Archive for the ‘Carnatic Music’ Category
The following extract is from India Today 6th May 2013. The spellings and content are as they appeared under the deaths column:
Carnatic great Lalgudi Jayaraman, 82, whose artistry made him a part of a legendary trinity of vioinists. Jayarama’s collaborators included violinist Yehudi Menuhin and singer Bombay Jayashri.
God knows what we will have next. The Indian Express obit on PB Srinivos has just faded from public memory when we now have Hindustan Times and Daily News with headlines that Sitar Maestro Lalgudi has passed away!
It reminded me of an old joke attributed to flute maestro N Ramani. Apparently he was travelling in a train when a co-passenger came up after much hesitation and asked if he was the veena maestro Lalgudi. Ramani according to those who know him, would chuckle and ask his listeners to point out how many errors there were in that one statement.
KV Krishnaswami Aiyar – Part 3
Even though K.V. Krishnaswami Aiyar (KVK) was associated with the Music Academy from its inception, he became fully involved with it only from 1935 when he took over as its President. Several of his juniors and associates, such as G.T. Sastry (who later joined All India Radio and became its Director General), Basheer Ahmed Sayeed, and C.K. Venkatanarasimhan (both eminent lawyers, with the former being elevated to the Bench) were roped into the committee. A new era began.
Punctuality in programmes, a credo for which the Academy is a byword till now, was strictly followed. Musicians who had meandered beyond their allotted time would find the curtains lowering even while they were in the midst of a song. KVK brushed protests aside, stating clearly that a musician exceeding his or her time slot was unfair to whoever came on next. He was also uncompromising on presentation of tickets at the entrance. The Boy Scouts were instructed not to allow entry to anybody, no matter how important that personage was, if a ticket or pass was not shown.
Once, it so happened that KVK forgot his ticket. A Boy Scout, not recognising him, stopped him at the gate. Other office bearers berated him for this, but KVK had only praise. He waited at the entrance till his own ticket was brought by his driver. He was equally clear that requests for free passes could not be entertained. Judges and Government officers were firmly told to buy tickets. Once, Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar had wandered in in his absent-minded fashion and nobody asked him for his ticket. Next day, a politely worded letter with a debit note for the ticket amount was sent to his office!
In its initial days, the Academy was not the powerful body it now is. Its finances were in a bad way, it having survived for five years thanks to the generosity of its first President, Dr. U. Rama Rau. KVK was clear that the institution had to stand on its own feet. He hit upon the idea of sponsored programmes, with the first such being held courtesy Lord Erskine, the Governor of Madras. KVK also decided that the Academy would bring out a souvenir each year for its annual season. This would carry advertisements from patrons and sponsors, besides including the programme details. This is a practice that continues till now, with the early souvenirs in particular being valuable historic records – in terms of music and corporate entities. With the money that came in, the Academy’s journal, an annual publication dedicated to the theory of music, could be published without any difficulty.
The Academy had till 1935 functioned from Dr. Rama Rau’s clinic and erstwhile residence on Thambu Chetty Street, George Town. Under KVK it began its journey South. The venue of the annual conference, which had till then been a pandal behind Ripon Building, was shifted to General Patter’s Road for a couple of years and, after that, to the Woodlands Hotel on Westcott Road for yet another year. In 1939, thanks to his clout with the Madras University, KVK organised the concerts at the Senate House which was the Academy’s venue for its annual conference till 1941. The acoustics of Senate House proved a challenge and it was KVK’s idea of hanging sack cloth on all the windows that saved the day. The Academy may have functioned from Senate House forever had it not been for the Tamil Isai movement.
KVK, despite his great love for Tamil, did not believe that it was a musical language. In this he was supported by the Academy die-hards such as TTK, T.L. Venkataramana Iyer and others. This led to the Academy taking a tough stance on the Tamil Isai movement, which estranged the institution from M.S. Subbulakshmi for over five years. With the Tamil Isai Sangam (TIS) being dominated by Justice Party members, who also dominated the University Senate, the Academy had to move. It shifted to the R.R. Sabha.
The rivalry with the TIS was taken as a positive challenge. In order to wean away artistes, KVK came up with the idea in 1943 of declaring the Sangita Kalanidhi an annual award for musicians. The medal and the citation were designed by him and proved major attractions. This, he decided, would be given away each year on the last day of the conference in an Oriental convocation which was appropriately called the Sadas. It is a practice that continues. That this award was to be copied by other organisations and would lead to a near farcical situation each year in December is another matter.
With the TIS embarking on a grandiose auditorium, the Academy had to follow suit. Thanks to the persuasive skills of Basheer Ahmed Sayeed, the institution overcame its hesitation to borrow money and invest in a large property. The necessity for funds saw KVK and team building bridges with M.S. The rest is history. A high point was when Prime Minister Nehru came to lay the foundation stone for the new auditorium in 1955.
Over the years, a closely knit group came to handle Academy affairs. KVK was the leader and his Vice-Presidents included Kasturi Srinivasan of The Hindu, the movie moghul S.S. Vasan and TTK. There were three secretaries, C.K. Venkatanarasimhan, Dr. V. Raghavan and K. Soundararajan. Other members, who would later become Presidents, were Justice T.L. Venkatarama Aiyar and the industrialist K.R. Sundaram Iyer.
As KVK steadily weakened physically, some began to wonder whether it was not time for a new President to take over. Feelers were sent to Kasturi Srinivasan. But he made it clear that as long as KVK was alive, none else could take his position. Sadly, it was Kasturi Srinivasan who predeceased in 1959. Sometimes, in pessimistic vein, KVK would wonder as to how much more time he had. He worried that he would die before the Academy’s new auditorium was complete. On hearing of this, TTK wrote to him assuring him that he, TTK, would ensure that the Academy auditorium was complete in time for KVK to see it.
Sure enough it happened. The grahapravesam took place in December 1961, with KVK wheeled in to witness the event. He lived to see Jayachamaraja Wodeyar declaring the auditorium open in December 1962. In a throwback to the Senate House days, the acoustics of the new hall were as bad, and sacking had to be used once more! He had three more years to struggle through physically as a skeletal wreck, though his mind remained as alert as ever. His faithful team kept him updated on progress – the acoustics were rectified, G.D. Birla had sponsored air-conditioning and there were permanent seats.
Rather aptly, KVK passed away while the December Music Season was in progress, on 24th December 1965. He had been President of the Music Academy for thirty years. His portrait now adorns the main auditorium. Opposite his is the portrait of TTK, the man who gave the final impetus to ensure that his dream came true. In 1976, a bust of KVK’s was installed in the lobby of the Music Academy.
suruTTi is an ancient raga. It is a highly classic melody and is referred to as a scholarly raga. It is a janya of the 28th mELakarta harikAmbOji.
The ArOhaNa/avarOhaNa is: SRMPNS/SNDPMGPMRS
ArOhaNa : S, catushruti R, shuddha M, P kaishiki N,S
avarOhaNa :S, kaishiki N, chatusruti D, P, M, antara G, R, S
Subbarama Dikshitar classifies this a bhAShAnga raga and cites certain phrases in the higher octave where sAdhAraNa gAndhAra makes its appearance. The beauty of suruTTi lies in long kArvais on the pancama, extended long kArvais on the niShAda and the nyAsa on the riShabha. The phrase MGPMR is a characteristically beautiful one and brings out the deep beauty of the raga. Some of the other characteristic phrases of this raga are MPP,MR, DPMGPMR, SNDPNNS, NSRM,GR etc.
suruTTi is considered an auspicious raga and therefore joins the league of ragas such as madhyamAvati, shri, vasanta and saurAShTram and there are a number of mangaLam songs in this raga.
Tyagaraja has composed a few masterpieces in this raga. Among these are gItArthamu, bhajana parula and patiki hArati. An astonishing blend of the best in music and the highest in esoteric poesy, gItArthamu is one of the Tiruvaiyyaru bard’s excellent compositions. The song says that Lord Anjaneya knew the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita (as he was present on the flag atop Arjuna’s chariot and hence privy to the upadEsha given by Lord Krishna). Anjaneya was also considered to be an authority on music and hence Tyagaraja says that Anjaneya knew what sangItAnandamu (the joy from music) was.
Muttuswami Dikshitar’s most important song in suruTTi is angArakam, the song on the planet Mars. This song reveals the mastery and scholarship of Dikshitar. Gopalakrishna Bharati’s kanakasabhApati is another masterpiece in suruTTi. Other composers have also left behind songs in this raga. kONDEkAdu and IndEndu vaccitira are the two shringAra padams that are popular.
suruTTi is not a popular raga in that, it is not rendered often by musicians. A certain amount of musical scholarship coupled with creative imagination alone can do proper justice to it. Of course, angArakam, gItArthamu and bhajana parula have rendered by musicians over the years.
The Dhanammal family musicians have done full justice to this raga. Their rendition of angArakam is unique and the version is different from those rendered by other schools. bhajana parula also was their favorite. The story of how Dhanammal, at the request of the famed Hindustani musician Gauhar Jan, taught her bhajana parula does regular rounds in their family. Gauhar Jan learned the piece all right but sang it with a pronounced Hindustani flavour. The Dhanammal family ladies would reproduce the way Gauhar Jan sang the song, provoking laughter among all. The scions of the family Brinda-Muktha used to sing the padams kONDEkAdu and Indendu exceptionally well in their inimitable style prompting rasikas to express their vociferous praise.
Nedunuri Krishnamurti was adept at singing AlApana followed by gItArthamu. He possessed a fertile imagination which enabled him to bring out the beauty of suruTTi.
Calcutta K. S. Krishnamurti it was, who brought new dimensions to the singing of suruTTi. With his in-depth knowledge and creative imagination he wove scintillating phrases, sometimes unimaginable, and left the rasikas wondering whether as to what greater treasures did this raga possess. Such was KSK’s prowess in suruTTi.
In recent years, artistes have experimented with rendering rAgam tAnam pallavis in this raga. It speaks volumes of the versatility of the raga that despite seeming a fairly limited one in scope it can lend itself to extensive delineation. Truly it is a proud representative of the Carnatic genre.
The sentinels at Vishnu’s door, Jaya and Vijaya were cursed by Narada to be born thrice as Rakshasas for their discourtesy towards him. When they begged his pardon he mitigated the curse by stating that Lord Vishnu would vanquish them in each of their incarnations and after the third they would regain their status. They were thus born as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and Kumbhakarna and finally as Kamsa and Sishupala. Each time they met their end at the hands of Vishnu and finally attained salvation.
Hiranyaksha kidnapped Bhumidevi and hid her in the ocean and Vishnu took the form of a boar and searched for her. He brought her to safety by placing her on his snout and then fought and killed Hiranyaksha. Hiranyakashipu the younger brother then performed great penances and desired the boon of immortality from Brahma. When the Creator said that was not possible, Hiranyakashipu prayed for the boon that he could be killed neither by living tissue nor weapon, neither at night nor during the day, neither by man nor beast, neither on earth nor in the sky and neither indoors nor outdoors. Armed with this boon he became the master of the three worlds. Much to his sorrow, his son Prahlada was born as a die-hard devotee of Vishnu. This was owing to Lilavati or Kayadu, his wife having been looked after by Narada when she was pregnant. The angry Rakshasa tried to make his son see sense and when he proved obstinate tried his level best to have him killed only to fail in all his attempts. The final denouement took place in the throne room where Hiranyakashipu threatened to kill his son himself and mocked him by asking him if Vishnu would now come to the boy’s rescue. The Lord did and he came as a half-man half-beast. Having picked up Hiranyakashipu he took him to the portal of the palace (neither indoors nor outdoor), placed him on his lap (neither on earth nor in the sky) and tore him apart with his nails (neither living tissue nor weapon). It was the twilight hour (neither day nor night) and so the boon of Brahma was fulfilled. Prahlada was made king of the Rakshasas and Vishnu as Narasimha retired to perform penance and rid himself of the anger he had exhibited in killing Hiranyakashipu. He was pacified by Prahlada and Goddess Lakshmi.
Various manifestations of Narasimha exist in temples all over India. In the South, they are popular particularly in the Andhra region, though several temples exist in Tamil Nadu as well. Narasimha shrines are usually rock-cut cave temples perhaps in keeping with the deity’s leonine character. The deity is usually depicted in one of three forms – ugra or angry wherein he is either in the process of slaying Hiranyakashipu or has just completed the deed, yoga where he is in deep meditation and the third is where he is in the company of his consort Lakshmi.
The powerful imagery of Narasimha has exercised a fascination over seers, philosophers, hymnodists, composers and singers. Even Nammazhwar who never stirred out of the tamarind tree which he made his home and to whom the deities of 37 great temples manifested themselves so that he could sing on them, composed on Narasimha. In his unique style, he composes of a maiden pining for Narasimha in his Adi Adi Akam Karainthu. The romantic side of the lion-faced God as depicted by Nammazhwar was used once again many centuries later by Bangalore Nagarathnamma in her Matada Baradeno which depicts a maiden yearning for union with the Narasimha of Namakkal. Adi Sankara composed the Lakshmi Nrsimha Karavalambana Stuti. Legend has it that Padmapada, one of Sankara’s four chief disciples would often be a medium for the manifestation of Narasimha and on one occasion saved Sankara from being sacrificed by a Kapalika. Vedanta Desika, the great Vaishnavite scholar composed his Kamasikashtakam on Lord Narasimha enshrined at the temple of Velirukkai in Kanchi. This is a divya desam as it was sanctified by Azhwars and the Lord here is referred to as Kamasika Narasimhan as he is said to have settled (Asika) here to meditate of his own free will (Kama). The deity is in yogic posture and has three eyes, a feature that is also seen in the Narasimha at the Singaperumal Koil near Madras.
Dikshitar’s Naraharim Ashrayami (Jayashuddhamalavi) is traditionally believed to be a part of his suite of songs composed in the 72 raganga ragas as part of his teaching music to the Tanjavur quartet. It is therefore likely that it is composed on the Narasimha shrine (Tanjai Yali) in Tanjavur. Sholinghur is yet another holy shrine dedicated to Narasimha who is here seated in yogic posture atop a hill called the Ghatikachala. It takes its name from the legend that Narasimha at the end of his incarnation stopped here for a second (ghatika) to bless the seven sages. Opposite the hill is yet another with a shrine for a four-armed Anjaneya, also in yogic posture. Muttuswami Dikshitar composed twin kritis on the two shrines. His song Narasimha Agachcha is in Mohanam and has a fast-paced madhyamakala sahityam which almost evokes a picture of Narasimha bursting forth from the pillar. The song on Anjaneya which has many lyrical similarities to that on Narasimha is in Nata. Tyagaraja is also believed to have visited Sholinghur during his travels. His songs on Narasimha (Narasimha Nanu Brovave/ Sri Narasimha Mam Pahi) do not mention any kshetra by name. It is however significant to mention that among the two operas by Tyagaraja, the Prahlada Bhakta Vijaya extols the virtues of Narasimha’s greatest devotee.
The Ananthpadamanabhaswami Temple in Tiruvanantapuram houses a shrine for a powerful manifestation of Narasimha and it is therefore but natural that Swati Tirunal, the ruler and composer should dedicate songs to this deity. His Narasimha Mamava (Arabhi) is one such creation. Pallavi Sesha Iyer, a composer of the 18th century created Dalachi Dalachi in raga Kiravani on Narasimha. Mysore Sadasiva Rao, one among the great composers in the Wallajahpet lineage of Tyagaraja’s disciples, was a Narasimha upasaka. It is said that when he once sang his kriti Narasimhududayinche in Kamalamanohari, the picture frame of the deity was shattered indicating that the Lord was listening to the kriti with enjoyment. Bangalore Nagarathnamma has gone on record stating that when she first had a vision of Tyagaraja in her dreams, this was the song she sang in gratitude. Her illustrious contemporary Mysore Vasudevachar created Manasa Vachasa in raga Begada in praise of the deity.
DKJ was in many ways the first musician I knew. When I was two he began coming home to teach an uncle and several aunts and cousins music. I remember him more for his sense of humour and the easy way in which he moved with everyone in our family. The links were broken sometime in the mid 1970s when our Madras home was wound up and everyone went to different cities. But DKJ was always a common subject to talk on when some of us cousins met. The note below was written for Charsur.
DK Jayaraman (DKJ) was born on 22nd July 1928 to Damal Krishnaswami Dikshitar and Kanthimathi (Rajammal) at Kanchipuram. It was a traditional, orthodox family with an element of musicality. Mother Rajammal sang in the confines of the kitchen while father was a scholarly man who understood the musical nuances. The family was however to become deeply involved in music when DKJ’s elder sister Pattammal’s talents came to be recognised. In an era when girls from upper caste families rarely took to public performances, Pattammal’s becoming a Carnatic artiste was nothing short of revolutionary and DKJ and his other brothers were to play a role in it.
Repertoire gathering for the sister was an important activity and accompanying her to performances was another. By the time he was seven, DKJ became Pattammal’s regular vocal accompanist. His talents were noticed by none other than the redoubtable TN Rajarathinam Pillai who once conferred on him the title of Isai Thambi.
By the late 1930s, the family had moved to Madras, mainly to further Pattammal’s career. It was here that DKJ came into contact with several stalwarts and learnt from them – some of these including Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Harikesanallur L Muthiah Bhagavatar. But it was his tutelage under Papanasam Sivan, where he and Pattammal learnt together, that was to leave a great impact on him. In time, he was to be the greatest repository of Sivan kritis and the composer was to consider DKJ as a son. Musically, DKJ was also deeply influenced by Pattammal, with whom he shared the stage for several years. He acquired a large repertoire of Muttuswami Dikshitar kritis from her.
Ironically, for a man of such great talents, establishing an identity as an individual performer proved a challenge. Ill health forced him to move to Kanchipuram for sometime where he tried his hand at business. It was left to mridangam maestro Palghat TS Mani Iyer to get DKJ back into the concert circuit. This was to be in the late 1960s. DKJ returned to Madras and encouraged by Mani Iyer, resumed his career. Success took its time in coming but when it did, there was no looking back. From the late 1970s, DKJ’s career graph rose. Sivan was sadly not around to witness it but Mani Iyer did and rejoiced. The 1980s were definitely his heydays.
DKJ’s music stood out for several aspects. The first was its devotional aspect, the emphasis being on bhakti in the song. His concerts witnessed a large number of kritis. Raga alapanas were usually brief but all encompassing. While he was a master in the popular ragas, he delighted in singing kritis in rare ragas. Songs such as vinata sutavAhana (jayantasena), sripatE (nAgasvarAvaLi), nEnaruncEra (simhavAhini), lAvaNya rAma (pUrNa ShaDjam) and shrI jAlandhara (gambhIra nATTai), owe their popularity to him. Tamil songs received great importance in his concerts. In swaraprastAra he was unparalleled, with the jIva svara of a raga always given importance. His rendition of the madhyama in particular was always unique.
A friendly personality, DKJ was to train numerous disciples. Of these Vijay Siva, RK Shriramkumar, and DKJ’s son J Vaidyanathan are perhaps most popular on the concert circuit. Another promising singer, who for unknown reasons chose to leave the field was Balaji Sankar. DKJ was also refreshingly free from the chauvinistic attitudes of male performers in the field and encouraged several lady accompanists in his concerts.
Honours were to come DKJ’s way towards the end of his career. By then, his voice, given that he had accompanied his sister for years, was to be somewhat a deterrent, affecting his ability to sing in the higher octaves. But he made up for all that by the deep emotion he brought to his music. Audiences continued thronging his concerts till the end.
What could have continued to be a great career was cut short at its very peak. In December 1990, DKJ received the Music Academy’s prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi. He was to pass away within a month, much to the shock of the entire music fraternity. He lives on, through his recordings and his long line of disciples.
What do you write when confronted with a topic like that? And yet that was Charsur’s latest command, for a CD by Sikkil Gurucharan. Here is what I wrote. I can’t say it has turned out great but I would rate it as adequate.
‘bhoomirApO analo vAyuh kham mano buddhirEva cha;ahamkAra ithIyam mEbhinnA prakrthirashTa DhA; aparEyam ithasthvanyAm prakrthim viddhi mE parAm’
Earth, water fire, wind, AkAsa and the mind, intellect and the ego- form my eightfold prakrti which is the lower and other than this is My higher prakrthi. Thus spake the Lord in the Bhagwad Gita.
Of the eightfold lower prakrti, the mind is the first of the human manifestations and it is the seat of all emotions. The catharsis of the mind is considered the first step to self-realization in Hindu philosophy. Addressing it continuously and making it see the right path is therefore a popular mode used in prayer and in song. Carnatic music makes full use of it.
And among the various composers, it is perhaps Tyagaraja who uses addresses to the mind in various contexts. In his bhajana parula (suraTi, rUpakam) he asks the mind as to where is the necessity to fear death when there is true devotion to Rama. In manasA shrI rAmacandruni (IshamanOhari, Adi) he exhorts the mind to recollect that in the third and sixth cantos of Valmiki’s Ramayana, Rama is referred to as the supreme and so He ought to never be forgotten. A very beautiful song is nAda sudhArasambilanu (Arabhi, rUpakam) where he tells his mind that Rama is music manifested and goes on to describe the Lord in musical terms. A similar song is gitArthamu (suraTi, dEshAdi) where Rama is described to the mind as the full significance of the Gita and the bliss of music. sAdhincEnE (Arabhi, Adi) has Tyagaraja recollecting to himself the various sports of the Lord and the way He has always achieved what He set out to do. In a similar vein is manasA! manasAmarthyamEmi (vardhani, rUpakam) where Tyagaraja reconciles himself to the fact that the mind can never comprehend the ways of the Lord who made people like Kaikeyi and Sugriva fall victims to Maya. In uNDedi rAmuDu (harikAmbOji, rUpakam), Tyagaraja assures the mind that Rama is the only one. His adi kAdu bhajana (yadukula kAmbOji, Adi) is a lecture to the mind that it is not bhajana when the thoughts are permanently fixed on objects of sensual enjoyment. His kshINamai (mukhAri, Adi) is into a much higher realm of philosophy. In it he tells his mind that even yogic achievements pale into insignificance when compared to the worship of Rama. His manasA ETulOrtunE (malayamArutam, rUpakam) and manasA shrIrAmuni (mAraranjani, Adi) attribute the lack of God’s grace to the wavering ways of the mind.
Muttuswami Dikshitar uses the mind in a simpler context. He exhorts it to prayer in a number of songs. This is a format that has been used by several other composers. Sadasiva Brahmendra, the mystic composer also uses the mind as the target for his songs. In songs such as mAnasa sancararE (sAma, Adi) he advises the mind on the route it ought to take to achieve bliss. His khElati mama hrdayE (aThANa, Adi) has the entire Ramayana in précis, all with a philosophical double entendre.
With such a tradition of addressing the mind, it is no wonder that it continues to be a popular mode. Patnam Subramanya Iyer based his composing format on the lines of Tyagaraja and his maravakavE (sAma, rUpakam) instructs the mind never to forget Rama. His ninnujEppa kAraNamEmi (mandAri, Adi) he despairs of the mind failing to correct itself. In similar vein is Nilakanta Sivan’s tEruvadu EppO (khamAs, Adi). Koteeswara Iyer’s gAnAmudapAnam (jyOtisvarUpiNi, mishra cApu) asks the mind as to why it hankers after other objects when it has the nectarine songs on Subrahmanya. Bharati’s uNmai arindavar (set to music in sumanEsharanjani, tishra naDai by Tanjore S Kalyanaraman) questions as to what Maya or illusion can do when faced with those who are ever established in the one Truth.
As long as there is an attempt by mankind to realise the Supreme, there will be songs addressed to the mind.
I have had so many emails after last week’s write up on Iyermalai that I am uploading the rest of the photos:
I should have taken more pictures but at this point old Ratnachalanayaka took me by the hand and the matter became too emotional for me to wield a camera. I still can’t think of this couple – Ratnachalanayaka and Aralakesi, living by themselves on this hill and of Appar and Dikshitar taking the time and effort to climb up and compose…And thanks to God for giving us Musiri Subramania Iyer, who could sing the song the way it had to be… Am I glad I am from this part of the world and what’s more, lucky to be able to appreciate all this.
I stand at the base of the Iyermalai (aka Vaatpokki) at 9 a.m. At the summit I can see a rock fort akin to the more famous one at Tiruchi. A song and an artist’s rendition of it have brought me here – Muthuswami Dikshitar’s ‘Pahimam Ratnachalanayaka’ (Mukhari) and Musiri Subramania Iyer’s recording of the same. It is a jewel of a song, and after listening to it being sung by the master of emotion I had to visit the temple that had inspired it. A friend, whose native place is Iyermalai, has promised me that a priest will meet me at the top of the hill. But what I did not know was that several ferocious monkeys would be scrambling up and down the pathway.
The climb is steep and the sight of two monkeys fighting ferociously like Vali and Sugriva has me running back to the base. I join a group of pilgrims who are amused at my cowardice. The climb of 1,000 steps is difficult but the views are picturesque, especially that of the village and the large temple tank. I am told that in a year with plentiful rains, the greenery around can be breathtaking. A large rock is split into two owing to natural reasons near the summit and in the shadow of the two pieces is an open-air shrine for the Sapta Matas with a Ganesa keeping them company. Opposite this is a stone seat in the shadow of another giant rock. Could Dikshitar have sat here?
More monkeys greet us inside the shrine proper. The Goddess, Aralakesi (Surumbar Kuzhali) has a tiny shrine to herself outside the main temple. We then enter a mandapam with 100 pillars, one wall of which is the hill itself. The temperature drops abruptly and the coolness is welcome. A Nandi faces a wall and around it are the 63 Nayanmars. We cross this mandapam and again are in the open. Then follows a small climb and we are finally at the temple for Siva – Ratnagiriswara. The Lord resides here in solitary splendour, a guardian deity – Vairaperumal being his sole companion. The Linga is tall and has a prominent scar at the top, the result of a king having cut it with a sword. The silence is deafening and as we prostrate, me mumbling Dikshitar’s song, we know we are in the presence of God in all his magnificence. Perhaps it is appropriate that the monkeys made us reach the sanctum empty-handed for what could we have offered other than prayer?
Flooded with inscriptions
The temple would be an epigraphist’s delight, for the walls are flooded with inscriptions. After the worship, I talk to the priest. Muthuswami Dikshitar in his song writes that it is the temple tradition that a member of the Aryaraja community brings water everyday from the River Cauvery for anointing the deity. What happened to it? I am stunned to know that it is still in vogue. This involves someone going to the river, which is eight km away, carrying the water all the way, climbing up the hill and finally emptying it into a large cauldron kept beside the Linga. The priest adds that Appar’s Pathigam on the temple also records the same tradition. I am humbled to know that the locals have kept alive a practice going back to the seventh century. “Why did Dikshitar write that the Linga is in the form of the Sri Chakra,”? I ask. Apparently, Iyermalai is in the form of the Sri Chakra, it being considered an earthly representation of the sacred Meru, and the Linga is a natural outcrop of the hill.
The priest informs me that all the temple festivals are held at the village and so the processional deities are taken down each time and brought up. What with the bringing of water and the carrying of the deities, worshipping at Iyermalai demands a high degree of physical fitness. The priest could have given all our gym-trained urbanites a run for their money.
Iyermalai is one of a sacred triad of Siva temples, along what is known as the Akhanda Cauvery and all an hour from Tiruchi. Tradition demands that we worship Kadambeswara at Kulithalai in the morning, Ratnagiriswara at Iyermalai in the afternoon and Marakadachaleswara at Tiringoimalai (another hill top shrine). Dikshitar composed on all three. Songs on the first two (‘Neelakantam’ in Kedaragowla and ‘Pahimam Ratnachalanayaka’ in Mukhari) are in Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini while ‘Marakatalingam’ in Vasanta is not.
As I begin my descent, I think of the piety that brought Appar and Dikshitar to this lonely spot. What about the sculptors who gave the temple its shape? And then I reflect on the stern resolve with which the locals keep their traditions going. I am moved to tears.
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