The enlightening conversation between the two sampradaya bhajan exponents threw light on the difference between ordinary and sampradya bhajan procedures.
There was a time when the income of adherents of the Namasankirtanam tradition was below even subsistence level, and yet they did not give up their tradition. It is their tenacity of purpose that has kept alive the tradition for us. Today Namasankirtanam is popular. Proof of this could be seen in the huge turn out for the Samvada programme of Thiruvisainallur G. Ramakrishnan Bhagavatar and Udayalur Kalyanarama Bhagavatar, organised by Rukmini Arts and Music Trust and Sampradaya, at Sri Parvathy Hall, Eldams Road.
There were many youngsters in the audience, taking photographs and enjoying the enlightening conversation between the two sampradaya bhajan exponents.
Answering Udayalur Kalyanaraman’s question about the difference between singing ordinary bhajan and sampradaya bhajan, Ramakrishna Bhagavatar said that “sampradaya bhajan has a stipulated format, with rules about what kinds of songs to sing and in what order. Just as there is a musical Trinity, there is a Trinity for sampradaya bhajans too – Bodhendra Swami, Sridhara Ayyaval and Sadguru Swami,” he said and further added “It is to recall Bodhendra swami’s ‘Rama Nama Japa,’ that sampradaya bhajans begin with the invocatory line ‘Janaki Kaanta Smaranam.’ To recall the contributions of Sridhara Ayyaval, the next line of prayer is ‘Namah Paravati Pathaye.’ One then pays tribute to Sadguru Swami, with the words, ‘Gopika Jeevana Smaranam.’ This first stage in sampradaya bhajan is known as Pundareekam.
“Then follows the singing of ‘Hari Narayana’ in Mayamalavagowla. Then come the dhyana slokas. Todaya Mangalam follows, and this is to welcome Lord Narayana. There are five songs in Todaya Managalam, set in the ragas Nattai, Arabhi, Madhayamavathi, Saveri and Pantuvarali. Then come the Guru kirtanams, which are songs expressing devotion to the three gurus of the bhajanai sampradaya.
“Among the Guru kirtanams sung in worship of Bodhendra swami, the one in Thodi is the oldest, although its authorship is unknown.
The first to publish a book on sampradaya bhajan was Thillaisthanam Narasimha Bhagavatar, and his publication was in grantha,” said Ramakrishna Bhagavatar.
Adherence to the bhajan tradition is not easy, involving as it does many mandatory rules. But even today there are many who follow all these rules. As for abhangs, traditionally they were not included in sampradaya bhajan. However, the Maratha community in Thanjavur had a separate slot for abhang singing in the Govindapuram Math, and they would sing from 9.30 p.m. to 4.30 a.m. However, these days abhangs are included in sampradaya bhajans too.
Namasankirtanam brings together people of all castes and creeds. Even today, in villages near Thanajvur, the air reverberates with the strains of bhajan music, as Bhagavatars keep up a relay of sampradaya bhajan singing.
As Udayalur Kalayanarama Bhagavatar observed, the time allotted was insufficient for Ramakrishna Bhagavatar to talk of all the aspects of sampradaya bhajans.
Rukmini Arts and Music Foundation honoured Sanskrit scholar Dr. M. Narasimhachary, who has been teaching Sanskrit all over the globe, much against the oft repeated statement that Sanskrit is in its death throes. Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao, secretary, The Music Academy, and R. Krishnaswami, secretary, Narada Gana Sabha, spoke on the occasion.