We humans are so vulnerable, are we not? Our bodies can be damaged, by accident or intent, and most certainly by time. Our minds get damaged every single day as violence abounds in the world around us. Knowing our own vulnerability, we use armour of different kinds to protect ourselves. There is armour for the body, be it a medieval steel body-suit, or the knee and elbow pads of skateboarders. The armour of the mind ranges from the ‘masks’ we put on to all kinds of behavioural changes in order to protect ourselves.
For those who believe in God, there is one armour which is above all else. We Hindus have special mantras, called kavacha (armour) which invoke the Gods to act as a shield for us. For myself, I use a visualisation technique in which I place myself in a cocoon of God’s power and inside, I feel invulnerable. Believers also wear talismans or amulets (காப்பு, தாயித்து, ताबीज/ताबीज़, कवच) to protect themselves. Do all these really work? I don’t know. Perhaps it is enough that we believe; perhaps the belief itself is our armour. And sometimes there are stories which make you pause..and think. Here is such a story.
It was a long time back, close to 40 years ago. In a little lane in North Calcutta there lived a kindly woman who was known for her generous alms-giving. Almost everyday somebody would knock at her door with a sad tale of want or perhaps just a silent plea and she would give whatever she could. She must also have been known in the Sadhu-Sanyasi grapevine for never turning away holy mendicants. Her children scolded her thinking that she was falling for cheats but she always did what she believed in.
One day when her son was playing cricket on the street, a sadhu-baba beckoned him and asked to meet his mother. When the boy took him home, his mother smilingly greeted the sadhu-baba and turned to get some alms for him. He stopped her saying ‘Ma, wait! I have something for you’.
Surprised she turned to him. Normally it was she who was the giver. Removing something from a knot in his garment, he put it in her hand. It was an amulet on a string.
‘This is for your son. Tie this around his neck. It will keep him safe, he is in danger’ . So saying he walked away without receiving any alms.
The lady had to force her rather disbelieving sixteen year old into wearing the amulet but he gave in to his mother’s pleading. A month later he fell under a bus and was in a coma for 3 months. The pelvic region was badly damaged and the doctors hardly expected him to live. Even if he lived, they told each other, he would never lead a normal life. For 4 months he lay in a hospital bed, struggling through operations and infections which ate away at his insides. But he fought. The next year he was at school and proceeded to live the normal life that all young men lead – studying, fooling around, getting into trouble and playing sports all day. Years later when his doctors saw him, they would still shake their heads in amazement. ‘It was a miracle’ they would say.
His mother always thought it was the talisman which protected him. And perhaps the young man did too. Because, you see, forty years have passed and my husband still wears that talisman around his neck. The blessing of a holy man and the prayers of a mother together had been an armour which even the bus which ran over him could not penetrate.
For those who don’t know esoteric mantras and are not blessed with visits by mysterious sadhu-babas, what is the way? You can pray to God, like Tyagaraja did, for the Lord to be his ‘companion, in front, back and on both sides’. To be surrounded by God on all sides is the ultimate armour, isn’t it? The rest of the song is in praise of the Lord. Set to the majestic raga Darbar, this invitation to Lord Rama to be one’s armour is a beautifully composed and deeply meditative piece of music. I am especially touched by the entreaty in the words ‘rA rA’ (come, come) repeated throughout the composition. If you would like to know more about the raga, click here.
Today I have chosen a wonderful musician whom I have not featured before. The great Maestro Voleti Venkateswarulu (1928-1989) sings this song with astonishing ease, great bhava and does great justice to this composition.
For an alternate link (needs free membership to Sangeethapriya), click here.
Strangely, I have hardly heard many instrumental renditions of this song. I wonder why? However, here is a good rendition by the magician on the flute, S.Sashank.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Telugu
As always, I note that I do not speak Telugu and I use various internet resources for the translation. I listened to multiple renditions of the song to verify the lyrics and the pronunciation. This time, I had the support of a kind reader, Srinivas Vuruputuri, who verified the trasliteration and translation for me; my grateful thanks.
मुन्दु वॆनुक इरु पक्कल तोडै
मुर खर हर रा रा
एन्दु कान नी अन्दमु वलॆ रघु-
नन्दन वेगमे रा रा
ओ गज रक्षक ओ राज कुमार
ओंकार सदन रा रा
भागवत प्रिय बाग (alternate: बागुग) ब्रोववय्य
त्यागराज नुत (alternate: त्यागराजार्चित ) रा रा
mundu vEnuka iru pakkala tODai
mura khara hara rA rA
endu kAna nI andamu vale raghu-
nandana vEgamE rA rA
O gaja rakshaka O rAja kumArA
OmkAra sadana rA rA
bhAgavata priya bAga (alternate: bAguga) brOvavayyA
tyAgarAja nuta (alternate: tyAgArchita) rA rA
Please come as my companion in front, in the back and at my two sides, O vanquisher of the Mura and Khara (note: these were two Rakshashas).
Nowhere is there someone as charming as you, O son of the Raghu dynasty.
O protector of the king of elephants, Oh Prince! You dwell in Omkara (the sound of Om), please come. O Lord who is dear to devotees, protect us well. O Lord worshipped by Tyagaraja, please come.
26 responses to “Mundu Venuka”
Beautifully narrated! Such a smooth flow of words.
Thank you Srinivas 🙂 You didn’t know him then I guess, he was at school. His friends from school are much to be appreciated for keeping up his spirits when he was abed..Surprised but happy to see you here on a non-Bollywood post 🙂
A very beautiful story Suja; I believe too that we have some protection, some help, material or not, which helps us in mysterious ways. And indeed I believe also that you can have an influence on that mysterious helper. It’s like having a appointed lawyer that, if you know him and can communicate with him, will normally look at you a little more than what his normal job as a protector would be. “To be surrounded by God on all sides is the ultimate armour”, you say: yes, even if one doesn’t always know what exactly are God’s plans concerning us!
Thank you Yves, happy to hear from you after a long time 🙂 True, the Catholic faith also recommends prayers to Saints and Angels for protection, doesn’t it? I think this is a multi-faith concept..
God be with you! Suja
Suja: I knew you had a blog, but this is the first time I read after seeing a post by Srinivas on our yahoo group. I really enjoyed reading it.
The Thyagaraja Kriti “Mundu (front) Venaka (behind)” asking Lord Rama
to protect him front and back (meaning on all sides) can be heard
at this link:
without registering. Your blog was a pleasure to read.
Thank you for visiting 🙂 Thanks for the link to KVN’s version of the song. Actually, I listen to many renditions by different artists and then select one or two which appeal to me the most. Today I was particularly taken by Voleti’s rendition which I think is quite beautiful. I already listened to another KVN rendition, I shall listen to your link soon.
Here in this Kriti, Tyagaraja pleads Lord Rama to save (brovavayya) him by praising different qualities of Rama. In pallavi, he describes about his VALOUR in kiilling rakshas, in anupallavi, he describes about his HANDSOMENESS, in charanam he praises for his KINDNESS in saving gaja, and in later part he describes about his PHILOSOPHICAL (omakara Sadana) and BHAKTHI (bhagavata priya) qualities. Further, here Tyagaraja urges LORD RAMA to come quickly (vegame rarara) and this clearly shows Tyagaraja’s intense desire to see him. Further, he addresses RAMA as ‘ra ra’, conveying us that he already feels too close to RAMA and treating HIM as his beloved.
Every word of Tyagaraja is magical and that is the power of BHAKTI.
Thank you for bringing another angle to the song for my readers. I am sure they will enjoy your viewpoint just as I did.
You are such a good story teller! I am toh maha impressed.
शुक्रिया अतुलजी 🙂 क्या बात है! आपके दोस्त की कहानी पड़ने के लिए आज तो कर्नाटक संगीत में कभी कदम न रखने वाले भी हमारे यहाँ पहुँच गये ! double शुक्रिया 🙂
What a beautifully narration. The explosion of comments is testimony to what a nice narration this is.
Not a favourite krithi for me, but I am immersed in this post of how beautifully you have narrated it. Maybe you should think about writing lyrics for music …..
Thank you Ramesh, you are very kind 🙂 Darbar is an acquired taste, I agree. One has to listen to it with a particular mood..But with this kriti, I am always beguiled by the variations the musicians bring to ‘ra ra’
I didn’t know this Kriti, Suja, but I’ll certainly remember it, thanks to the miraculous story that you led with to introduce the Kriti. Good writing. Reminded me of a couple of close calls in my life, but they were not nearly as dramatic as what your husband went through.
Thank you Ravi 🙂 My husband’s experience has this touch of unreality about it, when I talk of it, but his scars are real enough.. It sure has drama 🙂
Despite the touch of unreality, Suja, I am sure the accident, the hospital stay, etc. was quite real and painful.
In my case, some twenty years ago when I was in my mid 30s, I was cleaning leaves from the leaders and gutters above a green house that we inherited when we bought our house. I was sitting on the roof of the back extension of the house with one leg on the metal frame of the green house and reaching with a rake to remove the leaves. I had done that many times before. This time something happened and I slipped and went right through the green house, about a 12 feet or so drop. The glass panes on the green house shattered. The next thing I know I am standing inside the greenhouse, cat-like, on my own two feet. Glass was everywhere on the floor of the greenhouse. When I looked up jagged edges of glass that broke was still in the frame of the greenhouse. I felt my face and neck to see if I was cut and and if there was any blood. Nothing. I sneaked back inside the house and removed my winter coat and jeans. The jeans had a rip in the back. Then I saw that there was a small cut on the back of my leg that required only a small bandage. That was it.
I guess the Good Lord was–and I hope still is–my ‘companion, in front, back and on both sides’.
Oh wow, what a save! To get away so lightly for such an accident, God must surely have been watching out for you! I cannot quite help quoting this saying : भगवान जब देता है तो छप्पर फाड़ के देता है ! (when God gives, he breaks the roof to give 🙂 Apt, isn’t it? 🙂
“His mother always thought it was the talisman which protected him. And perhaps the young man did too. Because, you see, forty years have passed and my husband still wears that talisman around his neck. The blessing of a holy man and the prayers of a mother together had been an armour which even the bus which ran over him could not penetrate.”
Suja, you too are ‘blessed’, for you’ve brought home the Power-of-Prayer to your ‘followers’, by sharing the ‘happening & after’ which has been a part-of-your-life (am I right?), which you’ve woven so nicely as a ‘story’.
“Perhaps it is enough that we believe; perhaps the belief itself is our armour.”
I am glad to see that your ‘photo’ has replaced the earlier ‘line-sketch-of-you’. Yes, your eyes speak of sincerity, studiousness, steadfastness, straightforwardness, sparkling simplicity – all of which are reflected in what you write & share with us followers. Keep it up.
May Divines Bless you.
Thank you Raj for your nice comments 🙂 I do feel blessed because I too became part of the gift of life that my husband was given, haven’t I? So it is as much my life as his.
As to my photo, it has been one year since I last updated my ‘about’ page, I thought it was time to update it 🙂 Thank you, you are very kind to see such good qualities in me; I have always thought that what we see depends on our own eyes rather than the object seen, so the goodness must come from you!
Floored by the story. Wow. Talk about good karma.
Hello again Jay 🙂 It must have been great Karma that my husband was blessed with a mother who prayed and believed and her good Karma than a Sadhu came along to give her son his own blessing too. Sometimes tales from life are stranger than fiction…
” . . what we see depends on our own eyes rather than the object seen, . ”
‘Beauty is in the Beholder’s Eyes’!
Suja, I salute your Effective Communication Skills too. That is what – I think – has given you so many followers, all of who may or may not be drawn by only the ‘Music Clips & technical comments on them’.
Keep ‘communicating effectively’.
May Divines Bless you
Tyagaraja’s kritis are powerful and evocative. A native Tamil speaker, I also try to get the lyrics right. You do an amazing job double checking sources and going the extra step to give correct lyrics. I am not naming any names, but many go-to carnatic lyric sites, despite the best intentions of contributors are hopelessly flawed. Moreover the write-up with the sudden personal segue was a powerful leader. P.S. In front and besides me, perhaps Tyagaraja had in mind the common Rama sloka “agrata: prShTHata: caiva pArshvatascha mahabalou, Akarna poorna dhanvAnou rakshEtAm rAma LakshmaNau”. Voleti did a great job with the darbar.
I do try my best Ramesh, anything worth doing is worth doing right, or so I think. However I do not speak Telugu so I do depend on other sources. I do listen carefully to multiple renditions especially by native Telugu speakers so that i can be certain that the transliteration sounds right.
And yes of course, that must be it! I did not remember this sloka when I wrote the post but it is so very similar that it may well have been the inspiration! Thanks for pointing that out.
In Thiagaraja swamikal’s biography “Lines of Devotion” written by Sri A.V.S. Sharma there is a mention about this krithi.
When Swamigal visited Chennai, one Sri. Sundaresan Mudaliar gave him Rs.1000 to be donated to the Kovur temple. On his way to Kovur in his palanquin, robbers attacked the enterage. To protect his followers Swamigal decided to give the money to the robbers. But Sri Rama Rao, one of Swamigal’s pupil, reminded him that the money belonged to Lord of Kovur, Swamigal sang this krithi for protection from the robbers. Sri Rama and Lakshmana descended beside the palanquin.
The robbers , seeing the Lords, apologised to Swamigal. He praised them for having been blessed to have the dharshan of the Lords. He became sad that he was not blessed to have the dharshan.
One of my friends told me about this reference in the biography.
Thank you for the story. I have also read it from another source when I was writing this post. Stories like this add extra flavour to the bhakti bhava in this song, don’t they!