Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sogasu Juda

Raga Kannadagowla, 22 Karaharapriya janya
Aa: S R2 G2 M1 P N2 S Av: S N2 D2 P M1 G2 S
Taalam: Deshaadi



sogasu jūḍa taramā! nī

niganigamanucu kapōla
yugamucē merayu mōmu!

amarārcita pada yugamō!
abhaya pradakara yugamō!
kamanīya tanu ninditakāma!
kāma ripunuta! nī

vara bimba samādharamu
vakuḻa sumambula- yuramu
karadhṛta śara kōdaṇḍa!
marakatānga! varamaina

ciṛu navvō! mungurulu mari kannulatēṭō!
vara tyāgarājarcita! vandanīya! iṭuvaṇṭi

English verse:

Can another of such beauty be?
Glimmering cheeks and shining face
Feet adored by the celestial race,
Hands that are the saving grace;

Allures that Love does shame,
His Bane exalts Your name,
Kept, the Great Bow ever at hand,
Of crimson lips and bright blue arms,

O Finest Grace of divine charms!
A smile and curls over the face lie
As my worship's clear eyes rest high
Venerable past all is beauty such.

A simple song that describes the beauty of Rama's Person. Here we see some poetic art in the similies drawn. We also note that this was lyricist writing, than a poet, for a poet of Tyagaraja's sub-culture, would have easily gone overboard with vivid imagery. Extensive imagery was indeed the state of the craft there. Tyagaraja instead, had to satisfy the melodic scheme intended for the song. We have encountered most of the other allusions in other songs.

Extra Comments:
Sorry for the long absence. This time, first I was out of town due to health problems and then it was my computer. The various in-house software I use for this project just wouldn't work on my other machines. It took a morbidly long time to type and format this song on one of my spare machines. But, now, we are back.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kannan piranthaan and art songs

kaṇṇaṉ pirandāṉ engaḻ kaṇṇaṉ pirandāṉ
inda kāṟṟathai eṭṭu disaiyilum kūṟiḍum

tiṇṇamuḍayāṉ maṇi vaṇṇamuḍayāṉ
uyar devar talaivaṉ puvimisai thōṉṟiḍa

paṇṇai isaippīr neñjil puṇṇai oḻippīr
inda pāriṉile tuyar nīṅgiḍum enṟidai

eṇṇisai koḻvīr naṉgu kaṇṇai viḻippīr
ini ēdum kuṟaivillai vedam tuṇai unḍu

sankaran vandān iṅgu maṅgalam enrāṉ
nalla candiraṉ vandiṅgu amudai poḻindanaṉ

baṅgam onṟillai moḻi maṅguvadillai
inda pārin kaṇmunbu vānattile niṉṟu

gaṅgaiyum vandāḻ kalai maṅgayum vandāḻ
inba ādiparāsakti anbudaṉ yendinaḻ

sengamalattāḻ engil poṅgum mugattāḻ
tirudēviyum vandiṅgu siṟappuḍan niṉṟaṉaḻ

English verse:
The Lord's come, our Lord's come,
Far and wide proclaims the wind,

Firm as ever, the Blue Hued's come
Has the Lord of the gods, says the wind.

Sing and heal the pain in your heart,
That, the grief of the world, shall begone;

Fixed on Him, awaken, for your part,
The Word's with us for all wants are gone.

Shiva blessed us with good tiding,
With the nectar of moonlight exceeding;

No blemish, no wane of the tongue,
Upon the sky, in the world's eye, sung.

The Ganges and Speech, were beheld
As Power, with love, the Babe, had held.

The red lotus, Her face shames,
As Wealth attends His myriad games.

We cannot well appreciate art or music without a study of contrasts. We have throughout seen songs in the kriti form and reckoned them as poetry. Here we go the other way. We have a song by the poet patriot Subrahmanya Bharathi, on the birth of Krishna. This song is what one would call an "art song". It was first written as a poem and was then set to music for a solo singer or a small chorus. In common music genre parlance, it would fall in the classical easy listening and classical categories. In common performances, it is orchestrated and not improvised. The first line becomes a refrain. It does not well fall into the kriti form, such that one could attach embellishments at different points. It is also in a rare raga, Saranga tarangini, in which there are only a few kritis and uses the misra chapu talam. However, the song is generally rendered in only one precise way. So, the raga and taalam were not given earlier, nor were the ascent and descent of the raga. Nor were the lyrics put forth in our usual kriti, color coded format, as the music is mostly predetermined and this is different from what we have seen. I think this music setting was by the poet himself, but am not sure. In the west, many art songs and Leider of the 18th and 19th centuries are known, such as the Erlking, based on a Goethe poem, and famous for Franz Schubert's musical setting. These art songs were part of the large currents of change that flowed from one musical era to the next.

About the verses: Speech personified, Sarasvati, or Vakdevi, is the goddess of all the arts, including music, speech and rhetoric. The arts, in Hindu culture, are considered to be sixty four in number and include some trades and crafts as well, including, most strangely, thievery. Sarasvati, the consort of Brahma, who resides on a white lotus, as opposed to his red lotus, is the only Muse available in the Hindu pantheon; but she is a full goddess and also has some of the functions of Apollo. There are also certain classes of supernatural beings like the kinnaras, a horse-headed but otherwise anthropomorphic group, who form the hordes of Kubera, the celestial treasurer and live high in the Himalayas. They are proficient in music and with their animal like parts are reminiscent of figures from the west like Pan. The Greek centaurs were reversed in form from the Kinnaras, having a human head and equine body, but were also sometimes associated with learning. In this site of course, the main Muse that would watch over us, is Erato, the Muse of lyric poetry, who holds a lyre, as opposed to Sarasvati, who holds a Veena or the Indian lute.

Please note that we have followed the usual scheme of reckoning of gods by the personification of their domain of control. It may interest the inquiring reader to note that I adopted this convention not just for the ease of readers from different cultures and heritages. This convention actually has a firm basis. It is used even in the the Upanishads and the Vedas, in the Sanskrit. Cf. Kaatopanishad and how it refers to the god of death and righteousness, for one example.

Tamil Transliteration details: As we have seen earlier, in the romanization, note the hard "ṟ" sound as in "atrium", the unique ḻ sound as in Tami, the hard "ḷ" sound as in Glamorgan, the "ṅ" as in "bang", the "ñ" as in "banjo" and the soft ṉ sound as in "Great Dane", apart from the short and long u and o sounds, all not present in Sanskrit. The romanization is according to the National Library of Calcutta standard, as ISO 15919 doesn't cover these cases.

Krishna's advent in song: Incidentally, there are vast numbers of songs in Carnatic and related music about Krishna's exploits, but not many describing just the event of His birth.
Here is the actual event as in the Bhagavatam (also called the Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavata Purana) 9:24:55-57. Krishna was born to Devaki and Vasudeva in prison (hence his patronymic Vaasudeva). Shuka narrates the Bhagavatam to King Pareekshith, the grandson of the Pandavas.
    aṣṭamastu tayorasīt svayameva hariḥ kila|
    subhadrā ca mahābhāgā tava rājan pitamahī||

    yadayada hi dharmasya kśayo vruddhiśca pāpamanaḥ|
    tada tu bhagavanīśa ātmānaṁ srujate hariḥ||

    na hyasya janmano hetuḥ karmaṇo vā mahīpate|
    ātmamāyāṁ vineśasya parasya druṣṭurātmanaḥ||
"To them, as the eight son, Vishnu(Hari) Himself was born. Subhadra, the fortunate, your grandmother, O King, (was also born).

Whenever goodness wanes and evil waxes, Vishnu personally comes down to this world.

Neither does He have a birth, nor an advent (cause). Nor is He bound to the fruits of His actions, O king! The omniscient, all pervading and omnipotent transcendent One, acts (came to earth), by His
own grace." (cf. with the concept of "svatantra" in the song Nadopasance)

The Bhagavatam is the basis of many of the schools of modern Hinduism dedicated to Vishnu, irrespective of their underlying philosophies, such as the Gaudiya tradition in the east of India, and is a corner stone of all the others, such as the Sri Vaishnava tradition of the southern states. In the latter, the 4000 hymns of the Alwar saints are held as equal to the Vedas, and so, can be said to figure higher in precedence. The Bhagavatam is universally exalted, even among the non-Vishnu schools of worship. This book is where the incarnations of Vishnu and other exploits are described elaborately.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Manavini Vinuma

Raga Jayanarayani , 22 Karaharapriya janya
Aa: S R2 G2 M1 P D2 S Av: S N2 D2 P M1 G2 R2 S
Taalam: Adi



manavini vinumā! marava samayamā?

kanugona kōri duṣkalpana māniti
kanikaramuna ninu pāḍucunna nā

parulaku hitamagu bhāvana gāni
ceracu mārgamula cintimpa lēnu
parama dayākara! bhakta manōhara!
dharādhipa karārcita tyāgarāju!

English verse:

Hark the cry from my heart, O Lord!
Now from Your mind, am I barred?
I purged evil but to see You, O Lord!
Mercy! For I sing of You ever 'n hard!

Nary an evil thought toward one and all,
Carry did I,- only goodwill toward all.
Most kind, Joy of the flock, the hands of all
Kings, in Your worship lock! Heed my call!

A key focus of this site is viewing Tyagaraja as a lyric poet. This is close to the justifiably overworked description of Tyagaraja's songs as being Bhava or emotion filled, that is prevalent in Carnatic music circles. So, in this song, we return to that theme. What more emotion can a poet convey than to speak of the pain in his heart? Is emotional expression not the point of music? When Man first broke out into song, was it not a spontaneous expression of emotion?

One thing we did not note while discussing the kriti 'Raga Sudha Rasa' is the fact that it was in Andolika, a raga not used before Tyagaraja and therefore generally ascribed to him. That song is also the one popular song in that raga in the mainstream concert repertoire. The raga of this song, Jayanarayani, is also similarly ascribed to him. There is always a question about the eighty odd ragas in which he has only one or two songs, as to whether each was created or pioneered by him. Some explanations are given for this extensive introduction by Tyagaraja. There are interesting legends about how Tyagaraja came to possess many long lost books on music, often believed to be through the intercession of the celestial sage Narada. Tyagaraja had access to rare texts on the theory of music, imbibed them expertly and experimented successfully with then unheard ragas with unprecedented frequency- this much is clear. Of course, we shall hold back on musical details for some more time.

About the verses: There is not much mystery to this song. 'Marava Samayama':Literally, is this the time to forget? 'Bhakta manohara':He that enlivens the hearts of His worshipers- taken to be Rama, though he is not directly mentioned in the song.

A Comparative Study: The theme of this song is that Tyagaraja, having cleansed himself of all base thoughts and deeds, and armed with the power of virtue, now finds himself eligible for Rama's grace, and so registers his plea afresh. The merit of virtue is a frequent theme across all cultures. Here is Wordsworth, on "The Moral Law":

    All true glory rests,
    All praise of safety, and all happiness,
    Upon the moral law. Egyptian Thebes,
    Tyre by the margin of the sounding waves.
    Palmyra central in the desert, fell !
    And the arts died by which they had been raised.
    Call Archimedes from his buried tomb
    Upon the plain of vanished Syracuse,
    And feelingly the sage shall make report
    How insecure, how baseless in itself,
    Is that philosophy, whose sway is framed
    For mere material instruments : — how weak
    Those arts, and high inventions, if unpropp'd
    By virtue.
Tyagaraja makes his case to Rama based on his being virtuous. Virtue is universally seen thus, as a requirement for divine approval and bounty. Here is Milton, on the reward for virtue, in Paradise Regained:
    This is true glory and renown, when God
    Looking on the Earth, with approbation marks
    The just man, and divulges him through Heaven
    To all his Angels, who with true applause
    Recount his praises.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tyagararaja Yoga Vaibhavam

Raga Ananda Bhairavi , 20 Natabhairavi janya
Aa: S G2 R2 G2 M1 P D2 P N2 S Av: S N2 D2 P M1 G2 R2 S
Taalam: Roopakam

##If formatting is off for the English verses and you see lines being split, please click on the picture below##



tyāgarāja yoga vaibhavaṁ sadāṣivaṁ
tyāgarāja yoga vaibhavaṁ sadāśrayāmi
tyāgarāja yoga vaibhavaṁ
agarāja yoga vaibhavaṁ
rāja yoga vaibhavaṁ
yoga vaibhavaṁ

Samashti Charanam:
nāgarāja vinuta padaṁ
nādabindu kalāspadaṁ
yogirāja vidita padaṁ
yugapadbhoga mokṣapradam
yogarūḍha nāma rūpa
viśva srṣṭyādi karaṇaṁ
yugaparivṛtyabda māsa
dina ghaṭikādyāvaraṇam

śrī guruguhaguruṁ satcitānanda bhairavīśaṁ
śiva śaktyādi sakala tatva svarūpa prakāśaṁ
śaṁ prakāśaṁ
svarūpa prakāśaṁ
tatva svarūpa prakāśaṁ
sakala tatva svarūpa prakāśaṁ
śiva śaktyādi sakala tatva svarūpa prakāṣam

English verse:

King of sacrifices' penance fanfare, All abiding-
King of sacrifices' penance fanfare, I'm adoring,
King of sacrifices' penance fanfare,
King of mounts' penance fanfare
King of paths' penance fanfare,
Penance fanfare

Holy feet adored by the king of serpents,
Abiding in the musical elements,
Revered by the king of sages,
In an instant, liberates past the ages.
By the power of penance, the cause
Of creation of many forms and names,
They enthrall us past Time's games.

Bliss, Sire to the warlord, Lord to the startling
As Grace, Power and all truths shining,
Giving, shining,
In the True Form shining,
Form of truth and so shining
The form of all truths and so shining
As Grace, Power and all truths shining!

Finally, Dikshitar makes his debut on our site. He is the sixth composer to figure here. My apologies to his many fans. His approach to music is vastly different, and would be tough to reconcile with the theme of this site. As small recompense, we have something flashy. For a change, I have posted a song that has more to do with poetry and word play than with esoteric concepts.

This song is about Tyagaraja, 'the king of renunciates', a form of Shiva and the presiding deity of the temple at Thiruvarur, where the Trinity was born. The main feature of the song are the two "yatis", roughly forms, used in the pallavi and the latter, faster Charanas. The Pallavi uses "Gopuccha yati", in that it elides syllable by syllable with each phrase, and so resembles the taper of a cow's tail or 'Gopuccha'. In the Charanas we find the "Srotovaha" or river yati, that accretes syllables with each phrase and so resembles a widening river.

About the verses: Before reading the English verses, please note a few things: There is a vast difference the alphabets of Sanskrit and English. Without getting very technical, we can simply say that the Sanskrit alphabet is more phonetic, as almost all letters make up a syllable. So, to show either of the yatis, we just need to elide or accrete by a letter, which will also be a syllable. But, in English this may not apply. Happen and open have 4 and 6 letters, yet two syllables each. Consider eliding the word 'phone' successively. We get phone->hone->one->ne, each with a very different pronunciation. This is what happens in English most often. So, in English, the nicer way to show the yatis, is to elide or accrete by a syllable. The effect will be consistent aurally. That is, in our verses, we will remove one syllable and not one letter, with each phrase.

Note that we could have made the verses a lot tighter to "look" more symmetric like the original; but wanted to preserve the word meaning and be faithful to the original, than paraphrase. Since the composer did not maintain the tightness he had earlier, in the Charanas, we too have followed suit.
If you don't see the kriti or the verses in the proper shape, you need to maximize your browser window or make some other adjustment. This page is best viewed at a minimum width of 800 pixels. If you still can't see it clearly, there is a picture at the end of this song for you to see. I will remove this in a couple of days.

The verses and the words: Tyaga: Sacrifice. The practice of yoga is taken as a penance. Sadasivam-"The Eternal Shiva", or "Always pleasing", or "who holds all things". The word Shiva has myriad meanings. Later in the Charanas, Shiva is taken as Benevolence or Grace personified, to contrast with Shakti, the active force or Power. King of mounts: This refers to Kailasa, the abode of Shiva and hence Shiva. "King of paths": Raja Yoga is considered the "royal" path among the yogic paths. The two words "Bhavam" and "Vam" in the pallavi are tricky, as is how we have rendered them. Bhavam signifies many things, generally existence, a God etc. One way to take it, is to consider Shiva, the king of renunciation here, as delivering one across the ocean of worldly ties. In this sense, He is the "Fare" or passage, or even 'the fellow traveler' for this journey, taking two shades of the meaning. Again, "fare" as a noun also means state, or existence. So, this can also be taken. "Vam" is a syllable which stands for the cause of everlasting existence. Ar, pronounced the same as air, and which means "before", signifies that Shiva came before all things and all time, and so has has the same connotation as vam. Alternatively, we could use "air" instead of "ar", and could get the same meaning, as "air" is the root of existence too. This would also be acceptable while reading aloud. I used "ar" mainly for the visual effect, as it is contained in fare and fanfare. Warlord: Subhramanya, as the commander of Shiva's hosts. "Bhairavi": Fearsome, Startling. A form of Parvati or Shakti, Shiva's consort. "Sham": This syllable stands for munificence. "Tatvam":Truth(s) In the singular, it refers to the "mahavakyam" or "great statement" "tat tvam asi", or "Thou art that", which is the device by which the unity of all beings with the Brahman is arrived. In the plural, "sarva tatva" or all truths, there are 36 basic principles in Saivism or the school devoted to Shiva, from which they compose a theory of matter and the universe, and Godhead.

In the verses, a few other triplets which will work for the "Vaibhavam-bhavam-vam" elision, such as Glory, Glo(w), Lo; Bepraised, Praised, Raised and Renown, (K)nown, Own. Bhavam and Vam are a bit sketchy in this context and open to extrapolation, when compared to the rest of the pallavi. Own, as in all-pervasive and the cause of eternal existence and Lo! signifiying existence arising from nothingness by Shiva's will, will both sort of approximate to what vam stands for here and we can explain them away. Well, one isn't a real poet unless one can show that a microcosm exists in one's merest verse- particularly if one didn't actually put the microcosm there at the time of writing!

Extra Comments:
To better appreciate the English verses and the yatis, here is one plain translation that I found on the web (courtesy of Note that I am not criticizing this site in anyway; in fact I am making no comments either way. Their focus and the focus of this site, are vastly different. I would think this is from TKG's book, but I have not checked. Also note that, in general, I go out of the way to stay close to the original, but for my practice of preferring personifications to names of beings and the import to names of concepts, to more readily convey the meaning to a new reader unfamiliar with the subculture of Carnatic music's domain. So, I write Wealth for Lakshmi and so on in the verses and catch these up in the comments.

I always think of the yogic glory of tyagaraja who is the representation of SAdashiva.
The yogic glory of Tyagaraja.
The yogic glory of the Lord of the mountain ie Kailasha.
The glory of the path of rAja yoga. The glory of yoga.
The glory
The one named bhava or the one that helps cross the ocean of samsara
The beeja of Amrta

The feet praised by the king of serpents.
The one who establishes himself in the stages of nada, bindu and kala.
The feet known to the king of yogis.The feet that are capable of bestowing enjoyment and liberation instantly.
The one who created the myriad names and forms of this universe by his yogic prowess.
The form of differentiated time represented by yugas, changes in time and measures like years, months, day, and ghatikas.

The father of guruguha.The form of sacchidAnanda and the Lord of Bhairavi.
The one who is the embodiment of all the 36 tatvas beginning with shiva and shakti.
The auspicious. The one who shines forth.The one who shines forth as the true form.
The one who shines forth as the meaning of the tatvam [ in the tatvamasi traipada]
The one who shines forth as all the tatvas.
The one who shines forth as all the tatvas beginning with Shiva and Shakti.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Brova Bhaarama

Raga Bahudari, 28 Harikambhoji janya
Aa: S G3 M1 P D2 N2 S Av: S N2 P M1 G3 S
Taalam: Deshaadi



brōva bhāramā? raghurāmā!
bhuvanamella nīvai nannokani

śrī vāsudēva! anḍa kōṭla
kukṣiṇi- yuncakō lēdā? nannu

kalaśāmbudhilō dayatō
namarulakai- yadigāka
gōpikalakai koṇḍaletta lēdā?
karuṇākara tyāgarājuni

English verse:

Scion of the Raghus, is it too much to bear,
Saving a single soul, kept by Your care?
Yet, You pervade all that exists,
And You are all that exists!

Blessed prince! The universe boundless,
You hold in Your Person endless.
Mountains you have moved and borne,
And that, twice at least, haven't I known-

The king of mounts,
For the gods, to find nectar,
A hill upon your finger,
To give Your flock, shelter.
Compassion for all You find,
This bard has You in a bind.


The theme of this song is that, as the Lord has borne far greater preponderances and is all pervasive and omnipotent, could He not attend to the meager task of saving a humble bard?

About the verses:
Blessed prince: As Vaasudeva, or the son of Vasudeva, Krishna was a prince of the Yadavas. "Kukshini": the stomach; literally "The corners (borders) of the universe are bound by Your stomach." or "You contain the universe within Your Person." One epithet frequently applied to Vishnu is "aparyapta" or limitless, He of the limitless form. He has appeared in this Cosmic Form, stretching across the universe, and embodying all of it, in a number of episodes. Mandara, the king of mounts was borne by Vishnu, as the churn, when the gods and demons churned the Ocean of milk for nectar. This was in his incarnation as the Great Tortoise (koormaavatara). "Your flock": The cowherd people of Gokula, ('gopikaas' in the original, signifying the women), among whom Krishna spent his childhood. In this episode, Krishna to humble the vain Indra, instructed his people to stop worshipping a vengeful and undeserving Indra. The wrathful thunderer Indra sent down torrential rain to wipe them all out. But, Krishna merely lifted up the Govardhana hill on His little finger and sheltered His people under it. For nine days Indra tried to drown them with his rains. Having failed, the humbled Indra sought and obtained Krishna's pardon. Here again Tyagaraja sees Rama as Krishna and Vishnu also.

We saw two different flavors of all-pervasiveness in the two previous songs. Here, we see two more flavors. In the first, totality, the Lord, is considered the sum total of the Universe ('You are all that exists'). So, He is "all the universe", as in the kriti. The next flavor is subsumption. The whole universe is said to be contained in His person. That is, He contains all that is in existence, and all that is existence, within Himself. He is above and beyond the universe. In a famous episode, on being chided by his mother Yashoda for eating sand, the child Krishna opened His mouth wide to reveal all the universe within it. But, this image of all the universe being contained in Vishnu's stomach, is from the Srimad Bhagavatam, specifically, verse 3:33:4.

Once again, here are the four flavors of all-pervasiveness we have seen:
  • He is within one or one is He.
  • He pervades all beings in the universe.
  • He is the sum total of all beings in the universe.
  • He contains the universe within Himself, as a small part.

Extra Comments:
Usually, in such discourse, the common practice is to quote from the relevant Hindu scriptures and sacred lore. Scholarly quotations would abound. Since our aim on this site is to reach a wide range of readers, from all heritages and persuasions, we will generally summarize what is relevant from those sources, in an accessible form and quote only when absolutely necessary. Sometimes we may give the verse number, so that the more interested reader may indeed try and should try, to read from the source too. We will quote more extensively, but from literature, in the comparative studies.


Saturday, October 31, 2009


Raga Jayantashree, 20 Natabhairavi janya
Aa: S G2 M1 D1 N2 S Av: S N2 D1 M1 P M1 G2 S
Taalam: Deshaadi



marugēlarā ō rāghavā!

marugēla carācara rūpa parātpara
sūrya sudhākara lōcana!

anni nīvanucu- anatarangamuna
tinnagā vētagi telisikoṇṭinayya
ninnēgāni madinennajāla norula
nannu brōvavayya tyāgarājanuta!

English verse:

Son of Raghu, must You still evade?
All beings alive, Your Person make.

You transcend all; All you pervade.
The sun and moon, for eyes, You take.

You are all that is, now I've learned,
Looking hard within, as my mind turned.
You fill my mind; all others I've spurned,
Save this bard,- for so much, I've earned.

In this song, as in the previous one, Tyagaraja continues his quest for Rama. Here, he searches hard within himself and finds a slightly different answer to the question, "Where is Rama?".

About the verses:"Son of Raghu": Literally, a descendant of Raghu. "Charachara": All living things, those that move (generally fauna) and those that don't (generally flora). Interestingly, as we have cases such as coral reefs that don't move, and some diatoms that can move, we cannot say one class is fully motile and the other is not. "Paratpara": Literally superlative of superlatives, hence, transcendent. "Sudhakara": literally nectar giving; usually the moon, due to moonlight being cool; "Antarangamu": Anything that is interior; here, Tyagaraja's mind, in the sense of looking within himself.

I have said before that though, true to his lineage, there are abundant Advaitin (Monist/Non-dualist) references in Tyagaraja's songs, here and there he does make some allusions more typical of Vishistadvaita (Qualified Monism/Non-Duality) and other schools. He is somewhat syncretic, as are many modern Hindus. Here, he clearly describes how the various beings and entities of the universe, fill the person of Rama, that is the Brahman, which notion is often considered a trademark of the Vishishtadvaita school, though not exclusively so. In this school, the Paramatma can thus be called that Supreme Being who is the sum total of all beings and things in the universe, (as the universe is His Person), and he is the "Sarva-vyapi" or the all-pervasive Being. The Paramatma is also the "Sarva Sheshi" literally, He that is the Final Remainder or the only everlasting Being, the essence of all.

The discussion from the last song continues here. As Tyagaraja saw the light within himself there as the Lord is all pervasive, he now sees him pervade all other elements of the universe, that is all other elements save Tyagaraja himself. In that song, he restricted himself to seeing the Paramatma only within himself. Here he is moving close to pantheism, seeing the Paramatma everywhere. Now, if we loosely reckon the relevant Vedanta concept here as pantheism, we can find a few parallels to it in the rest of the world. Also, while Advaita usually is practised through the Shanmata or six-path worship or six-level worship, this school explicitly offers a single path, that of directly seeking refuge in the Lord, forsaking all other paths, in line with an injunction from the Gita. Tyagaraja's statement in the Charanas, that he shall no longer turn to anyone else in his mind but Rama, is reminiscent of this teaching about the one true path.

Extra Comments:
I may be making bold a bit here, in deriving syncretism in Tyagaraja and see him swerve from Advaita, but I think this is an interesting line of discussion, even if I receive trenchant refutations. Any credible line of inquiry that facilitates greater understanding of our august subject, I think is good.


Maaru balka

Raga Sriranjini , 22 Kharaharapriya janya
Aa: S R2 G2 M1 D2 N2 S Av: S N2 D2 M1 G2 R2 S
Taalam: Adi



mārubalka kunna- vēmirā mā manōramaṇa

jāracōra bhajana jēsitinā sākēta sadana

dūra bhāramandu nā hṛdayāravindam
andu nelakonna

English verse:

Quiet You remain, O joy of Wealth! But, why?
For, never have I hailed loot and lust!

At once here, there, afar and hard by,
And now seated in my chest in must,

Quiet You remain, for I've seen the light.
And so, I sing of my Lord and delight.

This is a moving song. The sentiments expressed in this song are typical of a lyric poet, because Tyagaraja is expressing his innermost feelings. He did live during the time of English lyric poetry and was contemporary to the younger Romantic poets, although history tells us also, that he was far removed from those happenings.

Looking all around for it, and then finding something hidden in plain sight, is something all of us have experienced. In this case, Tyagaraja finds God Himself within him.

About the verses:"Joy of Wealth": In the kriti, mother is given. Mother in Tyagaraja's context refers to Sita or alternatively, to Lakshmi or Wealth (personified). "Loot and lust":In the kriti, "philanderers and thieves". "Saketa sadana": resident of Saketa or Ayodhya, hence Rama (licensed out). "Chest in must": must here is a noun, meaning new juice. Tyagaraja's heart, may be said to have been overflowing with the new juice of new found joy of realization. "I have seen the light": In the original, "I have seen the path", i.e. he realizes that the all-pervasive Lord, pervades within him too. Also, with some license, I infer with the second, "Quiet You Remain", that Rama knows Tyagaraja would soon find Him within, and so did not trouble Himself to respond to Tyagaraja's calls; or Quiet, He remained, leaving Tyagaraja to his devices, i.e. I hearken back to the initial statement of the song, the pallavi.

Unexpected subtlety: This is the shortest song we have seen. But, note that two deep philosophical statements are subtly intertwined here. First, by finding God within himself, Tyagaraja evokes many Advaitin or Monist(Non-Dualist) teachings in the song. "Aham Brahmasmi", or "I too am Brahman" is one of the tenets of Vedantic philosophy common to all three schools. It is an often stated and expounded vakya or assertion. In line with Tyagaraja's heritage, let's keep close to the Sankara or Advaita version here. It may seem for a second that I am seeing too much in Tyagaraja's casual statement in finding God within him. But, consider how he characterizes Rama- as being all pervasive, at once here, there and everywhere, and in his own heart. This is purely a trait of Brahman, the Supreme Self. And then, more tellingly, he states he is overjoyed that he now knows the path and is no longer despondent that Rama doesn't answer his call. He now realizes that Rama, considered Brahman, abides in him too, and there is no need for any further fruitless quest or supplication to Rama. Speaking quite loosely but not inaccurately, this is really the state of seeker, steeped in enquiry and slowly ascending the path of self-realization. Towards the end, he starts to view himself as one with the Brahman, and one with all of existence, and all that is in existence, as that all dissolves away. In short, he finds the light within himself. As Tyagaraja does here. The points that Tyagaraja makes about finding God everywhere and hence within us, are all often made in the mundane daily speech of pious Hindus. But, they are in fact laced with such a deep meaning if we consider their origination.

Note that the Vishistadvaita and Dvaita schools give us a slightly different route for seeing the light.

A comparative study:
So we have the teaching, "I am Brahman", as a central principle in Hindu Philosophy. This is fairly unique among philosophical systems of some antiquity in the world. Although we may find related conceptualizations in philosophical discourse, if we look through both the secular and the religious poetry and music of the west, we may not find many examples we can relate the Hindu concept to. A visualization of God as a Master and judge over all, to be obeyed than realized is more common in the west. So, we have Milton saying this in his sonnet "On His Blindness", i.e. God is "Kingly":

God doth not need

Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

"Who only stand and wait" is now a famous phrase to describe vacillators and those of little faith. Note also, that in line with the sonnet form, Milton asks a question then digresses and resolves it in the sestet, just as Tyagaraja himself asks the question and resolves it in the Charanas.

Now, here is a verse from Emily Bronte's "No Coward Soul Is Mine", that is fairly close to what we saw in the song.

O God within my breast,
Almighty ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me hast rest
As I, undying Life, have power in thee!

Even in philosophy, the classic problems discoursed in the west vastly differ from the Hindu (Vedantic) system. The primary philosophical problem in the Indian or Hindu systems current today, pertains to the Supreme Self and the particular Self, and then only produces a theory of matter and the universe, as an aid and afterthought to that discussion.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Janani Ninnuvina

Raga Reetigowla, 22 Karaharapriya janya
Aa: S G2 R2 G2 M1 N2 D2 M1 N2 N2 S Av: S N2 D2 M1 G2 M1 P M1 G2 R2 S

Taalam: Mishrachaapu



jananī ninnu vinā amba
trilōka dikkevarammā jagamulōna gāna

manasija mānasa sammōdini vinavō nā manavini vini nannu brōvumu

niravadhika sukha dāyaki yanucu
vini ninnu cāla goliciti
niratamuga tanayuni moralu vini nī valanē brōcuṭaku evarika dharalō
vinumā idi ghanamā taruṇamidi
kṛpa salupa durusuga
sarasīruha lōcani suvāsini
tāmasamu sēyakane brōvumu

varadāyaki kadā okkani
brōva karudā daya rādā
nera nammina nātō vādā
sarasija bhava hari haranuta pāda

karuṇānidhi nīvu vēganē vacci
karuṇatō nannu brōvu
girirāja kumārivainavu paritāpamula
nella pariharicēvu

vanajāyata nētri kumāra janani
kāmitadātri ghana pāpa latālavitri
sanakādi munulella sannuta pātri

English verse:

Mother of the three worlds! Save You,
To whom would I turn to?

You caused Love's heart to flutter,
Hear my plea; save me,- come hither.

Who else is my savior in the world?
Who lends an ear to my pain unfurled?
Do I wear You thin?
But, this is the moment!
Grant without delay!
O lotus eyed graceful Goddess!
Save me this day!
As You bestow limitless pleasure;
My faith's upon You in full measure.

O Benevolence, cease mulling!
Save this single soul, can You not?
Pity me who swerves not!
Even the Trinity's at Your feet, hailing.

Ocean of compassion! Rush to me!
With Your grace, save me!
Child of the Mountain King,
Out of Your limitless mercy,
May I atone for each travesty.

Lotus eyed Mother of the boy fierce!
You grant all our desires!
Cleanser of great sins of the ages!
Adored of the Four and all the sages!
O Mother! My sole refuge!

Manasija: Literally, "mind born". Hence, Kama, the god of love, or love personified as in the verses. Sarasija: He who was born on a lotus. Brahma was born in a lotus arising from Vishnu's navel. Parvati was once born the daughter of Himavan, the king of mountains or the Himalayas personified. She married Siva as the fruit of her severe penances. Her penances were so intense that for a time, she survived by consuming not even a leaf' hence the epithet, Aparna. She is also called Gauri, "the fair" and Devi, the goddess. In the main, she represents Shakti, that is energy or vital force. 'Boy fierce':Kumara or Subhramanya, is considered the commander of Siva's hosts and a handsome youth. 'The Four': The four sages, mind born sons of Brahma, led by Sanaka, whom we have encountered earlier. In this song, we see that this composer takes his chosen deity, Devi or Shakti, from her element as Parvati the consort of Shiva, and sees her as the Goddess above all else. This is in line with the Hindu praxis we saw earlier.

This song is a staple of the mainstream concert repertoire. The composer Subbaraya Shastri studied with all three of the Trinity of music. I thought it might be a nice break to see a song that "came after" Tyagaraja. We have seen one or two that preceded him. In terms of musical detail, we can see that the kriti form of songs has by now developed fully, due to the Trinity's works. This was one of their key contributions, particularly Tyagaraja's. This kriti, for instance, has an elaborate structure, with several charanas and the swarasahitya-chitteswaras, all of which predetermine many of the elements of its final embellished rendition.

Meter and Rhyme: As a change from the familiar couplets and stanzas I use on this site, in this poem, although I have still rhymed, I have moved a bit closer to free verse. This was first by accident and then by intent. I have mentioned 'lyrical imprint' in my introductory post. This pertains to how much poetical strength is there in the original kriti, that can be transferred into English well, in a faithful and 'word order preserving' rendering like mine. When I started writing this song, I noticed that without taking a lot of license or ripping up the word order and the order of allusions in the kriti, I could not write it in my usual style. So, in line with my objectives on this site, I chose faithfulness over style and symmetry, and let the flow of the kriti guide the English rendering. This is how the poem developed. To me, for one, it was an interesting contrast.

Extra Comments:
This song wasn't originally intended to be featured on this site. It was posted upon a request from a reader. Requests for songs are welcome at

I know that the formatting is a bit off for the kritis and verses. The longer a kriti, the more terrible blogger's formatting gets. Somehow it doesn't seem to like nested tables in this template. I will find a fix soon. But first, I want to fix the orphaned "pronunciation guide".


Ksheerasagara Shayana

Raga Devagandhari, 29 Dheerashankarabharanam janya
Aa: S R2 M1 P D2 S Av: S N3 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S
Taalam: Adi



kṣīrasāgara śayana!
nannu cintala beṭṭavalēna rāma?

vāraṇa rājunu brōvunu vēgamēvaccinadi vinnānurā rāma!
Charanam: nārīmaṇiki jīraliccinadi nāḍē nē vinnānurā dhīruḍau rāmadāsuni bandhamu
dīrcinadi vinnānurā
nīrajākṣikai nīradhi dāṭina nī kīrtini vinnānurā tārakanāma tyāgarājanuta
dayatō nēluk
ōra rāma!
English verse:

In the Ocean of Milk, when Your bard is vext,
Should it please You to languidly repose?

You rushed on the king-tusker's pretext,
For so I've heard; now may I impose?

You clothed a queen, when her kings failed.
You saved another bard, when he was jailed.
To save your doe-eyed bride,
You crossed the ocean;
Your mere name takes me
Across the worldly ocean.
Your exploits are famed far and wide.
In Your grace, Lord, may I abide.

Tyagaraja cites several 'precedents' in this song, asking for Rama's intercession on his behalf. Without going into fine musical details, as a rudiment of music appreciation, we can still remark that the pallavi when sung, clearly conveys the mood and graphic description of Vishnu resting amid the mildly turbulent waves of the Ocean of Milk. We can actually notice a little wave in the phrases and a marked and appropriate languor to the start of the kriti. Just visualize the image described in the song.

About the verses: The Ocean of Milk, is considered the site of Vishnu's home, Vaikunta. There, He is seen reclining on the many headed great white serpent Adi Sesha, with His consort, Lakshmi or Wealth, seated at His side. "The king-tusker": A celebrated exploit of Vishnu, from the Bhagavatam was when He rushed to the aid of the king of elephants, Gajendra. Gajendra had been a great devotee of Vishnu in his previous birth, and was born in that form, due to a curse. One day, when he went to the waterfront for a drink, a crocodile attacked him. Gajendra, receiving the worst of it, prayed to Vishnu, who alacritously interceded on his behalf. The point is that the Lord hears the prayers of all beings. Allegorically, Gajendra may be taken to be man, and the crocodile, the burden of sins, or just the coils of worldly existence. We may conclude from the story that Vishnu may deliver man from his sins and help him see the light, if only man would appeal fervently.

"Clothed a queen": The kriti alludes to a "nari mani" or gem among women. In the Mahabharata comes the episode in which, Draupadi, the queen of the Pandavas is dragged into the Kaurava court, to be the slave of the Kauravas. The Pandavas had lost her, and their own freedom, in a game of dice. The Kaurava Dushasana sought to disrobe her, being so instructed by his senior, Duryodhana. The Pandavas, now slaves, being barred from fighting for her dignity, she appealed to Krishna, the all knowing. He, from afar, miraculously clothed her in an endless robe, that much as Dushasana kept disrobing her, she still remained fully clothed. In the end, Dushasana fainted tired from his efforts. This divine intercession prompted the Kuru elders to annul the game of dice, and return their kingdom to the Pandavas. But, the Pandavas were again tricked into a game of dice, which they lost and were forced into a thirteen year exile. Their kingdom not being restored after the agreed term of exile, the great war of the Mahabharata was fought. At its beginning, the Gita was taught. At the end of the terrible war, every house in Aryavarta or ancient India, had suffered at least one of its own dead. The Pandavas gained both kingdoms, theirs and the Kauravas' and ruled well for decades. Eventually, they ascended to Heaven. Krishna, the prime mover of the Mahabharata, met a mortal end, accidentally shot in the foot, by a hunter in a forest, as he was resting. Thus, this incarnation or Avatara of Vishnu, is considered the only Purnavatara, or Complete Incarnation, for all the others culminated in a miraculous ascent to Heaven or merging with Vishnu. One avatar, Parashurama, is considered immortal and still penancing in the Mahendra hill of the Himalayas. However, his "amsa" or "incarnated element" of Vishnu, is thought to have merged with Vishnu, once the purpose of that avatara was fulfilled.

"Another bard": Tyagaraja refers to a saint-composer named Bhadrachala Ramadas, who preceded Tyagaraja by about a century. The popular version of his story is this. Being appointed the tax collector for a district in Golconda, a post of some consequence in those times, he chanced upon the dilapidated but historic and important, Rama temple in Bhadrachalam. He proceeded to renovate the temple. The local ruler presumed that Ramadas had squandered some of the tax money on the temple and sought to be compensated. Ramadas, having exhausted his personal wealth, could not do indemnify the ruler and so, was incarcerated. After twelve years of jail, it is said, Rama deigned that Ramadas had paid for his sins in a previous birth and so was fit to be liberated. He and Lakshmana appeared miraculously one night, before the ruler, and compensated him with gold coins bearing Rama's own seal. The overwhelmed ruler released Ramadas and made a rich donation to the temple. Ramadas lived out his life singing the praises of Rama. Ramadas was a learned composer who has left behind hundreds of songs in Telugu.
He used the earlier Keertanam form of songs, as opposed to the Kriti form used since Tyagaraja's time. Some of his works are more correctly shlokas or verses. Tyagaraja draws a parallel between his life far from Rama, being the same as Ramadas' incarceration.

"Your mere name": Rama Naama or Rama's name is considered a Taraka Mantra, or a prayer that can stop even death. It can also deliver man, over the ocean of worldly ties, and into enlightenment. Incidentally, some of the most famous songs of Bhadrachala Ramadas, such as E teeruga nanu, and Tarakamantramu, refer to Rama and Rama's Name delivering one across worldly ties and into bliss. This is a common theme for poets and composers who belong to the school of devotion to Rama (Rama Bhaktas). Those devoted to Krishna, by contrast, speak of his various Leelas or life exploits, for the key difference between the philosophy of these two avataras, is that the Rama incarnation had implicit divinity- Rama lived as a mere mortal and exemplar. Never once is Rama described as having using divine powers. Krishna on the other hand, led a life full of divine miracles, commencing with his birth. Thus, to those who synthesize both schools, which is the majority of modern Hindus, as the lines are not strictly drawn, Rama is meant to be followed in life as a model, and Krishna is meant to be prayed to as a god and Supreme Teacher.

"Crossed the ocean": This is the famous episode of Rama crossing the ocean, over a floating bridge of stones, into Lanka, to fight Ravana, who had abducted Sita. Sita is referred to as "lotus eyed" in the kriti, which I have given as "doe eyed", the implication of either being, large, beautiful and kindly eyes.

"The worldly ocean": In Hindu literature, material life, or family life is often viewed as an ocean to be crossed, in the process of attaining enlightenment. The Taraka Mantra of Rama's name, is considered particularly potent to deliver one from death and across the worldly delusions.

There is another song by Tyagaraja, "Ksheera Sagara Vihara", in the Ananda Bhairavi raga, in which too he expresses similar sentiments.

One strange point is that we don't encounter the Ocean of Milk in the Rig Veda. We encounter it in the Epics, the Bhagavatam and other books. We can make several incidental observations about this song. Although, canonically, Rama is seen as an incarnation of Vishnu and all but one of the episodes mentioned here, are considered exploits of Vishnu rather than episodes of the Ramayana, Tyagaraja, in his devotions, sees Rama as being Vishnu Himself, as well as Krishna. This is a frequent practice in Hindu worship; the deities of daily praxis, eventually lead to the concept of the eternal and unknowable Brahman.

Speaking of the reclining form of Vishnu, there is a tradition that when Tyagaraja visited Sri Rangam, he was slighted by the throng during a Brahmotsava festival, and the Lord prevented the procession from moving forward. All attempts and prayers by the temple grandees failing to budge the Lord, Tyagaraja was found and the slight discovered. Tyagaraja pacified the Lord with his "Vinarada na manavini" and the procession could move forward. Thereafter, Tyagaraja was greatly honored by the temple staff and during an Ekantha darshana, rendered his "O Rangasayi". Fairly similar to the Tirupati incident during Tyagraja's travels.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nadasudha rasambilanu

Raga Arabhi , 29 Dheera Shankharabharanam janya
Aa: S R2 M1 P D2 S Av: S N3 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S
Taalam: Roopakam



nādasudhā rasambilanu narākṛti yāyē manasā!

vēda purānāgama śāstrādulaku ādhāramaina

svaramūlu ārunnokaṭi ghaṇṭalu
vara rāgamu kōdaṇḍamu;
dura naya dēśyamu triguṇamu
niratagati śaramurā;
sarasa sangati sandarbhamu
gala giramūlurādhara;
bhajana bhāgyamurā tyāgarāju sēvincu.

English verse:

The nectar of Music, O Mind,
Here, in human form, find!

For Scripture and Epic, the basis,
The seven notes, the bells of stasis,

To such music and its Maker, I bow-
The blessed melodies make the Great Bow,
Their note, tone and join, the bow string,
A steady taut beat, the true arrow speeding,
His fitly said word, the sweetly varied phrase,
A boon it is to sing in His praise.

This is a song in which Tyagaraja combines his path of Ramabhakti or Devotion to Rama with his method or vehicle of Nadopasana or music as worship. He sees Music as arising from the Person of Rama.

About the verses:
"Bells of stasis": Unlike the European crossbow of the Middle Ages, the Indian great bow or longbow, was unique to each great archer, was considered to have its own signature, and was celebrated along with him. Even the twang of each bow was said to be unique and identified its wielder. Thus, Rama had the Kothanda bow referred to here, and Arjuna of the Mahabharata had the Gandeeva. Shiva has the Pinaka. Among the many names of Rama and Siva are Konthandapani and Pinakapani, signifying that the bow each wields. Each such bow, was also heavily ornamented, and was part of the warrior's usual attire, even during social or festive occasions. It was also custom to tie two little bells, one at either end of the bow, where the bowstring was lashed to the bow's frame. Detailed sculptures and paintings will often show these bells. "Scriptures and Epics": Tyagaraja mentions the Vedas, Puranas, Agamas and Shastras. Usually, only the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the two Itihasas (literally Histories) are called Epics, because they deal with a common thread of a single family of heroes. The Puranas are also epic-like works that, more anecdotally, develop the mythology of the Trinity. Each of the Trinity is given one set of Puranas, the "Srimad Bhagavatam" or Bhagavata Purana of Vishnu being one of the largest, and the most widely read. Agamas are books that codify worship such as in temples. Separate Agamas exist for the worship of Siva temples and Vishnu temples. The Shastras lay out extensive rules for general life, function and conduct including law and the arts. "The Great Bow": Here, the Kothanda of Rama.

Some concepts of music: From this point, several musical concepts pertaining to Carnatic music and improvisation are mentioned in succession in the kriti. Since we are not looking at musical detail yet, I shall only briefly mention them. We know that Raga stands for the melodic scale or schema in which songs may be composed. "Note, tone and join": Tyagaraja mentions dura(ghana), naya and deshya. These correspond to the three ways in which ragas might be appreciably demonstrated in a concert. Some times only syllabary or tone based exposition using syllables such as "ta","na","aa" is done; sometimes note based exposition, using key phrases comprised of the notes allowed in that raga is used and sometimes both. Which of these expositions is chosen depends on the raga, and to an extent on the performer. Hence, "note, tone and join", with some license being taken. These three are said to make the three strands of the bowstring of the Kothanda. The arrows then denote the temporal variations or gatis. Sangatis constitute the different methods in which the phrases in the lyrics might be sung elaborately, expounding the features of a raga. So they may be seen as short musical statements, that are varied and return in various forms, but often serially and not interleaved, when a kriti is being rendered. Usually, a phrase of the lyrics is picked up and expanded in this form, then another phrase is picked and so on. The lyrics stay the same- the same phrase, but the music is varied each time and the phrase is stylized and rendered differently. An analogy would be the many ways the same statement, "How is the dinner?" could be asked, stressing each different word, thereby altering the meaning. E.g "How is the dinner?" and "How is the dinner?", might mean two different things. Although sangatis may be freely interpreted by a performer, for most of the songs in the mainstream concert repertoire, there are sangatis tied to each song that are familiar to or expected by the listeners. Tyagaraja sees the art of sangatis in Rama's words to those around Him. Tyagaraja is said to have invented Sangatis. (see extra comments)

Thus, in Rama's Person, Tyagaraja finds the origins of Music, reconciling his devotion to Rama with Nadopasana. We may also note from what Tygaraja has described in this song almost 200 years ago and the history of the art during his times, that, what are considered the major elements of the Carnatic art have remained fairly constant since then, shorn of the major upheavals in the music of the other parts of the world.

Extra Comments:
As mentioned earlier, we don't follow any canonical order in posting songs here. We actually go by the lyrical imprint and the development of common themes in Tyagaraja's oeuvre. So, here, we see another flavor of his Nadopasana or music as worship. We have seen many kritis of Nadopasana already.

Tyagaraja is generally said to have invented sangatis. But, in my opinion, which is in line with the view of only a minority, he was only probably the first well known proponent to use them extensively. Due to the fundamental nature of the sangati concept, it is well possible that in the centuries before him, sangatis were known in some form, but not widely studied or adopted.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dvaitamu sukhama

Raga Reetigowla, 22 Karaharapriya janya
Aa: S G2 R2 G2 M1 N2 D2 M1 N2 N2 S Av: S N2 D2 M1 G2 M1 P M1 G2 R2 S

dvaitamu sukhamā?
advaitamu sukhamā?

caitanyamā vinu sarvasākṣi vistāramugānu delupumu nātō!

gagana pavana tapana bhuvanādyavanilō nagadharāja śivēndrādi surulalō
bhagavadbhakta varāgr
ēśarulalō bāga ramincē tyāgarājārcita!

English verse:
Are we one, or are we two?
Is one path to bliss true?

O Soul of all, that sees all!
Reveal all, heed my call!

In earth, air, fire, water and ether,
The Trinity, the gods and their king,
And in the most blessed seeker,
You of my worship, abide delighting.

This song is about another eternal question, "Which is the right path to salvation?". This is the pleasure (sukham), alluded to in the song. The story of modern Hindu philosophy begins with the resurgent school of Vedanta rising to ascension towards the middle of the first millennium, along with the Bhakti movement of personal devotions. There are six Darshanas('paths') or schools of Hindu philosophy, usually mentioned in pairs due to the common threads, viz Sankhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisheshika and Mimamsa-Vedanta. These schools encompass various methods from logic, to the empirical to reflective philosophical inquiry, as in the Vedanta. Sankhya, literally counting up or enumeration, is the serial conceptual development of the One and the universe and the primordial particles, the tanmatras(literally molecules) etc., such as in a theory of matter. Yoga literally the act of blending or joining, has come to mean contemplation or seeking the One through various paths, such as that of knowledge. In the modern day, it has become a composite of other systems, and is seen advocated by adherents of Vedanta as well. Nyaya, literally logic or justice, is the school of pure logic or reason, similar to some of the western systems in employing mainly syllogisms, modus ponens, modus tollens and other methods, starts developing its theory from sixteen aspects of inquiry. Vaisheshika or distinction, uses similar methods, but develops a theory of matter, nature and all things, with fewer aspects. Mimamsa (or more correctly "purva mimamsa", mimamsa of the first part). literally investigation, deals with reflective philosophical inquiry. Vedanta, ("uttara mimamsa" or mimamsa of the latter part) develops such inquiry into the now familiar theses on the Brahman, the Supreme Self, and the nature of all matter and beings. Vedanta uses an abundance of the methods of logic and reason in its development of concepts.

Central to Vedanta is the concept of the Paramatma, the Supreme Self, (the Brahman), who pervades the universe, created and sustained it, and is omnipotent and omnipresent, and the concept of the Jivatma, the particular self of a person. Advaita or the school of non-Duality or Monism, which came first, teaches that these two are but one and the same and all the world is an illusion. Vishistadvaita, the school of Qualified Monism or non-duality, holds that while they seem two different entities, with different identities, the former is immanent in the latter, and they are not truly separate, and that the world is not an illusion but represents the person of the Supreme Self. Dvaitam or Dualism which came last, teaches that the two are distinct and that the particular self should strive to attain the former. Many times, Vedanta is wrongly conflated with just Advaita or Monism. It must be kept in mind that there are three very different schools. Each school of Vedanta bases its theories chiefly on the Gita and the Brahmasutras or Aphorisms on Brahman, ascribed to Baadarayana. The principal teacher of each school, i.e. Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, has commented extensively on either book, each interpreting the books as showing the theories and conclusions of his school. Also invoked frequently are the Upanishads and less frequently, the Vedas and other texts.

Today, Vedanta is the school of choice for virtually all Hindus. We must note another difference. These six darsanas or paths are systems of philosophy- often considered esoteric. Vedanta is of daily interest only to active seekers and those learned in it. Praxis, worship and liturgy, as seen in temples and homes on a day to day basis, are entirely different. In general, Advaitins are votaries of Siva, though, as we have seen earlier, six deities are allowed for them. Vishistadvaitins and Davitins are votaries of Vishnu, the latter often invoking Him in the aspect of Krishna. While the philosophies differ, most of the liturgy and rites, such as the fire sacrifices, are common to votaries of all three schools of Vedanta. Additionally, rites, practices and worship differ across the various regions of India.

About the verses: In this song, Tyagaraja wants to know from the Supreme Self, which path leads to salvation. He was raised in Advaita, but finds himself questioning. "Are we one or two":The 'we' refers to Tyagaraja, as a Jivatma and the Paramatma. As Tyagraja addresses the Supreme Self directly, I have taken the references to Dvaita and Advaita as asking whether he and the Supreme Self, were one and the same, or two separate entitites. Sarvasakshi, literally witness to all, is the notion that the Paramatma sees all. Earth, fire, air (wind), water and ether (or sky), are the pancha-bhutas, or the five basic elements, of which all matter is composed. Nagadharaaja- Nagadhara+aja- "He who bears the mountain"+ the prime "mover". The first is Vishnu, for his having held up the Govardhana hill to shelter the cowherds from Indra's wrath of torrential rains or the Mount Mandara, as the Great Tortoise, during the churning of the ocean. "Bhagavadbhakta", literally devotee of the Lord, hence the most eminent "seekers". Note that in this song, Tyagaraja is not directly referring to Rama. Interestingly, though Tyagaraja has made many statements in his songs, in line with his Advaita heritage, a few statements may be taken as being more in line with Vishistadvaita. We shall look at some along the way.

Since this is a song that deals with the deepest, weightiest and most consequent matters of philosophy, and concepts unique to the Hindu system, your servant does not dare to search for parallels elsewhere. But, still, the methods of Vedanta can sometimes descend into circuitous dialectics and grammatical gymnastics, confounding all but the most persistent. In fact, they might seem forbidding to the average devout Hindu, who is usually not guilty of extensive philosophical inquiry, as is not the bulk of humanity. Which calls to mind this 18th century epigram on the feud on technical niceties between the Baroque composers Handel and Bononcini:

Some say, compar'd to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

These characters also appeared in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Another that comes to mind is Ibsen's Peer Gynt confronting the Boyg. During Peer Gynt's fantastic journeys, he runs into the Boyg, an invisible troll with no real features- as if he were a void come alive. Peer Gynt's conversation with the Boyg is hilarious. He repeatedly asks "Who are you?" and receives the answer "Myself". In the darkness, the Boyg is blocking his way forward. He asks the Boyg to let him pass, but the Boyg tells him to "go around". He tries to cut the Boyg down, to no avail. He falls, and then rises, and finds the Boyg is blocking him on all sides now. From Act II:

PEER GYNT. Answer ! Who are you ?
PEER GYNT. Let me pass, then !
VOICE. Go round about, Peer ! Room enough on the mountain.
[PEER GYNT tries to pass another way, but runs up against something.]
PEER GYNT. Who are you ?
VOICE. Myself. Can you say as much ?

PEER GYNT. Backward or forward, it's just as far
Out or in, the way's as narrow.
It's there '.and there ! and all about me !
I think I've got out, and I'm back in the midst of it.
What's your name ! Let me see you ! Say what you are !
VOICE. The Boyg.
PEER GYNT [feeling round him] . Neither dead, nor alive ; slime and mistiness ;
No shape or form ! It's as if one were smothered
Amidst any number of bears that are growling
At being waked up ! [Shrieks. ]
Why don't you hit out at me !
VOICE. The Boyg's not so foolish as that.
PEER GYNT. Oh, strike at me !
VOICE. The Boyg doesn't strike.
PEER GYNT. Come, fight ! You shall fight with me !
VOICE. The great Boyg can triumph without any fighting.
PEER GYNT. I'd far rather it were the Brownies tormenting me !
Show fight, will you !
VOICE. The great Boyg can get all he wishes by gentleness.
PEER GYNT [biting his own hands and arms]. Oh, for claws and teeth
that would tear my flesh !
I must see a drop of my own blood flow !
(R.F. Sharp translation. Your servant is guilty of many things in life, but not of Danish.) (PS. To clarify an email I got from a reader- that was a joke... Peer Gynt was of course written in Norwegian.)

Eventually, with the 'assistance' of some 'women', the Boyg is made to vanish, and Peer Gynt continues his journey when he wakes. And, as the Boyg taught him, he continues to "go around" all things in life.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Nidhi chaala sukhamaa

Raga Kalyani, 65 Mechakalyani janya
Aa: S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S Av: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S



nidhi cāla sukhamā?
rāmuni sannidhi sēva sukhamā?
nijamuga balku manasa!

dadhi navanīta kśīramulu rucō? dāśarathi
dhyāna bhajana sudhārasamu rucō?

dama śamamanu gangā snānamu sukhamā? kardama durviṣaya kūpa snānamu sukhamā?
mamatā bandhana yuta narastuti sukhamā?
surapati tyāgarājanutuni kīrtana sukhamā?
English verse:

What should sate you truly, O Mind?
Wealth or the service of His Kind?

Should milk, curd and butter, the palate cheer?
Or the nectar of singing about the Sire?

Subduing the baser instincts,
Is a dip in the holy Ganges;
Giving in to carnal instincts,
Into a pit of refuse one submerges.

Should it please to sing a mortal frail,
Bound by egotist cords,
Or should it please to forever hail,
The Lord of the gods?

The song and its context are very famous. Serfoji II, (Sharabhoja in Sanskrit), the scholar king of Tanjore, in whose domain Thiruvayyaru, Tyagaraja's hometown fell, is said to have invited him to perform at the palace and to be rewarded with much gold, in the early 1800s. Performing at the palace meant performing at the king's pleasure and not purely in the worship of the Lord. It might also have meant panegyrizing a mortal, or "narastuti". Tyagaraja, predictably, refused the king's offer with this song. Eventually, the king, himself a composer, visited his hometown and listened to Tyagaraja sing. Serfoji II, the last king of Tanjore to have had monarchical powers, was a widely read scholar, with an Indian and a western education. It has even been recently claimed that he had pioneered cataract surgeries. A less enlightened king of that time might have considered Tyagaraja's refusal an insult and jailed and tortured him. As another version of the legend goes, after his offer was declined, Serfoji II ordered his soldiers to fetch him, but immediately suffered a searing pain in the stomach. This remained incurable, until Tyagaraja prayed for him, when Serfoji II visited him.

About the verses: There is a subtlety in my using 'His Kind' for, "Rama's Sannidhi" or Rama's abode. One meaning of kind is 'family' or class. Rama is the only major god in the Hindu pantheon, who is generally depicted in his temples with his entourage, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman etc- the "Rama parivara" or the Rama family. In most other temples, the Lord, be that Siva or Vishnu, will almost always have a separate shrine set apart from His consort. This is according to the laws governing structural and liturgical practices in temples. In the South of the country there are two main sets of rules or Agamas for Vishnu temples, that apply to Rama temples too, the Vaikanasa and the Pancharatra Agamas. Some famous temples precede the known redactions of these rules, for example the famous and wealthy Tirupati temple. Again, you may take service to 'His Kind', as meaning service to any and all of the Gods, which is probably what Tyagaraja meant. A dip in the River Ganges, in North India, is said to expiate all sins. Many holy towns lie on its banks. Some "licensed out" words: Daasharathi- son of Dasaratha, Rama; dhyana- meditation; dadhi- milk curd, yogurt.

While Tyagaraja's point in the earlier parts of this kriti, is about being discerning and serving God, we can see his wider context of the ephemerality of material objects, true to his Advaitin heritage. In fact, man's conflict with his baser instincts, mainly the lust for wealth and power, and the teaching that succumbing to them, could only to be one's detriment in the long run, is a very ancient and very common theme in all cultures, from the earliest literature known to man. We know that Tyagaraja did not choose the path of the craven and lived his life out a saint. What happens if one does choose the craven path?

A Comparative study: Faust is a very well known example and warning in the west, against such choice. Faust makes a pact with the Devil, attains material success and is snatched in a ghastly way at his peak, though he lately may have seen the light. Two Fausts are famous. In English, Marlowe's play, 'Doctor Faustus' from 1592, ends with this chorus, a clear word of caution:

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel-bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise,
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits.

So, Faustus could have thrived and achieved on his own; but temptation forced him to go over to the dark side and he paid the price. Some of Goethe's Faust, in German, the most celebrated work in that language, was actually written during Tyagaraja's own time. Goethe is said to have taken almost 60 years writing and revising his work. It ends with an amount of redemption for Faust, as he does go to Heaven. Interestingly, Goethe was also a competent scientist for some of his life, and an administrator.

The two Fausts and Tyagaraja's song may differ in some of the contextual details, but the message is that we should not yield to temptation. While Faust takes an explicit shortcut against the law of Nature, and probably Man's law too in some places, Tyagaraja is warning us to not seek even justly gained material pleasures. The king, himself a connoisseur and a composer, would only have been rewarding his genius, and no dishonesty or shortcuts were involved. But among pious Hindus, then as now, all material wealth, whether rightly or wrongly gained, is itself considered a pollutant and an evil at a par with the ways of the deal Faust makes with the devil. It is a long held Hindu belief, that without austerity there can be no enlightenment. The pursuit of enlightenment and not the pursuit of happiness, is the Hindu way of life.

Tyagaraja and his historical context: I have often wondered what living by the exhortations he makes in this song, would have actually meant to Tyagaraja. Two hundred years later, it is easy for us to forget the daily context, and just take it as a sign of his impending deification or Moksha. But, at that time? In his time? What did living with such arduous convictions do to him and how did it temper his later music? As noted above, legend tells us that, Tyagaraja's repudiation of wealth and "Narastuti" was caused by an invitation from Raja Serfoji II. Actually, Tyagaraja makes almost a dozen stronger rebukes of materialism in his songs - Durmargachara, covered on this site, is one such example. So, why should this graphic legend be attached to this one song alone? I say legend with some trepidation, but my defence and excuse are that we really have no certain documentation of this case too, just like with many other Tyagaraja incidents. Anyhow, granting this Serfoji II incident to be the complete fact for a moment, let's try to decipher what his action might have meant, in the practical sense, and what his motivations might have been, and the consequences. For, saint he might have been, and it might have been a simple age, but then too, were practicalities of everyday living to be answered. Mozart's lavish spending resulting in financial turmoil is well-known. Wagner, was frequently in debt, and bankrupt more than once. In fact, he had to flee his creditors across Europe several times. Of course, the culture and system in India were both different, and Tyagaraja followed Nadopasana or Nadayoga doctrince. Tyagaraja's time lay right at the eve of British ascendancy in South India. They had just succeeded in the Carnatic Wars. Serfoji II, though a monarch, had little power, and his court can hardly be compared to that of, say, Krishnadeva Raya. He was already a pensioner of the British administration. With the decline of Vijayanagara by the early seventeenth century, the power vacuum in the deep south of India, was filled by a combination of some former Naik governors declaring independence, some newly risen nawabs, and vast number of liminal chieftains. This did not provide a conducive environment for Music and the Arts to flourish. A flourishing empire such as that of Vijayanagara or of the Pallavas, could systematically patronize the Arts over a period of some centuries. But, well before Tyagaraja's time, this had ceased to be the case. Patronage lay largely in the hands of individual chieftains, prosperous merchants and so on, and rarely continued for decades. It was a highly disorganized and decentralized system. Printing and publishing too, though known, had not yet taken off, and music transcription was hardly mature, not to speak of music composition or performance being sustainable careers - often the artiste ploughed a lonely furrow. With the nation being in upheaval and patronage remaining on a low scale and not a grand scale, such as a court-composer at a contemporary great court in Europe might command, the highest patronage offered by Serfoji or another ruler, might not have been much! Tyagaraja, we may deduce, refused patronage with strings, and did not abjure all patronage. It was not a time or place in which one may refuse royal patronage only on pain of death, and walking two days in any direction put one out of Serfoji's dominions! Refusing Serfoji's patronage may not have ruined a composer and Tyagaraja indeed was supported by a few private patrons and friends, such as during his long pilgrimage to the north. Tyagaraja, it must be remembered, was not an unattached wandering monk, like say, Sadhashiva Brahmendra, but a saintly householder, and certainly maintained and taught a small corps of disciples who preserved and gifted his work to posterity. We may therefore take this song as a rebuke of all baseness than of all wealth, - "Be craven in nothing at all!"