Happy Shivaratri everyone! May Lord Shiva bless us all!
As always, I want to celebrate the day with a post in Lord Shiva’s honour. I have chosen a song which I love for many reasons. Kana Kan Kodi Vendum is written by Papanasam Sivan in praise of the Lord Kapaleeshwarar. Mylapore, where the temple is located, was the poet’s home ground, as it was my father’s. I remember many a visit to this temple in my childhood, many a concert heard in its grounds. I can never visit Chennai without a visit to this temple where echoes of my childhood and the loving care of my parents can still be heard deep in my heart.
I love this song also because it is in Kambhoji, a raga dear to me. Why do some ragas resonate inside you like a reflection of an emotion you never knew you had? When Kambhoji is sung, not just my head but my whole being sways in time. I meet the characteristic phrases of the raga like I would a dear friend of long standing.
A reader had commented recently that he enjoys kritis in Tamil, a language which he feels to be his own. That made me think. I too, I realise, perk up a little when a kriti is in Tamil. There is an added pleasure to enjoying the lyrics when the consonants and vowels sit so very comfortably on my tongue! This is surprising, as I believe I am more competent in Hindi and I speak Bengali more often than I speak Tamil. Still, one’s mother tongue has a special place in one’s heart, does it not.
I also love the lyrics of songs which are descriptive in nature. That drew me to Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer who is adept at drawing a picture which feels so very real. Papanasam Sivan has proven that he too can do an admirable job of describing a scene. Do check out the lyrics in the footnote. In my mind, I substitute the utsava moorti (the processional idol) by our Lord Himself, dressed not in skins and coated with ashes, but resplendent with glittering ornaments and fragrant garlands, His Goddess and His sons following. I add to this imagery the sound of the Nayanars singing and Nandi playing his mridangam. Would not the hordes of devotees melt at this sight and fall to His feet as Papanasam Sivan describes? Would they not be simply enchanted? Imagery and visualisation are powerful tools used for goal setting, self-improvement and meditation. Lyrics which include wonderful imagery are good tools in our spiritual arsenal.
But you know, songs I like invariably become background music to my own life. It has just been a few weeks that my grandson has learnt to walk. He is still unsteady on his feet, his legs splayed wide for better balance. With his new skill, he sets out to explore the world with intrepidity! What a sight that is! The other day we set him loose in the park and he ventured courageously to explore his surroundings. My husband followed with the pram and the various paraphernalia that babies need, and I followed with my hands ready to grab the little one if needed. A little procession 🙂 And I said to myself ‘En kaNmaNiyin bavani kANa kaN koDi vENDum’ (One needs countless eyes to see my darling parading!). So there you are, I have brought the joy of the sacred to the profane, but the profane seems sacred to me now. Perhaps the separation between the two is not a chasm but just an ephemeral screen.
To present you this song, I bring to you a performance by Madurai Mani Iyer. My sister will no doubt laugh at me, as we were bombarded with his music in our childhood and have since kept quite away from it. I smile as I listen to it a number of times in the last few days, freely admitting that he is quite incomparable. I am remembering my father and his love for Madurai Mani’s music as I post this.
Language : Tamil
காணக் கண் கோடி வேண்டும் கபாலியின் பவனி (காணக் )
அனுபல்லவி மாணிக்கம் வைரம் முதல் நவரத்னாபரணமும் மணமார் பற்பல மலர் மாலைகளும் முகமும்
மதியோடு தாராகணம் நிறையும் அந்தி
வானமோ கமல வனமோ என மனம்
மயங்க அகளங்க அங்கம் யாவும் இலங்க
அபாங்க அருள் மழை பொழி பவனி (காணக் )
மாலோடையன் பணியும் மண்ணும் விண்ணும் பரவும்
மறை ஆகமன் துதிக்கும் இறைவன் அருள் பெறவே
காலம் செல்லுமுன் கனதனமும் தந்தார்க்கு நன்றி
கருதிக் கண்ணாரக் கண்டுள்ளுருகிப் பணியப் பலர்
காண அறுமுகனும் கணபதியும் சண்டேச்வரனும்
சிவகணமும் தொடர கலைவாணி
திருவும் பணி கற்பக நாயகி வாமன்
அதிகாரநந்தி சேவைதனைக் (காணக் )
kANak kaN koDi vENDum kapAliyin bavani (kANak)
One needs (vENDum) countless (kODi – literally, a crore/10 million) eyes to see (kANa) the procession (bavani) of Lord Kapali (Lord Shiva of Kapali temple, Mylapore).
With His appearance (mugamum) decorated (implied) with ornaments (AbharaNamum) studded (implied) with the nine (nava) gems (ratnam) starting from (mudal) rubies (mANikkam) and diamonds (vairam), and garlands (mAlaugaLumum) of many (paRpala) flowers (malar) full of (Ar) fragrance (maNam), with all (yAvum) His unblemished (agaLanga) limbs (angam) shining brightly (ilanga), our minds (manam) become enchanted (mayanga) wondering if it is (ena) the twilight (andi) sky (vAnam) full of (niRaiyum) stars (tArAgaNam) along with (ODu) the moon (madi), or is it (implied) a lotus (kamala) forest (vanam) . One needs countless eyes to see (from pallavi) the procession (bavani) of the Lord (implied) who showers (mazhai pozhi) grace (aruL) with the corner of his eyes (apanga).
Before (mun) any further (implied) time (kAlam) passes (sellum), with the intention of (karudi) of gratitude (nanDRi) to the One who gave (tandArkku) gold (ghanam) and wealth (dhanam), and to get (peravE) His grace (aruL), let us (implied) bow down (paNIya) with a melting heart (uL=inside, uRugi=melting) after watching (kANDu) to the solace (ARa) of the eyes (kAN) the procession of the Lord (iRaivan) who is paid obeisance to by (paNiyum) Lord Vishnu (mAl) along with (ODu) Brahma (aiyan), and who is eulogised/praised (tudikkum) in the Vedas (maRai) and Agamas (Agaman) which are spread (paravum) throughout the world (maNNum) and heavens (viNNum). One needs countless eyes to see (implied) the service (sEvai danai) of Lord Shiva (vAman) on his vehicle with a bull’s face and body of a man (adikAranandi), along with Goddess Karpagambal (kaRpaga nAyaki) being served by (paNi) Goddess Saraswati (kalai vANi) and Goddess Lakshmi (tiruvum), followed by (toDara) Lord Subrahmanya (arumugamum), Lord Ganesha (gaNapatiyum), Lord Chandikeshwara (chandesvaranum), and the Ganas (shivagaNamum), while many (palar) watch (kANa).
A very happy Navaratri to all of you! Let us all pray to the good Goddesses to cast their eyes our way and bless us with wisdom, compassion and devotion. What better way to ask for blessings than by song? My choice today honours Shakti in the form Karpagambal, the Goddess at Kapaleeswarar Kovil in Mylapore. This temple is rather dear to me; both my parents spent their youth in and around the area. Some of my earliest musical memories include listening to concerts in the temple. Do people leave imprints of themselves in the places dear to them? I’ll like to think so. I’ll like to think that the prayers of my parents still remain suspended in the air around the temple, as a murmur of the temple bells, as an echo of footfalls in the prakaram.
This Navaratri comes with its own excitement for me. I have such good news to share with you! Regular readers will remember my post about my daughter’s wedding in January. With God’s blessings, she and her husband are making me a grandmama! The little boy is to arrive by early December. I smile as I write this, I cannot quite contain my joy!
As I think of becoming a grandmother, I think of my own grandmothers. They were two very different women. My mother’s mum was a clever, extremely competent, strong-minded woman who ruled her household with a will of iron. A short, well-rounded woman with very dark skin, her eyes gleamed with intelligence, a gleam brighter than the large diamonds on her nose and ears. Widowed with a young family to bring up and few resources, she had to become one tough lady. I confess I found her somewhat intimidating! I saw her each summer during my school years when we went to spend our summer holidays in Chennai with her. My best memory of her was sitting around her with my sister and cousins in the mittam, the courtyard next to the well, on moonlit nights. She would regale us with stories while rolling balls of kalanda sadam (flavoured rice) into our outstretched hands. Love, entertainment and nourishment all rolled into one! And yes, her sattumadu made in her eeya sombu was pure ambrosia!
My father’s mother was totally different. So thin that she was just skin and bones, she had a very pale complexion and hazel eyes. She gave me the colour of my own eyes; whenever I see them in the mirror I think of her older and kinder ones. Gentle as a new-born lamb, she had no defence against her own difficult life. If my other grandmother had been forged to steel by life, this one became a gentle ghost, a presence almost not there. She lived to be over 90 but her stories were always of the first 10-12 years of her life, as if the rest need not be thought of. I remember her standing shivering in the Delhi winter on our terrace, performing her dawn prayer rituals in her wet clothes. My mother would urge her to come back in, saying she would get pneumonia, but her faith held her strong.
So what kind of grandmother would I be? I want to be both my grandmothers rolled into one. One day when my little grandson remembers his own grandmother as I remember mine, I want him to think of me as being kind and gentle, but equally strong and capable. I want him to remember me showering love and nourishment into his outstretched hands, I want him to say my eyes looked at him with a softness that he will not forget.
On this Navaratri day, this beautiful song is my prayer to the Goddess to bless my daughter and welcome my grandson-to-be. My readers, please can you add your prayers to mine to bless them for a safe delivery? Written by Papanasam Sivan, who himself had a very strong attachment to this temple and the deities, Karpagame is set in the most auspicious of ragas, Madhyamavati. Why this song you ask? Besides the auspiciousness of the raga, and the prayer for the Goddess to cast her eye our way, there is a reference to ‘வர சந்தான சௌபாக்ய’ (vara santAna saubhAgya), the blessing of progeny so it seemed very fitting!
Some songs are just ‘owned’ by some artists, aren’t they? So I cannot possibly present anyone else but Madurai Mani Iyer who renders this song with brisk efficiency and unsurpassed musicality.
For a version from the current times, I present Sanjay Subrahmanyan who sings this song with an authority and ease which is hard to surpass. In the rendition below, he sings a viruttam, two pieces of poetry which are very well suited to the song. The first is a verse from the superbly beautiful அபிராமி அந்தாதி Abhirami Anthadi by Abhirami Bhattar (18th century). I could not find the authorship of the second verse but one website mentioned that it is from an inscription found on the walls of the Kapaleeswarar Temple, a fact I could not verify.
பூத்தவளே புவனம் பதினான்கையும் பூத்த வண்ணம்
காத்தவளே பின் கரந்தவளே கறை கண்டனுக்கு
மூத்தவளே என்றும் மூவா முகுந்தற்கு இளையவளே
மாத்தவளே உன்னை அன்றி மற்றோர் தெய்வம் வந்திப்பதே
She who gave birth (pUttavaLE – literally, flowered) to all the fourteen (padinAngaiyum) worlds (buvanam), She who protected (kattavaLE) in the same way as (-vaNNam) she bore them (pUtta), then (pin) who hid them (karandavaLE – கரந்த means மறைந்த), She who is older (mUttavaLE) to Shiva (He whose neck (kanDam) is stained (kaRai which also means poison)), She who is younger to (iLaiyavaLE) to the always (enDRum) young (mUvA, மூவு means end but here it means ageing) Vishnu (mukundar), She who has done great (mA) penance (tavam), why should I worship (vandippadE) any other (maTROr) God (deivam) except (anDRi) you (unnai)?
ஆடும் மயிலாய் உருவெடுத்து அன்று இறைவன் திருத்தாள் நாடி
அர்ச்சித்த நாயகியாய் அம்மா உனது திரு நாமங்களைப் பாடி பாடி
உருகிப் பரவசம் மிகு அப்பாங்கு நீ எனக்கு அருள்வாய்
காடெனவே பொழில் சூழ் திரு மயிலாபுரி கற்பகமே!
O Karpagambal (karpagamE) of holy (tiru) Mayilapuri which is surrounded (sUzh) by a grove (pozhil) as large as (enavE – like, perhaps implying largeness) a forest (kADu)! O Mother (ammA) we worship you (implied) as the Goddess (nayakiyAy) who at one time (anDRu), having taken the form (uruveDuttu) of a dancing (aDum) peacock (mayil), sought (nADi) and worshipped (architta) the holy (tiru) feet (tAL) of our Lord (iRaivan)! May you (nI) bless (aruLvAy) me (enakku) in a way that (appAngu) I (implied) become very (migu) ecstatic (paravasam Agum) and emotionally melt (urugi) by singing (pADi) again and again (pADi repeated) your (nin) holy (tiru) names (nAmangal).
Afterthought : A reader has correctly observed that I should have mentioned Lalgudi and he is right. Lalgudi Jayaraman is always amazing but with Karpagame he is magical. His violin speaks as no voice can. There is a link provided by the reader in the comments section. Another one is here. I hope you enjoy the music!
Footnote : Lyrics
Language : Tamil
கற்பகமே கண் பாராய்
கற்பகமே கடை (கருணை) கண் பாராய்
சத்து சிதாநந்தமதாய் சகல உயிருக்குயிராயவள் நீ
தத்துவமஸ்யாதி மஹா வாக்கிய தத்பர வஸ்துவும் நீ
சத்துவ குணமோடு பக்தி செய்பவர் பவ தாபமும்
பாபமும் அற இம்மையில் வர
சந்தான சௌபாக்ய சம்பத்தோடு
மறுமையில் நிரதிசய இன்பமும் தரும் (கற்பகமே)
karpagamE kaN pArAy
karpagamE kaDai (karuNai) kaN pArAy
sattu-chidAnandamadAy sakala uyirukkuyirAyavaL (uyirukku-uyirAyval) nI
tattuvamasyadi mahA vAkkiya tatpara vastuvum nI
sattuva guNamODu bhakti seybavar bhava tApamum
pApamum aRa immayil vara
santAna saubhagya sampattODu
maRumaiyil niradisaya inbamum tarum
O Karpagambika (karpagamE) of the holy (tiru) town of Mayilai, cast a compassionate (karuNai) glance upon me (literally, look at me (pArAy) with the corner (kaDai) of your eyes (kaN)).
She who aids (udavu) with a boon (varam) of what is considered (karudum) holy (tiru) wealth (uDai) by ascetics (yOgiyar) with extended (para) consciousness (chit), mystics (siddargaL), wise/sage people (ñaniyar), and devotees (aDiyavar), she who is extolled (paravu) by Lakshmi (tirumagaL) and Saraswati (kalaimagaL)..
As that very (adAy) truth-consciousness-bliss (sat-chit-Anandam), you are (nI) She (avaL) who is like the life-force (uyirAy) of all lives (sakala uyirukku). You (nI) are also the object (vastuvum) of the true intent (tatpara) of great (mahA) pronouncements (vAkkiya) such as (Adi) ‘thou art that’ (tat-tvam-asi from the Upanishads). You are She who (implied) remove (aRa) the sorrow (tApamum) and sins (pApamum) of existence (bhava) of those who follow (seibavar) devotion (bhakti) with (-ODu) good (sattuva) character (guNam) in this birth (immaiyil) and bless them (vara) with the good fortune (saubhAgya) of progeny (santAna) and with (-ODu) wealth (sampattu). You are She who (implied) gives (tarum) unsurpassed (niradisaya) happiness (inbam) in the next life (marumaiyil).
Salutations to the embodiment of the Sun, Lord of the beautiful Goddess Chaya. He who is causative of all deeds, who illuminates the earth and is the Lord of Leo, He is paid homage to by noble people, throbbing with brilliance, famed as giver of boons, such as good health.
Belated Shankaranti/Pongal greetings to all of you! May all your wishes come to fruition!
Come Pongal, I cannot but think longingly of my mother’s wonderful Chakkarai Pongal (sweet jaggery rice). She was indeed a master of this dish; she had it perfected to a T. Actually I have what I think is her recipebut I can never get it to taste like hers. Too bad! Hmm…Is it only me who thinks of food at the thought of festivals before I think of the spiritual significance of the occasion? Sigh! Will I ever gain spiritual maturity?
As a harvest festival, Pongal acknowledges and celebrates the bounty of nature. Though I do not remember my parents saying special prayers for Surya, the Sun God, it is to Him that we must address our thanks on this occasion. We mustn’t think of the sun as just the star around which our home planet revolves but see it as a symbol of the force which provides all that we need to create and sustain life. The sun illuminates our physical world, God illuminates our metaphysical world. The sun sustains life on earth, God sustains our bodies and souls. The sun is the anchor around which we revolve in the physical world, it is God who plays that role in the metaphysical world. The sun is a wonderful metaphor for God and in worshipping Surya, we pay homage to that aspect of the infinite Brahman which we are reminded of by our own star.
To celebrate the day, I have chosen one of the Navagraha Kiritis by Muthuswami Dikshithar. These 9 Kritis are said to have great curative properties, both for health and the ailments of life. To read more about these Kritis, click here. In this Kriti set to the Raga Saurashtram, the poet-composer pays homage to Surya by naming His many qualities. My attention was grabbed especially by the poet’s reference to Surya as ‘karma kAranAtmaka’ ‘He who is causative of all deeds’. As I ponder over this, I think that yes, aren’t all physical processes on earth caused and controlled by the sun, directly or indirectly? From the creation of Earth, to the Physics, Chemistry and Biology of whatever happens on Earth, all are irrevocably connected to the sun. So Surya can be seen as causative of all deeds. There is another reference to Karma – ‘karma sAkshinE’ ‘Witness to all deeds’ says the poet. God is indeed a witness to all our actions, actions for which we need to give account one day. But invisible as he is, it cannot be only me who finds it easy to ignore His presence and go about my merry (and often wrong) way. The sun as a witness is a better concept, for it always makes its presence felt, even at night by its reflection on the moon. Perhaps thinking of the sun as a physical witness to our deeds will enable us to follow better the right path. For the lyrics and translation, see footnote. If you would like to know more about the raga, click here.
To present this song, I have chosen a rendition by the great Madurai Mani Iyer. I understand that he was a great believer in the powers of the Navagraha Kritis. He is said to have sung them everyday as part of his daily prayer ritual. After 1950, his concerts would also include the the song appropriate for the day of the week. Listen below to his rendition :
For an instrumental version, I have the violin maestro M.S.Gopalakrishnan presenting the song for you :
Language : Sanskrit
सूर्यमूर्ते नमोस्तुते सुन्दर छायाधिपते
कार्य कारणात्मक जगत् प्रकाश सिंह राश्याधिपते
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम् )
आर्य विनुत तेजःस्फूर्ते आरोग्यादि फलद कीर्ते
सारस मित्र मित्र भानो सहस्र किरण कर्णसूनो
क्रूर पापहर कृशानो गुरुगुह मोहित/मोदित स्वभानो
सूरिजनेडित सुदिन मणे सोमादि ग्रह शिखामणे
धीरार्चित कर्म साक्षिणे दिव्यतर सप्ताश्व रथिने
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम् )
सौराष्टार्ण मन्त्रात्मने सौवर्ण स्वरूपात्मने
भारतीश हरि-हरात्मने भुक्ति मुक्ति वितरणात्मने
(I am a bit doubtful about some parts, they are marked in red)
Salutations (namOsutE) to the embodiment of the Sun, Lord of the beautiful CHAyA (Goddess ‘Shadow’, consort of Surya).
He who is causative (kAraNAtmaka) of all deeds (kArya), who illuminates (prkAsha) the earth (jagat) and is the Lord (adhipatE) of Leo (astrological sign) (simha rAshi), He is paid homage to (vinuta) by noble (or wise) people (Arya), throbbing (sphUrta) with brilliance (tEjas), famed (kIrta) as giver of boons (phalada) such as good health (Arogya).
Friend (mitra) of the moon (sArasa), Lord Surya (mitra and bhAnu are names of sUrya), of many (sahasra) rays (kiraNa), father of Karna (karNasU), the fire (krshAnu) which destroys (hara) cruel (krUra) vices (pApa), the self-luminous (svabhAnu) one who enchants (mOhita) Guruguha (signature of poet), Lord (sUri) of the people (jana), gem (maNi) of an auspicious day (sudina), crest-jewel (shikhAmaNi) of planets and satellites (graha) such as (Adi) the Moon (chandra), worshipped (archita) by the brave (dhIra), witness (sAkshin) to all deeds (karma), carrier (tara) of the celestials (divya), He who has a chariot (ratha) driven by seven (sapta) horses (ashva), essence of the ashtArna or eight-part hymn of Surya (saura=solar)(which one is this referring to?), golden (sauvarna) formed (svaroopa), whose essence (Atman) is Brahma (bhArati Isha=Lord of Saraswati), Vishnu (hari) and Shiva (hara), bestower (vitarana Atman) of both worldly enjoyment (bhukti) and salvation (mukti).
Invocation. As a child I remember listening with fascination to my mother’s explanation of how God can be invoked into a Kalashafilled with water, topped with mango leaves and a coconut. Once the invocation is done, the Kalasha is worshipped as the Goddess. ‘God is everywhere’ my mother said ‘but when we invoke His or Her presence, divine energy becomes concentrated in an idol or a symbolic representation like a Kalasha’. Likewise an idol carved by the hands of men comes to sit in an altar somewhere and transforms from stone to God.
What causes the transformation? Invocation. Just invocation. Human beings have invoked the presence of God from time immemorial using ceremonies of all kinds. But finally it is just a simple call ‘Come’. My song choice of today is the essence of invocation. Addressed to Lord Muruga, the poet-composer Papanasam Sivan says ‘Come and protect me’. He identifies the divinity he invokes by different descriptions but the repeated ‘vA vA’ are the words we hear the most in this song, ‘Come, Come’. Set to the beautiful raga Varali (click here for more information on this raga), this melodious supplication touches the hearts of all those who hear it. So how can Lord Muruga remain unmoved?
Here below is an excellent version by Madurai Mani Iyer (1912-1968) , one of the most respected and celebrated vocalists from the first half of the 20th century.
For an instrumental version, listen to the supremely talented violinists Ganesh and Kumaresh below :
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Tamil
கா வா வா கந்தா வா வா என்னை கா வா வேலவா
(முருகா வா கந்தா வா)
பழனி மலை உறையும் முருகா (வா வா)
தேவாதி தேவன் மகனே வா – பர
தேவி மடியில் அமரும் குஹனே வா
வள்ளி தெய்வயானை மணவாளா
சரவண பவ பரம தயாளா ஷண்முகா (வா வா)
ஆபத்திருளற அருள் ஒளி தரும்
அப்பனே அண்ணலே ஐயா வா வா
பாபத் திரள் தரும் தாபம் அகல வரும்
பழனி வளர் கருணை மழையே வா வா
தாபத்ரய வெயில் அற நிழல் தரும் வான்
தருவே என் குல குருவே வா
ஸ்ரீ பத்மனாபன் மருகா வா
ராம தாசன் பணியும் முத்தைய்யா (விறைவுடன் வா வா)
kA vA vA kanda vA vA Yennai kA vA vElavA
(murugA vAkandA vA)
pazhanimalaiyuraiyum murugA (vA vA)
devAdi dEvan maganE vA
para dEvi maDiyil amarum guhanE vA
vaLLi deivayAnai manavaLA (vA)
sharavana bhava parama dayalA (shanmugA)
aapath- iruLara aruloLi tarum appane annaLe ayya vA vA
pApa tiraL tarum tApam agala varum
pazhani valar karunai mazhayE vA vA
tApatraya veyilara nizhal tarum vAntharuve yen
kula guruvEe vaa
sri padmanAban marugA rAma dAsan vanangum mutaiyA
Oh Muruga, who lives in Pazhani malai, come to protect me.
Come, O son of Shiva. Come, O Guha (the hidden one), who sits on Parvati’s lap.
Come, O husband of Valli and Deivayanai.
Come O Sharavana, the supremly kind being.
Come, you who bestow light to remove the darkness of danger.
Come, you who remove longing and sin, you the shower of kindness, who grew up in Pazhani.
Come, you who give shade to protect me from the hot rays of intense longing, you who are the Guru of our community.
Come, you who are the nephew of lord Vishnu, the one worshipped by Ramadasa, a gem like being.
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