Sounds so Divine: Carnatic kritis and the worship of Shakti

Navaratri Music 2019_page-0001
Published on October 7, 2019 in The Times of India

Music and Navaratri go hand-in-hand across the country. Perhaps, it is also because Shakti also manifests as Saraswati, the goddess of learning. She is Vaani, Kalaivani and Vidya. Music and dance have always been intrinsic to worship and the greats of classical music also found their path to the divine mother through their music.

The trinity of Carnatic music themselves left a rich treasure of compositions and they have today become a part of the everyday lives of a listener. “The greats like Shyama Sastri and Muthuswami Dikshitar almost lived their life with Devi. Dikshitar was initiated into Srividya Upasana by Chidambaranatha Yogi. Dikshitar left behind a trail of compositions in the temples he visited in his lifetime. He was known as a devotee of Murugan and had Guruguha as his mudra in his compositions. But he had a special relationship with Madurai Meenakshi and the last kirtanai he sang was in her praise. He asked his students to sing the kriti Meenakshi Memudamdehi and when they were singing the lines Meena lochani, pasha mochani, he breathed his last,” explains noted Harikatha artiste Vishaka Hari.

Through his life, Shyama Sastri saw Kamakshi as his own mother.  “ Look at his compositions on Bangaru Kamakshi,” says Vishaka Hari, talking about the musician’s association with Madurai Meenakshi. “When he went to Madurai, he was asked to compose something on Meenakshi and he created the Navaratnamalika and sang all of them. It is said that Meenakshi herself manifested before him at the end of him singing Sarojadalanetri. Even today, when you sing Mayamma, you get a glimpse of the intense devotion he had.” In his composition Ma Janaki in Kamboji, Thyagaraja even attributes the greatness of Rama to Sita. Thyagaraja saw Sita as his own mother. “Though the epic is called Ramayana, Valmiki calls it Sitayah charitam mahat.”

Across the nation

It is said that when poet Kambar was nearing his end, he handed over the idol of Saraswati he worshipped to the then Chera king, who promised the poet that a Navaratri festival would be held every year for the deity. During the regime of Swati Tirunal, the capital shifted from Pradmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram. But every Navaratri, the deity is brought in a procession to the Navaratri Mandapam near the Padmanabhaswamy temple. Swati Tirunal created a set of compositions called the Navaratri kritis to be sung on each day of the festival.

Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam goes back in time when she learnt two of the Navaratri kritis during in the final year of her school, in Bombay. “I had participated in a competition on the compositions of Swati Tirunal. One was Devi Jagat Janani in Sankarabharanam and the other was Devi Pavane in Saveri and I won the gold medal. I received a beautiful harmonium for winning this.”

Poets across the country celebrated the mother in many forms across ages. From a philosophical point of view, Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam compares Krishna as the supreme soul and Radha is seen as parasakti. There is no difference between Krishna and his Radha. The separation and yearning between the lovers is also seen as the delay for the jivatma to unite with the paramatma. “Jayadeva celebrated Radha in his ashtapadis. Ramakrishna Pramahamsa also sang many kritis in Bengali for Devi. Even closer in time, GNB was a huge Bhuvaneshwari upasaka and sang many kritis for the mother. No other country celebrates the divine aspect of womanhood in such grandeur, with all her Knowledge, heroism and opulence,” says Vishaka Hari.

Musical Celebrations

Golu and music go together. Homes reverberate with songs and stories during the nine days. Aruna Sairam has vivid memories of the many Navaratris spent at her small apartment in Bombay during her childhood. “In that one room and kitchen, people would still keep golus. We kids ran about the apartment in the evenings as there would be no space to play inside. Sometimes, the entire room would be full of dolls. I was in kindergarten and the only piece I could sing without referring was Valachi the Navaragamalika varnam. I would go to all the homes, collect the sundal and then we would meet at the staircase between the ground floor and first floor. We would spread the napkins, share the sundal,” she says.

Vishaka Hari sees Vijayadashami as a day to look at learning with renewed zest. “For me, it’s like a new year. It’s an important pointer for us to remain students for life and keep learning new things,” she says.

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