Have you ever asked yourself ‘What if I am wrong in my beliefs? What if there is no God, no karma, no rebirth, nothing but nothingness when we are done here?‘. I don’t mean like a crisis of faith, but just those fleeting thoughts which linger, unanswered and unanswerable. The truth is, of course, we are all equally in the dark, the believers as well as the non-believers. Very often it is the non-believer’s arguments which seem more rational, more scientific. And even worse, the stories in the newspapers are of atrocities committed by believers, whatever genre their belief may be, rather than the non-believers. In this climate, it is hard not to eye the whole ‘belief’ thing with a certain wariness.
This struggle with belief is not new to Hinduism. You may already know of the Nasadiya Sukta नासदीय सूक्त (Hymn of Creation) of the Rigveda. The last two couplets are of particular interest, which I quote below.
को अद्धा वेद क इह प्र वोचत्कुत आजाता कुत इयं विसृष्टिः |
अर्वाग्देवा अस्य विसर्जनेनाथा को वेद यत आबभूव ॥६॥
इयं विसृष्टिर्यत आबभूव यदि वा दधे यदि वा न |
यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे व्योमन्त्सो अङ्ग वेद यदि वा न वेद ॥७॥
But, after all, who knows, and who can say
Whence it all came, and how creation happened?
the gods themselves are later than creation,
so who knows truly whence it has arisen?
Whence all creation had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows – or maybe even he does not know.
Rig Veda 10:129, Translation by A.L Basham (source)
It is so gloriously open-ended, isn’t it! These verses are about creation but there is something more fundamental, as if even the existence of the Gods and their power over creation is questioned. If even the Vedic seers had such questions in their minds, who will blame us if we do?
And yet there it is, my faith. Perhaps it is childhood indoctrination; in fact it almost certainly is that. However it has been such an old friend to me, has shaped my own character and the choices I have made in life so very much that it cannot be separated from me without causing grievous damage to all that I am. I very much identify with this quote by William Sloane Coffin Jr ‘I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings‘. It feels as if I leapt in my childhood, even before I knew I was leaping and over the course of my life my faith has grown wings. And like a kite it flies, tethered to anything rational by a mere thread.
But the questions remain.
And that is why I have chosen this beautiful composition by Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer today. ‘Whatever anyone says, fear not, O brave heart, keep singing about the compassion of the Lord‘ says he. Why did he write this song, I wonder. What did people say to him that he responded with ‘Even if this world says a thousand things we should keep it aside thinking ‘what is it to do with us?’. The words seem to speak to me when questions cloud my mind. Set to raga Manirangu, it has all the spirit and lyrical beauty of Venkata kavi’s compositions. It makes me smile because he encourages everyone to sing and even dance if they can!
Please listen first to Maharajapuram Santhanam’s rendition. It has been a while since I featured him, hasn’t it! I hope you enjoy his simply brilliant voice as much as I do.
And the second rendition that caught my fancy today is by Shobana Vignesh. Very nicely sung indeed!
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Composer : Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer
Raga : Manirangu
Language : Tamil
யாரென்ன சொன்னாலும் அஞ்சாத/அஞ்சாதே நெஞ்சமே
ஐயன் கருணையைப் பாடு – ராக
ஆலாபனமுடனும் பாடு – முடிந்தால்
அடவோடும் ஜதியோடும் ஆடு
அருமையென வந்தப் பிறவிகளோ பல
ஆயிரம் தந்தாலும் வருமோ ஆதலின்
நாரத நாதமும் வேதமும் நாண
நாணக் குழல் ஒன்று ஊதுவான்
நீரதக் கழல் ஆட கோபியரும் பாட
நேர் நேர் என சொல்லித் தானாடுவான் – அந்த
அய்யன் கருணையைப் பாடு
தோலை அரிந்து கனி தூர எறிந்து
வெறுந் தோலைத் துணிந்தொருவன் தந்தானல்லவோ
மேலைப் பிடி அவலை வேணுமென்றே தெரிந்து
விரும்பி ஒருவன் அன்று தந்தானல்லவோ
காலமெல்லாம் தவம் இருந்து கனிந்து கனி
கடித்து சுவைத்தொருவள் தந்தாளல்லவோ – இந்த
ஞாலமும் ஆயிரம் சொன்னாலும் நாம் அதை
நமக்கெதற்கு என்று தள்ளி நாமமும் ஆயிரம் சொல்லிச் சொல்லி
(அய்யன் கருணையைப் பாடு)
yArenna sonnAlum anjAdE (alt: anjAda) nenjamE
aiyan karuNaiyai pADu – rAga
AlApanamuDanum pADu – muDindAl
aDavODum jatiyODum ADu
arumaiyena vandap piRavigaLO pala
Ayiram tandAlum varumO Adalin
nArada nAdamum vEdamum nANa
nANak kuzhal onDRu ooduvan
nIradak kazhal ADa gOpiyarum pADa
nEr nEr ena sollit tAnADuvAn – anda
(aiyan karuNaiyai pADu…..)
tOlai arindu kani dUra eRindu
veRun tOlait tuNindoruvan tandAnallavo
mElaip piDi avalai vENumenDRE terindu
virumbi oruvan anDRu tandAnallavo
kAlamellam tavam irundu kanindu kani
kaDittu suvaittoruvaL tandALallavo – inda
ñAlamum Ayiram sonnalum nAm adai
namak kedarku enDRu taLLi nAmamum Ayiram sollich-cholli
(aiyan karuNaiyai pADu…..)
Whatever (enna) anyone (yAr) says (sonnAlum), fear not, O heart (anjAdE nenjamE) [Alternative – O brave heart (anjAda nenjamE) ], sing (pADu) about the compassion (karunaiyai) of the Lord (aiyyan). Sing (pADu) with (ODu) elaborations (Alapanai) of the Raga. If you can (muDindAl), also dance (ADu) with (ODu) proper gestures and steps (aDavu). Even if you are given (tandAlum) many (pala) thousands (Ayiram) of precious (arumai) lives (piravigal), will this one come again (implied by varumO=will it come)? Therefore (Adalin)…..
He will play (ooduvAn, literally blow) a (onDRu) flute (kuzhal) such that (implied) it would put the music (nAdam) of Narada and the Vedas to shame (nANa). (Note : there is a second nANa in front of kuzhal, I don’t understand why. Is there another meaning to it? Or is it for emphasis?). With his cloud-like (nIrada) anklets (kazhal) jingling (ADa, literally dancing), and the cowherdesses (gOpiyar) singing (pADa), asking (solli, literally saying) to be face to face (nEr nEr ena) He would dance (ADuvAn) himself (tAN) (I am a bit puzzled about the ‘nEr nEr ena’. Perhaps this is a reference to the episode where He duplicates Himself for each gopi and dances with each of them face to face?). Sing of his (His) compassion (pallavi line)
Didn’t (allavO) a man (oruvan), having cut (arindu) the peel (tOlai) and throwing away (dUra eRindu) the fruit (kani), presume to (tuNindu) give (tandAn) only (tani) the peel (tolai) to Him (implied)? [Note: This refers to the episode when Vidura, in the excitement of having Krishna close by, peels bananas and offers the peels to the Lord instead of the fruit. Krishna too consumes it. Vidura on realising what he had done is horrified but Krishna says he would accept anything offered with love.] Further (mElai), didn’t (allavO) a man (oruvan), knowing (terindu) that it was wished for (vENum enDRu), lovingly (virumbi, with liking) give (tandAn) a handful (piDi) of flattened rice (aval) to Him (implied)? [Note: This refers to the tale of Sudama]. Didn’t (allavO) a woman (oruvaL), having lived (irundu, literally been) lifelong (kAlamellam) in austerity, tenderly (kanindu) give (tandAL) a fruit (kani) after biting (kaDittu) and tasting (suvaittu) it? [Note: Refers to Shabari]. Even if this (inda) world (ñAlam) says (sonnAlum) a thousand things (Ayiram) we (nAm) should keep it aside (taLLi, literally push away) thinking ‘what is it to do with us?’ (nammakku edarkku enDru) and repeating (solli solli) His thousand (Ayiram) names (nAmam) sing (pADu) about the compassion (karunaiyai) of the Lord (aiyyan) (pallavi line).