Monday, July 9, 2007

Tyagaraja Swami's view on Religion and God


Nadopasana is bhakthi, worship, and devotion through music. As the article on Thyagaraja’s musical plays pointed out, Sri Thyagaraja Swami used his compositions to energize our inner spiritual forces or nadopasana to attain moksha or salvation in this life. There are several references to nadopasana in Indian musicology, philosophy, and epics. For example, in The Sangita Rathnakara, the opening slokas explain how nada and Kundalini1 are interrelated and how this comprehension is necessary for salvation. Sri Thyagaraja Swami took the first three slokas and composed the following kritis, Nada Thanum Anisam, Sobhillu Saptha Swara, and Nadopasana, using the first, second, and third sloka respectively.

According to Hindu sastras, Naabhi, Hrith, Kanta, Rasana, and Naasa are the sources of sound which originate from the Mooladhara or the inner soul. The recognition of this Mooladharaja naada is itself moksha says Sri Thyagaraja in the Sankarabharanam kriti, Swara Raga Sudharasa. Thyagaraja Swami says "Mooladaraja" naada "Merungutaye mudamagu mokshamura"; the realization of the existence and experience of the sound generated at the base of the spine is itself blissful heaven. Again, in the same kriti, he reiterated this again, "kolahala saptaswaramula gruhamula guruthe mokshamura."

In this connection, it is interesting to note that Sir John Sparrow, in his book titled, Serpent Power, equates Kund alini with endogenous sound. The identification of the correct srutis as the home of the swaras is also important for experiencing moksha or liberation “Saptha Swarmula Grhuhamula guruthe mokshamura.” The worship of pure sound emanating from within you and identifying yourself with it and being in consonance with it is liberation or moksha. This is Nada Yoga.2

Sri Thyagaraja Swami not only stresses the importance of recognizing and developing the ability to experience Mooladhara nada, but also more specifically asks the votaries to practice sangitopasana as a means and prelude to enjoying nadopasana. In his composition, Sribapriya Sangeethopasana in Atana, he conjures up visions of the mind traveling in the swaras - “Sapthaswara Chaari” and melodic ragas manifesting themselves in delightful forms - “Ranjimpa Jesedu ragambulu, manjulamagu navatarambulethi.” He stresses other and nearer terrestrial benefits of sangita gana - “Prema Bhakthi, Sujana Vathsalyamu, Srimath Ramaa vara Katakshamu, Nema Nishta Yasodhanamu” as the rewards of acquiring Sangita Sastra gnana.

These discussions on nadopasana thus point to how Sri Thyagaraja was not only an excellent musicologist conforming to the traditional sastras but who, through simple songs with pristine purity, taught us the nature and purpose of music. Indeed , through sangita he urged us to acquire the wisdom of perceiving Brahman, the intelligence to analyze and experience Him; the diligence to seek Him; and the patience to wait for enlightenment. He described his Rama as an embodiment of Nada. No other composer has in such a simple and appealing ways taught music as art, science, philosophy and ultimately, as a means to salvation.

1 According to Yoga sastras, we humans are a microcosmic image of the universe. This universal energy that each human carries within oneself is the Kundalini. The Kundalini lies dormant until awakened. The object of certain forms of yoga is to awaken this dormant force and to let it lead us to the path of salvation. Liberation, therefore, is unity with the universe from which we originated; the individual spirit becomes part of the universal spirit. It is the highest experience that a yogi to a saint to an ordinary individual is striving to reach. One of the yogic approaches that awakens the Kundalini is the nada or nadopasana or devotion through music.

2 Kritis such as Mokshamu Galada (Sarmathi) and Swara Raga Sudha rasa (Sankarabharanam), Raga Sudha Rasa (Andolika) and Sitavara (Devagandhari) deal with the subject of nada yoga. It is believed that the root of our spinal column, there is a chakra or stahanam (place/location). Starting from here and going up to the crown of a person's head, Prana, passes through knots or granthis. There are three knots, Mooladhara Kshetra, Manipoora or Vishnu Granthi and Agnya chakra or Rudra granthi. The path, sound takes through these granthas is called srotha. And, the practice of taking the sound to the prana and achieving liberation is called nada yoga.

As A Poet

Thyagaraja Swami’s compositions are described as poetry set to music. He was the only poet among our composers. He has considerably enriched Telugu literature of the 19th century. He has composed verses of every known kind from simple kanda padyams to the more elaborate and complex varieties. Among the verses, both introductory and invocatory, appearing in the two operas or song dramas are Seesa padyams, Utpalamalas, dwipadis, sardhoola vikruditham and kandapadyam. There are over 160 padyams in all between the two Gaya Natakas – Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam and Nowka Charitham.

It is said that Swami composed a third natakam by name Seetharama Vijayam. This claim is made by Professor Sambamurthy and others based on a license granted to one Wallajapet Loka Narayana Sastrulu for printing a poetry drama, Seetharama Vijayam at Gnanabhanu Achukootam, Choolai, Madras. Professor Sambamurthy and his team of dedicated students did their best to locate this press but without luck. Either the work was never printed or the manuscript was lost. Professor Sambamurthy and other scholars believe that the kritis, “maa Janaki” in Kamboji and “Varnaja Nayana” in Kedaragowla belong to this opera and that these two songs depict sambandi kelikkai.

The greatness of Swami’s poetic skill is in that all his verses and songs can be read as prose and do not need to be rendered into prose form or anvaya. The lakshanas (attributes) of pure poetry are all there and so they can be read with meter and prosody with equal felicity. Another noteworthy skill is his mastery over dwitiyakshara prasa or prosody based on the second letter of the opening word in each line. Ha, Ksha, and similar dwitiyaksharas are handled with amazing ease and fluency. “Kaddana Variki” (Thodi), “Gruhabalamemi” (Revagupti) and the only Tisra Triputa kriti, Lalgudi Sthala kriti, “Mahita pravruta Sreemathi” (Kamboji) are good examples.

His description of the Yamuna, with the gopis sporting; of the Kaveri as it flows from the hills and dales; his description of Thiruvayyaru” reflect his poetic skill and imagery, both in Telugu and Tamil. His Satodalankara too is marvelous; in creating an onomatopoeic effect. This skill, one could say, he had acquired by his study of Pothana - “Kala kala mukha kala sokkuche palukulolam ruthamu lolikadu swamiki” in Gandhamu Poyyagara (Punnagavarali) and the charana of the Saranga kriti “Emi deva balkuma” creating a battle scene effect.

Swami has used parayayanams or synonyms very skillfully in narrating the Ramayana. Basing the progress of the story on the Lord’s feet, hands, weapons, eyes, etc., the story is told from Viswamitra yoga Samrakshanam to Pattabishekam.

To give an example, the parayayanams “angrulu, kalyu padamulu” and “charanmulu” are used to say “when am I going to see the feet that walked beside Viswamitra; the feet which made Ahalya come back to life; the feet which pressed and broke the Shiva dhanus and the feet which Janaka washed with milk at the wedding. The story then moves from yagasamrakshanam to Sita Swayamvaram (Please also refer to the kriti Vinayamunu in Sowrashtram). Some people use this as daily parayanam of the full Ramayana.

Swami has used words and combination of words of his own creation. This needs some examination to be fully understood. For example, in the divyanama kirtana “Manasa Sancharare” (Punnagavarali), he uses the word “bharye” to mean Chandra. This is derived from “ba” Nakshartram and “arya” or leader or the great one; meaning “sreshta” indicating here the moon. Hence “mukhajita bharye” for mukhajita soma or Chandra. In the adamantine kriti “RamanSalaam Brova”, he uses the expressions, yantha, bantha, nishantha – to mean Ramachandra. This is arrived at by “yantha" or the letter after "ya" that is "ra" in bhantha; the letter after "bha" is "na" and "nisantha" meaning dispeller of darkness (the moon). This explanation was provided by His Holiness the Paramacharya of Kanchi Mutt when his clarification was sought. He explained that Swami was well versed in mantra sastra also where such techniques are employed to guard the secret and sanctity of the mantras.

Nava Rasas and Proverbs in his compositions

Emotions: To justify his being hailed as one of the foremost poets of his time, Thyagaraja Swami has brilliantly captured all rasas in his compositions. Many people think that studying Swami's kritis means only listening to long faced and serious aphorisms and homilies. Few know that he has used Sringara (Romance), Soka (Sorrow), Saantha (Tranquil, Peace), and Haasya (Humor)with equal felicity.

Before him and indeed even after his time, Mukhari was used only for the sokha rasa; but Swami proved that this need not be so, by using Mukhari to produce Haasya or humor in the kriti, Chinthisthunaade Yamudu. The description of the dowwarika in the music drama, Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam, is full of hasya. In the kriti, "Vasudevayani Vedalani" (Kalyani), while describing the entry of the dowarika, he says "Mati Matikini Meesamu duvvi, manmatha roopudu thanani krovvi, dati dati paduchuna" is hilarious. Translated, it shows the ridiculuous behavior of the Dwarapalaka. He is walking here and there, twirling his moustache, posing as if he is Manmata (the God of Love and Beauty), jumping here and there and talking and laughing to himself posing like a handsome guy.

One of the scholars studying the Nowka charithram, responding to the criticism of Thyagaraja by some purists about the excessively sringara rasa ra in this drama, says that Sri Swami has walked the razor edge in keeping strictly in ethical and moral values and his srungara rasa. Unlike Jayadeva, Thyagaraja did not step outside the canons of decency. Whatever the rasa employed, the ultimate objective is bakthi and rasas have been employed only to emphasis the need for Bhakthi.

Proverbs: Thyagaraja Swami also uses a number of proverbs in his compositions to emphasize the underlying meaning in his compositions. Here are two examples:

1. To test a pot of rice in order to find out if it is well cooked, he cites the familiar proverb in Tamil - "Oru paanai sothukku oru soru padham" - in the Mohanam kriti "Maati Maatiki". To know my sincerity, Rama, do you need me to plead again and again? Is not one sincere pleading adequate? Do experienced individuals test every rice before finding it is cooked? How many times do I need to plead to you before you would bless me?

2. "Rock the cradle and at the same time pinch the baby." In the Atana kriti, "Atla Baluguthu", he says, "Atla baluguthu, nitla baluguthu" "Thotla narbagula Noodhuvu mari mari Thosi natulu killudhuvu Srirama". You will talk one way and then you will talk the other way. What can I do? You will rock the cradle to make the child sleep and then you will also stealthily pinch the kid." These lyrics are not only examples of the humor employed by Thyagaraja Swami but also the utter devotion, bhakthi and the personal oneness that shows with his deity, Sri Rama.

3. "In an attempt to make an idol of Ganesha, we end up making the figure of a monkey." In the Evarito ne delpudu" (Manavagthi", Thyagaraja Swami says, "Gananadhu Jeya Goraka kaduva narudai dheeraka"; I am constantly doing bhajana in your name and yet I am turning out to be not saved and am ending up as something else. Rama, won't you save me?"

These are a few example of many such proverbs that Thyagaraja Swami uses in his kriti to bring forth his true emotions and purpose behind a composition.

"On Knowledge"

About knowledge, Thyagaraja Swami says that it is not worth acquiring knowledge which does not improve the quality of man. A very well read man who has not benefited from his erudition and knowledge is an ass that carries a load of books. Humility and vinaya is essential for spiritual progress.

About which path to tread for enlightenment, he says that all paths of discipline, humility, love of God and environment lead to salvation. The replacement of the six enemies which haunt us are: desire, hatred, miserliness, attachment to ephemeral values, egotism, and acquisitiveness. The six gunas that we must acquire are: sama or equanimity; dharma or self control; titiksha or willingness to bear suffering; uparati or looking away from evil; sradha or dedication; and samadhana or satisfaction. These six gunas help us attain liberation from bondage. The happiness one person derives from taking one kind of food is no better or worse than the happiness of another person eating another kind of food.

All schools of philosophy are good, provided the fundamental qualities of genuine love and dedication, compassion and understanding are practiced. This thought is expressed in Anuragamuleni in Saraswathi. In this kriti, Thyagaraja Swami says that you can acquire all the knowledge in the world. But, if an individual does not have bhakthi, he would not develop good qualities. the peIn "Endaro Mahanubhavalu" Swami mentions the different ways of attaining liberation. "Bhagawata, Ramayana, Geethathi, Sruthi Sastra Puranabu mamula Sivadhi Shanmathamula Gootamula Muppadhi Mukkodi Surandarangamula Bhavamula Neriki Bhavaraga Layadhi Sowkyamulche Jiravuyal Kaliki Niravadhi Sugathmulai". Freely translated, it says that there are several ways to attain knowledge and linberation. By learning the Bhagavatham, Ramayanam, Bhagawath Geetha, the Srutis, and Puranas; by finding out the secrets hidden in the six religions (shanmatha); by finding the inner meaning from the Devas and so on. But, the easiest way to obtain knowledge is bhakthi and sangeetha.

He explains why he chose Rama Nama as Taraka mantram for japam in his kriti, "Saaramegani Anya Marga Vicharamatike" (Panthuvarali). In this kriti, he refers to Sivas advise to Parvathi (familiar to all those who recite Vishnu Sahasharanamam) that by reciting Rama's name thrice, one may attain the benefit of repeating the hymns a thousand times. In the Thodi kriti, Endu DAginado (Rama! Where are you hiding?), he says, "that it has become the practice and play of the Lord to hide himself before saving his devotees and wonders where he is hiding today to save Thyagaraja. Perhaps, he hid behind the seven trees to help and save Sugriva. Perhaps, he hid himself in an iron pillar to save Prahalada (Prahladhu goraku kambamulo palanundagaledha).

On Prayer

Aldoux Huxley classified prayer into petition, intecession, mediatation, and contemplation. Of these, petition, he said, was the lowest form of prayer; intercession the next best; mediation still higher and contemplation, the ideal. This closely follows Sri Thyagaraja Swami's views on prayer. In the kriti, "Mari Mari Ninne" in Kamboji, he refers to the bhakthis of Gajendra, Druva, and Prahalada. Gajendra merely wanted to be physically saved (tamasika bhakthi). Druva wanted a boon which was almost asking for revenge or taunt his step mother and weak father - Rajasika bhakthi. Prahlada who merely wanted his father to know the omni presence of God Stavika bhakthi. In the Devamanohari kriti, "Kanni thandri Naapai, " Swami says people will just continue to do what they have been doing day in day out without realizing that man is his own friend or foe; the friendship and strength being derived from control of the senses, thereby stressing the point that the human mind is a very powerful instrument which if tame and properly utilized, can lift man up from sorrow. He tells us that all rituals are directed towards this sure method of obtaining control of the mind but that such control can only come from concentrating on the purpose of the ritual.

Perfunctory performance of ritual will give no benefit. Two kritis explain this. In "Telisi Rama Chinthanatho" (Poorna Ravichandrika), he draws attention to the dual meanings of words and says that what the mind is meditating on is more important than words itself. Rama means woman and also Brahman; Arka means the sun god and a poisonous plant and Aja means Brahma or goat. So, just chanting Rama nama without at the same time benefiting your mind with the right image in your thoughts is of no use.

Another important ingredient of prayer is love of God and fellow human beings. In "Rama Neeyeda" (Karaharapriya) and "Smarane Sukhamu" in Janaranjani, he stresses this point. In the pancharathna kriti, "Sadinchene" in Arabhi, he refers to this and says "boidnchina sanmarga vachana mulu bonku chesi" meaning that God falsified his own teaching which means that he falsified what you believed was an invulnerable situation for yourself.

Rituals and Religion

Frequently one hears the largely justified accusation that religion has failed to make man, moral or compassionate and that, it has divided man from man. All religions give us some code of ethics; of love of fellow human beings and all creatures. Religion cannot be faulted if man has misinterpreted or misused religion to serve his interest, at the cost of others. For that matter, politics and even science have been abused and misused to serve selfish interests of men. Well, this is not the subject under discussion now, though it is, we believe, not an irrelevant digression.

Thyagaraja Swami stresses the point that for a true votary of any religion, there is no division or isolation from the essentials. He stresses again and again, "bedharahita vedanthamu," "matha bedhamuleka" and "dhaiva bedhamuleka" - all of them meaning that there should be no quarrel over deities or denominations. In other words, the seeker after realization should love god equally, devoutly, even when the deity is not the one he or his religion proclaims as the supreme one. His advise to the seeker after salvation is to find the ultimate through purity of thought, humility, compassion, and love for all fellow human beings: and, all that is in one's environment.

Among several kritis in which he asks us to eschew bedhas, differences and differentiations, we will cite only two here: "Krupalavala" in Nadhatarangini -- "Aapavargapala kamamulanu joochi addamai animadi siddhula mosapu chedarayya," - while I seek only mosha, people around are putting stumbling blocks in the way by trying to tempt me with ashtasiddhis and such other ersatz, the fake and the spurious. In "bhajana seyave (Kalyani), he addresses his own mind thus (of course, it is really for lesser mortals like us): "human birth endows one with the capability to learn the significance and secret of naadha, pranava, the seven swaras, the vedas, the mantras, sastras, puranas, etc., comprising the 64 kalas. Why then should one seek pleasure and fulfilment in debates and dialectics instead of seeking moksha - " modakara sareeramethi mukthi margamunu theliyani - vaadha tharkamela."

This emphasis on right, ethical conduct, egolessness, the pursuit of truth and the need to give up purposeless learning, debate and discussion, occurs in many other kritis among which we may cite some of the well known ones like "Manusunilpa Sakthileka pothe" (Abhogi), "Manasu Swadeenamaina (Sankarabharanam) and "Emijesithenemi." If space would permit, we would have been happy to give a full and detailed translation of the entire kritis; kritis which compel contemplation of the meaning for those who seek the ultimate and are not interested in the divisions and spurious attractions on the way to the goal.

In "Emijesithenemi" he says that, whatever one's learning, whatever one's wealth and comforts, whatever the yagas one may have performed, though one may be a great guru teaching esoteric mantras to others, such a one gains nothing, at any rate not Salvation or Grace, unless one gives up kama, moha (desire and elusion) and the like. In "Manusunilpa" and "Manasu Swadheenamaina", he says that irrespective of all and any qualifications, it is the mind which is to be conquered, kept under control and check. In the former - with some sarcasm, he asks, "What is the use of doing pooja, sounding the bell (for others to hear) if one cannot stop the mind (stop procession of thoughts, images, and ideas as Sri Ramana Maharishi states), how does one benefit by a bath in the Ganga or Cauvery if one has not erased the ego; what is the use of thapas if one's mind is full of kama, krodha, etc. Will these protect me?

In "Manasu Swadeenamaina," he categorically states that nothing will prevail one unless the mind is in control. In this song, he says that there is no need for mantras and tantras for the man who has controlled and subdued his mind; there is no need to do thapas for the man who has realized that the body is not the self (dehatmabedha); there is no need to take to sanyasa or adopt different ashramas at different times for the man who has realized that God is everything (Vishishtadwaita: Saranagati and Prapatti); for the man for whom there is no attraction of wealth or woman; for him who knows that everything is blind illusion (impermanent; ephemeral); there is no need for a man to worry about the future if he has taken care of the past and the present through good conduct. Though Swami was well versed in the sastras and puranas (or because of it, he could separate the essential from the inessential), he lays greater emphasis on a simple, truthful, dharmic life and advises us not to attach too much importance to rituals and ceremonies, differences, distinction and debates, learning and preaching. The advise he has given can be followed even by a simple minded, unlearned person, provided he seeks sincerely and with steadfastness.

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