Signature songs, meditative moments

The exclusive lyrics are so powerful that the magnificence of Devi can be felt even while singing them

Updated - September 28, 2017 05:09 pm IST

Published - September 28, 2017 02:22 pm IST

Illustration by Keshav

Illustration by Keshav

The air is festive, the spirit of Devi (Shakti) dominant, the time to rejoice the victory of Good over Evil. And to pay obeisance to the Divine Mother, the feminine archetypal energy. I am filled with memories of my childhood. Navaratri was always my favourite festival and I loved wearing pattupaavadai and visiting the kolu homes, showing off my vocal prowess by singing new bhajans and kritis. Of course the sundal and the little return gifts were added attractions.

Muthuswami Dikshitar

Muthuswami Dikshitar

Over the years, with my mother Choodamani steering me into deeper involvement with music, and I was constantly enrolling for one competition or the other. For an exclusive competition of Dikshitar kritis at the Music Academy, I learnt the Navavarana kritis. That was my first ever foray into the realm of this extraordinary bouquet, known for their beauty and complexity. For me, Thodi, Bairavi and Ghanta were the most challenging. Learning the lengthy charanams and similar sounding lines was indeed a gruelling task.

Rhyme and sahitya

I continue to marvel at the genius of our renowned composers, who have penned lyrics on the Divine Mother with so much of thought, devotion and passion. The Navaratri kritis of Maharaja Swati Tirunal have a distinct flavour. Composed in Sanskrit, they abound in similes and alliterations, each a gem in the casket. The most significant aspect of the Swati Tirunal’s Navaratri kritis is that the words embellish the whole flow and the rhyming meshes so beautifully with the sahitya that it creates a feeling of joy in the hearts of the musician and the rasika, alike. ‘Saroruhaasana’ (Pantuvarali) and ‘Janani maamava’ (Bhairavi) are my favourites.

The latter compares the multifaceted beauty of Devi to various aspects of nature. In the charanam, ‘Taruna varidha nibha veni Taru kisalayopama pani’ the symbolic attributes are so beautifully depicted — ‘You are a maiden with locks that are dark like the rain clouds. Your hands are like the tender leaves of celestial trees.’ The kriti is so powerful, one can experience Devi’s magnificence and compassion while singing the kriti!

Muthuswami Dikshitar’s set of kritis, popularly known as the ‘Kamalamba Navavarana’ is a class apart. It encompasses eleven kritis, all in praise of Goddess Kamalamba in Tiruvarur. The first one is a dhyana kriti and the last one the mangala kriti while the nine in between represent one enclosure (aavarana) each, of the Sri Chakra, the auspicious Wheel. Each kriti brings out the name of the chakra, its geometry and the primordial features specific to the chakra, and the gods associated with. The kritis contain lengthy word constructions, which can be difficult to pronounce — virtual tongue-twisters. The composer’s mudra ‘Guruguha’ appears in all the compositions. Of these, the ‘Kamalambam bhaja re’ in Kalyani is my favourite. I fondly remember my revered Guru Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. MLV amma rendering this kriti at the Mysore palace Navaratri celebrations.

In the dhyana kriti, Dikshitar’s description of the Goddess underlines the dichotomy he finds in Her. He describes her as both Nirguna and Saguna and Nirakara and Sakara — one who is devoid of qualities and forms and yet who has qualities and forms! Here, the composer is at his best, and the lyric reflects his vision of the goddess, down to the minutest detail!

Many years ago, All India Radio got nine artistes to sing on the nine days of Navaratri, and the repertoire included a Navavarana kriti. I was allocated ‘Shree Kamalaambikaayaam Bhaktim Karomi’ in ragam Sahana and talam Thrisra Triputa. I learnt it with great devotion and dedication and presumed that I was really thorough. But since the lyric was complex, I held it in front of me while singing. The challenge came with the last word in the charanam lines. Each line of the composition concludes with similar sounding words — ‘yoginyaam,’ ‘bhoginyaam,’ ‘rajayoginyaam,’ ‘vibhaaginyam’ and so on. When the line ‘Karadhruta Vinaa Vaadinyaam Kamalaanagara Vinodinyaam’ had to be sung, I simply went blank! In utter dismay, I silently pleaded to Devi to guide me. To this day, I am unable to comprehend how I managed to continue and complete the kriti, but I did! And feel so grateful for Her blessings.

Oottukkadu Venkata Subbaiyer

Oottukkadu Venkata Subbaiyer

Oothukkadu Venkatasubba Iyer’s compositions have been handed down from generation to generation by the descendants of the composer’s family. We are indeed fortunate to sing his compositions that showcase his mastery of the science and art of music in all senses — melody, rhythm and diction. He used talas and themes not many Carnatic composers would have opted for. Venkata Kavi had a deep devotion for the presiding deity of the Oothukkadu temple, Kaalinganarthana Perumal. His works express the proximity he felt towards the Lord and his deep devotion that is reflected in every verse that he wrote.

Venkata kavi’s collection of Kamakshi Navavarana kritis on goddess Srividya is a masterpiece. The composer seems to have used his mudra, his own name 'Venkata Kavi,' only in a few compositions. One of them is the aavarana kriti in Madhyamavati — ‘Shankari Shree Rajarajeshwari.’ Several compositions of his — especially those on Krishna — have a reference to Krishna's Kalinga Nartana. In the navavaranam jewel set, it figures in the final composition, ‘Haladharanujam praptum’ where a phrase 'kaleeya phana pada nyasam' is embedded in the final charanam. The major raga Kalyani has been used in the dhyana stuti. His compositions included rakti ragas such as Nadanamakriya, Punnagavarali, Anandabhairavi, and a few lesser known ones like Deshakshi and Balahamsa.

The festival of Navaratri becomes even more joyous when music embellishes each day. With the treasures these masters have left behind, Navaratri reminds us of the presence of the ultimate power Shakti, whose virtues are beautifully extolled through songs.

EkAkShari BhuvanEshvari Ishapriyakari ShrIkari Sukhakari ShrI MahAtripurasundari

You are the single syllable Om, oh Empress of the world, who enchants Lord Shiva. You are the bestower of prosperity and happiness. You are Shri Maha Tripurasundari.

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