Yet another article on Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Kamalamba Navavaranam? Different aspects of the Navavarana Vibhakti series have already been written in great detail! “What am I going to write?” was my initial reaction. That was when I remembered Sri Tyagaraja’s Asaveri Kriti, E paniko janminchitini. Tyagaraja ponders about being one more person to write and sing about Sri Rama. However, he then says, “ let me sing/write for my happiness”. So here I go, in the same vein!
Indic culture offers a variety of spiritual traditions, each one celebrating the Parabrahman as a means to attain salvation. Saktam is one tradition that honours the Parabrahman in the form of Mother. This tradition is said to be very profound, esoteric, deep, secretive and powerful.
The Navavaranams (Nava Avaranams) are the nine enclosures from the outer periphery to the centre, consisting of triangles or petals, each one subtler than the previous. These are represented in a yantra (two dimensional) or in the form of a Meru (three dimensional). Through proper Sadhaka and Upasana, a devotee is said to move across each of these levels to reach the ninth level, the seat of the Mother where one becomes one with the sat-cit-ananda parabrahman.
Muthuswamy Dikshitar, being a Srividya Upasaka himself, gives us the Kamalamba Navavarana Kritis, each one extolling the respective avaranas in rich Samskrtam with philosophical depth and sheathed in beautiful ragas. In short, Dikshitar has given to the world the esoteric practice of SriVidya on a silver platter.
The Navavaranam set begins with a dhyanam and ends with a mangalam. Each of the kritis incorporates the yoginis of the respective avarana in relation to the Mother, various aspects of the avaranas in the universe, the list of presiding deities, different philosophical systems (darshanas), the nine forms of Goddess corresponding to each of the avarana. In a previous article I had mentioned the Todi dhyana kriti and the highlights.
The first kriti in the order of the vibhakti is set in the beautiful Anandabhairavi raga. This corresponds to the trailokya mohana chakra. The kriti begins with the archaic suddha dhaivata prayoga. In this kriti, Muthuswami Dikshitar has made emphatic Anandabhairavi statements at every point. The word ‘ananda’ is symbolic of the raga
mudra. The prakata yoginis comprising of the 8 siddhis (corresponding to the various emotions and activities), 8 matrukas (8 afflictions such as kama, krodha, lobha, etc) and the mudras (representing the chakras) are highlighted in the sahitya. The prakata yogini represents the visible form of emotions and afflictions.
The second vibhakti kriti extolling the sarva asha paripuraka chakra is a gem in the raga Kalyani. The starting notes – g, m, - are svaraksharas for the word kamalambam. This kriti has a plethora of svaraksharas. The charanam starts with the words sarvasha paripuraka and this is set in the svaras – s, g, r, p, r, - where different combinations of samvaditva (consonance) are observed. s – g represents the anuvadi combination, r – p represents the 4th note consonance and p – r represents the 5th note consonance. This is the musical symbolism for the subject – object nature which the second vibhakti in this kriti denotes. This kriti talks about the gupta yoginis that represent the akarshana sakthis acting on the organs and other entities.
The third chakra is the sarva samkshobhana chakra and the kriti is set in a very majestic Shankarabharanam spanning the Madhya sthayi (middle octave) mostly. It is a treat to the rasikas and a reference for the music students. My interest was further kindled by the handling of the shadja – dhaivata prayogas – at least in three ways. Dikshitar in this kriti uses only the term ‘shankara’ as a partial raga mudra. The highlights of this third vibhakti kriti are the ananga (formless) saktis and how they use akarshana as an instrument in creation. The representative yogini is the guptatara yogini. The first 3 kritis/avaranas represent the creation or srishti.
The fourth vibhakti kriti is in Kambhoji and the raga mudra, kambhoja, has been woven seamlesslessly in the phrase dayakambhoja charanam. This chakra called sarva soubhagya dayaka means auspiciousness. The associated yogini is the sampradaya yogini who signifies the traditional path through the 14 worlds. It is interesting how the raga svarupa is brought out emphatically and unambiguously in the first phrase itself when the navavaranams are sung in a sequence. Kalyani, Shankarabhanam and Kambhoji are sung one after the other and not only the first phrase but the gamaka on the dhaivata distinctly brings out the flavour of each of the ragams.
The fifth chakra kriti, sarva artha sadhaka chakra, is set in exquisite Bhairavi. A Bhairavi with suddha dhaivata prominence throughout and a judicious use of the
chatusruti dhaivata within the perfect murcchana framework speaks volumes of the scholarship of Muthuswamy Dikshitar. The meandering phrases in the Madhya sthayi are a delight. The kriti honours the kulottheerna yogini who represents the 10 prana saktis (vital forces).
The sixth vibhakti is in raga Punnagavarali. The raga mudra is brought out when describing the Godeess’s tresses. The yogini is termed as nigarbha yogini and she represents the agni saktis. These forces are said to maintain the temperature of the body. These saktis, hence, protect the body from collapsing. Hence this chakra is rightly called the sarva rakshakara chakra.
The seventh chakra is called the sarva rogahara chakra and the kriti is set in the raga Sahana. The raga mudra is interestingly brought in as ‘shaana’ in the phrase "virinchi hari ishaana harihaya”. The Sahana in this kriti traverses two octaves – mandra sthayi madhyama to tara sthayi madhyama. The ‘pmprpm’ prayoga in the first line of the madhyama kala sahitya (karadhruta vina) is very unique. Muthuswamy Dikshitar has brough out a different perspective to Sahana in this kriti. Rogahara means the elimination of ailments. The aliments meant here are not merely physical but mental also. Ailments arising from thoughts are considered to be the worst. Dikshitar calls the Supreme vikalpa roga vaidyena in his Padi song. The importance of the 7th vibbhakti is also brought out as seeking within oneself. The yogini is rahasya yogini and the vaak devatas are represented here.
The eighth chakra is called sarva siddhiprada. The corresponding avarana kriti is in Ghanta raga, which is considered a rare raga today. For me personally, this composition is a window to the wonderful contours of Ghanta. The stateliness in this kriti is indescribable. It is to be experienced and enjoyed. The sadhana of this kriti bestows gnana of the raga just like the chakra itself which translates to successful completion and fruition of atmagnana. The yogini is ati-rahasya. Here, the knower, knowledge and the known are on a single pedestal. This also represents the sa+uma+skanda = somaskanda murti, who is the presiding deity at Tiruvarur.
The ninth chakra kriti in raga Ahiri is very unique. It has all the vibhaktis in it. This chakra is called sarva anandamaya. This represents the bindu in the chakra and the union with parabrahman, who is in the form of Mother. She is seated in the chintamani palace. There are a few unique Ahiri prayogas which involve the mandra sthayi panchama.
The last kriti is in raga Shri and is the mangalam. This is the only kriti that has a samashti charanam. The importance of nishada and rishabha in Shri raga has been brought out in a well defined manner.
Various talas like adi, rupakam and ekam have been employed in the series. The kamalamba navavaranams are a journey of a person from the waking state (jagrat avastha) to the samadhi through manana, dhyana, and nidhidhyasan. The same philosophical and spiritual pursuit has been brought about by Dikshitar musically. Each of the ragas has been carefully and meaningfully used. The saucharas and prayogas seem to bring the raga devatas before our mind’s eye.
The author is a leading Carnatic vocalist and currently the Vice Chancellor of the Tamil Nadu Dr Jayalalithaa Music & Fine Arts University.