Literary Review

Keerthi vilasam

“Appa.” Seethalakshmamma interrupted him — something she had never done.His fingers, which had never stopped till the singing was over, halted mid-way.  

The buds of the moonbeam plants looked like white pearls. Seethalakshmamma smiled shyly as she plucked the open flowers. When the sun’s rays touched the plants in the morning, the buds, like how sleeping babies would wake up, smile and stretch their heads, as if to say “Me first”, “Me first” competing with each other to adorn the divine vigraha of Sri Rama.

As she plucked each flower, she would softly say Sri Rama or Krishna. The flowers, hidden amidst the leaves, waited with impatience, and smiled joyously when she moved the branches to see them. It seemed as if they said, “We too are ready to serve Sri Rama.”

Seethalakshmamma was especially happy that day… because her father had fixed her marriage. The sleeping buds within her were going to blossom too….

Suddenly she felt like hugging the moonbeam plants.

How could she leave... this garden, the white buds, the kolam at the front of the house with its reddened edges, the moonbeam flowers adorning Sri Rama, the tulsi garlands, the flowering parijatam…? Above all, how could she leave her father’s tambura, and his divine music which he sang in ecstasy with eyes closed? It seemed as if the flow of his devotion nurtured the daily household routine and even the rhythm of nature in this garden. She too was a tender sprout nourished by his devotion, but soon she would be transplanted elsewhere. Even before she had strung the garland of flowers, her heart sagged with the weight of this thought. She brought the small, wooden plank and set it down. She took the tambura that was resting on the plaster-cracked wall and placed it in front of the plank. As always, she strummed it once. The sound of its vibration was an indication to Appa that everything was ready for his puja. The fingers which had strummed the strings remained there without moving away. The half notes could be heard rejoicing amongst the basic notes in that extending vibration.

“What are you celebrating like this… my wedding… or my going away?” Sadness filled her heart. She wished that the little droplets of her life would become one with these musical strains? The fingers slowly moved away from the tambura strings and gently stroked the smooth wood underneath. When she lifted her eyes, she saw Sri Rama in the pooja mandapam. A form that beautified the whole world, and as companions of this loveliness; Seetha devi on the left, and Lakshmana on the right, with Anjaneya bent in devotion… a divine scene.

If the idol was so beautiful, how much more infinitely lovely would he have looked when he appeared as “Bala kanakamayachela.” Seethalakshmamma’s heart asked this question constantly. That day too that question was present in the vibration of the tambura.

And as a half note to this, there was the other question…

Would Appa never be satisfied? Sri Rama, his ishta deivam, had appeared before Appa in person...what more could he want? He had seen to his soul’s satisfaction, the One whom he longed to see and pined for day and night…even if it was just for a moment… who else had ever been blessed with this divine sight?

Appa had not gone to any temple, or a holy river nor had he ever gone on a pilgrimage. He had just remained in this small house chanting Rama’s name unceasingly, and had daily offered Him a small garland and a portion of rice as neivedyam. That was all. Had not Vatsalaraman rushed to this doorstep in response to that? Should he not have attained peace at that very moment, with this as the answer to all his questions ? Instead he had sung, “Don’t you have any compassion ?” ( Ela nee daya raadhu?) Why?

This was the question that Seethalakshmamma’s heart asked gently every day, but she did not have the courage to ask Appa.

But it could not be put off any more. She had to ask him that day. To leave this house without knowing the answer; would be more difficult than parting from this Raghukula tilaka. It was impossible. But she did not know how to ask him.

“Seethamma!”

Seethalakshmamma lost her balance a little when she stood up in haste on hearing her father’s voice.

“Appa!”

“My child, what is it? Are you upset that you have to part from all this?” He looked at her face tenderly.

“Mmm,” It was a half-hearted assent.

When he looked on at her face, she bent down.

“Sri Rama!” Tyagayyar prostrated to Sri Rama, then picked up the tambura, set it on his lap and started strumming it.

“Appa.” Seethalakshmamma interrupted him — something she had never done.

His fingers, which had never stopped till the singing was over, halted mid-way.

“Tell me, Seethamma.” His gentle eyes drenched her with affection.

“Did you really see Sri Rama, Appa?”

Tyagayyar set the tambura down.

“Why do you ask this question after such a long time. I truly saw Him. This is the truth as true as this pitch-pure vibration of this tambura. Are you satisfied?”

She had never heard her father speak so sharply. Her question had hurt him. But it was not doubt that lay behind her question. It was the preface, the preparation for what she wanted to know… the first step. Then she asked the question.

“How did He look… your Rama?”

This time Tyagayyar’s response was not sharp.

“My child! Am I Valmiki or Kalidasa to describe that beauty? All I remember is that my eyes were filled with His grace. It opened all my heart springs, and made the flood of life fill and flow…”As he spoke, the lean frame was eloquent with the inner bliss.

“Then…,” softly asked Seethamma.

“Mmm... go on.”

“The splendour and the experience of that sight must have made you feel that your life’s purpose is fulfilled, no, Appa?”

“So true.”

“Appa, if that is so, what are you still longing and pining for? Whether asleep or awake, you seem to be hopelessly immersed in the insatiable desire to see him again and again, and you are unable to shake that off. This world is populated by countless people and yet He chose you and you alone to reveal Himself. Instead of feeling fulfilled and content, you are torn and tormented by a restless longing. The songs that you create, and the music that you compose seem to be mere vehicles for that longing and craving. Even those occasional joyous songs seem to be born only from this yearning. Why should you have this longing when He on whom you have ceaselessly meditated, appeared before you on His own? This pining and thirst…do they not show an absence of Wisdom?”

Tyagayyar looked at Seethamma intently. Is this really a thirteen-year-old who is talking to him? No... this is actually the Goddess… the Piratti who has spoken from within her... it was Her sport!

Tyagayyar looked at the Divine Couple smiling at him from the pooja mandapam. What radiance! Then he looked at his daughter.

“Seethamma! What shall I say? Shall I speak of your ignorance that makes you believe that your father is worthy of being a Gnani, or shall I speak of my ignorance in bringing you up to think so. It is all Sri Rama’s doing!”

He stood up, and adjusted the tulasi garland on the idol. Then he opened out the petals of a lotus bud and placed it at the feet.

“My child, in this whole world, Sri Rama alone is perfect. All the others are imperfect and ignorant. It is true that He appeared before me out of His compassion. I have still not forgotten the sight of the four of them just as I see the four strings of this tambura. I still remain overcome by the completeness of that experience. The wavelets of that ecstasy break open the doors of my heart again and again. It is perhaps His will that there should be a permanent channel for this unquenchable thirst. That is why the flood of longing which breaks open from my heart flows out without my volition as lyrics, melody and rhythm. Amma, is it possible for me to compose all these keerthanais just by my effort? What did the Cosmic Creation’s form and rhythm get reflected in the compositions? How did the rhymes emanate with the ease of a sunrise? Do you think I sang “ Ela nee daya radhu,” after thinking and searching for words? It was Rama’s command, and so the words came out as a release for my yearning. This yearning renews itself again and again and new songs are born, my dear.”

Seethamma looked at her father who sat there limply with damp eyes and choked voice. She felt like drawing him close into her arms.

“Everything is ready for your pooja, Appa.” She said in a low voice.

“There is one more question you have not asked, Seethamma.”

And without waiting for her, he continued, “If everything is dedicated to The Lord why should Appa mark every song with his signature ‘Tyagaraja’? Why haven’t you asked me this question?”

“Appa…!” Her face went pale. This was a thought that she had snipped away even before it was born, and it had now come out from him. Could he be said to be unwise?

Tyagayyar continued firmly, controlling his surging emotions.

“If any error has crept into these songs which are really the result of divine inspiration, should not the world know that this man Tyagaraja is alone responsible… that is why I insert the name… And there is one more important reason.”

“…”

“Every song is Sri Rama’s abode of greatness. And I want to be there with him and be close to him. Now tell me, can there be a greater ignorance than this greed, and can there be a greater happiness than this ignorance?”

Seethamma bent down and sobbed softly.

Balakanakamaya chela sujana paripala,” Tyagayyar started singing, strumming the tambura.

Seethamma wiped her eyes and joined him.

Ela nee daya raadhu,” the two voices joining… and singing… joining…and yearning…

Tyagaraja’s daughter is Seethalakshmamma but the incident in Seetha Ravi’s story is imaginary.

The three short stories were first published in Tamil in Kalki .

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 9:22:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/keerthi-vilasam-by-seetha-ravi/article7719990.ece

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