Saturday 24 October 2009

THE COLOSSUS OF VEENA / PART 1

The Veena Yogi, Smt. Kalpagam Swaminathan is 'Akka' to my mother ,Smt.Kamala Aswathama(who was from Hubli and did her gurukulavasam for 2 years in Smt.Kalpagam Swaminathan's house in the years 1956 to 1958). My mother had the honour of accompanying the stalwart in many kutcheris, and got to meet many legends like Sri. Boodalur Krishnamurthy, Sri Tiger Varadachary,Sri. Musiri Subramani Iyer, Sri. T.L.Venkatarama Iyer and others. Earlier as a student of Kalakshetra, she had the great fortune of coming under the direct tutelage of greats like Sri Mysore Vasudevachar, Sri M.D.Ramanathan and Sri.Karikkudi Sambasiva Iyer.
(Incidentally,during Sri.Mysore Vasudevachar's tenure in Kalakshetra, my mother, as a student and hostelite of Kalakshetra had the greatest fortune of washing his "panchapathram" (pooja utensils), sweeping his pooja room and decorating the pooja altar with "kolam" everyday throughout her student career. Since she was the only student who had sound knowledge of Kannada, Sri.Vasudevachar was able to communicate with/through her.
My mother met him for the last time when I was little baby. Carrying me to his house, she sought his blessings while he was in bed. He had blessed me by placing his hand on my head! The very next day the newspapers announced his sad demise!)
My parents' alliance materialised during my mother's gurukulavasam days in Smt. Kalpagam Swaminathan's house. I literaly owe my life to Smt.Kalpagam Swaminathan, who is more like a grandmother to me, but I call her "Teacher" like all her other students.
I remember the days when I was a mere child of 6. I would walk from 2nd main road to 7th main road, R.A.Puram to learn from Teacher. I used to love the sight of the "parijatham" flowers lying scattered in her garden, I used to rush to pick them up to tie them carefully in my handkerchief. All the while Teacher used to call out from the house, "Gayathri, SeekkiramVaamma!" Till today I associate the smell of Parijatham with Teacher.( Listening to her veena today, I am not surprised that she reminds me of a divine flower like "parijatham"!)
I had the honour of accompanying Teacher in Stella Maris College as a tiny tot of 7 ( in 1968 or 69). On stage she encouraged me like a loving grandmother and let me play the veena in my own childish way.
After so many years, in the recent Veenotsav09, when Teacher opted to play on my veena after my performance. I was thrilled! I felt that her touch on my veena had sanctified the vedic instrument even further.
As I watched the amazing display of her true nature, which is veena, she seemed like the colossus straddling the Veena arena, formidable and imposing in her knowledge of every aspect of veena playing and musicanship. Years of veena-sadhana without aiming for anything other than the divine pleasure of veena-playing have elevated her to the status of a nada yogi. Veena is an extension of herself and vice versa. Any distinction between herself and the veena has been dissolved through her soulful penance on veena, today the veena and Teacher have become one and the same!
Yesterday's "Samvada" held by Sampradaya had Teacher sharing her experiences and ancedotes with Smt.Suguna Varadacari. Her spontaneous expressions, disarming in their innocence were as forthright and assertive as her veena-playing. With Teacher seated in front of the banner that read "Sampradaya", she figuratively seemed to convey that she was many steps ahead of "sampradayam", reaching out to the Absolute through her veena. This veenayogi lives and breathes veena most naturally, and veena is simply her way of life. Natural dedication and devotion towards veena and traditional veena technique have laid the pathway towards contacting the divinity within herself. Divine radiance gushes forth in the form of heavenly resonance through every note that she produces on the veena. The heaviness (azhuththam) of every note produced by her fingers is laden with heavenly nectar! She is a yogi living in our midst today!
What are the striking aspects of her yogic abilities?

(Photograph-Veenotsav09, organised by Brahma Gana Sabha and Mudhra on 10/10/2009.Teacher playing on my veena, I am sitting behind her.)

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Sant Kabir's message through my father's music!

'Shabda is the power of the Supreme Being that has created even the Creator of the three worlds. The world of illusory manifest-ation came into being from the power of Shabda, the Divine Word, and it is sustained by it. The Lord pervades the entire creation in the form of Shabda.
True secret of Shabda is known only to the perfect Masters and it can be experienced by their Grace (Gurukripa), neither to be expounded nor to be analysed. This is one of the most important reasons why musicians have to religiously render the compositions of the "Mummoorthi Composers" for attaining the Grace of these saint composers.
Saint Kabir distinguishes the divine word or Shabda from the words that can be spoken, written or read.
This is the distinction between "Dhunyathmika Shabda" and "Varnathmika Shabda". The latter originates from the former. Spoken language originates from pure, unarticulated sound. This is the Shabda Kabir refers to. The mantra leads to that pure Shabda, that has the nature of Space. That is why it is also called the "Chidaakaasha Vani", the song of the Space of Consciousness.
True detachment and desirelessness come as a natural result of the practice of Sound/Shabda. Therefore it is useless to pursue austerities as an end in themselves.
When the aspirant goes within and contacts the Shabda, he naturally develops "premabhakthi" or love for God.
Kabir says: Apply yourself, my friend, to the pracitce of Shabda. The Shabda from which even the Creator came into being. Imprint Shabda in your heart, O friend! The vedas and the scriptures extol the merits of Shabda. The Shabda that sustains all shabdas in the world (that is: the primordial Shabda).Men, sages and God sing its praises yet they do not fully know its mystery. Shabda is the Master, listening to the Shabda one becomes the disciple.(The Shabda that Kabir refers to cannot be repeated, it can only be heard and listened to. By attending to that Shabda which rsides in the heart region, one naturally attunes to the Shabda to attain liberation.)
Kabir further states that people who repeat mantras mechanically do not enter the door of the Shabda that is behind every mantra. There is a difference between external repitition of the name (mantra) and internal listening of the True Word or Shabda which is primordial (inarticulated).Kabir reaffirms in His Sant kabir Ki Shabdavali that a person's life, achievements and material possessions are wasted if he is unable to taste the True Word or Shabda.He also states that between Shabda and Shabda there is a vast difference.He instructs,"Churn the Primal Shabda and realise the truth, O Friend!"
The Kabir Bhajans which my father, film music director, late Sri. G. Aswathama had composed for "Bhakta Ramadasu" (1964,Telugu) were sung by the legendary singer, Mohammed Rafi. Each bhajan had been composed soulfully by my father and sung soulfully by Mohd. Rafi Saab.After recording these numbers for my father, Sri.Rafi had given the title of "Naushad of the South" to my father. In this movie Sri. Chittoor Nagaiah Garu had tuned all the Ramadasu Krithis and also acted as Bhakta Ramadasu, the bhajans were composed by my father. These songs move me to tears out of missing my father, as I can touch my father's soul through these songs! I have provided links for my father's compositions sung by Mohd. Rafi for Bhakta Ramadasu below:-
The music direction for all Kabir Bhajans in the film is by my father, Sri.G.Aswathama and not Sri.Chittoor V.Nagaiah ( composer of only Ramadasu Krithis and enacting the role of Bhakta Ramadasu in the film) as wrongly mentioned in musicindiaonline.

Sunday 18 October 2009

"..........in the eyes of the Beholder!"

"I am That!', "You are That!"... an age-old saying coming from great spiritual masters, the import of which we understand without realising, we empathize without experiencing and trust without attaining! The end result is frustration which we supress by rigorous pooja-meditation or even charity routine.
I remember discussing the "there-and-yet-not-there" syndrome with a musician who observed that the attuning of Jeevatma and Paramatma could be compared to fine-tuning a radio towards achieving accurate band frequency. As we all know, it is very simple, yet not that simple ,especially when the radio is out of range (like our lives which are entangled in this material world), and worse still, without an antenna (bhakthi).
I came very close to "feeling"God during one of my visits to Tirupathi. Inside the sanctum-santorum of the temple, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the Lord from His Feet to His Head ("Aapadamasthakam") trying to literally "sponge-Him-off" with my concentrated gaze. Realising that any amout of time is not sufficient to drink in the sight of Him, and any number of eyes insufficient to feast themselves on Him, I resignedly turned back to walk out of the sanctum santorum. Normally I move backwards, trying not to lose sight of the Lord as far as possible, but that was the first time I turned back to walk out without a backward glance. As I did so, my breath stopped at the sight I witnessed! A God, Whom I could not absorb in the given few moments of Darshan, had manifested everywhere in front of me!!!! I felt as though lightning had struck me when I caught a glimpse of everybody's EYES!!!!!Every devotee was staring at the super-imposing figure of Lord Venkateswara,their eyes wide-open with an expression of limitless rapture and wonder! The sight of so many pairs of eyes exuding naked and wondrous devotion seemed like an extension of God Himself!The devotees were oblivious to their surroundings, looking entranced and mesmerised by the sight of the Lord. Their eyes were aglow with the dazzling radiance cast by the precious gems adorning God and the bright lamps lit around Him. Becoming aware of God, in the eyes of everybody present there, my palms felt sweaty and I got goosebumps instantly!!! Had I receded with my back towards the exit and facing God, I would have missed God! Lord Venkateswara's conveyed Himself through the eyes of His devotees!!

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Chinnamasta/Veena

Chinnamasta is a deity who has always been in my thoughts. She is responsible for veena and the power behind veena-playing. Chinnamasta is the sixth Goddess in the "Dasa Maha Vidya". She resides in the Surya Mandala. She is the deity who represents the planet Rahu. The other deities of Dasa Maha Vidya and their planetary associations are as follows:-
1)KALI-SATURN
2)TARA-JUPITER
3)TRIPURASUNDARI-MERCURY
4)BHUVANESWARI-MOON
5)TRIPURA BHAIRAVI-LAGNA or ASCENDANT
6)CHINNAMASTA-RAHU
7)DHUMAVATHI-KETU
8)BAGALAMUKHI-MARS
9)MATHANGI-SUN
10)KAMALATHMIKA-VENUS
Rahu is the planet which is reponsible for the nervous system (also for breath, bones, nails etc.) that supports veena playing, and veena strings made of the metal associated with Saturn , steel-("Sani Vat Rahu"-which means Saturn and Rahu have similar qualities as per authentic vedic astrology).
Chinnamasta is also known as "Prachanda-Chanda-Chandika" or "Prachanda Chandika". Lord Parasurama was a Sadhaka of Chinnamasta. Guru Sri. Gorakhnath, who belonged to the Natha Sampradaya was a Sadhaka of Chinnamasta.The most popular temple for Chinnamasta Devi is in Himachal Pradesh , in a town called Chintapurni. This temple is among the "Sakthi-Peethas", and known as Chinnapurni, which means, the Goddess who fulfills the desires of Her devotees. People throng to this temple to find solutions for their problems and to achieve peace of mind.
Scriptures state that Goddess Parvathi, accompanied by Her two attendants, Jaya and Vijaya went to bathe in the River Mandakini. The Goddess was deeply engrossed in Her own thoughts, unaware of the hunger pangs of Her attendants. On repeated demands from Jaya -Vijaya for food, the merciful Goddess severed Her own head, which fell on the palm of Her left hand. Three bloodstreams gushed out of Her throat, the right and left falling respectively into the waiting mouths of Jaya and Vijaya and the centre stream falling into Her own mouth.
According to the vedic tale of Rishi Dadhyach Atharvana (who appears as Kabanda Atharvana in the Brihadaranyaka, with the later name of Chinnamasta's spouse) the attendants were known as Dakini and Vamani. This tale states that the two Ashwins, known for their mystic powers had approached Dadhyach for the secret knowledge of "Soma", the nectar of immortality and food of the Devas, 'amrutham'. Lord Indra warned Dadhyach that his head would fall off if he did so, and the sage continued headless, till the Ashwins fixed the head of a horse to his body.
Dadhyach personifies Indra's thunderbolt or Vajra, whose head is cut off in order to reveal "Soma"(Rig Veda 1. 134. 13-15) According to Rig Veda (IX. 108.3) Dadhyach also grants the amrutham and is the Lord of "Soma".
Chinnamasta is Vajra Vairochani, the effulgent thunderbolt, as much as Dadhyach is.The three streams of blood gushing out of Chinnamasta symbolises "granthis"(knots). Chinnamasta is said to remove the three granthis or knots in the Sushumna (representing the three Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra and the three worlds).
While the above is the story, I had the good fortune of receiving more information on Chinnamasta from Sri Duddu Sarma, General Manager of a major Pharmaceutical Company in Minneapolis/St.Paul, US, and a devotee of Sri Vasishta Ganapathi Muni (also known as "Nayana garu"), who was a great follower of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi. Sri Nayana Garu (1878-1936) who is a mighty spiritual personality had a large following and famously known as Kavyakantha.He recognised the uniqueness of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi's teachings, accepted Him as his Guru and proclaimed Him as the Maharishi to the whole world.
Nayana Garu, in his work, "Uma Sahasram" interprets Sahasrara Chakram as Kamadhenu and Mooladhara Chakram as the calf. He further states that Sahasrara Chakram is Goddess Uma in the form of Renuka and Her son, Lord Vinayaka, the Lord of space and physical existence, as the calf at Mooladhara Chakram. The one who milks is the "atman".
Nayana Garu's belief was that Chinnamasta was none other than Renuka (personified as Lord Parashurama's mother and saint Jamadagni's wife). As Parashurama beheads Her (Lord Parashurama who is an avatara of Lord Vishnu, literally beheads His own mother with an aim to teach Her perfection in 'kundalini' for achieving moksha through Sahasraram). Goddess Uma induced Her own Shakthi into Renuka, making Her the immortal "Prachanda Chandi" and hence She is the Maha Vidya of Shakthi. The sahasrara chakram (1000 petalled) is represented by Kartha Veeryarjun (the demon with 1000 hands). Lord Parashurama cutting off the 1000 hands of Kartha Veeryarjun to release His mother from sin is depicted by His act of severing Her head to attain salvation through Sahasrara chakra. It is also likely that Renuka Devi was probably the first female in human form to have achieved this, with Goddess Uma making her immortal by inducing Her own Energy into her.Renuka Devi was also known as Kamadhenu like the Sahasrara Chakra, that which continuously delivers the nectar of life and gnana.
Sri Nayana Garu's message about Chinnamasta is echoed in the beautiful composition of Sri Muthuswami Dikshithar (Raga-Kannada Bangala, Thala- Khanda Jampa).
PALLAVI:-
Renuka Devi Samrakshithoham Anisham
SAMASHTI CHARANAM:-
Venu Vaadyaadiyutha Vijaya Nagarasthithey
Maanikya Bhooshani Madhura Rasa Bhaashini
Baana Sadrusaakshini
Parashurama Janani
MADHYAMA KALAM:-
Konatraya Vaasini Guruguha Vishvaasini
Kannada Bangaley Gaandharva Bhanjani
Sri Renuka Devi's temple is in Vijayapuram, a small village located towards the north of Thiruvarur. The krithi mentioned above, states that the Goddess is the mother of Lord Parashurama and is very closely associated with all the musical instruments ("venu vaadyaadiyutha") and resided in Vijayapuram ("Vijayanagara sthithey!"). Renuka Devi, who manifested as Chinnamasta is an important deity to propitiate for achieving expertise in the field of arts.
Chinnamasta is naked,the jewel on Her forehead is tied with a serpent. She has three eyes. Her breasts are adorned with lotuses and She represents Indrani Shakthi, which is associated with Swadhishtana Chakram which is responsible for creativity and lust.
Her mantra as per Mantra Mahodadhi :
"Om Shreem Hreem HreemAim Vajra Vairochaniyai Shreem Hreem Hreem Phat Swaha!"
More information is availble in an article by Sri Prakhya Madhubabu on Chinnamasta. He quotes Sri Nayana Garu's sloka-
"Chinnaam Bhinnaam Sutharaam Sannaa
Mannaa Bhaavadabhithaha Khinnaam
Ethaam Paathum Bharatha Kshoneem
Jaaye Jishnoho Kurumaam Shakthaha!"
("Uma Sahasram"- Nayana Garu, November 26th, 1907).
Meaning:Oh Devi, please give me the strength to protect the Mother land which is scattered and deprived of food.
In the same article, Sri Prakhya Madhubabu has stated that Renuka (Chinnamasta) is the source of atomic energy. Meditating on Her is extremely powerful and intricate. This practice is conducted in secrecy by tantriks of high order in Himalayas, all the way upto Kerala.In Nepal and Tibet, She is known as 'Vajrayogini' and Buddhists consider Her as the Goddess who grants meditative powers and salvation. Even the harijans in Andhra Pradesh worship Her as the village Goddess, "Ellamma".The villagers and devotees of Ellamma recount the many miracles performed by Ellamma. In Andhra,there used to be a practice of decorating young girls in households as Ellamma and worshipping her. They would also address her as "Mathangi"!
Mathangi or Raja Mathangi, is the presiding deity for veena! Chinnamasta's represents Rahu (the most important planet for veena-playing). The kundalini-sadhana intended through veena -playing derives stength through worship of Chinnamasta, who cuts off the 'ida' and'pingala' nadis for salvation through "Sahasraram".






























Saturday 10 October 2009

King of Veena Aesthetics!

Trivandrum Venkataraman is a great veena vidwan, who has surpassed every requirement of veena playing through his sheer expertise and high 'gnana'. Today, his mere touch on the veena frets seem to unfold cascades of shimmering veena aesthetics, exquisitive and exotic!His lilting veena tells stories designed to capture the hearts of listeners.His exemplary performance for Veenotsav'09 on Oct. 10th was breathtaking! His rendition of Pantuvarali was divine, his Kharaharapriya touched the emotional core of every listener. His Behaag was the crowning glory, each and every nuance he produced was personal and intimate, naturally branching off into an emotionally charged javali, "Saramaina"! His every touch, even without intending to, brought out unheard of aesthetics out of the divine instrument he was handling. Playing sampradaya is a regular feature, but to combine awesome aesthetics with sampradaya is no mean feat!
All the veena aspirants are fortunate to share their times with this great vidwan!

Thursday 1 October 2009

Seven Hills/Seven Lakes

Whenever we go to Tirupathi, our eyes strain to locate and sustain within them the sight of the Lord of the hills, (even if it is only for a few seconds!). In the process we are not aware of nor do we pay attention to other wondrous details attached to the divine seven hills.
Narayana Giri which is situated 2 km. from the temple, is the highest point in Tirumala. It is believed that Lord Narayana, as he descended from Vaikuntham, first set His foot here on Narayana Giri. The foot print is said to be available here.
There are many lakes in Tirumala. Swami Pushkarini, which is situated towards the west of Sri Varahaswami Sannidhi and to the south of Sri Venkateswaraswami Sannidhi is said to be the purest and holiest lake. It is believed that Swami Pushkarini was brought all the way from Vaikuntham (where it had belonged to Lord Vishnu), to the Seven Hills by Garuda, for the sport of Lord Venkateswara.
Sri Venkatachala Mahathyam, which branches off from 'Sri Skaanda Puranam', states that Swami Pushkarini is among the seven most important lakes situated in Tirumala. They are the 1)-Kumaradhara Lake, 2)Thumburutheerdha Lake, 3) Akasha Ganga Lake, 4)Pandavatheerdha Lake, 5)Papanashana Lake, 6) Devatheerdha Lake.
Each lake has a special significance attached to it.
1)-SWAMI PUSHKARINI-The merging of three crore lakes in Swami pushkarini occurs on 'Mukkoti Dwadasi' (the twelfth day of the fortnight of Dhanur Masam). It is believed that bathing in Swami Pushkarini on this day, is equivalent to bathing in the Holy Ganges.
2)KUMARADHARA - This is where Lord Subrahmanya Swami and His spouse, Devasena had bathed and offered Their prayers to Lord Venkateswara. It is stated in Sri Venkatachala Mahathyam that bathing in Kumaradhara on a full moon day, while moon is in Makham constellation, during the month of "Magha"(between January 20th to February 20th) while sun is in Aquarius (kumbha rasi), during the afternoon time, yields great results equal to bathing for 12 long years in all the holy rivers including Ganges. It is also recommended that the devotee should give some charity on the shores of Kumaradhara after bathing.
3) THUMBURUTHEERDHAM- It is stated in Sri Venkatachala Mahathyam that bathing in Thumburutheerdham on a full moon day while moon is in the constellation of Utthara Phalguni, during 'Phalguna' month (between February 20th to March 20th), while sun is in Pisces, during brahma muhurtham (early hours of dawn) ends the cycle of births of the devotee. There will be no rebirth by bathing here on the above mentioned day and timing.
4)AKASHA GANGA-Sri Venkatachala Mahathyam states that by bathing in Akasha Ganga during the early hours of dawn, on a full moon day, while moon is in the constellation of Chitra, when sun is in Aries (between March 20th to April 20th) in the month of Chaitra, the devotee attains salvation.
5)PANDAVATHEERDHAM- Sri Venkatachala Mahathyam states that by bathing in Pandavatheerdham on Dwadasi, on a Sunday during waxing moon (Shukla Paksham) and on a Tuesday during waning moon (Krishna Paksham) in the month of Vaishakha, when sun is in Taurus (between April 20th to May 20th), during anytime of the day, the devotee will be released from difficulties and sorrows permanently and attains liberation.
6)PAPANASHANATHEERDHAM- The epic states that by bathing in Akashaganga during waxing/waning moon on Sunday, especially on a day that combines Hastha Nakshatram and Sapthami thithi or any other auspicious star and thithi eradicates all the sins committed in crores of births and relieves the devotee of karma.
7)DEVATHEERDHAM-The epic states that by bathing in Devatheerdham while Jupiter (Guru) is in Pushyami Nakshatram, moon is in Shravana Nakshatram and on a Monday, the devotee washes of all sins which he/she had committed knowingly/unknowingly for the past many births and attains soul-liberation.