Category Archives: Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

Chetah Sri Balakrishnam

Krishna baby on leafI’m home! What a busy month I have had! At the start of September, my friend and I went to Moscow and St Petersburg for 9 days. Russia was so very impressive! Then there was a bit of local tourism in Switzerland before setting off for a 10 day driving tour in Italy. We’ve been to Italy many times, but we always find something new to savour and enjoy. As we drove about 2700 km, there was enough time to listen to music – but it was all Hindi film songs, Ghazals, Bhajans and Qawwalis. No Carnatic Music (CM) at all. I do enjoy all these forms but how I missed CM! You can well imagine what I have been doing since I am back to my normal routine since Wednesday…  It was only when I let the sounds of CM seep into my soul that I felt truly home.  It is indeed my ‘ishTa gAnam’ !

That was not always the case. I have often mentioned in this blog that I was brought up in a family where CM was like a playback track to life. But in my teen years, the music that I chose for myself was mostly Hindi film music. I did like CM, but it was limited to just a few artists…and I preferred instrumentals mostly. I did love Bharatanatyam and enjoyed dance music. When my father played his favourite tapes of Semmangudi and Madurai Mani Iyer on his Grundig, I would moan complainingly! What an asamanjam (ignorant idiot+++) I was! I am so ashamed of my teenage stupidity! This week, as I have been listening obsessively to Semmangudi, I look back to those days and wonder why I didn’t have the musical maturity to appreciate such an extraordinary musician… How is it that some young ones already have such a developed taste? Do the learnings from one life pass on to the next? Would I have a more discerning taste in my next life?

In this week of my obsession with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, I have chosen to feature a song which he sang very often and with great beauty. This wonderful composition by Muthuswami Dikshithar extols the qualities of Balakrishna in the charming raga Dwijavanti. The composer says that ‘His lotus like feet bestow all dreamed about objects of desire’. When I listen to this song, I like to think of what dreams I would like to lay on His feet…One that I would like Him to consider is my wish to be born as a Carnatic Musician in my next life. I am still working out the details of the dream, the voice of Bombay Jayashri if I am born a woman or TMK if I am a man, the amazing sweetness and grace of Lalgudi’s creative mind, the bhakti bhava of MS, the flamboyant flair of GNB’s renditions……all this would be nice, but it is the lighting fast, brilliant musical mind of Semmangudi which would be the essential ingredient! Listen to my selection below and see how amazing his kalpana swarams are..

Alternate Link : Click here and download track 8 (free membership to Sangeethapriya required)

If you like this kriti, then you are in luck as there are many good renditions of this song by very many artists. A couple that  I have enjoyed this week are :

Track 3 in this concert by K.V.Narayanaswamy (free membership to Sangeethapriya required). The leisurely pace suits this song very well.

The first song in this concert by T.M.Krishna. The video is not good but don’t be put off; the audio is fine.


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Sanskrit

पल्लवि
चेतः श्री बाल कृष्णं भज रे
चिन्तितार्थ प्रद चरणारविन्दम् मुकुन्दम्

अनुपल्लवि
नूतन नीरद सदृश शरीरम् नन्द किशोरम्
पीत वसन धरम् कम्बु कन्धरम् गिरि धरम्
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
पूतनादि  सम्हारम् पुरुषोत्तमावतारम्
शीतल  हृदय विहारम् श्री  रुक्मिणी दारम्

चरणम्
नवनीत गन्ध वाह वदनम् मृदु गदनम्
नळिन पत्र  नयनम्  वट पत्र शयनम्
नव  चम्पक नासिकम् अतसी  सुम भासकम्
नतेन्द्रादि  लोक पालकम् मृग मद तिलकम्
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
नव तुळसी वन मालम् नारदादि मुनि जालम्
कुवलयादि परिपालम्  गुरु गुह नुत गोपालम्

Transliteration :

pallavi
chEtaH shrI bAla kRshNam bhaja rE
chintitArtha prada charaNAravindam mukundam

anupallavi
nUtana nIrada sadRsha sharIraM nanda kishOram
pIta vasana dharam kambu kandharam giri dharam
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
pUtanAdi samhAram purushOttamAvatAram
shItala hRdaya vihAram shrI rukmiNI dAram

charaNam
navanIta gandha vAha vadanam mRdu gadanam
naLina patra nayanam vaTa patra shayanam
nava champaka nAsikam atasI suma bhAsakam
natEndrAdi lOka pAlakam mRga mada tilakam
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
nava tuLasI vana mAlam nAradAdi muni jAlam
kuvalayAdi paripAlam guru guha nuta gOpAlam

Translation :

O Mind (chEtah), revere (bhaja) the child Lord Krishna (shrI bAla krishNam), also called Mukunda, whose lotus like (aravindam) feet (charaNam) bestow all dreamed about (chintita) objects of desire (artha).

He is the young boy (kishOra) of Nanda, the One whose body (sharIram) looks like (sadrRsha) fresh (nUtana) rain clouds (nIrada), the One who wears (dharam) yellow (pIta) garments (vasana), the One whose neck (kandharam) is like a conch (kambhu), the One who holds up (dharam) a mountain (giri).

He is the incarnation (avatAram) of Purushottama (=the supreme being). He is the One who destroyed (samhAra) Putana etc (Adi), the One who resides in (vihAram) in calm (shItala) hearts (hRdaya), the One whose wife (dAram) is Rukmini (or does it mean He is the consort of Rukmini? Unsure).

He is the One whose breath (vAha, literally air) from the mouth (vadana) smells of (gandha) butter (navanIta), the sweet (mRdu) talking (gadanam) One. He is One whose eyes (nayanam) look like lotus-leaves (naLina patra), the One who sleeps on (shayanam) the leaf of a banyan-tree (vaTa patra). He is the One whose nose (nAsika) looks like a new (nava) Champaka flower, the One whose complexion (implied) appears like (bhAsakam) the Atasi flower (suma) (a blue flower), the One bowed to (nata) by Indra and the guardians (pAlaka) of the world (lOka), the One who wears a mark on the forehead (tilaka) with the deer-musk (mRga mada=kastUri).

He is the One who is garlanded (mAlam) with new (nava) clusters (vana) Tulasi leaves, the One who has ensnared (jAlam) sages (muni) like Narada etc (Adi), the One who is the protector (pAlakam) of the worlds (kuvalaya Adi = bhUlOka etc). He is Gopala, praised by (nuta) Guruguha (signature of the composer).

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, Muthuswami Dikshithar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

Rave Himagiri

Kanchi KamakshiYou 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 tamasik gunas, 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 pranava mantra 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.

Alternate link : Click here

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

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.

पल्लवि
रावे हिमगिरि कुमारी कञ्चि कामाक्षि वरदा
मनवि विनवम्म शुभमिम्म मायम्म

चरणम् 1
नतजन परिपालिनि वनुचु नम्मितिनि सदा ब्रोव (alt: ब्रोवु )

चरणम् 2
मदमत्त महिष दानव मर्दिनि वेतदीर्चवे दूरमुगनु

चरणम् 3
काम पालिनि नीवे गतियनि कोरिति कोनियाडिति वेडिति

चरणम् 4
कामितार्थ फलदायकीयनेटि बिरुदु महिलो नीके तगु

चरणम् 5
कमल मुखी दरगळ घन नील कच भरा मृग विलोचन मणि रदना
गज गमना मदिलो निन्नु सदा दलचुकोनि नी ध्यानमे तल्लि

चरणम् 6
श्याम कृष्ण नुत विनु नाचिन्तनु वेवेग दीर्चभयमिय्यवे (दीर्चि अभयमिय्यवे)
कल्याणि कञ्चि कामाक्षि नी पादमे दिक्कु

For notation click here

Transliteration :

pallavi
rAvE himagiri kumArI kanchi kAmAkshi varadA
manavi vinamma shubhamimma mAyamma

charaNam 1
natajana paripAlini vanachu nammitini sadA brOva (alt: brOvu)

charaNam 2
madamatta mahisha dAnava mardini vEtadIrchavE dUrmuganu

charaNam 3
kAma pAlini nIvE gatiyani kOriti kOniyADiti vEDiti

charaNam 4
kAmitArtha phaladAyakIyanETi birudu mahilO nIkE tagu

charaNam 5
kamala mukhI daragaLa ghana nIla kacha bharA mrga vilOchana maNi radanA
gaja gamanA madilO ninnu sadA dalachukOni nI dhyAnamE talli

charaNam 6
shyAma krishNa nuta vinu nAchintanu vEvEga dIrchbhayamiyyavE
kalyANi kanchi kAmAkshi nI pAdamE dikku

Translation

O Kamakshi of Kanchi! O daughter of the snow clad mountains! O bestower of boons! Please come! O mother mine! Listen to my prayers and grant me welfare!

Protector of all those who bow to you! I believe in you only to protect me always.

O destroyer of the arrogant demon Mahisha! Please dispel my agony.

O protector of Cupid! You are my sole refuge. I praise you and  beseech you (to protect me). There is no equal to you in all the worlds. Listen to my entreaties.

O lotus-faced one with a neck like a conch shell, thick dark hair, eyes like a deer, teeth like pearls, with a gait as majestic as an elephant! I always reflect upon you and meditate upon you !

O the one worshipped by Shyamakrishna (signature of the poet)! Quickly dispel my worries and bestow me with fearlessness. O auspicious one! O Kamakshi of Kanchi! Your feet are my only refuge.

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, Iyer Brothers, M.S.Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Shyama Shastri

Teliyaleru Rama

People do not have the knowledge, O Rama, of the path of devotion. They wander all over the world babbling but they do not have the knowledge of devotion. They get up early, take a dip in the water, smear themselves with sacred ash, count their prayer beads with their fingers, outwardly very praiseworthy! Inwardly they are dedicated to making money. But..they do not have the knowledge of the path of devotion.

BhaktiI am an atheist’ my son tells me.

It is Deepavali day and we are at the temple. My son’s statement is not a surprise; I am aware of his thoughts. Yet..

It makes me so sad’ I say.

Generally speaking, my tendency is to say ‘each to his own’. I feel very unqualified to judge people for the choices they make. Who is to know what is right? Yet in this case, it feels different. I see this as a my failure. As a mother, I should have made a better effort to teach him of a belief system which has given me much succour over my lifetime. I say as much to him.

Are you so sure of being right then? What if you are wrong?’ he asks.

I acknowledge that it is not really possible to prove the existence of God. At some stage, one has to take a leap of faith. Yet there is this feeling… I think it is like music appreciation. There is all this wonderful music, soul touching music, our world of Carnatic Music. Thousands pass by its path, unaware, untouched. Even amongst those who listen with great interest, only rarely does the music ‘speak’ in such a way that one’s soul merges with the music. The transmission may be there, but if one doesn’t have a receiver, one hears nothing! For music and for devotion, one needs a receiver within oneself, or so I think.

‘teliyalEru rama bhakti mArgamunu’ I tell myself as the title of the song comes to mind. I search for a translation to see that Tyagaraja speaks of something a bit different – not about the lack of faith, but about putting on a grand but false show of faith. Tyagaraja seems saddened.  ‘They can never know, O Rama, the true path of Bhakti’ he says. ‘They get up early, take a dip in water, smear themselves with ash, count their prayers on their fingers, but all a grand show for appearances’ says he. It seems far worse than a honestly stated atheism, doesn’t it? For full lyrics and translation, see footnote. The song is set to raga Dhenuka; to know more about this raga, click here.

I have been in the mood of yesteryear greats as last week’s post demonstrates. I have listened to many renditions these past few  days but keep going back to the one by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer which I present below. Sound quality is not very good but the music is exceptional.

Alternate Link : Click here and download song 3 (need free membership of Sangeethapriya.org)

For an instrumental version, here is a elaborated rendition of this song. I found it very interesting as elaborations of this raga are rare. Again sound quality is below par but definitely worthy of your attention.

Alternate Link : Click here and download song 2 (need free membership of Sangeethapriya.org)

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

I do not speak Telugu. I am indebted to various internet resources for the lyrics and translation below.

Transliteration in Devanagri

पल्लवी
तॆलिय लेरु राम भक्ति मार्गमुनु

अनुपल्लवी
इलनन्तट तिरुगुचुनु
कलुवरिञ्चेरे कानि (alternate: कलुवरिञ्चुत ?)

चरणम्
वेग लेचि नीट मुनिगि भूति पूसि
वेळ्ळनॆञ्चि वॆलिकि श्लाघनीयुलै
बाग पैकमार्जन लोलुलै
रे कानि त्यागराज विनुत

Transliteration in English

(note: k and g seemed to be used interchangeably in most sites I referenced)

pallavi
teliya lEru rAma bhakti mArgamunu

anupallavi
ilanantaTa tiruguchunu
kaluvarinchErE kAni (alt:kaluvarinchuta)

charaNam
vEga lEchi nITa munigi bhUti pUsi
vELLanenchi veliki shlAghanIyulai
bAga paikamArjana lOlulai
rE kAni tyAgarAja vinuta

Translation

People do not have the knowledge, O Rama, of the path of devotion.

People wander all over the earth babbling, but (they do not have the knowledge….)

People get up early, take a dip in the water, smear sacred ash, count the prayer beads (implied) with their fingers, outwardly being praiseworthy. Inwardly (implied) they are dedicated to earning money. But, O Lord praised by Tyagaraja, (they do not have the knowledge of the path of devotion).

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Tyagaraja, U.Srinivas

Srinivasa Tiruvenkata

Srinivasa1

Sanctuary. It is a concept which is familiar to all of us. A sanctuary provides a safe haven when one is under threat, even if one is not in the right. A political refugee may seek sanctuary in countries where he will not be persecuted for his leanings. A tax refugee may seek sanctuary in a tax shelter where he can avoid paying high taxes. English law for many centuries allowed fugitives to seek sanctuary in churches and avoid prosecution as long as they remained within church property.

Abhaya mudraAnd so too in religion, the idea of sanctuary has existed for a long time. Most Hindu Gods are shown with their hands in abhaya hasta meaning without fear. In the picture on the right, the young dancer has her right hand in the abhaya hasta and her left hand in the varada or boon giving mudra typical of Goddess Lakshmi. The abhaya hasta indicates that God is a sanctuary that we can all take refuge in, without fear of anything. And just like in any other haven, when you give yourself up, it is a no-questions-asked sanctuary.

How then is one to seek that refuge? Herein comes the concept of Sharanagati or Unconditional Surrender. In Mahabharata, in the episode called Draupadi Vastrabharanam, Drapudi is humiliated in court when Dushasana tries to disrobe her in public. She cries for help but in this court of kings and noblemen, no man is noble enough to support her. As long as she tries to protect herself with her hands, there is no help for her. Finally she raises both hands and in despair calls out to Krishna seeking His help and a miracle happens.  Thus it is with unconditional surrender that you will find unconditional sanctuary says our scriptures.

All this to lead up to my song choice of the day! In this simple song by Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) set to the melodious raga Hamsanandi, the poet salutes Lord Srinivasa and says ‘You who are famous as being the refuge of the helpless/wretched, where have you seen one more helpless than me? I seek the refuge of your feet, give me sanctuary!’. He, whose hands are held in the abhaya hasta, a constant re-assurance of sanctuary, how can He refuse so heartfelt a plea?  To see the full lyrics and translation, see footnote. To know more about the raga, click here.

To present this song, I have found a very nice rendition by the young vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan. He starts the song with this beautiful viruththam (verse) from the Nalayira Divyaprabandam (verse 678).  1100 year old and it still speaks to us with such intensity! Such is true poetry.

ஆனாத செல்வத்து அரம்பையர்கள் தற்சூழ
வானாளும் செல்வமும்  மண்ணரசும்   யான் வேண்டேன்
தேனார் பூஞ்சோலைத் திருவேங்கடச் சுனையில்
மீனாய்ப் பிறக்கும்  விதியுடையேன்  ஆவேனே

I wish not for the immense wealth of ruling the heavens surrounded by celestial maidens, nor do I wish to rule the earth. I yearn merely to be a fish in a forest spring on the sacred Venkatam where honey scented flowers bloom.

Kulashekhara Azhwar, Chera King (9th Century)

Another rendition I like very much is that of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908-2003), one of the greatest and celebrated Carnatic vocalists of our times.

For an instrumental version, I present the very accomplished Iyer Brothers on the Veena. I take pride in the fact that they are from my home city of Melbourne, Australia.

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Tamil

பல்லவி
ஸ்ரீநிவாச திருவேங்கட முடையாய்
ஜெயகோவிந்த முகுந்தா அனந்தா

அனுபல்லவி
தீனஷரண்யன் எனும்பெயர் கொண்டாய்
தீனன் எனைப் போல் வேறெவர் கண்டாய்

சரணம்
ஜகம்புகழும் ஏழுமலை மாயவனே
திருமகள் அலர்மேல் மங்கை மணாளனே
ஜகன்னாதா சங்கு சக்ர தரணே
திருவடிக்கபயம் அபயம் ஐயா

Transliteration

pallavi
shrInivAsa tiru vEnkaTamuDaiyAi
jaya gOvinda mukunda anantA

anupallavi
dIna sharaNyan enum pugazh koNDaAi
dInan enaippOl vErevar kaNDAi

charaNam
jagam pugazhum Ezhumalai mAyavanE
tirumagaL alarmEl mangai maNALanE
jagannAtA shankha chakra dharanE
tiruvadik-kabhayam abhayamayyA

Translation

O Srinivasa (in whom Lakshmi dwells), lord of Venkatam, Victory to you. O Govinda, Mukunda (liberator), O Infinite one!

You are famous as the refuge of the helpless/wretched, where have you seen one more helpless than me?

O lord of the seven hills who is praised by all, O illusory one. O husband of Alamelu Mangai (name of Lakshmi). O lord of the universe who holds the wheel and the conch. I seek the refuge of your feet, give me sanctuary!

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Iyer Brothers, Papanasam Sivan, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Sikkil Gurucharan