Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sri Narada Naada

Raga Kanada , 22 Kharaharapriya janya
Aa: S R2 G2 M1 D N2 S Av: S N2 P M1 G2 M1 R2 S

Taalam: Rupakam



śrī nārada! nāda sarasīruha 
bhṛṅga! śubhāṅga!

dīna māna rakṣaka! jagadīśa! 
bheśa saṅkāśa!  

vedajanita varavīṇā-vādana tatvajña!
khedahara! tritāparahita! khecara vinuta!
yādava kulajāpta! sadāmoda hṛdaya! munivarya!
śrīda! tyāgarāja vinuta! śrīkara! mām pālaya!
English verse:

As a bee finds nectar, O rector, O sage!
To music, your blessed visage!

Prince of men, by you, save face,
The meek, by your moon-like grace.

From the Word, came the strings,
From you their art was found,
Your virtue the demigod sings,
Gone be the pains that hound.

Blissful kin to the divine Cowherd,
Bounteous sage most honored,
Might my prayer be heard,
Your refuge be rendered.

This song is again reflective of Tyagaraja's Nadopasana or music as worship school of thought. Since the divine sage Narada, is considered the originator of the musical arts, he is Tyagaraja's patron saint and ideal. Tyagaraja constantly strives to emulate Narada, who attained the highest enlightenment through his music and not by tapas or penance as other sages did. Narada would also lose himself in paroxysms of joy while singing of the gods and Tyagaraja aspired for such bliss through his own music. Narada was generally venerated but not especially worshiped. He was seen as the finest devotee. Tyagaraja however, sees Narada as his savior and worships Narada, for having shown him the path of music as worship. No other composer has left behind so many songs to Narada. Although a beloved character in the Puranas and the Epics, he is not of any special veneration or adoration in daily praxis and is rarely featured along with the principal deities in temples, although he does appear in the panel art such as in the pillars or the walls surrounding the sanctum sanctorum. That Tyagaraja alludes to Narada routinely is itself a mark of his Nadopasana approach.

Note that Narada is not considered the originator of music per se, as it is said to arise from the Vedas, which of course are held part of the eternal and revealed scriptures. Narada was chiefly a votary of Vishnu. If we look for parallels elsewhere, we find that Narada somewhat fulfills the role of Orpheus in showing the ascent of man through music and the role of the Muses in furthering the musical and other arts, such as inducing Valmiki to compose the very first poetry in the form of the Ramayana or bestowing Tyagaraja with long lost sacred knowledge of music, as we saw in an earlier song. Able to travel through the universe at will, he is also a frequent intercessor in both epics and in several Puranas, where his arrival always results in mischief, which however, leads to a pleasant resolution and fulfills some important purpose. A number of musical works, some verses in the Rg veda and a work of aphorisms on perfect devotion, the Bhakti sutras are all ascribed to him.

Jagadisha is one of those strange adjectives. When applied to a divine being, it means, the lord of all that exists; when applied to a king, an emperor or high king and here, when applied to a sage, it signifies someone who transcends all men. Narada was born a human in some legends and rose to divinity by penance and by the power of his music and this allusion brings that to mind. Generally, he is considered a son of Brahma and a deva or celestial, by birth. The strings: the veena is considered the generating instrument of Carnatic music, and its sounds are said to arise directly from the Vedas or the Word. The Vedas were "heard" by the first sages, were eternal and were revealed. The Sama Veda in particular, the Veda that is sung and not chanted, is considered the source of music. The Gandharvas are a class of celestial beings, somewhat below the Devas in the pantheon and are associated with music and other fine arts. They are considered the court musicians of the Devas. "The pains that hound": Human distress, as meant here by the term tritaapa, is said to be of three kinds- arising due to oneself, from others and by the divine hand. Narada, constantly sings the praises of the lord and is therefore always in a state of bliss. The divine Cowherd is of course Krishna, Who was raised in stealth among cowherds, but belonged to the princely Yadava clan by birth.

We can understand Tyagaraja's Nadopasana thought a little more by comparing his perspective of Narada with that of the different schools of Vishnu worship, that arose during the Bhakti, or resurgence of personal devotion movement in the North and East of India roughly during the 13th-16th centuries. These schools arose from teachers such as Vallabhacharya and Chaitanya, and can today be found in some numbers in such places as Bengal, Orissa and Mathura. They are primarily devoted to Krishna and hold "Nama Sankeertan" or singing of the lord's glory alone, as the true path that exceeds all other requirements such as the study of scripture, meditation, inquiry and observance of religious rites and duties. Naturally, they see Narada as the perfect devotee, for he is always singing the lord's praises and so, has risen to be forever close to and dear to Vishnu. To them, the Bhakti Sutra aphorisms ascribed to Narada are therefore particularly important. However, it is only his constant and rapturous "Nama Sankeertan" that they seek to emulate, and do not concern themselves with his other aspects. Tyagaraja, who sees Narada as his patron saint and guru, does agree with this view of Narada being a paragon of Bhakti. In line with his Nadopasana approach, which is more involved than the simplistic "Nama Sankeertan" approach where the simplest song suffices when offered truly, Tyagaraja additionally finds that Narada, as the greatest exponent of Nadopasana, has unlocked the mysteries of the universe through his study of music and has thus attained divine knowledge and enlightenment, in addition to being one with Vishnu. Tyagaraja seeks to emulate both, his adoration in song, and his theological attainments through the inquiry and art of music. That is why, it is of some import that Tyagaraja consistently sees Narada as a guru and a philosopher whose penance was his music, and not just as the ideal devotee. Tyagaraja also consistently sees music as containing the essence of the universe, having arisen from the primordial sound of the Onkara and the Vedas, and as having endowed the gods with their divine powers. The other schools do not venture into such involved details, as they find penance, observances, study and inquiry much less valuable than simple psalms of worship. As mentioned elsewhere, in such a system of Nadopasana, we can find some parallels with Pythagorean thought, as here too music becomes an all pervasive and potent mechanism. We may further note that while Orpheus is a far more frequent subject in the music and opera traditions of the west, than Narada, who is his counterpart in certain aspects, is, in all of Indian music save that of Tyagaraja.

This song too is reflective of Tyagaraja's preferred structure to his lyrics- a premise being stated firstly,  followed by a restatement and a bhashya or an exegesis like development of the premise in the charanas. We can also note yet again, how different Tyagaraja sounds in his Sanskrit songs compared to his Telugu songs. He is clearly more studied. There is again not as much reflective detail and emotional fervor and the lyricism here borders almost on the impersonal, that we cannot uniquely tie this song to Tyagaraja based on its words alone, as we could a number of his other songs like nagumomu kanaleni or sri narada muni, where he clearly indicates a personal experience and possibly even an immediate experience that is reflected in song with spontaneity. Beyond this, some commentators tend to draw the line that Tyagaraja's diction in his singleton songs was intentionally simpler, as he considered them to be pedagogical, whereas his musical plays were more stylish as they were considered higher performance art. I am yet to be convinced about major distinctions. In many cases, we could extend the generalization on language even to the underlying musical structure. The adventurer and innovator more frequently, though not necessarily, rings through in the Telugu songs. When we get down to the tiny business of musical detail in some time to come, we shall study these variations also.  

Extra Extra Comments:

Some concepts mentioned above, have already been encountered in other songs. They are repeated here for the sake of completeness, as I prefer each song be self-contained and allow easy reading.

Most authors will render Jagadisha as lord of the world or of the universe. This also happens when music scholars translate Tyagaraja's songs and all the main books including TKG's do that. The justification given when a being lesser than Vishnu or Shiva or the Brahman is so addressed, is that the lesser being is seen as a part of the Supreme Being, pars pro toto, unlike other unenlightened beings and hence worthy of such appellation. However, it is easier and more fitting to simply consider that the meaning of Jagadisha can vary by context. Here for example, we know that Tyagaraja sees Narada as a patron saint, guru and savior and not as Rama Himself. Therefore, the meaning I have read, follows. The other possibility that looms, is that the text might have elided over time, absent a contemporaneous printing and it may not have read Jagadisha at all. Alternate meanings can be derived for Jagadisha other than these common meanings. But, we know from his body of work, that Tyagaraja's technique and inventiveness lie elsewhere and that he was not given to word play or summoning up obscurities. We can even surmise that Tyagaraja turned hyperbolic, as poets often do and recall that he is not considered the most precise of the Trinity. Why am I splitting hairs on such a small point? Only to illustrate how we are often working with double blindfolds without a contemporaneous printing and how we may tackle such questions. Internal consistency is the main tool that helps us.

I tend to use exclamation marks to delineate the different epithets with which the composer addresses the subject, generally Rama and in this case, Narada. This is a convention used in Prof. T. K. Govinda Rao's book, as well as some prior works. It is one of the few prevalent conventions retained here. Technically, one could argue that it is not really a clean practice for Indian languages, as these norms of punctuation are based on western scripts and methods. In our case, it is useful to adopt, because we focus so much on lyricism and expression. 



  1. namaste,

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  2. Thank you for your kind words. You raise an interesting point. But for making this site searchable on blogger, I have not publicized this website on any other website, discussion group or print media, in any form. This is actually due to a number of reasons and these two are the most important.

    I am not yet sure of the final form of this work, given its size. I don't know whether it would remain on a website, or be cast as a book, or digital media. It is also a long way from completion. The planned final size is about 3000 pages. We are at 250. So, this website is actually an extended preview. As each song is self-contained, they could be posted here without any loss of readability.

    When it is time to do so, I will certainly publicize this work, no matter what final form it takes. Other reasons are discussed in introductory pages.

  3. Also, I am not sure if it is necessary to point this out, but this site is not really a blog in the true sense of the word. In the first place, there is no time line underlying the subjects developed here. In fact, any blog-like content here is possibly found only in the comments or the intro pages. It is just that I found blogger to be a sufficient content management system capable of multilingual presentation, commenting and the like, and also found a template that suited the layout I had in mind. Plus initially, I had some help putting this site up, and that I only got on blogger. I also found quite a few others in non-music fields, maintain even "serious" academic sites by using blogger this way. So, why not? But, whenever blogger seems to get too smart in optimizing its html, I am left wringing my hands. The worst is when I try to stitch a book form and download the content here. It just fights you every inch of the way.

  4. Funnily, a good number of the appreciative comments that I get, seem to assume that I am some venerable grand old man, possibly due to the density of some topics covered here. Well, sorry to disappoint on those counts, but, at our home, even Dad isn't a grand old man yet!