Tag Archives: Papanasam Sivan

Srinivasa Tiruvenkata


Sanctuary. It is a concept which is familiar to all of us. A sanctuary provides a safe haven when one is under threat, even if one is not in the right. A political refugee may seek sanctuary in countries where he will not be persecuted for his leanings. A tax refugee may seek sanctuary in a tax shelter where he can avoid paying high taxes. English law for many centuries allowed fugitives to seek sanctuary in churches and avoid prosecution as long as they remained within church property.

Abhaya mudraAnd so too in religion, the idea of sanctuary has existed for a long time. Most Hindu Gods are shown with their hands in abhaya hasta meaning without fear. In the picture on the right, the young dancer has her right hand in the abhaya hasta and her left hand in the varada or boon giving mudra typical of Goddess Lakshmi. The abhaya hasta indicates that God is a sanctuary that we can all take refuge in, without fear of anything. And just like in any other haven, when you give yourself up, it is a no-questions-asked sanctuary.

How then is one to seek that refuge? Herein comes the concept of Sharanagati or Unconditional Surrender. In Mahabharata, in the episode called Draupadi Vastrabharanam, Drapudi is humiliated in court when Dushasana tries to disrobe her in public. She cries for help but in this court of kings and noblemen, no man is noble enough to support her. As long as she tries to protect herself with her hands, there is no help for her. Finally she raises both hands and in despair calls out to Krishna seeking His help and a miracle happens.  Thus it is with unconditional surrender that you will find unconditional sanctuary says our scriptures.

All this to lead up to my song choice of the day! In this simple song by Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) set to the melodious raga Hamsanandi, the poet salutes Lord Srinivasa and says ‘You who are famous as being the refuge of the helpless/wretched, where have you seen one more helpless than me? I seek the refuge of your feet, give me sanctuary!’. He, whose hands are held in the abhaya hasta, a constant re-assurance of sanctuary, how can He refuse so heartfelt a plea?  To see the full lyrics and translation, see footnote. To know more about the raga, click here.

To present this song, I have found a very nice rendition by the young vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan. He starts the song with this beautiful viruththam (verse) from the Nalayira Divyaprabandam (verse 678).  1100 year old and it still speaks to us with such intensity! Such is true poetry.

ஆனாத செல்வத்து அரம்பையர்கள் தற்சூழ
வானாளும் செல்வமும்  மண்ணரசும்   யான் வேண்டேன்
தேனார் பூஞ்சோலைத் திருவேங்கடச் சுனையில்
மீனாய்ப் பிறக்கும்  விதியுடையேன்  ஆவேனே

I wish not for the immense wealth of ruling the heavens surrounded by celestial maidens, nor do I wish to rule the earth. I yearn merely to be a fish in a forest spring on the sacred Venkatam where honey scented flowers bloom.

Kulashekhara Azhwar, Chera King (9th Century)

Another rendition I like very much is that of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908-2003), one of the greatest and celebrated Carnatic vocalists of our times.

For an instrumental version, I present the very accomplished Iyer Brothers on the Veena. I take pride in the fact that they are from my home city of Melbourne, Australia.


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Tamil

ஸ்ரீநிவாச திருவேங்கட முடையாய்
ஜெயகோவிந்த முகுந்தா அனந்தா

தீனஷரண்யன் எனும்பெயர் கொண்டாய்
தீனன் எனைப் போல் வேறெவர் கண்டாய்

ஜகம்புகழும் ஏழுமலை மாயவனே
திருமகள் அலர்மேல் மங்கை மணாளனே
ஜகன்னாதா சங்கு சக்ர தரணே
திருவடிக்கபயம் அபயம் ஐயா


shrInivAsa tiru vEnkaTamuDaiyAi
jaya gOvinda mukunda anantA

dIna sharaNyan enum pugazh koNDaAi
dInan enaippOl vErevar kaNDAi

jagam pugazhum Ezhumalai mAyavanE
tirumagaL alarmEl mangai maNALanE
jagannAtA shankha chakra dharanE
tiruvadik-kabhayam abhayamayyA


O Srinivasa (in whom Lakshmi dwells), lord of Venkatam, Victory to you. O Govinda, Mukunda (liberator), O Infinite one!

You are famous as the refuge of the helpless/wretched, where have you seen one more helpless than me?

O lord of the seven hills who is praised by all, O illusory one. O husband of Alamelu Mangai (name of Lakshmi). O lord of the universe who holds the wheel and the conch. I seek the refuge of your feet, give me sanctuary!


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Iyer Brothers, Papanasam Sivan, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Sikkil Gurucharan

Ka Va Va

Murugan Vel

Invocation. As a child I remember listening with fascination to my mother’s explanation of how God can be invoked into a Kalasha filled with water, topped with mango leaves and a coconut. Once the invocation is done, the Kalasha is worshipped as the Goddess. ‘God is everywhere’ my mother said ‘but when we invoke His or Her presence, divine energy becomes concentrated in an idol or a symbolic representation like a Kalasha’.  Likewise an idol carved by the hands of men comes to sit in an altar somewhere and transforms from stone to God.

What causes the transformation? Invocation. Just invocation. Human beings have invoked the presence of God from time immemorial using ceremonies of all kinds. But finally it is just a simple call ‘Come’. My song choice of today is the essence of invocation. Addressed to Lord Muruga, the poet-composer Papanasam Sivan says ‘Come and protect me’. He identifies the divinity he invokes by different descriptions but the repeated ‘vA vA’ are the words we hear the most in this song, ‘Come, Come’.  Set to the beautiful raga Varali (click here for more information on this raga), this melodious supplication touches the hearts of all those who hear it. So how can Lord Muruga remain unmoved?

Here below is an excellent version by Madurai Mani Iyer (1912-1968) , one of the most respected and celebrated vocalists from the first half of the 20th century.

For an instrumental version, listen to the supremely talented violinists Ganesh and Kumaresh below :

Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Tamil

கா வா வா கந்தா வா வா என்னை கா வா வேலவா
(முருகா வா கந்தா வா)
பழனி மலை உறையும் முருகா (வா வா)

தேவாதி தேவன் மகனே வா – பர
தேவி மடியில் அமரும் குஹனே வா
வள்ளி தெய்வயானை மணவாளா
சரவண பவ பரம தயாளா ஷண்முகா (வா வா)

ஆபத்திருளற அருள் ஒளி தரும்
அப்பனே அண்ணலே ஐயா வா வா
பாபத் திரள் தரும் தாபம் அகல வரும்
பழனி வளர் கருணை மழையே வா வா
தாபத்ரய வெயில் அற நிழல் தரும் வான்
தருவே என் குல குருவே வா
ஸ்ரீ பத்மனாபன் மருகா வா
ராம தாசன் பணியும் முத்தைய்யா (விறைவுடன் வா வா)

kA vA vA kanda vA vA Yennai kA vA vElavA
(murugA vAkandA vA)
pazhanimalaiyuraiyum murugA (vA vA)

devAdi dEvan maganE vA
para dEvi maDiyil amarum guhanE vA
vaLLi deivayAnai manavaLA (vA)
sharavana bhava parama dayalA (shanmugA)

aapath- iruLara aruloLi tarum appane annaLe ayya vA vA
pApa tiraL tarum tApam agala varum
pazhani valar karunai mazhayE vA vA
tApatraya veyilara nizhal tarum vAntharuve yen
kula guruvEe vaa
sri padmanAban marugA rAma dAsan vanangum mutaiyA

Oh Muruga, who lives in Pazhani malai, come to protect me.
Come, O son of Shiva.  Come, O Guha (the hidden one), who sits on Parvati’s lap.
Come, O husband of Valli and Deivayanai.
Come O Sharavana, the supremly kind being.
Come, you who bestow light to remove the darkness of danger.
Come, you who remove longing and sin, you the shower of kindness, who grew up in Pazhani.
Come, you who give shade to protect  me from the hot rays of intense  longing, you who are the Guru of our community.
Come, you who are the nephew of lord Vishnu, the one worshipped by Ramadasa, a gem like being.

For notation, click here.



Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Ganesh-Kumaresh, Madurai Mani Iyer, Papanasam Sivan

Om Sharavanabhava

MuruganLord Skanda, the younger son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and the brother of Lord Ganesh must have been worshipped all over India once upon a time. There is mention of Him in the Vedas and Puranas and in the Mahabharata as well. Archaeological findings related to Him point to His worship from 10 B.C. or before. But as time passed and worship patterns changed, His worship became more localised. In today’s India, He is most prevalent where there are Tamils.

Although my parents worshipped a pantheon of Gods, we did not have Lord Murugan in the altar at home. As a consequence, I was not much attached to this God who is most important to the Tamils, my people. As a Hindu, I believe that each of our Gods and Goddesses is a complete manifestation of the Divine. I quote the Shanti Mantra from Brihadaranyaka & Ishavasya Upanishad (4 BC), a mantra which I recite morning and evening :

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते |
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवा वशिष्यते ||
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ||

Om. That (Paramatma = God, the supreme being) is absolute (complete/perfect). This (Jeevatma = individual soul) is absolute. The absolute arises from the absolute. When the absolute is taken from the absolute, what remains is the absolute. Om Peace Peace Peace.

One of the earliest definition of Infinity (∞ – ∞ = ∞), the interpretation is that God being infinite, each manifestation of Him (including our souls) is also infinite and complete. Whichever God you choose to worship, you still worship the same Infinite.

It is thanks to Carnatic Music and the many songs devoted to Lord Murugan which have brought me to seek Him. How passionate the devotion of the Tamil poets is to Him! How beautifully they sing His praise!! One such song is what I am presenting today.

Sharavanabhava (Sanskrit: He who was born in a clump of reeds) refers to Lord Murugan. The six syllables haves deep esoteric significance as well and this is used as a Mantra by His devotees. This song is written by Papanasam Sivan (1890-1972) and is set to Raga Shanmukhapriya (meaning, the raga which pleases the God of Six Heads i.e. Lord Murugan). If you want to know more about the raga, click here. The lyrics are available here. The superbly talented sisters Ranjani & Gayatri sing this beautifully below  :

Alternate link : Click here.

Click here to listen to an excellent instrumental version played by the Sax Maestro Kadri Gopalnath.

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Kadri Gopalnath, Papanasam Sivan, Ranjani Gayatri

Unnai Allal

I have no recourse but you, O Mother who has created the whole world! You have made me dance  on this stage of the drama of the world, where one ports different guises. I can dance no more!  For your divine heart to find the compassion to think ‘enough dancing’ and let me have a rest, what recourse do I have but you?

If  I had been born with the gift for words, this is the poetry I would have written. If I had been born with a Voice, this is the song I would have sung. Lacking both, I listen again and again to this beautiful composition by Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) and lose myself in this most comforting of ragas, Kalyani.

Kalyani (Sanskrit) means auspicious, bringing good-fortune, beautiful. An important part of Carnatic music, this raga has Middle-Eastern origins. There are hundreds of compositions in this raga which are often sung as elaborate numbers in concerts. So of course I have heard it many times from childhood and find great comfort in its familiarity. Yet with certain compositions, there is something special. A matter of resonance I think – like a tuning fork, Unnai Allal makes me resonate in exactly the same frequency. To know more about this raga, click here.

This is a very cleverly written piece of poetry. The words are simple (see footnote) but it manages to encompasses many of basic Hindu beliefs – Maya and rebirth (the drama/theatre of the world where one ports many guises), Bhakti, surrender (no recourse except you), monotheistic-polymorphic God (many named and all pervading), Jeevatma-Paramatma link (resides in one’s heart/soul),  Mukti (allow to stop dancing). An excellent prayer song. See footnote for lyrics.

To present this song, I urge you to watch this video (from 0:31) of a very young Sanjay Subrahmanyan. How brilliant is he!! This is a video which I always watch with a great deal of pleasure and with sadness because I long to be there, at that temple, listening to Kalyani in those ancient corridors. Is Kalyani sanctified by the earth on which it is sung? Or is the earth sanctified by the sound of Kalyani? Both…both..My Tamil blood craves the feel of those temple grounds.

And if you fall in love with the song, like I did, listen below to a more elaborate and simply superb rendition by Aruna Sairam. It is from her excellent album Unnai Allal which I am happy to recommend to you.

Alternate link : This is available on online music sites such as Spotify and Gaana.com

Footnote (Lyrics):

Language : Tamil

உன்னை அல்லால் வேறே கதி இல்லை அம்மா
உலகெல்லாம் ஈன்ற அன்னை (உன்னை அல்லால்)

என்னை ஒர் வேடமிட்டுலக நாடக அரங்கில் ஆட விட்டாய் ( வைத்தாய்?)
என்னால் இனி ஆட முடியாது
திருவுள்ளம் இறங்கி ஆடினது போதுமென்று ஓய்வளிக்க (உன்னை அல்லால்)

நீயே மீனாக்ஷி காமாக்ஷி நீலாயதாக்ஷி
என பல பெயருடன் எங்கும் நிறைந்தவள்
என் மனக் கோவிலிலும்  எழுந்தருளிய தாயே
திருமயிலை வளரும் (உன்னை அல்லால்)


unnai allAl vErE gati illai ammA
ulagellAm InDRa annai

ennai Or vEDamiTTulaga nAdaga arangil ADa  viTTAi (/vaiththai)
ennAl ini ADa muDiyAdu
tiruvuLLam irangi ADinadu pOdum enDRu OyvaLikka (unnai allAl)

nIyE mInAkshii kAmAkshi nIlAyatAkshi
ena pala peyaruDan engum niraindavaL
en manak kOvililum ezhundaruLiya tAyE
tirumayilai vaLarum (unnai allAl)


I have no (illai) recourse (vErE gati) but you (unnai allAl), O Mother (annai) who has created (InDRa) the whole world (ulagellAm)!

You have made (viTTai) me (ennai) dance (ADa) on this stage (arangil) of the drama (nAdaga) of the world (ulaga) where one ports (iTTu) different guises (veDam). I can (ennAl) dance (ADa) no more (ini muDiyAdu)!  For your divine heart (tiru uLLam) to find the compassion (irangi) to think ‘enough dancing’ (ADinadu pOdum ena) and let me have a rest (Oyvu aLikka), what recourse do I have but you?

You are indeed (nI dAn) present everywhere (engum niraidavaL) with many names (pala peyaruDan) such as (ena) Meenakshi, Kamakshi and Neelayadakshi. O Mother (tAyE) who has blessed me by residing (ezhudu aruLiya) even in the temple (kOvilum) of my heart (en mana)! O Mother who is in holy Mayilai (tiru mayilai), what recourse do I have but you?



Filed under Aruna Sairam, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Papanasam Sivan, Rama Varma, Sanjay Subrahmanyan