How many of us have sold out on our principles for surviving or progressing at work? or in life? I admit having much to be shamed of in this respect. I am ashamed to remember not having demurred when colleagues at work have chosen an unacceptable short-cut. I am ashamed to remember being silent in social or family situations for fear of conflict. I am ashamed to remember bowing my head to people unworthy of being bowed to. I am ashamed, yes. Yet I view my behaviour as being ‘practical’. I suspect that I am not alone in either having such secret stories of shame or in defending such action as being pragmatic.
It is my song choice of today, Durmarga Chara by Tyagaraja (1767-1847), which has set me thinking about ideology and practice. Is it true that while we ordinary mortals cede to such practicalities of life, the great ones do not do so? Is that what sets them apart, I wonder? Today’s song does speak of devotion, but it is more to do with the poet than the God he worships, and as such rather an unusual piece of poetry for Carnatic Music. So it interests me, this rare glimpse into the uncompromising mind-set of Tyagaraja.
Tyagaraja refused to acknowledge any man as his Lord, reserving that title for God alone. It is said that in 1802 King Sarabhoji sent for Tyagaraja after hearing of his musical prowess. In those days musicians performed in court singing in praise of the King in return for royal gifts of gold and land. Tyagaraja refused the invitation saying that he was already singing in the court of his Lord Rama and would not sing for any mortal. Takes a bit of courage to stand up to a king like that!
Durmarga Chara is set to the very enjoyable raga Ranjani. ‘I cannot call those wicked people who tread the path of vice as my Lord’ says Tyagarja. He acknowledges only God as the provider of grain and wealth. ‘I cannot praise those vile people who barter their knowledge (for wealth) and offer it to degenerate men at court’. For lyrics and translation, see footnote. To know more about this raga, click here.
After listening to thirty odd renditions, I could not go past Maharajapuram Santhanam’s excellent one from 1981. As it is quite long, I have divided it into two sections, the alapanai and the kriti; those with limited time have the option to listen only to the latter.
For an instrumental one, I have chosen below an expert performance by M.S.Gopalakrishnan with his daughter Dr.M.Narmadha.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Telugu, transcribed below in Devanagari script.
दुर्मार्ग चराधमुलनु दॊर नीवन जालरा
धर्मात्मक धन धान्यमु दैवमु नीवै उण्डग
पलुकु बोटिनि सभलोन पतित मानवुल कोसगे
खलुल नॆच्चट पॊगडनि श्रीकर त्यागराज विनुत / वन्दित
durmArga charAdhamulanu dora nIvana jAlarA
dharmAtmaka dhana dhAnyamu daivamu nIvai uNDaga
paluku bOTini sabhalOna patita mAvanavula kOsagE
khalula nechchaTa pogaDani shrIkara tyAgarAja vinuta / vandita
I cannot call those wicked people who tread the path of vice as my Lord.
O embodiment of virtue! As you are the dispenser of wealth and food (I cannot call….)
I cannot praise those vile people who barter their knowledge (for wealth) and offer it to degenerate men at court. Tyagaraja praised you who are the provider of prosperity.