‘Please protect me!’ begs the poet-composer Subbaraya Shastri, ‘I have placed my trust in you, who else is there for me?’. Did the Mother Goddess listen to his entreaties? Listening to the beautiful composition in Raga Ritigowla, I think that even the hardest of hearts would melt at his words.
Subbaraya Shastri (1803-1862) was the son of Shyama Shastri and went on to become the disciple of Tyagaraja. He also worked with Muthuswami Dikshithar, and thus was in the enviable position of having learnt from all the members of the Carnatic Trinity. He also learnt Hindustani music from Maratha musicians who lived in the South. He composed only 20 or so kritis but there are gems amongst them, such as Janani Ninnuvina. He was a great devotee of the Goddess and his bhaktibhava (devotional mood) is very evident in this slow and restful composition. When the body or spirit needs healing, this is the song I reach for.
For lyrics, notation and translation click here. To know more about the raga, click here.
To present this song, I have chosen renditions by two Maestros whom I respect above all – Balamuralikrishna whose magnificent voice enhances any music and Lalgudi Jayaraman whose strings speak a lyricism which have enchanted me always. Sometimes well loved old ‘voices’ are the only ones which seem right.
In English we talk of almond-shaped eyes. In Sanskrit, it is instead referred to as fish-shaped eyes. When I think of beautifully elongated eyes, I think of no other than Meenakshi (meena = fish, akshi = eye), the Goddess of Madurai. There has been a temple at this location for about 2000 years but the current structure, or most of it, was built in the 14th century after the older structure was destroyed by Muslim invaders. The deities in the temple, Shiva & Parvati, are called Sundareshwarar and Meenakshi. It is said that the idol of Meenakshi is made of emerald and so she is represented as a green-skinned Goddess.
How many Gods and Goddesses we Hindus have!! And to complicate matters, each God or Goddess has many avatars and ever more names! We should not forget however that Hinduism is a monotheistic religion, just with a polymorphic God. There are many references in the Vedas which talk of one God but with many forms and names. If you then bring in the concept of Nirguna Brahman (God of No Attributes) and Saguna Brahman (God with attributes) and the different interpretations by Advaita & Dvaita philosophies, we are in deep waters indeed. I like to think of it in terms of refraction of light; though light is colourless, it is made up of so many colours! Like that, God though without attributes, is made up of many selves and attributes. So when our Saint composers sing of one deity or the other, each is a perfect description of one facet of God.
Muthuswami Dikshithar (1775-1835), one of the important trinity of Carnatic music composers from the 18-19th century, composed close to 500 krithis (compositions). Most of his compositions are in Sanskrit. It is said that he asked his students to sing this kriti while on his death-bed and died while listening to it. Composed in raga Purvikalyani, it has only one demand of the Goddess – Meenakshi, Me Mudam Dehi – Give me eternal bliss. The rest of the song describes Meenakshi in many ways. What a beautiful song it is! Listen carefully and the raga will draw you in, to your centre, to a place of peace and bliss. To know more about the raga, click here.
Listen below to a wonderful rendition T.N.Seshagopalan. I listened to many renditions of this well known kriti, but I see myself keep coming back to this one with pleasure.
O Meenakshi, O dark-hued one !(mechaka anga) [alternatively one who wears jewels on her limbs] O Raja Matangi (one of the forms of Devi) ! Give (dEhi) me (mE) bliss (mudam) !
The knower (mAtR) of the concept (mAna) as well as the object the knowledge (mEyE), and the limit of knowledge (mAyE), emerald (marakata) complexioned (CHAyE), the wife (jAyE) of Shiva, with eyes (lOchani) shaped like fish (mIna), the one who releases (mOchani) from bondage (pAsha), the respected one (mAnini), who lives (vAsini) in the kadamba forest (vana).
She who dwells (nilayE) in Madhurapuri, who wears gem-studded (maNi) bangles (valayE), who was the sister (tanayE) of the Pandya king (rAja), with a face (vadanE) which makes a mockery (viDambana) of the moon (vidhu), the victorious one (vijayE), the one who created (kriyE) the ten (dasha) modulations (gamaka) of Vina music (gAna), she who brings delight (modita) to one’s heart (hRdayE), the compassionate one (sadayE), the beloved of great God (mahAdEva) Sundaresha/Shiva, the enemy (ripu) of the demons Madhu and Mura, sister (sOdari) of Lord Vishnu (implied), slender-waisted (shAtOdari), she who captivates (vashankari) Lord Brahma (vidhi) and Lord Guruguha (also signature of composer), she is the auspicious one (shankari).
Is it just to behave as if you do not know my mind? Is all this acting/drama something you rehearsed before, O Lotus-eyed Lord, coloured like a gem? O beautiful Krishna, will you not alleviate my grievances?
My musical offering today is a Varnam composed by the violin Maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman (born 1930), Innum En Manam in raga Charukesi. Varnam means colour in Sanskrit; perhaps they are are called that because they teach students the ‘colour’ of the raga. Varnams are used as advanced training exercises for Carnatic music students. It is also customary to start a Carnatic music performance with a varnam. On the other hand, varnams are the main items in a Bharatnatyam dance performance.
This composition is wonderfully lyrical and a perfect instrument for understanding the beauty of the raga Charukesi within a short few minutes. The last charanam (stanza) in particular is as perfect as Charukesi can be. To know more about this raga, click here.
To appreciate this composition well, it would be best first to listen to a vocal performance by Maharajapuram Santhanam (1928-1992) below.
Then listen to the Maestro play his own composition.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Tamil
இன்னும்/இன்னம் என் மனம் அறியாதவர் போல
இருந்திடல் ஞாயமா யாதவ மாதவ
முன்னம் பயின்றதோ இன் நாடகம் எல்லாம்
மன்னா கமலக்-கண்ணா மணி வண்ணா
குழல் ஊதும் அழகா கண்ணா குறை தீராயோ
[Note, these are only the sung lyrics – the chittaswarams and swarams have lyrics which are not sung. Full lyrics and notation can be found here.]
innum/innam en manam aRiyAdavar pOla
irundiDal gnAyamA yAdava mAdhava
munnam payinDRado in nATakam ellAm
manna kamalak-kaNNA maNi vaNNA
kuzhal Udum azhagA kaNNA kurai tIrAyO
Is it just (gnAyamA) to behave (be) (irundiDal) as if (pOla) you do not know (ariyAdavar) my mind (en manam)?
Is all this (ellAm) acting/drama (in-nATakam) something you rehearsed (payinDRado) before (munnam) O King (manna), O Lotus-eyed (kamalak-kaNNA), coloured (vaNNA) like a gem (maNi) ?
O beautiful (azhagA) Krishna (kaNNA), will you not alleviate (tIrAyO) my grievances (kurai)?
‘Amma, Thayé, Akhilandeshwari’ – I take the name of Goddess Akhilandeshwari quite often, without thinking, as an interjection, as a groan, as a laughing complaint. Thankfully there is no interdiction against us Hindus taking any of our God or Goddesses’ names in vain; on the contrary, I believe we are quite encouraged to do so.
I have never been to the temple of Goddess Akhilandeshwari which is near Srirangam. My father came from this town and in my childhood I remember paying visits to my grandparents’ house which was in the agraharam (the immediate surrounding lanes) of the famous Ranganathar Swami temple, in deep Iyengar territory. Coming from a Vaishnava family, I was never taken to the Akhilandeshwari temple. My father’s favourite interjection was ‘Narayana!!’. So where did I get this habit of invoking Akhilandeshwari instead? I don’t really know, but the good lady has been present in my vocabulary for a long time indeed.
So today, to honour Her and thank Her, I present a song which I love dearly. Written by Muthuswami Dikshithar (1775-1835) in praise of this Goddess, the composition is in Raga Dwijavanti. To know more about this raga, click here. See footnote for lyrics in Sanskrit; click here for transliteration and meaning. It is sung below by Bombay S. Jayashri, she of the mellifluous voice.
Jayashri’s guru is Lalgudi Jayaraman and I clearly see his influence in the way she sings this song. Listen to his version played on the violin below. What a master he is of his instrument !!!
I have not heard very many detailed renditions of Dwijavanthi. If the raga pleases you, here is a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi by T.V.Shankaranayanan to listen to.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Sanskrit
श्री अखिलाण्डेश्वरी रक्ष मां आगम संप्रदाय निपुणे श्री ||
निखिल लोक नित्यात्मिके विमले निर्मले श्यामले सकल कले ||
लम्बोदर गुरुगुह पूजिते लंबालकोद्भासिते हसिते ||
वाग्देवताराधिते वरदे वर शैल राज नुते शारदे ||
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
जम्भारि सम्भाविते जनार्दन नुते जुजावन्ति राग नुते ||
झल्ली मद्दळ झर्झर वाद्य नाद मुदिते ज्ञान प्रदे ||
O Akhiladeshwari, you who are skilled (nipuNa) in the traditional doctrines (sampradAya) Agamas, protect me (raksha mAm)
The entire (nikhila) world (lOka) is eternally (nitya) based on you (AtmikE). You are impeccable (vimalE), unsullied (nirmalE). You are dark coloured (shyAmalE) and are the embodiment (implied) of all arts (sakala kalE).
You are worshipped by (pUjitE) by Ganesha (lambOdara) and Murugan (guruguha). You are respendent with (udbhAsitE) with pendulous curls (lambAlaka). You have a smiling face (hasitE). You are worshipped by (ArAdhitE) by Saraswati (vAgdevatA). You are a bestower of boons (varadE). You are praised by (nuta) the king (rAja) of the supreme mountain (vara shaila) (this may be referring to Parvati being the daughter of King Himavan). You are Sharada (unsure of this, surely Sharada is the name of Saraswati?)
Adhered to (sambhAvitE) by Lord Indra (jambhAri – also means thunderbolt, which is a weapon of Durga), you are praised by (nutE) by Vishnu (janArdana), you are praised in Raga Jujavanti, You rejoice in (muditE) the sounds of (nAda) musical instruments (vAdya) like a jhalli (dictionary says jhallaki) , maddala and jharjhara (they are all drums, what is the significance of that?). You are the provider of (pradE) of knowledge (jnAna).
If for some reason you are allowing yourself only ONE Indian Classical Music album, which one would it be?
Indian Classical Music covers two major Classical traditions – Carnatic Music and Hindustani Music. So to be ‘Indian’ the album would need include both. And therefore, I propose this extraordinarily marvellous album.
Album : South Meets North (1983)
Label : EMI G/ECSD 2932, 1983 Re-published by Saregama
Artist : Lalgudi Jayaraman (Sept 17, 1930)
Artist : Amjad Ali Khan (Oct 9, 1945)
I have had this album since the mid-eighties and I still haven’t tired of it. What makes this so special? The Maestros play their instruments with a skill that ordinary mortals can only dream about. Lalgudi Jayaraman traces his illustrious lineage to a disciple of Saint Tyagaraja (1767-1847), one of the pillars of Carnatic Music. Amjad Ali Khan is the sixth generation of the equally illustrious Bangash lineage. Both play stringed instruments and the sounds complement and contrast perfectly. Lalgudi Jayaraman plays the violin in his own unique style which mimics the vocal style of Carnatic music, with beautifully smooth transitions, waves of melody and rhythm caressing all ours senses. Amjad Ali Khan plays the Sarod, like ripples on a smooth lake at times, like cascading waterfalls at others. This confluence of Southern and Northern traditions means that the music is almost all improvised (the composed pieces are region specific). The call-and-response in this album is an education in music. A jewel of an album.
To my great joy, I recently found videos of Lalgudi Jayaraman and Amjad Ali Khan on Youtube. I cannot begin to explain how joyous that first viewing was! These are two men I have loved and admired for years and here they were, playing right in front of me!! I knew their music, now I saw how they interacted with each other and even ‘played’ with the percussionists! Their music is so wonderful! I know I am gushing, but oh, this is an old love affair….a cradle-to-graveyard crush….
There are two performances online. The first one of Raga Hindolam (one of the ragas on the featured CD)
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