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: jambUpathe mAm pAhi

rAgam: Yamunakalyani

tAlam: Eka talam

Composer: Muthuswamy Deekshitar

Singer:  Ragavan Manian


jambUpatE mAm pAhi nijAnandAmruta bOdham dEhi


ambujAsanAdi sakala dEva namana tumburunuta hrdaya tApOpasamana

ambudhi gangA kAvErI yamunA kambu kaNThy-akhilAnDEsvarI ramaNa


parvatajA prArthitApa linga vibhO panca bhUta maya prapancha prabhO

sarvajIva dayAkara sambhO sAmajATavi nilaya svayambhO

sarva karuNA sudhA sindhO saraNAgata vatsalArtha bandhO

anirvachanIya nAda bindO nitya mauLi vidhruta gangEndO

nirvikalpaka samAdhi niSTha siva kalpakatarO

nirvishESa chaitanya niranjana guruguha gurO

This krithi is in praise of lord Siva in the form of jala (water) linga in Jambukeswaram, a town near Sreerangam in Tamil Nadu.  It is said that the sivalingam is surrounded by water in this place.  I discussed the pruthivi (earth) lingam last month and it is only fair to follow that with water.  In pallavi, Deekshitar pleads to jambupathi (one who lives in Jambu grove) to protect him and teach him the path to attain true bliss or happiness.  Next, in anupallavi, he describes him as the person who is praised by Brahma, other gods and Tumburu, who soothes the agony in their hearts, who provided water in the form of rivers Ganga, KAvery, Yamuna and the ocean and lord of Akhilandewari who has beautifully shaped neck like a conch.  He then elaborates more of Siva’s attributes in the charanam. He describes him as the one who took the form of jala linga upon prayers by the daughter of the mountain king, who is the lord of the world and the five elements, whose kindness flows to everybody like a river, who made his home in the forest where elephants roam around, who is a dear friend to anybody who comes to his rescue, who is the origin for the inexplicable sound “nAdam”,  who adorns the ganga and crescent moon on his head, who always is in a state of meditation and yet showers boons like kalpavruksha and the one who is the teacher for guruguha (also another name of his son Kumaraswami) and provides energy and enthusiasm.

As you listen to this unparalleled song filled with devotion, emotion, rhythmic phrases and excellent notations, it melts your heart and rises like waves in the ocean and a stream of tears flow with emotion.  It is interesting to find that the author requests the lord to teach him the path to attain happiness as opposed to blessing him with happiness.  Another attribute of the song is Deekshitar’s reference to relevant objects (liquids) such as amrutam (nectar), ocean, rivers, nectar of kindness (karuna sudha) aptly fit for this song on water.  Deekshitar cleverly puts the notes for the phrase “ambudhi GangA KAveri YamunA” starting with lower octave for ambudhi which is at the sea level and taking it up to the higher octave for Ganga which starts from the mountains of Himalayas.

A key phrase for this song is “anirvachanIya nAda bindO”.  His notations for this phrase are so magical and take you to a different state of mind.  As I said earlier, the phrase means, the origin of the inexplicable sound!  What is inexplicable for this sound?  Where is it generated from and how is it encompassing the universe?  To get the answers for these questions, we have to look into the story of Satyavrata, an ardent devotee of lord VishNu.  One day, Satyavrata is meditating by the river banks of kruthamAlika.  Later he decides to offer water oblation to lord Sree Hari and picks up water from the river with both palms cupped together.  He finds a little fish in his hands and decides to drop it back in the river.  To his dismay, the fish starts pleading “please don’t let me in the water with other fish in there.  The big fish are trying to eat me, please protect me and take me home with you”.  Satyavrata is totally in awe, yet he finds the fish cute so he decides to put it in the small pot and take it home.  By the time he reaches home the fish grows out of the small pot.  He brings a bigger pot and puts it in there and in no time it grows bigger than the pot.  He then puts it in a pond and the fish grows bigger, then into a lake and the fish follows the routine and finally he takes it to the ocean.  As soon as he drops it in the ocean, the fish grows wide and tall and says “Satyavrata I came to your rescue and is it fair for you to drop me in this dangerous ocean with all the big fish!”  Satyavrata realizes this is no normal fish and he starts to pray upon Sree Hari.  Immediately, the fish takes the form of Sree Hari and says “seven days from today, there will be a calamity and the earth will be filled with water, it turns dark with clouds and all the living things will perish.  Then comes a ship with the seven rishis (MarIchi, AngIrasa, Atri, Poulastya, Pulaha, Kratuvu and Vasishta).  Satyavrata, get into that ship and I will take the form of a fish and will protect and take care of it” and he disappears.  Satyavrata, pleased by the kindness of lord Sree Hari, starts meditation again and waits for the ship.  On exactly the seventh day, calamity and chaos occur and everything perishes in the water but Satyavrata is saved by Sree Hari.  While Satyavrata is observing this chaos, he hears a sound coming from somewhere.  He is puzzled as to where that sound is generated while there is no other life left on the face of the earth.  In the meantime the ship arrives and Satyavrata boards the ship and sits among the seven rishis.  He looks at them in the hopes of finding who is generating that sound.  The rishis notice his curiosity and say “ that sound is nAdam, spread across the universe and the one and only omnipresence and timeless lord Siva is the origin for this sound.  There is no life without nAdam”.  If you want to check on how much truth is in it, you can try closing your ears with your thumbs and just meditate.  Immediately, you will hear the nAdam in your body.  That is called OmkAra nAdam in grantha (yoga) samhita.  Whether you listen to it or not, as long as there is life there is nAdam within and around us. That is why it is inexplicable!  Who generates it? None other but lord Siva!

This song is full of beautiful adjectives about lord Siva and since it is based on water, as you read this essay or listen to the song, I plead with you all to pray to Siva to shower his kindness in the form of rains in drought stricken California, the place where I live!

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

Ragavan Maniyan is a tech expert and a professional singer.  He has given many concerts in India and abroad and he played the key role of Thyagaraja in the documentary “Endaro MahAnubhavulu”.  He is the prime disciple of Dr. M Balamurali Krishna and currently resides in Chennai


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