Chanting as cult

The Delta was ideally fertile to sow seeds of bhakti, which gave rise to music as a form of worship

Updated - September 07, 2017 05:36 pm IST

Published - September 07, 2017 04:34 pm IST

Hari Nama Sankeertan

Hari Nama Sankeertan

“All streams flow into one ocean shedding their different names to merge into that One Source” — goes a simile on the essence of the Upanishads. Water, therefore, has been a great unifier. One of the Panchabhuta-s, Water is a “divine” unifier, say Vedic hymns and Epics highlighting its importance. Rivers, the gift of Nature, have spiritual significance in this country. It is therefore not surprising that Cauvery, described as one of the five Gangas, has nurtured along her course a unique culture of literary, artistic, and devotional trends that has enlightened innumerable souls, some of whom attained supreme status through utter devotion (bhakti) and total surrender (prapatti) to the Absolute.

Chanting (of thew Lord’s name) is the way to Brahmananda or Ultimate Bliss, says Dr. V. Raghavan, a pioneer in Nama Siddhanta (attainment of final fruit of the divine Name) studies. This easy, potent means of seeking the Absolute became a powerful movement propagated by several saints, and singing minstrels of the Cauvery delta.

The Trio — Bhagavan Nama Bodhendra, Sridhara Venkatesa “Ayyaavaal” and Sadguruswami — with Sadasiva Brahmendra and Narayana Tirtha completed the illustrious group of saint-singers of the Cauvery region. Their lives were filled with extraordinary experiences of spiritual and transcendental occurrences.

Bodhendra established a mutt at Govindapuram in Thanjavur, paving the way for several all over Tamil Nadu. He was a Rama Bhakta, philosopher, and head of Kanchi mutt, who worked with his contemporary Sridhara Venkatesa, a devotee of Siva and poet to spread the philosophy. Marudanallur Sadguruswami, believed to be an incarnation of both these Margadarsis, strengthened and fortified this mode of worship.

The Thanjavur villages were ideal for the trio to sow the seeds of their bhakti pursuit and its intense propagation. Ayyaavaal of Tiruvisanallur (Sahajirajapuram ) — Ayyavaal would roughly translate as Respected Sire — occupied a unique status in Bhagavata tradition. There is hardly any Bhajana mutt in South where Ayyaavaal is not worshipped. His devotional hymns, critical treatises and his own spiritual attainments laid a solid foundation for the Bhajana tradition. Till today, in the Bhagavata Sampradaya, first obeisance is offered to these three saints.

Azhwars and Nayanmars, earliest proponents of the Bhakti path, blended the name with soulful singing, setting a trend, which continued to grow. Following Adi Sankara’s commentary of Vishnu Sahasranama, many treatises of Nama Siddhantins appeared.

Many Advaita Sannyasins were contributors to the study of Nama Siddhanta. Bodhendra’s Namamrutarasayanam, Ayyaavaal’s Bhagavan Nama Bhushanam and Aakhyaa Sashti — an exquisite prayer of a child to “Name” as Mother are important works in this field. The time-honoured “Ayyaavaal festival” reveals the divine grace of Ganga on him.

Yogic bliss

Meditating on the Impersonal Absolute and embodying Non-duality was the dictum of the Silent Saint Sadasiva Brahmendra. His highly philosophical compositions, replete with yogic bliss, are extraordinary; his signature “Hamsa” (Hamsasoham- That Thou Art) connects to the mystic Ajapaa — meditation through breath sans chant — the highest path of self-realisation. “Summa iru” (keep quiet), said Guru Paramasivendra Sarasvati to his restless disciple Sadasiva, who turned a Silent Seeker. Brahmendraal remained in trance for days in the river-bed of Cauvery, unaware of the surrounding, and attained liberation while alive (Jivanmukta). For him everything was “Brahmamayam”(Sarvam Brahmamayam) and the ever-playful Vanamali danced in his thought forever (Kreedati Vanamali). His supreme work, Atmavidyavilasa, describes the nature and reality of the Brahman, Name, Form and the essence of Sat-Chit-Ananda.

Narayana Tirtha (Tirtha Narayana Yati), author of the renowned opera, Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini, is an integral part of Nama Siddhanta. His many-splendoured opera offers a wholesome treat of Naada-Nritya Upaasanaa.

Two places along the Cauvery are associated with this celebrated Advaitin — Varahur, along the Kudamurutti, a branch of the Cauvery, where his ailment got cured — and at Tiruppoonthuruthi, where he attained Samadhi. Versatile in Vedanta and Sastras, he is the author of two prominent works — Hari Bhakti Sudharnava and Parijataharana.

Banks of the Cauvery infuses holiness — so sang Tyagaraja (Cauvery teeramunanu paavanamagu). Govinda Dikshita, Neelakanta Dikshita and Tyagaraja Makhin (M.M. Raju Sastrigal), praised “Kaverajaa” (Cauvery), born of sage Kavera.

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