If you had parents, would you have been brought to such lows? While one man hit you with stones, another kicked you with his feet, yet another hit you with a bow, and one cut you with an axe, another one called you a madman and the Pandya king of Madurai hit you with a cane! When these things happened, of whom were you thinking, O Lord?
On first reading, does it shock you that this song is actually in praise of Lord Shiva? We are all so used to songs singing the glories of God and here is Gopalakrishna Bharathi writing of all the insults meted out to Him! An excellent device to grab our attention, don’t you think? Yet each of these incidents have a story of the Lord’s greatness in the background. This kind of backhanded praise of the Lord is called nindA stuti.
Lord Shiva being svayambhu or self-born has no parents so he may be called an orphan. Orphans seldom get treated fairly in our society and the poet points out all the times in which the Lord was seemingly ill-treated. In the end, he asks ‘when all this happened, whom did you think of?’. When in trouble, you may exclaim ‘Oh God’ in English or some curse word but in Indian languages, one often refers to one’s mother or father (amma, for example). So whose name would an orphan take? The poet’s clever question bring us back to the the main refrain of the song, ‘if you had a father and a mother, would you have been brought to such lows in this world, O Lord?’.
Why write songs like this? You may wonder, just as I do. My theory is that those who are believers also have a constant fear that the Lord will reject them based on their behaviour. Songs like this give us solace by reminding us that our Lord is very accommodating when it comes to his bhaktas.
The poet brings out a number of incidents from various stories and legends to illustrate his point. I have given a short synopsis of these incidents for your knowledge and interest.
One who hit the Lord with stones : This refers to Sakkiya Nayanar who was a Buddhist but came to be a great devotee of Shiva. When he comes upon Lord Shiva’s temple at Tirucchangamangai, he is overcome with love for God and without realising what he is doing, he picks up a stone and flings it at the Lord as if he were pelting flowers. This then becomes a daily habit. One day, realising he was starting to eat without first pelting the Lord, he goes running to the temple. His devotion moves the Lord who appears in person to bless him.
One who kicked the Lord with his feet : This refers to Kannappa Nayanar. It is said that one day he notices that one eye of the Shiva Linga is oozing blood and tears. Thinking that the Lord’s eyes are injured, he plucks out his own eye with an arrow and places it in place of the Linga’s eye. Next the other eye starts oozing blood. Placing his toe in position of the second eye, so that he would know where it was once he became blind, he starts to pluck out his other eye. The Lord appears to stop him and bless him, restoring both his eyes.
One who hit the Lord with a bow : This refers to an incident from the Mahabharata. Arjuna goes to the Himalayas to perform austerities and obtain the weapon Pashupatastra from Lord Shiva. The Lord is pleased and appears in the form of a hunter (kirATa). To test Arjuna, he shoots an arrow at a boar at the same time that Arjuna does. Disputing over who shot the arrow first, they descend to a fight. Arjuna, the best of warriors, is surprised that he cannot defeat the humble hunter. Finally recognizing the Lord, he surrenders to him. He is then blessed with the weapon he seeks.
One who called the Lord a madman : This refers to Sundarar, also called Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. It is said that on the day Sundarar was to be wed, an old man comes to stop the wedding claiming that Sundarar was his slave. Sundarar, who was from a good and wealthy family, mocks him as a madman, as one possessed. This goes to court and the old man produces a document substantiating his claim. When asked to show his house, the old man leads them to the temple and disappears. He then appears as Lord Shiva to Sundarar and blesses him, saying that he was destined to be a slave to God.
One who hit the Lord with a cane : This is an incident from the story about the great devotional poet, Manikkavachagar. When the Vaigai river starts overflowing, the Pandya king of Madurai orders all citizens to either labour or pay for the labour to build dikes. An old lady called Pittuvani Ammaiyar, a devotee of our Lord, is troubled because she does not have the money to hire someone to do her share. The Lord, hearing her distress, comes as a labourer and offers to do the job for the price of some pittu, the food that she makes and sells. He takes the pittu and goes to the dikes but instead of completing the job, he does nothing. The king who comes to inspect is infuriated and hits the labourer with a cane. Instead of hurting him, this recoils on the king and everyone around. The king at once realises that this is the Lord and is aghast. The Lord vanishes and a voice comes from the heavens for the king to release Mannickavachagar, the great devotee of Shiva, whom the king has imprisoned. Pittuvani Ammaiyar too is released from this earth on the same day.
One who cut Lord Shiva with an axe : Once, Lord Shiva challenged Parashurama to a battle to test his skills in warfare. They engaged in a fierce battle for twenty one days. While ducking to avoid being hit by the Trident (Trishūl) of Lord Shiva, Parashurama a vigorously attacked him with his axe. It struck Lord Shiva on the forehead creating a wound. Lord Shiva was very pleased to see the skills of his disciple and embraced him. Lord Shiva preserved this wound as an ornament in honour of his disciple; ‘Khanda-parshu’ (wounded by Parashu) is one of the thousand names of Lord Shiva.
I am indebted to Shaivam.org where I found much of this information. A reader kindly helped me with pointing out the last story.
This song is set to raga Shanmukhapriya. To know more about this raga, click here. To present this song, I have chosen an old recording of N.C.Vasanthakokilam (1919-1951). A Carnatic Musician and an actress, she popularised many songs of Gopalakrishna Bharathi, including our song choice of today. This is historically important as there was, until even the 1940’s, a certain resistance to singing Tamil songs in Carnatic Music. Charsur has an interesting article on the subject of Tamil Isai movement; to read click here.
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Composer : Gopalakrishna Bharathi
Raga : Shanmukhapriya
Language : Tamil
தந்தை தாய் இருந்தால் உலகத்தில் உமக்கிந்த
தாழ்வெல்லாம் வருமோ அய்யா – பெற்ற
அந்த மிகுந்த ஸ்ரீ அம்பல வாணரே (unsure about this line)
Alternate : அந்தமில் நடம் செய்யும் அம்பல வாணரே
அருமை உடனே பெற்று பெருமை உடன் வளர்த்த
கல்லால் ஒருவன் அடிக்க -உடல் சிலிர்க்க
காலின் (Alt:காலில்) செருப்பால் ஒரு வேடன் வந்தே (Alt:வந்து) உதைக்க
வில்லால் ஒருவன் அடிக்க -காண்டீபம் என்னும் (Alt:என்ற)
கூசாமல் ஒருவன் கை கோடாலியால் வெட்ட
கூட்டத்தில் ஒருவன் பித்தா பேயா என திட்ட
வீசி மதுரை மாறன் பிரம்பால் அடிக்க
அந்த வேளை யாரை நினைந்தீரோ அய்யா
tandai tAi irundAl ulagattil umakkinda
tAzhvellAm varumO ayyA – peTRa
anda migunda shrI ambala vANarE
Alternate: andamil natam seyyum ambala vANarE
arumai uDanE petru perumai uDan vaLartta
kallAl oruvan aDikka -uDal silirkka
kAlin (Alt: kAlil) seruppAl oru vEDan vandE (Alt:vandu) udaikka
villAl oruvan aDikka –gANDibam ennum (Alt: endra)
kUsAmal oruvan kai kODAliyAl veTTa
kUTTattil oruvan pittA pEyA ena tiTTa
vIsi madurai mAran pirambAl aDikka
anda vELai yArai ninaindIrO ayyA
If you had (irundAl=if there had been) a father (tandai) and a mother (tAi), would you have been brought to such lows (tAzhvu) (treated so badly) in this world (ulagattil) O Lord (ayya)?
Resident (vANar) of that (anda) prosperous (migunda srI) Chidambaram (ambalam) [Alternate : That resident of Chidambaram who dances (natam seyyum) at the End (andam)], if you had been born (peTRu) dear (arumai) to your parents (implied) and brought up with pride (perumai) (would you have been brought to such lows?)
While one man (oruvan) hit you (aDikka) with stones (kallAl), body (uDal) horripilating ie. getting goose-bumps (silirkka), while another hunter (vEDan) came (vandu) and kicked you (udaikka) with the shoes on his feet (kAlin seruppAl), while yet another hit you (aDikka) with his bow (villAl) called Gandibam (=Gandiva), another one cut you (veTTa) without hesitation (kUsAmal) with an axe (kODali), while another abused (tiTTa) you publicly (kUTTattil = in a crowd) as mad (pittA) and possessed (pEyA), while the Pandya King of Madurai threw (vIsi) a bamboo cane (pirambAl) and hit you (aDikka), at that time (anda vELai) whom (yArai) did you remember (ninaindIRo) O Lord (ayya) ?