Monday, July 13, 2009

Music of the Himalayas

During my recent trek to the Himalayas with family and friends, I got to experience something which cannot be described in words. My attempt here may fall way short of my actual experience. Yet, I feel you guys out there, who have not been up to the mountains, should atleast hear of what it feels like there.

Haven't we very often heard of Sanyasis/ saints going to Himalayas to meditate? I think it is the touch of the soil, the very place, which is charged with energy, that elevates any one who treads on it.

The peace and silence, especially when you cross the 10,000 ft barrier is piercing. All I could hear was my own breath, the wind blowing on my face and the birds.

The route this time was a 10day trek from Uttarkashi via the most versatile and stunning landscapes of the Himalayas to the base of the Bandhar Poonch Peaks and back.

Much before reaching there, I had made up my mind that this time I am going to search for more than just pure adventure. I wanted to search within myself and regain some of my being, which I felt I had lost in the past 2-3 years.

I sat down on many occassions during this trip, unlike my last one, when i did not utilise the oppurtunity to be by myself, to meditate, practice music and pranayama.

My experience in Devkund sitting by myself, in isolation from the rest of the group, in front of the overbearing mountains, with just bees, insects, birds and my own breath making sounds was hair raising. I was able to meditate and sing for an hour and what power I could draw from the nature. I could visualise my music and make it dance to the music of the nature.

My experience in Gidara Bugiyal where I practiced by the river all my myself early morning was something. I had the river accompanying me like the tambura. What overtones I could hear from the water.

At every point during the trek, I felt my self digging deeper into myself, understanding my joys, my sorrows and walking, being OVERWHELMED at all times by the LAYA (rhythm) of nature

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thamizh Naalvar

Compiled by Mohini Krishnan, Birmingham, Alabama under the guidance of TV Ramprasadh

1) Sambandhar also known as Thirugnana Sambandhar was born to Bhagavathiyar and Sivapada Hridayar in Sirkazhi. He was a child prodigy of the "Thevara Moovar", belongs to the 7th century A.D. He was better known as "TAALA VENDHAN" (the unparalleled King of Rhythm). When he was around three years old, his parents took him to a Shiva temple and told him to stay on the steps while they prayed to the deities. The child was so lonely, he started crying, and immediately, it is said that the goddess Parvathi consoled him and nursed him. When his parents came back and asked him who had fed him (seeing the drops of milk on his cheek) he started singing in praise of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi. Through this encounter, people say Sambandhar received some “divine qualities.” When Sambandhar received his Upanayanam, he began singing in great detail about the Vedas.. He sang many verses opposing Jainism and Buddhism and brought back faith in Hinduism. He is regarded by some as an incarnation of Lord Karthikeya.

The first, second and third Thirumurai (also called the Panniru Thirumurai) which is a compilation of various Tamil poems in praise of Lord Shiva,were composed by Sambandhar, which includes his popular work - Thirukadaikkappu. Sambandhar in a short life span of 16 years, was one of the architects of the Bhakthi movement. In addition to his delightful songs, he defeated the Jain monks in debate and succeeded in bringing the hunch backed PAndya King back into the Hindu fold. He has composed 1600 pathikams (பதிகங்கள்), out of which only 384 are now available

Dr.K.R.SeethaLakshmi, Professor, Department of Music, Queen Mary's College in her article speaks of the compositions of Sambandhar -
“In the place called Thirukolakka, the Supreme Mother blessed him with "Golden Cymbals" (Thiru Taalam), which testifies for his mastery over the metrical "Saahithyam" (Thevara Hymns). Chekkizhaar, the author of "Periya Puranam" quotes that Gnana Samabandar composed multi faceted rhythmic aspects in his hymns - "Senthamizh maalai Vigarpa ..... Panninar Gnanasambandar".

The time measures that are still prevailing at present, are all found in Gnana Sambandar's Thevaram. It is an evident fact that the Thevara Padigams are metrical and the time measures were introduced according to the Kattalai.

Gnana Sambandar has contributed a lot to the realm of time measures in Tamil Music. The popular taalas of Thevaram are Roopaka, Triputa, Mattya, Jhampa, Chaapu, Ata and Anga tala. The taala is determined with the help of Kattalai. The first composition of Gnana Sambandar "Thodudaiya Seviyan" is set to be in Roopaka taala of the first Kattalai. Below are a few of his compositions that speaks for itself the variety of taala structures he has adopted for his hymns.

1. Thodudaiya Seviyan - Roopaka
2.Neeru Servador - Chatusra Jathi Triputa
3.Chirai Aarum - Thisra Jathi Triputa
4.Maadhar madappidiyum - Rupakam(Yaazhmuri Pann)
5. Manninaervizhi Maadharaar - Misra Chapu
6. Marundavai Mandiram - Anga Talam
7.Vaanavargal Thaanavargal - Kanda Chapu

The "Thirutaala Jathi" of Gnanasambandar, was poured out of ecstasy with Chandam - a metrical aspect of Kattalai and other rhetorical beauties that adorns them. In this particular Padigam(Hymns) the numbers - Ondre, Irande, Moondre, Yezhae also confirms the prosodic beauty of his compositions. It signifies that the Padigam is set in the pattern of "Pari Padal" where the intricate time measures are aplenty. The rhythmic structures thaka-takita- thaka dimi etc are concurrently established in a single phrase and it would be visualized in the Paripadal song No. 30 "Thenul Theral Nee".

The Thirutaala Jathi studded with the rhythmic aspects were highlighted by the divine composer Sri Sundaramurthy Swamigal in the padigam No. 642 "Naalum Innisaiyal" . Sambandar himself records that his compositions are with Chandam by the following:
a)Chandaiyal Tamil... - Namasivaya Padigam
b)Chandamar Chentamil - Song No. 305
c)Seerinmali Chentamil - Song No. 333
d)Kalikovaial Chandame - Song No. 126

The Thirutaala Jathi Padigam connotes that the tala structure can be fractionally divided according to the formation of the song. The first line of the composition is taken
e)Bandaththal ..... - 5 takita thaam
f) Vandeppal..... - 6 taka taa taa
g) Payindru Nindra - 7 takita taa taa
h) Umber Appaale - 8 takita taka takita
i)Servar Yenorkaan - 9 takita taka dimi taa
j)Payil gana munivargaluum - 10 taka dimi taka thaam taka
"Bandaththal" can also be rendered in Tisra-Chatusra-Kanta-Misra-Sankirna Nada.

The layas structure of the above padigam portrays that there is an apparent and actual rhythm that glorifies. " (Dr.K.R.SeethaLakshmi)

2) Appar also known as Thirunavukkarasar was a Saivite poet born as Marulnikkiyar in Thiruvamur. He was one of the 63 NAyanars of the 8th C.C.E. His parents died when he was young child, and he stayed with his sister Tilakavathiyar for some time. Then he joined a Jain monastery, where he earned the title Dharmasenar. He returned home to his sister after acquiring a disease. He and his sister prayed fervently at the Shiva Temple in their town. When he was cured, he began singing in praise of Lord Shiva in verses which later came to be called thevAram. He met Sambandhar as he traveled around, and they sang verses together from temple to temple. It was Sambandhar who began calling him Appar, out of respect, and he is known most famously by this name. The fourth, fifth and sixth Thirumurai were authored by ThirunAvukkarasar , He spent his long span of 80 years in social service. Out of the 4800 pathikams (group of 10 stanzas) he wrote, only 312 are available. Though most of his thevAram verses were set to metres, some were set to melodic modes of historic Tamil music, called Panns.

3) Sundarar also known as Sundaramurthi NAyanar, was one of the other 63 NAyanars. He was a child prodigy who also wrote many Shaiva Bhakthi poems. His works, called Tirupaatu, are also included in the seventh Thirumurai. Sundarar was born to a couple, who were both NAyanars themselves, but was later adopted and raised by the local king, because the king was enamored by the little boy. It is said that Sundarar was about to be married when an old man interrupted the wedding and asked Sundarar to be his servant and follower, but Sundarar, not seeing who the man really was, addressed him a mad man. The old man resumed his usual form as Lord Shiva and asked Sundarar to begin a verse addressing him as the mad man. Sundarar is known to have married twice and desired rebirth to stay with them, so Lord Shiva temporarily blinded Sundarar. One legend affirmed that when he was in Tiruvarur, he named all the future Nayanars through the Tirutthondar-Tohai . After going on a pilgrimage with the king of Kerala, he was taken up on a white elephant up to heaven. Only 100 pathikams of Sun^tharar are available The Periya Puranam which is included in the Thirumurai describes Sundarar’s life story.

Moovar’s compositions compared :
The first 7 ThirumuRai are collectively known as ThEvAram (தேவாரம்), garland of gods

Sambandar was a little boy.Sundarar, a youth in his twenties and Appar of ripe age. Their songs show perspectives appropriate to their age,Sambandar's songs has more description of buildings, nature, flora and fuana etc.. Little boys get exited when they see monkeys atop trees and fishes in the floods. - madaiyil vaLai paaya matharaar..... and .. sila manthi alamanthu maramEri mugil paarkkum thiruvaiyaarE...

Sundarar's song - we can see some humour and mischief, typical of any youth in their twenties. --- vALankirupar thiruvArooriR vazhnthu pOtheerE...

Appar's songs are serious, filled with devotion, emphasis on values, militancy, courage etc. - What more from an old man. -- 'en kadan pani seithu kidapathe....' and 'naamaarkkum kudiallOm..."

To download thevArams,please visit

4) Maanikkavaasagar was born in Vadhavoora, and came after Sambandar, Appar, and Sundarar. He contributed to the restoration of temples and faith. One legend states that a Pandiyan king entrusted Maanikkavaasagar with a lot of money to purchase horses for a coming battle. On the way there, he stopped and saw an old temple which needed restoration more than the king needed horses, so he renovated and rebuilt the temple in full glory. The king put him in jail for misappropriation of funds, but Lord Shiva, who was pleased by Maanikkavaasagar’s faith, released him and taught the king a lesson on having faith. Maanikkavaasagar traveled many places and sang devotional verses called Thiruvaasakam. He also wrote the Thirukkovaiyar, and both texts are included in the Thirumurai. His compositions thiruvembAvai are also popular (MoyyAr TaDam Poygai for eg)He settled in Chidambaram and died soon after.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


"One who sings knowing the proper time remains happy. By singing ragas at the wrong time one ill-treats them. Listening to them, one becomes impoverished and sees the length of one's life reduced." (Sangita-makaranda, I, 23-24)
If the true meaning of self-knowledge implies a state of enquiry into the Self that is not guided by the will, then Nature's call to prayer is the activity mankind takes for granted - sleep. When the Sun fades and all extroversion, entertainment, and distraction is denied to Man, the mind retreats into a state of meditative introversion we call sleep. Thoughts that are unfinished in the mind, during the day, continue throughout the night in the forms of dreams, striving towards their resolution, as part of the brain's intrinsic mechanism to find order. In a sense then, sleep is Nature's way of reuniting Man with him or herself, enabling that which lies dormant in the hidden recesses of the mind, to reveal and express itself in secure isolation from the world. The dawn of a morning then, has tremendous significance. It is the first witness of the conscious mind to the revelations of the night. To many, the waking hours may express the calm satisfaction of a release, the relief of a burden, and a feeling of pious quietude. To others, however, the meditation of sleep may have brought to the surface of the mind, the most secret burdens of one's life, and leave one in emotional turmoil. Therefore, if one were to provide a general description of the mood of a morning, perhaps it would be one of serenity and depth, holy, while simultaneously tinged with emotions ranging from great disturbance to supreme calmness.
The rich diversity of life-forms that inhabit the world have one key to their survival through the ages - interdependence. Each component of the Natural world lives its limited period in world, fulfilling its own role and purpose. The purpose of the Sun is to give light, the purpose of a flower, to bloom, and the breeze, to travel the Earth. Yet, without the Sun's rays, the flower would not bloom, and without the breeze, its pollen would not spread. Therefore, each life-form indirectly fulfils the purpose of the other, through mutual interdependence, its short life playing only a humble yet significant role in Nature's greater Order.
There is perhaps no greater myth than Mankind's self-created illusion of his own individuality, as separate from Nature. The word "individual" originates from the word "indivisible", meaning unfragmented, whole, complete in itself. Yet, Mankind treads on life's soils confident in his own power of influence, and ignorant of his fundamental subservience to the influences of Natural forces.
Ancient civilisations however, understood the extent to which Man is influenced by Nature, and thus strove to act in harmony with it, through intimate understanding of its moods and workings. The concept of Pranic energy in Hindu thought, or Qi in Chinese philosophy, is central to understanding the various associations that exist, between human emotions on one side, and sound, colour, and the time of day on the other.
The theory is centred around the fundamental assumption that there exists a universal, unquenchable life-force in all things, the intensity of which varies in time, geographically, emotionally, from person to person, as well as internally, between the various energy point or chakras . The nine emotions can also be defined in terms of the intensity of Pranic energy, where, for example, depression and sorrow is associated with low or weak Prana/Qi and joy and happiness is associated with a high or strong level of Prana/Qi . On a larger scale, the planetary movements, the levels of the tides, the progression of the seasons and the on-going cycles of days and nights, are all explicable in terms of shifts in the levels of Prana/Qi .
As no aspect of life can be divorced from the Pranic theory, it is only logical that all aspects of life are actually inter-connected and interdependent. Thus, a musical note has its own distinct psychological effect or emotion, and is also related specifically to a colour, mood, chakra, and time of day. All Sanskrit treatises on music have to some extent or other discussed this network of relationships. Thus, for example, the note Pa is associated with the emotions of love and laughter, and is also associated with dark colours. Therefore, according to the theory, ragas in which the note Pa is particularly strong, have in their emotional content, the emotions of love and the emotions associated with laughter. A ragamala painting expressing this raga, would also predominate with darker colours. This note is also associated with the deity Krishna, and so, he may be the subject of the painting. It may also be the case that a combination of notes, collectively express particular sentiments or moods. Consider the two notes Ma (shuddha) and ma (tivra) , the natural and augmented fourth. It is perhaps the close proximity of these two notes to each other, as well as their position at the mid-point of the scale, which make them expressive of crucial moments or precise moments of transition. Such moments include the sunrise, sunset, midday, and midnight, during the period of a day, and solstices and equinoxes during the period of a year. To give examples, consider the ragas Lalit and Ramkali , both of which contain shuddha and tivra Ma and are played/sung at daybreak.
The historical musicologist, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, in his attempt to organise and neatly categorise the various components of North Indian Classical Music, listed a series of characteristics which collectively distinguished a morning raga from an afternoon or evening raga . His first observation stated that those ragas which contained the notes Re, Dha , and Ga , were to be played between 7-10 o'clock in the morning or the evening. Secondly, those ragas which contained the notes re (flat), Ga , and Ni, came under the time period of sandhiprakas or twilight, and were to be played at either 4-7 o'clock in the morning or the evening. Thirdly, those ragas which contained the notes ga (flat) and ni (flat) were to be played before sunrise or sunset, between 10-4 o'clock am. or pm. This category included the exception of the Tori family or That , which contains ragas with the notes Ga and Ni . The final factor, which ultimately determined whether the raga was to be played in the morning or the evening, was the position of the vadi (the most important or pivotal note of the raga ). If the vadi of a raga was in the lower tetrachord or purvanga, that is, between Sa-Ma or Sa-Pa , then the raga was to be played between the hours of 12pm-12am. Similarly, if the vadi of the raga was in the upper tetrachord or uttaranga , then the raga was to be played between the hours of 12am-12pm. Thus, for example, consider the raga Bhairav . The notes played in this raga are Sa re (flat) Ga Ma Pa dha (flat) Ni Sa . Because the raga contains the notes re (flat), Ga, and Ni , it satisfies the requirements for Bhatkhande's second category, and is classified as a sandhiprakas raga, played during the period of twilight. Secondly, the vadi of this raga is the note dha (flat) . As this note is in the upper tetrachord of the scale, the raga is then classified as a morning raga. Therefore, raga Bhairav is played at daybreak.
The fundamental problem with the entire time theory of ragas is that few people are sensitive enough to feel the appropriateness of ragas played at their designated times. Instead, one is left accepting the words of the various scriptures, and the question remains whether one is better left to rediscover first-hand the relationship between the ragas and the time of the day, rather than resort to conformity.