nagEndra maNi bhUshitam nandI turagArohitam
sri guruguha pUjitam kumudakriyA rAganutam
(madhyama kAla sahityam)
AgamAdi sannutam ananta vEda ghOshitam
amarEshAdi sEvitam Arakta varNa shobhitam


I offer my prayers (ArAdhayami) to Lord Ardhanareeshvara all the time (satatam). He is extolled (vanditam) by many (a group of, assuming bRnda is another form of vRnda) sages such as Atri, BRgu, and Vasishta.

His decoration (alangkAra) for the puja at night (ardhayama literally is half-watch) is specially (vishesha) splendorous (prabhavam). He is beloved (priyakaram) of Ardhanareeshwari . He gets rid of our fears (abhaya=without fear, karam=does), he is Shiva (the auspicious, the benevolent).

He is adorned (bhUshitam) by the king of serpents (nagEndra) as ornament (maNi). [ Alternatively, he is adorned with the jewel Nagendramani ] He rides (verb Arohati)  Nandi as mount (turaga=horse or mount). He is worshipped (pUjita) by Guruguha (Subrahmanya, but here it is the signature of the composer), he is praised / worshipped (verb nuti) in raga kumudakriya. Well praised (sannuta) in the Agamas etc (Agama Adi), he is proclaimed (verb ghush) in all the vedas. He is worshipped (sevitam) by Gods such as Indra (amarEsh Adi=etc).  He is splendorous (shObhitam) with a reddish colour (Arakta varNa).



Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, M.S.Gopalakrishnan, Muthuswami Dikshithar, T.N.Seshagopalan

6 responses to “Ardhanareeshwaram

  1. Suja, I was as you can imagine very interested in this one, which I carefully read and reread, and I marvel at your masterful presentation of the Hindu faith. I was totally charmed by your description of the self as a little iron filing, cheerfully aligning itself along the magnetic divine lines! Now I have a question: you make it quite clear that all three divinities have a dual male-female polarity, but only Lord Shiva seems – on the surface of it – to be named in a special way for that dual nature, Ardhanareeshwara. Wouldn’t it be logical that the other two also had their special denomination? Does this exist in Hinduism? Thanks!

    • Thank you Yves. I did write this post especially with you in mind, so I am glad it made sense to you. To answer your question, though the three pairs exist, there is no form for the Brahma-Saraswati pair. As for Vishnu, he is ALWAYS represented with a mole on the right side of his chest which represents Lakshmi, so they are never separate. However, there is no special naming like we have for the Shiva-Shakti pair. A bit of a Hindu primer for you🙂
      Cheers. Suja

  2. Ramesh

    This is a superb post, bringing out a not easy concept in a simple and cogent manner. What a nice way to explore a song – I am sure you wanted to feature the song and wrote about the concept than the other way around. Very interesting.

    Incidentally why do some ragas not attract many compositions. This is quite a nice raga and not dry as some other obscure ragas are. One of my more favourite ragas – Nalinakanthi, also does not seem to have many compositions. Wonder why this is so.

    • Thank you Ramesh, I am glad it made sense. Yes, you are right🙂 My trigger is always the song, and I hope to bring out the pleasure I take in a song by all the associations I have with it. Sometimes the lyrics of the song themselves have a story to tell, at others it is some concept or the other which springs to mind. And with Ardhanareeshwaram, it is hard not to visualise the glorious Shiva-Shakti form and think of all that it means in a theological sense.

      You are asking a question that I have asked myself many times. The answer lies in the fact that some sets of notes are easier to create around than others. Why is that? I have read that sometimes it is the spacing of the notes of the raga – how well distributed they are over the scale. I have read at other times that the kritis written by the Trinity are like a blueprint of how a raga is to be sung; if they have not done much work on the raga, then the raga remains poorly defined and hence difficult to handle. I dont know the answer. I wish I had vocal training so that I could sing a raga out aloud and say ‘hey, that’s why – this bit is so awkward to do’ but sadly I dont sing.

    • Seshu

      Some ragas does not attract many compositions because of many reasons, but it mainly depends up on the composer some time feels that the mood of raga may not fit to the meaning of the song. In Carnatic compositions , some ragas are rarely used because they either will not have elaborate combinations of swaras to render freely in raga Alapana or even if they have , many combinations may resemble the pattern of some other close raga which shadows the mood of the main raga. Apart from these lot more reasons are there.

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