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It’s been a common occurrence in Indian poetry, to compare exemplary humans Mount Meru. Even in current news reports, you may see the usage of this word to mean “great”, “of a tall order” etc.
Going back a few centuries,in a well known composition in Raga Mayamalavagoula, Tyagaraja calls Rama as Meru samana dheera, meaning Rama’s valor and majesty to that of Meru mountain. You can listen to an equally majestic rendition of the composition here by none other than Sri BMK. In his composition in raga Lalita, Syama Shastri calls out to the divine mother Parvati as “Sumeru madhya nilaye” , one who dwells in the great mountain of Meru. Given that Parvati is the daughter of Himavan, and wife of Shiva, who dwells in Kailasa, I think it was common practice to associate Mount Meru to be somewhere in the Himalayas. By the way, you can listen to an epic rendition of nannu brovu lalita here, by LGJ.
But where is Meru, exactly? If you believe the Wikipedia, it could be anywhere from the Himalayas to Tibet to Central Asia to Tanzania! But is it that difficult to identify it if it were so intertwined with our history?
The Mahabharata (in Bheeshma Parva) describes Mount Meru as a globular mountain made of Gold. Surely a poetic description, but not something that would help in identifying a geographic location. The Bhagavata too has several references to Mount Meru ( 5th Skandha), but that too leaves us with poetic descriptions that tell us it is “somewhere to the north of Bharatavarha”, “surrounded by the ocean”, “golden mountain” etc.
However, no need to despair. In addition to poets such as Vyasa or Kalidasa may have had colorful descriptions, but we are lucky have had people like Aryabhata and Varahamihira, who in spite of being a little fanciful, gave descriptions that would help us identify Mount Meru,
In the Golapada section of Aryabhateeyam, Aryabhata (5th century AD) says the following:
मेरुर्योजनमात्रः प्रभाकरो हिमवता परिक्षिप्तः
नन्दनवनस्य मध्ये रत्नमयस्सर्वर्तोवृतः ||११ ||
“In the center of the Nandana forest is the bright Mount Meru that’s a yojana in size, that is full of precious stones, and surrounded by the Himalaya Mountains” – Sure, this is as poetic as the description in the Bhagavata or Mahabharata. Not much use here.
स्वर्मॅरू स्थलमध्ये नरको वडवामुखश्च जलमध्यॅ
अमरामरा मन्यन्ते परस्परमधस्स्थितान्नियतम् || १२||
“At Meru Mountain, at the center of the landmass, live the devas; At Vadavamukha, at the center of water live the asuras. Now each of them think that the others are situated below them”
Again, not much help here – How does it matter where the devas and asuras live to identify Mount Meru? You are bound to ask me.
Thankfully, in the 16th verse in the same chapter, Aryabhata spills the beans!
देवाः पश्यन्ति भगोलार्धमुद्न्मेरु संस्थितास्सव्यं
अपसव्यगं तयार्धं दक्षिणावडवामुखे प्रेताः || १६||
“The devas situated on Mount Meru see half of the starry sphere, and the departed souls on the south end, see the other half of the starry sphere”.
Now this is a very good description of how the sky is seen from the Earth’s two poles. At each pole, only half of the starry sphere can be seen, and the halves are mutually exclusive. This implies that the Mount Meru should be located at Earth’s North pole, and Vadavamukha, at the South pole. However, it must be pointed out that that the shloka does not plainly say that Mount Meru is at the North Pole. For that, we must visit the work of Varahamihira (6th century AD).
In verse 34 of the 12th chapter ( titled भूगोलाधिकारः ), of Surya Siddhanta, a work of Varahamihira, we find the following description:
अनेकरत्न निचयो जाम्बूनदमयो गिरिः
भूगोल मध्यगो मेरुरुभयत्र विनिर्गतः
“Filled with different types of precious stones, the golden Meru mountain goes through the center of the globe onto either side”
This is as close as it gets to saying that the Mount Meru is on Earth’s axis. Note that the reference here is not to Jambu Dweepa (or India) but to “jAmbUnadamaya”. As per the dictionary, this term means “of Jamboonada gold, or of golden etc. Narayana Pandita’s Gudharthaprakashika commentary to Surya Siddhanta also adds a shloka to show how “Jambunadamaya” implies gold. It probably refers to gold panning in river waters.
The next verse (35) goes on to say the Gods live in the top of the Meru and the demons at the bottom of the Meru. Now compare it with the description by Aryabhata that I cited earlier in this post, and you will find that they are exactly talking about the same thing! What does go through the “center of” Earth’s globe and project to both ends? It’s nothing but the earth’s axis. Underneath all the glittering gold, and being the abode of devas and asuras being spoken about in the shlokas, we see the truth plainly told – that Meru refers to nothing but the earth’s axis. The top of Meru is the North pole, and the bottom of the Meru at is the South pole.
Then in the next few verses, Varahamihira talks about 4 (fictitious, although the text doesn’t explicitly say so) cities which are separated by 90 degrees on the earth’s equator. Incidentally one of these is called “Lanka” and is in Bharatavarsha – at a distance of one fourth the circumference of the Earth, due south of Meru’s top end. This implies the Surya SiddhantaKara knew that Bharatavarsha was close to the equator. However, the “city” which he calls Lanka can’t be in India because it is due south of Ujjain and on the equator, and falls in the Indian ocean and not on land. We can only assume that he made up these “cities” to be able to describe the globe, and the movement of the globe.
And later verses tell how at the top of the Meru there is a 6 month day, which there is a six month long night at the bottom of the Meru( verse 68). In verse 72, he says as you travel towards the Meru, in either direction, the altitude of the Pole star keeps increasing – This is a very direct way of saying that Meru (or the northern end of it) is nothing but Earth’s North pole.
So where is Meru? All these references confirm that Meru meaning nothing but the Earth’s axis. Leaving aside the stuff about the imaginary cities ( even there, the astronomy of these points, are accurately described) and Gods and demons living at either end of the Meru mountain, other astronomical descriptions are quite accurate.
Why didn’t I write down all the verses here? Because, there is nothing as gratifying as finding it in the source. If you are interested to read the verses I cited, click on the the PDF file in the link below:
http://www.wilbourhall.org/pdfs/suryasiddhanth035839mbp.pdf Check page 286 for the shlokas and the commentary.
Now it should leave you with no doubt about the identity of Mount Meru!
The stats on ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ indicated today was the day with the highest number of hits in the last 7+ years! A quick look showed most of the people were searching for the phrase “Kannada Rajyostava” reached my post from 3 years ago. It’s then I found that I never posted an audio of the Varna (my composition in Raga Madhuvanti) that I promised to do in that post.
Anyway, let me cut the chaff. A Varna is a musical composition that generally has a romantic theme, and the words go as a conversation between two friends, where in the nAyika is telling about her lover to her friend. Varnas are set to music such that they give a very good overview of the various musical phrases any given raga accommodates. Generally sung at the beginning of a concert in multiple speeds, a Varna is often employed by performers as a quick way of ‘getting to the form’ when on stage.
The lyrics of a large number of Varnas are in Telugu, but that does not mean there aren’t any Varnas with words in other languages such as Kannada, Tamizh or Samskrta. Since this is Kannada Rajyotsava, I am sharing a Varna I composed, with it’s sahitya lines in Kannada.
True to the style of Varnas, the lyrics stick to a romantic format. The Varna is in raga Madhuvanti, a northern import to Karnataka sangeeta, and is set to 2 kaLe Adi tALa. The lines are are inspired by a shloka of Bilvamangala in his classic Krishna Karna Karnamrta.
ಗೋಕುಲವೆಲ್ಲಾ ಕೊಳಲಿನ ಇನಿದನಿಯಲಿ ತುಂಬಿದನೇ ||
gOkulavellA koLalina inidaniyali tumbidanE
(Translation: He filled Gokula with the melodies his flute)
ಅನುಪಲ್ಲವಿ: ಆಕಳ ಮಂದೆಯ ಕಾಯುತ ಗೋಪಿಯರ ತಾನು ಗೆಲಿದನೇ || ಗೋಕುಲವೆಲ್ಲಾ||
AkaLa mandeya kAyuta gOpiyarellare gelidanE
(Translation: The cowherd, won over the hearts of all gopis)
ಚರಣ: ಮಾತೇ ಮಧುವಂತಿದೆ! ಸಖೀ, ಇವನ || ಮಾತೇ||
mAtE madhuvantide! sakhi ! ivana || mAte||
(Translation: His speech is like honey! Oh my dear!)
The charaNa line was totally my imagination, to include rAga name “madhuvanti” (technically called the ragamudre),
You can listen to a recording of the Varna, played on the flute by Vidwan Vijay Kannan:
For those of you interested in the notation, click the following links:
A-Varna-in-Madhuvanti (Kannada version)
A-Varna-in-Madhuvanti (Notation in English)
ಎಲ್ಲ ಕನ್ನಡಿಗರಿಗೂ ಕನ್ನಡ ರಾಜ್ಯೋತ್ಸವದ ಶುಭಾಶಯಗಳು!
Today, 10/2/2010 is the ninth day of Navaratri, which is celebrated as Mahanavami. The first eight days of Navaratri, the music compositions I posted were all about Parvati (or one of her forms). Since, Mahanavami s also the day when many people perform Saraswati pooja, I thought it would be very appropriate to share composition about Saraswati today.
The Sharada shrine in Shringeri, which dates back to Adi Shankara’s days is one of the most famous shrines of Saraswati. The temple is known for it’s grand celebration of Navaratri.
In one of my earlier posts this series I had mentioned how the term Veena was a term used to indicate any string instrument. Some sculptures of Saraswati show her playing a fret-less string instrument. The music compositionI am sharing today is also played on a Veena without frets. Known as Gotuvadya or Chitra Veena, this instrument is a close cousin of Vichitra Veena and Rudra Veena which are used in Hindustani system.
The composition starts with the words “Sarasiruhasanapriye” and praises the Goddess as one who is delighted by singing and Veena playing. It is a composition of Puliyur Doreswamy Iyer, a post Trinity composer ( and father of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer and Ramaswamy Shivan).
This composition is in rAga nATa, which has been a popular raga for several centuries, and particularly considered an excellent raga to play tAna. No wonder the artist has preceded the composition with a short Alapa and tAna.
Today, 10/1/2014, is the eighth day of Navaratri. This is celebrated in the name of Durga, and so the festival is called Durgashtami. While the Bengal region is known for it’s Durga puja, in Karnataka Navaratri is celebrated in the name of different forms of the Goddess.
In the first seven days of the festival, I wrote some some interesting bits about seven composers of Karnataka Sangeeta and their compositions – Syama Sastry (Devi brova samayamide) , Muttuswamy Dikshita (Meenakshi memudam dehi) ,Tyagaraja (Darini telusukonti) , Swathi Tirunal (Pahi jagajjanani), Muttaiah Bhagavatar (Sudhamayi sudhanidhi) , Lalgudi G Jayaraman (Tillana in Mand) and G N Balasubramanian (Ranjani niranjani).
Today also, I am planning to do the same – although there is meager information on the composer. I chose this song because of couple of different reasons, but let me do some history talking first.
The term used for “composer” in Indian music is Vaggeyakara – which implies that both the words and the music were created by the same person. Traditionally, Indian music was primarily to be performed vocally, and hence the necessity of having words. Therefore, unlike in western music, there were almost no compositions which were created for playing on instruments until very recent times.
But there have been instances when the lyrics are penned by one person and the music given by another. We have very limited view of our music compositions before the 16th-17th centuries. It may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but most of compositions of early composers such as Purandara Dasa (and other Haridasas) or Annamayya have been tuned by later day musicians. Only a few have retained their original form. There are also instances where in the lyrics were written by a person specifically to be given a musical form by another. I can cite the example of Devottama Jois writing the sahitya for the 108 compositions on Chamundeswari for Muttaiah Bhagavatar during his stint in Mysore as the Asthana Vidwan. Then there are cases of Swati Tirunal‘s compositions being re-fitted with music by Muttaiah Bhagavatar, and later by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. So in such cases, the role of Vaggeyakara is split between two people.
And then in some cases, compositions that were probably never set to music or sung before, are set to music by a musician, and they become popular as a “composition” of the person who wrote the sahitya lines, rather than the person who set music. The composition I am talking about is one such , which is set in multiple ragas.
Ragamalika (ರಾಗಮಾಲಿಕಾ, ರಾಗಮಾಲಿಕೆ) – is a type of composition that is quite popular in South Indian classical music today. As the name suggests, such a composition sung in multiple ragas, and so the name Ragamalika, i.e. “garland of ragas”. As a composition type, they seem to gained popularity from the early 18th century. Muttuswami Dikshita’s father Ramaswamy Dikshita, and his guru Veerabhadrayya are some of the earliest Ragamalika composers known. As I was telling earlier, several Purandara Dasa compositions that are sung as Ragamalikas, have been set to music by later day musicians, since we have lost most of original structure of haridasa compositions from the 15-18th centuries. And their ragamalika form is more than likely to be of recent origin.
There is some food for thought here. Why didn’t Haridasa’s who composed suLAdis , which are compositions in multiple tALas (tALamAlike), think of composing in multiple ragas? They my indeed have, but we can’t prove they did. As an aside I can cite a composition of Sripadaraya ( who composed several decades before Purandara dasa) – ಲಾಲಿ ಗೋವಿಂದ ಲಾಲಿ – in which three of the twenty three charaNas have names of the ragas embedded in the lyrics (Kalyani, Anandabhairavi and Devagandhara) giving us an opportunity to speculate that the composition indeed might have been a ragamalike, sung in those ragas for those specific charaNas ( because that’s how the raga signature is included in more recent ragamalika compositions). Yes, again, it remains only a speculation.
Today’s ragamalika, Srichakraraja simhasaneshwari, is said to be a “composition” of Agastyar – only means that someone with a pen name “Agastyar” wrote the sahitya, as the language and style look contemporary. This is set in four ragas, that are sung in madhyama shruti – Jhanjoti, nadanamakriya, Punnagavarali and Sindhubhairavi.
Now listen to a rendition of this composition by Aravind Bhargav, a worthy disciple of the Mandolin maestro Srinivas, who passed away recently. This is from a concert recently in memory of his guru:
The embedded video seems to start at the wrong time – Start from the 1hr 35m mark to listen to Srichakraraja simhasaneshwari in ragamalika. I recommend you listen not only to this composition (which is only about 5 minutes long), but the entire concert, which is excellent.
Today is 9/30/2014, the seventh day of Navaratri. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a composition of a 20th century composer. Today also, I am thinking of sharing a composition from another 20th century musician.
It’s often said that the ragas are infinite – “ananta”. Practically speaking, there are only a few hundred ragas that are in currency at any point in time. But due to many reasons, some well known ragas go out from circulation and some ragas considered rare become very famous at some other point of time. This cycle has repeated in the past millennium, and I guess the trend will continue to the next as well.
Right from the 14th century there were attempts at classifying ragas into different groups, based on the notes used in those melodies. This is very similar to how elements (and their compounds) are organized in the Periodic table. This method helps to understand similarities, differences etc, There were many such systems of classification, the last of which came in around 1650 AD. In this classification, Venkatamakhi not only did classify the ragas that existed at his time, but also built a framework for classifying such ragas that were yet to be invented at that time. This framework is known as the 72 mELa scheme. A mELa is a collection of notes, and does not become a raga by itself; but it is possible to create a raga by building around these notes.
This scheme paved the way for later day composers to experiment with notes and come up with newer melodies. For example, Muttuswamy Dikshita composed in all the 72 mELa rAgas postulated as possible by Venkatamakhi. Tyagaraja composed in most of these 72, and he also came up with some more with some permutation and combination of notes used, by dropping notes. This method was a bit different from earlier times, when a raga was defined by the form and phrases used rather than just from the notes and the order of the notes that occur in.
In general, when a raga is solely defined by the notes it uses and skips and the order of those notes, it offers less scope for elaboration. However, over time, such ragas also can develop their own character, and thereby become more expansive and can fire the imagination of more composers to come up with compositions. We can see examples this happening to many of the new ragas that were brought to life by Tyagaraja.
Ranjani is one of the ragas that were “created” by Tyagaraja. He composed only one composition in this raga. This raga is quite popular today, and many later day composers have also contributed to it’s popularity. One such composer is GNB.
G N Balasubramaniyan, better known as GNB was a star in the musical world of the 20th century. He was also a star on the silver screen, at a time when actors had to be good singers as well, and acted in several movies in the early 1940s. He has composed about 50 compositions and “Ranjani Niranjani”, praising the Goddess Parvati is one of his very popular compositions.
Now listen to this kriti played by Mandolin U Srinivas:
The composition ends at around time 28:00, but you you can’t stop there, you are not to blame! One can go on listening to the Mandolin magic no end!