‘Subrahmanyaya’ is musical Gayatri

Commuter Rajan was happy with himself as he found a seat in the slow suburban train from Victoria Terminus to Bandra. With a copy of an evening newspaper in his hand, Rajan settled down to a journey that would evoke memories and reveries.

After quickly glancing through the front-page headlines Commuter Rajan turned to art and culture in the inside page. He was very happy though a bit surprised that an article was devoted to Sri Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar. The article was on a symposium in Mumbai organised by South Indian music sabhas as a prelude to the 125 birth anniversary of the great musician.

Two years ahead of the event, the sabhas were concentrating on collecting singers in the Ariyakkudi bani to perpetuate his style of performance. The emphasis of the symposium was that the kutcheri pattern was going strong in the format founded by Ariyakkudi without being diluted by some of the new trends in fusion and jugalbandi.

Commuter Rajan’s mind went back to the event in 1961 when Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati had asked Ramanuja Iyenger to come to Devakottai from Karaikkudi and asked the musician to sing for him ‘Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste, Namaste.’

Explaining intricacies

As Ramanuja Iyengar sang the kriti, Paramacharya went into a religious discourse explaining line by line, the intricacies of the composition:

The kriti begins with the most auspicious word ‘Sri.’ The repetition of the word “Namaste” twice is equivalent to uttering it innumerable times; so are the words, ‘koti, koti lavanya’ describing Subrahmanya's beauty in multiples of crores.

Paramacharya emphasised that Sri Subrahmanya was the God of all people; he conferred his blessings on all devotees without distinction or discrimination.

Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati went on to point out the words and syllables from the Gayatri mantra embedded in the sahitya and said Dikshitar had made the kriti as a kind of musical Gayatri.

After ‘samasthajana pujithaya’ and then ‘sakaladeva vandhityaya,’ Dikshitar says, 'varenyaya' from the Gayatra mantra - meaning the best. To emphasise His superlative nature, Dikshitar has used this word from the most sacred of the mantras – Gayatri, the essence of the Vedas.

Varenyaya continues… lavanyaya, charanyaya...

Having used a superlative, but not satisfied with it, Dikshitar introduces more, one of them, 'dhasajana abisshta pradha' -- one who is very good at fulfilling His devotees wishes, 'dhaksha thara' the best among those who are good at fulfilling the wishes of all devotees and one final superlative - agraganya -- ganyaya- esteemed to be in “agra' -- in first place.

Paramacharya referred to the use of the word 'savitha' in the kriti. “What is special of 'savitha' is that it does not talk of the Sun as the destroyer of darkness, but, instead emphasises Sun's creative nature. Sri Subrahmanya does not just vanquish darkness (of the mind) but also fills this void with wisdom.

Spiritual attainment

The kriti starts with ‘brahmanyaya,’ at the high point of the anupallavi we have 'varenyaya' and the high point of the charanam has “savithru.” The kriti touches its peak at this point. The whole point of this kriti is to show Subrahmanya to be the essence of Gayatri. If one adds “Om” to the words in the last line of the kriti, 'bhuradi' and 'bhuvana,' the sahitya acquires the character of Gayatri mantra.

Dikshitar ends the composition by saying “bhogamoksapradaatre” - one who bestows the benefits of this world and also bestows spiritual attainment.

When Paramacharya concluded his discourse which was like an upadesam, tears flowed down the cheeks of Ramanuja Iyengar and others who had gathered.

After this incident, whenever Ramanuja Iyengar sang “Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste, Namaste,’ his music shined with devotional radiance, making it a joint endeavour by the singer and listeners to re-establish their individual spiritual identities.

Commuter Rajan continued down memory lane when the words of the seer-statesman, Rajaji echoed in his ears. In his introduction to M.S. Subbulakshmi's rendition of Adi Sankara's “Bhaja Govindam,” Rajaji says: “Knowledge, when it becomes fully mature is bhakti. If it does not get transformed into bhakti, such knowledge is useless tinsel.”

Commuter Rajan came out of his reverie when the train stopped with a jerk at Bandra station. Reinforced by the spiritual Odyssey, Rajan rushed to his residence in Zarin Lodge, happy to be home in time for the evening prayers.

(The author’s earlier piece on Rajan and MDR appeared on June 29, 2012)