Tag Archives: M.Balamuralikrishna

Shobhillu Sapta Svara

SaptasvaraHave you ever thought about how so many different cultures use music as a form of worship? We all know of the wonderful choral music traditions of the Christians, the chantings of the Buddhists, the kirtans of the Sikhs, the emotional outpourings of the Sufis and the many traditions of musical worship of the Hindus. Some are simply sacred music, like bhajans, their primary purpose being worship. Others, like Carnatic Music, have a deep thread of devotion running through them but retain an identity apart from their devotional roots. So yes, the use of music as a means of worship is common enough. But it is not very common to have music itself as the divinity being worshipped. That is the concept which I approach in my post today.

As a devotee of music, this concept pleases me greatly! To those of us who agree that divinity is omnipresent, this is no stretch of imagination. If divinity can be found everywhere, why not in music?  To those of us who search for that spiritual feeling in places of worship to allow us to connect with divinity, this makes it even easier. For music is there, real and accessible to most of us in one way or the other. We need not search for places of worship; we may worship the music right within us.

Sound as a divine principle comes to us Hindus from the Vedas. We all know the importance of AUM, I shall not venture there. The Vedas themselves are also called Shruti meaning ‘That which is heard‘,  emphasising both their divine origin and their oral tradition. Samaveda, in particular, ‘the Veda of Songs‘ includes notated music, perhaps the oldest surviving tunes of this world.  An interesting aside – the word vEd or knowledge comes from the Proto-Indo-Iranian word ‘weyd‘ meaning ‘to know, to see’.  The Latin videō meaning ‘to see, perceive, look comes from the same root word. So a sentence like ‘I have a video of the vedas‘ is etymologically quite amusing ! But I digress..

Coming back to the divinity of music, the Vedas refer to the divine nature of vAk वाक् or voice.  This divinity is said to be present in AUM. The Upanishads refer to Shabda-Brahman शब्दब्रह्मन् meaning The Cosmic Sound.  The word Nada-Brahman नादब्रह्मन् (nAda also means sound) is used instead of Shabda-Brahman in later treatises like Brihaddeshi by Matanga Muni (date unknown, speculated 6th-8th century CE). In this Nada is linked with various divinities.

न नादेन विना गीतं न नादेन विना स्वराः
न नादेन विना नृत्तं तस्मान् नादात्मकं जगत्
नादरुपः स्मृतो ब्रह्मा नाद रूपो जनार्दनः
नादरूपा पराशक्तिः नाद रूपो महेश्वरः

Without Nada, there is no music. Without Nada, there are no musical notes. Without Nada, there is no dance. Therefore the whole universe is composed of Nada. Brahma is known to be incarnate in Nada, as is Vishnu, Parashakti and Shiva.

In Sangeeta Makaranda by Narada (~11 century CE), there is an explanation of the passage of Nada through our body.

तम् नादम् सप्तधा कृत्वा तथा षड्जादिभिः स्वरैः
नाभी हृद् कण्ठ तालूषु नासादन्तोष्ठयोः क्रमात्
षड्जश्च .ऋषभ गान्धारौ मध्यमः पञ्चमस्तथा
धैवतश्च निशादश्च स्वराः सप्त प्रकीर्तिताः

that nAda, passing through the naval, heart, neck, tongue, nose, teeth, and lips, generates the seven svaras, shadjam, rishabham, gAndhAram, madhyamam, panchamam, dhaivatam and nishAdam.

-Article by P.P.Narayanaswami in Carnatica

There is a similar passage in Sangeetaratnakara by Saragadeva (13th century CE) in which the author links musical notes with Chakras (centres of spiritual centre within the body) and Nadis (subtle energy channels within the body), describing the passage of nAda through the body .

आत्मा विवक्षमाणोऽयम् मनः प्रेरयते , मनः |
देहस्थम् वह्निमाहन्ति स प्रेरयति मारुतम्  ||
ब्रह्मग्रन्थिस्थितः सोऽथ क्रमादूर्घ्वपथे चरन् |
नाभि हृत् कण्ठ मूर्धास्येष्वाविर्भावयति ध्वनिम् ||

Desirous of speech, the individuated being impels the mind, and the mind activates the battery of power stationed in the body, which in turns stimulates the vital force. The vital force stationed around the root of the navel, rising upwards gradually manifests nada in the navel, the heart, the throat, the cerebrum and the cavity of the mouth as it passes through them. 

from Sangita Ratnakara translation by R.K.Shringy

R.K.Shringy explains that ‘Nada is not merely an object of the sense of hearing. The concept of nada refers to the perception when subject and object are not differentiated‘. Normally when we name objects, we are naming the perception of that object in our consciousness. As such, the subject in our consciousness and the object outside have a relationship but are always apart. Nada on the other hand refers to the melding of the sound and its presence in our consciousness, when they become one. Nada is both the energy and its manifestation.

All this is but a lead up to my song choice of today. Tyagaraja has composed this masterpiece in homage to the divinity of music residing in the seven notes. He worships the divinities resident in the navel, heart, throat, tongue and nose, similar to the quotes from Sangeeta Makaranda and Sangeeta Ratnakara above. He refers to himself as the auspicious Tyagaraja; if for no other reason, surely the presence of the divinities within him makes this a just description! Set to the beautiful raga Jaganmohini (that which charms the universe), it is a favourite amongst Carnatic Music fans.

I have chosen this song today for a particular reason. When Dr.Balamuralikrishna passed away late last year, I was travelling and did not write a post in his honour. One of my readers wondered about it in a comment but it was not really forgetfulness on my part. You see, as I have mentioned in previous posts, my childhood home always rung out with Carnatic Music. Be it Semmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer, G.N.Balasubramaniam, M.D.Ramanathan, M.S.Subbulakshami, S.Balachandar, Lalgudi Jayaraman, Balamuralikrishna and myriad others, they were all voices of my childhood, familiar and very very dear. Over the years, one after the other, they have passed away. With each passing it seems that I wave goodbye to one more dear one, to my past, to my history. Dr. BMK was particularly dear to me because he was my mother’s favourite. I can never listen to him without remembering my mother’s pleasure in his voice. His passing adds one more goodbye in my life and deepens the sorrow of my own losses. Sigh! Shobhillu Sapta Svara is a song I associate with him and I selected it as a tribute to a man who was the ultimate Nadopasaka, a devoted worshipper of the Nadabrahman.

Alternate link : Click here and choose song 2 (free membership of Sangeethapriya required)


Footnote : Lyrics

Language : Telugu
(Note – I do not speak Telugu; the translation here is from various internet resources)

पल्लवि
शोभिल्लु सप्त स्वर सुन्दरुल भजिम्पवे मनसा

अनुपल्लवि
नाभि हृत् कण्ठ रसन नासादुलयन्दु

चरणम्
धर ऋक् सामादुललो वर गायत्री हृदयमुन
सुर भूसुर मानसमुन शुभ त्यागराजुनियॆड

Transliteration

pallavi
shobhillu sapta svara sundarula bhajimpavE manasA

anupallavi
nAbhI hRt kaNTHa rasana nAsAdulayandu

charaNam
dhara Rk sAmAdulalO vara gAyatrI hRdayamuna
sura bhUsura mAnasamuna shubha tyAgarAjuniyeDa

Translation

Worship (bhajimpavE) the radiant (shObhillu) beautiful (sudurula) divinities (implied) of the seven (sapta) svara (notes), O mind (manasA)!

Worship the divinities glowing (implied) in (andu) navel (nAbhi), heart (hRt), throat (kaNTHa), tongue (rasana) and nose (nAsa) etc. (Adula).

Worship the divinities glowing in (implied) the sustaining (dhara) Vedas such as (implied) Rg, Sama etc. (Adulalo), in the heart (hRdayamuna) of the foremost (vara) gAyatrI mantra, in the minds (mAnasamuna) of the celestials (sura) and Brahmins (bhU-sura), and within (eDa) this auspicious (shubha) Tyagaraja (tyAgarAjuni) .

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, M.Balamuralikrishna

Balagopala

Krishna BabyA very happy Janmashtami to all my readers! May Lord Krishna’s grace always be with you!

Today is the perfect day to meditate upon Bala Gopala, the young Lord Krishna, the cowherd who charmed the Gopikas ages ago, and who continues to charm millions even today. Don’t you think that Krishna as a child is quite irresistible? Mischievous and endearing, he is both child and God. When He steals butter from his mother’s pantry, He is a child; when He opens His mouth to show the universe contained within, He is God. When He allows Himself to be tied by a rope to His waist in punishment for his mischief, He is a child; when He drags the mortar he is tied to and uproots two trees, He is God. When He dances and plays with his friends, He is a child; when He dances on the serpent Kalinga’s head, He is God. So it is that we, his devotees, love Him like a child but worship Him like a God.

Bala Gopala is a God that children are drawn to very easily. I remember how attached I was to Him as a child. I thought of Him almost as a playmate, as a friend. How close He seemed at that time! There is a story which illustrates just that feeling. In fact, as a child of seven or eight, I acted in a play put up by Chinmaya Mission which was based on this story.

Once upon a time there was a young lad from a very poor family. Since his father had died, he was brought up by his mother. They lived in a little hamlet at the edge of a forest. When he was about seven, he started school. There were no schools in his hamlet; he had to go across the forest to the town on the other side. There were many wild animals in the forest and our little friend was fearful every time he had to cross.

“Mother, I am so afraid of the forest! Can you not walk with me to school?” He asked her.

She smiled at him. “Don’t be afraid. Your brother Gopala grazes his cattle in the forest. Call out to him if you are afraid, He will take care of you” said the wise and devout lady.

The next day as he entered the forest he grew fearful as always. Remembering his mother’s words, he called out “Brother Gopala, where are you? I am afraid, will you not walk with me?”.

He heard a voice in response and soon a young cowherd joined him, a beautiful dark-skinned little boy in yellow clothes, a joyous visage and a peacock feather tucked jauntily in his hair. They laughed and played as little boys do.  At the other edge of the forest Gopala waved him goodbye. This continued until the end of the term when all the students gave a gift to the teacher to honour him. Our lad was much too poor to afford anything but still he asked his mother.

“I must take a gift for my teacher mother. Is there anything you can give me?”.

Shaking her head she said “No son, I have nothing worthy as a gift. Why don’t you ask your brother Gopala? I am sure he can find you something”.

Which he did. Gopala gave him a small pot of yoghurt to give to his teacher. At the school, our little boy hesitated as his gift looked not very impressive compared to the gifts of the other children. Still, when it was his turn, he gave the small pot of yoghurt to the teacher, saying that it was from his brother ‘Gopala’. The teacher took it with thanks and poured out the yoghurt into a bigger pot. Much to his surprise, the little pot refilled. He kept pouring it out and it kept refilling! Realising who his pupil’s ‘brother’ was, he asked to be taken to the forest so he could see for himself. But much to the little boy’s dismay, much as he called out to his brother, he didn’t appear.

Finally he cried out piteously “Brother Gopala, don’t you love me anymore?”

They heard a voice in response. “I will always love you. I will appear only for you, for only you are worthy of seeing me.”

Hearing this the teacher was moved to tears and embraced the boy, for thanks to him he had at least heard the Divine Cowherd’s voice!

I ponder on the tale today, wondering what lessons I can glean from it. God is very close to the innocent, is he not. The little boy was not even praying; nor did he call out to God. Then whose call was He answering? It seems to me it was the mother whose prayers were answered. She tied Lord Krishna to her boy with the deft knot of love and prayer just like Yashoda tied Him to the mortar with her own bonds of love. We who have lost our innocence, what is our recourse I wonder? Innocence once lost can never be regained, can it? Something to think about….

To celebrate the day, I have chosen a beautiful composition in Bhairavi by Muthuswami Dikshithar. The words describe Lord Krishna – his appearance, his actions, his qualities, his powers. You can use each line as a gateway to a meditation on who He is. Or you could forget it all and drown in the haunting notes of Bhairavi which takes you to exactly the same place in the presence of God.

There are so many beautiful renditions of this kriti that it is difficult for me to choose one! Since I decided on the music two days ago, I have listened to at least a dozen or so renditions and I like so many of them! So here are some of my recommendations :

T.N.Seshagopalan gives a very solid and energy filled performance in this CD from 1990.

M.Balamuralikrishna’s rendition is softer, smoother and very peaceful. A touch of sadness and pathos in his Bhairavi, don’t you think?

The third is by T.M.Krishna and he makes an interesting technical note about the Bhairavi he sings being the ‘original’ of Muthuswami Dikshithar school. I also like his neraval very much. It is from the album December Season 2009 and is available in Dunya and Spotify for online listening (needs registration).

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Sanskrit

पल्लवि
बाल गोपाल पालयाशु माम्
भक्त वत्सल कृपा जलधे हरे

अनुपल्लवि
नील नीरद शरीर धीर तर
नीरज कर निरुपम आनन्द कर
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
लीलया गोप वेष धर मुरळी धर
श्री धर दामोदर वर

चरणम्
चाणूर मल्ल हरण निपुण तर
चरण निहत शकटासुर मुर हर
माणिक्य मकुट हार वलय धर
मत्तेभ कुम्भ भेदन पटु तर
वाणीशार्चित पीताम्बर धर **
वैजयन्ती वन माला धर **
आणवादि विजय मानसाकर
अपहत कंसासुर नत भूसुर
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
द्रोण कर्ण दुर्योधनादि हर
द्रौपदी मान संरक्षण कर
वैणिक गायक गुरु गुह नुत
पुर वैरि विहित (alt: विनुत ) गोपिका मनोहर

** these two lines don’t seem to be sung..

Transliteration in English :

pallavi
bAla gOpAla pAlayAshu mAm
bhakta vatsala kRpA jaladhE harE

anupallavi
nIla nIrada sharIra dhIra tara
nIraja kara nirupamAnanda kara
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
lIlayA gOpa vEsha dhara muraLI dhara
shrI dhara dAmOdara vara

charaNam
chANUra malla haraNa nipuNa tara
charaNa nihata shakaTAsura mura hara
mANikya makuTa hAra valaya dhara
mattEbha kumbha bhEdana paTu tara
vANIshArchita pItAmbara dhara **
vaijayantI vana mAlA dhara **
ANavAdi vijaya mAnasAkara
apahata kaMsAsura nata bhUsura
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
drONa karNa duryOdhanAdi hara
draupadI mAna saMrakshaNa kara
vaiNika gAyaka guru guha nuta
pura vairi vihita (alt: vinuta) gOpikA manOhara

** these two lines don’t seem to be sung..

Translation :

pallavi

O The Child (bAla) Cowherd (gOpAla), protect (pAlayAshu) me (mAm)! O Hari (harE), you are dear (vatsala) to your devotees (bhakta), an ocean (jaladhi) of mercy (kRpA).

anupallavi

With a body (sharIra) like (here it means the colour of) blue (nIla) rain clouds (nIrada), you are most wise (dhIra tara). Your hands (kara) are like a lotus (nIraja). You bestow (kara=the one who causes) incomparable (nirupama) bliss (Ananda). You assumed the appearance (vesha dhara) of a cowherd (gOpa) by divine sport (lIlayA). You hold (dhara) a flute (muraLI). You are bearer of fortune (shrI dhara, name of Vishnu, also means He who holds Lakshmi). You are excellent (vara) Damodara, one whose waist was tied with a rope (from the Damodara Lila).

charaNam

You are the one who destroyed (haraNa) the wrestler (malla) Chanura with great skill (nipuNa tara). You slew (nihata) Shakatasura with your feet (charaNa). You are the destroyer (hara) of Mura. You are wearing (suffix dhara) crown (mukuTa) of rubies (mAnikya), garlands (hAra) and armlets/bangles (valaya). You very skilfully (paTu tara) fractured/broke (bhEdana) the high forehead (kumbha) of a mad /furious (matta) elephant (ibha) (from the story of the killing of the elephant Kuvalayapida). You are worshipped (archita) by Brahma, husband (Isha) of Saraswati (vANI). You wear (suffix dhara) yellow (pIta) garments (ambara). You wear (suffix dhara) a garland (mAlA) of forest (vana) flowers (vaijayantI, a kind of forest flower). You are victorious (vijaya) over egoism (ANava) etc (Adi) by his excellent (Akara) mental powers (mAnasa). You destroyed (apahita) the demon (asura) Kamsa. You are worshipped (nata) by Brahmanas (bhUsura). You defeated (hara) Drona, Karna, Duryodhana etc (Adi). You protected (samrakshaNa kara) Drapadi’s honour (mAna). You are praised (nuta) by the Veena player (vaiNika) and singer / musician (gAyaka) Guruguha (signature of the composer). You put in order (vihita) the enemies (vairi) of the town (pura) [does this refer to His protecting Dwaraka? I am unsure about this. The alternate word vinuta is translated often as praised so here it could mean ‘praised by the enemies ‘]. You are the enchanter (manOhara) of the cowherdesses (gOpikA).

 

 

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Filed under Carnatic Music, M.Balamuralikrishna, T.M.Krishna, T.N.Seshagopalan, Uncategorized

Adamodi Galade

Is it just, O Lord Rama, this whim of yours in not talking to me when I have held your feet with such devotion? O Merciful Lord! Is it not true that when the erudite Anjaneya saluted you, you asked your younger brother to convey the details to him? However, is this fair, this whim of yours in not replying to this Tyagaraja?

HanumanMost of us who have grown up in India have a special place in our hearts for the epic Ramayana. Our behaviour, our beliefs, our language – all this and more are influenced by this great epic. However, if we are asked if Ramayana is myth or history, if it is legend or reality, many amongst us will be conflicted. I am. My heart believes, but my mind questions many of the incredible occurrences. I try and add my own reasoning (totally unproven!) to make it real, for I want it to be real.

Take, for example, Lord Hanuman and the legions of Vanaras (apes) who have a starring role in Ramayana. ‘Talking apes? Really?’ My mind asks me. Given my beliefs, I feel both guilt and shame for asking such questions and then hasten to counter-ask myself ‘What if some Neanderthal men were still around at that time? Would they have been seen as another species i.e. as apes?’.  The dates don’t fit, but what if?

Evidently, I am not the only one who wants to find logic to fit the legends. I-Serve, the Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas seems to be populated by exactly the same kind of people. They were much in the news last year when they used astronomical dating of planetary positions mentioned in the Ramayana to get dates for some important events. Lord Rama’s birthdate was 10 January, 5114 BC, they say with authority. Their paper is an interesting read for anyone interested in the Ramayana.

So when I came to the topic of today, the first meeting of Lord Hanuman with Lord Rama, I see it in my mind’s eye as a somewhat mythical history, but history nonetheless. Before we come to Sarga 3 of the Kishkinda Kanda of the Ramayana, Sita is already taken. Rama and Lakshmana are on her trail. Dressed simply like hermits, they still have the appearance of princes. It is at this time that Hanuman is sent as a messenger seeking help from them by Sugreeva, the younger brother of Vali, the Vanara ruler of the region, who has now become Sugreeva’s enemy.

Dressing himself as an ascetic in order not to alarm then, Hanuman approaches them. His speech is full of praise, as seems to be the polite form of address in those times, before introducing himself. Rama is well pleased with his greeting. Turning to Lakshmana, he praises Hanuman’s knowledge of grammar and the Vedas. But he does not speak directly to Hanuman, letting Lakshmana be his spokesperson. This is believed to be the protocol of those times in dealing with messengers. For the verses and the translation, read here.

Tyagaraja uses this incident in our song choice of today, Adamodi Galade, set to the charming Charukesi raga (to know more about this raga, click here). Tyagaraja asks Lord Rama if it is fair that he persists in his whim of not speaking to him and reminds him that it was thus with even Hanuman, that the Lord did not reply directly to him when spoken to. Does Tyagaraja imply that if the Lord would not speak to Hanuman himself, what chance did he have? Does he see himself as a loyal servitor of Lord Rama, just as Hanuman was and thus worthy of his love? He does seem to berate the Lord, calling him whimsical! For lyrics and translation, see footnote.

To present this song, I am in the mood for some legends today. To start with, I present a rare live presentation from the musician whose Charukesi I love better than anything else, the inimitable Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930-2013).

And for a vocal version, I can present no other than the Maestro with a voice like nectar, Dr.Balamuralikrishna (1930-). He was a man who pushed the boundaries of tradition in his time and is a living legend now.

Alternate link : in Sangeethapriya, accessible with a free account.

Next I would like to recommend a very interesting interpretation by the great Veena player, Chitti Babu (1936-1996). I was surprised to note the Vedic hymn style notes produced in the alapana and in the thanam as well, something I associate with Revati, not Charukesi. It ends abruptly, but still do listen, this raga sounds particularly beautiful on the Veena.

Alternate link : In Sangeethapriya, accessible with a free account.

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Telugu
I do not speak Telugu and have sourced the lyrics and translation from various internet sources, especially
Tyagaraja Vaibhavam. This I have calibrated against multiple performances and modified as seemed fit.

पल्लवि
आड मोडि गलदा (alternate: गलदे) रामय्य माट(लाड मोडि )

अनुपल्लवि
तोडु नीड नीवे अनुचुनु (alt: यनुचुनु) भक्तितो गूडि (नी)
पादमु (alt: पादमुल) पट्टिन नातो माट(लाड मोडि )

चरणं
चदुवुलन्नि तॆलिसि शंकरांशुडै
सदयुडाशुग सम्भवुडु म्रॊक्क
कदलु तम्मुनि पल्क जेसितिवि
गाकनु त्यागराजु आडिन माट(लाड मोडि )

Transliteration

pallavi
ADa mODi galadA (alt: galadE) rAmayya mATa (lADa mODi)

anupallavi
tODu nIDa nIvE anuchunu (Alt: yanuchunu) bhaktito
gUDi (nI) pAdamu (pAdamula) paTTina nAtO mATa (lADa mODi)

charanam
chaduvulanni telisi shankarAnshuDai
sadayuDAshuga sambhavuDu mrokka
kadalu tammuni palka jEsitivi
gAkanu tyAgarAju ADina mATa (lADa mODi)

Translation
Is it just, O Lord Rama, this whim of yours in not talking to me? (Note: mODi has been translated as obstinacy, haughtiness etc. but I liked whimsical which is also a valid translation by the dictionary. You take your pick!)

Is it just, O Lord Rama, this whim of not talking to me who considers you alone to be as constant as a shadow, when I have held your feet with so much devotion?

O Merciful Lord! Is it not true that when the erudite Anjaneya, born of the Wind God, who is also an aspect of Lord Shiva, saluted you, you asked your younger brother to convey the details to him? However, is this whim of yours in not replying to this Tyagaraja just?

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Chitti Babu, Compositions in Telugu, Lalgudi Jayaraman, M.Balamuralikrishna, Tyagaraja

Sthirata Nahi Nahi Re

Bhagavat Gita 1

I was seven or eight when I first heard of the Bhagavat Gita. My mother registered my sister and me into Chinamaya Mission’s program for young ones. Chanting the Gita was one of the activities. I even learnt the whole of chapter 7 by heart for a competition, and what’s more, I won a prize for it too!

Not that I understood anything much at that time. Subsequently I have read some summaries and heard some lectures but have not really delved into the Gita. I would tell myself ‘I really should read it at least once from end to end’  but I never got around to it. Well, last week I finally embarked on my long time goal. I hope to have the two-fold benefit of understanding the basic ideas of the Gita and improving my Sanskrit at the same time. I am not going to rush through it, after all, what is the hurry?

Why am I telling you all this? Well, if you see me quote from the Gita every now and then, don’t take me for some erudite vidushi! I am just stumbling along my first word-for-word read of the Gita and no doubt it will filter down into this blog as well.

For those who do not have the time to read it, here is the gist of Chapter 1 which I have just finished. Sanjaya, the charioteer and seer for Dhritarashtra is our narrator. Dhritarashtra asks in the first verse of his seer, ‘What’s up in the battleground ?’. Or rather, he says elegantly in Sanskrit

धर्मक्षेत्रे कुरुक्षेत्रे समवेता युयुत्सवः |
मामकाः पाण्डवाश्चैव किमकुर्वत सञ्जय ||१- १||

What did Pandu’s son and my sons do when they assembled on the sacred (Dharmic) plain of Kurukshetra, eager for battle, O Sanjaya?

Note how he refers to the battleground as धर्म क्षेत्र  or the field of Dharma, a word which encompasses so much from righteousness, duty, religion, virtue, justice, morality, propriety to law. That is the field for which the Gita was written.

The theme of this chapter is Arjuna’s grief. Those who know the Mahabharata know that the Pandavas had come upon this point after many years of injustice, treachery, insults and even murder attempts. They had not lightly decided on this course of war with their kin. Yet when Arjuna sees his grandfather, uncles, gurus, sons, grandsons, in-laws, cousins and friends arrayed before him on either side of the battlefield, he is overcome with the magnitude of what is happening. ‘What am I doing it all for?’, he seems to ask Krishna, his charioteer, in this verse.

न काङ्क्षे विजयं कृष्ण न च राज्यं सुखानि च |
किं नो राज्येन गोविन्द किं भोगैर्जीवितेन वा ||१- ३२||

I desire not victory, O Krishna, nor kingdom, nor pleasures. Of what avail is dominion to us, O Govinda? Of what avail are pleasures and even life?*

He is a shaken man. His limbs tremble, his skin feels as if it burns, his mouth is dry. We can hardly recognize the great and experienced warrior that he was in these descriptions. His main fear seems to be that of accumulating the great sin of destroying his family.

अहो बत महत्पापं कर्तुं व्यवसिता वयम् |
यद्राज्यसुखलोभेन हन्तुं स्वजनमुद्यताः ||१- ४५||

Alas! We have resolved to commit a great sin, inasmuch as we are endeavouring to slay our kinsmen out of craving for the pleasures of dominion.

It seems to me that he was more worried about gathering sins than the loss of dear ones. Whatever it was, I feel most sympathetic with him and wonder how the story would have gone if he had walked away from the battlefield then?

There are some verses (40-48) which I found rather objectionable in this chapter. His idea of a adharmic future is the impiety of women (not men!), the intermingling of castes due to which all the forefathers will go to hell without offerings of pinda and water! I suppose it struck at me personally as a woman who not only married outside her caste but also outside her region. To be accused of impiety and the ‘sin of intermingling of castes’ seems rather harsh! What can be wrong about the intermingled origins of my two wonderful children? Two such intelligent and empathetic citizens of the world, both doctors who aid people everyday, surely the Gita does not question the propriety of their existence? Ah well, different times, different mores. I am not one to take the scriptures too literally…

The theme song of the day? What came to mind immediately was ‘Sthirata Nahi Nahi Re’ by Sadasiva Brahmendra. ‘There is no stability of mind’ says the poet. ‘We are engrossed in this ocean of three kinds of sorrow, caged by arrogance and egotism’ he says. Arjuna too felt deep sorrow at his situation, a situation which came about partly by arrogance and egotism as well. ‘Minds wrapped up with the bond of things, perplexed by wrong or contrary knowledge’.  Interesting that vishaya can be interpreted as objects but also as country or land. Is that not what the Pandaves were, bound to their desire for land? For lyrics and translation, see footnote.

The song was made his own by the incomparable Maestro Balamuralikrishna. I believe it was set to music by him for the film Dharma Nirnayam but I cannot confirm this.  It is set to Raga Amrutavarshini here but this poem has been sung in different ragas by different artists. To know more about this raga, click here.

Alternate link : Click here

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Sanskrit

स्थिरथा नहि नहि रे मानस ।
स्थिरथा नहि नहि रे ॥

तापत्रय सागर मग्नानाम् दर्पाहन्कार विलग्नानाम्  ॥

विषय पाश वेष्टित चित्तानाम् विपरीत ज्ञान विमत्तानाम्  ॥

परमहंस योग विरुद्धानाम् बहु चन्चलतर सुख सिद्धानाम्  ॥

Transliteration :

sthiratA nahi nahi rE mAnasa
sthiratA nahi nahi rE

tApatraya sAgara magnAnam darpAhankAra vilagnAnAm

vishaya pAsha veshTita chittAnAm viparIta jnAna vimattAnAm

paramahamsa yoga viruddhAnAm bahu chanchalatara sukha siddhAnAm

Translation :

There is no stability of mind
There is no stability.

We are engrossed in this ocean of three kinds of sorrow (note: Adidaivika (Divine), Adhibhoutika (of the body) and Adhyatmika (of the soul)), caged by arrogance and egotism.

Minds wrapped up with the bond of things, perplexed by wrong or contrary knowledge.

Opposed to union with ascetics, their achieving of joy is very uncertain.

 

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, M.Balamuralikrishna, Sadasiva Brahmendra

Pibare Ramarasam

RamaWhen a reader requested me to write on this song last week, it was easy for me to acquiesce. I have listened to and enjoyed Pibare Ramarasam for many years after all. I always prepare myself for writing a post by listening to multiple renditions of a song, both vocal and instrumental; I want the song to permeate my being, I want to absorb the words, the meaning, the sounds, the emotions and the moods invoked by a piece of music before being able to write of it. I also listened to a lot of Raga Ahir Bhairav in Hindustani Music and what a pleasure that was! To know more about this raga, click here.

Coming back to Pibare Ramarasam, I kept getting distracted by the mispronunciations of Sanskrit by almost all the vocalists. पिबरे (pibarE) pronounced as पिभरे (pibharE) is bad enough, but as बिबरे (bibarE)? I shudder!! Even the maestro who can normally be depended on to pronounce Sanskrit correctly slipped up; I distinctly heard पीठम्  (pITam) instead of  पीतम्  (pItam) which changes the meaning totally. As this hobby horse of mine threatened to take over this post, I have put my rants in a separate page, the better to refer to it in future posts when my annoyance at mispronunciations takes over everything else! To read my rants, click here; I need an audience for my rants and raves too!! In the meanwhile, I beg vocalists and students to please please learn Sanskrit compositions in Devanagari script and learn to pronounce the words properly. Please.

It is indeed appropriate to stress on pronunciation in relation to this song;  after all, the poet talks of the power of the name of Rama, the power of the sound itself. Sadasiva Brahmendra (17th-18th century)  was an avadhoota, an ascetic who had renounced everything, and who has contributed some beautiful and mystical works to Carnatic Music. ‘Drink the essence of the name of Rama, O tongue’, the poet extolls, ‘for it will keep you far from sins and fulfill you with many rewards’. This is not a reminder for the mind, but a reminder for the tongue. This is an acknowledgement of the power of the sound energy in the name of Rama. Hinduism has always recognized the power of sound. I had written of this in a post last year, of Mantras and Bija Mantras and the power they carry. Sadasiva Brahmendra says that so too is the power of the name of Rama. ‘The poet then goes on to describe the rewards, such as ‘removal of the grief of the birth-death cycle’, ‘purify even the worst of sinners’ etc.  For full lyrics and translation, see footnote.

This song used to be sung in Yamuna Kalyani but the great Maestro Balamuralikrishna has made his Ahir Bhairav version very popular. I have a great affection for this latter raga; the notes themselves seem to imbue the song with a deep mystical sense. There is no question about it, the Maestro’s version is the best, especially if you listen to the ones sung when his voice was at its peak. If you haven’t heard him, here is a link. But wanting to present an alternate version, I have selected a very pleasant and peaceful rendition by Unnikrishnan. Click here to listen.

For an instrumental version, there is this perfect little rendition by flute Maestro Shashank. Ahir Bhairav and the flute seem to have been made for each other!


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language: Sanskrit
Note: Its common to sing only lines 1,3 and 5 but I have heard a complete version too.

पिबरे राम रसम् रसने पिबरे राम रसम्
दूरीकृत पातक  संसर्गम्  पूरित नानाविध फल वर्गम्
जनन मरण भय शोक  विदूरम् सकल शास्त्र निगमागम सारम्
परिपालित सरसिज गर्भाण्डं   परम पवित्री कृत पाषाण्डम्
शुद्ध परमहम्स आश्रम / आश्रित  गीतं शुक शौनक कौशिक मुख पीतम्

Transliteration

pibarE rAma rasam rasanE pibarE rAmarasam
dUrIkrta pAtaka samsargam pUrita nAnAvidha phala vargam
janana maraNa bhaya shOka vidUram sakala shAstra nigamAgama sAram
paripAlita sarasija garbhANDam parama pavitrI krta pAshANDam
shuddha paramahamsa Ashrama gItam shuka shaunaka kaushika mukha pItam

Translation

Drink (verb piban) (implied: absorb) the essence (rasam) of the name of Rama, o tongue (rasana).
It will help you (implied) remove or be distant (doori krta) from association with sin(pAtaka) (or be distant from those who cause you to sin) and you will be fulfilled (poorita) with many kinds (nAnAvidha) and types (varga) of rewards/gains (phala).
It will help you be far removed (vidUram) from the grief (shOka) of the cycle of birth and death (jananamaraNa), it is the essence (sAram) of all (sakala) the religious treatises (shAstra), the Vedas (nigama) and sciences (Agama).
It protects (paripAlita) all creation. Brahma was born of a lotus (sarasija) from a golden egg (garbha anda, womb & egg) and then he created the whole universe. So this phrase implies that Rama nama protects the whole universe.  It will purify (pavitrI) even the most (parama) impious or heretic (pAshANDam).
It is the pure (shuddha) song (gItam) that paramahamsa (signature of poet) has taken refuge in (Ashrama/Ashrita), it is the same which has been drunk (pItam) by sages like Shuka, Shaunaka and Kaushika.

 

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, M.Balamuralikrishna, Sadasiva Brahmendra, Shashank, Unnikrishnan

Sugunamule

Maha Vaidyanatha SivanIt was the year 1844. In Vaiyacheri, a small hamlet in Tanjore district of Tamizh Nadu, a family was blessed with their third son. Was it his good Karma that he was born to an accomplished musician? Or was the good Karma of the father that he was given a son of extraordinary musical talent? Perhaps both. The father had the knowledge to recognize talent and foster it. And so two of the four boys of the family became accomplished musicians at a tender age. This boy was only 7 and his brother 11 when they gave their first concert.

His fame grew quickly. From time to time this earth is blessed with young musicians who seem to know much more than it is possible to know at their age. Mozart composed at 5. Beethoven was 7 at the time of his first public performance. Lalgudi Jayaraman started his musical career at 12. Do you not think that their skills must have been honed in previous lives to achieve what they did at such young ages?

The hero of my story was blessed not only with vidwat (knowledge) but also a pleasing voice which ranged over three and a half octaves. In the year 1856, when he was 12 years old, he and his brother were staying with the pontif at Kalladurichi when a musical festival was held. He performed with other illustrious musicians of his times. But it was his solo performance of the composition of Tyagaraja, Sugunamule, in raga Chakravaham, which won most appreciation. The pontif bestowed the title ‘Maha’ (Great) to this young lad. The lad was henceforth called Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan.

He lived a life for music. He was only 49 when he passed away in 1893. He left behind a small body of compositions of which his magnum-opus was the 72 Mela Ragamalika.

To honour him today, I present Tyagaraja’s composition Sugunamule which earned him his title of greatness at so young an age. ‘Not knowing any other method, in the vain hope that this would make you come, I just keep talking of your virtues’ sings Tyagaraja to his ishta daivam, Lord Rama. I like the simplicity of the lyrics, it touches my heart. Are we not all in the same boat, we believers in whichever Gods we believe in? Do we not blindly pray, hoping, believing that He or She would be listening?

To know more about the raga Chakravaham, click here.

I have chosen a rendition by the inimitable Dr.Balamuralikrishna whose Chakravaham I like better than any other vocalist.

For an instrumental version, listen below to a lovely performance by Ganesh and Kumaresh on the violin.




Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Telugu

Transliteration in Devanagari

पल्लवि
सुगुणमुले चॆप्पुकॊण्टि
सुन्दर रघुराम

अनुपल्लवि
वगलॆरुंग लेकयिटु
वत्तुवनुचु दुरासचे (सु)

चरणं
स्नानादि सुकर्मम्बुलु
वेदाध्ययनम्बुलॆरुग
श्री नायक क्षमियिञ्चुमु
श्री त्यागराज नुत (सु)

Transliteration

Pallavi
suguNamulE cheppukoNTi
sundara raghu rAma

Anupallavi
vagaleruNga lEkayitu
vattuvanuchu durAsachE (suguNa)

Charanam
snAnAdi sukarmambulu
vEdAdhyayanambuleruga
srI nAyaka kshmayinchumu
srI tyAgarAja nuta (suguNa)

Translation
Pallavi
O handsome Rama of the Raghu clan, I just keep talking of your virtues

Anupallavi
Not knowing any other method, with the vain hope that at least by this way you would come (I just keep chanting your virtues)

Charanam
I do not know to perform meritorious acts such as dips in holy rivers, recitation of the Vedas etc. Kindly forgive me, O consort of Lakshmi, O Lord praised by this Tyagaraja.

 

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, Ganesh-Kumaresh, M.Balamuralikrishna, Tyagaraja

Paramatmudu

Pancha BhootaToday’s lovely and deeply spiritual piece of music is Tyagaraja’s kriti in the mystical Raga Vagadeeshwari. I can imagine that he must have been in a meditative and blissful mood when he wrote this music as it draws us into a deeply contemplative state.

What an unusual composition this is! Instead of referring to any particular deity, Tyagaraja sings of the Supreme Consciousness (Nirguna Brahman).  He says ‘Know the grandeur with which the Supreme Lord is luminescent in Vishnu, Shiva, the celestials, men, millions of universes’ and goes on to point that the same Supreme Entity brilliantly shines in ‘animals, birds, mountains, trees which are made up of the five elements’.  This is not a song of prayer, but a song of affirmation from one who has seen and has known.

Following from Tyagaraja’s mention of the पञ्च भूत  (Pancha Bhoota) or the five elements decreed by the Vedic seers, I will dwell a bit on its significance. The Vedic sages nominated पृथिवी  (Earth), अप् (Water), वायु (Gas), तेजस् (Vital Power/Energy also Fire), आकाश (Vacuity, Ether, Absolute Brahman ब्रह्म) as the basic elements which make up this world. Three of these are in fact common with ancient Chinese thinking as well. My interpretation is that the first three represent all matter as they exist in one of the three states – Solids, Liquids or Gas. तेजस् (Energy/Fire) represents Energy which we know can convert to and be converted from Matter. This also represents Life Force; except for that, the first four Bhootas are governed by Physics. The fifth, आकाश represents Absolute Consciousness or ब्रह्म.

I recently read another non-traditional interpretation where the author equates the Pancha Bhootas as  Space (Akaasha), Planck’s energy (Vaayu), Newtonian energy (Agni), elemental atom (Jalam), and molecule and molecular aggregate (Prithvi). (Reference) Yet another interpretation is described here. Whatever the interpretation, the five Vedic elements cover both the physical and metaphysical world.

Coming back to our song of today, Tyagaraja brings our attention to the Brahman, the Absolute Consciousness, which shines out of all beings in the Universe (or multiple Universes). And in doing that, focuses our thoughts on how we all are part of the One. For lyrics and translation, see footnote. To read a bit more about this raga, click here.

Though I have heard so many singers perform this song, I find it difficult to get past the  great Maestro Balamurali Krishna. Here’s his rendition from the CD Tyagaraja Tattvabodha Kritis.

You can find here the full performance including the Raga Alapanai.

For an instrumental version, listen to the young and very talented Akkarai Subhalakshmi on the violin.



Footnote (Lyrics) :

पल्लवि
परमात्मुडु वॆलिगे मुच्चट बाग तॆलुसुकोरे

अनुपल्लवि
हरियट हरुडट सुरुलट नरुलट
अखिलाण्ड कोटुलट अन्दरिलो (परमात्मुडु)

चरणम्
गगनानिल तेजो जल भूमयमगु
मृग खग नग तरु कोटुललो
सगुणमुलो विगुणमुलो सततमु
साधु त्यागराजादि आश्रितुललो (परमात्मुडु)

Translation :

Know unerringly the grandeur with which the Supreme Lord shines through!

In all and as all of Lord Vishnu, Lord Siva, celestials, men, entire millions of universes (the Supreme Lord is resplendent).

In millions of  animals, birds, mountains and trees which are made up of space, air, fire, water and earth, in the describable and the indescribable (the Supreme Lord is resplendent). And in this the good Tyagaraja and others have sought refuge.

For lyrics in Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and word by word meaning, click here.

 

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Filed under Akkarai Subhalakshmi, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, M.Balamuralikrishna, Tyagaraja