Carnatic Compositions – The Essence and Embodiment
-Aparna Munukutla Gunupudi
Our intent for this essay is to highlight the great features of the language, emotion and melody (rAgam) of a krithi (song/composition) and also to provide the song for your listening pleasure. Most of you may know these krithis, but when you discover the distinct features of a krithi, you may enjoy a new beauty or an attribute in the krithi.
Note: Krithi is defined as a song containing pallavi, anupallavi and charanam that have high musical value and can be sung elaborately with improvisations. Whereas Keerthana also has a pallavi, anupallavi and charanam but is sung in a single form or simpler pattern.
Krithi: praNamAmyaham srI gowri sutham
tAlam: Adi talam
Composer: Mysore vAsudEvachar
Singer: T. Chandra Bhanu
praNmAmyaham srI gaurI sutam
phaNi talpa vAsudEva bhaktam satatam
gaNanAtham amara brinda sevitam
phaNihAra bhooShitam munivara vanditam
Dhruta chAru mOdakam gajamukham
sitakarAmita garva bhanjakam
nata loka santOSha dAyakam
srita bhakta pAlakam siddhi vinAyakam
vinAyaka/gaNEsha chavithi is a festival celebrated by young and old all across India in the month of bhAdrapada. There are many songs composed in praise of ganEsha, however the song “praNamAmyaham srI gowri sutham” composed by Mysore vAsudEvachAr is the gem. Traditionally in KarNataka state, the festival is celebrated as gowri gaNEsh chavithi. Keeping up with the tradition, srI vAsudEvAchAr starts the song referencing srI gowri in the pallavi as “salutations to the son of srI gowri”. As he describes gaNEsha as the devotee of lord Vishnu, we can visualize lord Vishnu lying on the Adi sheshuvu. In anupallavi, he describes gaNEsha as the one who is the chief of the ganAs, who wears serpents as his ornaments and is worshipped by the celestial bodies and by the sages. In charaNam, he praises gaNEsha as the one holding his favorite food “mOdaka”, who takes care of his devotees, one who causes happiness to the world and who removes the arrogance of Chandra (the moon).
This is full of praises to gaNEsha, yet “amita garva bhanjakam” is markedly a keystone, which means to reduce the extreme arrogance. The saying “ati sarvathra varjayeth” means anything that is in excess must be removed. Who has arrogance in this context? Sitakara – means the one that causes coolness or Chandra. Why did the author refer to Chandra specially? Chandra, the brother of lakshmi dEvi, is beautiful and has a cooling effect. It is natural that these attributes make Chandra arrogant. Moreover, he stays arrogant even after he was insulted by daksha for the same reason. According to astronomy, we now know why the moon has a waning phase but the good old story says that he was cursed by daksha. Daksha chooses Chandra as a suitable bridegroom for his twenty seven daughters and gets them married to him. Yet Chandra shows his deep love and affection to just one of his brides Rohini. The other daughters complain to their father. Daksha, being a short tempered man, curses Chandra to suffer from debilitating disease. Later the rest of the family reminds him that such a curse is unfair to the son in law and so he alters the curse to be only for fifteen days of the month. One thinks that Chandra would learn from that curse and be humble. Apparently not, and we find that from the following story from the geNEsh vratham.
On one fine chavithi day, gaNEsha was super impressed by his devotees’ praises and ate all the offerings to his heart’s content, reached home feeling very heavy and found his parents Lord siva and pArvati, at home. In olden days it was customary to offer salutations and obtain blessings from parents before you leave the house and as soon as you return safely. Accordingly, gaNEsha tries to offer his salutations to the lotus feet of his parents. He was unable to bend down due to the food he ate and of course his big body. He attempts many times in vain and finally he falls down flat and awkwardly all the food comes out. Chandra who was adorned in siva’s head finds it very funny and laughs at gaNEsha’s act. pArvati, naturally concerned about her son’s well being, gets angry at Chandra and curses him such that anybody who sees Chandra will fall under false accusations. How is it possible not to see Chandra who shows up everyday without any invitation? So that caused some new troubles. All the gods and sages go to Brahma to rescue them from this situation. Brahma brings gaNEsha back to life and begs pArvati to withdraw the curse. pArvati, feeling a bit consoled by Brahma, alters the curse to be effective just for the day (chavithi) when Chandra laughed at gaNEsha. So Chandra’s extreme arrogance was reduced by daksha and gaNEsha.
If we move forward to srI krishNa’s time in dwApara yuga, krishNa. who is aware of this curse avoids the view of Chandra on the chavithi day but to his ill-fate, he finds a reflection of Chandra in his pot of milk. Indeed he falls under the false accusation from satrajith as the syamantaka mani (jewel) stealer. krishNa, in order to prove his innocence, goes to find the gem. In the process, he engages in a fierce fight with Jambavan and brings the gem to return to satrajith. Once again, all the gods and sages say to krishNa “you are strong and powerful. It was easy for you to clear the false accusation. But what about people like us?” krishNa, further alters the curse and says the following “whoever performs the gaNEsha pooja on the chavithi day and listens to the syamantaka story will be cleared of the curse for the entire year. These stories detail the troubles that can be caused by arrogance. srI mysore vAsudEvAchar has narrated the essence of the story in just three words and gives us the impression that everybody who listens to his song is blessed with humbleness.
Another anecdote is that the author refers to lord gaNEsha as “bestower of happiness to the world (loka santosha dAyakam)” which has become absolute truth. In this time and day, people all across the world believe in lord gaNEsha as “remover of obstacles”. Many people in many countries keep gaNEsha’s statues in their homes, office desks and cars. That is a great indication of his strength and power.
As gaNEsha chavithi is approaching this month, whether you are able to perform pooja (worship) or not, if you at least listen to this song and think of syamantaka story, I believe, you will be blessed with happiness, humbleness and the remover of obstacles will surely remove all your obstacles.
The power of music is profound
The joy of music is sweet and sound
The awe of music is abound
Music makes the world go round
Tanikella Chandra Bhanu is an accomplished Carnatic musician and graded artist in All India Radio. She teaches music at Sri Durgabai Deshmukh Music College. She has performed extensively in India and abroad and currently lives in Bangalore.
Aparna Munukutla Gunupudi is a poet, lyricist and short story writer. She has written dance ballets such as Queen of Jhansi, Prasanna Ashtalakshmi, Usha Kalyanam, Sneham, Jamsetji Tata and they were performed in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam styles. She wrote songs for “Prema Tarangini” an audio cassette released by noted music director Sri Manohar Murthy. She considers her parents, who provided and encouraged her in book reading, are her “gurus” and Sri Jandhyala Payayya Sastri as her writing mentor.