Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Saint Thyagaraja's Pancha Ratna Kritis

Prof. K. R. Rajagopalan


Saints and savants, in this sub-continent of ours rightly called the ‘Punya Bhoomi’, have each given their lead to the humanity, in crossing over from the morass of material suffering to abiding, spiritual bliss. Each one of such Yogis have specialised in their particular path, such as Jnana, Thyaga, Bhakti, etc. Saint Thyagaraja stands as a stalwart in the array of such Masters, as the fore-runner of ‘Naada Yoga’ or the adoption of the path of Music (Sangeeta Sastra) for the attainment of salvation.

Now, what in essence, is this ‘Naada Yoga’?

We are all aware that of the five sensory organs, the ear is the most accurately tuned faculty. The optical illusions, the erratic reactions of the hand (touch) to alternate heat and cold, and the vagaries of the nose and tongue are all only too familiar. This leaves us recourse only to the sense of hearing–while attempting to collate in our experience, the closeness of the Divine to the temporal. Nor does this faculty of hearing–the ‘Ear’ as symphonists would call it–let us down in this assay. The existence of thousands upon thousands of fine hair-like vibrators, planted in a semisolid solution within the ear is well-known. Each one of these responds truly and accurately to the appropriate sound stimulus, and the impression radioed to the brain is both clear and sympathetic. Hence it is that melody always, uplifts man, while at the same time pleasing him. Just as the mother’s lullaby to the child, so also the melody of the Divine, in the form of spiritual music, elevates man to a quiescent merger into the Infinite. This, in brief, is Naada Yoga, and all our great musicians have been Bhaktas first and singers next. They have exploited, by their devoted exercises, the potentialities of the Jeevaatma (who resides in the living body), to a state of harmonious oneness with the Omkara of the Paramaatma. This wafting of a Bhakta to Moksha, via the medium of music, is the path of Naada Yoga.

In these days of cheap materialism, this noble concept has had its share of disillusion and degeneration. True music-lovers have had to witness the sad spectacle of soulless music being peddled to pedantic untrained ears, for the purpose of providing instant jubilation, and even to induce sales of esoteric products. But the pristine purity of the Naada Yoga tradition is indestructible, and is still available to the earnest seeker, in the tradition left as a legacy to mankind by the great savants. That such pursuits of the true values is still on, is amply demonstrated in the profound regard which the works of the Musical Trinity still command, and the love with which festivals connected with these great vaaggeyakaaraas are celebrated. The Thyagaraja Aaraadhana is easily the most telling example, and many true and music-lovers flock to participate therein.

The major item in the celebrations is the group singing of the Saint’s Pacha Ratna Kritis, and this may be said to form both the nucleus and the climax of the occasion. There are sound reasons why these five kritis should command such universal regard, and why they should figure so prominently in the Aaraadhana. These reasons would also explain why everyone is so eager to participate in the group singing.

Just as Lord Krishna milked the Upanishads, and gave out the Bhagavat Gita as milk to Arjuna, Saint Thyagaraja too has extracted the essence of Bhakti, and handed over the Pancha Ratna Kritis to us, as the cream from milk. These five Kritis, in the order as sung nowadays, contain the quintessence of Bhakti as well as music, and form shining examples of the five steps or ‘Sopaanaas’ through which the aspirant attains God. They are: (1) Invocation of one’s chosen ideal or ‘Ishta Devata’ and the awareness of His virtues. (2) Realisation of one’s own shortcomings, as a measure of self-purification. (3) Disciplining and conditioning oneself, in readiness to ‘prepare for the event’. (4) Realisation of the cherished ideal, its rich and authentic nature. (5) An awareness of the other participants in the bliss, or self-polarisation.

Even to the sceptic, modern logician, these five steps should seem properly sequenced and acceptable. This illustrates one more truth of the Bhakti cult, namely, that when one reaches the ideal, logic merges with the transcendental.

We now attempt to go through these Pancha Ratna Kritis, one after the other, trying to keep pace with the (Saint’s) Saadhana. (1) Jagadaananda Kaaraka (Naata): Unless an ideal is lofty, Saadhana ceases to have any meaning. Hearing the noble attributes of the Lord, singing His glories, languishing in His mercy, can hardly be overdone by the aspirant. Saint Thyagaraja’s chosen form is Lord Sri Rama, and the fact of this form being human never clouded the Saint’s awareness that it was Sriman Narayana, who took the Rama form. Can there be a loftier ideal? The following phrases, illustrate the point that Rama is one manifestation of Sriman Narayana:

Amara tharaka nichaya kumuda, Khaga turanga, Vaageendra janaka, Naagendra sayana, Purahara sarojabhava Kesavaadirupa, Neeranidhijaaramana.

There could hardly be a better choice of the Raaga, than Naata, the first of the Ghana Raagaas. Musicians and Bhaavukaas will readily vouch for the magnificent blending of the Raaga-Bhaava-Maatu, in this Kriti. The Raaga sets the pace for the words, the words set the tempo, and both are embellished by the brilliance of the Laya combinations. The majesty of the Lord is well-matched by the excellence of the diction, and the commanding movement of the musical tempo.

(2) Dudukugala (Gowla): An extensive awareness of the perfect nature of the Lord must, of course, make way for a balancingly acute perception of the aspirant’s inadequacies. A total acceptance of all one’s omissions and commissions has been laid down as the sine qua non for the blossoming of Bhakti. Saints like Purandara Dasa have blazed this trail, (vide IshtuPaapava Maadidde Saako) and so Thyagaraja is in good company here.

The sorrowful aspects of the past lives are emphasized by the ‘Gowla Rishabha’, lending depth and conviction to the confession. Heights of emotions are quickly caught up, by the keen ‘Nishadha’ of this Raaga. This Kriti, if sung by a gifted and sensitive vocalist (such as Smt. M. S. Subbalakshmi), with full awareness of the deeper implications of the Maatu, will go a long way in uplifting our Carnatic Music from its present horsepond of egoism and arrogance.

For those who think that the Saint has too many shortcomings, the answer can only be that even the longest of such lists is easily condonable by the Lord.

(3) Saadhinchene (Arabhi): The manipulations of the dual forces of the Manas and Buddhi which are the underlying thoughts of this Kriti, are well taken care of, by the Janta-swara prayogas that abound in this Raaga. The Saint’s marvellous control of Bhakti and Bhaava, by matching the Saahitya and Raaga, is nowhere more in evidence than here. The Krishna-Rama-Venkatesa forms of the Lord are mentioned, and the Saint adds, for good measure, the burden of delayed compliance to his Master. The invocations contained in the charana Hare Ramachandra, surpass in their brilliance, even the attributes which figure in the first Kriti. . Discerning Bhaavukaas will also sense the Saint’s change of tone, from laudation to poignancy, from the first Kriti to this song. The last charana of this Pancha Ratna beautifully portrays the mellowed nature of the mind, necessary for the realisation, which forms the subject-matter of the next song.

(4) Kana kana ruchira (Varali): Words, unless they be the outpourings of an emancipated soul, are inadequate to picture the ecstasy and the depth of a confrontation with the Divine. While it is practically impossible for a mere mortal to explain the richness of the experience narrated by the Saint in this Kriti, one cannot help being awed by the majesty of the Raaga, which is said to have the ‘amsa’ of Lord Adisesha. The ponderous, but fluid tortuousness of the Raaga Prayogas, and the haunting nature of the Saahitya, induce an indelible and inexplicable impression in our minds, and there can be no relapse from such an experience. To authenticate his Anubhava, the Saint cites similar experiences of Dhruva, Sita, Anjaneya, Siva, Parvati, all the Rishis and others. The description of his Lord is a complete picture, from the Baalaarkaabha suchela...Suruchira kireetadhara, through to Paadakamalamunu pattukonuvadu and, rightly ends up in the Sukha kamalaambudhi vasa.

It is a matter of regret that this magnificent Kriti is rarely, if ever, sung. Perhaps it is better so, as singers wanting in the perception or the reverence, would but make a parody of the song. One has to plough the Maatu into the Raaga Bhaava, ‘mull’ the emotional and devotional contents, follow the Bhaava through the slithering coil-like movements of the Raaga Sanchaaras, before one can realise an iota of the Saint’s Anubhava.

(5) Endaro (Sri): The ecstasy of realisation, though soul-satisfying in itself? has perforce to give way to the subsequent tranquil contemplation of the innumerable, liberated souIs, who are already in the enjoyment of the Brahamaananda. Knowing the Lord doesnot make one great or small–the Mukta has his rightful place among his compeers. Singing the glories of these ‘Nitya Suris’ is singing the Lord’s glories, and hence the Saint tenders his obeisances to all the ‘Mahaanubhavas’. This word, usually applied to great men, can also include those who have had the ‘Maha Anubhava’. It is the greatness of Saint Thyagaraja that he has furnished an incredibly complete list of such great souls, within the small compass of this Kriti. Such a long list affords ample authenticity to his vision, in addition to giving us a glimpse into the scintillating galaxy of His court.

Thus the Bhakti, which began as a litany to the Ishta Devata, meanders through the stages of self-purification, self-education, self-realisation and self-polarisation, finally metamorphosing into Bliss. The enjoyment of the ‘Sahaja’ state, consequent on realisation, is beautifully brought out by the unhurried, measured notes of the Sri Raaga, and the facile grouping of the laya phraseology. No one, who has heard the five Kritis rendered in a row, can ever deny that the conclusion on the notes of this Sri Raaga, leaves one in a profoundly contented frame of mind.

Just as one does not examine whether a known grace occurs or notin Valmiki’s Ramayana, but count on the number of graces stemming from that epic, so also it is futile to search whether this or that excellence is available or not in these Pancha Ratnams. These five gems form an inexhaustible repository of all Bhaavas and Anubhavas in the spectrum of Bhakti; one has only to have the necessary diligence, discipline and devotion to identify them. The Lord’s grace, and the Saints’ benediction–these alone can equip one for the search.

Let us hope that more and more musicians will sing, teach and propagate these Pancha Ratna Kritis, with the necessary faith and fervour.

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