Category Archives: Bhajan

Hari Tum Haro

Krishna BabyAfter 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.

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The Joy of Music

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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.


Lyrics

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॥

Transliteration

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

Translation

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).

 

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Chalo Man Ganga Jamuna Teer

Triveni SangamMy posts this spring and summer have been so very infrequent! I’ve had a busy time with lots of visitors and my own travelling. Just last weekend my husband and I returned from a long road trip to the North of Spain, driving nearly 4300 kms in 16 days.

This was a trip that I had had in mind for quite some time. Five years back I had made plans to go on the famous Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route with my two lady friends from Australia to celebrate all of us turning 50. We had planned to walk about 300 kms of this route but sadly for me, I had some health issues and could not join in. As it is unlikely that I would ever be able to do this walk, I took the opportunity this summer to do the route the easy way.

I have a great love of Cathedrals and in this trip we saw some really outstanding ones. I will never forget the sheer magnificence of the Burgos Cathedral, nor the magic of the stained glass at León. The Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela had that indescribable atmosphere that only holy places have. But this is a music blog; you’ll have to wait for my travel blog to read details about it all! Those of you who are wondering why this Iyengar woman goes on a Christian pilgrimage, I see the presence of God in the beauty of the architecture, in the skills of the artisans, in the creativity of the sculptors and painters, in the bhakti of all the believers who have come to these cathedrals for the last thousand years. And if I address Jesus or Mary with a couple of Hindu shlokas, I don’t think they mind very much!

This concept of a holiday which is a pilgrimage comes from my childhood. In fact, I used to think that was the way everyone had holidays! Come school break, my parents would take my sister and me to either our grandparents’ homes or on a teertha yatra, or a combination of the two. We went to many sthalas all over India but the most memorable ones for me involved a dip in Ganga. I remember the crowded ghats of Kasi, the swirling rush of Haridwar and Rishkesh, the freezing waters of Badrinath and the body-and-mind-numbing waters of Mandakini at Gaurikund, en route on our walk from Soneprayag to Kedarnath. (I just referred to my article published in my school magazine to remind me of the name of the place. If you would like to read of our pilgrimage at that time, here is a link to my rather immature article from 1975!) But most magical of all was a dip in Prayag at the Triveni Sangama; my then teenaged and very fanciful mind was quite taken by the idea of the hidden river Saraswati quietly flowing and meeting with Ganga and Yamuna.

And thus I come upon my song choice of today. Meera is said to have written Chalo Man Ganga Jamuna Teer in Prayag (unconfirmed).  In her song, she says ‘O Mind, Go to Prayag’, The Prayag that she urges us to is not the confluence of the rivers but the sangama of the NadisIda, Pingala and Sushumna– at the Ajna chakra (between our brows, position of the third-eye) . Ida is associated with Ganga, Pingala with Yamuna and Sushumna with Saraswati. This meeting point is called ‘Mukta Triveni’; it is the point of liberation. Meera urges us to this sangama, saying that the waters here are pure, stainless; such a dip, she says, will cool down our bodies. Cool from what? I imagine she means the heat of the passions and emotions that we live with.  So, you see, though I have been on a many a pilgrimage, I have not dipped in the most important of sangamas. What use such physical pilgrimages then? !!

To listen to the song, there can be none other than the voice of D.V.Paluskar who made this song his own. Enjoy, and perhaps you will be inspired to take the dip that Meera urges us to.

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Rajasthani / Brijbhasa

(Lyrics as sung by D.V.Paluskar; I could not verify Meera’s original words which could well differ)

चलो मन गङ्गा-जमुना तीर ।
गङ्गा-जमुना निर्मल पानी ।
शीतल होत शरीर ।।

बंसी बजावत गावत कान्हा ।
संग लिये बलबीर ।।

मोर-मुकुट पीताम्बर सोहे ।
कुण्डल झलकत हीर ।।

मीरा के प्रभु गिरिधर नागर ।
चरण कमल पर सीर ।।

Transliteration

chalO mana gangA jamunA tIra
gangA jamunA niramala pAnI
shItala hOta sharIra

bansI bajAvata gAvata kAnhA
sanga liyE balabIra

mOra mukuTa pItAmbara sOhE
kuNDala jhalakata hIra

mIrA kahE prabhu giridhara nAgara
charaNa kamala para sIra

Translation

O Mind (mana), go (chalO) to the shores (teera) of Ganga and Yamuna (this means Prayag, where the two meet with Saraswati). The body (sharIra) becomes (hOta) cool (shItala) in the stainless (niramala) waters (pAnI) of Ganga and Yamuna.

There (implied), Krishna (kAnhA) is playing (bajAvata) his flute (bansI) and singing (gAvata), accompanied (sanga liyE) by Balarama (balabIra).

Krishna’s crown (mukuTa) of peacock (mOra) feathers and yellow garments (pItAmbara) suit him (sOhE). And from his earrings (kuNDala), diamonds (hIra)  glitter (jhalakata).

Meera says (kahE) that her head (sIra) is on the lotus (kamala) like feet (charaNa) of her Lord who held up the mountain (giridhara nAgara).

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Naiharwa

Guru BrahmaWho will quench this burning fire within me? I can stay no longer in this natal home of mine. He, my beloved, is far far away in the most beautiful of towns where nobody comes or goes. Who will take a message to Him for me? Who will tell Him of my unbearable pain of separation from Him? The path to my beloved’s town is not clear. Is it my past which clouds the way to Him? Oh how this separation burns me! Who else but my Guru can tell me the secret to reach Him? Listen, O Good people, He comes in my dreams to quench this fire in my soul.

So sings Kabir in this beautiful and mystical song. Was this burning need for God which showed him the way to salvation, I wonder? How many births do we need to take before the need burns as strong in us? How many lifetimes do we have to live until we can shake off the earthly needs and desires which make us dance to their tunes? Where will we find the Guru who can show us the way, the path to our Lord’s hometown?

Today is Guru Poornima, the day to honour our preceptors. We have so many teachers in our lives, do we not? Our parents are our first teachers, followed by those at school and at university. Our spouses and our children teach us as they show us how to be and how not to be. Our friends too are our teachers, for do we not learn from them? Our sins and our mistakes are our teachers too, for they point to us the error of our ways. Books are often excellent teachers, as are strangers on the web who share their knowledge. I look around me and all I see are teachers and teachers..and I see a glimpse of the ultimate preceptor in all of them. I thank and honour them all, for they have all been part of making the person who I am today. But like Kabir I ask, who will teach me the way forward? When will He come to quench my thirst? Today on Guru Poornima day I pray for a Guru to show me the way home. For this naiharwa, this natal home of mine, this earth, palls day by day.

To present this song, I have chosen a rendition by Kailash Kher. Though he doesn’t sing the middle verse, I love his rendition for his voice is the salt of the Indian earth. Ideally though, I would have liked the accompaniments to be simple and traditional instruments.  I am a great fan of Kabir’s poetry and in the voice of Kailash Kher it becomes something magical.


Footnote (Lyrics)

Language: Braj Bhasha

Note: The lyrics are unauthenticated. They are sufficient for the purpose of enjoying the song but should not be referred for any scholarly work.

नैहरवा हमका न भावै , न भावै रे ।

सॉई की नगरी परम अति सुन्दर,
जहाँ कोई जाए ना आवै ।
चाँद सुरज जहाँ, पवन न पानी,
कौ संदेस पहुँचावै, 
दरद यह सॉई को सुनावै ।

आगे चालौ (चलौ?) पंथ नहीं सूझै,
पीछे दोष लगावै ।
केहि बिधि ससुरे जाऊँ मोरी सजनी,
बिरहा जोर जरावै ,
विषैरस नाच नचावै ।

बिन सतगुरू अपनों नहीं कोई,
जो यह राह बतावै ।
कहत कबीर सुनो भाई साधो,
सपने में प्रीतम आवै,
तपन यह जिया की बुझावै ।

Transliteration

naiharwa hamkA na bhAvai

sAyI kI nagarI parama ati sundar
jahA.n kOI jAyE na Avai
chA.nd suraj jahA.n pavan na pAnI
kOU sa.ndEs pahu.chAvai
darad yah sAyI kO sunAvai

AgE chAlau panTH nahi.n sUjhai
pICHE dOsh lagAvai
kEhi bidhi sasurE jAU.n mOrI sajanI
birahA jOr jarAvai
vishairas nAch nachAvai

bin satguru apnO.n nahI.n kOI
jO yah rAh batAvai
kahat kabIr sunO bhAI sAdhO
sapnE mE.n prItam Avai
tapan yah jiyA kI bujhAvai

Translation

My natal home appeals no more.

The town of God is so very beautiful,
but no one goes or comes from there.
There is neither the sun or the moon, nor wind or water.
Who will take my message there?
Who will talk of my pain to God?

I cannot see the path to go forward,
One blames the past for it.
Which way shall I go to my husband’s home ? (Note: unsure as to who is addressed as mOrI sajanI=my love in a feminine form)
This separation burns me intensely,
this poisonous blood (unsure?) makes me dance to its tune.

There is none else but my good Guru
who can tell me this secret.
Kabir says ‘Listen O good people, O brothers,
The Lord (my beloved) comes in my dream
and quenches the burning of my soul’
.

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Sri Ramachandra Kripalu

RamaHappy Ramanavami everybody!

Dickens was a clever fellow, wasn’t he? I reckon he hit the nail on the head with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Just as Scrooge was haunted by this Ghost, I too feel the presence of the Ghost of Ramanavami Past all around me today. Is this how it is for everybody? Do we all go through life shaped and then haunted by an unchangeable past and hemmed in by an unpredictable future? I wonder, what past am I creating today? How will it haunt me later?

Thankfully for me, unlike Scrooge’s Ghost, my Ghost only shows me warm and wonderful memories of Ramanavami. From its annals of collective memory, it shows me the joy of Lord Rama’s birth and from my own personal memory, it shows me the joys of celebrations past.

As I pick the song for today I am haunted more than by just Ramanavami. This song has sent me hurling back in time to my school years. Every morning I would be woken by Vividh Bharati’s 6 am devotional music program which featured songs like my choice of the day.  I would sip my tea standing on the veranda, watching the sun make its way up the horizon, listening to the songs on the radio accompanied by mum’s voice joining in as she busied herself in the kitchen. She would have woken much earlier, for she would have showered, then finished her half-hour morning puja, made filter-coffee and be well into making lunch. On festival days and holidays, this morning devotional music would be followed by Venkatesha Suprabhatam and Vishnu Sahasranamam on my father’s favourite possession – a Grundig tape recorder that he bought in Germany in the 1960s. For the rest of the festival day, there would be non-stop Carnatic Music.

What a feast my mum would lay out for us! There would be panagam and kosumalli in addition to the festival menu of many dishes with vadai & payasam. How many hours she would have spent in the kitchen! Why don’t I remember thanking her? Forget festivals, did I even thank her for getting up early enough to pack me a cooked lunch everyday? I can’t remember.  So after all, I too have a ghost which haunts me –the Ghost of ingratitude, of taking my mother’s love for granted, for were not her meals just edible love?

Today’s song is by the great poet-saint Tulsidas (1532-1623). He extolls Rama’s beauty in wonderful verse, calling him equal to ‘innumerable Cupids’, like a ‘lustrous white lightning in his yellow garments’. The sounds of the words ring as pleasingly as the description of his Lord. For lyrics and translation, see footnote. His prayer is basically for the Lord who is the ‘destroyer of the great fears of life’ to ‘live in the lotus of my heart’. Is that not our prayer too?

So here is the voice which sang so beautifully through my growing years, Lata Mangeshkar, singing Sri Ramachandra Kripalu Bhaja Mana.

For those who are unfamiliar with the life of Tulsidas, there is a Hindi film made in 1954 which is available on youtube with subtitles. Though it does stretch what is essentially quite a short story, I still enjoyed watching it; I do like the innocence of old films.


Footnote (Lyrics) :

श्री रामचन्द्र कृपालु भज मन हरण भव-भय दारुणम् ।
नव-कंज-लोचन कंज-मुख कर-कंज पद-कंजारुणं॥१॥

कंदर्प अगणित अमित छवि नव नील नीरद सुन्दरम् ।
पट पीत मानहु तड़ित रूचि शुचि नौमि जनक सुता वरम् ॥

भज दीन बन्धु दिनेश दानव दैत्य वंश निकन्दनम् ।
रघु नन्द आनंद कंद कोसल-चंद दशरथ नन्दनम् ॥

शिर मुकुट कुण्डल तिलक चारु उदार अङ्ग विभूषणम् ।
आजानु भुज शर चाप धर सङ्ग्राम जित खर दूषणम् ॥

इति वदति तुलसीदास शङ्कर शेष-मुनि मन रञ्जनम् ।
मम हृदय कंज निवास कुरु कामादि खलदल-गंजनं॥

shrI rAmachandra kripAlu bhaja mana haraNa bhava bhaya dAruNam
nava-kanja-lOchana kanja-mukha kara-kanja pada-kanjAruNam

kandarpa agaNita amita chavi nava nIla nIrada sundaram
paTa pIta mAnahu taDita ruchi shuchi naumi janaka sutA varam

bhaja dIna bandhu dinEsha dAnava daitya vansha nikandanam
raghu nanda Ananda kanda kOsala chanda dasharatha nandanam

shira mukuTa kuNDala tilaka chAru udAra anga vibhUshaNam
AjAnu-bhuja shara chApa dhara sangrAma jita khara dUshaNam

iti vadati tulasIdAsa shankara shEsha muni mana ranjanam
mama hrdaya kanja nivAsa kuru kAmAdi khaladala ganjanam

O Mind (mana)! Pray (bhaja) to compassionate (kripAlu) Ramachandra who destroys (haraNa) the great (dAruNa) fears of life (bhava-bhaya). With eyes (lOchana) like a new (nava) lotus (kanja), with a face (mukha) like a lotus (kanja), and feet (pada) like a crimson (aruNa=dawn) lotus (kanja).

With boundless (amita) splendour (chavi) like innumerable (agaNita) cupids (kandarpa), he is as beautiful (sundaram) as a new (nava) blue (implies rain?) (nIla) cloud (nIrada). I bow (noumi) to that groom (varam) of Janaka’s daughter (sutA), who is like  (mAnahu) a lustrous (ruchi) white (shuchi) lightning (taDita) in his yellow (pIta) garments (paTa). 

I bow (bhaja) to the Sun-like (diNesha) friend (bandhu) of the wretched (dIna),  destroyer (nikandanam) of the demons (dAnava & daityA) dynasties (vansha). Son (nanda) of the Raghu dynasty, root (kanda) of joy (Ananda), gladdens (chanda) the Kosalas (his mother’s dynasty),  son of Dasharatha.

Beautiful (chAru) with a crown (mukuTa) on his head (shira), earrings (kunDala), and mark on his forehead (tilaka) and limbs (anga) generously (udAra) decorated (vibhUshaNam). With long hands to his knees (AjAnu-bhuja), holding (dhara) a bow (chApa) and arrow (shara) , winner (jIta) of the battle (sangrAma) with khara and dhUshaNa.

Thus (iti) says (vadati) tulasIdAsa. He who pleases (ranjana) the minds (mana) of Shankara and Adisesha (sEsha muni), who has contempt (ganjanam) for the wicked things (khala-dala) like (Adi) desire (kAma), please dwell (nivAsa kuru) in the lotus (kanja) of my heart (hridaya),

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Jheeni Jheeni Beeni Chadariya

Last month I learnt to knit. I should say I re-learnt, because I had knit once for a school project when I was a teenager. I didn’t enjoy it then.  One month back, the urge to knit came suddenly upon me. Armed with some needles, wool and how-to-knit Youtube videos, I successfully knit scarves for my son and my daughter. That was in Melbourne.

Yesterday I flew back from my home in Australia to my home in Switzerland. As I came awake at 3 am, slowly becoming aware of my changed surroundings, I let my still sleepy mind wander through last month, looking for insight and learning as I often do. Thinking of my knitting, it struck me that the lessons I learnt from it applies equally well to life.

  • Choose the right yarn with which to knit  I chose a ‘furry’ kind for my first project. I was forever disturbing the strands and unravelling mistakes was painful! And thus too in life. Choosing the wrong kind of ‘yarn’ in the form of people or work to knit our lives will lead us to disturbed and broken strands and leave us with problems too difficult to unravel.
  • Its easier to be careful than to fix errors Sometimes it is just a momentary carelessness. You make a mistake in the pattern or drop a stitch and you don’t even notice. When you finally realise your error, it takes a lot of time and effort to fix it. Surely it is easier just to be careful from the start? Isn’t that true in life too? How many mistakes I have made, how difficult (and sometimes impossible) it has been to fix them! If only I had had the sense to be careful from the start…sigh!
  • One cannot see a pattern by one stitch It may only be made up of simple knits and purls, but you need to knit a swatch before the pattern becomes evident. One stitch shows nothing. Thus too with people. One cannot know of ourselves, others or life by one action. Watch the pattern.

All these were my pre-waking up thoughts. As I came awake I thought, oh I know who sang of life and stitches or rather life and weaving. Kabir of course! I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to listen to the wonderful, inimitable Kumar Gandharva singing Kabir’s poetry ‘Jheeni Jheeni Beeni Chadariya’. The poet compares life to a woven wrap. ‘Subtly, delicately, He wove this wrap! What is its warp? What is its weft? With what fibre was it woven?’ he wonders. Describing this body which is just a wrap the soul takes on, to be discarded at the end of life, he says ‘Gods, men and sages have worn this wrap and sullied it by their wearing. This servant Kabir is wearing this with care so that he can leave it unsullied, just as it was.’ For lyrics and translation, see footnote.

Kumar Gandharva sings this superbly; he is reflective but still has a great depth of emotion. I imagine that Kabir would have sung in this same simple folk style. Kumar Gandharva is quite remarkable, this is the epitome of meditative singing. I believe it is raga Jogiya. Just listen!

This comes from a lovely album called Nirguni Bhajans. To listen to the whole album, click here.

I have been fascinated by Kabir since my teenage years. I enjoyed his poetry which is often pithy but also mystical. So I was particularly interested when I came upon the site of the Kabir Project while looking for Kumar Gandharva’s connection with Kabir. I saw one of the films : Koi Sunta Hai-Journeys with Kumar and Kabir. It was both informative and interesting, with some lovely music. It is subtitled in English. I urge anyone interested in Kabir, Kumar Gandharva, spirituality or the folk music of India to watch this. Last week I wrote of Saints of India and their music. I was reminded after seeing the film that music and spirituality runs in the veins of India.


Footnote (Lyrics) :

झीनी झीनी बीनी चदरिया ॥
काहे कै ताना काहे कै भरनी
कौन तार से बीनी चदरिया ॥
इङ्गला पिङ्गला ताना भरनी
सुखमन तार से बीनी चदरिया ॥
आठ कँवल दल चरखा डोले
पाँच तत्व गुण तीनी चदरिया ॥
सांई को सियत मास दस लागे
ठोंक ठोंक कै बीनी चदरिया ॥
सो चादर सुर नर मुनि ओढ़े
ओढ़ कै मैली कीनी चदरिया ॥
दास कबीर जतन से ओढी,
ज्यों कीं त्यों धर दीनी चदरिया ॥

Transliteration:

jhInI jhInI bInI chadariyA
kAhE kai tAnA kAhE kè bharnI
kaun tAr sE bInI chadariyA
ingalA pingalA tAnA bharnI
sukhman tAr sE bInI chadariyA
AT kanwal dal charkhA DolE
pAnch tatv guN tInI chadariyA
sA.nyI kO siyat mAs das lAgE
TO.nk TO.nk kè bInI chadariyA
sO chAdar sur nar muni ODE
OD kai mailI kInI chadariyA
dAs kabIr jatan sE ODI
jyO.n kI tyO.n dInI chadariyA

Translation :

Subtly, delicately He wove this wrap!
What is its warp? What is its weft? With what fibre was this woven?
The Nadis Ingala and Pingala are the warp and weft,
the Nadi Sushumna is the fibre,
He turned the eight-fold lotus wheel,
and with the five elements (Aakash-Spirit, Vayu-Air, Agni-Fire, Ap-Water, Prithvi-Earth) and three attributes (Sattva-trans-active, Rajas-Active, Tamas-Inactive) (he wove this wrap).
He took ten full months,
knock by knock he wove this wrap
Gods, men and sages have worn this wrap
and sullied it by their wearing.
This servant (of God) Kabir is wearing this with care
So that he can leave it as it was (unsullied).

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Filed under Bhajan, Composer and/or Lyricist, Kabir, Kumar Gandharva

Jago Bansi Vare

Hari Rang RaatiAll Hindus are no doubt familiar with the tradition of waking God in the morning with prayers and music.  Much as we believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, we still enjoy the play of wishing Him a good night, and waking him with a ‘Good Morning’ each day.  Surely, M.S.Subbulakshmi’s Suprabhatam is one of the most recognized prayer songs in India? This is addressed to Vishnu, but there are waking rituals for other Gods and Godesses, be it a Sanskrit Shloka or a simple prayer song.

Today I have selected a Bhajan written by Meera Bai (1498-1547), arguably the most well-known Saint in India.  The version I like best is rendered by  Shobha Gurtu, in her CD Hari Rang Raati, an album  of devotionals that I have had and listened to with great pleasure for the last 20 years. 

I do so love songs which paint a picture! Jago Bansi Vare is a particularly evocative piece of poetry.  Even those not familiar with village life in those times can well imagine how the village slowly wakes up in the morning. ‘Wake up’, Meera urges Krishna ‘the night has passed, and dawn has arrived. The shutters are opening in every home. You can hear the bangles of the cowherdesses as they churn the yoghurt. Do wake up, both Gods and men are their doors. The young cowherds are joyfully cheering as they gather with bread and butter in their hands. Do wake up!’.

It seems to me that it is Krishna’s mum who is singing this song for did I not wake my son just like this each morning, hurrying him to catch the school bus? The world has changed, yet the world remains the same. The jingle of cowherdesses churning butter have been replaced with the ping of the microwave and the whirr of the juicers, instead of shutters we draw open the curtains, the muted sound of cars starting have replaced the sounds of men readying for work, and the boys still shout cheerfully, waiting for the school buses, with school bags and lunch boxes, instead of cowherds collecting their cattle, holding their bread and butter for lunch. Meera’s song to wake Krishna is the song of mothers everywhere. For those wondering why this is a prayer song – there is not a single prayer-like request – I think it is symbolic; Meera is urging Krishna to wake to her plight.

For lyrics and translation, see footnote. Now listen to Shobha Gurtu who emotes so beautifully with her voice alone.


 



Footnote (Lyrics) :
Note : I use ITRANS transliteration scheme.

जागो बंसी वारे ललना, जागो मोरे प्यारे ।
jAgO bansI vArE lalanA, jAgO mOrE pyArE
Awake, oh little one with the flute, awake my dear,
रजनी बीती भोर भयो है, घर घर खुले किवाड़े ।
rajanI bItI bhOr bhayO hai, ghar ghar khulE kivAdE
The night has passed, dawn is breaking and shutters are opening in every home
गोपी दही मथत सुनियत है, कंगना के झनकारे ॥
gOpI dahI mathat suniyat hai, kanganA kE jhankArE
We can hear the gopis churning yoghurt as their bangles jingle
उठो लाल जी भोर भयो है, सुर नर ठाढ़े द्वारे ।
uThO lAl jI bhor bhayO hai sur nar ThaDe dvArE
Do wake my dear, it is dawn, Gods and men are at their the doors
ग्वाल बाल सब करत कोलाहल , जय जय शब्द उचारे ॥
gvAl bAl sab karat kOlAhal, jay jay shabd ucharE
The young cowherds are joyously cheering
माखन रोटी हाथ में लीन्ही , गउवन के रखवारे ।
mAkhan rOtI hAth mE(n) lInhI, gauvan kE rakhvAre
With bread and butter in their hands, these protectors of cows
मीरा के प्रभु गिरिधरनागर, शरण आयां कूं तारे॥
mIrA kE prabhu giridharnAgar, sharaN AyA.n kU.n tArE
Oh Meera’s Lord who held the mountain up, I fall upon your grace (note: unsure of last phrase)

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Filed under Bhajan, Hindustani Classical Music, Meera, Shobha Gurtu

Payoji Maine

Ram Sita LakshmanA very happy राम नवमी Rama Navami to all my readers! Intending to share a nice Bhajan with you to celebrate this Birthday of Lord Rama, I decided very quickly on Payoji Maine, a very famous Meera Bhajan.   I have always enjoyed the nice imagery that the song evokes; I can see Meera Bai with her hands cupped and extended before her within which her Guru drops a special jewel (I always saw it as a Ruby, I don’t know why!). It gleams and changes shape as Rama or Krishna. And she a Jogin, a Sanyasini, a mendicant with no worldly possessions, wrapped in a simple saffron cloth, dancing barefoot in the streets, she holds this incongruous possession of a jewel which is so lustrous and inviting.  Don’t you, like me, want to know what secrets it holds that it enthrals her so? Don’t you wish to know how exactly it called to her that she left home and safety, wealth and respectability, to follow its call? I am fascinated especially by Meera Bai when she says ‘harash harash jash gayo’ – that she sings His praise laughingly, with joy.  That we may all find such joy in the contemplation of the Divine! For lyrics, see footnote.

Finding it curious that she sings of Raam-Ratan, she who was so devoted to Krishna, I did some googling. It seems possible that her original words were ‘Naam-Ratan’ , ‘the precious stone of the name’ or in other words, the treasure that chanting Krishna’s name is. Raam Naam or Krishna Naam, it does not matter really; let us just take God’s name today in joy just as Meera Bai does.

To present this song, here is a rendition by Anup Jalota, the kind of Bhajans.


Footnote (lyrics) :

पायोजी मैंने राम-रतन धन पायो

I have found the wealth (precious jewel) of chanting Ram’s name.

वस्तु अमोलिक दी म्हारे  सतगुरू,
किरपा करि अपणायो (पायोजी मैंने)

My Guru gave me this priceless thing, and I have accepted it with grace.

खर्च न खूटे वाको (alternate: खरचै नहिं कोई ), चोर न लूटे,
दिन दिन बढ़त सवायो (पायोजी मैंने)

No one can spend (this treasure), nor can they steal it. And day by day it increases by a quarter again.

सत की नाव, खेवटिया सतगुरू,
भव-सागर तरि आयो (पायोजी मैंने)

On the boat of truth, the boatman was my Guru, (and thus) I crossed the ocean of existence.

जनम जनम की पूंजी पाई,
जग में सभी खोवायो (पायोजी मैंने)

Now that I have found the treasure after searching in several births, I have abandoned all else in the world.

दासी मीरा लाल गिरिधर (alternate: मीरा के प्रभु गिरधरनागर)
हरख हरख जस गायो (पायोजी मैंने)

Meera is a servant of the dear Lord Giridhar (Krishna), whose glories I sing happily, joyfully.

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Filed under Anup Jalota, Bhajan, Meera

Bhavani Dayani

Durga 2

Bhajan literally means Worship. Is it just coincidence that it also means sharing in Sanskrit?  Because singing Bhajans is often a shared experience, done as a group. Normally the lyrics and melody are simple enough to be picked up by most people.

My mother was part of such a Bhajan group and once a week she would march us two under-10 girls to join the group. We were in Kolkata then, I remember her Bhajan group being near Rashbehari Avenue, close to a park. If I was good and sat still for the hour the session lasted, she would buy me a lolly on the way back home. A pink and white cigarette sized stick was my favourite and that is what I got each week! In the Bhajan group, people would take turns in leading a song of their choice. They would sing a line and the whole group would follow. My mother was a good singer but being the anxious kind, she would meticulously practice one or two Bhajans on the off-chance that she would get the chance to lead – as far I remember, one just butted in and started the moment someone else finished. Being hesitant, she would often not get her chance. Even in these places there was politics and one-upmanship! Still, there was always some nice prasad (food offering) at the end to look forward to!

I too got a chance to lead a bhajan once. I was 18 and taking part in a week-long Spiritual Camp for young people. On the first day, there was an impromptu bhajan session. After a number of songs had been sung, I took courage in my hands (I am not a good singer) and took the lead. Always embarrassed about my high pitched squeaky voice (I can’t sing but I do have a good ear!), I deliberately started in a very low pitch and soon I was in trouble in the lowersthayi.  I still remember someone sniggering from behind.  I was so embarrassed! One never forgets the shame of one’s childhood failures, does one? Needless to say, that was the end of my bhajan leading (or public singing) career!

Today I have chosen a Bhajan which has been made famous by Parveen Sultana, one of the foremost Hindustani classical singers of our times. Take simple lyrics and melody and give it the expertise of a classical singer with years and years of training and experience, and it becomes a gem! This well known Bhajan is in praise of Bhavani (Durga). It is set to raag Bhairavi of the Hindustani system.

भवानी दयानी महा वाकवाणी
सुर-नर-मुनि जनमानी सकल बुध ज्ञानी
जग जननी जग दानी महिषासुर मर्दिनी
ज्वालामुखी चण्डी अमर पददानी

bhavAnI dayAnI mahA vAkvANI
sur-nar-muni janamAni sakala budha gyAnI
jaga janani jaga dAnI mahishAsura mardinI
jvAlAmukhI chaNDI amara padadAnI

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Janam Tera Baton Hi Beet Gayo

KabirWhen words have truth, it does not matter if they were uttered yesterday or 500+ years back. Truth makes you stop and think. Kabir (1440-1518) was a mystic saint-poet who was one of the pillars of the Bhakti movement. His couplets and songs have touched me since I was a teenager, as they have touched the millions from Central and Northern India. Centuries have passed and still Hindi speakers of today quote this poet with a casual familiarity. His writings  have a simplicity and certain groundedness which ensures a wide appeal.

Today, while listening to this song, I am struck anew by the truth of Kabir’s words. Why, the song reads like the story of my life! Childhood went away in play as the poet says and in my twenties I too went desh-videsh, travelling and being engrossed in my family. My thirties were indeed years of greed, focusing on my career and finances, wanting to do better and better. Maya and wants multiplied. Now in my fifties, my energies are dipping lower and lower and health concerns are getting top billing. ‘Birtha janam gayo’ says Kabir – Life has indeed been wasted. He says ‘Oh stupid mind, understand the truth, why have you forgotten? Life is passing by without having taken the name of Krishna’. I too am appalled to see how life has passed me by. In ancient India, once you were past the Grihastashram (life of a householder), you would start your Vanaprasthashram i.e. take to the forests for a life of simplicity and devotion. I, who need comfortable beds, flush toilets and internet connection at all times, how can I take to Vanaprasthashram? How can our generation focus on the next phase of our lives?

For lyrics and my very basic attempt at translation, see footnote.

Better still, listen to Anup Jalota sing this Bhajan with consummate ease.


Footnote (lyrics):

जनम तेरा बातों ही बीत गयो रे तूने कबहूँ न कृष्ण कह्यो |
Your life has passed by in mere chatter, without taking the name of Krishna
पाँच बरस का भोला भाला अब तो बीस भयो |
An innocent at 5, then you were 20
मकर पचीसी माया कारण   देश विदेश गयो ||
Due to the Maya (illusions) of the twenties, you went travelling
तीस बरस की अब मति उपजी तो लोभ बढ़े नित नयो  |
When the mind matured at 30, each day brought a new want, a new greed,
माया जोड़ी तूने लाख करोड़ी पर अजहूँ न तृप्त भयो ||
Wants multiplied into millions, never were you satiated
वृद्ध भयो तब आलस उपजी, कफ नित कंठ रह्यो |
Now old, tiredness has set in and your throat is full of phlegm
संगति तबहूँ  ना कीन्हि रे तूने बिरथा जनम गयो ||
Even then you did not seek good company, life went for a waste
यह संसार मतलब का लोभी, जूठा ठाठ रच्यो |
In this world which works to its own selfish ends, you put on a false appearance of splendour
कहत कबीर समझ मन मूरख  तू क्यों भूल गयो ||
Kabir says, oh stupid mind, understand this, why have you fogotten?

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Madhurashtakam

Govardhana GiridharVallabhacharya (1479-1531) was born in Champaran near Raipur.  His family was Telugu speaking and came from Andhra Pradesh. He was a scholar, philosopher and a great devotee of Lord Krishna and wrote stotras and commentaries on Bhagawata Purana. There is a good article on Vallabhacharya here.

One of his most beautiful poetry is Madhurashtakam, the sweetest of prayers for the sweetest of Gods. I have always loved this prayer, in fact I associate the word Madhura (sweet) with Lord Krishna because of this stotra. Of all the Hindu Gods, Krishna is perhaps the most captivating, especially to a woman. From time immemorial, he has been depicted with his Gopis (cowherdesses), enchanting one and all with his amorous play. If one needs a reason for worshipping a Saguna Brahman (The Absolute with qualities, the definable Absolute), surely this prayer gives you one? How can one say nay to a so irresistible Lord of Sweetness?

I have poured over many translations and dictionaries. I am quite convinced that the translations are watered-down, taking away the sheer erotic imagery of the poet. I can understand that; Hinduism, which once did not hesitate to associate eroticism with divinity, has put on a mantle of Victorian morality for a long time now. We still sing Jayadeva’s verses but not the most explicit ones. We look blankly past erotic sculptures on hallowed grounds. And this, Vallabhacharya’s Madhurastkam has developed a cloak of middle-class ‘respectability’. Pouring over the words, it seems to me that the poet describes not only the sweetness of Krishna but also the sweetness of his love-making. I give the first verse below, for the whole stotra and translation see footnote.

अधरं मधुरं वदनं मधुरं
नयनं मधुरं हसितं मधुरं |
हृदयं मधुरं गमनं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||१||

His lower lips are sweet, His face is sweet,
His eyes are sweet, His smile is sweet,
His heart is sweet, His gait is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

Listen to this beautiful stotra sung by Ashiwini Bhide in her inimitable style.


Footnote (Lyrics and Translation):

अधरं मधुरं वदनं मधुरं
नयनं मधुरं हसितं मधुरं |
हृदयं मधुरं गमनं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||१||

His lower lips are sweet, His face is sweet,
His eyes are sweet, His smile is sweet,
His heart is sweet, His gait is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

वचनं मधुरं चरितं मधुरं
वसनं मधुरं वलितं मधुरं |
चलितं मधुरं भ्रमितं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||२||

His words are sweet, His character is sweet,
His clothing is sweet, His posture is sweet,
His movements are sweet, His wandering is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

वेणुर्मधुरो रेणुर्मधुरः
पाणिर्मधुरः पादौ मधुरौ ||
नृत्यं मधुरं सख्यं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||३||

His flute-playing is sweet, His foot-dust is sweet,
His hands are sweet, His feet are sweet,
His dancing is sweet, His friendship is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

गीतं मधुरं पीतं मधुरं
भुक्तं मधुरं सुप्तं मधुरं |
रूपं मधुरं तिलकं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||४||

His song is sweet, His drinking is sweet,
His eating is sweet, His sleeping is sweet,
His form is sweet, His Tilakam is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

करणं मधुरं तरणं मधुरं
हरणं मधुरं रमणं मधुरं |
वमितं मधुरं शमितं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||५||

His deeds are sweet, His conquest is sweet,
His seizing  is sweet, His loving is sweet,
His ejecting is sweet, His appeasement is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness

गुञ्जा मधुरा माला मधुरा
यमुना मधुरा वीचि मधुरा |
सलिलं मधुरं कमलं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||६||

His posy is sweet, His garland is sweet,
The river is sweet, the ripples are sweet,
the surge is sweet, the desire is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

गोपी मधुरा लीला मधुरा
युक्तं मधुरं मुक्तं मधुरं |
दृष्टं मधुरं शिष्टं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||७||

His gopis (cowherd girls) are sweet, His play is sweet,
His union is sweet, His release is sweet,
To be seen by him is sweet, His courtesy is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

गोपा मधुरा गावो मधुरा
यष्टिर्मधुरा सृष्टिर्मधुरा |
दलितं मधुरं फलितं मधुरं
मधुराधिपते अखिलं मधुरं ||८||

His herdsmen are sweet, His cows are sweet,
His staff is sweet, His creation is sweet,
His crushing  is sweet, To be fruitful is sweet,
All is sweet about the Lord of Sweetness.

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Filed under Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Bhajan, Religious