SRI TYAGARAJA-20, Tradition of Bhakti (Post No.8067)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8067

Date uploaded in London – – – 29 May 2020   

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Personal and Social

Bhakti is both personal and social. Personal practice is more ritualistic, rule-based, what is called Vaidi bhakti. This we see mostly prevalent in the South, and generally among the orthodox sections. But in the North, we observe the social aspects of bhakti, especially as when we see the Aarti performance in temples or other holy spots, where people participate freely. In the South, even when people congregate in temples, the worship is primarily  individualistic, where they perform archana in individual names. Also, in the South, worship at temples is always mediated by a priest. It is only during  mass festivals when large number of people go on pilgrimages to famous temples that we see congregational worship in the South. Communal worship is more common among the non-orthodox sections, especially in connection with cult or family deities. However, the bhajan and sankirtan performances are outstanding social events among the orthodox in the South, where in the smaller gatherings, the whole audience joins in! This often combines excellent music, lyrics of great saints in various languages, covering the lore and legend of the whole Bharatvarsha,  easily traversing the centuries , along with minimum ritual, such as a pooja in the beginning and a ceremonial dance round a lamp at the conclusion!

Stories from Puranas

One of the standard methods of spreading  and sharing devotion is by sharing stories from Puranas, lives of saints, events from the Itihasas , through methodical reading of holy books like Ramayana, Bhagavatam, etc in public congregations.[Harikatha] This is such a simple yet powerful way, requiring very little paraphernalia. Often, such recitals are accompanied by great music, and  literary and philosophical exposition. 

 Our classical music compositions heavily drew from themes and motifs  from our ancient lore, though in the north the Muslim rule had almost destroyed it. But now everywhere, the spread of light secular music through the cinema and the electronic and digital media is exerting a negative impact on such traditional forms. Among the so called educated ( that is those who have been through formal schooling), the focus is on   tele-viewing or now, participating in social media through the cell phone and the internet. Serious listening has almost disappeared as an art. Sri Shuka declares in the Bhagavatam that its nectar has to be “drunk” through the ears- “pibata Bhagavatam rasam”. And Suta adds that the moment it enters through the ears, the bliss of Liberation is at hand- ” yat sravana gata muktyuktigathane”  ( Bhagavatam, Mahatmyam, 6.80 & 100) But this would be Greek to our younger generation, getting increasingly alienated from our traditional air and fare.

Appeal of old legends & stories

The lives of saints and Avatars provide a staple source of edification, consolation and  religious education in an informal setting. Even remote, legendary stories have perennial appeal and relevance, and provide inspiration, confidence and hope. They have the power to move our heart and appeal to our mind because they come from the depths of truth. That God saved an Ajamila, that he hastened to rescue a mere elephant, or provided succour to a Draupadi at the time of her trial in the assembly continues to inspire and motivate us even today. They give hope even to the least of us, even when we realise that we do not have perhaps even a millionth part of such faith as these legendary figures had. 

This is quite scientific- how many of us have measured or even understood gravity, or relativity?   One experiment by a noted scientist is taken as universally valid. Similarly, that one sinner was saved shows that sinners can be saved!  This is the message ultimately conveyed by these stories and historical narratives- there is hope for every one. No theory or philosophy can ever match their power. Even in our day we see how the following of Shirdi Sai Baba is spreading, entirely on the basis of stories shared among the devotees, without any government. backing or central organization! This was how our saints kept alive the springs of devotion among the common people during the middle ages, when orthodoxy almost collapsed and neglected the common man and communal life, with hardly any royal protection or patronage for our dharma.

Tanjore, an oasis

Sri Tyagaraja appeared at one such turbulent period, and he lived in the one area in Tamil speaking land which somehow survived as a cultural centre- the Tanjore area, under the protection, though largely nominal and dwindling, of the Marathas, following the collapse of Vijaynagar. Traditional arts and music, learning and religious practices still prevailed, though under strain. Tyagaraja used music to spread the bhakti cult, along with his  personal spiritual practice based on Unchavritti, which was rare even during his times,  and saguna worship of his personal Deity. Like Sri Ramakrishna later, who proved  by his life that one could lead a spiritual life without modern education, Sri Tyagaraja proved that one could still adopt ancient forms of spiritual practices even in changing times.

Tyagaraja rejuvenates tradition

Tyagaraja’s musical compositions combine stories from our ancient scriptures, along with relevant philosophical and social comment and exposition. However, the predominance gained by the musical aspects, especially the concert platform, has obscured the real religious and philosophical message. The damage or loss is serious, since people do not even regard his compositions as serious literature.  The professional musicians do not render full justice to the kritis; they do not sing many of them, nor sing them fully, rendering all the charanams in any composition. And their diction and pronunciation are often atrocious, to put it mildly.

Coming in the Bhakta tradition, Sri Tyagaraja recalls major events recorded in our Itihasa-Purana lore, keeping alive the perennial flow. Almost all the events of the Ramayana are covered in his kritis, where often he adds his own subtle touches, and many chronicles from the Bhagavatam. He has composed a separate musical drama on the history of Prahlada- Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam  and highlighted one incident from the life of Krishna in another musical drama- the Nauka Charitram. But today we will see how he refers to other histories and incidents in his other kritis. 

Listening to, reading and reciting such incidents connected with the lives of devotees and Bhagavan cover three aspects of the nine-step bhakti advocated by our saints: sravanam, mananam and kirtanam!

Mari mari ninne (Kamboji)

Mari mari ninne moralida nee

manasuna daya radu

Kari mora vini saraguna chana neeku

garanamemi sarvantaryami

Karunato Dhruvuni keduta nilchina

katha vinnanayya

Suraripu tanayunikai nara mrugamau

suchana lemayya

Marachiyunna vanacharuni brochina

mahima delupavayya

Dharanuvelayu Tyagaraja sannuta 

taramugadika ne vinanayya

O the one who pervades everywhere!

Even though I make repeated appeals, somehow your heart has not found mercy for me!

Did you not hasten to rescue,, listening to the pleading of a mere elephant? What was that due to?

I have listened to how you appeared before Dhruva, with all your kindness.

What is the mystery behind your assuming the form of  Man-Lion, for the sake of the  son of Hiranyakasipu, who was the enemy of the Devas?

Tell me the greatness of your saving Sugriva, who was wandering in the forest, without any hope, forgetting everything?

O my God! I cannot bear it any longer. I will simply not listen to you.

Na morala kim (Devagandhari)

Na morala kimpavemi Sri Rama

Nee mahimalu vini vini ne

nento nera nammiti

Oka vachana rudala nadu

sahodaru badhalu

talaka molalida brochitivi

tanaku sugrivamu gada

Oka nisicharudannamata

lorvaka charanaga

suka vachanamulo nadu

palukulanni vibhishanama

Poosalu goorchina yatuvale

pooni bhajinchaga 

aasalu gala Tyagaraju

dasudanuchu delisi

Sri Rama! Will you not listen to my pleadings? I have heard of your greatness and am sorely dependent on you.

When one wandering in the forest, appealed to you, unable to bear the suffering caused by his brother, did you not save him?  Was it because he had a beautiful neck? Is not mine as beautiful (sugrivam)?

When a Rakshasa wandering in the nights surrendered to you, unable to bear the hard words of his brother, and you protected him, did his words sound sweet to you like the sounds of a parrot? Are my words alone causing fear ( vibhishanam) for you?

You Know that this Tyagaraja is eager to worship you steadily, without any break, like beads strung together. Even then, you do not listen to his appeals.

Here, Tyagaraja is taking great liberties with the Lord, showing his intimacy. He is also punning on the words, Sugriva and Vibhishana. While he deals with their incidents, he skilfully avoids mentioning their names, while meaning them; but he uses their names as adjectives to pun on them! This is something we should enjoy on close reading by ourselves, as too much of explanation will spoil the refined fun intended by the Swami, the great poet that he is!

But in the next kriti, he is more conventional!

Ksheera sagara sayana (Devagandhari)

Ksheera sagara sayana nannu

chintala bettavalena Rama

Varana rajunu brovanu vegame

vachinadi vinnanura Rama

Narimaniki jeeralichinadi 

naade  ne vinnanura

Dheerudau Ramadasuni bandhamu

deerchinadi vinnanura

Neerajakshikai  neeradhi daatina

Nee kirtini vinnanura

Taraka nama Tayagarajanuta

dayato nelukora Rama

O Rama! Sleeping blissfully in the milky ocean!

Why should you keep me submerged in worries? (and thus make me unable to sleep?)

I have heard  the incident that you came post-haste to save  the elephant king.

I heard long ago how you bestowed (endless) garments on Draupadi to save her honour.

I have heard how you removed the bond of chains from that heroic Ramadasu.

I have heard of your fame in crossing the ocean for the sake of the lotus-eyed Sita.

O the one with the Taraka nama! Please accept me mercifully.

Holy Feet

It is a strong tradition among bhaktas to rely on the Name and they also hold the Feet of the Lord as sacred- in fact the Name and the Feet are held in even greater esteem than  the named! It is remarkable that Tiruvalluvar talks of the Feet of God in the opening section of his Kural- in 7 out of 10 couplets! No other parts like Face or eyes are even mentioned! Only the singing of His praises is mentioned in one Kural! In the still more ancient Sangam literature Paripadal, it is stated ” Your feet are even more glorious than you”- ” ninnir seeriya nin taal inaiyavai”. நின்னிற் சீரிய நின் தாள் இணையவை

In the case of Rama, both his Name and Feet are especially famous. About his name, we have seen earlier. About the feet, Tyagaraja sings now.

Nee pada pankajamu (Begada)

Nee pada pankajamulanu

ne nera namminanu

Bhoopalula garvambu lanasu kora

ka Parameshvaru chapamu drunchina

kopamuto munu taapasiyichina

sapamuna Ahalya anudinamu

chaparati  tanu taapa morvale

napenugani paritamapu deerchina

Nee pada pankajamu

I am firmly depending on your lotus feet.

Your sacred feet helped you when you undertook to break the bow of Shiva, in order to subdue the inordinate pride of the assembled kings ( in Mithila).

Rishi Gautama cursed Ahalya with great anger. She turned into stone and underwent great bodily suffering. Your golden feet removed her suffering.

Feet V.Sandals

Sri Tyagaraja has a strange doubt- whether Rama’s feet are necessary; whether his sandals alone would not do?

Sandehamunu deeerpavayya

Saketa nilaya Ramayya

Nandarchita padayugamulu melo

Nagarikamagu paduka yugamu melo

Varamaunulelala jaranam mulanu

smariyimpa needu pada mosangene

Bharataarchana che paadukalu

dhara ninnosange Tyagaraja bhagyama

O Rama! With Ayodhya as your place! Please resolve my doubt.

Are your feet worshipped by Sunanda and others superior? Or are your sandals connected with the town of Ayodhya superior?

The great munis of excellent tapas meditated on your feet and they got Vaikunta, which is your abode.

But due to Bharata worshipping your sandals, he got You Yourself! So which of them are superior? Please resolve my doubt, O the fortune of Tyagaraja!

With such a background, Tyagaraja the parama Bhagavata- what would he wish for?

Sri Rama padama nee krupa jaalune

chittaniki raave

Vaarijabhava Sanaka Sanandana

vaasava Naradadu lella poojinche

Dhaarini silayai taapamu taalaka

vaaramu kannneerunu ralchaga

Sura Ahalyanu joochi brochina

reeti dhanyu seyave Tyagaraja geyama

O the blessed feet of Rama! Your blessings are sufficient for me. Please come and reside in my chitta.

You are worshipped by Brahma, Sanaka, Sanandana, Indra, Narada and others.

You are full of such valour that when you found Ahalya on the way, assuming the form of stone, and constantly shedding tears unable to bear the suffering, you saved her!

Please bless this Tyagaraja also in the same manner!

Again he requests:

Nee japamu nee smarane  nee pada
Puja neevaari chelimi yosagi
rajiga daya cheyu………..Sri Lakshmi Narasimha

O Lakshmi Narasimha!
Please consent to grant me  your nama japa, your remembrance, worship of your feet, association with your devotees, and thus bless me.

Here, Tyagaraja is seeking four of the nine classical prescriptions: japa, smaranam, puja and satsanga! Thus is the Sadguru teaching us what to seek!

To be continued……………………

tag- Tyagaraja -20

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