Divya Nama Kirtanas – A Bhajana Tradition
“I dwell not in Vaikunta, nor in the hearts of great Yogis;
Know O: Ye Neared, Where my Devotees sing, There I dwell.”
By P. Sreenivasan
Of the Nava Vidha Bhakthis or the Nine Paths of Devotion to Godhead, perhaps the best understood, widely practiced and most enjoyed, is KIRTANAM. Singing one’s way to salvation was practiced long before Sri Thyagaraja Swami’s days. The Nayanmars and Alwars, preached and practiced this Marga or path to salvation. We have it on the authority of scholars like Dr. S. Ramanathan that Thevaram and Divya Prabhanda hymns were sung to raga and tala and not merely recited as poetry. To this day, the Oduvars of the Saivite School and the Adhyapakas of the Vaishnavite school, sing the Thevarams and Divya Prabhandams, as part of the temple rituals. Hymns have been composed by various saints and savants, on their Ishta Devathas, songs in praise of Lord Muruga by Arunagirinathaar known as Thiruppugazh, in praise of the Lord of the Seven Hills by Annamacharya, in praise of Purandaravittala by Purandara Dasa, in praise of Lord Rama by Bhadrachala Ramadasa and in praise of Lord Krishna by Narayana Thirtha continue to be part of any bhajans; all of them composed before the time of Sri Thyagaraja Swami.
Bhaja means the worshipping of God or praying to God, singing His praise. This form of Bhakthi was an important part of the daily worship by the Bhagavathas. Members of the public joined in at these Bhajans, repeating the verses and singing in chorus, both at the Uncha Vritti on the streets and at the gathering in the temple. One Divya Nama Kirtana of the Sadguru in Yamuna Kalyani describes the Haridasas setting out on their Uncha Vritti Bhajan on the streets. “Watching the Haridasas getting out on their Bhajan fills our heart with delight. With their waist bands tied well, with metallic cymbals in their hands, with the musical gosham of the mridangams, with Gnana, Rama Dhyana and sweet music, surrendering themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, and watching them go on the streets fills the heart with delight.
Sri Thyagaraja Swami, being a Bhagavatha in the Bhakthi Marga, strongly believed that music and devotion combined, represented the easiest, sweetest and certain path to the attainment of Jeevan Mukthi or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
On his reasons for composing the Divyanama Keertanas, Thyagaraja Swami, in his kriti, “Raga Ratna Malika” in Ritigowla, says “As the sole means of my salvation, with the authority of all Scriptures, as the path to happiness of all Yogis and for all Bhagavathas to sing together, I composed these songs. Come let us sing these together and attain all Sowbhagya.” Collectively a set of songs composed by Thyagaraja Swami as an expression of bhakthi and bhajana tradition came to be known as Divya Nama Kirtanas.
There are some 78 kirtanas that are in the group of keertanas called Divyanama Keertanas. These keertanas are meant for group singing. they are generally in the “lambaka” style with one pallavi and a series of charanams with the “dathu” or tune to facilitate repetition on choral singing. In theme and structure, they are varied. The keertanas are composed on a wide variety of popular ragas such as Todi, Sankarabharanam, Karaharapriya and Saveri, and less well known ragas such as Andhali, Ahiri, and Balahamsa. Even in the rarer ragas, these songs have a simple structure and so anyone with an ear for music can very quickly learn and join in the singing.
The Ramayana Theme
Mostly the divyanama keertana themes are based on the Ramayana but as pointed out earlier, there are also songs on human conduct. All important incidents in Srimad Ramayana are narrated in sequence, from Viswamitra Yagasamarakshna to pattabishekam, in the kirtana “Vinayamunanu” in Sowrashtram. The unique beauty of this composition is its poetic excellence. Parayaya Namas or Synonyms for hands, feet, eyes, etc., is employed to narrate the stories. The translation of the two Charanams to explain this point is given hereunder and it is suggested to interested readers to read the complete song and its translation from a book by Swami’s kirtanas.
“When will I see the feet that marched with Viswamitra, when will I see the feet that brought Vimochana to Ahalya, when do I see the foot that pressed down the Siva Dhanus at the Swayamvara of Sita, when do I see the feet that Janaka washed with milk at his daughter’s wedding, when will I see the hands which tied the mangala sutra to Sita, when will I see the hands which took the strength of Parasurama, when will I see the hands which killed Virada and when will I see the hands which gave abhaya to the rishis in the forest?” In this manner, the story of Ramayana is taken from Bala Kanda to Aranya Kanda using synonyms. The singing of this song will be the singing of the whole of Ramayana and so this song is referred to as Samkahepa Ramayana or condensed Ramayana.
In The kirtana “Pahirama” in Kharaharapriya, each stanza is devoted to one of the members of Rama’s parivara or entourage and we are told how Rama gave happiness to Sita with his words, to Lakshmana with his eyes, to Bharata with his embrace, to Sathrugna with his nod of approval and to Anjaneya with praise. This song is full of raghabhava and bring out, within the limitations of a kirtana without sangatis, the nuances of this rakthi raga.
As an example of this, the Yadukula Kambhoji composition “Sri Rama, Jaya Rama” in khanda chapu may be cited. Starting with Kausalya and wandering what great penance she had performed to earn the privilege of being able to kiss the lovely cheeks of Sri Rama, Dasaratha, Sowmitri, Kowsika, Ahalya, Janaka, Sita and Narada are all mentioned in the same manner, mentioning the joy they got out of Rama. Incidentally, the arrangement of the episodes and characters is such that this composition also narrates Ramayana from Yaga Rakshanam to Sita Kalyanam.
The song “Karuna Jaladhe” in Nadnamakriya lists the qualities of a true bhaktha after mentioning that the experience of a true bhaktha is totally different from the findings of one who does not know Rama. The song lists the various sections of a true bhaktha, which ensure his constant thought of Rama and his presence with the devotee. In the last charana, Swami refers to the advaitic experience, which comes to a devotee practicing for long and Bhakthi marga. “Neevanni teyani Balkudure, Neeve Thannani Kulgukudure.” They (the true devotees) will find and speak of you of you being everything and they themselves being you.” What a worthwhile reward for a waiting bhaktha?
Listing the commonly occurring misconducts and weaknesses of man, in the kirtana “Rama Rama Krishnayanare” in Gowlipanthu, Swami says that even the worst sinners are known to have changed for the better and attained salvation by singing the name of the Lord. “Kaani Panulu Kori Kori, karanguchundu Nannavulu” and “Challani Vakulu Balki Swanthaamanalamaina Varu” meaning that those who hanker for things that are not right and to which are not entitled and those who speak with honey on their tongue but with fire in their hearts, even they will reform and benefit by singing Rama, Rama, Krishna.
One can go on and on giving examples of the beauty, wisdom and music of these priceless gems have to offer. Let us be contented with one final example of Swami’s stress on purity of thought, unselfishness and un-attachment to fruits of worship, by quoting the kirtana “Paripalaya Paripalaya” in Reetigowlai “O: God, my pure body is your temple; my sthira or nischala chithha (unwavering) is the peeta or asana for you; my pure thoughts are Ganga water for your abhisheka; my devotion is the golden cloth for you to wear. The burning away of the fruits of my past evil deeds is the sambrani dhoopam. My happiness which cannot be separated is the thamboolam for you and so on.
The list of such songs and their themes is long and I suggest that those who are interested may go through the textgs and authentic translation for further study. It is for this very purpose of giving the interested student and scholar a more comprehensive coverage; to enable even those not taking part in the singing, to appreciate the superb concepts enshrined in the divyanama keertanas that, for the first time ever, Sri T. S. Parthasarathy has included in his book of Thyagaraja kritis, a word for word translation.
It may be added here that the late Dr. R. Krishnaswami of Glaxo Labs was also, in no mean measure, responsible for the successful publication of this book. In 1967, the 200th Jayanthi Aradhana of Sri Thyagaraja Swami was celebrated all over the country. At this time, Dr. Krishnaswami, a great and ardent devotee of the Saint, was very keen on the publication of an authentic version of the Swami’s composition by Sri Sadguru Sangeetha Samajam, Purasawalkam, Chenni. It was greatly due to his tireless endeavors that this publication was brought out, on the Aradhana day in 1967 (First edition). A second edition was brought out in 1972. This information has been added on Dr. R. K’s contribution after his passing away in June, 1991.
My request: do not put away to another day the joy or reading, listening to or singing those musical gems. It is impossible to convey the happiness which can come from the singing of these songs. An essay on sugar cannot convey the sweetness of sugar. You have to taste it yourself. In his composition “Anandam Anandamaye” in Bhairavi, the Swami says “Even Brahma, Indira and Siva cannot express in words all the happiness they experience; Who am I, a poor mortal with a very limited vocabulary?”
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