The worship of fire and the worship with fire has been a part of ancient religions across the world. If the Adityas and then Agni were primary deities in the Vedas, the Zoroastrians saw fire as the light of Ahura Mazda. The Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome worshipped the Sacred Fire of Vesta, the Greeks bowed to Hestas and Hephaestus, the Aztecs had Chantico, to name just a few. Although I light a lamp every morning and evening at my home altar, although I have seen and participated in innumerable Hindu rituals where the homa fire stood as witness, I have always seen Agni as some remote God of the Vedic people quite unrelated to my own beliefs. I even saw the deification of nature as somewhat primitive, preferring to think of it as symbolic.
But lately I have become much more sympathetic to the idea of nature worship. My change of mind comes from, of all things, the Solar Panels we installed earlier in the month. ‘What?’ You are thinking, aren’t you, ‘Whatever is Suja going on about today?‘. So, here’s the thing. Since the installation, I have become so much more aware of the power that is that ball of fire we call the Sun. A slowtop, that’s what I am! One goes through life with blinkers on, doesn’t one, not even noticing the extraordinary which is within all those ordinaries around us! Our new solar panels produce so much electricity that we can run all our appliances during the day including a washing machine, dishwasher, induction cook top, fridges, vacuum cleaner, electric mop, TV and computer (to just name just a few) and still have extra to export to the grid. Is that not simply amazing? We don’t have a battery so we do use electricity from the grid when solar production is not sufficient but we are net positive. I confess; all these years I have paid electricity bills without once glancing at consumption. Now suddenly I am hyper-aware and am just blown away by the wonder of solar energy. The fire so far away in the skies has so much power that even the most insignificant, miniscule part of it which falls upon our roof is enough to run our home! I know, this is something even school kids would know. But there is knowing and there is truly experiencing. It doesn’t feel primitive at all to respect that fire and call it a God, it is that awe inspiring.
But we Hindus have one more factor amongst our Gods and Goddesses. We realise that they have both benevolent and malevolent aspects to them. A kindly Durga and a threatening Kali are but two sides of the same, as are Shiva and Bhairava. That kindly solar fire which runs my home has also caused the most destructive havoc in Australia, my home country. Wild bush fires are all consuming, voracious in their appetite for more destruction. The earth is parched with drought and people are suffering. The temperatures across Australia are reaching record highs. We are a nation scorched. We need rain, rain which quenches the thirst of a parched land. But that is a prayer to Varuna, another God, and another post.
Today my musical choice is dedicated Shiva in his manifestation in the form of an Agni Lingam, am emblem of fire. Arunachala Natham, set to raga Saranga, belongs to a set of compositions by Muthuswami Diksthar called the Panchabhutalinga Kshetra Kritis. Many years ago I had featured Ananada Natana Prakasham in Kedaram which belongs to the same set of compositions. In my song choice of today, Dikshithar describes Shiva as resembling a crore of rising suns but also as a source of mercy. My land of Australia needs that mercy now.
Listen below to Sikkil Gurucharan’s meditative rendition of this song. The focus is on the purity of the composition; a fact which rather appeals to me. See if you enjoy the repeated use of sound ङ्ग (nga) in the charanam as much as I do!
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation)
Language : Sanskrit
अरुणाचल नाथम् स्मरामि
अनिशम् अपीत कुचाम्बा समेतम्
स्मरणात् कैवल्य प्रद चरणारविन्दम्
तरुणादित्य कोटि सङ्काश चिदानन्दम्
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
करुणा रसादि कन्दम् शरणागत सुर वृन्दम्
अप्राकृत तेजोमय लिङ्गम् , अत्यद्भुत कर धृत सारङ्गम्
अप्रमेयं अपर्णाब्ज भृङ्गम् , आरूढोत्तुङ्ग वृष तुरङ्गम्
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
विप्रोत्तम विशेषान्तरङ्गम् , वीर गुरु गुह तार प्रसङ्गम्
स्वप्रदीप मौलि विधृत गङ्गम् , स्वप्रकाश जित सोमाग्नि पतङ्गम्
aruNAchala nAthaM smarAmi
anisham apIta kuchAmbA samEtam
smaraNAt kaivalya prada charaNaravindam
taruNAditya kOTi sangkAsha chidAnandam
karuNA rasAdi kandam sharaNAgata sura vRndam
aprAkRta tEjOmaya lingam atyadbhuta kara dhRta sArangam
apramEyam aparNAbja bhRngam ArUDhOttunga vRsha turangam
viprOttama vishEshAntarangam vIra guru guha tAra prasangam
svapradIpa mauli vidhRta gangam svaprakAsha jita sOmAgni patangam
I constantly (anisham) remember/recite the name of (smarAmi) the Lord (nAtham) of Arunachala together with (samEtam) Goddess Apitakuchamba – mother (ambA) with unsuckled (apIta-literally undrunk) breasts (kucha).
The God who (implied) grants (prada) release from the cycle of birth (kaivalya) simply (implied) by His lotus-feet (charaNa aravinDam) being remembered (smaraNat), who resembles (sangkAsha) countless (kOTi, literally a crore) young (taruNa) suns (Aditya). He who is blissful (Ananda) consciousness (chit) incarnate (implied), He who is the original (Adi) root (kandam) of compassion (karuNA rasa) towards the flocks (vRndam) of learned men/divinities (sura) who seek refuge in him (sharaNAgata).
He whose emblem (linga) is extraordinarily (aprAkRta) brilliant (tEjOmaya) (note: refers to the story of Shiva manifesting himself as an unmeasurable column of light at Arunachalam), He who holds (dhRta) a very (ati) wonderous (adbhuta) deer (sArangam – note this is the name of the raga as well) in his hand (kara), He who is unfathomable (apramEyam), He who is the lotus (abja) to the bee (bhRngam) who is Parvati (aparNA), He who is mounted on (ArUDHa) a tall (uttunga) and speedy (turangam) bull (vRsha), He who is especially (vishEsha) intimate (antarangam) with the best of the (uttama) learned men/Brahmins (vipra), The savior (tAra) to whom the heroic (vIra) Subrahmanya (guruguha, also the signature of the composer) is devoted (prasangam) , He who bears (vidhRta) Ganga as an ornament (pradIpa) of his own (sva) top-knot (mauli), He whose own (sva) luminescence (prakAsha) surpasses that of (jita, literally wins) the moon (sOma), fire (agni) and the sun (patangam).
(A Notation is available at this site : http://meerascarnatic.blogspot.com/2019/07/arunachala-natham.html)