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!"


Friday, October 16, 2009


Raga Nata , 36 Chalanata janya
Aa: S R3 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S Av: S N3 P M1 R3 S
Taalam: Adi



jagadānanda kāraka
jaya jānakī prāṇanāyaka

gaganādhipa satkulaja
suguṇākara surasēvya
bhavyadāyaka sadāsakala

amara tāraka nicaya kumudahita
paripūrṇānagha sura surabhūja
dadhipayodhi vāsa haraṇa sundarataravadana
sudhāmaya vacovṛnda govinda sānanda
māvarājaraāpta śubhakarānēka

nigama nīrajāmṛtaja poṣakā-
nimiṣa vairivārida samīraṇa
khagaturaṅga satkavi hṛdālayā
gaṇita vānarādhipa natāṅghriyuga

indranīlamaṇi sannibhāpaghana
candrasūrya nayanāpramēya
vāgindra janaka sakalēśa śubhra
nāgēndra śayana śamanavairi sannuta

pādavijita mauniśāpa
savaparipāla varamantra grahaṇalola
paramaśānta citta janakajādhipa
sarojabhava varadākhila

sṛṣṭi sthityantakārakāmita
kāmita phaladāsamāna gātra
śacīpatinutābdhi madaharānurāga
rāgarājita kathāsārahita

sajjana mānasābdhi sudhākara
kusuma vimāna surasāripu karābja
lālita caraṇāvaguṇāsuragaṇa
madaharaṇa sanātanājanuta

oṅkāra pañjarakīra purahara sarojabhava kēśavādirūpa vāsavaripu janakāntaka kalādhara kalādharāpta ghṛṇākara śaraṇāgata jana pālana
sumanoramaṇa nirvikāra nigama sāratara

karadhṛta śarajālā-sura
madāpaharaṇa avanīsura surāvana
kavīna bilaja mauni kṛta caritra
sannuta śrī tyāgarājanuta

purāṇa puruṣa nṛvarātmajāśrita
parādhīna khara virādha rāvaṇa
virāvaṇānagha parāśara manoharā
vikṛta tyāgarāja sannuta

agaṇitaguṇa kanakacēla śāla vidalanāruṇābha samāna caraṇā
pāra mahimādbhuta sukavijana hṛdsadana suramunigaṇa vihita
kalaśa nīranidhijā ramaṇa pāpagaja nṛsiṃha vara tyāgarājādinuta

English verse:

Joy to the world, do You cause!
Joy to the world, for You are its cause!
By You, all extant beings delight!
Hail the Mother 's life giving wight!

As the sun, over the sky, lords,
O king of kings and god of gods!
O noble scion of the solar race of yore!
Your bounty keeps all, for ever and ever more!

As the moon, the stars, so the gods, You surpass!
Perfect and sinless! Yet no milk, no curd may pass,
Even as You pilfer with the robes of each Gopi lass.
You grant the gods' desires without compass.
Nectar-sweet speech fills the finest visage;
Blissful, must You, the humble cow, engage.
Timeless lord of Wealth! Pleasures manifold,
You bestow, in measures untold!

You sustain the eternal, the lotus,- the Heard,
As the clouds, by the wind, are scattered,
So did You, the rivals of the unblinking.
The Great Bird carries you speeding,
To live forever in the hearts of poets pristine,
At Your feet, is the lord of simians umpteen.

Of the hue of divine blue gems is Your person.
Exalted of Death's bane and the creator, Your son,
O Inscrutable! The sun and moon Your eyes make.
O Lord of all! Gently repose on the white king-snake.

Cleansed is the sage's curse, by the dust of Your feet,
Saved is another's rite; by the bow, the demons are beat.
Learned keen is the great chant, O lord of exceeding calm!
O blesser of the creator, O lord of all-pervasive form!

You make, keep and end, O limitless one of peerless form,
You humbled the Ocean as he moved to uncalm!
You, the king of gods worships; You bestow all that's sought!
You, the saga of love and desire, 'lone, have wrought!

Moon-like You light the minds of the virtuous,
Astride the flying chariot, most lustrous.
As the lotus hands that rent the sea serpent caress Your feet,
O Eternal one, even the creator worships at Your feet.

As a parrot in a cage, are You to the sacred syllable,
To each of the Trinity, the form venerable.
You slew the sire of the scourge of the king of heaven,
O patron of art, friend of the moon-crested and ashen,
Featureless, kindly guardian of those who pled refuge,
O Vedic acme, joy to those void of subterfuge!

Fearsome arrows in hand, you humbled the demons,
And protected the gods and godlike humans,
The saga by he of the ant-hill, exalts You,
As one voice, this bard, joins him too.

O timeless Supreme Being, once the great king's offspring,
Beholden to the faithful; Khara, Ravana and all conquering,
Stolen is the infallible redactor's heart by endearing,
This flawed bard, still hails You with a spring.

Infinite virtues, azure robes the eye greet,
Red as the dawning sun, shine your feet,
In a stroke, piercer of the seven trees,
Your wonders unbound, never cease,
Filling the hearts of each good minstrel;
Abiding in the heart of a damsel.
Of all the gods and sages, patron,
That damsel is, the child of the ocean.
When the rogue elephant of sin runs amok,
As the man-lion You wreak havoc.
Your glory, this blessed bard sings,
Joy to all Your very name brings.

Gloss to the verses:
Verse 1: Wight: human; Mother refers to Sita; Tyagaraja considered Sita, or Janaki, his mother and the mother of all. (Cf. Sitamma maayamma)

Verse 3: Amara:immortals- gods. Krishna, while growing up in Gokula, was a naughty cowherd whose exploits of stealing butter and milk and heckling the cowherdesses (gopis) are sung to this day. Wealth personified is Lakshmi, consort of Vishnu, of whom Sita,(the Mother), was an
incarnation. "Surabhuja", literally something that sprung from the celestial soil or a tree, refers to the miraculous wish-fulfilling tree of heaven.

Verse 4: The Heard: the Vedas. The Vedas belong to the Shruti group of scriptures, which were said to be directly revealed to, i.e. first "heard by" different sages. The eyes of the gods, (the devas) do not blink. They are in constant war with their cousins the demons (the asuras). Amrutaja- Arising from nectar, or figuratively, something that is immortal or can cause immortality. cf. the herb amrutajaa (myrobalan) of which such claims are made. Here, the meaning is that the vedas are eternal, perhaps, arising lotus like from the muddy lake of mundade life. (This phrase is probably a Tyagaraja neologism.) Garuda, the king of birds, is Vishnu's vehicle. Lord of simians umpteen: Sugreeva, the then deposed king of the Vanaras (literally man-apes), sought asylum with Rama, from his brother and harasser, Vali.

Verse 5: Of the Trinity, Siva has overlordship of Death and may overrule him, hence "samana vairi" or Death's bane. Brahma the creator, emerged from a lotus that sprung from Vishnu's navel. Vishnu, the protector, reclines on Sesha, the king of snakes, in his abode in the ocean of milk. He is marked by His blue person (literally, limbs in the lyrics), yellow or golden robes, the Srivatsa curl, the unwithering Vaijayanti garland and so on.

Verse 6: The sage Gautama had with a curse, turned his wife, the spotless Ahalya, into a stone. He had suspected her of infidelity. As Rama walked through the forest, at the mere touch of his feet, her curse was removed. She turned into a woman again, and rejoined Gautama. While in the forest, he prevented several demons from sullying the fire sacrifice of another sage Viswamitra. This sage rewarded Rama with the knowledge of two secret chants Bala and Adibala which controlled hunger and fatigue. This episode preceded his marriage to Sita and his exile. Brahma the creator, was himself created and sustained by Vishnu. Rama was distinguished by his calmness in all situations.

Verse 7: Here Rama is seen by Tyagaraja, in the aspect of a personal diety, as a Great God, above the Trinity and the pantheon. This is a common practice in Hinduism, where the one Supreme Spirit or Brahman is seen in the manifest forms of one's chosen diety. When Rama came to the ocean with his army and had to cross it to Lanka, he fasted and prayed to the the ocean god, for days. This god was not obliging due to Rama's being a mere human and Rama threatened to dry up the ocean with a divine weapon. Deflated, the god appeared before Rama and offered to support a bridge of floating stones inscribed with Rama's name, so that Rama and his army could cross over to Lanka. Sachi is Indra's wife. The Ramayana is here called a saga of love, that of Rama, versus lust, that of Ravana.

Verse 8: The Pushpaka Vimana or flying chariot, was heavely vehicle that Ravana had coopted and Vibheeshana, his brother who defected to Rama, placed at Rama's service after the war. "Surasa-ripu"- foe of Surasa, Hanuman. Surasa was a great sea monster who posed one of the many strange demons Hanuman had to overcome, while flying over the ocean to Lanka. Cf The Odyssey. After the war, Hanuman remained forever in Rama's service.

Verse 9: The sacred syllable Om, is said to empower all the gods. Perhaps Tyagaraja says here that Rama has to enliven Om itself, thereby causing all action in the universe, just as a parrot enlivens an empty cage with its talk. As mentioned earlier, Tyagaraja now sees Rama as a great god, his god. "Vaasava ripu": Foe of Indra. Indra is called Vaasava, or chief among the vasus or guardians of the eight regions of space. Indrajit, or "victor over Indra", a son of Ravana, had many magical powers. Siva has a crescent moon in his matted locks and is covered with ash. "Omkara panjara kira" is a loaded phrase. It is also a direct allusion to "Omkara panjara shukhi", a phrase which too means "parrot bound by the sacred Om syllable" that was reputedly used by Sankara to describe Parvati. The reference to the caged bird and Parvati in her aspect of Tripurasundari, the Mother Goddess, is quite common. Generally, a prayer called a panjara is considered something powerful, that binds the propitiated divinity to aid the devotee. Panjara is almost always used in the metaphorical sense. In this case, many meanings arise, with different levels of tenuousness, rather than certainty, due to the ambiguity of context. We can take the most direct that Rama is propitiated and bound by chanting Om, that he is as a caged parrot to it. Now, Om is also the primordial sound, that as Tyagaraja tells us throughout his work, energizes the universe, and is also a generator of music. Since it leads to the conclusion that Rama may be attained through Om and so music, this is consistent with Tyagaraja's Nadopasana approach. In this tradition, parrots generally represent wisdom, transcendence and prosperity. A cage, unlike this case, is often a metaphor for man bound by mortal coils.

Verse 10: Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana, was previously a highwayman, who was counseled by a passing sage, into cleansing his sins by penance. This he did so intensely and still, that an ant-hill grew over him in time. When finally Brahma appeared before him, pleased with his penances, he had to break Valmiki out of the ant-hill, to bless him.

Verse 11: The great king- Dasaratha, father of Rama. Ravana was not the only formidable demon vanquished by Rama. Khara, Virada and Mareecha were some others. The "redactor" is the sage Vyasa, literally "arranger". It was Vyasa who compiled and codified the Vedas and also wrote the Mahabharata. He was the son of sage Parashara and a kinsman of the Pandavas.

Verse 12: Rama had promised to slay Vali, for Sugriva's sake. However, this could not be done in single combat, as befits a warrior. Vali had a divine necklace that deprived his opponents of their strength. So, Rama had Sugreeva challenge Vali to combat, and slew him with a single arrow that pierced seven huge Sal trees. Lakshmi herself emerged from the ocean of milk, hence child of the ocean. The Nru-simha or Man-lion was Vishnu's most terrifying incarnation, in which he slew a demon who had gained dominion over the three worlds by a strange boon from Brahma. He could not be slain by man, beast, god or his kind, at day or night, inside or outside, or by any weapon, nor upon earth, heaven or hell. This demon was Hiranyakashipu. Vishnu solved the problem by incarnating as a man-lion, placing him on his lap, ripping him apart with his claws, at the doorway to his palace, at the hour of dusk. All his boons were thus not violated and he met his end. His son, Prahalada however, was a great devotee of Vishnu, who had invoked him, upon being tortured by his father. Vishnu appeared thusly, to save his devotee. The Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam, or the Cycle of Prahalada's victorious devotions, is one of the cycles of Tyagaraja kritis. Today, amongst many Hindus, propitation of and the signs of Nrusimha, are considered a protection against any form of evil spirits or evil-doing.


Since today is Diwali, the most joyous festival, I was saving this kriti, about the "Joy of all the world" and its engineer, for this day. Happy Diwali to one and all.

There is little that I can say to introduce this kriti. To many who like vibrant, expansive numbers, it is "the" kriti. I will confess that it took many hours to write just these sixty lines- many hours of pure pleasure, that were never mine, while learning, singing or listening to the song over the years, as I just couldn’t stop ruminating and lingering over the lyrics and the notation. It may sound needlessly lofty to say so, but Tyagaraja must indeed be experienced with every fiber of one's being. We must strive to see what he saw in his mind's eye.

This kriti is the first of the Pancharatnas. Pancharatnas literally means “five gems”, but it is better translated as “pinnacle”. These five are indeed the gems among the 2000-5000 kritis and other songs, that some estimates say are in the mainstream concert repertoire. To compare, what influence and popularity, Beethoven's 3rd, 5th and 9th combined would have in the Western world, these kritis have in their sphere. These five songs are also in “Ghana ragas” or weighty ragas, namely Naata, Gaula, Arabhi, Varali and Sri. These ragas lend themselves to extensive improvisation and exposition.

This is probably the kriti among the five with the densest lyrics. The kriti is eminently singable even in its slightly quick paced charanas, but when one sits to break down its lyrics, that is when we note the often straightforward Tyagaraja, could pull off a Wagner as well. It is said he has even managed to include 108 different names and honorifics of Rama in the song, that one may perform a complete traditional Ashottatara-Archana prayer service simply by rendering this song. To borrow a term from science, the "packing density" of lyrics into the underlying melody is very high :)

If you look at it another way, this kriti does a merry dance towards many corners of Hindu mythology and even some philosophy and the gloss shows this. I am sure the lyrics and my verses to the other four kritis will be less challenging.

The nature of the kriti:
This kriti starts with bright, bold colors. Tyagaraja bursts forth, declaring that Rama causes the joy of all the world. He is not speaking humbly, personally, to his personal deity, as is his norm. There is no quivering cry for pity. It is a clarion call. He is now speaking for all humanity about the joy of the world. He is booming from the rooftops. The tempo picks up in the charanas with some interesting tongue twisters. Eventually, Tyagaraja ceases to see Rama as a godly king and incarnation and sees him as a great god and the Brahman or Supreme Spirit.
There is much more to be said about this kriti in both literary and musical detail; I plan to revisit each of the pancharata kritis at a later time, looking at each, from a new angle on each revisit. I shall post a comparative study of this kriti with some landmark western pieces when we revisit it.

About the verses
Due to its familiarity, I have evoked the hymn "Joy to the world" in the opening lines, than write something more original- expressly because my business here is to spread the joy of Tyagaraja, than show off my tricks of the trade. Since the subject is a hero, I have retained couplets here in the structure, although not the heroic couplet. Since there is so much lyrical detail in this song, I chose not to evoke anything from English or other western literature. As the lyrics are dense, particularly in the charanas, some of my middle verses are tight and tough too. The charanas' intensity eases only from the eighth one.

Alternate meanings:
Given the usage and the declensions in the song, many of the epithets in it, could admit alternate readings and meanings. One or two are shown here. If and when we revisit this song, we can look at other readings. For example, we can take Jagadanandakaraka to be a single epithet meaning "He who causes joy to the world" or two epithets, "Joy of the world" and its "Prime Mover". References to Brahman and great gods in the charanas, may even point to this second, more sublte meaning. Grammar doesn't forbid it. As Rama himself means he who gives pleasure (or enjoyer), jagadanandakara is taken literally, and that is well justified. But the more subtle meaning is richer and more befitting. The second line of my poem must be read in this second sense. We can defend the alternate reading by saying, though a long vowel "a" is apparent while singing, it really is not present in most printings, thereby not causing a vocative declension, requiring us to group the phrase together. We can similarly reason out many alternative meanings throughout the song such as Rajarajeshwara.

An ode to joy:
The famous "Ode to joy" in Beethoven's 9th, speaks about joy and universal brotherhood. We may similarly consider this kriti as Tyagaraja's "Ode to joy", because for him, Rama was the world, Rama was life, and Rama was joy.

Extra Extra Comments:
An aside: While cross-checking some of the lyrics in my texts, I came across an instance where "Purana Purusha" in the 9th charana, was comically translated as Primaeval male! Surely, Tyagaraja couldn’t have been so literal, and spoken of Adam or Manu, than speak of Brahman! Sure, there are many possible interpretations in this song; but this wasn't one of the possible ones :)


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sri Narada Muni

Raga Bhairavi, 20 Natabhairavi janya
Aa: S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N2 S Av: S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S
Taalam: Adi



śrī nārada muni guru rāya! kaṇṭi-
mē nāṭi tapamō, guru rāya !

manasāra kōriti, guru rāya! nēḍu
kanulāra kanukoṇṭimi, guru rāya!

mī sēva dorikenu, guru rāya! bhava
pāśamu dolagenu, guru rāya!

nīvē sujnāna sukhi guru rāya!
nīvēyajnāna śikhi, guru rāya!

rājillu vīṇe gala guru rāya! tyāga-
rājuni brōcina sadguru rāya!
English verse:

Master of masters! Your boon to me O sage,
Is perhaps by penance of an unknown age.

Long, for you, was my heartfelt search,
But this day, my eyes well up in joy.
As you came down from your divine perch,
I gained a door to your employ,

And all my worldly coils lay ripped.
The bliss of wisdom lights your face
As nescience burns in the fire of your grace.
Radiant's your veena twice-tipped,

O great guru whom I've ever craved,
By your hand, now, am I saved!

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer:
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

The Devarishi, or celestial sage Narada, is considered the father of classical music. Narada is a much beloved character in Hindu mythology. He is a frequent intercessor in both epics and several of the Puranas. He appears in various shades of character. He is a benevolent peacemaker, and a sprightly mischief maker whose tricks always end well and once, his arrogance over his supreme devotion to Vishnu was even put down. He is still considered a great bhakta. To Narada is also ascribed the Narada Bhakti Sutras, which laid out 84 tenets on the attainment and benefits of pure devotion and love for God. These sutras or rules are important to many schools of the Bhakti or Devotional movement. Narada is also said to have invented the Veena, which is the fundamental instrument of Carnatic music, to have laid the foundations of classical music by codifying its theoretical elements and to have constantly sung the praises of the gods.

Thus, to a Nadopasaka, who practised music as worship like Tyagraja, Narada is both the ideal or role model and the guru of gurus . There is even a legend about how Narada miraculously appeared before Tyagaraja, first as an old man and then as himself, and bequeathed to him, long lost treatises on music, including the 'Swararnava' and his own book, the 'Naradiya'. This served as a Rosetta stone for Tyagaraja to understand the higher intricacies of music; and so, Tyagaraja says, that his innermost wish was fulfilled in meeting Narada.

I have alluded to Narada's appearing before Tyagaraja as a boon; Tyagaraja considers his appearance the fruit of some "tapas" or penance he had unknowingly done. In Hindu mythology, one's intense penance to please the gods is eventually rewarded by their appearance and their granting of a boon.

This is not a kriti that is very frequently heard, and is sometimes heard as "Sri Narada mouni", but we learn a lot about Tyagaraja from it as below. Since Narada enables Tyagaraja's Nadopasana or music as worship, and Tyagaraja prays to him in this context, this song too can be considered an example of Nadopasana.

A comparative study:
Let's consider another of Keats' poems, the sonnet "On first looking into Chapman's Homer". In the West, Homer had returned to wide reading among the educated, with the Renaissance. Education, then, mainly meant study of the classical Greek and Latin, philosophy, art appreciation and so on, unlike the more scientific education of modern days. So, most well educated people could read Homer in the Greek. Interestingly, Keats seems to have needed an interpreter for an intimate understanding of Homer. Scholarly translations of Homer by Pope and others existed long prior to Keats. But, the older Chapman's free translation of Homer, the first English translation, was innovative in making Homer's archaic turn of phrase, and circuitous descriptions, more accessible to lay readers, through simple paraphrase. Keats, as we may conclude from the poem, only "connected" with Homer's poetry and imagery, only when Chapman took him by the hand.

This is a well known sonnet, which, as could be tritely but truly said, is often quoted to describe the simple unadulterated pleasure a work of art can bring. Keats is said to have written this in spontaneous reaction to his delight at understanding Homer well. Quite parallel to Keats' joy at "meeting" Homer, Tyagaraja's too tells us of his spontaneous joy of "meeting" Narada and an innermost desire being fulfilled. In both works, we see the joy of a creative person, in being inspired by another light from an age past- Homer and Narada, that he is able to create many works of his own. Each now feels newly empowered to create many more works of art.

Extra Comments:
Keats' poem is an Italian sonnet, a poem split into two parts, an 'octet' of eight lines and a 'sestet' of six lines. The octet introduces a main idea, and the sestet departs from it slightly, but resolves the theme of the poem. Interestingly, when made aware of the error that Balboa sighted the Pacific and not Cortez, Keats still left Cortez in, probably pleading license to keep his intended rhyme scheme and meter.

We could even reckon that, rather than in person, Tyagaraja "met" Narada in the words of the Naradiya, much like Keats found Homer, and so, is speaking figuratively.

Note on rhyme and structure: In some of the last few songs, I have strictly maintained a rhyming couplet scheme- "aabb" or "aa". This was more an artifact of the songs chosen, due to our intent to maintain line and word order as much as possible and to resemble the original and retain the flavor. After all, I am translating, and not writing my own. For instance, one of the first songs here, the Sanskrit "Manasa sancharare" itself was fully of rhyming couplets and I held that structure. Tyagaraja too, as here, seemingly rhymes often in couplets and this is apparent if he is read and not sung. We shall break the pattern here and in the next few kritis and also experiment when possible. We shall also look at more modern, free verse at some point, although that is a poor fit for something as structured as classical music. Here, I have used aa-bcbc-deed-ff.

Ancient veenas or more generally, lutes were often with two upturned ends, hence "twice tipped".

Why call Tyagaraja a "bard":
Often, I render Tyagaraja's mudra ('stamp') of naming himself in his Kritis, as "bard". There is a hidden meaning in this. Historically, though a bard was a poet and singer, a bard was also someone who sang of kings, heroes and their exploits, just as Tyagaraja sang of Rama, a hero and a king, his virtues and his exploits, as well appealed to his divine mercy. Particularly, in the Utsava Sampradaya kritis, Tyagaraja speaks in the voice of a bard and Rama's court poet.

"Extra" Extra Comments:
Friends, I am sorry for not posting over the last 4-5 days. I was down with a virus.

There is an indentation in the even numbered lines of the sonnet. But, even if I use the 'pre' tag, blogger seems to override it.