The Ramakrishna Mutt allowed Madras Musings to carry this extract from Days in an Indian Monastery, the journal of Sister Devamata. click here
Archive for March, 2010
Tomorrow (28th March) will be the Bhikshatana procession and I will miss it, having most foolishly accepted a dinner engagement from which I cannot oil out. So a tribute to that festival
The ther festival was taking place in all its glory when I reached South Mada Street at 9.00 am. It was a race between Kapali and me and He won on all counts. I was late already and so decided to leave the car near the Sai Baba Temple and walk to South Mada Street. At that time Kapali’s chariot was near the Mylapore Benefit Fund office. Having struggled my way through I realised that there was no way I could go behind Kapali and take a look at Amman. I therefore decided to take a clockwise route, go along the tank, cut into Ponnambala Vadyar Street, take a right and catch up with Amman at South Mada Street. I thought that this way I would be able to turn left into one of the streets leading from South Mada Street to Mandaveli, walk through to RK Mutt Road and then on to Sai Baba Temple and take the car. I thought Kapali would take his time cross South Mada Street. But He was just too clever. Thoroughly confused by the crowd, I took a wrong turning after seeing the Amman and was back behind Kapali instead of walking on to Mandaveli!
There was nothing to be done but to follow Him all the way to RK Mutt Road and see Him off there. So there were plenty of photo opportunities.
So here are a few photos. You can click on each photo to see my comments and also a close-up of what has been photographed.
The Chief ( S Muthiah) has done me proud by quoting me in his column : http://www.hindu.com/mp/2010/03/22/stories/2010032251010600.htm
Tulasi – the Indian Basil
Tulasi (Ocimum Sanctum) holds a special place in Hindu religion. Worshipping Lord Vishnu with a four leaf clover of Tulasi is said to be the surest method of pleasing Him. Tulasi, along with the bilva for Lord Shiva and the neem for Devi, forms a triad of sacred leaves.
There are several legends explaining why the leaf became so dear to Vishnu. One version has it that Tulasi is none other than Goddess Lakshmi and when She transformed Herself into a sacred plant, Vishnu became a stone, the salagrama, so that He could ever remain with Her. A better known tale has it that Brnda was the chaste wife of Jalandhara (also referred to as Shankachooda), a Rakshasa. She spent her time worshipping Vishnu so that her husband would come to no harm. As a consequence, the Rakshasa became invincible and Shiva who set out to vanquish him found the task impossible. Vishnu, realising that it was Brnda’s chastity that was protecting her husband, transformed Himself into a Jalandhara/Shankachooda look-alike and spent a night with Brnda. The husband was killed instantaneously. A heart-broken Brnda, before ascending the pyre of her husband cursed Vishnu to be ever worshipped as the shapeless salagrama. But such was the Lord’s compassion that He blessed her stating that she would reincarnate as the Tulasi leaf and would always be used for His worship. Vishnu has ever since been propitiated with the Tulasi. Yet another story has it that Tulasi emerged as a beautiful nymph shortly after Lakshmi did, during the churning of the ocean by the Devas and the Rakshasas. She too desired to marry Vishnu, but Lakshmi in order to prevent this, converted her into a plant. The ever compassionate Lord immediately ordained that Tulasi would henceforth be used for His worship. The holy shrine of Tiruvallikeni in Chennai (Madras) was once a forest of Tulasi shrub and was referred to as Brndaranya Kshetram. The marriage of Tulasi to Vishnu is observed as Uthwana Dvadashi by the Madhva community. This happens around a fortnight after Deepavali.
The leaf is highly fragrant and holds medicinal properties as well. Traditionally, two variants, the Rama and the Krishna Tulasis are used for worship. The former has light green stalks and leaves while the latter has dark leaves. The Krishna Tulasi is relatively rare and difficult to grow. Most traditional Hindu homes have a Tulasi Madam in their backyards. This is a square pedestal with an open chamber at the top that is filled with soil and has the Tulasi planted in it. Very often, a brass icon, representing Tulasi as a Goddess is placed at the root of the plant and worshipped. Women offer prayers and water to the plant each morning and in the evenings, a lamp is lit in front of it. There are rules and regulations that govern the rearing and worship of Tulasi plants. Leaves are plucked for worship in fours and only on certain days of the week and month. They are offered as Prasad in Vishnu temples and are kept in the chignon by women and behind the ears by men. The burial spots of Sanyasins are also marked by a Tulasi Madam which goes by the name of Brndavanam. The wilting of the Tulasi plant is considered an ill omen. Religious fasts are invariably broken by a sip of water which has Tulasi leaves in it. Offering Tulasi and water from the Ganges to the dying ensures salvation and freedom from the cycle of rebirth.
There are plenty of shlokas and hymns in praise of Tulasi.
In Carnatic music, composers have been inspired by the religious significance of the Tulasi and have created songs on it, apart from numerous songs that describe Vishnu as one who holds the Tulasi dear or who is garlanded with Tulasi leaves.
Purandara Dasa (1484-1564), the grandsire of Carnatic music has composed two songs on Tulasi. Vrndavanave Mandiravagi (traditionally sung in raga Saurashtra and Ata tala) and Vrndavana Devi (traditionally sung in raga Madhyamavati and Adi tala) describe the greatness of Tulasi and the benefits that accrue from Her worship.
Tyagaraja (1767-1847) has probably left behind the largest corpus of songs in praise of Tulasi. Among these Amma Ravamma (Kalyani, Jhampa) is perhaps the most popular. The lines “tamarasa dala netri, tyagarajuni mitri” are ideal for neraval and swara singing and have been used for ragam tanam pallavi suites as well, as demonstrated once in a chamber concert by Sanjay Subrahmanyan and P Unnikrishnan several years ago. Tulasi Jagajjanani (Saveri, Rupakam) was a favourite of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s and his elaborate treatment of the song in his Music Academy concert of 1967 (Tyagaraja’s bi-centenary) stands out. This song describes the greatness of Tulasi and states that the root of the Tulasi is like Vaikunta (the abode of Vishnu) for all rivers, while the stalk is the abode of the Gods and the tip is where the Vedas and the scriptures reside. Tulasi Dalamulache (Mayamalavagaula, Adi) is really not so much on Tulasi as it is on the worship of the Lord. But it will remain forever associated with MD Ramanathan. Another song in this category is Tulasi Bilva (Kedara Gaula, Adi) which again describes the worship of the Lord with several flowers. The Alathoor Brothers made it their own. Coming back to songs on Tulasi, Tyagaraja gave us two more, Devi Sri Tulasamma (Mayamalavagaula, Adi) and Sritulasamma (Devagandhari, Adi), but these are rarely heard in concerts.
Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973), clearly inspired by Tyagaraja, composed his Paradevataye (Chakravakam, Adi), on the lines of Tulasi Jagajjanani. The mystique of the Tulasi evidently continues and will inspire composers and singers for a long time to come.
This write-up was for the sleevenotes accompanying the CD comprising songs with Tulasi as the theme sung by Amritha Venkatesh
While the Cooum river is now coming in for focused attention thanks to it being next to the new Assembly complex and the Adyar may see better days thanks to the Creek Park and the fact that it flows through South Chennai which any way is always being looked at for development, the Buckingham Canal is nobody’s baby. It continues to remain a neglected waterway with several parts of it blocked off due to the MRTS. The authorities have made noises about making it a navigable waterway in the recent times, but the latest moves by the Government indicate that there may be other and not very positive developments afoot as far as the canal is concerned.
The Buckingham Canal falls under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) as per which any development along canals, creeks and backwaters subject to tidal effects has to be regulated up to a distance which is to be determined based on the salinity of the water. The State Government’s Coastal Zone Management Authority argued that the salinity of the water in the canal between Sholinganallur and Tiruvanmiyur is well within the salinity limit and so the land along the canal in this stretch could be de-notified. This recommendation was based on the findings of the Insitute for Remote Sensing, Anna University. It needs hardly be pointed out that the stretch for which de-notification was recommended is a real estate hotspot with several IT companies coming up in the surrounding area.
The National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) has rejected this recommendation. It’s reason for doing so is worth noting and commendable too. It has argued that the salinity in the waterway is low because the flow of sea water into the canal has been obstructed and hence any argument regarding salinity cannot be taken as permanent. As and when the obstructions are cleared and sea water flows in, the canal will see an increase in salinity. The NCZMA has also taken the opportunity to remind the State that a proposal to make the Buckingham Canal navigable once more is pending with the Ministry for Surface Transport. The latter scheme incidentally was announced with much fanfare a few months ago by a Central Minister who comes from Tamil Nadu.
Time has obviously not taught us any lessons. The MRTS was first thoughtlessly built on the dry bed of the Buckingham Canal and that began impeding the free flow of water. This ensured that parts of Mylapore got regularly flooded during the rainy season. During the Tsunami, the canal played an important role as a buffer and it was only then that its importance was recognized once more and talks began about restoring as a navigable waterway which it was till the 1960s. But now with this latest attempt at getting the land along the canal’s banks de-notified it is evident that all talk about reviving the river is only lip-service.
It is also worth pointing out here that the State Government also tried the same tactic as regards the Cooum. This was in connection with the elevated corridor from Maduravoyal to the Port. The original plan was to build part of the road along the Cooum. In that instance too, the NCZMA rejected the idea outright and this made the Government realign the proposed road.
Last heard, the State’s CZMA capitulated and admitted that its monitoring mechanism was weak as the entire work is being done by one individual (and this for a canal that runs along the entire stretch of the city!). It has requested the Central Government for more funds to strengthen the monitoring mechanism. Can we at least then hope for more environmental concern?
Maddened by Meenambakkam
The Man from Madras Musings is not sure if our airport falls within Meenambakkam or Tirusulam. In case it is the latter the title can always be changed to Tried by Tirusulam. But the fact remains that the approach to our airport is the closest that our country can come up to the maze at Hampton Court. MMM is aware that major construction, expansion and renovation is on, but all that does not necessarily mean confusion, which is what the place has degenerated into.
Take the car park for instance. All the signboards declare loud and clear as to where the international and domestic arrivals and departure sections are but as to the car park it appears to be a well kept secret. It was only on reaching a kind of road that led to nowhere that MMM realised that it was important to find out where the car park was. If he drove on any further he ran the risk of going directly into one of the departure terminals, either international or domestic and no matter where the flights were going, if MMM had attempted that he would have been scooped up and sent to yet another destination, namely Puzhal. So MMM paused and decided to make enquiries as to where the car park was and this MMM did at considerable risk to his aural faculties for all the vehicles behind MMM’s began tooting their horns in a sort of wild chorus.
A security guard then appeared from nowhere and asked as to what MMM wanted. On coming to know that MMM was looking for the car park he looked pityingly and asked if MMM could not see the signboard. And sure enough there it was, almost the size of a postage stamp, as though it was ashamed to be announcing a mere car park when others were about flights. Feeling extraordinarily like Alice in Wonderland, for he could have sworn that the board and the gate leading to the car park had not been there earlier, MMM drove in and was stopped by a surly female who demanded Rs 60 as parking fees. Having paid up, MMM made bold to ask the woman as to where he could park and she by an airy wave of the hand indicated that all the earth was MMM’s. So MMM drove on and found not a single empty slot. Driving between the concourses was no easy task for passengers had left trolleys anywhere it pleased them and if it was not trolleys, cars had been parked on the carriageway by those who had not found slots and were too impatient to look for one. MMM at one point had to get off and move a trolley out of the way when a security guard manifested out of the blue and admonished MMM for trying to leave a trolley midway! No amount of explanation could convince the man that MMM was trying to make space by moving the trolley to a side. Finally a slot was found and MMM then went off to receive his guests.
Hop, Skip and Jump
Of the walk from the park to terminal building, all MMM can say is that this was a test of physical fitness. Your eyesight had to be good for you to watch out for potholes and unexpected barricades. Your hearing had to be excellent for being able to detect when a VIP car or two was silently going to charge up the carriageway. You also needed fantastic reflexes to jump out of the way and as for your knee they had to be at their optimum performance levels to enable you to cross over concrete medians that were at least a foot high. And needless to add the walk was a long, long walk and so your stamina had to be good. The return journey with guests and luggage was more or less the same but MMM had forgotten to mark a trail with pebbles from the car park to the terminal building which was what if you recollect Hansel and Gretel had done. And so on return MMM got hopelessly lost and could not find the car park. His guests were getting impatient and the luggage, which MMM was sure contained some hygroscopic material, was gaining weight by the minute. Finally MMM had no option but to make them stand at a spot and begin hunting for the car park, all the while marking the position of his guests with the corner of his eye. After a longish search MMM found the car park exactly where it was, only it wasn’t there a few minutes earlier. MMM is quite sure they do it with mirrors.
Next came the challenge of driving out and then hitting the road home. The lady at the turnstile said MMM had to turn left which is what he did. And blow him if he did not join a queue of cars making their way into the car park once again! After having extricated himself and the car with great difficulty MMM turned right this time and there was a small board in the distance that said “Exit”. The big challenge was in identifying the shortest route to be taken to the exit rather like one of those puzzles that they gave you on a sheet of paper that had a grid which separated a rabbit from a carrot or a wolf from a lamb. After many backings and forwardings, MMM managed to reach the signboard and then from there it was a mere bagatelle. But someone ought to inform the authorities about proper signage at the airport. It is all very well to plan expansions but it does not have to mean chaos in day-to-day running.
The Old Reliable
There are days when the Man from Madras Musings, tiring of the high decibel private news and entertainment channels, turns to the old national network on television. After the hurly-burly of the former, there is something reassuringly solid about the national telecaster. It also takes MMM back by many years, for MMM is after all a product of a generation to whom television meant a single channel service that had programmes only for a few hours each evening and then at 9.00 pm a hand would appear on screen bearing amidst snow (and we had quite a bit of it at least on screen) rather like the strange device Excelsior a placard bearing the legend “All regional networks to delink” or words to that effect whereupon MMM and pretty much the whole neighbourhood called it a day. Of programmes there were not many, and to MMM and his kind everything was entertaining, from something on fertilizers to a quaint ceremony of reading out letters from viewers (MMM supposes they now send emails or SMS). The big hits were of course the “song and dance sequences from films” and the weekend movies, one in Hindi and the other in the regional language.
MMM can see that his readers and above all the Chief, who reads all MMM’s stuff is getting impatient as to where all this is leading. But what MMM wanted to say was that the other day he tuned in to the national network and found things pretty much the same. The same tacky sets, the tables covered with rexine and the obligatory vase with plastic flowers. MMM is not sure but even the flowers looked a trifle wilted. The programmes were conducted by tired looking presenters and at one stage there was considerable lack of synchronisation between lip movement and sound and MMM, never alert while watching television was none too sure whether he was seeing the previous programme with the sound of the subsequent one or the other way round. This was followed by a programme on yoga. This had a guru seated cross-legged and surrounded by a host of disciples, all intent on twisting themselves into knots. All of them with the regulation deadpan expression. The guru’s commentary took the cake. At one stage he wanted everyone to put a finger into their ear. “Now wiggle the finger as though you are removing wax” said the guru. The next exercise he announced had something to with the nose and the digestive system at which MMM wisely switched over to a private channel where a whole host of bold and beautiful people were doing pilates.
Note: For those who came in late, the Chief is S Muthiah, Editor of Madras Musings
Was pleasantly surprised when I got to know that the Prime Minister was gifted a copy of Four Score and More -
This is an ancient raga in Indian music and was known as Sevvazhi paN in the Tamil music system of yore. Today it is classified as a janya or derivative of the 28th mELa harikAmbOji. It is an auDava sampUrNa raga as it has five notes in the ascent and all seven in the descent. The notes being:
avarOhaNa : sa-ni-dha-pa-ma-ga-ri-sa
The notes are shadja, catushruti riShabha, antara gAndhAra, shuddha madhyama, pancama, catushruti dhaivata and kaishiki niShAda. gAndhAra and niShAda are absent in the ArOhaNa. The kAkali niShAda is used occasionally in certain phrases and so this raga is also a bhAShAnga raga. In the Muttuswami Dikshitar school this raga is called Erukala kAmbOji. The raga is very popular in Kathakali performances and is known in Kerala as Yadukula kAmOdari. In his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini, Subbarama Dikshitar classifies this raga as a janya of the rAgAnga rAga harikEdAragauLa.
The raga is best presented in the slow tempo or cauka kAla. Short phrases are its speciality and care is to always be taken that shades of kEdAra gauLa do not creep in. Some of its characteristic phrases include sa-pa-dha-sa, sa-ri-ma-ga-sa, sa-ri-ma-ma, ga-ma-pa-pa, sa-ri-ma-pa-dha-dha-pa, pa-dha-sa-pa-ma-ga,sa-sa-ni-sa-ri-ma-pa-dha-sa,ma-pa-ma-ga-ri-ma-ga-sa, sa-ni-pa-dha-sa. Subbarama Dikshitar adds that the phrase sa\ pa dha sa gives a special pleasing effect to this raga. Dikshitar also gives a lakshya gItam arE gajavanavAsa composed on Lord Jambukeswara of Tiruvanaikka and attributes it to Venkatamakhi.
The Trinity has handled this raga exhaustively. But perhaps the best known piece in this mode is one composed earlier, namely kAlai tUkki ninrADum dEivamE on Nataraja at Chidambaram by Marimutha Pillai. The tune is probably one that was created much later. Coming back to the Trinity, Syama Sastry used this raga for composing one of his three svarajatis, the other two being in bhairavi and tODi. It is the least sung among the three. There are at least four songs by Tyagaraja – EtAvuna nErcitivO, heccarikagA rArA, pAhi rAmacandra rAghava and shrI rAma jayarAma. Muttuswami Dikshitar has given us tyAgarAjam bhaja rE which is on the presiding deity at Tiruvarur and also divAkara tanujam which is on Saniswara (Saturn) and hence is part of the vAra kriti series by the composer. In the era of the Trinity, the Anai Ayya brothers gave us ELiyEnai. Gopalakrishna Bharati has used this raga in his Nandan Charittiram and in other compositions. Some instances are bhaktiyE, innamum oru daram, Ezhai pArpan aDi, nIcanE and varuvAro
Turning to Subbarama Dikshitar once again, we find from his book that he has listed a song by Kumara Ettappa Maharaja in this raga – karuNArasalaharI kaTAkshEna which is very much in the Muttuswami Dikshitar style. In keeping with Kumara Ettapa’s style, the song ends with a cittasvara passage. Subbarama Dikshitar has three compositions of his own in the raga the first of which is a kriti pArthasArathinI in praise of the deity in Triplicane. This has an interesting wordplay with the same words being used in different contexts right through the song. Some of the repetitive words include pArthiva, kari, dAra, parama and guru. The song ends with a passage of sollukaTTus (solfa syllables). The other two compositions are varnams, one a tAna varnam and the other a daru. The former is in aTa tALam. Yet another varnam in the raga is kamalAkshi by Tiruvottiyur Tyagier also in aTa tALam. A third varnam is padarEdi, in aTa tALam, composed by Patnam Subramania Iyer. The first caraNam in the nava rAgamAlika varnam, valaci is in this raga.
Subbaraya Sastry, the son of Syama Sastry has given us ninnu sEvincina, a song on Parthasarathi of Triplicane. Another song on Parthasarathi, once again in the same raga, is pArthasArathi by Cheyyur Chengalvaraya Sastry. Vedanayakam Pillai’s innum parAmukham and karuNAkaTAksham are sung in yadukula kAmbOji. Several songs of earlier composers are set to this raga. These include Ittanai kOpam by Arunachala Kavi, manadinil by Muttu Tandavar, pAhimAm of Bhadrachala Ramadas, dEva dEvOttama of Annamacharya and several padams of Kshetrayya and Sarangapani. Some of the latter day vAggeyakAras who have used this raga include Papanasam Sivan in kumaran tAL, Mysore Vasudevachar in sAradE pAhimAm and GN Balasubramaniam in paramakrpA sAgari. Songs of lyricists such as Ambujam Krishna (arivAnO kaNNan, sindanai seyyaDi) and Periyasami Thooran (AruyirgaTkEllAm) are set in this raga. Swati Tirunal songs are aplenty in this raga, especially in the padam genre. The most famous piece of his in this raga is bhujagashAyinO, often sung as benediction at the end of concerts. His contemporary was Iraviamman Tampi whose karuNai sEivAn is sung in this raga.
Several musicians handled some of the songs listed above often in their performances. EtAvuna nErcitivo was made famous by Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar. pAhi rAmacandra was a favourite of Musiri Subramania Iyer. divAkara tanujam was often sung by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Madurai Mani Iyer. Ninnu sEvincina was a frequent concert piece in the performances of the Brinda-Mukta duo and they sometimes began their concerts with the kamalAkshi varnam. The former song was also sung by DK Pattammal and DK Jayaraman. bhujagasAyinO was frequently heard in KV Narayanaswami’s concerts as was hEccarikkagA rArA. MS Subbulakshmi made kAlai tUkki an integral part of her repertoire. Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar often sang karuNai sEivAn of Iraviamman Tampi. The raga is frequently used by many musicians in their viruttams, shlOkas and rAgamAlika svarams for pallavis.
The raga, like many evergreen modes in Carnatic music continues to remain a favourite among musicians and audiences alike.