After many months of being away from this blog, I am finally back to wish you all a very happy Janmashtami–Krishnatashtami-Gokulashtami! I have been feeling so guilty about ignoring my blog, but I couldn’t help it; nothing really felt like Music to My Ears.
It started soon after the stories of Covid became public. For some undecipherable reason, I just couldn’t listen to music anymore! I wondered and wondered about it, I even tried to force myself to listen but there it was – there was no music in my soul. There was a sense of disturbance in my mind, of a kind which would not allow me to concentrate on anything. For some, music soothes all disturbances. For others, true music only exists when there is little disturbance, or the disturbances can be swept away. Sadly, I am of the latter type. Months went by and I listened only to snippets, and nothing really drew me in.
Then last month my daughter sent me a video of my little grandson dancing to music. His expression of enjoyment, his concentration and his movements were such a delight to watch! “There it is!!”, I thought, “That’s the joy I have lost!”. Since then I have been listening more often and with more joy. My grandson was here this morning, and we played music for him so I could record his reactions for you. Here he is demonstrating his signature moves – the sway, the spin, the bounce and the clap 🙂 Today’s play list included the Beatles, Bhupen Hazarika and Jitendra Abhisheki.
It took me only a few moments to decide on the song I would like to feature on this Janmashtami day. ‘Hari, you remove the woes of all people‘ says Meerabai in this lovely Bhajan. I wonder, is this a prayer as in ‘Please remove the woes‘, or a statement ‘You are the remover of all woes‘ ? It works as both, does it not, a statement of belief and a prayer for relief. This seems exactly the right prayer for the times we are in today.
There can be no other than M.S.Subbulakshmi’s rendition for has she not made this bhajan totally hers! The internet abounds with stories of Gandhiji’s love for this song and his request for her to sing it, so I shall not repeat them. It has been set to tune in Darbari Kanada by ‘Piano’ Vaidhayanathan.
Language : Braj Bhasha
The lyrics below are sourced from Bhajan Sangrah (Geeta Press) 1938. That matches closely with the 2015 Edition too.
हरि तुम हरो जन की भीर।
द्रौपदी की लाज राखी, तुरत बढ़ायो चीर॥
भगत कारण रूप नरहरि, धर्यो आप सरीर॥
हिरण्याकुस को मारि लीन्हो, धर्यो नाहिन धीर॥
बूड़तो गजराज राख्यो, कियौ बाहर नीर॥
दासी मीरा लाल गिरधर, चरण-कँवल पर सीर॥
The lyrics as sung by M.S.Subbulakshmi are slightly different as given below. I will stick to her version for a detailed translation. I used a Braj Bhasha dictionary; please excuse any errors.
Lyrics in Braj Bhasha
हरि तुम हरो जनकी भीर।
द्रौपदी की लाज राखी, तुम बढ़ायो चीर॥
भगत कारण रूप नरहरि, धर्यो आप शरीर।
हरिणकश्यप मार लीन्हो, धर्यो नाहिन धीर॥
बूड़ते गजराज राख्यो, कियो बाहर नीर।
दास मीरा लाल गिरधर, दु:ख जहाँ तहाँ पीर॥
hari tum harO jan kI bhIra
draupadI kI lAj rAkhI, tum baDHAyO chIra
bhagata kAraNa rUpa narahari, dharyO Apa sharIra
hariNakashyapa mAr lInho.n, dharyO nAhina dhIra
bUDatE gajarAja rAkhyO, kiyO bAhara nIra
dAsa mIrA lAla giradhara, dukkha jahA.n tahA.n pIra
Hari, you (tum) remove (harO) the woes (bhIr) of all people (jana).
You (tum) lengthened (baDHAyO) Draupadi’s garment (chIr) and protected her dignity/honour (lAj rAkhI – an idiom).
For the sake (kAraNa) of your devotee (bhagata), you (Apa) assumed (dharyO) a body (sharIr) in the form (rUpa) of Narasimha (narahari).
You killed (mAra lInhO.n) Hiranyakashipu. (Sorry, could not make sense of second half of this line. Dharyo-you took on, nAhina-negation, dhIra-courageous…what could this mean?)
You (impled) saved (rAkhE) the drowning (bUDatE) king of elephants (gaja rAja) by (implied) taking him out (kiyO bAhara) of the water (nIra).
Meera, the devotee (dAsa) of her beloved (lAla) Krishna (giri-dhara=holder of mountain) says (implied) “wherever (jahA.n) there is suffering (dukkha), there (tahA.n) comes (implied) a divine/holy person (pIra)”. (Note : pIra also means pain/difficulty/sorrow. Some people translate this last line as ‘wherever there is suffering, there is pain’. But that seems repetitive to me. Meera has given examples of how when there is suffering, a divinity comes to aid us. So I’ll go with the definition of divine/holy/siddha for pIra).
So one more year has come to an end. That one micro-second when one year finishes and another year starts seems momentous, doesn’t it? Yet it is no different from the millions of micro-seconds that we have lived so far. We greet this new micro-second with cheers and wishes, hopes and dreams..and if one is particularly foolish like myself, resolutions that won’t last a week! I wonder, why do we cheer the unknown to come instead of grieving the end of one more period of one’s life? One starts life with endless possibilities but as moments pass the possibilities become fewer and fewer until at the last moment of our life there is only one possibility left. So while the world lights the skies with fireworks and parties its way into the New Year, I am sombre, looking back at what might have been and what is not.
2015 was such a hard year for so many people. I grieve for the all the people killed and maimed by terrorism and fundamentalism whether in Paris, Nigeria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Philippines, Yemen, Kenya or the innumerable other places which have seen such incidents. At the start of 2015 they too would have cheered and hoped and made resolutions which they did not keep. What happened to all those wishes when the terrorists blew them up? Did they disappear from the earth or are those wishes hanging heavily like overladen clouds? I grieve for all those affected by natural disasters, be it in the floods in Chennai, Malawi or Mozambique, the drought in Ethiopia, the heat wave in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, earthquakes in Nepal and Chile, wildfires in Canada, California and Australia, landslides in Burma, avalanches in Afghanistan or innumerable other such incidents. Did they not receive good wishes at the start of 2015? If they survived the disasters, will they ever heal from what 2015 did to them? I grieve for the earth itself which we continue to treat with careless abandon, filling landfills with toxic or non-biodegradable waste, filling the air with carbon and other emissions, filling rivers and water sources with even more waste. As polar bears struggle in melting ice caps, fish struggle with low oxygen levels in the water and animals struggle with disastrous changes in their habitat, shall we still cheer the start of 2016 or grieve over all that we could have done but didn’t in 2015? We humans selfishly follow agendas for individual interest at the cost of collective well-being, whether by killing rhinos for their horns, enslaving women for their bodies, using poverty as a weapon against the poor and in so many other ways that I despair of it all. All one can feel is shame that one is part of the same human race which does so much harm to itself and its environment.
Yet here is 2016, whether we want it or not. At the start of the year hope springs eternal, does it not! So I shall set aside all the grief of that which has passed and hope for joy and contentment in the future, not just for myself but for all of us who call earth our home. And I invoke the prayer song written by the Kanchi Paramacharya, Jagatguru Chandrasekharendra Saraswati and tuned by Shri Vasant Desai. On Oct 23 1966 M.S.Subbulakshmi sang it in the United Nations. This immortal song is as meaningful in today’s times as it was then. Please do read the translation in the footnote below, there is good advice for us all. May 2016 bring us all wisdom to follow the path recommended by the Paramacharya.
A much older M.S. sings the same song in the video below :
Win over (jEtrIm) all hearts (hRt) by practising (bhajata) friendship (maitrIm).
Think (pashyata, literally look) at others (parAn) exactly (Eva) like you think of yourself (Atmavat).
Forsake (tyajata) war (yuddham), forsake (tyajata) competitiveness (spardhAm),
forsake (tyajata) sudden (akrama) attacks (Akramanam) on others (parEshu).
Mother (jananI) Earth (pRthivI) exists (AstE) like a wish (kAma) fulfilling cow (dughA) (reference to kAmadhEnu).
God (dEvah), our father (janaka), is completely (sakala) compassionate (dayAluh)
Be self-restrained (dAmyata), be charitable (datta), be merciful (dayadhvam). (*from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, see below).
May (bhUyAt) all (sakala) people (janAnAm) be prosperous/blissful/fortunate (shrEya)
Three classes of Prajāpati’s sons lived a life of continence with their father, Prajāpati (Virāj)—the gods, men and Asuras. The gods, on the completion of their term, said, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: Control yourselves.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’
Then the men said to him, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the same syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: Give.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’
अथ हैनमसुरा ऊचुः, ब्रवीतु नो भवानिति; तेभ्यो हैतदेवाक्शरमुवाच द इति; व्यज्ञासिष्टा3 इति; व्यज्ञासिष्मेति होचुः, दयध्वमिति न आत्थेति; ओमिति होवाच, व्यज्ञासिष्टेति; तदेतदेवैषा दैवी वागनुवदति स्तनयित्नुर् द द द इति—दाम्यत दत्त दयध्वमिति; तदेतत्त्रयं शिक्शेत्— मं दानं दयामिति ॥
Then the Asuras said to him, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the same syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: ‘Have compassion.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’ That very thing is repeated by the heavenly voice, the cloud, as ‘Da,’ ‘Da,’ ‘Da’: ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give,’ and ‘Have compassion.’ Therefore one should leam these three—self-control, charity and compassion.
The present section is introduced to prescribe the three disciplines of self-control etc. Three classes of Prajāpati’s sons lived a life of continence, i.e. lived as students, since continence is the most important part of a student’s life, with their father, Prajāpati. Who were they? The gods, men and Asuras, in particular. Of them, the gods, on the completion of their term—what did they do?—said to their father, Prajāpati, ‘Please instruct us.’ When they thus sought his instruction, he told them only the syllable‘Da’; and saying it the father asked them,’ you understoodthe meaning of the syllable I told you by way of instruction, or not?’ The gods said, ‘We have.’ ‘If so, tell me what I said.’ The gods said, ‘You tell us: Control yourselves, for you are naturally unruly.’ The other said, ‘Yes, you have understoodrightly.’
The common portions are to be explained as before. ‘You tell us: Give—distribute your wealth to the best of your might, for you are naturally avaricious. What else would you say for our benefit?’—so said the men.
Similarly the Asuras took it as, ‘Have compassion, be kind to all, for you are cruel, given to injuring others, and so on.’ That very instruction of Prajāpati continues to this day. Prajāpati, who formerly taught the gods and others, teaches us even to-day through the heavenly voice of the cloud. How? Here is the heavenly voice heard. Which is it? The cloud. As ‘Da,’ ‘Da,’ ‘Da’: ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give,’and ‘Have compassion.’ The syllable ‘Da’ is repeated thrice to represent in imitation the above three terms, not that a cloud produces three notes only, for we know of no such limitation as to number. Because to this day Prajāpati gives the same instructions, ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give’ and ‘Have Compassion,’ therefore one should learn these three of Prajāpati. What are they? Self-control, charity and compassion. Men should think, ‘We must carry out the instructions of Prajāpati.’ The Smṛti too says, ‘Lust, anger and greed—these are the three gateways to hell, destructive to the self; therefore one should renounce these three’ (G. XVI. 21). The preceding portion is but a part of this injunction, ‘One should learn,’ etc. Still those who can guess the motives of others hold different views onwhy Prajāpati spoke the same syllable ‘Da’ thrice to the gods etc., who wanted separate instructions, and how they too discriminatingly understood his intention from the same syllable ‘Da.’
Happy Ramanavami to all my readers. Today is a day of worship. There are those who worship with prayers and offerings but in this blog, I offer worship just with music. With my song choice of today, with the words of Tyagaraja and the voice of M.S.Subbulakshmi, I shower Lord Rama with champaka, lotus, jasmine and parijata flowers.
The thing is, I have been terribly distressed this week and not in the right state of mind for worship. I had been pouring out my confusion and distress into a post which I had intented to post today, in spite of it being Ramanavami. ‘How can I think of worship when my heart is so heavy?’ I had thought. ‘This blog reflects the music of my heart, and if it has a note of dissonance today, so be it’.
When I woke this morning and ambled bleary eyed to my prayer alcove to say ‘Good Morning’, that was still my intention. But as I stood there, a sort of acceptance washed over me. And so I have kept aside my other post and here I am in a state of worship after all.
Let us shower flowers on Sri Ramachandra with a joyous mind says Tyagaraja. My mind is not joyous today, I have to work at it. Setting aside ignorance and observing self restraint, let us shower lotus flowers on Him. Is grief for worldly matters also just ignorance? Is giving into distress a lack of self restraint? Perhaps this song is addressed to me after all.. Let us whole heartedly worship Sri Ramachandra so that there are not countless births and deaths. Today, with my heavy heart, I see the beasts hidden in the hearts of men..and if prayers can get me away from this cycle, I will pray with all my heart.
I present you M.S.Subbulakshmi who wrings every possible emotion out of Ahiri.
Language : Telugu
Note: MS sings only a subset of the charanams which I have marked in blue. As I do not speak Telugu, the translation relies on various web resources (tyagaraja vaibhavam, sahityam, karnatik).
Let us shower (challarE) flowers (pUla) on (paini) Lord Ramachandra (ramachandruni).
With a joyous (sompaina) mind (manasutOnu), let us shower (implied) nice (manchi) champaka flowers (champakamulanu) from beautiful (impaina) golden (bangaru) baskets (gampalatO) .
Abandoning (mAni) ignorance (pAmaramulu) and observing self-restraint (nEmamutO), let us shower (implied) lotus (tAmara) flowers (pUla) on (paini) He who is beloved (manO haruni) to Lakshmi (ramA).
Let us shower (implied) jasmine (jAji) flowers (sumamula), the best (mElaina) amongst all the flowers (rAjilO pUla) fit for (arhamau) worship (pUjArhamau) of the Gods (dEva) in this world (jagatini).
Let us shower (implied) the lotus (kamala) flowers (sumamula) of our hearts (hRt) on the spotless (vimala) moon (chandra) of the ocean (arNava) of the Solar (mani=jewel, dyu=sky) dynasty (kula) with infinitely (amita) mighty(parAkrama).
Let us shower (implied) pArijata flowers (sumamula) with our hands (chEtulatO) on (paini) the consort (pati) of Sita, praised (vinutuDaina) by Brahma (dhAta).
Let us wholeheartedly (manasAra) shower (implied) flowers (pUla) on He is who is worshipped (nutuni) by this Tyagaraja so that there are no more (lEka uNDa) countless (enna rAni) births (janana) and deaths (maraNamulu).
It was more than a month ago. I had a call from an old friend in Dubai. ‘Suja, Ravi here. It’s bad news. Gautam is no more’. My mind went blank for a few minutes, I could not quite come to grips with the explanations that followed.
Through the next few days I learnt of more details. I struggled with my emotions, seemingly having lost control of my tear ducts which welled up during the most mundane activities in my life. My husband and I met Gautam in 1985 when we were all very young. There were times when we saw a lot of each other, there were times when we hardly met. Yet he was there. And now he was no more. He was only 53. Father to two beloved sons, husband to a now desolate wife, he died alone in a hotel room while on a business trip in Singapore. I have taken it harder than I would have thought; after all, we did not live in each other’s pockets. Yet with him gone, I feel as if I have lost a part of the history of my life for he was very much part of it.
Two weeks back I flew into Australia. For those who are newcomers to my blog, my husband and I live in Switzerland, my two grown children live and work in Australia. Trying to live in perpetual summer, I almost always visit Australia in Dec-Jan. Meeting mutual friends of Gautam here was a heart-rending experience as we relived shared moments of our lives.
I tried to write this post a couple of weeks back but grief overcame me and I could not write sensibly at all. But even then a couple of verses from Bhaja Govindam kept running as a refrain in my head – पुनरपि जननं पुनरपि मरणं पुनरपि जननी जठरे शयनम् – Once again birth, once again death, once again lying down in the womb of a mother. How fragile life is, how uncertain. One day a man goes to work and the next day he is no more. It seems so unbelievable! Adi Shankaracharya (788-820?) advises us to worship Govinda, pointing out to us fools ‘मूढमते’, the illusory nature of life on earth. I have heard this sung hundreds of times, I have myself recited it many times, but today I have finally come to grips with Shankaracharya’s verses.
Listen below to M.S.Subbulakshmi sing the version she made famous. She sings only 10 out of the 31 verses. See footnote for my translation of the verses which are sung. If you are interested, the words of the complete version can be found easily online.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Sanskrit
Note: I am giving below only the verses sung in M.S.Subbulakshmi’s rendition, with the actual verse number in the full version for reference.
भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं गोविन्दं भज मूढमते ।
संप्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले नहि नहि रक्षति डुकृञ् करणे ॥ १ ॥
bhaja gOvindam, bhaja gOvindam, gOvindam bhaja mUDHamatE samprAptE sannihitE kAlE nahi nahi rakshati DukR.nkaraNE ॥ 1 ॥
Worship (bhaja) Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool (mUDHamatE)! On reaching (sampraptE) close to (sannihitE) the appointed time of death (kAlE, time, implies time of death), grammatical formulae (DukR.nkaranE) will not save you (nahi nahi rakshati).
mUDHa jahIhi dhanAgamatRshNAm kuru sadbuddhim manasi vitRshNAm
yallabhasE nija karmOpAttam vittam tEna vinOdaya chittam ॥ 2॥
O Fool (mUDHa)! Abandon (jahI, verb jahita) the desire (tRshNA) for the acquisition (Agama) of wealth (dhana) now (iha)! In a mind without desire (manasi vitRshNAm), comprehend (kuru buddhim) the Truth (sat). That (yat) that you obtain (labhasE) as your own (nija) work’s (karma) gain (upAttam), delight (vinodaya) your mind (chittam) with that (tEna) wealth (vittam).
As long as (yAvat) one is engaged in (saktah) earning (upArjana) wealth (vitta), till that time (tAvat) one’s own (nija) family (parivAra) remains attached (raktah) (implied: to you). Later (pashchAt) while one lives on (jIvati) in a decrepit/aged (jarjara) body (dEha), no one (kah api) in the house (gEha) inquires (pRchCHa) of one’s news (vArtA).
Raga : Bageshri
मा कुरु धन जन यौवन गर्वं हरति निमेषात्कालः सर्वम् ।
मायामयमिदमखिलं हित्वा ब्रह्मपदं त्वं प्रविश विदित्वा ॥ 11 ॥
mA kutu dhana jana yauvana garvam harati nimEshAtkAlah sarvam
mAyAmaymidamakhilam hitvA brahmapadam tvam pravisha viditvA ॥ ११ ॥
Do not be (ma kuru = do not do) proud (garva) of wealth (dhana), tribe (jana) or youth (yauvana). Time (kAla) can take away (harati) everything (sarva) in a moment (nimEsha)! Abandoning (hitvA) this (idam) illusory (mAyamayam) universe (akhilam), with realisation (viditvA), you (tvam) should (implied) resort to (pravisham) the place of Brahma (brahmapadam).
सुर मंदिर तरु मूल निवासः शय्या भूतलमजिनं वासः ।
सर्व परिग्रह भोग त्यागः कस्य सुखं न करोति विरागः ॥ १८ ॥
sura mandira taru mUla nivAsah shayyA bhUtala majinam vAsah
sarva parigraha bhOga tyAgah kasya sukham na karOti virAgah ॥ 18॥
Dwell (nivAsa) in the temple (mandira) of Gods (sura), in the roots (mUla) of trees (taru). Live (Vasah) with a deer skin (ajinam) on the earth (bhUtala) as bed (shayyA). Renounce (tyAga) the claim on (parigraha) all (sarva) possessions/enjoyment (bhOga). Who (kasya) will not be (na karOti) happy (sukha) with such indifference to worldly things (virAga)?
भगवद् गीता किञ्चिदधीता गङ्गा जल लव कणिका पीता ।
सकृदपि येन मुरारि समर्चा क्रियते तस्य यमेन न चर्चा ॥ २० ॥
bhagavad gItA kinchidaDHItA gangA jala lava kaNikA pItA
sakRdapi yEna murAri samarchA kriyatE tasya yamEna na charchA ॥ 20 ॥
Yama (Lord of Death) does not argue (kriyatE na charchA) with one who has read (adhITa) a little bit (kinchit) of the Bhagavat Gita, sipped (pIta) even a drop (kaNikA) of a bit of (lava) of water (jala) of the Ganges (gangA), by whom (yEna) Lord Krishna (murAri) has been worshipped (samarcha) even (api) once (sakRt).
Once again (punarapi) birth (jananam), once again (punarapi) death (maraNam), once again (punarapi) lying down (shayanam) in the womb (jaTHara) of a mother (jananI)….in this (iha) world (sa.msArE) which is so much (bahu) difficult to endure (dustAra), with boundless (apAra) compassion (kRpA), protect me (pAhi) O Krishna (murArE) !
गेयं गीता नाम सहस्रं ध्येयं श्रीपति रूपमजस्रम् ।
नेयं सज्जन सङ्गे चित्तं देयं दीनजनाय च वित्तम् ॥ २७ ॥
gEyam gItA nAma sahasram dhyEyam shrIpati rUpamajasram
nEyam sajjan sa.ngE chittam dEyam dInajanAya cha vittam ॥27॥
That which ought to be sung (gEyam) is the Gita and the thousand (sahasram) names of the Lord (nAma). That which ought to be meditated on (dhyEyam) endlessly (ajasram) is the form (rUpam) of Vishnu, the consort of Lakshmi (shrIpati). That to which the mind (chittam) ought to be led to (nEyam) is the company (sa.ngam) of virtuous people (sajjana). That which ought to be given (dEyam) is the wealth (vittam) to the wretched (dIna) people (jana).
There is no (na asti) true (satyam) divine (Esha) joy (sukha) resulting from (tatah) wealth (artha) on which one thinks of (bhAvaya) all the time (nityam) uselessly (anartha). One fears (bhIti) sharing (bhAja) wealth (dhana) even (api) with one’s son (putrAt)! This (EshA) practice (rIti) is followed (vihita) everywhere (sarvatra).
The devotee (bhakta) who relies on (nirbhara) on the lotus-feet (charaNa ambuja) of the Guru is soon (achirat) liberated (mukta) from being (bhava) in this cycle of worldly existence (sa.msAra). Indeed (Eva), with restraint/control (niyamat) of his senses (indriya) with (sa) his mind (mAnasa), he sees (drashyasi) the God (dEva) who is in his own (nija) heart (hRdayasTHa).
‘You are what you are eat’ , so say the wise ones. The tradition of watching what you eat is an old one in India. According to Ayurveda, our bodies have vata, kapha or pitta doshas, or a combination thereof. For good health, we should eat that which stablizes the imbalance between the three doshas in our body. This has been a proven health system, surviving for centuries in India.
What about the makeup of our minds? Our minds are a combination of sattvik, rajasik and tamasikgunas, says Ayurveda. The gunas associated with what we eat affect our mind. For good mental health and well being, we need to ingest lots of sattvik food, less of rajasik food and avoid tamasik food.
But I ask, why consider only the food we eat? True, the body ingests only food. But does not the mind ingest so much more? What we see, what we read, what we hear – they all form food for the mind, do they not? Should we not watch out what we ingest mentally as well as physically?
It amazes me that the young ones, even those who are careful about their health, listen frequently to loud, throbbing music with lyrics which are often very passionate. The films they watch are much of the same, with added violence. Will these types of ‘ingestion’ not lead to future generations of people who are strongly rajasik or tamasik? Where are they getting their daily does of sattvik food for the mind?
I assure you that I am not deaf to the talent and music which exist outside the Carnatic world. I am known to hum along with Bollywood songs, not just the classically based ones, but even foot-tapping ones such as Piya tu ab to aajaa from olden times to even Kajra Re, Munni Badnam Hui and Sheela Ki Jawani! There, I have shocked you, I know! I admire the talent of the singers and the music directors who have created songs which find such mass appeal. I am not deaf even to Beyoncé gyrating to Put a ring on it or Shakira declaring that Hips don’t lie (wow!); they are both such incredible singers and dancers! So yes, there is interesting music everywhere but is it sattvik music? Far from it!
Carnatic Music is on the whole sattvik, but some compositions epitomize that. So today, my music has been selected to balance all the rajasik and tamasik qualities that our minds ingest from the world around us. I had the pleasure of listening to a performance by the Iyer Brothers on the Veena in Melbourne last October. They played Rave Himagiri, a swarajati in Raga Todi composed by Shyama Shastri. It is a prayer for blessings addressed to the Goddess Kamakshi. A truly wonderful composition, it is stately in pace, deep in tone, quiet in its quest. I never appreciated the full beauty of it until I listened to this performance by the Iyer Brothers. In the reverberating tones of the strings, the composition becomes the resonance of the universe, a pranavamantra in many syllables. A wonderful sattvik feast for your mind. I hope you love it as much as I do!
For a vocal version, I feature a unique combination of voices – Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer singing along with M.S.Subbulakshmi, two of the greatest musicians of the Carnatic world.
Language : Telugu Note: I do not speak Telugu. The lyrics from multiple internet sources were verified / corrected by listening to many renditions by different artists. The translation is sourced from the web.
In the early centuries AD, deep in South India, there is a town called Puhar under the rule of the Cholas. Two well to do merchant families who live there arrange a match between their children. Kovalan and Kannagi start their married life pleasantly. But after a few years, Kovalan’s eyes stray. He takes up a talented young dancer Madhavi as his mistress. Enthralled by her, he neglects both his wife and his business. He even has a child with Madhavi. Spending lavishly on her, her fellow musicians and dancers, Kovalan’s ancestral wealth dwindles away to nothing. In the meanwhile, Kannagi silently bears his abandonment, uncomplaining, chaste. One day, something quite trivial triggers his disillusionment; his ego is hurt and he gives up Madhavi to return to his wife. The penniless young couple decide to leave for Madurai where Kovalan hopes to restart a business with Kannagi’s anklet as principle. After a strenuous voyage, they reach Madurai where they take shelter with a cowherdess. Kannagi rests there while Kovalan goes to the market hoping to sell the anklet. A deceitful gold merchant blames his own crime of stealing the queen’s anklet on Kovalan and he is punished to death by the king. Grief stricken, Kannagi marches to the Pandiya king’s court to demand justice. The king is aghast when he realises the truth and punishes himself. But Kannagi’s wrath remains unquenched; her curse burns Madurai to cinders. She moves away to the Chera Kingdom where she is venerated as a Goddess after she too passes away.
This is the synopsis of Silappadikaram, an important literary work from the Sangam period. Written by Ilango Adigal (~5 AD), it is a mix of prose, poetry and song. To this day, Kannagi is venerated in South India as a symbol of virtue and chastity. A chaste and submissive doormat even when her man is a low-life and a vengeful Goddess when he dies, she is a dream heroine for men, don’t you think? I wonder how many sorry females have tried to live up to this impossible male ideal? Reminds me of Stepford Wives!
I may question the characterisation, but the poetry is still beautiful. Our song choice of today are some verses from a song sung by the cowherdesses as they dance, called Aychiyar Kuravai ஆய்ச்சியர் குரவை. Tuned by S.V.Venkataraman as a Ragamalika in Hamsanandi, Kamas, Hindolam, Shanmukhapriya, Paras and Kapi, this song was made famous by M.S.Subbulakshmi. The verses remind us of stories from Hindu myths and epics, hinting at many incidents related to Lord Vishnu and his avataras. The poet expresses his amazement at the many contrasting incidents and then questions the worth of a life not spent in praising, honouring and worshipping Lord Vishnu. The poet cleverly uses similarities and contrasts, rhyme and alliteration, rhythm and repetition to create a very moving and beautiful song. This ancient Tamil has a lovely ring to it; see footnote for lyrics and translation.
Listen below the irreplaceable M.S.Subbulakshmi and her impeccable rendering of this song :
For lyrics and word breakups, I consulted the excellent virtual library here. I also referred to the explanations as I translated word by word using dictionaries as many words from classical Tamil are unfamiliar to me. However, I am not a Tamil scholar, so please refer to books for better accuracy.
வட வரையை மத்தாக்கி வாசுகியை நாணாக்கி,
கடல் வண்ணன் பண்டொருநாள் கடல் வயிறு கலக்கினையே!
கலக்கிய கை யசோதையார் கடை கயிற்றாற் கட்டுண்கை,
மலர்க்கமல உந்தியாய்! மாயமோ? மருட்கைத்தே!
வடவரையை மத்து ஆக்கி, வாசுகியை நாண் ஆக்கி,
கடல் வண்ணன் பண்டு ஒரு நாள் கடல் வயிறு கலக்கினையே!
கலக்கிய கை யசோதையார் கடை கயிற்றால் கட்டுண் கை
மலர்க் கமல உந்தியாய்! மாயமோ? மருட்கைத்தே!
O Ocean-Coloured one! (kaDal =ocean, vaNNan=coloured), once upon a time (panDu=a former time, oru=one, nAL=day), making the northern (vaDa) hills (varai) into a churning-staff (mattu) and Vasuki (the mythical serpent King) as cord (nAN), you stirred (kalakkinaiyE) the centre of the ocean (kaDal=ocean, vayiru=belly). That hand (kai) which stirred (kalakkiya) is the same as (implied) the hand (kai) tied (kaTTuN) by Yashoda (yasodaiyAr) with the churning cord (kaDai=churning, kayiRu=cord). O Lotus-navelled one (malar=flower, kamala=lotus, undi=navel)! Is this an illusion (mAyamo)? I am amazed (maruTkaittE)!
‘அறு பொருள் இவன்’ என்றே, அமரர் கணம் தொழுது ஏத்த,
உறு பசி ஒன்று இன்றியே, உலகு அடைய உண்டனையே!
உண்ட வாய் களவினான் உறி வெண்ணெய் உண்ட வாய்,
வண்டுழாய் (alt?வண் துழாய்) மாலையாய்! மாயமோ? மருட்கைத்தே!
aRu poruL ivanenDRE amarar kaNam tozhudEtta
uRu pasiy onDRinDRIyE ulagaDaiya vuNDanaiyE
unDa vAy kaLavinAn uRi veNNai uNDavAy
vanDuzhAy mAlaiyAy mAyamO maruTkaittE
The immortals (amarar, gaNam=group) praise (Ettu) and worship (tozhudu) Him as the Absolute (aRu poRuL). You ate (uNDanaiyE) the whole (aDaiya) world (ulagu) without (anDRi) any (onDru=one) great (uRu) hunger (pasi). That same mouth (vAy) which ate (unDa), is the mouth which ate the stolen (kaLavu) butter (veNNai) from the hanging pot (uRi)! With a nature/natural quality (mAlai) as such a one (vanDuzhAy), [alternate: O One who is garlanded (mAlai) with well-grown (vaN) Tulasi (tuzhAy)]! Is this an illusion (mAyamo)? I am amazed (maruTkaittE)!
Raga Hindolam திரண்டமரர் தொழுதேத்தும் திருமால் நின் செங்கமல
இரண்டடியான் மூவுலகும் இருள்தீர நடந்தனையே!
நடந்த அடி பஞ்சவர்க்குத் தூதாக நடந்த அடி,
மடங்கலாய் மாறட்டாய்! மாயமோ? மருட்கைத்தே!
திரண்டு அமரர் தொழுது ஏத்தும் திருமால்! நின் செங் கமல
இரண்டு அடியான் மூ-உலகும் இருள் தீர நடந்தனையே.
நடந்த அடி பஞ்சவர்க்குத் தூது ஆக நடந்த அடி,
மடங்கலாய் மாறு அட்டாய்! மாயமோ? மருட்கைத்தே!
tiraNdamarar tozhudEttum tirumAl nin senkamala
iraNDaDiyAn mUvulagum iruL tIra naDandanaiyE
naDanda aDi panchavarkkut-tUdAga naDanda aDi
maDangalAy mATRaTTAy mAymO maruTkaittE
O Lord Vishnu (tirumAl) who the immortals (amarar) gather (tiraNDu) and worship (tozhu)! To end (tIra) the darkness (iruL) in the three worlds (mU ulagu), you stepped (naDandanaiyE) with your two (iraNDu) red-lotus (senkamala) like feet (aDi). That same feet (aDi) which stepped (naDanda), were the feet which stepped (naDandaADi) as an ambassador/negotiator (tUdu) for the five Pandavas (panchavar). You as Narasimhan (maDangalAy) destroyed (verb அடு, attAy) your enemies (mARu). Is this an illusion (mAyamo)? I am amazed (maruTkaittE)!
Raga Shanmukhapriya மூவுலகும் ஈரடியான் முறை நிரம்பா வகைமுடியத்
தாவிய சேவடி சேப்பத், தம்பியொடுங் கான் போந்து,
சோவரணும் போர் மடியத் தொல்லிலங்கை கட்டழித்த
சேவகன் சீர் கேளாத செவியென்ன செவியே?
திருமால் சீர் கேளாத செவியென்ன செவியே?
மூ-உலகும் ஈர் அடியான் முறை நிரம்பாவகை முடியத்
தாவிய சேவடி சேப்ப, தம்பியொடும் கான் போந்து,
சோ அரணும் போர் மடிய தொல் இலங்கை கட்டு அழித்த
சேவகன் சீர் கேளாத செவி என்ன செவியே?
திருமால் சீர் கேளாத செவி என்ன செவியே?
mUvulagum IraDiyAn muRai nirambA vagai muDiyat-
tAviya sEvaDi sEppat-tambiyoDum kAn pOndu
sOvaraNum pOr maDiyat-tollilangai kaTTazhitta
sEvakan sIr kELAda seviyenna seviyE
tirumAl sIr kELAda seviyenna seviyE
He went (pOndu) to the forest (kAn) with his brother (tambiyoDum) reddening further (sEppa) his reddish feet (sEvaDi) which leapt (tAviya) all the three worlds (mU ulagum) fully (muDiya) in two steps (IraDi) such that (vagai) the number of times(muRai) is not fulfilled (nirambA) (In Vamana avatara, He has a boon of three steps, he stepped the three worlds in just two steps ). What kind of ear is one (sevi enna seviyE) which has not heard (kELAda) the fame/praise (sIr) of the attendant (sEvakan, here Hanuman) who destroyed (kaTTazhitta) the walls (sO) and fortress (araN) such that the inhabitants (implied) died (maDiya) in the war (pOr) in ancient (tol) Lanka (ilangai)? What kind of ear is one (sevi enna seviyE) which has not heard (kELAda) the fame/praise (sIr) of Lord Vishnu (tirumAl)?
Raga Paras பெரியவனை, மாயவனைப், பேருலகமெல்லாம்
விரி கமல உந்தி உடை விண்ணவனை கண்ணும்,
திருவடியுங், கையும், திருவாயும், செய்ய
கரியவனைக் காணாத கண்ணென்ன கண்ணே?
கண்ணிமைத்துக் காண்பார்தம் கண்ணென்ன கண்ணே ?
Words Separated பெரியவனை, மாயவனை பேர் உலகம் எல்லாம்
விரி கமல உந்தி உடை விண்ணவனை; கண்ணும்,
திருவடியும், கையும், திரு வாயும், செய்ய
கரியவனை; காணாத கண் என்ன கண்ணே?
கண் இமைத்துக் காண்பார் தம் கண் என்ன கண்ணே?
The greatest one (periyavan)! The dark skinned one / the illusionist (mAyavan)! The celestial one (viNNavan) in whose navel (undi) like an open lotus (viri kamala) is contained (uDai) all (ellAm) the great (pEr) world (ulagam) ! What kind of an eye is an eye (kaN enna kaNNE) which has not seen (kANAda) the dark complexioned one (kariyavanai) with beautiful (seyya) eyes (kaNNum), feet (tiruvaDiyum), hands (kaiyum) and mouth (tiruvAyum)? What kind of eye is an eye (kaN enna kaNNE) of those (tam) who blink and watch (kaN imaittu kANbAr)?
Translation The One who overcame (kaDandAnai) the deceit (vanjam) of Kamsa (kanjanAr) with the ignorant (maDam) and deceitful/low (tAzhum) heart (nenjam)! Who is praised (pOTRa) by everyone (implied) in all four directions (nATRisai)! What kind of tongue is a tongue (nAvenna nAve) which does not praise (EttAda) the one who went (naDandAnai) as an ambassador (tUdu) for the Pandavas to the Kauravas (nUTruvarpAl) while the extensive (paDarnda) Vedas (AraNam) were chanted resoundingly (muzhanga)? What kind of a tongue is a tongue (nAvenna nAvE) which does not say Narayana (nArAyAvennA)?
I continue today with my second post for Navaratri, my theme being thankfulness towards the Goddesses and their roles in our lives. My post today is dedicated to Mahalakshmi, She who is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Her name is also Shri, meaning auspiciousness and good fortune. She is represented with gold streaming from her hands, so naturally most people associate her with money. But wealth is far more than money and property, isn’t it? An individual’s wealth is his or her unsullied honour. The wealth of parents are their children. The wealth of a family is its strong bonds of love. A country’s wealth is its land, its rivers, its mineral deposits, its clean air, its honourable and hard working citizens. Humanity’s wealth is its collective knowledge, its culture and peace.
I have listed what I think to be some of the greatest wealth enjoyed by us all; you may wish to add more. In my last post I proposed that Shakti is not just the provider of power & energy, but is power itself. So also I say that Mahalakshmi is that aspect of divinity which provides us with wealth in all its forms and She is also the wealth which is provided. Given Her portfolio, it is no surprise that She enjoys great popularity in the prayers of millions! Unlike Shakti who is represented in both benign and terrifying forms, Mahalakshmi is always benign. For is not her absence terrifying enough?
In my last post, I associated our Goddesses with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If Shakti provides us with physiological and some part of our safety needs, Mahalakshmi looks after the next few tiers from safety needs to the needs of belonging and esteem. I believe that our Goddesses work in tandem, holding us up together. Today I would like to express my gratitude to Mahalakshmi for being in my life in innumerable ways and for the blessings that She continues to shower upon me. I bow down to you, my Goddess.
To celebrate Her presence amongst us, I have chosen Annamacharya’s aarati song for Mahalakshmi, Ksheerabdhi Kanyakaku set to Raga Kurinji. The sounds of kurinji remind me of days long long ago, during the Navaratris of my childhood, when my mother would seat my sister and me on a manai (wooden pedestal) putting nalangu (auspicious red decorations) on my feet, anointing me with kumkum (red powder) and chandanam (sandalwood paste), putting flowers in my braids and doing aarati while singing seeta kalyana vaibhogame in kurinji. What she did was anoint us with all the auspicious symbols of Mahalakshmi, worshipping the Goddess through us. She was not alone in doing that. In India, many ladies worship the Goddess within their little girls during this time.
Every time I hear kurinji, my mother’s love for me warms me to the core of my heart. Why did I never do this for my children? How will they remember my love for them without the sounds of kurinji to give it context and meaning? Ah the ties of love and devotion and music, all mixed in one!!! My son, who recently started learning to play the Veena, told me today that he dreamt my (late) mother was happy to know he learns Carnatic Music. So maybe he too will play kurinji one day and remember my love for him, for this music, for my mother and for my Goddess. To know a bit more about this raga, click here.
In memory of my mother, I have chosen a rendition by the great M.S.Subbulakshmi, whose voice used to echo in my childhood home.
Language : Telugu
As I do not speak the language; below are the lyrics in devanagri script.
क्षीराब्धि कन्यकक्कु श्री महालक्ष्मिकिनि | नीरजालयक्कुनु नीराजनम् ||
Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari (1878-1972) known affectionately as Rajaji enjoyed an exemplary career as a writer, lawyer, politician and statesman. He served as the last Governer-General of India. I know of only this one song that he has written and what a lovely song it is! Set to music by Kadayanallur Venkatraman, it is a Ragamalika (Gardland of Ragas). This song is set to three ragas, Shivaranjani, Kapiand Sindhubhairavi.
Have you ever heard of a prayer song which says ‘I have no wants or needs’? By definition, prayer songs seem to ask of something, if nothing at least for mercy and grace from God. Not in this case. Here is a poet who asks for nothing. He says‘Though you stand willing to give anything you are asked for, I need naught else’. How I admire this sentiment! Something to aspire for, surely! For lyrics and translation, see footnote.
This song is so strongly associated with M.S.Subbulakshmi that it is difficult to present anyone else! I have heard better audio versions of hers but the bhava, the emotion, we see on her face is so wonderful that I just had to show you the video version. One thing strikes me – I don’t think I have ever heard this by a male Carnatic vocalist. Have you? I’ll be pleased if any reader can point me in the direction of a recording.
While looking for a good instrumental version, I came across this amateur video from Nallur Temple in Jaffna region, Sri Lanka. While watching unknown Nadaswaram players play this song for us, it came to me that while music in concert scenarios are academically more perfect, its like this that Carnatic music is most alive – on temple grounds, surrounded by worshippers, the music becomes its meaning.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
பல்லவி (ராகம் சிவரஞ்சனி )
குறை ஒன்றும் இல்லை மறைமூர்த்தி கண்ணா
குறை ஒன்றும் இல்லை கண்ணா
குறை ஒன்றும் இல்லை கோவிந்தா
அனுபல்லவி (ராகம் சிவரஞ்சனி )
கண்ணுக்குத் தெரியாமல் நிற்கின்றாய் கண்ணா
கண்ணுக்குத் தெரியாமல் நின்றாலும் எனக்கு
குறை ஒன்றும் இல்லை மறைமூர்த்தி கண்ணா
சரணம் (ராகம் காபி)
திரையின்பின் நிற்கின்றாய் கண்ணா – உன்னை
மறையோதும் ஞானியர் மட்டுமே காண்பார்
என்றாலும் குறை ஒன்றும் எனக்கில்லை கண்ணா
குன்றின்மேல் கல்லாகி நிற்கின்ற வரதா
குறை ஒன்றும் இல்லை மறைமூர்த்தி கண்ணா
மணிவண்ணா மலையப்பா கோவிந்தா
சரணம் (ராகம் சிந்துபைரவி)
கலினாளுக்கிறங்கி கல்லிலே இறங்கி
நிலையாகக் கோயிலில் நிற்கின்றாய் கேசவா
குறை ஒன்றும் இல்லை மறைமூர்த்தி கண்ணா
யாதும் மறுக்காத மலையப்பா- உன் மார்பில்
ஏதும் தர நிற்கும் கருணைக் கடல் அன்னை
என்றும் இருந்திட ஏது குறை எனக்கு
ஒன்றும் குறையில்லை மறை மூர்த்தி கண்ணா
மணிவண்ணா மலையப்பா கோவிந்தா
For transliterated lyrics, word to word translation and notation, click here.
For a poetic translation (not word to word but the essence), click here.
Narayana (Vishnu) was the family God for my parents, our kula daivam, and His presence was always felt at home. ‘Narayana’ my father would say every time he sneezed or coughed. Or when he was tired. Or when he just wanted to exclaim. कौसल्या सुप्रजा रामा पूर्वा संध्या प्रवर्तते M.S.Subbulakshmi’s voice would boom out early every weekend, singing Venkatesha Suprabhatam, the holy chant to wake Narayana. Morning did not start really without this music.
Thanks to this childhood conditioning, I associate Narayana with mornings and naturally this beautiful composition in the morning raga Bauli strikes a chord. To know more about the raga, click here. When I play Sriman Narayana by Annamacharya (1408-1503), it blows in the gentle breeze of days past long ago in the safe haven of my family home. The composition is in Telugu, click here for the lyrics, notation and translation.
Who else to present today but M.S.Subbulakshmi (1916-2004), the voice of Suprabhatam, one of the most respected Carnatic Music exponents we have had the privilege to co-exist in this world with.
While on this raga, I cannot but mention the ecstatic Brahmam Okate by the same composer, Annamacharya. As a great bhakta of Narayana, he composed many songs on Him. In Brahmam Okate, he declares that there is only one God, that He is present in each one of us, that everyone is equal. A 15th century composition which feels as meaningful today as it was then. For the lyrics and meaning of this song, click here. I present this joyful song from the Telugu movie Annamayya (1997) sung by S.P.Balasubramaniam (unconfirmed).
Oh, Goddess of Fortune ! Lakshmi Devi ! Please come! Slowly and surely, like butter coming out of buttermilk, come placing one feet after the other, your anklets ringing. O Daughter of Janaka who shines like countless suns, shower us with a rain of gold and fullfill our wishes. Without moving around, stay forever in your devotees’ houses, receiving daily services and worship.
‘Welcome Lakshmi, Goddess of Fortune’ Purandaradasa (1484-1564) says. Who would not welcome this Goddess who brings prosperity, wealth and good fortune to us? For 20 years or so I have been reciting the MahaLakshmi Ashtakam every morning and evening. I am convinced that it is this, my invoking Her name, which brings whatever good fortune that has come into my household. It is my mother who advised me to say prayers to Her; the picture above is the one which hung in my mother’s prayer room. My mother is gone now and as I sing the names of one mother, I remember the other as well. In these neural pathways I call my mind, there is an intricate web made of musical notes and when this web is cast, it captures memories and beliefs, love and worship. It captures life.
Purandaradasa is considered to be the father of Carnatic Music. He composed mostly in Kannada, like the song featured today. He too worshipped at the portals of Lakshmi, being a rich pawnbroker and jewel merchant until he was 30 when realisation dawned and he gave it all away to become a wandering minstrel. Purandaradasa was the guru of Swami Haridas, who was the teacher of the great Tansen, musician extraordinaire of the Mughal court, as well as Baiju, another great musician of the Hindustani tradition. This shows the strong links between Carnatic and Hindustani music sampradaya in those times.
In spirit with this harmony between the North & the South, I present the song in both Carnatic & Hindustani styles. The first clip is by M.S.Subbulakshmi, and the song is rendered in Carnatic tradition in Raga Madhyamavati. To know more about this raga, click here.
The second clip is by Nithyasree Mahadevan in Raga Bauli. I have a great liking for this raga! To know more about this raga, click here.
The third clip is from the Kannada movie Nodi Swamy Navirodu Heege (1983) sung by Hindustani Music stalwart Bhimsen Joshi. (Sorry, I could not find a better quality video). What a mastery he has over whatever he sings!! Ah, I still mourn his loss.
Something that caught my attention : the actress in this clip is the appropriately named Lakshmi!
Language : Kannada. As I do not speak the language, find below the lyrics in devanagri script. I have consulted sources, listened carefully and transcribed as best as I can but I am unsure of accuracy, given the difference in vowels and pronunciations.
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