Shankari Shankuru

AkhilandeswariI am in Australia at the moment, enjoying the last traces of summer and the advent into autumn. On Sunday we set the clock back for daylight saving and I gratefully received the gift of an extra hour in the morning! The weather is perfect, neither warm nor cold but just right….Goldilocks would sure have been happy! This is such perfect weather for walking. I am a regular walker, doing a brisk 10 km everyday.  These two hours each day are precious to me as this is when I listen to music with the utmost concentration. However, for the last couple of months I have instead been listening to lectures on spiritual matters (upanyasam / hari katha). It has been educational though I find some ideas questionable and some simply appalling! But more about that some other time…

My interest in lectures has meant that I am a bit behind with catching up with the music available online. There is so much of it nowadays, don’t you think? Can anyone possibly keep up with it all? I am rather overwhelmed! My music listening experience has also changed because of this. There was a time when I had only a very limited number of tapes and then CDs. I listened to them so often that I would be pre-empting every note, every pause in my mind as I listened. Nowadays I am always listening to something new. Exciting but also a bit sad…I miss the familiarity and sense of homecoming I felt with my favourites.   As I was playing catch-up on YouTube last week, I came upon this excellent concert by Ranjani and Gayatri from which I have chosen a song to present to you today.

Shankari Shankuru is composed in Raga Saveri by Shyama Shastri. Like many songs of this genre, it is a simple prayer followed by many phrases to identify, describe and praise the Goddess. As we listen, the phrases invoke physical imagery  (e.g. slender-waisted Goddess). We are reminded of stories by some phrases (e.g. remembering how Manmatha became an enemy of Shiva) and are reassured of the grace of the Goddess by other phrases (e.g. she gives reward to her devotees).

Though I choose to concentrate on lyrics in this blog, renditions such as the one I have chosen are more about the raga and creativity than about the lyrics. In this piece by Ranjani and Gayatri, the total time of 31 minutes is composed of 26 minutes of improvisation and only 10 minutes of composed music. The improvisation is in the form of Raga Alapana (slow melodic improvisation without rhythm 0-13:50) by the vocalists and the violinist. Neraval (melodic improvisation of a single phrase from the song within a set rhythm 17:31-25:15 )  and Kalpana Swarams (melodic improvisation using the Indian solfege within a set rhythm)  to 30:27. So of a total of 31.28 minutes, more than 26 minutes is the creative component. The composed content is just over 5 minutes. So as much as I go on about words, meanings, inferences and associations, this music is more about creativity and setting the mood. Saveri is a raga which sounds like supplication, even if no word is uttered.  How beautiful are the phrases created by these two extraordinary sisters! I must especially mention the young violinist Vittal Rangan who demonstrates truly impressive skills!

And those who have fallen in love with Saveri and would like to listen to another excellent rendition, here is R.Vedavalli doing an exceptional job of it.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Shyama Shastri
Raga: Saveri
Language : Sanskrit
Note – only the third charanam is sung in concerts normally. Also though the long ‘I’ at the end of some words is shortened in songs, I have chosen to use the correct spelling in Sanskrit.

शङ्करी  शङ्कुरु  चन्द्रमुखी अखिलाण्डेश्वरी (श्री)
शाम्भवी सरसिज भव वन्दिते गौरी (अम्ब)

सङ्कट  हारिणी रिपु विदारिणी कल्याणी
सदा नत फल दायिके (alt: दायकी ) हर नायिके  (alt: नायकी) जगत् जननी

चरणम् 1
जम्बुपति विलासिनी जगदवनोल्लसिनी
कम्बु  कन्धरे भवानी कपाल धारिणी शूलिनी

चरणम् 2

अङ्गज  रिपु तोशिनी अखिल  भुवन पोशिनी
मङ्गल  प्रदे मृदानी मराल संनिभ गमनी

चरणम् 3

श्याम कृष्ण सोदरी श्यामळे शातोदरी
सामगान  लोले बाले सदार्ति भञ्जन  शीले


shankarI shankuru chandra mukhI akhilANDEshvarI
shAmbhavI sarasija bhava vanditE gauri amba

sankaTa hAriNI ripu vidAriNI kalyANI
sadA nata phala dAyikE hara nAyikE jagat jananI

charaNam 1
jambupati vilAsinI jagadavanOllAsinI
kambu kandharE bhavAnI kapAla dhAriNi shUlini

charaNam 2
angaja ripu tOshinI akhila bhuvana pOshinI
mangaLa pradE mRdAni marALa sannibha gamanI

charaNam 3
shyAma kRshNa sOdarI shyAmaLE shAtOdari
sAma gAna lOlE bAlE sadArti bhanjana shIlE


O Consort of Shankara/Shiva (shankarI)! Please create (kuru, literally do) tranquility (sham)! O Moon faced one (chandramukhI)! O Goddess (IshvarI) of the whole universe (akhilANDa) ! O ShambhavI (name of Parvati)! One worshipped (vanditE) by Brahma, the one born (bhava) in a lotus (sarasija)! O Mother (amba) Gauri (name of Parvati)!

One who removes/destroys (hAriNI) danger/crises (sangkaTa)! One who crushes (vidAriNI) enemies (ripu)! O Auspicious one (kalyANI)! One who gives (dAyikE) reward (phala) to those who always (sadA) bow to her (nata). O Consort (nayikE) of Shiva (hara)! O Mother (jananI) of the world (jagat)!

One who sports (vilAsinI) with Shiva (jambupati, from Jambukeshwara Temple of Tiruvanaikaval, where the Goddess is called Akhilandeshwari. This is one of the Pancha Bhoota Sthalams, representing water). One who takes joy (ullAsinI) in protecting (avana) the world (jagat)! One whose neck (kandhara) is like a conch (kambu)! O Bhavani (name of Parvati)! One who carries (dhAriNI) a skull (kapAla)! One who weilds a spear (shUlinI)!

One who pleases (tOshiNI) the enemy (ripu) of the God of Love (angaja)! One who nourishes (poshinI) the entire (akhila) world (bhuvana)! One who provides (pradE) good fortune/welfare/happiness (mangala)! O Consort of Shiva (mRda is a name of Shiva)! One who walks (gamanI) like (samnibha) a swan (marAla)!

O Sister (sOdarI) of the dark skinned Krishna (shyAma kRshNa) (also signature of the composer)! O Shyamala (name of Parvati)! One with a slender (shAta) belly/waist (udarI)! One who takes pleasure in (lOlE) the chanting (gAna) of Sama Veda! O Young one (bAlE)! One whose nature (shIla) is to always (sadA) dispel (bhanjana) grief (Arti)!


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, R.Vedavalli, Ranjani Gayatri, Shyama Shastri

21 responses to “Shankari Shankuru

  1. Padma Ramani

    Oh wow , I just enjoy reading your blogs and your comments on the song , the lyrics , the raaga make my next listening to the same song a very different beautiful experience … Thanks

    • Thank you Padma, this is the very thing I was hoping for when I started writing the blog! It gives me great pleasure to hear that your listening experience is enhanced by my posts, thank you!! Cheers. Suja

  2. Nikhil

    I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between the religious and musical aspects of Carnatic music; I wrote a bit about TM Krishna’s views on this, as well as some of my own thoughts. I’d appreciate if you took a look!

    • I read your post with interest Nikhil. I have some definite opinions on the matter..I will add a comment in your post when I get a few minutes to gather my thoughts.
      Cheers. Suja

  3. Wow, their voices just dance along the notes! And as always your descriptions and translations bring so much more to the music; I found myself really paying attention and trying to feel and understand the supplicatory nature of the ragam. And even in the ‘simple prayer with descriptive phrases’ format there is so much poetry if you can understand it, or have someone translate it for you! 🙂

    • Indeed their voice control is amazing! I translate for myself as much as for my readers as there are always words I need to look up in Sanskrit. And just like you I find it adds an extra dimension to the music when I understand every word. There are so many layers to Carnatic Music appreciation – the aesthetic appreciation of the raga, the technical understanding of the raga and the different aspects
      of the rendition, the meaning of the words, the understanding of the spiritual ideas behind the words – as we listen more and more, the layers are penetrated one by one and each level of understanding adds more and more to the appreciation of the music. I’m glad you have embarked upon this path 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

      • R S Prasad

        Thanks for yet another wonderful post Suja! Just tagging along with you, am adding a couple of thoughts here. Stretching beyond understanding and appreciation, we arrive at the point of internalization – the summum bonum of the composition is absorbed – and if that happens, it is truly an advaitic experience! (As Dikshitar exclaims in ecstasy “Gaaye, Geye..” in Maaye) The compositions of Holy Trinity and other great composers offer glimpses of such experiences to us. There are many examples: the downward glide at the point Sri Lalithe in Himadri Suthe (Kalyani), the pleading tone in Sri prefixing Akhilandeswari in this song (Shankari), (also the merry trotting pace at “Lole” in this song!), the deliberate lull at the point sowkhyamu in Kanu konu sokhyamu (Nayaki – Sri Thyagarajar- vintage Balamurali) … the list is endless… The point is this: it is only when the singer dives deep into these experiences, can the listeners be transported to of that sublime plane. Please check out R-G’s virutham preceeding Nan oru vilayattu bommaiya – Margazhi Maha Utsavam – Episode 12 – specially the “kodiyae” the verse from Abhirami Andadi, the improvisation on “Amme…”

        Here is the link…

        Also please check this out – this video triggered my random thoughts on internalization – the way Dandapani Desikar sings “Varugalamo” and “Kaanavendamo”…please don’t miss…

        Here are the links…

        This is the least i can do to show my sincere thanks and appreciation to the wonderful work you are doing. God Bless!

        R S Prasad

      • Thank you Prasad for your heartfelt comments and the links. I am of the opinion that there are songs from Nandanar Charitram which are pure genius!! I too love Varugalamo but my personal favourite is Ayye Methakadinam I cannot listen to it without tearing up!! In fact, I did mention Nandanar Charitram a long time back in Vazhi Maraithirukkude .

        It is very interesting that you comment upon internalisation..this is something which is such an important part of Carnatic Music appreciation and so very difficult to convey in a blog post! I totally agree with your comment ‘The point is this: it is only when the singer dives deep into these experiences, can the listeners be transported to of that sublime plane ‘. Just like you have listed your favourite phrases, I too have my own favourites in many many renderings. There is a Lalgudi recording which is amongst my one much loved phrase, there is a small pause..Once when I was listening with utmost concentration it occurred to me that if only I could delve deep into that pause, I could understand divinity in its entirety; I just wanted to sink into that pause, lose myself inside the infinity that was the pause. From a musical experience, it became a spiritual experience. There have been other such first experience of deep meditation happened over a piece of music. I never talk of these kinds of things because it is difficult to express in words, but I have a feeling that you too have felt the same.
        Happy listening! Cheers, Suja

      • R S Prasad


        After posting the links, I checked and saw that the first song plays from the playlist. If you can kindly go to the left top, click and scroll down you will be able to see the songs referred to. These videos triggered the thoughts on internalization because of the way Sri Dandapani Desikar had sung and acted – if you see his different facial expressions for “Kaanavendaamo” , the lighting up the eyes at the points “Vinn uyar gopuram”, “Chidambara Devanai” you will wonder whether it is Desikar or Nandanar… Varugalamo is even more poignant – i could not sleep for one whole night – stopping my rambling here, leaving you to enjoy the videos yourself.. God Bless!

  4. P.S. Goldilocks weather sounds wonderful! Here in Scotland it is a wet, wet spring so far. Enjoy Australia!

  5. Taking issue on the creative component versus the composed component. I am of the view (for which I am roundly criticised by the knowledgeable as “gnana soonyam” ! ) that the balance is way off. Yes, the creative component is an inherent feature of Carnatic music. But when they sing the RTP for an hour ( with the modern fancy of doing ragamalikas in the neraval and kalpana swarams) its too much. Take this composition you have featured – its such a rich composition as you have outlined and why not sing all the three charanams ?

    The Bangalore music season kicks off tomorrow. Looking forward to catching up with some live music.

    • You know how I love the lyrics Ramesh, so I am in sympathy with your point..but I cannot really agree with you because I love the creative elements very much too, especially a nice long RTP 🙂 In general, I don’t have a problem with the balance between the creative and composed part of concerts. Carnatic music I think is quite unique in how it has found the balance between the two. However, I get truly annoyed with musicians who belittle the lyrics..the musicians may enjoy the creativity as it is no doubt more challenging, but I feel sure the audience enjoys the familiarity and the devotion in the lyrics just as we do.

      I envy your access to live concerts..I hope you take joy from your opportunities!
      Cheers. Suja

      • R S Prasad

        Suja & Ramesh, i feel a bit tempted to add a few thoughts here…kindly bear with me… Let’s for a moment take up a line (tangentially speaking) like “kal rahe naa rahe (khil they yeh gul yahan) or “maanasa maine varu” or “kalainthidum kanavugal kanneer sindum ninaivugal” (vasantha kaal kolangal – tamil film song) or if Ramesh prefers a lovely Kannada line “madhura mouna ” (from naguva nayana) – even when we casually sing these lines, at some point we notice that unconsciously we drop the words and start humming – this innocuous humming (and dropping the words) has a deep message. From the words that convey the emotion in concrete fashion, we move to the musical space that conveys the emotion wordlessly in a more abstract manner. In fact the raw musical phrase (devoid of words) is richer and helps us embrace the emotion in its pristine/naked form. Great Musicians ( and not “singers”) try to reduce the gap between the musical and lexical phrase, often pushing us to enjoy the musical phrase and lose in it, though beginning with the emphasis on lexical phrase. Balamurali’s niraval in “nannu kanna talli” (Sundari Nee- Kalyani) first makes us examine the meaning/significance of the words/lyrics and then we get transported to that feeling of “Naa Janmamu nedu saphalammaye” (today the purpose of my janma is accomplished – to translate loosely) . The balance that Ramesh talks about is indeed significant-a wild exercise in creativity devoid of sensitivity to lyrics, meanings and therefore the “bhava” (emotive appeal) would end up as just vocal/mathematical gymnastics. That is RTPs such as “Parimala Ranga Pathe” , “Thillai Eeasanai Kaana enna puniyam seideno”, “Un darisanam kidaikumo Nataraja” etc., by yesteryear stalwarts rendered with sensitivity to the bhavam still haunt us. The listeners experienced a holistic symmetry, a joy akin to the one pilgrims experience after an arduous/adventurous padayatra/mountain climb. They say that Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar had only one defect: which is, after listening to him, you cannot listen to anybody! A master of “balance”, his 3 minute Thodi or his “jhalak” of Yadukula Kambhoji preceeding “yarendru raaghavanai ninaitheer” leave us with rich contentment. There are more examples from GNB (specially an awesome RTP in Thodi in 4 parts-circa 60’s- at one point he does tantalizing varja prayogams and stops them to move beyond leaving us awestruck at the exactness of the dose!), Madurai Mani and others. To me, the balance that Ramesh and you discuss seems to be this: a carefully nurtured sense of aesthetics and enlightened sensitivity that respects the lyrics/bhava/pristine emotion and takes off from there to soar above to explore, while remaining centered in the original mood/shades of emotion. Lalgudi’s sangati-s for Adamodi galathe is again a classic example for this. I fully agree with Ramesh that at least top ranking practising musicians should make it a point to offer all the 3 charanams. I remember Balamurali’s rendition of Sundari Nee, Sogasu jooda tarama, Swara raaga sudha rasa etc., with all the charanams. And the habit of referring to notes/laptops/tabs for lyrics should just stop.

      • Music is finally an individual experience isn’t it. Each of us adds our own experience, knowledge, taste and leanings to that which the musician renders to make a unique experience within ourselves. That is why subjects like – ie what is a good balance- do not have one right answer but a million answers, all correct 🙂

  6. srini

    Hi Suja –

    Wonderful music and a soothing Saveri. One of my favorite ragas that always calms you down. I like the way the sisters rendered the song. I love their rendition of Maravairi Ramani in Nasikabhusani. When you get a chance, please review the Nasikabushani and Vagadeeswari ragas.

    Muruga Muruga by Periyasamy Thooran is one of the most known Saveri Compsitions. This rendition by MS Amma is absolutely fabulous. Please listen at your leisure.



    • Hi Srini, Saveri is one of my favourite ragas too! Oh I haven’t heard their Nasikabhushani, I will do a search…I did feature Maravairi Ramani avery long time back, check out this post. And of course I have heard MS’s Muruga Muruga! A song like needs simply shines with the bhava she brings into it. I also like Muruga Muruga by Aruna Sairam in her CD Entaveduko…lots of emotion there too!


  7. In the US, the first link (the video of R&G, with the manodharma singing of Saveri I was looking forward to) is sadly defunct. So I could not check it out.
    Doesn’t shyama shastri have a way with lyrics? Here, in his famous Bhairavi swarajati, in his punnagavarali piece Kanakasaila viharini, and in his multitudinous pleas in rakti ragas,
    But R.Vedavalli provides uniform satisfaction!

    • The problem with Youtube sources is that they are often removed and I am left with bad links. I have have uploaded the RG rendition I had wafted on about and updated the post to reflect it. If you have the time, it is worth listening to.
      I am particularly fond of Shyama Shastri’s kritis. Though his output is far limited in comparison to Tyagaraja and Dikshithar, what he has created sounds amazing to me. I just LOVE the Bhairavi swarajati..
      Cheers. Suja

  8. Jay

    Is this song a tribute to goddess Mahalakshmi?

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