Ah readers what joy I take in announcing that I am now a grandmother! A little boy has come into our family, a boy whom I am already besotted with! He is less than 3 days old when I write this, a little scrap of a baby, all pink and wrinkled but oh so heartbreakingly beautiful! Birth is an everyday miracle that we take for granted, but it is so very awe-inspiring just the same!
Last week I went to the temple to pray for the safe delivery of my daughter. The Shiva Vishnu temple in Melbourne has always been dear to me, there is a certain something I find here which I don’t find always in other temples. As I parked my car and headed to the Vinayaka sannidhi outside the main temple, I talked to Him as I always do.
‘I come to you first, you who remove obstacles. Please can you take care of my child so that her child can be delivered safely?‘ I prayed.
Just as I exited the sannidhi, I saw a young woman with a small infant enter.
‘Such a good sign!!‘ I thought and waited to speak to her.
‘You are a very good omen for me‘ I told her smilingly, ‘I was praying for my daughter’s delivery just as you came by with your baby, it feels like such a good sign to me!‘.
She smiled back and gave me her little boy to hold for a few minutes. I gave her and her child my heartfelt aashirwadams and went into the main temple.
My heritage always draws me to Lord Narayana first and it is to his sannidhi I went first to perform an archana. Next I went to Goddess Lakshmi’s sannidhi beside that of Lord Narayana. I have prayed to Her for simply years, I totally believe that all well-being in our family comes from Her.
I closed my eyes, held my palms together and said ‘Lakshmi amma, I pray like this from sannidhi to sannidhi, not knowing whether my words bounce off ears of stone or reach your ears. I offer my prayers to you, believing I am heard though you give no response. But today I need a miracle, a little sign, for it is my daughter and I worry for her. You, yourself a mother, will understand how I feel. Please, a miracle for me‘.
How many others have begged like this with no response? Millions no doubt. But that day when I opened my eyes, a young girl stood beside me, heavily pregnant and ready to deliver very soon.
My eyes pooled and I said to myself ‘Yes, that is a sign, I have been heard‘.
But still, as I walked towards Lord Rama’s sannidhi, a little voice said ‘A lovely coincidence, but a coincidence.’. My faith is strong, yes, but I have no right to be heard when millions on earth suffer so very much and would dearly appreciate any help, however small. It’s selfish to demand God’s attention like this, isn’t it? But I am a mother, worried about my child and her child, so I went to Lord Rama and closed my eyes again.
‘Oh God, please please look after my daughter. I don’t know if that pregnant girl was a coincidence or a sign, but I hope you have heard nonetheless‘ I prayed silently.
When I opened my eyes, there was another very pregnant girl standing right next to me. ‘Oh I have been heard for sure‘ I thought, my eyes streaming. She said she was due in a few weeks. I told her of my experience and said that I was sure that God was listening to our prayers. That day as I circumambulated sannidhi after sannidhi, I felt the presence of God close enough to touch.
I sat afterwards for a long time in a very emotional state. Now looking back I wonder. Is this how we fool ourselves? Why would God listen to this useless person when millions far more deserving need His care? But somehow my heart was eased. I did not worry one little bit after that, not even when my daughter laboured on and on for 41 hours. She was in God’s care.
When my daughter said that she and her husband had decided that the little one would have an Indian first name and his father’s Polish last name, I quietly went through Vishnu sahasranama to offer her all the short one or two-syllable names I could find. But when she refused them all, I trolled the net for other baby names. None pleased her so I gave up. How does it matter what he is called? I told myself, ‘to me he will just be my kaNmaNi (a term of endearment equivalent to apple of my eye)’. Later my daughter said that they had found a name but were keeping it a secret till the baby was born. On Monday, when I met my little grandson Rohit, I was very pleased with their choice. But it was only later that I discovered that it is also a name of Vishnu from the sahasranama (verse 40) that I had somehow missed! His middle name is Kamil (a Polish name) and it does sound similar to Kamal, a lotus, which is associated with Goddess Lakshmi, so the name seems perfect to me!
For this post, I just had to feature this very obvious but precious song choice of ‘Kanne en Kanmaniye‘ by Papanasam Sivan. A beautiful lullaby in the oh so soothing raga Kurinji, I am sure I will play it for little Rohit in the years to come. The words are so very gentle and every word rings true to me. In Bombay Jayashri’s mellifluous voice, it sounds simply lovely. She starts the rendition with a viruttam from the Nalayira Divyaprabhandam, a lullaby for Lord Krishna.
மாணிக்கம் கட்டி வயிரம் இடை கட்டி
ஆணிப் பொன்னால் செய்த வண்ணச் சிறுத்தொட்டில்
பேணி உனக்குப் பிரமன் விடுதந்தான்
மாணிக் குறளனே தாலேலோ
வையம் அளந்தானே தாலேலோ
Lord Brahma ( Brahman) chose (pENi) and sent (viDutandAn) you (unakku) a small (siru) beautiful (vaNNa) cradle (toTTil) made of (seida) superior (ANi) gold (pon), strung (kaTTi) with rubies (mANikkam) and diamonds (vayiram) strung (katti) in between (iDai). O Lord who was born as Vamana (mAni kuRaLanE), sleep (tAlElo)! O Lord who measured (aLandAnE) the word (vaiyam), sleep (tAlElO)!
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Composer : Papanasam Sivan Raga : Kurinji Language : Tamil
கண்ணே என் கண்மணியே கண்ணனே கண்வளராய்
மண்ணுலகில் என் வாழ்வு வளம் பெற வந்துதித்த
குயிலிசை குழலோசை உன் கொஞ்சுமொழிக்கிணையாமோ
கொண்ட மன சஞ்சலங்கள் பஞ்சாய் பறந்திடுமே
kaNNE en kaNmaNiyE kaNNanE kaNvaLarAi
maNNulgil en vAzhvu vaLam pera vanduditta
kuyilisai kuzhalOsai un konju-mozhik-kiNaiyAmO
koNDa mana sanchalangaL panjAi parandiDumE
tEDAda en nidhiyE tigaTTAda teLLamudE
vADAda men malarE manattuL inikkum tanittEnE
Sleep (kaNvaLarAy), O precious one (kaNNE, literally eyes), the apple of my eyes (kaNmaNiyE), O Krishna (kaNNanE), the one who has come (vandu) to be born (uditta literally appear) on this earth (maNNulagil) so that my (en) life (vAzhvu) gets (pera) fullness/abundance (vaLam).
How can even the song (isai) of the cuckoo (kuyil) or the music (isai) of a flute (kuzhal) compare (iNai) with your (un) childish babble (konju mozhi)? All the troubles/sorrows (sanchalangaL) which occupy (koNDa) my mind (mana) will fly off (parandiDumE) like cotton (panjAi)! Sleep (tAlElO)!
O my (en) unearned (tEDada) treasure (nidiyE), O uncloying (tigaTTAda) clear honey (teLamudE), O Unfading (vADada) soft (men) flower (malarE), O unique (tani) honey (tEnE) which sweetens (inikkum) inside (uL) my mind (mana)! Sleep (tAlElO)!
She sits under a tree, lost in her own misery. For ten months she has been in captivity, surrounded by her enemies. Her captor has given her twelve months to give in to him and become his consort. He has threatened death, he has tried temptation but she remains aloof and dismissive. But internally she has started despairing. Will her Lord be able to rescue her in time ? Her despair leads her to thoughts of giving up her life. Our Lord’s envoy finds her thus. He approaches her cautiously, gaining her trust in small steps. He offers to take her back but she refuses; she will allow only her Lord to rescue her. The Lord’s envoy bids her goodbye, causes as much havoc as he can in the enemy camp and returns to his Lord to bring glad tidings. Our Lord too has been suffering without his lady. He is desperate for news. His envoy greets him joyfully ”My Lord! Yes, I have seen her! Yes, she is still alive and chaste!”.
This is such a pivotal moment in the story, isn’t it! We have all followed this story innumerable times, through the innocence of our hero’s childhood, through his adolescent victories, the obedience of young adulthood, a comparatively uneventful exile and finally through the despair of loss. Through all this time our hero has just been a man in the making, at least to my eyes. Oh, he was mature enough in age. Married at 16, he lived at home under his father’s rule for 12 years when he was sent into exile. he would have been 28 then. His lady was captured after 13 years in exile so at this stage of the story, our hero is close to 42 years in age. But he has not yet fulfilled the role for which he was born, as man or as God. It is after this point that he rouses himself from despair and takes the steps to become the glorious, victorious one that we all greet him as when we say ‘Jai Jai Ram’.
So, as I said before, this point of the story is pivotal. Ramayana is a story which has been told countless times, in countless forms. There is no saying if Valmiki’s was the original one; who knows what stories were there before? Perhaps there was always a Ramayana, whether told or untold. Still, Valmiki’s is the story we refer to as the original version. Let us see what he says about this moment of the story.
अङ्गदे ह्यननुप्राप्ते सुग्रीवो वानराधिपः।
उवाच शोकोपहतं रामं कमललोचनम्।।5.64.24।।
समाश्वसिहि भद्रं ते दृष्टा देवी न संशयः।
नागन्तुमिह शक्यं तैरतीते समये हि नः।।5.64.25।।
Seeing the grief stricken, lotus eyed Rama, the lord of the vanaras Sugriva said this before the arrival of Angada : Trust me, Rama. Be blessed. The vanaras have seen the divine lady. There is no doubt. It is not possible for them to come here after exceeding the time limit (in their search for Sita).
Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana watch the havoc created by the vanaras in Madhuvana from a distance. From the very celebratory behaviour of the vanaras, Sugriva guesses that they come with good news. So it is he who gives first intimation of the news by saying ‘the vanaras have seen the divine lady‘.
Valamiki gives further description of the approach of the vanaras and the exchange of greetings before coming to the salient point.
Having crossed the sea consisting of a hundred yojanas in quest of Vaidehi, I found her. On the southern shore of the ocean is situated the city of Lanka, ruled by the evil-minded Ravana. There, in the inner palace of Ravana, I saw your lovely wife Sita, with all her hopes pinned on you, giving up all other desires. I found her in the beautiful garden guarded by hideous ogresses threatening her again and again.
I have highlighted the phrase दृष्टा मया सीता as this is the closest to the title of our song today ‘Kanden Sitaiyai’. She is well but she is threatened. This will rouse our hero to immediate action.
Sita, who did not deserve and yet was full of grief was detained by Ravana in his inner palace, guarded by ogresses. She had a single braid (a sign of desolation), was pathetic, and totally absorbed in your thought. She was lying on bare ground with her limbs turned pale, like lotus in winter. She was averse to Ravana and was determined to commit suicide. She has only Rama in her mind. Somehow I found her.
Sita’s devotion to Rama and her determination to seek death rather than dishonour is the salient point here. Note how she is described as looking pale as a lotus in winter. When you come to the translation of our song, you will notice the same description there.
O Son of Dasaratha I will hold on to life for a month. Captured by the demons, I will not live for more than a month. With her limbs emaciated through austerities detained in Ravana’s inner palace, eyes wide open in fear, Sita said this to me.
Sita gives Rama a mere month to defeat Ravana and rescue her. I have read and heard Ramayana innumerable times but somehow missed this pertinent fact. So as Sita did not give up her life, I assume that less than 30 days passed between Hanuman bringing this news and Rama’s defeat of Ravana. Is that even possible? I have to do more research on that!
KAMBA RAMAYANAM , Sundara Kandam, 6028, 6031 and 6051
Hanuman having reached that place, without saluting the heroic Rama’s anklet clad feet, he saluted southwards towards where the Goddess, who, having abandoned the lotus flower and been born on this earth, was currently resident, by falling on earth, with his head and hands touching the earth and praised Sita lying there.
Kambar has Hanuman conveying the news in a more subtle manner. On gaining audience, Hanuman pays obeisance to Sita instead of saluting Rama and thus conveys the news of Sita’s well-being by gestures alone. Interestingly, Kambar stresses the divinity of Sita here by connecting her to Goddess Lakshmi.
கண்டனென், கற்பினுக்கு அணியை, கண்களால்,
தெண் திரை அலைகடல் இலங்கைத் தென் நகர்;
அண்டர் நாயக !இனி, துறத்தி, ஐயமும்
பண்டு உள துயரும்’என்று, அனுமன் பன்னுவான்
Hanuman looked at Rama and said ‘O Lord of Devas, in Lanka, a city in the South which is surrounded by clear, curling tides, I saw with my own eyes your Lady who is like an ornament to chastity. Therefore forget all the doubt (of whether she is chaste or not) and the sorrow thereof’. He continued to tell in more detail.
I included this verse because it is closest to the words ‘Kanden Sitaiyai’ . Kambar’s description of Sita is very evocative and poetic.
இங்கு உளதன்மை எல்லாம் இயைபுளி இயையக் கேட்டாள்; அங்கு உள தன்மைஎல்லாம் அடியனேற்கு அறியச் சொன்னாள்; “திங்கள் ஒன்றுஇருப்பென் இன்னே; திரு உளம் தீர்ந்தபின்னை, மங்குவென்உயிரோடு” என்று, உன் மலரடி சென்னி வைத்தாள்.
After hearing of all that occurred here, she told me of everything that had happened there in detail. ‘I will remain alive for only one more month’ she said. ‘If my Lord does not want to save me within that time, I will kill myself’ . She gestured as if she was saluting your divine feet.
Kambar’s Sita, like Valmiki’s Sita, gives her Lord only a month’s time to rescue her. Interesting is the wording here ‘If my Lord does not want to save mewithin that time’. Is there a doubt that he would want to save her or not? A hint of a future doubt over her chastity?
Ramacharitamanas, Sundara Kanda 5-29 and 5-30
Reference : http://www.ramcharitmanas.org
I could not find the equivalent of the words ‘Kanden Sitaiyai’ in Ramacharitmanas. It is Jambavan who speaks first to the Lord.
प्रभु कीं कृपा भयउ सबु काजू। जन्म हमार सुफल भा आजू॥2॥
नाथ पवनसुत कीन्हि जो करनी। सहसहुँ मुख न जाइ सो बरनी॥
पवनतनय के चरित सुहाए। जामवंत रघुपतिहि सुनाए॥3॥
सुनत कृपानिधि मन अति भाए। पुनि हनुमान हरषि हियँ लाए॥
कहहु तात केहि भाँति जानकी। रहति करति रच्छा स्वप्रान की॥4॥
‘Everything has turned out well by the grace of my Lord; it is only today that our birth has been consummated. The achievement of Hanuman (the son of the wind-god) cannot be described even with a thousand tongues’. Jambavan then related to the Lord of the Raghus the charming exploits of Hanuman. The All-merciful felt much delighted at heart to hear them and in His joy He clasped Hanuman once more to His bosom. ‘Tell me, dear Hanuman, how does Janaka’s daughter pass her days and sustain her life?’
This version of the meeting came across to me as more intimate somehow. Unlike the other two versions, there is no comment about Sita’s chastity. I will quote only one more verse for a comparison, a verse which gives Sita’s message to Rama.
मन क्रम बचन चरन अनुरागी। केहिं अपराध नाथ हौं त्यागी॥2॥
अवगुन एक मोर मैं माना। बिछुरत प्रान न कीन्ह पयाना॥
I am devoted to Your feet in thought, word and deed; yet for what offence, my lord, have You forsaken me? I do admit one fault of mine, that my life did not depart the moment I was separated from You.
Sita feels abandoned but she neither sets a deadline nor threatens suicide.
How many versions there are of the story! Is it really just one story? Prof. Ramanujan calls the various instances of the Ramayana story as ‘tellings’. In his essay titled 300 Ramayanas he says ‘Some shadow of a relational structure claims the name of Ramayana for all these tellings, but on a closer look one is not necessarily all that like another‘. I urge you to read this essay when you have some time; it is very interesting indeed.
Finally I come to the song I have chosen to present today (you may well sigh in relief !). The song is from Arunachala Kavi’s (1711-1779) Rama Natakam, his own telling of Ramayana. The song is a narration by Hanuman to Lord Rama; it is both beautiful and poignant. I have heard it sung in Bageshri and Vasanta but I believe it is also sung in Behag and Mukhari. I understand the tuning in Vasanta was by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar but I don’t know about the other versions. If you have links to a version in Behag or Mukhari, please can you add a link in the comments? Also, I have heard only the first two charanams sung, if you know of a rendition which includes all three charanams, I will be grateful.
Let us first listen to Sikkil Gurucharan in Vasanta. He sings only the first charanam. Vasanta is so cheerful, isn’t it! The jubilation in the words is nicely matched by the raga.
Next, here is a rendition by Bombay Jayashri. She sings only the second charanam. I love Bageshri and the song sounds quite beautiful to me.
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Poetry : Arunachala Kavi Music : Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar (maybe) in Vasanta, others unknown to author Raga : Varies. Presented here are Vasanta and Bageshri Language : Tamil Note – you may note that the lyrics don’t match exactly with the renditions above. I have done my best to provide what I think is most accurate for the purpose of music appreciation. If you are a student, please refer to your guru.
காவி விழிகளில் உன் உருவெளி மின்னக்
கனி வாய் தனிலே உன் திரு நாமமே பன்ன
ஆவித்துணையைப் பிரிந்த மட அன்னம்
ஆனாள் நான் சொல்லுவதென்ன
பூவைத் திரிசடை நித்தம் நித்தம் சொன்ன
பக்தி வழியே தன் புத்தி நிலை மன்னப்-
பாவி அரக்கியர் காவல் சிறை துன்னப்-
பஞ்சு படிந்த பழம் -சித்திரம் என்ன
பனிக்கால வாரிஜம் போல் நிறங் கூசிப்
பகல் ஒரு யுகமாக கழித்தாளே பிரயாசி
நினைத்தங்கே ராவணன் அந்நாள் வரச் சீச்சி
நில்லடா (older version: சண்டாளா) என்று ஏசி
தனித்துத்-தன் உயிர்தனைத் -தான் விட மகராசி
சாடும் பொழுது காணும் சமயம் இதுவே வாசி
இனித் -தாமதம் செய்யல் ஆகாதென்றிடர் வீசி
ராமா ராமா ராமா என்றெதிர் பேசி
அடல் சேரும் வாலியை வானுலகிலே கூட்டி
அவனியை சுக்ரீவன் ஆள முடி சூட்டி
உடனே நீ தூது போ என்ற சொல் அமுதூட்டி
விட வந்த அனுமன்தன் நான் என்று சீராட்டி
விவரம் சொல்ல உயிர் கொண்டிருக்கிறாள் சீமாட்டி
திடமா லக்ஷ்மணன் செய்த பர்ணசாலை வீட்டில்
தேவாதி தேவா உன் திரு ஆழிதனைக்-காட்டி
kAvi vizhigaLil un uruveLi minnak
kanivAy danilE un tiru nAmamE panna
AvittuNaiyaip-pirinda maDa annam
AnAL nAn solluvadenna
pUvait-tirishaDai nittam nittam sonna
bhakti vazhiyE tan buddhi nilai mannap-
pAvi arakkiyar kAval siRai tunnap-
panju paDinda pazham-chittiram enna
panikkAla vArijam pOl nirang-kUsip-
pagal oru yugamAgak-kazhittALE prayAsi
ninaittangE rAvaNan annAL varach-chIchchi
nillaDA enDRU Esi
tanittut-tan uyirt-tanait-tAn viDa magarAsi
sADum pozhudu kANum samayam iduvE vAsi
init-tAmadam seyyal AgAdenRiDar vIsi
rAma rAma rAma enRedir pEsi
aDal sErum vAliyai vAnulagilE kUTTi
avaniyai sugrIvan ALa muDi sUTTi
uDanE nI tUdu pO enDRa sol amudUTTi
un ezhil pArATTi
viDa vanda anumantan nAn enDRu sIrATTi
vivaram solla uyir koNDirukkiRAL sImATTi
diDamA lakshmaNan seyda parNasAlai vITTil
dEvAdi dEvA un tiru Azhitanaik-kATTi
pallavi I have seen (kanDEn) Sita (sItaiyai), O Raghava!
anupallavi In the city (purattilE) of Lanka, a city not seen (kANAda) even by the Gods (anDarum) (implied meaning: A city more beautiful than the celestial cities), I saw Sita (the words of the pallavi), the mother (mAtAvai) who came (vanda) to give (tara) Brahma (aravinda vEda) . [*Note: I am very dissatisfied with the translation of the second line. I trolled the net to see what others think, but did not find anything convincing. Brahma is the son of Vishnu but only indirectly of Lakshmi. I would prefer to read it as ‘Lakshmi who sits (implied) on a lotus. After all Lakshmi is also known as Vedavalli, so could vEdA be a short version of that? If so, what has she come to give? Can it be read as something else? Your opinions are welcome!]
charaNam 1 With your (un) reflection (uruveLi) shining (minna) in her (implied) reddened (kAvi) eyes (vizhigaLil) (ie eyes reddened by tears), uttering (panna) only (-mE after nAmam) your (un) sacred (tiru) name (nAmam), she has become (AnAL) like (implied) a pen (female swan) (maDa annam) separated (pirinda) from her soul (Avi) companion (tuNaiyai), what (enna) shall I (nAn) say (solluvadu)! Keeping her state of mind (buddhi nilai) firmly constant (manna) by following (implied) the way (vazhiyE) of devotion (bhakti) as advised (sonna-told) daily (nittam nittam) by the lady (pUvai) Trijata (tirishaDai), while the sinful (pAvi) demonesses (arakkiyar) crowd close (tunna) guarding (kAval) her prison (siRai). She is like (enna) an old (pazham) painting (chittiram) which has become valueless (panju paTTa).
charaNam 2 Withdrawn (kUsi) with her colour (niram) pale (implied) like a lotus (vArijam) in winter (pani kAlam), the distressed lady (prayAsi) passed (kazhittaLE) each day (pagal) as if it was an eon (yugamAga). That day (annAL) when Ravana came (vara) there (angE) purposefully (ninaittu) , she (implied) reproached (Esi) him saying (eNDRu=thus) ‘chIchi’ (exclamation of disgust) Stop (nillaDa)!’. Alone and helpless (tanittu), the blessed woman (magarAsi) decided to (implied) give up (viDa) her own (tan) life (uyir tanai) herself (tAn). Seeing (kANum) the moment (pozhudu) of the decision (implied) of killing herself (sADum) and divining (vAsi) that this was (iduvE) the time (samayam), that (enDRu) delaying (tAmadam) further (ini) won’t do (seyyal AgAdu) , I interrupted (edir pEsi) by scattering (vIsI) the words (implied) ‘Rama Rama Rama’ .
Gathering (kUTTi) the murderous (aDal = murder, but why sErum? !) Vali (vAliyai) into the celestial world (vAnulagam) and crowning (muDi sUtti) Sugriva to rule (Ala) the world (avaniyai), he said (implied) ‘Go as my ambassador (tUdu pO)’, feeding (Utti) words (sol) of nectar (amudu) to me (implied). Praising (pArATTi and sIrATTi) your (un) grace (ezhil), I said (enDRu-thus, here indicates what is said), ‘ I (nAn) am Hanuman (anumantan), having come (vanda) to rescue you (viDa)’ . O Lord of Lords (dEvAdi dEva)! In the leafy hut/hermitage (paRNasAlai vITTil) built (seyda) by Lakshmana, [Note: In Kamba Ramayanam, Sita is captured along with their hut, thus protecting her chastity even further by her never having been touched by Ravana], as I explained (solla) the details (vivaram) and showed [kATTi] your (un) sacred (tiru) signet ring (Azhitanai), the lady (sImATTi) resolutely (diDamA) retains life (uyir koNDirukkiRAL) (ie. he has successfully stopped her from giving up her life).
According to the great poets and songwriters of India, Gods are indeed beautiful. We even come across hymns and prayers from ancient times which describe the beauty of the Gods in extravagant terms.
But why do Gods need to be beautiful? This bothers me somewhat, especially in the climate of today where there is an obsession over beauty. I would like to think of Gods as being compassionate, loving, just, generous and forgiving. In comparison, beauty seems to be such an inessential quality! Surely this focus on beauty is worth questioning?
I guess we humans have always been drawn to beauty. We like to decorate ourselves with cosmetics, jewellery and garments in order to make ourselves more beautiful. I remember visiting archaeological museums and admiring the way even the most ancient of people made rings, necklaces and other such ornaments. Cosmetics aren’t anything new either; I believe it comes from the time of the ancient Egyptians. Still, I find that the world today has taken this pursuit of beauty to such extremes! Plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons has become so common. Why, I read recently of Far-Eastern ladies having surgery to make their eyes bigger, short (or not!) people deliberately having their legs broken and stretched so that they could be taller! I am rather horrified! Yet the practices such as lengthening the neck as practiced in some African tribes are no different and these practices have been around for years. Body piercing and tattooing too has been around for a long time. I guess my protests against this madness for beauty are a bit hypocritical; like many ladies, I too make attempts to present myself as well as I can. Still, I see beauty as no more than a superficial thing and giving it importance goes against my grain. So I come back to the question, why describe Gods as being beautiful?
A TED lecture by neurobiologist Samir Zeki that I happened to watch gave me an interesting perspective; in fact, that is what prompted me to write this post. In his research, he has found that there are neural correlations between the subjective mental states of love and the experience of beauty. In effect, there is one common area of mental activity located in the medial orbital frontal cortex which is active when one experiences beauty and also happens to be the same area which is active when you look at the face of the person you love very much. Does it mean that we experience both emotions similarly, I wonder? Does an experience of beauty trigger us to love the object which gives us this experience and equally, do we see beauty in all that we love? I am just speculating but I wonder if Gods are described as beautiful to make it easy for us to love them?
Yesterday I was listening to a Podcast on aesthetics and there was a comment which caught my attention. The speaker talked about a ‘vocabulary cloud’ which links the words beauty, truth and goodness. I immediately thought of ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’, not the movie, but the philosophy. I did a quick search to see if I could find the exact source, but I only found imprecise info linking it to the Upanishads (if you know the source, can you please add a comment with the info? Much obliged!). ‘What‘, I asked myself, ‘if it is only the presence of Satyam (Truth) and Shivam (Goodness) which brings about the quality of Sundaram (Beauty)‘? I remember my university days when I used to find great beauty in the perfection of a well-solved mathematical problem, the perfect ratios in nature etc. I used to describe them as beautiful; and yes, there was truth in them, goodness in them. Now that kind of beauty truly attracts me; I am very comfortable associating such beauty with the Divine!
I chose the song which came first to my mind when I thought of this subject. Written in praise of the deity from Azhagar Koil (the temple of the Handsome One), it is written by Ambujam Krishna is a very emotive and personal style. Set to Shuddha Dhanyasi, a lyrically appealing Raga, it is a very beautiful song and I hope it pleases you as much as it pleases me. MLV was famous for this song and if you haven’t heard her as yet, be sure to listen here to one of her many renditions available freely on the net. There is also a very pleasing rendition by Bombay Jayashri which I like very much. But with an intention of listening to young artists whenever possible, here is a very nicely done rendition by Saketharaman.
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Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Composer : Ambujam Krishna
Raga : Shuddha Dhanyasi
Language : Tamil
வழுவாது திருப்பாதம் தொழுதேத்தும் அன்பர்க்கு
அருள் வாரிச் சொரிந்து அவர் உள்ளம் கவரும் கள் (ளழகா)
நடந்து நடந்து உன் சன்னிதி வந்தேன்
நாதன் உன் நற்றால் நிழல் தாராயோ?
நாடி நாடி உன் புகழ் கேட்டு வந்தேன்
நாரணா என் குரல் செவியுரக் கேளாயோ?
அடைக்கலம் அடைக்கலம் என்றுனை அடைந்தேன்
அபயக் கரம் தந்து வினை தீராயோ?
பாடிப் பாடி உனைப் போற்றிப் பணியும் எனக்குப்
பவழ வாய் திறந்து அஞ்சேலென்று அருளாயோ?
விரிஜ்யோதி கமலமென உன் முகத்தே திகழும்
இருவிழி அருள் தேனை அள்ளி அள்ளி உண்டு
மறை புகழும் திரு மார்பில் மன்னி என்று உரைந்திட
மன வண்டுன் புகழ் பாட மையலுடன் உனை நாடி (அழகா)
naDandu naDandu un sannidi vandEn
nAtan un naTRAl nizhal tArAyO?
nADi nADi un pugazh kETTu vandEn
nAraNA en kural seviyurak kELAyO?
aDaikkalam aDaikkalam enDRunai aDaindEn
abhayak karam tandu vinai tIrAyO?
pADip pADi unaip pOTRip paNiyum enakkup
pavazha vAy tiRandu anjElenDRu aruLAyO?
virijyOti kamalamena un mugattE tigazhum
iruvizhi aruL tEnai aLLi aLLi uNDu
maRai pugazhum tiru mArbil manni enDRu uraindiDa
mana vaNDun pugazh pADa maiyyaluDan unai nADi (azhagA)
Oh handsome one (azhagA)! Thus (enDRu) have I called out (azhaittu) as I have come (vandEn), hands (kai) held in worship (tozhudu). O One with the handsome form (vadivazhagA) who lives in (uRaiyum) Thirumalirunsolai (literally Tirumal=Vishnu, irum=residing in, solai=grove also called Sri Kallazhagar Perumal Temple or Azhagar Koil near Madurai).
For the devotees (anbar) who worshipfully praise (tozhudu=worship, Ettu=praise) the sacred feet (tiru+pAdam) which never fail us (vazhuvAdu), Kallazhagar (the name of the deity) attracts (kavarum) their hearts (uLLam) by showering them (chorindu) in a torrent (vAri) of blessings (aruL).
I have come walking (naDandu) a long way (implied by the second naDandu) to your sanctum (sannidhi). O Lord (nAtan), will you not give me (tArAyo) your protection/shelter (nizhal) out of your goodness (naTRAl)? Hearing of (kETTu) your glory (pugazh), I have come (vandEn) seeking (nADi nADi) O Narayana (nAraNA), do you not hear (kELAyO) my (en) loud (ura) voice (kuRal) ? Calling out (implied) ‘Sanctuary Sanctuary‘ (aDaikkalam) thus (enDRu) I have approached you (aDaindEn), will you not bring an end to (tIrAyo) to my misfortune (vinai) by giving me (tandu) your gesture of fearlessness (abhaya karam, a mudra indicating protection)? Will you not open (tiRandu) your coral (pavazha) lips (vAy, literally mouth) and bless (aruLAyo) me (ennai) by saying ‘Do not fear‘ (anjEl enDRu), I who worship you (paNiyum) by singing (pADi) again and again (indicated by second pADi) in praise of (pOTRi) you (unai)?
My mind (mana) is like a bee (vaNDu) which seeks you (nADi) in attraction (maiyyaluDan) of the two eyes (iru vizhi) which are like luminous blooming (viri jyoti) lotuses (kamalam) in your face (mugattE tigazhum), to grab again and again (aLLi aLLi) the honey (tEnai) of your benevolence (aruL). Singing (pADa) your (un) praise (pugazh), and saying (uraindiDa) ‘Forgive Me’ (manni) to the holy chest (tiru marbil)..(O Handsome one!)
Happy Navaratri, Dussera and Durga Puja to all my readers! I hope you are all enjoying the festivities of this season!
I feel very blessed by the Goddesses this week; we’ve had some very good news in the family. My son has just been accepted into the College of Psychiatry, a dream he has had for a long time. For those who haven’t read my occasional forays into personal life, my son (25) is a doctor currently working as a Resident. He has long dreamed of becoming a Psychiatrist. His getting a placement as a Psych Registrar is a very big step in the many steps that it has taken to embark on his chosen career. It feels especially good to get this news during Navaratri.
I believe he owes his success to his worship of the Goddesses, but not in any way you imagine. In fact, much to my distress, he claims to be somewhere between atheistic and agnostic. So why do I say that he worships the Goddesses? Is it possible to get blessings without a single shlOka or puja, without even acknowledging the existence of the Goddesses? Let me share my thoughts…(Note: I am in a mood to ramble, so if you want just the music, jump right ahead!)
We believers think that our Gods and Goddesses are omnipresent. That they are present both in those who acknowledge them and those who don’t. Let us search for Shakti first. She is manifest as energy all around us. Touch your skin – even the warmth there is but a manifestation of the energy your cells create. But just as in a temple we need to perform a prANa pratishTHa to consecrate the idol and bring the power of the deity within it, we too need to ‘consecrate’ ourselves to let her manifest her powers within us. How can we do that? I have a theory..
Is Shakti not energy? So if we follow our goals with energy and vigour, surely it is a celebration of her! Shakti is prANa, the life energy itself. How better to worship her than by looking after the health of our bodies and minds? Shakti is courage. By developing our self-confidence and courage, we invite Her to take residence in our hearts. As a baby my son was afraid of the whole world. I could not even enter a lift if there were others there! It took years of coaxing for him to accept the world outside our family. As a boy, he was shy and retiring. He would hardly meet anyone’s eyes when he talked. I remember a moment of pride when at sixteen he voluntarily walked up to a visitor at home and introduced himself; it felt as if he had crossed an important threshold! When he bravely presented a research paper at a Psych conference at 21, almost a decade younger than the next youngest conference attendee, I was bursting with pride. I have seen him slowly build on his courage, his self-confidence to a level that he performs very well in interviews. If this is not the prANa pratishTHa of Shakti, what is?
Lakshmi too is ever present in our lives. Every time anything good has happened to you, every time you have felt lucky, every time you have enjoyed a sense of well-being and happiness, it is but Lakshmi kaTAksham – Her eye has fallen on you. Or so I believe. She may look in our direction but unless we have done the groundwork to receive it, her blessings may slip and fall from our fingers! In his last rotation, my son was lucky enough to have the Head of Psych Training of another leading hospital as his supervisor. That was Lakshmi kaTAksham. She gave a glowing reference saying that ‘I’ll be happy to work with him as my colleague’! By working hard and well enough to gain such a reference, he prepared himself to receive Lakshmi’s blessings; I see it as Lakshmi pratishTHa. At another conference he attended, he learnt that one of the interview panellists was there. That was Lakshmi kaTAksham. He walked up to him and introduced himself, talking of the job he hoped to get. That is Lakshmi pratishTHa. A senior nurse he worked with happened purely by chance to meet one of the panellists. She remembered my son voluntarily and spoke well of him. That was Lakshmi kaTAksham. That he had established a good relationship with the nursing staff, that is Lakshmi pratishTHA.
Where would we be without Saraswati? Knowledge governs our life at every turn. An infant who recognizes his mother as his source of nourishment and succour, even that infant has an important piece of knowledge. We are bombarded with information in this world, we absorb only a minute fraction of which even a smaller fraction gets converted into knowledge. As to wisdom, I don’t know how one gets that but I hope that one day our knowledge leads us to wisdom! Is not Saraswati in all sources of knowledge, in all wisdom? When we convert information to knowledge and then into wisdom, what is it but Saraswati pratishTHa? Even with his limited income as an intern and a resident, my son made the effort to attend many seminars and conferences in Psychiatry over the past two years. I myself was surprised when I saw his CV – ‘When did he get the time to do all that?’ I wondered. When we pursue knowledge we are but paying homage to the Goddess!
I have rambled on a bit, haven’t I? But then a proud mama is allowed to gloat a while! But back now to music. My song choice today is a composition by Shyama Shastri in the Raga Varali. ‘Please protect me’ says the composer, invoking the many qualities and symbolisms of the Goddess. He was a priest at the Kamakshi temple in Tanjavur; his love for his Goddess is very evident in this composition. I present below this beautiful song in the mellifluous voice of Bombay Jayashri.
Note : I do not speak Telugu; I have sourced the translation from multiple web sources.
O Kamakshi! O Golden (bangAru) Kamakshi! Please protect (brOvavE) me (nannu). Why (Ela) delay (tAmasam)? Please come (rAvE)! O Enjoyer (lOlE) of recitation (gAna) of sAma vEda! O Virtuous One (sushIlE)!
O One who protects (paripAlinI) shyAma kRshNa (signature of composer)! O dark-skinned One (shyAmaLE) who holds a parrot (shuka)! O Consort of Shiva (shiva shankarI)! O One who holds a trident (shUlinI)! O Queen Consort (rANI) of shivA (shivuniki)! O Large-eyed One (visAlAkshi)! O youthful One (taruNI)! O One who is manifest (rUpiNI) eternally (shAshvata) !
O Goddess (dEvI)! Please listen (vinu) to my (nA) plea (manavini). I trust(namminAnu) you alone (nIvE) to be (ani) my refuge (gati)!! O my (mA) mother (ammA)! Quickly (vEgamE) show (jUDu) mercy (karuNa) O Mother (ammA)! O Golden (bangAru) Idol (bommA)!
Can one call oneself Tamil if one doesn’t know this song? This gem amongst the gems written by the great poet Subramanya Bharathi has such an extraordinary appeal! For one, we all love stories about the mischievous and quite irresistible Lord Krishna, don’t we? And then there is the poet’s expertise in choosing words and metres which resonate so deeply with the audience. However poetry by its very nature finds itself at a disadvantage crossing borders; for isn’t poetry about language at its very best, its very beautiful? Who but natives can really appreciate it? But once it has been sung as a song, it crosses borders so much more easily!
Popular as a ‘light’ piece in Carnatic Music, this song happily bridges the gap between the classical and the popular. I hope you will join me on a walk-through of this beautiful poem and its meaning. I limit myself only to the verses sung by Carnatic musicians.
Krishna (kaNNan) is such an endlessly (tIrAda) playful (viLaiyATTu) boy (piLLai)!! He is a ceaseless (OyAda) trouble (tollai) to the women (peNgaLukku) on the street (teruvilE)!
The first verse sets the scene perfectly. Such an endlessly mischievous lad, the poet says, that he is Trouble with a capital T to all the women on the street. Why women? Did He not direct any mischief towards the men? But no, He never did! He was the darling of the women and he loved them dearly; yet it is those very women He troubled! Our symbolism starts here..He is Parama Purusha, the supreme male aspect. All creation, Prakriti, is the female aspect. We see this symbolism again and again in poetry from all around India.
Raga : Sindhu Bhairavi
தின்னப் பழம் கொண்டு தருவான் – பாதி தின்கின்ற போதிலே தட்டிப் பறிப்பான் என்னப்பன் என்னைய்யன் என்றால் – அதனை எச்சிற் படுத்திக் கடித்துக் கொடுப்பான்
He will bring (konDu) and give (taruvAn) fruit (pazham) to eat (tinna). While (pOdilE) eating (pAdi =half, tinginDRa) he will grab it (taTTi paRippAn)! If (enDRAl) one cajoles him (ennappan, ennaiyyan as terms of endearment) – he will bite it (kaDittu) and contaminate it by eating (echchiR=jhUTA in hindi) and then give it back (koDuppAn).
What mischief! He grabs back the fruit he has given and takes a bite before giving it back! I wonder, is this concept of contamination by eating/saliva unique to India? In the olden days, at the wedding feast, a wife would eat off the plate eaten by her husband to denote the closeness of the new relationship. Sharing of food half eaten by others is a privilege limited to those who are near and dear. Here the poet wants to show how close the relationship is between the Lord and his subjects. Krishna is happy to eat the fruit half-eaten by his loved ones (remember Rama and Sabari?) and what He gives back we take as prasaadam. So what does the fruit denote? All that He gives us, of course! Perhaps the poet wants to say also that He who gives may equally take away.
He will bring (konDu vandE) a beautiful (azhaguLLa) flower (malar). After (pin) making one cry (azha azha seyda) He will say (enbAn) ‘close (mUDikkoL) your eyes (kaNNai), I will adorn (sUTTuvEn) your braid (kuzhalilE) with it’. After making (Akki) me (ennai) blind (kuruDu), he will place (vaippAn) the flower (malarinai) on my friend (tOzhikku)!
Have you ever seen something you wanted very badly? Perhaps you begged and pleaded for it, perhaps you worked hard for it, but you thought you almost had it. And then when you relax for a moment, it is gone, given to some other. In real life this could be tragic. Imagine it is the promotion you worked hard for, the treat your parents promised you, the relaxed retirement you look for after a lifetime of work. And then circumstances occur when it seems to be snatched away from you. How frustrating it is, how depressing when it happens! If we can see it as no more than Krishna’s mischief, his leela, perhaps it will console us.
(Don’t miss the mridangam at this interval in the BJ performance, how good it sounds!!)
He will pull (izhuppAn) one’s braid (pinnalai) while standing behind (pin ninDru). Before (munnE) one can turn (tirumbum) one’s head (talai) back (pinnE) He will disappear (chenDRu maRaivAn)! He will make one sorrowful (varutti) and agitated (kulaippan) by throwing (vAri) dust (puzhudi) on (tanilE) one’s new (pudu) colourful (vaNNa) sari (sElai).
Krishna pulling at a Gopi’s hair and disappearing – isn’t it a disarming portrayal of our mischief making Lord? Has your metaphorical braid been pulled by someone or something at any time? How frustrating not to be able to pinpoint who did it! And what about your metaphorical new clothes? Has someone thrown dust as it? These are common life occurrences, aren’t they! They sadden us, agitate us, disturb us. And yet we smile when we think of Krishna and his mischief. That too is a leela.
புல்லாங்குழல் கொண்டு வருவான் – அமுது பொங்கித் ததும்ப நற்கீதம் படிப்பான் கள்ளால் மயங்குவது போலே – அதனை (alt:அதைக்) கண் மூடி வாய் திறந்தே கேட்டிருப்போம்
pullAnguzhal konDu varuvAn – amudu pongit tadumba naRgItam paDippAn kaLLAl mayanguvadu pOlE – adanai (alt:adai) kaN mUDi vAy tiRandE kETTiruppOm
He will bring (konDu varuvAn) a flute (pullAnguzhal). He will recite (paDippAn) good (nal) songs (gItam) which overflow (pongi tadumba) with nectar (amudu). And like (pOlE) one gets intoxicated (mayanguvadu) with liquor (kaLLAl), we would be listening (kETTiruppOm) with closed (mUDi) eyes (kaN) and open (tirandE) mouths (vAy)!
This is a lovely verse where Krishna is portrayed as the enchanter that He is. And oh, how I love Raga Mand! In the other verses the poet talks of how He troubles and agitates the women. In contrast, this verse is about how he fascinates with his playing of a different kind. What is Krishna’s song in your lives? What is that which enchants you, intoxicates you, absorbs you? As to me, I hear Krishna’s song in so many things – in the light which reflects off the lake I see from my window, in that pause between two notes when Lalgudi plays Mohanam in a CD I have, in the perfection of Vermeer’s Milkmaid, in that smell of the earth just after it rains, in the memory of cuddling my children when they were babies and a million other things besides. These are indeed nectarine as the poet says. After listing all the mischief the Lord plays on us, it is good of the poet to remind us of how He plays his music for us too!
To present this song, I have chosen renditions by two divas of the Carnatic Music world, Bombay Jayashri and Nithyasree Mahadevan. I have always loved Bombay Jayashri’s voice and in this recording it sounds warm and lovely, as smooth as honey.
‘Do you still not have compassion for me?’ asks Purandara Dasa (1484–1564) in this beautifully melodious song of his ishtadaivam (God of choice) Vitthala. ‘I have been re-born in many countries, in many periods of time, in many wombs. Having fallen in the hell of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, (do you not have compassion) for this devotee who believes that you are the only refuge?’.
Purandara Dasa talks of reincarnation and Karma in this song. Did you know that reincarnation is not Vedic thinking but comes somewhat afterwards? It starts getting mentioned in the Upanishads period (around 700 BC) but is most clearly stated later, in the Bhagavat Geeta (around 200 BC or later). Below is the oft-quoted verse which serves as a definition of reincarnation.
Just as (yathA) people (nara=individual and aparANi=others) discard (vihAya) old (jIrNa=old) clothes (vAsa) and put on (verb graha) new (nava) ones, so do (taTHA) the souls (dEhI=the embodied soul) discard (vihAya) old (jIrNa) bodies (sharIra) and come into (samyAti) many different (anya anya) new (navA) bodies .
Reincarnation is the natural progression of a couple of ideas a few thousand years older. These ideas are like the building blocks of Hinduism. The first one is the idea of body and soul. The Atman (soul) which lives in the sharIra (body) is eternal, immutable, is neither born nor can it die. It is due to avidyA (ignorance) that the soul gets caught up in a body. ‘Ignorance of what?’ you may ask. Ignorance of the fact the the soul is indeed Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness. When the Atman gives up its false individuality and realises that it is Brahman (aham brahmAsmi=I amBrahman, from Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, app. 1000 BC), it is then ready to merge with the ultimate divinity.
The second important idea which led to the principle of reincarnation is that of Karma. It is the law of cause and effect which applies to each individual. Every action, good or bad, produces consequences which the individual will need to experience. The difficulty of fitting all the consequences in one life led to the idea of reincarnation.
Yet it is easily evident that when the individual is in the process of experiencing one set of consequences, he or she is doing other actions in the meanwhile so this cause-effect can never be terminated, even with multiple births! Here then, we need Divine intervention for Moksha(release from this cycle of reincarnation), for once we realise that the Atman is indeed the Brahman, what need to we have to continue this never ending cycle ?
Coming back to my song choice of the day, if we look at the lyrics with the above ideas, we can better understand what Purandara Dasa was talking about. After mentioning his rebirths, he says that he finds himself in the hell of ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Attachments and ego are causes of accruing more Karma debt thus forcing us into further lives; if one knows that one can merge into Brahman, then life will seem like hell and attachments seen as ropes which tie us to this hell.
Purandara Dasa then does a very clever thing, he says ‘Whatever I have done by mind, body and spirit, I offer to You’. If he offers to God all his actions, then doesn’t he also offer God all the Karma debt which arise from it? This is an acknowledgement that eventually the only way to escape this cycle of life and death is by Divine intervention.
The same thought is expressed by the sloka I recite as a sign-off at the end of my everyday prayers, as do thousands of others like me :
Whatever I do with my body (kAya), speech (vAcha), mind (manasa) , senses (indriya), intellect (budhdhi) and soul (Atma), or with my innate natural (prakRuti) tendencies (svabhAva), I do (karOmi) them all for others (para asmai) and offer/dedicate (samarpayAmi) everything to Lord Narayana!
This song has been set to the very pleasant raga Kalyana Vasantam. To know more about this raga, click here.
To present this song, I have chosen a rendition by Bombay Jayashri whose voice quality always leaves me in awe.
For an instrumental version, I really enjoy Kadri Gopalnath’s rendition on the sax.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language: Kannada As I do not speak Kannada, I have transcribed the song in Devanagari script using internet resources and listening carefully to multiple versions of the song. Translation is based mainly on various internet resources, so I am unsure of accuracy.
इन्नु दय बारदे दासन मेले
पन्नग शयन श्री परम पुरुष हरिये
नाना देशगळल्ली नाना कालगळल्ली (/बन्तुगळल्ली)
नाना योनिगळल्ली नलिदुपुट्टि
नानु नन्नदुयेम्ब नरक दोळगे बिद्दु
नीने गतियेन्दु नम्बिद दासन मेले
मनो वाक्कायदिन्द माडिद ( / माडुव ) कर्मगळेल्ल
दानवान्तक निन्नगे दानवित्ते
एनु माडिदरेनु प्राण निन्नदु स्वामि
श्री नाथ पुरन्दर विठ्ठल दासन मेले
innU dayabArade dAsana mEle
pannaga shayana srI parama purusha hariyE
nAnA dEshagaLalli nAnA kAlagaLalli
nAnA yOnigaLalli nalidupuTTi
nAnu nannaduyemba naraka doLage biddu
nInE gatiyendu nambida dAsana mEle
mAnO vAkkayadinda dADida karmagaLelle
dAnavAntaka ninnage dAnavittE
Enu mADidarEnu prANa ninnadu svAmi
srI nAtha purandara viTTala dAsana mEle
Do you still not have compassion for this devotee (literally slave, servant) O Hari, the supreme Lord who lies on the serpent-bed.
I have been re-born in many countries, in many times, in many wombs. Having fallen in the hell of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, (do you not have compassion) for the devotee who believes that you are the only refuge.
I offer to you all that I have done by mind, speech and body, O slayer of demons. Whatever I do, my soul is yours, o Lord, consort of Sri (Lakshmi), (do you not have compassion) on this devotee of Purandara Vitthala.
It was in December. My sister and her husband had come for a visit and we had gone to see the Christmas markets in Nuremberg and Munich. It was a long drive back and I fell asleep in the car. When I woke, I found myself humming ‘Kanda Naal Mudalaay’.
My sister said “ Oh, so you were not asleep after all?”.
I replied, still dazed by my deep sleep “But I was fast asleep! Was this song playing ?” .
It wasn’t. But they had been playing some other song in the same Raga Madhuvanti. Even in my sleep, the raga had infiltrated my subconscious and left me with a very strong urge to listen to Kanda Naal Mudalaay. In fact, the first thing I did the next morning was to search out the song on my music player to listen to it a few times until the urge was satiated! How strangely the mind works!
I will take the opportunity today to bring your attention to an interesting literary device, the Sakhi. It is quite common in Indian literature for the Nayika, the heroine, to express her emotions to a Sakhi, a female friend. These female friends of the heroine often play an important role. Within the fiction, they play the role of a playmate, friend and advisor, acting at times as a go-between for the heroine and the hero. They also act as a support for the heroine when she is troubled. As a literary device, they are important for us – the audience – to know the thoughts of the heroine, especially in plays. In a spiritual context, the Sakhi is seen as the bridge between us humans and the divine.
In this song, though the word Sakhi is not used, it is evident by the form of the verb that the Nayika is telling the story of her love at first sight to a female friend. “From the day I saw him”, she says “my love overflows for Kandan, my beloved, who gave me such pleasure in the spring garden where the bees were buzzing”. Note the beautiful alliteration used by the poet here with Kandan and Kaanthan. The Nayika goes on to say “My heart has not forgotten the blue peacock (which Lord Murugan rides) nor has that love mixed with affection faded”. How romantic! For full lyrics, see footnote.
The song is composed by N.C.Chidambaram in the Raga Madhuvanti (click here to know more about this raga). I have chosen a rendition by Bombay Jayashri whose lovely voice suits sweet and romantic songs like this.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
கண்ட நாள் முதலாய் காதல் பெறுகுதடி
கையினில் வேல் பிடித்த கருணை சிவ பாலனை (கண்ட நாள்)
வண்டிசை பாடும் எழில் வசந்த பூங்காவில்
அந்த/வந்து சுகம் தந்த கந்தனை (என்) காந்தனை (கண்ட நாள்)
நீல மயில்தனை நெஞ்சமும் மறக்கவில்லை
நேசமுடன் கலந்த/தந்த பாசமும் மறையவில்லை
கோல குமரன் மன கோயிலில் இறங்கி விட்டான்
குறு நகை தனை காட்டி நறு மலர் சூட்டி விட்டான் (கண்ட நாள்)
kaNDa naaL mudalaay kaadal perugudaDi
kaiyinil vEl piDitta karuNai shiva baalanai (kaNDa naaL)
Since the day I saw him, my love overflows for him who holds the spear in his hand, the son of the compassionate Shiva.
He, my beloved, who gave me such pleasure in the spring garden where the bees were buzzing.
Neither has my heart forgotten the blue peacock (the one that Lord Murugan rides), nor has the love mixed with affection faded. He has settled into the temple of my heart and with just a small smile, he has placed a fragrant flower (of love) on me.
Viraha bhava or the mood of pain caused by separation is very popular in Indian poetry and music. The anxiety faced by the nayika (female protagonist) when separated from her beloved, her suffering and her intense need for reunion is featured again and again in Indian literature.
Seemingly, there is no gender equality here as mostly the poetry or prose depicts the nayika as the one who suffers. This may well be because this pain of separation is also associated with the women who leave their maternal homes after being wed. The songs of bidai, the ceremony to bid farewell to the bride, sing of viraha bhava as well.
In the spiritual world, Viraha is one of the nine paths of Bhakti listed in Narada Sootra. It is defined as thelove within the intense pain of separation from God. Very popular in the Krishna cult, it is Radha’s suffering when separated from Krishna which the devotee experiences. Is this pain not just the longing for completeness? Hinduism often portrays the Ultimate as a male-female duality. Vishnu encompasses Lakshmi whom he holds in His vakshasthalam – in His chest close to his heart. Shiva and Shakti are often shown as two halves of the whole – as Ardhanarishwarar. Sankhya philosophy proposed by Sage Kapila talks of Purusha-Prakriti, consciousness and matter, the experiencer and the experienced. Is it a coincidence that Purusha also means a man, and Prakriti a woman? Just as Vishnu is incomplete without Lakshmi, Shiva without Shakti and Purusha without Prakriti, the bhakta is incomplete without his Lord. In fact, Viraha is welcomed by the bhakta as it acknowledges his oneness with God and the union which is to come.
Many poets have written on this theme of viraha. Today I have chosen a beautiful song written by Ambujam Krishna(1917-1989). She says ‘It becomes late, why has Krishna, who left me alone, not come back yet? Perhaps the ladies who gathered around him when they heard his flute have cast a net with their glances and drawn him away? While I lament and writhe in agony like a worm here, is he talking and laughing with the women? Has he forgotten his words to me – ‘My parrot (a term of endearment), I’ll not leave you even for a moment!’ ? Has he abandoned this naive woman?’. Ambujam Krishna writes words which ring true. Her virahabhava is tinged with jealousy and doubt. If you would like to know more about this poet, read this nice tribute published in the Hindu in 2004. She did not set her poetry to music. I am unsure who did set this song to the raga Revati but it suits it so very well. To know more about the raga Revati, click here.
Listen to Bombay Jayashri’s very pleasant rendition here.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
என்னை விட்டுப் போன கண்ணன்
வரக் காணேனே -சகி
குழலோசை கேட்டு கூடிடும் மங்கையர்
விழியால் வலை வீசி அழைத்து சென்றனரோ
புழுவென நான் இங்கு புலம்பி துடிக்கையிலே
பூவையருடன் அங்கு பேசிச் சிரிக்கப்போ ?
பைங்கிளி உன்னை கணம் பிரிகிலேன் என்ற
பேச்சும் மறந்தானோ பேதையை துறந்தானோ ?
It becomes late, why has Krishna, who left me alone, not come back yet? Perhaps the ladies who gathered around him when they heard his flute have cast a net with their glances and drawn him away? While I lament and writhe in agony like a worm here, is he talking and laughing with the women? Has he forgotten his words to me – ‘My parrot (a term of endearment), I’ll not leave you even for a moment!’ ? Has he abandoned this naive woman?’
Those who have been following my posts know that I have been haunted by Shivaranjani this week. I am still not ready to move on, so here are two Thillanas in this raga of pathos. These are compositions of two musicians I admire tremendously. For those unfamiliar with Carnatic Music, a Thillana is a form of composition, very rhythmic in nature and well suited to classical dancing.
Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930) is my first love and probably will remain my last. This is an enchantment which has lasted a lifetime. I strongly believe that his music comes as close to Divine as music can. I have always imagined his music to be like a channel, a wormhole in spacetime, which allows the listener to travel from this mortal world to other mysterious and heavenly places. Playing concerts from when he was just 12 years old (he is 81 this year), his life has been dedicated to music. He says ‘I am nothing without Music. Even in all my future births I want to be born only as a musican’ (quote).I pray that I am born wherever he is and get to keep enjoying his music.
Maharajapuram Santhanam (1928-1992) was blessed with a voice which would make anyone pause and take note. In the mid-seventies, when he came to Delhi for a concert, he stayed in our friend and neighbour’s home. I remember sitting in their living room, listening to him practice and sing to the family. He was a man with an impressive girth and a larger-than-life presence. His voice had such resonating force and beauty that it left an indelible impression in me. A truly amazing artist. I remember attending his concert that evening as if it were just yesterday. The magic of his voice lends strength to these memories from long ago.
Both these amazing musicians have composed Thillanas in Misra Shivaranjani (click here for more on this raga). Today I present you these Thillanas performed by the maestros themselves.
First listen to Lalgudi Jayaraman’s rare recording of a life performance of his own composition with his son G.J.R.Krishnan, starting from 22:20.
Was that not exquisite? I wept when I heard it first; I still find it heartrendingly beautiful. For the pallavi and its translation, see footnote.
Don’t miss listening to this vocal version by Bombay Jayashri, whose voice, I think, is closest to the lyrical sounds of her Guru’s strings. She is quite outstanding, do listen:
The Lalgudi Thillana has a lyrical pallavi which perfectly mirrors the mood of the raga.
மானைத் தேடி வந்த தேனை உண்டு வள்ளி மானை மணந்த மயில் வாகனா நானோ நின்னை (?நினை?) எண்ணி நாளும் ஏங்கி வாட ஏனோ இன்னும் என்மேல் இந்த பராமுகம்
mAnait-tEDi vanda tEnai uNDu vaLLi mAnai maNanda mayil vAhanA nAnO ninnai (?ninai?) eNNi nALum Engi vADa EnO innum enmEl inda parAmugam
O Rider of the peacock who came searching for a deer, ate some honey and married the deer like Valli! As for me, I languish thinking of you all day, why do you still neglect me?
The Maharajapuram Santhanam Thillana is beautifully rhythmic and the alliteration of ‘va’ in the first line is very pleasing.
வா வேலவா வடி வேலவா மயில் மீது நீ வா குமரா வா வரம் அருள வா தாமதம் ஏன் தயை புரிய தருணம் இது மகராஜன் பணிந்திடும் மயில் வாகனா
vA vElavA vaDi vElavA mayil mIdu nI vA kumarA vA varam aruLa vA tAmadam En dayai puriya taruNam idu maharAjan paNindiDum mayil vAhanA
Come O spear-holder! One whose spear is sharp! Come on a peacock! O Kumara, come to grant me boons! Why the delay? This is the time to show compassion! O Peacock-rider who who is venerated by Maharajan (signature of poet).
Yashoda and Krishna – who doesn’t understand the bond between them? They stand as an example of the mother-child relationship and its innate divinity. Its interesting that we seldom mention Krishna’s birth mother Devaki as His mother. Motherhood is indeed far more than bearing a child in one’s womb.
What kind of mother was Yashoda? She loved her little Krishna, that goes without saying. She was strict at times, tying Him down when he was especially naughty. She turned a blind eye at other times, ignoring the butter He stole with his friends. She was supportive when needed, defending Him against the complaints of the other ladies of the community. And she let Him leave her and go far away when it was time to undertake what He needed to do. In effect, she was a mother like most mothers.
Did she know He was the Lord? How could she have missed it? He performed miracles like slaying demons when He was just a babe, showing the world in His mouth when she demanded to see if He was eating butter, by multiplying Himself to dance with all the Gopis. So she knew and yet she didn’t know, for when He behaved as a child, she treated Him as a child. That then is Maya, the illusion which we all suffer on earth. The same Maya which makes us ignore the divinity of each soul around us and the presence of God everywhere.
Yashoda is often cited as the epitome of Vatsalya Bhakti Bhava. Hindusim defines five forms of Bhakti or devotion to God. These are called Bhakti Bhavas. They are
How reassuring to think that one can love God in the same manner as one loves one’s child! Today I present a song which celebrates this maternal love. It is also a commentary on Maya because even Yashoda was blinded by it.
Purandaradasa (1484-1564) writes ‘Yashoda played with the Lord of the Universe, thinking Him to be her son’. The song is written in Kannada and is set to Raga Kapi. If you would like to know more about this raga, click here. The song was made famous by the great vocalist M.S.Subbulakshmi. Today I present an instrumental version by the Saxophone Maestro, Kadri Gopalnath in a jugalbandi with Pravin Godkhindi on the Bansuri (flute).
Now listen to this rather modern vocal rendition by Bombay S.Jayashri whose voice is a great gift from God to us listeners.
Post Script: It has been a long time since I posted this but today I came upon this soulful live rendition by T.M.Krishna and felt that it too should be included in my post. There are songs which I like in a female voice and others in a male voice but for this song, I cannot quite make up my mind!
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