Shobhillu Sapta Svara

SaptasvaraHave you ever thought about how so many different cultures use music as a form of worship? We all know of the wonderful choral music traditions of the Christians, the chantings of the Buddhists, the kirtans of the Sikhs, the emotional outpourings of the Sufis and the many traditions of musical worship of the Hindus. Some are simply sacred music, like bhajans, their primary purpose being worship. Others, like Carnatic Music, have a deep thread of devotion running through them but retain an identity apart from their devotional roots. So yes, the use of music as a means of worship is common enough. But it is not very common to have music itself as the divinity being worshipped. That is the concept which I approach in my post today.

As a devotee of music, this concept pleases me greatly! To those of us who agree that divinity is omnipresent, this is no stretch of imagination. If divinity can be found everywhere, why not in music?  To those of us who search for that spiritual feeling in places of worship to allow us to connect with divinity, this makes it even easier. For music is there, real and accessible to most of us in one way or the other. We need not search for places of worship; we may worship the music right within us.

Sound as a divine principle comes to us Hindus from the Vedas. We all know the importance of AUM, I shall not venture there. The Vedas themselves are also called Shruti meaning ‘That which is heard‘,  emphasising both their divine origin and their oral tradition. Samaveda, in particular, ‘the Veda of Songs‘ includes notated music, perhaps the oldest surviving tunes of this world.  An interesting aside – the word vEd or knowledge comes from the Proto-Indo-Iranian word ‘weyd‘ meaning ‘to know, to see’.  The Latin videō meaning ‘to see, perceive, look comes from the same root word. So a sentence like ‘I have a video of the vedas‘ is etymologically quite amusing ! But I digress..

Coming back to the divinity of music, the Vedas refer to the divine nature of vAk वाक् or voice.  This divinity is said to be present in AUM. The Upanishads refer to Shabda-Brahman शब्दब्रह्मन् meaning The Cosmic Sound.  The word Nada-Brahman नादब्रह्मन् (nAda also means sound) is used instead of Shabda-Brahman in later treatises like Brihaddeshi by Matanga Muni (date unknown, speculated 6th-8th century CE). In this Nada is linked with various divinities.

न नादेन विना गीतं न नादेन विना स्वराः
न नादेन विना नृत्तं तस्मान् नादात्मकं जगत्
नादरुपः स्मृतो ब्रह्मा नाद रूपो जनार्दनः
नादरूपा पराशक्तिः नाद रूपो महेश्वरः

Without Nada, there is no music. Without Nada, there are no musical notes. Without Nada, there is no dance. Therefore the whole universe is composed of Nada. Brahma is known to be incarnate in Nada, as is Vishnu, Parashakti and Shiva.

In Sangeeta Makaranda by Narada (~11 century CE), there is an explanation of the passage of Nada through our body.

तम् नादम् सप्तधा कृत्वा तथा षड्जादिभिः स्वरैः
नाभी हृद् कण्ठ तालूषु नासादन्तोष्ठयोः क्रमात्
षड्जश्च .ऋषभ गान्धारौ मध्यमः पञ्चमस्तथा
धैवतश्च निशादश्च स्वराः सप्त प्रकीर्तिताः

that nAda, passing through the naval, heart, neck, tongue, nose, teeth, and lips, generates the seven svaras, shadjam, rishabham, gAndhAram, madhyamam, panchamam, dhaivatam and nishAdam.

-Article by P.P.Narayanaswami in Carnatica

There is a similar passage in Sangeetaratnakara by Saragadeva (13th century CE) in which the author links musical notes with Chakras (centres of spiritual centre within the body) and Nadis (subtle energy channels within the body), describing the passage of nAda through the body .

आत्मा विवक्षमाणोऽयम् मनः प्रेरयते , मनः |
देहस्थम् वह्निमाहन्ति स प्रेरयति मारुतम्  ||
ब्रह्मग्रन्थिस्थितः सोऽथ क्रमादूर्घ्वपथे चरन् |
नाभि हृत् कण्ठ मूर्धास्येष्वाविर्भावयति ध्वनिम् ||

Desirous of speech, the individuated being impels the mind, and the mind activates the battery of power stationed in the body, which in turns stimulates the vital force. The vital force stationed around the root of the navel, rising upwards gradually manifests nada in the navel, the heart, the throat, the cerebrum and the cavity of the mouth as it passes through them. 

from Sangita Ratnakara translation by R.K.Shringy

R.K.Shringy explains that ‘Nada is not merely an object of the sense of hearing. The concept of nada refers to the perception when subject and object are not differentiated‘. Normally when we name objects, we are naming the perception of that object in our consciousness. As such, the subject in our consciousness and the object outside have a relationship but are always apart. Nada on the other hand refers to the melding of the sound and its presence in our consciousness, when they become one. Nada is both the energy and its manifestation.

All this is but a lead up to my song choice of today. Tyagaraja has composed this masterpiece in homage to the divinity of music residing in the seven notes. He worships the divinities resident in the navel, heart, throat, tongue and nose, similar to the quotes from Sangeeta Makaranda and Sangeeta Ratnakara above. He refers to himself as the auspicious Tyagaraja; if for no other reason, surely the presence of the divinities within him makes this a just description! Set to the beautiful raga Jaganmohini (that which charms the universe), it is a favourite amongst Carnatic Music fans.

I have chosen this song today for a particular reason. When Dr.Balamuralikrishna passed away late last year, I was travelling and did not write a post in his honour. One of my readers wondered about it in a comment but it was not really forgetfulness on my part. You see, as I have mentioned in previous posts, my childhood home always rung out with Carnatic Music. Be it Semmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer, G.N.Balasubramaniam, M.D.Ramanathan, M.S.Subbulakshami, S.Balachandar, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Balamuralikrishna and myriad others, they were all voices of my childhood, familiar and very very dear. Over the years, one after the other, they have passed away. With each passing it seems that I wave goodbye to one more dear one, to my past, to my history. Dr. BMK was particularly dear to me because he was my mother’s favourite. I can never listen to him without remembering my mother’s pleasure in his voice. His passing adds one more goodbye in my life and deepens the sorrow of my own losses. Sigh! Shobhillu Sapta Svara is a song I associate with him and I selected it as a tribute to a man who was the ultimate Nadopasaka, a devoted worshipper of the Nadabrahman.

Alternate link : Click here and choose song 2 (free membership of Sangeethapriya required)

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Tyagaraja
Raga : Jaganmohini
Language : Telugu

(Note – I do not speak Telugu; the translation here is from various internet resources)

शोभिल्लु सप्त स्वर सुन्दरुल भजिम्पवे मनसा

नाभि हृत् कण्ठ रसन नासादुलयन्दु

धर ऋक् सामादुललो वर गायत्री हृदयमुन
सुर भूसुर मानसमुन शुभ त्यागराजुनियॆड


shobhillu sapta svara sundarula bhajimpavE manasA

nAbhI hRt kaNTHa rasana nAsAdulayandu

dhara Rk sAmAdulalO vara gAyatrI hRdayamuna
sura bhUsura mAnasamuna shubha tyAgarAjuniyeDa


Worship (bhajimpavE) the radiant (shObhillu) beautiful (sudurula) divinities (implied) of the seven (sapta) svara (notes), O mind (manasA)!

Worship the divinities glowing (implied) in (andu) navel (nAbhi), heart (hRt), throat (kaNTHa), tongue (rasana) and nose (nAsa) etc. (Adula).

Worship the divinities glowing in (implied) the sustaining (dhara) Vedas such as (implied) Rg, Sama etc. (Adulalo), in the heart (hRdayamuna) of the foremost (vara) gAyatrI mantra, in the minds (mAnasamuna) of the celestials (sura) and Brahmins (bhU-sura), and within (eDa) this auspicious (shubha) Tyagaraja (tyAgarAjuni) .


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, M.Balamuralikrishna

14 responses to “Shobhillu Sapta Svara

  1. Giri Kumar

    This is my favorite krithi. I was amazed by the composition when I learned it. The order mentioning नाभि हृत् कण्ठ रसन नासादुलयन्दु is also interesting and in comply with earlier texts as Tyagaraja obviously mastered them. Very divine pleasure filled tune by Tyagaraj.

  2. Padma Ramani

    Awesome Suja as always . Shobillu saptaswara is one of my favourite song too and have always thought Carnatic music is divine . But after reading your well researched blog , this song becomes a sacred song , sort of a prayer for Carnatic music .

    • Hi Padma, Indeed this is a prayer addressed to music itself! Actually, there are a number of krithis in which Tyagaraja alludes directly or indirectly to Nada-brahman. I’m sure over time I’ll be writing about them too. Its always a pleasure to write about popular songs which touch so many people’s hearts 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

  3. Eswar

    My father used to sing this. Learns it directly from a spool recording of BMK! who is his manaseega guru. . I feel gratitude for all my blessings on reading your piece and hearing the song.
    But your digressions are wonderful….please feel free to digress more!! 😀

    On the theme of worshipping nadam/ swaram- Nadaloludai Brahmanananda manasa?
    Also if not considered a sacrilege in these august pages- check the duelbandhi from His Highness Abdullah –
    this Lounge Fusion track by Ram Sampath from the film Let’s Talk

    skip to 5 min to hear an explanation of how the saptaswaras relate to the entire loop from creation to salvation. But do hear the entire song. its lovely.

    • Aren’t you lucky to have heard your father sing this Eswar! I strongly believe that music is an intensely personal experience. The truth is, no one can ever understand what exactly are the emotions and feelings which rush through us when we listen to a certain piece of music. Everything is personal – the ears which receive it may not hear all the frequencies in exactly the same manner – the brains which process it may be left oriented, right oriented or straddling both – the knowledge which is used to analyse is obviously different – the memories and emotions which we associate with the music is totally individual. So truly, one is in an island all by oneself when we experience music, even the most common of songs! When you are lucky enough to have associations with people you love, every time you listen to the music all that love comes bubbling up. What can be luckier?
      And as to the links, I have heard the song from His Highness Abdullah before and loved it..I listened twice more now. And its definitely not a sacrilege. I used to write often about filmi music as there is much to love and admire there. This song proves it, doesn’t it! The second one…now, I confess I loved the voice but I would have loved it best with no instrumentation at all! I am not one for all that noise…I know, I know, my senior years show 🙂 And the explanations, it sounded like the voice of Channulal Mishra, I wonder if it was him..he is such a joy to listen to!
      Cheers. Suja

  4. Ravi

    Suja, thank you for writing about Dr. Balamuralikrishna, It is apropos that you did it in an entry about “Shobillu.”

    I well understand what you meant when you wrote, “His passing adds one more goodbye in my life and deepens the sorrow of my own losses.”

    I think, however, that his loss is mitigated by the vast body of wonderful work and the many memories he left behind.

    I was fortunate enough to meet him when he was in New York a few years ago. I also remember the time he took to encourage youngsters, including my son, when he was in New York. Although Dr. BMK was nursing a cold, he sat through a “concert” that kids around 10 years of age put together for him. He patiently sat and smiled and even provided thalam. At the end, he met individually with each of them, gave them each a shawl, and said encouraging words to each of them (“you are a wonderful mridangist,” he told my son, making him smile ear to ear all the way home!). *And* he allowed the kids’ parents (me among them) to take as many photographs as we liked.

    I suspect that he was equally kind and generous with his time at other occasions. Although he is gone, he will be remembered by those he touched for years to come.

    I leave this video link ( that shows him enjoying himself as he performs. The interaction he has with those who accompanied him is priceless. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have the many times I watched it.

    Thank you.


    • Oh what a wonderful experience for your son, and you too of course! He was such an amazing artist that I confess I never even wondered about the man he was. His art took over everything for me. I am glad that the man in him was as great as the artist in him. Thank you for the link. I just finished listening to it. I especially loved the saveri, MSG is amazing too isn’t he!
      Cheers. Suja

  5. What a wonderfully researched posts. Bravo. This is vintage Suja.

    As all the other commenters have observed, you have featured a favourite song of virtually everybody and a very poignant tribute to Balamuralikrishna.

    I listened to this song when I was at Thiruvaiyaru last year. The place and the occasion of the aradhana lent an even more special meaning to the song. You missed expanding on the raga – its a beautiful raga.

    • Thank you Ramesh 🙂 Actually I got in too deep and struggled to make something coherent out of it all..

      One day I too shall go to the Aradhana. I may be a doddering old woman by the time I make it, but I sure will one day! The raga is an odd one for me..I associate it so strongly with this particular song that it seems to have no identity of its own in my mind but of course it does have its own identity. I have given myself homework to listen to the many RTPs which are in Sangeethapriya – don’t shudder, that’s the best way for me and the raga to communicate without the structure of a song 🙂 I thought I did a short writeup of the raga and linked it..I’ll check the post again.
      Cheers. Suja



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