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).

Capture

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.

shloka

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!

-neelanjana

Have you ever tried going to a dark spot, away from city lights to look at the sky from there? You’ll be amazed at the range of colors and brightness variations of stars in the night sky.  Can you guess the number of stars you can see in a very dark sky?  Do you think you can see millions of stars? No!  At the most you can see about six thousand stars in the sky. That means you probably can’t see more than three thousand stars at any given time! Strange, but true!

When you look up in a dark sky you will see stars of many different hues – bluish white, bright white, bright red, orange, yellow and several other colors in between. Some stars visible to naked eye are extremely bright, while a large number of the stars are faint. But have you wondered if these stars had any names?

Most of the bright stars in the sky, that you can see even from a light-polluted city sky have proper names. In India, many of these stars were named thousands of years ago and the same names are in vogue today. The names of twentyseven asterisms (stars, or groups of stars) starting with Ashwini, ending with Revathi which are part of the twelve constellations in the zodiac have existed for more than four thousand years. By the way, many of the stars from this list of Indian asterisms are not very bright but they were named because they helped ancient Indians to formulate their calendar based on the movement of Sun and the Moon in the background of these stars.

Apart from these, names in Indian languages are available to few other bright stars outside the zodiac as well. The pole star, called ‘Dhruva’ is probably the most well known of such stars. The word ‘Dhruva’ (ध्रुव)  in Samskrta means ‘constant’, ‘firm’ etc.  This is a very apt name because the position of this star in the sky never changes and stays constant.  The Pole star is a not an exceptionally bright star, but is a notable star because of its position it occupies in the sky. All stars in the sky appear as though they rotate around it. The Pole star never rises or sets, nor does it show any kind of movement in the sky. If you were at the North Pole, you would see the Pole star directly overhead, and all other stars go around, never rising or setting. However due to the precession of Earth’s orbit, the Pole star 4000 years ago, is not the same Pole star we have today; but tat is another discussion altogether!

Orion-Constellation

                                         The Constellation of Orion

Many of the star names in English are taken from their Roman or Greek names. A large number of star names in English also come from Arabic. For those stars for which there is no native Indian name, Indian stargazers use their international (English) names.

For those stars that don’t have proper names, there is another way of nomenclature. The sky is divided into 88 constellations. Constellations are imaginary star patterns in the sky. Some constellations actually resemble what they are supposed to resemble, and for some constellations, you must have an extremely eccentric imagination to relate a constellation to the figure it is supposed to mean! But that is beside the point.  Any star you that you can see, belongs to one constellation or the other. The brightest star in a constellation is normally denoted by the Greek letter alpha, the second brightest beta, the third brightest gamma and so on. Thus, the brightest star in the constellation of Centaur would be called Alpha Centauri; the second brightest star in the constellation Leo would be called Beta Leonis. In this system, the Pole star would be called Alpha Ursa Minoris, because it is the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor. Thus every star that has a proper name also has a name based on the constellation and the brightness of the star within the constellation it belongs to.

This method of naming although very useful has given some incorrect names too. For example, the bright red star Betelgeuse is called Alpha Orionis, meaning it is the brightest star in the constellation Orion. But if you look up the sky now to look at Orion, you will notice there is one more star that is brighter than Betelgeuse! That star is Rigel (or Beta Orionis, as you might have guessed). Betelgeuse is a variable star, meaning its brightness varies over time. There was a time when Betelgeuse might have actually looked brighter to bare eyes than Rigel, and that’s when this name must have come from and it has stayed on.

Using Greek letters as prefixes to stars would only work for a handful of stars in any constellation. When you look at the sky with a telescope, you’d see thousands of new stars, invisible to naked eye. A new problem of naming these arises. Astronomers have a very interesting way of dealing with this problem.

Just like the Earth is divided by imaginary lines called longitudes from North Pole to South Pole, the sky is also divided by imaginary lines going from the north pole of the sky to the South Pole. Just as there is a prime meridian on Earth (0 degree longitude), there is a 0 hours right ascension (RA) line in the sky. The line that goes through the First point of Aries (The point in sky where the Sun would be seen on the spring equinox) is called 0 hours RA. Any star in sky can be located by its co-ordinates – how many hours (and/or minutes) away from the first point of Aries and how far is it from the equator of the sky. This is very similar to locating a place on the Earth knowing the longitude and latitude.

Now you must be guessing how this helps in naming stars! Every star in a constellation is given a number by the order of right ascension. As an example, the star within the area marked for the constellation Virgo and with the least right ascension will be labeled 1 Virginis. The star with next higher right ascension will be 2 Virginis and so on. Here there is no correlation between the number and the brightness of the star.

The winter (in the northern hemisphere) are a treat to star gazers, wherever it is not cloudy or rainy!  There are a bunch of bright stars and constellations in the eastern sky. So what are you waiting for? There are many resources on the Internet to help you identify the stars and constellations. Get out and check out those bright constellations like Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Auriga and Perseus in the winter sky. You can start with the three stars from the belt of Orion, which are unmistakable (see figure). I bet you won’t miss the bright stars like Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster if you head out and watch the evening sky!

-neelanjana

(This is the text of a Toastmaster’s speech I made a long time ago)

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.

Pallavi:

ಗೋಕುಲವೆಲ್ಲಾ ಕೊಳಲಿನ ಇನಿದನಿಯಲಿ ತುಂಬಿದನೇ ||
gOkulavellA koLalina inidaniyali tumbidanE

(Translation: He filled Gokula with the melodies his flute)

Anupallavi:

ಅನುಪಲ್ಲವಿ: ಆಕಳ ಮಂದೆಯ ಕಾಯುತ ಗೋಪಿಯರ ತಾನು ಗೆಲಿದನೇ || ಗೋಕುಲವೆಲ್ಲಾ||

AkaLa mandeya kAyuta gOpiyarellare gelidanE

(Translation: The cowherd, won over the hearts of all gopis)

CharaNa:

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:

https://soundcloud.com/hamsanandi/a-varna-in-madhuvanti

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!

-neelanjana

SAMSUNG

ಬಿರಿಯೆ ಹೂಬಾಣಗಳು ಮೇಗಡೆ-
ಯುರಿಯೆ ಭೂಚಕ್ರಗಳು ನೆಲದಲಿ
ಮೆರೆವ ಸಾಲ್ದೀಪಗಳ ಮನೆಮನೆಸುತ್ತ ಹಚ್ಚೋಣ
ಪರಿಪರಿಯ ವಿಸ್ಮಯವು ತುಂಬಿದ
ಧರೆಯ ಬಗೆಬಗೆ ಜನರ ಮನದ-
ಲ್ಲರಿವು ದೀವಿಗೆಗಳನು ಬೆಳಗಿಸಿ ನಲಿವು ಪಡೆಯೋಣ

ಬಿರಿಯುತಿರೆ ಹೂಬಾಣಗಳು ಜೊತೆ
ಗುರಿಯುತಿರೆ ಸಾಲ್ದೀಪಗಳು ಸಾ-
ವಿರದ ಲೆಕ್ಕದಲಿರುಳ ಕತ್ತಲೆ ದೂರವೋಡಿಸುತ
ಧರೆಯ ಜನಗಳ ಮನದಲಿಹ ಕಾ
ರಿರುಳನೋಡಿಸುವಂಥ ಮುಡಿವ-
ಲ್ಲರಿವು ದೀವಿಗೆ ಹಚ್ಚುವಂತಹ ಕೆಲಸ ಮಾಡೋಣ

-ನೀಲಾಂಜನ

Today is the tenth, and the last day of Navaratri – Vijaya Dashami. As per the Ramayana, this is the day when Rama defeated Ravana, and as per the Mahabharata, this is the day, on which Pandava’s ended their incognito.  This is also the day on which Goddess Chamundeshwari slaying demon Mahisha.

Goddess Chamundeshwari, atop the Chamundi Hill at Mysore was the royal deity when the Odeyars ruled Mysore. The Odeyars of Mysore started the Dasara celebrations more than 400 years ago, which they had carried carried forward from the Kings of Vijayanagara.

The last ruler of Mysore, Sri Jayachamarajendra Odeyar was a musican and vaggeyakara himself and has composed about 100 compositions. His guru, Mysore Vasudevacharya is also one the most important composers of the 20th century. He composed more than 300 compositions – most of them in Samskrta and Telugu. He belongs to the musical tradition of Tyagaraja. Since Vausdevacharya’s compositions are very much on Tyagaraja’s lines, he is often called ‘Abhinava Tyagaraja’.

On this day when Goddess Chamundeshwari goes in the Dasara procession at Mysore, what could be better than listening to a composition about Goddess Chamundeshwari of Mysore, composed by Mysore Vasudevacharya, and played on the Veena by Mysore Doreswamy Iyengar?

Desktopcollage

Set in a bright and majestic raga,  Bilahari, I think this composition the conclusion for the festivities of the season. Click on the image below, and enjoy this musical feast!

It was indeed wonderful to write the posts in the series “Veena Navartri” during Navaratri 2014, and in that process listen to some excellent music and become familiar with some new artists as well.

I wish all visitors of “ಅಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆ” for an year full of happiness and  you the very best in your lives.

-neelanjana

p.s: Generally, I am careful about giving image credits. However, for this “Veena Navaratri”, I could not do that and idid not cite image sources. Just wanted to acknowledge this fact, All images belong to their respective copyright holders.

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Ramaprasad K V

Ramaprasad K V

ಕನ್ನಡಿಗ. Musicphile. Bibliophile. Astrophile. Blogophile. Twitterphile.

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