Heritage History & Culture

Pancharatra Agamas give music pride of place

P.T. Seshadri

P.T. Seshadri   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Pancharatra Agamas give music pride of place in temple worship

Believed to have been given by Mahavishnu, the Pancharatra Agamas are called Bhagavat Sastra. They are followed in many Vishnu temples, including Srirangam Ranganatha, Kanchi Varadaraja, Sarangapani, Melkote etc. P.T. Seshadri, a trained musician, who has also studied Sanskrit and Visishtadvaita under scholars, began exploring references to music and dance in the Pancharatra Agamas, and was amazed at the variety of ragas and talas described therein. He also looked up musical references in the Puranas.

According to Seshadri, Vishnu Purana refers to Vishnu as nadha roopa. Thirumazhisai Azhvar and Nammazhvar say that Vishnu embodies the seven swaras. “In the Brihat Dharma Purana, Vishnu tells Narada about the classification of ragas into male (ragas) and female (raginis). There are six main ragas — Kamoda, Vasantha, Mallara, Vibhashaka, Gandhara and Deepaka. Kamoda is the chief raga, whose wives are Mayuri, Todi, Gowli, Varali and Dhanasri. Likewise, each of the ragas has its own raginis, with a total of 36. In addition, the ragas have male attendants and the raginis female ones,” says Seshadri, who adds that deviations from the swarasthana leaves the swara devathas mutilated.

Pancharatra Agamas say that music, musical instruments and dance are all an inseparable part of worship in Vishnu temples. Atonements are recommended if one of these is left out. If dance is omitted, then an abhisheka for the deity must be performed with ghee. If music is not offered, the abhisheka must be with honey and if musical instruments are not played, the abhisheka must be with milk and so on.

The Agamas talk elaborately about Kaisika raga famously associated with Nampaduvan. “According to the Pancharatra Agamas, this raga must be sung on the day of dvadasi, in the month of Kartika, Sukla paksha, during Sayanotsava. This raga is believed to purify the temple. In all Vishnu temples, Kaisika Purana is read on Kaisika dvadasi. In the late 1800s, the whole of Kaisika Puranam was presented as a musical opera by Vembu Ammal, daughter of Chakrapani Iyengar. Her opera, which was published in 1896, contains 17 viruttams, 11 kannis, 34 kirtanais and 10 slokas. It has venbas, pasurams and upadesa vachanas. She has used 30 ragas. The work begins with a salutation in venba to her Acharya — Sirupuliyur Annan. Then follows a viruttam in praise of Sarangapani Perumal. Kaisika Puranam, which stresses the importance of music in worship, was narrated by Vishnu to Bhu Devi, and since Andal was an avatara of Bhu Devi, Vembu Ammal put together all the lines in the Thiruppavai, which had the word ‘paadi’ (singing). The introduction has a kirtanai in Purvikalyani, in praise of Ramanujacharya,” elaborates Seshadri.

Vembu Ammal also wrote other operas — Prahlada Charitram, Kusa-Lava Charitram, Durvasa Charitram, Kalyana charitrams of Andal, Rukmini, Vatsala and Sita, Nammazhvar Vaibhavam, Dhruva Charitram, Rukmangada Charitram, in addition to many standalone kirtanais. There is another work, which presents Kaisika Puranam in the form of vachana kirtanais, and this was composed by Koil Kurugesa Ramanuja Ekangi. This work has dora, viruttam, kuravanji and nondi chindu.

Kattumannarkoil Lakshmu Ammal, a devotee of Andal and of Rukmini Thayar of Thiruvallikeni, composed in Tamil a musical opera of the 10th and 12th chapters of Srimad Bhagavatam. She went from one Divya Desam to another, the songs flowing from her spontaneously. In Venkatesa Suprabhatam, Prativadi Bhayankaram Annan says that the humming of bees in Tirumala sounds like the beri.”

Seshadri points to a proverb about the Srirangam temple, which shows the high regard in which the bheri was held:

Kaarikai padithu kavi paaduvadai vida

Berikai kotti pizhaippu nadathu.

A rough translation: It is far better to play the beri for Ranganatha than study poetic rules and praise the kings with that knowledge.

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Printable version | Jun 7, 2020 12:22:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/pancharatra-agama-gives-music-pride-of-place/article31639264.ece

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