Literary Review

Parimala Ranganathar

Illustration courtesy: Kalki  

Pundarika Valli is fortunate, very, very fortunate.” A smile blossomed on Anandan’s face as soon as this thought came to him.

Pundarika Valli’s place next to Parimala Ranganathar was not the result of good fortune, actually that nearness and that position were hers by right permanently. Do we celebrate Ranganatha’s good fortune that he holds the disc and the conch? No. So also Pundarika Valli’s place beside him was hers by right as was her loveliness.

“But her real good fortune is that she has been adorned by Hamirkalyani,” thought Anandan. He heaved a long sigh tossed by these mixed emotions, and it seemed to him that Parimala Ranganathar’s broad chest too rose and fell. In the outer mandapam, his Gurunathar was sleeping with blissful exhaustion like a mother who had delivered a child born of a wonderful, spiritual and physical union. Near his head the veenai mutely waited brimful with unborn music. This veenai was also fortunate like Pundarika Valli. It had been embraced by the wavelets of Ganga and the strings had been stroked by the fingers of this Jeevanmuktha.

His touch resulted not in some commonplace tune but in melting fluid harmony. This music was shaped out of the stirrings of one’s very life. But if there was only one life, can it be melted and shaped again and again? Is it possible to construct temples of melody, with majestic words and heavenly music for The Divine Dancer, Ranganatha, Abhayamabika, Kamalambika, Saraswathi, Kandha and Ganapathi? Each keerthanai was the endeavour of a soul, the fruit of a lifetime. Wasn’t this too a state of self-realisation?

Anandan felt that it was so. Though his Gurunathar had surrendered to this worldly life, he was not ensnared in its coils and so he wandered freely from place to place. And everywhere the music kept flowing on.

Even before he reached a town or village the residents knew of his arrival, perhaps the wind whispered to the leaves of the trees, “Muthuswami Dikshitar is coming.” The people would wait for him with garlands and purnakumbham. A house decorated with kolam, and illuminated by lamps, would be made ready for him. A cow with a calf would be brought and tied there. The parrots and the koels seated on the trees vied with each other in a musical contest.

The heavy wooden box carrying the pooja articles was Anandan’s responsibility. He had hammered two big rings on both sides of the box, so that one could push wooden rods through them and carry the box like a palanquin. The idols would stand inside undisturbed while Anandan and three others carried the box.

His Gurunathar never had any planned schedule for his travel; he would just set off as his mood dictated. Until he actually started, the pooja could not be disturbed. So the last persons to join the entourage would always be Anandan and his three palanquin-bearing companions.

Should not the marks on the shoulders caused by bearing the palanquin, be identical on all the four? But that was not so. When they immersed with delight in the Kaveri, Anandan noted that the mark on his shoulder was one finger-width deeper and broader than the marks on the others. His joy at the thought that this mark was the reward for his sense of duty and devotion exceeded the delight of the Kaveri snanam.

He looked at the sleeping one again. The face looked peaceful, and the entire frame indicated the deep calm. The slanted feet looked like folded lotuses. Anandan went and sat next to them. Unthinkingly, his right hand gently stroked the mark on his left shoulder. Inside the box were the sturdy Gajamukha, the Mahameru made of panchaloha together with the Goddess, the Arumuga on the peacock, with his twelve eyes saying “Fear not” and his beautiful arms, the peacock daintily turning back to see his radiance, and then the pooja articles all added to the weight on Anandan’s shoulders. Anandan’s joy too multiplied. But this joy prevented him from experiencing another thrill.

His Gurunathar composed a song at every sacred spot that he went to, mhmm… truly the songs kept emanating from him. Lately at Mayuram, he had composed ten vibhakti keerthanais about Abhayambikai. He had set Mayuranathar like a gem in Danyasi. Abhayambikai and Mayuranathar will eternally remain where they are at Mayuram, but their fame carried by his master’s songs would spread throughout the world. Just as he bore the pooja box with his proud devotion, his Guru’s other disciples who carry the music in their hearts and their voices will make the keerthanais known to all….

Anandan’s disappointment was not because he did not sing the keerthanais; he knew he was not one of those who could grasp at once what is taught. Vadivelu, Ponnayya, Sivanandam and Kamalam were all extraordinarily talented. And what to say of Thambiyappan and Tirukkadaiyur Bharathi. They would absorb what they heard just like the sunbeam drinks each dewdrop. Anandan did not have that talent. When he heard the music, he was enslaved, and stunned by its majesty, he became mute. The lyrics and the melody flooded his heart and flowed out as tears. But mere tears cannot preserve the art. If Gurunathar’s creations had to be immortalised and move the listeners forever, then the ones who learnt them today must not dissolve in tears. They must internalise the music with both heads and heart and have the skill to spread them. Anandan was happy that there were such persons. But because of his inability, he could not be near his Master. He had to be physically away, because he had to make the neivedhyam and pooja ready. So till date he was never a witness to the wonderful moment when the song was born.

Most of the times, his Master would have already composed the song about the Principal Deity or the accompanying one, as Anandan entered the village with the pooja box. The residents would welcome him with the news of the creation, and describe it with thrilled hearts and with moist eyes. Sankarabharanam or Kalyani or Kambodhi... they may not even know the raga. But they would say ecstatically “He came, saw our deity and a song was born.” Anandan and his companions would lay down their burden and all they could do was listen to this.

It is not that he resented listening to it. Every time it happened, his respect and devotion for his Gurunathar increased. But at the same moment, the regret that he was not present at that moment of creation grew and engulfed him.

What would it be like?

When the words and the melody held within the confines of grammar burst out of the creator as life-force, what was it like? Would it be like the rain-bearing clouds which pour down unable to withhold any longer? Or would it be like the moment when the sun ray touches a lotus and it opens and flowers? How can songs each unique be born again and again at the moment of inspiration, like waves rushing to embrace the earth again and again?

The question how tormented him. The persons who had seen and heard it say this and that… “his face was resplendent like the moon, his eyes shone like stars while he sang”. To Anandan it seemed that the Master always appeared like that. When he sang, he worshipped and he ate… and here even now when he was sleeping... but how would it be at the moment of creation and unless one experienced it how would you know? Unless one touched the flame, one would not know how it sears. How does one know... understand?

The tragedy was that the occasion to know and to understand how never arose. Anandan’s eyes filled with longing and unknown to him they fell as tears on the folded lotuses that were the Master’s feet.

“Ananda,” Muthuswami Dikshitar startled awake and like a young child sat up.

“Are you crying?”

Anandan shook his head indicating “No”, but said “Yes, Swami.”

Gurunathar’s hand gripped his shoulder, and the mark on it felt the touch.

“What is this? Is it because you have been carrying the deities constantly?”

He nodded his head in assent. The Master looked at him as if to ask, “It must have made you happy?” and wiped the tears which flowed from Anandan’s eyes.

“This Pundarika Valli is very fortunate, Swami” and his tears increased when he described how she had been with adorned with Hamirkalyani.

“Sivanandam and Ponniah sang it this afternoon… the keerthanai you have composed to extol Parimala Ranganathar. Swami, you have captured the entire sweep of Hamirkalyani in one single word ‘Pundarikavallinatham’ in the pallavi.”

“No Anandaa... Hamirkalyani is a perennial spring. I have just drawn a small vessel full, that is all. I have heard the ustads in the North, where it will sparkle like stars strung together and hung as a decoration…. Here in our temples it acquires the sanctity of the lamp’s glow.”

“Swami, did you see Her face shine with a special radiance in the glow of the new lamp that you lighted? The face of the Goddess shines like a moon, and rightly so for this place is Tiru Indalur. And Parimala Rangan who has just woken keeps gazing at her. Come, see them Swami.”

He virtually dragged the Master. Smiling, the Master walked on with him.

“Parimala Rangan is Veerasayanan, Anandaa. He will always be awake. Chandran got released from his curse, that is why this place is called Indalur. Because of your appreciation and devotion, you imagine that my song enhanced the loveliness of Arangan and Pundarika Valli. That too is beautiful.”

They entered the sanctum of the little temple.

“Swami, leave my imagination alone. Will I too get released here from my curse like Chandran?”

“My child, what do you mean?” Dikshitar’s startled question.

“I have never counted how long I have been with you. My shoulder mark knows it. You have composed countless keerthanais during this time. Never...never have I been in your presence, Swami, when a song was born. I yearn for that exalting experience.” Though his voice shook, Anandan’s tone was firm.

They had reached the Sanctum. The priest looked with curiosity at the weeping Anandan, and then performed the arathi for the evening prayers.

Parimala Rangan lay there gracefully with laughing eyes as a Veerasayanan… it seemed to Dikshitar that He was saying with a beguiling smile, “This is not my doing… no... not at all.” Pundarika Valli sat there with a gentle smile of unrivalled beauty. The jewels the Divine Couple wore competed in radiance with their smiles and happily accepted defeat.

The fragrance of tulasi, the camphor, the turmeric and sandal, made the sanctum sweetly redolent with scent.

Gurunathar gently removed Anandan’s hands from his face. He sang in the tone of the veena.

Parimala ranganathan bhajeham veeranutham paripalitha bhaktham pundarika vallinatham.

The pallavi was born in Hamirkalyani.

Anandan held his breath and listened. Weren’t these the same words that he had heard Ponnaya sing in the afternoon?

But this is a different Hamirkalyani, he is drawing another vessel full from the perennial spring.

Harimpraakruthaakruthim..matsyaadhi dasaaakruthim. Leaving the Anupallavi he had proceeded to a samashti charanam singing the Dasavathara greatness.

Antharangasayanam abjanayanam narayanam.

Anandan’s eyes widened and looked at the face of the Gurunathar. The song flowed on.

Guruguha viditham satatam. When the words indicating the signature came out, Anandan looked at Arangan and his Master again and again with disbelieving wonder.

Gurunathar continued to sing with his eyes closed in ecstasy, as Arangan’s divine gaze was fixed on him. As he melted the essence of life and poured it drop by drop into the Hamirkalyani, it turned in to a Pushpaka vimana, and carried the jeevatma to the Paramatma.

Anandan thrilled in bliss at the sight of the spiritual union. All his yearnings vanished and joy filled his heart.

Parameswaram rameswaram meswaram eswaram. The worship that was this word sequence drenched in Hamirkalyani, came to an end. The disciple bent towards the Master’s feet.

“Don’t, Anandaa. In a temple the Lord alone can be worshipped.” And he lifted up Anandan.

Pundarika Valli and Parimala Ranganathar exchanged meaningful smiles.

(There are two of Dikshitar’s compositions starting with the words Parimala Ranganatha. Seetha Ravi’s story is imaginary.)

(The Tamil version of this short story was first published in Kalki .)

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