After 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.
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.
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Poetry : Meera Music : ‘Piano’ Vaidhayanathan Raga : Darbari Kanada 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॥
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
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).
So one more year has come to an end. That one micro-second when one year finishes and another year starts seems momentous, doesn’t it? Yet it is no different from the millions of micro-seconds that we have lived so far. We greet this new micro-second with cheers and wishes, hopes and dreams..and if one is particularly foolish like myself, resolutions that won’t last a week! I wonder, why do we cheer the unknown to come instead of grieving the end of one more period of one’s life? One starts life with endless possibilities but as moments pass the possibilities become fewer and fewer until at the last moment of our life there is only one possibility left. So while the world lights the skies with fireworks and parties its way into the New Year, I am sombre, looking back at what might have been and what is not.
2015 was such a hard year for so many people. I grieve for the all the people killed and maimed by terrorism and fundamentalism whether in Paris, Nigeria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Philippines, Yemen, Kenya or the innumerable other places which have seen such incidents. At the start of 2015 they too would have cheered and hoped and made resolutions which they did not keep. What happened to all those wishes when the terrorists blew them up? Did they disappear from the earth or are those wishes hanging heavily like overladen clouds? I grieve for all those affected by natural disasters, be it in the floods in Chennai, Malawi or Mozambique, the drought in Ethiopia, the heat wave in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, earthquakes in Nepal and Chile, wildfires in Canada, California and Australia, landslides in Burma, avalanches in Afghanistan or innumerable other such incidents. Did they not receive good wishes at the start of 2015? If they survived the disasters, will they ever heal from what 2015 did to them? I grieve for the earth itself which we continue to treat with careless abandon, filling landfills with toxic or non-biodegradable waste, filling the air with carbon and other emissions, filling rivers and water sources with even more waste. As polar bears struggle in melting ice caps, fish struggle with low oxygen levels in the water and animals struggle with disastrous changes in their habitat, shall we still cheer the start of 2016 or grieve over all that we could have done but didn’t in 2015? We humans selfishly follow agendas for individual interest at the cost of collective well-being, whether by killing rhinos for their horns, enslaving women for their bodies, using poverty as a weapon against the poor and in so many other ways that I despair of it all. All one can feel is shame that one is part of the same human race which does so much harm to itself and its environment.
Yet here is 2016, whether we want it or not. At the start of the year hope springs eternal, does it not! So I shall set aside all the grief of that which has passed and hope for joy and contentment in the future, not just for myself but for all of us who call earth our home. And I invoke the prayer song written by the Kanchi Paramacharya, Jagatguru Chandrasekharendra Saraswati and tuned by Shri Vasant Desai. On Oct 23 1966 M.S.Subbulakshmi sang it in the United Nations. This immortal song is as meaningful in today’s times as it was then. Please do read the translation in the footnote below, there is good advice for us all. May 2016 bring us all wisdom to follow the path recommended by the Paramacharya.
A much older M.S. sings the same song in the video below :
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Poetry: Kanchi Paramacharya, Jagatguru Chandrasekharendra Saraswati
Music : Vasant Desai
Raga : Ragamalika – Yamuna Kalyani and Kapi
Language : Sanskrit
Win over (jEtrIm) all hearts (hRt) by practising (bhajata) friendship (maitrIm).
Think (pashyata, literally look) at others (parAn) exactly (Eva) like you think of yourself (Atmavat).
Forsake (tyajata) war (yuddham), forsake (tyajata) competitiveness (spardhAm),
forsake (tyajata) sudden (akrama) attacks (Akramanam) on others (parEshu).
Mother (jananI) Earth (pRthivI) exists (AstE) like a wish (kAma) fulfilling cow (dughA) (reference to kAmadhEnu).
God (dEvah), our father (janaka), is completely (sakala) compassionate (dayAluh)
Be self-restrained (dAmyata), be charitable (datta), be merciful (dayadhvam). (*from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, see below).
May (bhUyAt) all (sakala) people (janAnAm) be prosperous/blissful/fortunate (shrEya)
Three classes of Prajāpati’s sons lived a life of continence with their father, Prajāpati (Virāj)—the gods, men and Asuras. The gods, on the completion of their term, said, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: Control yourselves.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’
Then the men said to him, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the same syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: Give.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’
अथ हैनमसुरा ऊचुः, ब्रवीतु नो भवानिति; तेभ्यो हैतदेवाक्शरमुवाच द इति; व्यज्ञासिष्टा3 इति; व्यज्ञासिष्मेति होचुः, दयध्वमिति न आत्थेति; ओमिति होवाच, व्यज्ञासिष्टेति; तदेतदेवैषा दैवी वागनुवदति स्तनयित्नुर् द द द इति—दाम्यत दत्त दयध्वमिति; तदेतत्त्रयं शिक्शेत्— मं दानं दयामिति ॥
Then the Asuras said to him, ‘Please instruct us.’ He told them the same syllable ‘Da’ (and asked), ‘Have you understood?’ (They) said, ‘We have. You tell us: ‘Have compassion.’ (He) said, ‘Yes, you have understood.’ That very thing is repeated by the heavenly voice, the cloud, as ‘Da,’ ‘Da,’ ‘Da’: ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give,’ and ‘Have compassion.’ Therefore one should leam these three—self-control, charity and compassion.
The present section is introduced to prescribe the three disciplines of self-control etc. Three classes of Prajāpati’s sons lived a life of continence, i.e. lived as students, since continence is the most important part of a student’s life, with their father, Prajāpati. Who were they? The gods, men and Asuras, in particular. Of them, the gods, on the completion of their term—what did they do?—said to their father, Prajāpati, ‘Please instruct us.’ When they thus sought his instruction, he told them only the syllable‘Da’; and saying it the father asked them,’ you understoodthe meaning of the syllable I told you by way of instruction, or not?’ The gods said, ‘We have.’ ‘If so, tell me what I said.’ The gods said, ‘You tell us: Control yourselves, for you are naturally unruly.’ The other said, ‘Yes, you have understoodrightly.’
The common portions are to be explained as before. ‘You tell us: Give—distribute your wealth to the best of your might, for you are naturally avaricious. What else would you say for our benefit?’—so said the men.
Similarly the Asuras took it as, ‘Have compassion, be kind to all, for you are cruel, given to injuring others, and so on.’ That very instruction of Prajāpati continues to this day. Prajāpati, who formerly taught the gods and others, teaches us even to-day through the heavenly voice of the cloud. How? Here is the heavenly voice heard. Which is it? The cloud. As ‘Da,’ ‘Da,’ ‘Da’: ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give,’and ‘Have compassion.’ The syllable ‘Da’ is repeated thrice to represent in imitation the above three terms, not that a cloud produces three notes only, for we know of no such limitation as to number. Because to this day Prajāpati gives the same instructions, ‘Control yourselves,’ ‘Give’ and ‘Have Compassion,’ therefore one should learn these three of Prajāpati. What are they? Self-control, charity and compassion. Men should think, ‘We must carry out the instructions of Prajāpati.’ The Smṛti too says, ‘Lust, anger and greed—these are the three gateways to hell, destructive to the self; therefore one should renounce these three’ (G. XVI. 21). The preceding portion is but a part of this injunction, ‘One should learn,’ etc. Still those who can guess the motives of others hold different views onwhy Prajāpati spoke the same syllable ‘Da’ thrice to the gods etc., who wanted separate instructions, and how they too discriminatingly understood his intention from the same syllable ‘Da.’
Happy Ramanavami to all my readers. Today is a day of worship. There are those who worship with prayers and offerings but in this blog, I offer worship just with music. With my song choice of today, with the words of Tyagaraja and the voice of M.S.Subbulakshmi, I shower Lord Rama with champaka, lotus, jasmine and parijata flowers.
The thing is, I have been terribly distressed this week and not in the right state of mind for worship. I had been pouring out my confusion and distress into a post which I had intented to post today, in spite of it being Ramanavami. ‘How can I think of worship when my heart is so heavy?’ I had thought. ‘This blog reflects the music of my heart, and if it has a note of dissonance today, so be it’.
When I woke this morning and ambled bleary eyed to my prayer alcove to say ‘Good Morning’, that was still my intention. But as I stood there, a sort of acceptance washed over me. And so I have kept aside my other post and here I am in a state of worship after all.
Let us shower flowers on Sri Ramachandra with a joyous mind says Tyagaraja. My mind is not joyous today, I have to work at it. Setting aside ignorance and observing self restraint, let us shower lotus flowers on Him. Is grief for worldly matters also just ignorance? Is giving into distress a lack of self restraint? Perhaps this song is addressed to me after all.. Let us whole heartedly worship Sri Ramachandra so that there are not countless births and deaths. Today, with my heavy heart, I see the beasts hidden in the hearts of men..and if prayers can get me away from this cycle, I will pray with all my heart.
I present you M.S.Subbulakshmi who wrings every possible emotion out of Ahiri.
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Composer : Tyagaraja Raga : Ahiri Language : Telugu
Note : I do not speak Telugu; the translation is taken from multiple sources online.
Note: MS sings only a subset of the charanams which I have marked in blue. As I do not speak Telugu, the translation relies on various web resources (tyagaraja vaibhavam, sahityam, karnatik).
Let us shower (challarE) flowers (pUla) on (paini) Lord Ramachandra (ramachandruni).
With a joyous (sompaina) mind (manasutOnu), let us shower (implied) nice (manchi) champaka flowers (champakamulanu) from beautiful (impaina) golden (bangaru) baskets (gampalatO) .
Abandoning (mAni) ignorance (pAmaramulu) and observing self-restraint (nEmamutO), let us shower (implied) lotus (tAmara) flowers (pUla) on (paini) He who is beloved (manO haruni) to Lakshmi (ramA).
Let us shower (implied) jasmine (jAji) flowers (sumamula), the best (mElaina) amongst all the flowers (rAjilO pUla) fit for (arhamau) worship (pUjArhamau) of the Gods (dEva) in this world (jagatini).
Let us shower (implied) the lotus (kamala) flowers (sumamula) of our hearts (hRt) on the spotless (vimala) moon (chandra) of the ocean (arNava) of the Solar (mani=jewel, dyu=sky) dynasty (kula) with infinitely (amita) mighty(parAkrama).
Let us shower (implied) pArijata flowers (sumamula) with our hands (chEtulatO) on (paini) the consort (pati) of Sita, praised (vinutuDaina) by Brahma (dhAta).
Let us wholeheartedly (manasAra) shower (implied) flowers (pUla) on He is who is worshipped (nutuni) by this Tyagaraja so that there are no more (lEka uNDa) countless (enna rAni) births (janana) and deaths (maraNamulu).
It was more than a month ago. I had a call from an old friend in Dubai. ‘Suja, Ravi here. It’s bad news. Gautam is no more’. My mind went blank for a few minutes, I could not quite come to grips with the explanations that followed.
Through the next few days I learnt of more details. I struggled with my emotions, seemingly having lost control of my tear ducts which welled up during the most mundane activities in my life. My husband and I met Gautam in 1985 when we were all very young. There were times when we saw a lot of each other, there were times when we hardly met. Yet he was there. And now he was no more. He was only 53. Father to two beloved sons, husband to a now desolate wife, he died alone in a hotel room while on a business trip in Singapore. I have taken it harder than I would have thought; after all, we did not live in each other’s pockets. Yet with him gone, I feel as if I have lost a part of the history of my life for he was very much part of it.
Two weeks back I flew into Australia. For those who are newcomers to my blog, my husband and I live in Switzerland, my two grown children live and work in Australia. Trying to live in perpetual summer, I almost always visit Australia in Dec-Jan. Meeting mutual friends of Gautam here was a heart-rending experience as we relived shared moments of our lives.
I tried to write this post a couple of weeks back but grief overcame me and I could not write sensibly at all. But even then a couple of verses from Bhaja Govindam kept running as a refrain in my head – पुनरपि जननं पुनरपि मरणं पुनरपि जननी जठरे शयनम् – Once again birth, once again death, once again lying down in the womb of a mother. How fragile life is, how uncertain. One day a man goes to work and the next day he is no more. It seems so unbelievable! Adi Shankaracharya (788-820?) advises us to worship Govinda, pointing out to us fools ‘मूढमते’, the illusory nature of life on earth. I have heard this sung hundreds of times, I have myself recited it many times, but today I have finally come to grips with Shankaracharya’s verses.
Listen below to M.S.Subbulakshmi sing the version she made famous. She sings only 10 out of the 31 verses. See footnote for my translation of the verses which are sung. If you are interested, the words of the complete version can be found easily online.
Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :
Poetry : Adi Shankaracharya Music : ? Raga : Ragamalika – Yamuna Kalyani, Brindavana Saranga, Pantuvarali, Bageshri, Behag, Nadanamakriya, Kapi, Mohanam, Senjurutti, Sindhu Bhairavi Language : Sanskrit
Note: I am giving below only the verses sung in M.S.Subbulakshmi’s rendition, with the actual verse number in the full version for reference.
भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं गोविन्दं भज मूढमते ।
संप्राप्ते सन्निहिते काले नहि नहि रक्षति डुकृञ् करणे ॥ १ ॥
bhaja gOvindam, bhaja gOvindam, gOvindam bhaja mUDHamatE samprAptE sannihitE kAlE nahi nahi rakshati DukR.nkaraNE ॥ 1 ॥
Worship (bhaja) Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda, Oh fool (mUDHamatE)! On reaching (sampraptE) close to (sannihitE) the appointed time of death (kAlE, time, implies time of death), grammatical formulae (DukR.nkaranE) will not save you (nahi nahi rakshati).
mUDHa jahIhi dhanAgamatRshNAm kuru sadbuddhim manasi vitRshNAm
yallabhasE nija karmOpAttam vittam tEna vinOdaya chittam ॥ 2॥
O Fool (mUDHa)! Abandon (jahI, verb jahita) the desire (tRshNA) for the acquisition (Agama) of wealth (dhana) now (iha)! In a mind without desire (manasi vitRshNAm), comprehend (kuru buddhim) the Truth (sat). That (yat) that you obtain (labhasE) as your own (nija) work’s (karma) gain (upAttam), delight (vinodaya) your mind (chittam) with that (tEna) wealth (vittam).
As long as (yAvat) one is engaged in (saktah) earning (upArjana) wealth (vitta), till that time (tAvat) one’s own (nija) family (parivAra) remains attached (raktah) (implied: to you). Later (pashchAt) while one lives on (jIvati) in a decrepit/aged (jarjara) body (dEha), no one (kah api) in the house (gEha) inquires (pRchCHa) of one’s news (vArtA).
Raga : Bageshri
मा कुरु धन जन यौवन गर्वं हरति निमेषात्कालः सर्वम् ।
मायामयमिदमखिलं हित्वा ब्रह्मपदं त्वं प्रविश विदित्वा ॥ 11 ॥
mA kutu dhana jana yauvana garvam harati nimEshAtkAlah sarvam
mAyAmaymidamakhilam hitvA brahmapadam tvam pravisha viditvA ॥ ११ ॥
Do not be (ma kuru = do not do) proud (garva) of wealth (dhana), tribe (jana) or youth (yauvana). Time (kAla) can take away (harati) everything (sarva) in a moment (nimEsha)! Abandoning (hitvA) this (idam) illusory (mAyamayam) universe (akhilam), with realisation (viditvA), you (tvam) should (implied) resort to (pravisham) the place of Brahma (brahmapadam).
सुर मंदिर तरु मूल निवासः शय्या भूतलमजिनं वासः ।
सर्व परिग्रह भोग त्यागः कस्य सुखं न करोति विरागः ॥ १८ ॥
sura mandira taru mUla nivAsah shayyA bhUtala majinam vAsah
sarva parigraha bhOga tyAgah kasya sukham na karOti virAgah ॥ 18॥
Dwell (nivAsa) in the temple (mandira) of Gods (sura), in the roots (mUla) of trees (taru). Live (Vasah) with a deer skin (ajinam) on the earth (bhUtala) as bed (shayyA). Renounce (tyAga) the claim on (parigraha) all (sarva) possessions/enjoyment (bhOga). Who (kasya) will not be (na karOti) happy (sukha) with such indifference to worldly things (virAga)?
भगवद् गीता किञ्चिदधीता गङ्गा जल लव कणिका पीता ।
सकृदपि येन मुरारि समर्चा क्रियते तस्य यमेन न चर्चा ॥ २० ॥
bhagavad gItA kinchidaDHItA gangA jala lava kaNikA pItA
sakRdapi yEna murAri samarchA kriyatE tasya yamEna na charchA ॥ 20 ॥
Yama (Lord of Death) does not argue (kriyatE na charchA) with one who has read (adhITa) a little bit (kinchit) of the Bhagavat Gita, sipped (pIta) even a drop (kaNikA) of a bit of (lava) of water (jala) of the Ganges (gangA), by whom (yEna) Lord Krishna (murAri) has been worshipped (samarcha) even (api) once (sakRt).
Once again (punarapi) birth (jananam), once again (punarapi) death (maraNam), once again (punarapi) lying down (shayanam) in the womb (jaTHara) of a mother (jananI)….in this (iha) world (sa.msArE) which is so much (bahu) difficult to endure (dustAra), with boundless (apAra) compassion (kRpA), protect me (pAhi) O Krishna (murArE) !
गेयं गीता नाम सहस्रं ध्येयं श्रीपति रूपमजस्रम् ।
नेयं सज्जन सङ्गे चित्तं देयं दीनजनाय च वित्तम् ॥ २७ ॥
gEyam gItA nAma sahasram dhyEyam shrIpati rUpamajasram
nEyam sajjan sa.ngE chittam dEyam dInajanAya cha vittam ॥27॥
That which ought to be sung (gEyam) is the Gita and the thousand (sahasram) names of the Lord (nAma). That which ought to be meditated on (dhyEyam) endlessly (ajasram) is the form (rUpam) of Vishnu, the consort of Lakshmi (shrIpati). That to which the mind (chittam) ought to be led to (nEyam) is the company (sa.ngam) of virtuous people (sajjana). That which ought to be given (dEyam) is the wealth (vittam) to the wretched (dIna) people (jana).
There is no (na asti) true (satyam) divine (Esha) joy (sukha) resulting from (tatah) wealth (artha) on which one thinks of (bhAvaya) all the time (nityam) uselessly (anartha). One fears (bhIti) sharing (bhAja) wealth (dhana) even (api) with one’s son (putrAt)! This (EshA) practice (rIti) is followed (vihita) everywhere (sarvatra).
The devotee (bhakta) who relies on (nirbhara) on the lotus-feet (charaNa ambuja) of the Guru is soon (achirat) liberated (mukta) from being (bhava) in this cycle of worldly existence (sa.msAra). Indeed (Eva), with restraint/control (niyamat) of his senses (indriya) with (sa) his mind (mAnasa), he sees (drashyasi) the God (dEva) who is in his own (nija) heart (hRdayasTHa).
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