Reading 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?
In 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) :
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).