Chitra Murthy explains the Tiruppugazh-Ramayana link.

Those who have heard Chitra Murthy speak on ‘Ramayanam in Tiruppugazh’ would have found that she has thoroughly researched Arunagirinathar’s works for her subject.

Married to E.N. Murthy, an IAS official who chose the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, Tiruchi-born Chitra Murthy utilised the opportunity during her stay in New Delhi to immerse herself in Arunagirinathar’s Tiruppugazh. The more she read them, the more she was attracted towards its lyrical beauty. The tongue-twisting diction and the unique meter did not deter her from pursuing what turned out to be her strength.

“I never heard the oratory of Ki.Va.Ja. on the subject. I have, however, heard about his mesmerising talks on the subject. I have not also had the opportunity of attending the discourses of Kripananda Variar Swamigal. I have read the books of Ki.Va.Ja. on Muruga, as well as those by Prof. Chengalvaraya Pillai. Having spent over 30 years in the North, I really missed the opportunity of listening to these greats. I was, however, fortunate in learning directly from guruji A.S. Raghavan in Delhi. My association with Tiruppugazh Anbargal through the Isai Vazhipaadu groups of Guruji helped me immensely.”

But Chitra was a home-maker, with school-going children. How did she find the time for such a learning process?

“All the members of my husband’s extended family showed keen interest in Tiruppugazh taught by Guruji Raghavan. It was in fact, the motivation of my husband and mother-in-law that made me take up Tiruppugazh seriously, learn and practise the songs. I could gain a lot from the Isai Vazhipaadu conducted by Guruji,” reiterates Chitra.

Golden opportunity

After settling down in Chennai in 2008, she got the golden opportunity of attending the Tiruppugazh classes conducted by septuagenarian Tiruppugazh Adimai S. Natarajan.

“This really made me delve into the depths of Arunagirinathar’s works and make comparative studies on allied themes.”

On a casual visit to one of the retirement homes on the outskirts of Coimbatore, Chitra spoke to a group of elderly men and women, owners of the complex. She kept them engaged by talking about a Tiruppugazh verse and relating a story associated to it. It was her maiden performance of sorts.

The modest audience enjoyed the ‘discourse’ thoroughly and this instilled in her courage and confidence to take it up big time.

“My first public performance, of course, was the one in 2011 on the occasion of the Arunagiri Vizha at the Vadapalani Murugan temple. This was followed by a few such presentations, in sabhas. The programme included singing of Tiruppugazh related to the topic chosen.” Sometimes her husband Murthy joins her in vocal support!

To those who wonder whether sage Arunagiri had indeed composed his verses that contain the Vaishnavite epic Ramayanam, Chitra has this to say: “Out of the 16,000 verses sung by the saint, we have only 1,325. The songs that tell the story of Lord Rama alone are 160. Arunagirinathar used his verses to propagate Saiva-Vaishnava philosophy. Though he took up the glory of Tirumal, he sought boons only from Muruga.”

Quoting several verses in support of her subject on Ramayana in Tiruppugazh, Chitra cited an incident: Vallimalai Sachidananda Swamigal, whose mission was to propagate Tiruppugazh, during his tour in the North, visited Ayodhya and had darshan of Sri Rama. It was mid-day and he was hungry. He looked up the tree under which he was sitting and found a lot of monkeys swinging and playing on the branches. He recited the song ‘Kurangum Thunjum Kanal Pol’ aloud when he saw a few of them getting down from the tree and running towards the pilgrims who were preparing roti. They grabbed some and threw them at him. The pilgrims who went after the monkeys found that a Sadhu was eating the rotis and left with a smile on their face. That day was Sri Rama Navami!

Chitra says that there are references to Uttara Kandam too, in Tiruppugazh. “Maha Periyava used to say that the Vedas are like the commands of a boss (Yejaman). This is Prabhu Samhitai. Advice of a reliable friend who insists on observing dharma and being transparent in all deeds is Suhrud Samhitai. If both these are combined and rendered as stories like sugar-coated pills, that is Kantha Samhitai. It is equivalent to the words of a loving wife. A true poet should write not only popular (jana ranjakam) poems but also see that they contain the fruits of dharma. Ramayanam and Tiruppugazh are the combination of all the three Samhitais!”