Kanchi Mahaperiyava's exposition of "Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste"
In June 1961, Paramacharya was camping at Devakottai (in Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu). He was in deep penance for several weeks, not talking or even communicating by gesture. One could not know if he even heard the devotees' words. One morning, some people from nearby Ariyakkudi (‘Nagarathar’) had their darshan of Him, and in the course of their talks, it came out that Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, the famous carnatic musician, and known simply as ‘Ariyakkudi’, was currently in Karaikkudi. To the surprise of every one, Paramacharya signaled to them, asking if they can bring Ariyakkudi over to meet Him. They agreed and left. That afternoon by three o'clock, Ariyakkudi was at the camp. He was so excited and tense, as Paramacharya had asked to meet him in the midst of his 'kashta mounam' (vow of rigorous silence).
Is not Paramacharya known for His simplicity? So His accommodation at the camp was very simple. His room was on the garden side of a small house. Devotees had to have His darshan through a small window, after passing through dirt and bushes. May be that was His way of admonishing those of us who have grown used to the luxuries of life. On being informed that Ariyakkudi had arrived, Paramacharya signaled to bring him to the rear window. He came, and paid obeisance by falling full stretch at His feet. That was it. To every one's joy, Paramacharya opened His mouth and started talking in a torrent.
"Heard of your receiving the Rashtrapathi award. You would have walked on a red carpet, and been honored in a gathering of eminent persons. But me, I have made you walk on stones and bush and made you sit in a dinghy room. "Why I called you is, I long have had a desire to listen to 'Shri Subrahmanyaya namasthe' rendered perfectly. On hearing you are around, the desire has re-surfaced. Perfect rendition means both the music and the lyrics (sangeetham and sahityam). Many people disfigure the words of Sanskrit and Telugu kirtanas to the extent that we wish they never sang. "The music part (swaras), the rhythm part and the 'sahitya chandas' – what is called 'chandam' in Tamil - would be given for most songs.
The proper way to split and combine words would also be given. The musician has to take care to synchronize the music, rhythm and chandas and split and combine the words correctly so as not to spoil the meaning. The compositions of good composers definitely allow this (padham pirichu padaradhu) but many musicians simply concentrate on the music and rhythm, and ignore the meaning, sometimes leading to ridiculous meanings!
"Even in this song 'Shri Subrahmanyaya namasthe', we have a line 'guruguhayagnana dwanta savithre'. This must be split as 'guruguhaaya agnana dwanta savithre' i.e. 'the one who is the sun for the darkness of ignorance'. Some sing it as 'guruguhaya..... gnana dwanta savitre', ' one who is the sun for the darkness of knowledge'!
"I do not know if you sing the kriti 'Sankaracharyam' (Sri Subbarama Sastri's Sankarabharanam kriti), but Veena Dhanamma's family, Semmangudi Seenu, MS sing this. There is a line 'paramadvaita sthapana leelam' – means 'one who so easily, like a game, founded the great advaita philosophy' - it is to be sung with stress on the 'A' of 'Advaita' (Paramacharya sings
this line) to give the intended meaning. If we really cared, we can, even without proper training, sing with proper meaning. Those I mentioned above also sing properly. But those who do not care, stretch the 'parama' and then sing 'dwaita sthapana leelam', converting the Advaita Acharya to Dwaita Acharya! (laughs heartily for a long time)
"No doubt, in music, there is no Dvaita - Advaita difference. Only music is important. And music makes the mind of the singer into unison with the song - the protagonist of the song. That is why, 'Shri Subrahmanyaya namasthe' is attached to you - a Vaishnavite - or you are attached to it! I have heard you sing that song. I do not have to say anything about your musical ability; and the sahitya part too you do correctly. Which is why I have called you here. "In my dharbar there is only stones and bushes. There is no accompaniment, not even sruti. But please do sing that kriti for me, in spite of all these.” When Paramacharya stopped his torrent, Ariyakkudi was in tears. He prostrated once again, and said "there is no other prestige for me than to be asked by 'periyava' to sing, and singing for periyava. I have no words to express the magnanimity of Periyava, considering me as somebody and giving me this chance. Periyava’s grace has to fill in for the sruti and accompaniment and enable me to sing to the level I am expected to” and readied himself to begin the song.
Paramacharya asked "the raga of this kriti is said to be Kambodhi, but the name given in books is Kambhoji, right?" When Ariyakkudi said yes, Paramacharya continued, "Many of us know Kambhojam is Cambodia (in S E Asia), and that Bharat culture had taken deep roots there. If we inferred that Kambhoji is a raga 'imported' from that place, researchers like Sambamurthy (the late Prof P Sambamurthy) disagree. Cambodians might have imported many things from us, but not we, far advanced in civilization, from them; definitely not in music, where we were much advanced whereas they had mostly folk music.
Then why the name 'Kambhoji'? "I have a thought here - there is another place called 'Kambhojam along India's northern border. Kalidasa, no ordinary poet and quite knowledgeable too, tells Yasha to go this way and that in his 'megha sandesam' – good enough to plot a map! In his Raghuvamsam, describing Raghu's invasions and victories, he has mentioned one 'Kambhojam', beyond the Indus and along the Himalayas. From this, we deduce that, within the extended India (akand Bharat), there was one Kambhojam near the Hindukush mountains. May be our Kambodhi raga was from this place? "Many ragas are named after places, right? Sourashtram, Navarasa kannada, even Kannada, Sindhu Bhairavi, Yamuna Kalyani, like this Kambodhi might have come from Kambhojam region.
"Researchers say ragas like Mohanam and Kambhoji have been around in most civilizations from time immemorial. Later, may be the raga was given the name of the place that 'polished' it well.
“Kedaram is a place in the Himalayas - you know Kedarnath. Gowla – Gowda region - Bengal. We have ragas in both names, and even Kedaragowla. But all three ragas have been in South Indian music - how? May be the names came from musicans who 'specialized' in these ragas and came from those regions?
People in general, musicians in particular, are referred to with their native places. For instance Ariyakkudi means you! From this, can we say that some of these rags - Kedaram, Gowla, Kannada, Kambhoji etc. - were popularized by musicians from these regions? "Are you interested in research into ancient music?" Ariyakkudi replied "Not much". "But you have set Tiruppavai to tune! But unlike for Devaram songs, tunes have not been specified for Tiruppavai songs, and those whose who recited, did not use a tune. Since only Brahmins have been reciting Divyaprabhandham songs, they have recited only with a kind of up-down delivery (Ethal-Irakkal prasam).
“You set the tune for Tiruppavai according to your manodharma (imagination)?"
"To the best of my little ability" replied ariyakudi.
"But it has become the standard and accepted and sung by other vidwans as well! It seems our ancient ragas have been preserved in their original form (roopam) only in the Devaram songs. Just as the Vedas have been preserved to a note by the Vaidikas through generations, the Odhuvamurthis have preserved Devaram songs - not just the lyrics, but the tunes too. What was a service to devotion, has also been a service to music! The ragas Sankarabharanam, Neelambari, Bhairavi etc. have all been identified as different 'pann's. This list includes Sowrashtra, Kedaragowla, Kambodhi also. Kambodhi used to be called 'ThakkEsi' or something like that. Kambodhi is not a mela raga?" "No. Harikambhoji is the mela raga; Kambhoji is its janya raga" "But Kambodhi is more famous! Just like the son being more famous than the father. Some other janya ragas too are like this?" "Yes, Bhairavi is a janya raga, derived from Natabhairavi"
"OK, you sing. I have been wasting time in useless chat preventing you from doing what you came for!"
Ariyakkudi rendered the song "ShrI subrahmanyAya namasthE" - a rare musical feast. Even without sruti or accompaniments, it still was wholesome. Paramacharya listened to the song with full concentration, eyes closed. Then, "Only because you sang alone (no sruti/accompanists) the song came out with all its beauty. And the words were crystal clear. I say 'thrupthOsmi' (Totally satisfied). Please sing once more - you know why? I will give you the meaning line by line, you stop after every line. Not that you do not know; but let me have the pleasure of dissolving my mind in Sri Dikshitar's lyrical beauty for some more time! More over, others here can also learn the meaning and beauty behind the creations of geniuses."
Ariyakkudi sang one more, this time line-by-line and our Paramacharya gave detailed commentry on the Dikshitar Kriti “Sri Subhramanyaya Namaste”.
Paramacharya further tells Ariyakkudi and the gathering at large, "I'm happy to see that you, coming from a good guru-sishya parampara, are preserving good music. You must also bring up good disciples and keep the tradition going. A Brahmin, having learnt Veda, has a compulsory duty to teach atleast one more person (athyApanam). This can apply to other sastras and arts too. "One more point about musicians. You should sing the Telugu and Sanskrit kirtanas fully aware of their meaning. It is not fair to say that Tamil songs alone are enough. Great composers in this country have created hundreds of Telugu and Sanskrit songs of much musical and lyrical beauty. If we ignore them, the loss is ours. Do not defend by saying, 'I do not understand them!' - if only we desire, do we not spend time and energy on all sorts of useless things? If musicians dedicate themselves to pure music and proper rendition of words without losing the 'osandha artha visEsham', language can not be a barrier. Now that you are #1 in the music world, do your best towards this. May Subrahmanya's Grace be with you in this endeavor."