Kanchi Paramacharya’s discourse on Muthuswami Dikshithar Kriti

August 14th, 2011, is yajur upakarma day; next day is Gayathri japam with Gayathri manthra to be recited 1008 times. In this context it is interesting to recall a remarkable interaction between Kanchi Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal and the great Carnatic musician, Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. The immediate topic for discussion was Dikshithar’s kriti ‘Shri Subrahmanya Namaste’ but it was the spring board for a one of a kind discourse covering music, vedas, gayathri mantra and puranas.

It was the year 1961. Paramacharya was camping at Devakottai and observing mauna vratham. Not all of his devotees, however, observed maunam and some chatted, within Paramacharya’s hearing, about Ariyakudi being in nearby Karaikudi. To their surprise, Paramacharya signaled to them, asking if they could bring Ariyakkudi over. Ariyakkudi was delighted and promptly arrived. The Paramacharya, to everyone’s surprise, came out of his maunam, complimented Ariyakudi on his recent President’s award and said:

“When I heard you are around, I wanted to listen to an authentic rendering of Shri Subrahmanyaya namasthe, with both sangitha suddham and sahitya suddham, ie., the music itself including ragam and thalam being perfect and the words pronounced correctly; with compound words split rightly (‘padham pirichu pAdaradhu’) so as to reveal the intended meaning. Musicians sometimes focus on the sangitham to the detriment of sahityam, especially when the kriti is Sanskrit or Telugu whose meaning they do not fully understand. The effect is – ‘karna katuram’. Take 'ShrI SubrahmanyAya namasthE'. There is a line 'guruguhAyAgnAna dwAnta savithrE'. This must be split as 'guruguhAya – agnAna - dwAnta savithrE' i.e. 'the one who is like the Sun removing the darkness of ignorance'. Some sing it as 'guruguhAyA – gnana - dwAnta savitrE', ' accusing the poor Sun of removing knowledge itself'! Or, take 'SankarAchAryam', Subbarama Sastri's Sankarabharanam kriti. There is a line 'paramAdvaita sthApana leelam' – rightly sung, it means 'one who founded the great Advaita philosophy'. But if one stretches the 'paramAA' and follows it with 'dwaita sthApana leelam', the great founder of Advaita is unwittingly made a proponent of Dwaitam! ”

“I have listened to you singing Shri Subrahmanyaya Namaste with both sangitha and sahityam suddham. I know that right now you are seated on a rough patch of grass and there is no accompaniment, not even sruti. Nevertheless, please sing that kriti for me?" Ariyakkudi did his namaskaram, said it was a great honour, sat down and started to sing. (In fact, before that, the two engaged themselves in a scholarly discussion on Kambodi and other ragas like Sourashtram, Navarasa kannada, Kannada, Sindhu Bhairavi, Yamuna Kalyani, Kedaragowla – all of which, have unique geographical association.)

Raga: kAmbhOji / Tala: tishra Ekam

shrI subrahmaNyAya namastE namastE
manasija kOTi kOTi lAvaNyAya dIna sharaNyAya
bhUsurAdi samastajana pUjitAbja caraNAya
vAsuki takSakAdi sarpa svarUpa dharaNAya
vAsavAdi sakaladEva vanditAya varENyAya
tAraka simha mukha shUra padmAsura samhartrE
tApatraya haraNanipuNa tatvOpadEsha kartrE
vIranuta guruguhAyAjHnAna dhvAnta savitrE
vijayavallI bhartrE saktyAyudha dhartrE
dhIrAya natavidhAtrE dEvarAja jAmAtrE
bhUrAdibhuvanabhOktrE bhOgamOkSapradAtrE

Paramacharya listened to the song with total concentration, eyes closed. When Ariyakudi finished, he said, "Because you sang alone (no sruti/accompanists), the song actually came out with all its beauty. And, the words were crystal clear. Let me first say 'thrupthOsmi' (totally satisfied). Now, please sing once more, but, this time, stopping after each line. I want to absorb Dikshitar's words in all their glory and reflect on them and even as I do so, explain, word by word, so that others can also appreciate the beauty in the creation of a genius.” Ariyakkudi sang once more and thus started a scholarly discourse by the Paramacharya.

'shrI subrahmaNyAya namastE namastE'

“Obeisance to Lord Subrahmanya”: starts auspiciously with ShrI and has a double namasthE. Saying something more than once is equivalent of saying it an infinite number of times, e.g, in 'pOttri pOttri' and 'Jaya Jaya Sankara'.

'NamasthE'. 'thE' - to you; 'nama:' – obeisance. 'nama:thE' becomes 'namasthE' - Obeisances infinite times to you, SubrahmanyA.Who is SubrahmanyA? ‘Su-Brahmanya’ or good, true, learned Brahmanya. Now, what is the meaning of brahmanya? We usually take 'brahman' to mean the absolute form of the Lord (paramatma svaroopam), but there is another meaning - Vedas. That is why we say 'BrahmOpadesam' while referring to Upanayanam, the ceremony to begin Veda lessons to a child. Likewise Brahmins are those that recite the Vedas. The God of Vedas, and, of those who recite Vedas is Subrahmanya.

“Dikshitar himself had strong connections with Subrahmanya. He was a 'dEvi upAsakA' - he even breathed his last singing 'mIna lOchani' on Meenakshi. He went to numerous kshetras and sung in praise of many Gods. But his birth and career were both the blessings of Subrahmanya.

“His name, Muthuswami, itself was after Muthukumaraswami, the deity at Vaidheeswaran koil, as he was born to his parents after they fasted for 45 days in the temple. He grew up and had his musical training and Srividya Abhyasam (training in the worship of Devi). He then went to Kashi for gurukula vAsam. When he completed it, his guru asked him to go back to the south, but visit Tiruttani first, where Lord Subrahmanya would guide him on his life’s mission. So he went and was climbing the Tiruttani hillock, when an elderly gentleman called him by name and asked him to open his mouth and dropped a piece of sugar candy (kalkandu) into his mouth and promptly disappeared. Muthuswami’s realised who he had just met and his musical creativity had been woken up. On the spot, he sang eight kritis. Also, in all his songs his 'mudra' is 'guruguhA', a name of Subrahmanya. Guha - one who resides deep inside a cave - guhai; and guruguha - resides in the deep cave of the heart of Dikshitar.

“He went from place to place and sang in praise of the God there, be it Ganesha, Vishnu, Devi, Shiva. And in each kriti, there would be some internal evidence about the place where it was composed - the name of the God, some historical fact, or manthra rahasyam. 'ShrI SubrahmanyAya namasthE' has no such internal evidence as to where it was composed. May be, Dikshithar unified the deities of all Subrahmanya temples in this one kriti, so sparkling is it. Having started with innumerable obeisances, he moves on.

'manasija kOTi kOTi lAvaNyAya'

“Koti-koti is crore multiplied by crore. Manasija koti koti – crore times crore manasijas. Manasijan is Manmadhan; he was born out of mind - manas. According to Puranas, the moment Vishnu thought of him, he was conceived by Mahalakshmi. Manmadha is considered to be the most handsome person. 'Manasija kOti kOti lAvanyAya' - someone who is crore times crore as beautiful as Manmadha. “This is interesting, Subrahmanya being 'manasija kOti kOti lAvanyAya'. Who is Subrahmanya? He is the son of Shiva, who reduced Manmadha to ashes with a fire of fury from His eye. And from that same nEtragni, was born Subrahmanya! Just as Manmadha was born out of Vishnu’s mind, Subrahmanya was born out of Shiva’s gnAna (wisdom).

“In Tamil, although ‘pillai’ and ‘kumaran’ both mean ‘son’, Pillaiyar is reserved for Ganesha, and Kumaran for the younger son. Kumar in North India also refers to the Subrahmanya. The title of Kalidasa’s epic is 'KumAra Sambhavam'. There is another meaning for ‘kumaran’. ‘mAran' is one of Manmadhan’s names; and, 'kumAran' - 'kutsitha-mara:' - is someone who puts mAra to shame. So, 'kumAra' itself means 'manasija kOti kOti lAvanyAya'! “In Tamil, we commonly call Him 'Murugan'. ‘Muruga’ also means beauty. “Subrahmanya is indeed the most handsome person.

'dhIna sharaNyAya'

“So much for His beauty, but, is that enough. What we, 'dhIna' - poor, humble, suffering and scared - want is 'aruL' or grace and Subrahmanya is our refuge - 'dhIna sharaNyAya'. “dhIna sharaNyAya, lAvaNyAya, SubrahmaNyAya: notice the similarly sounding words - edhugai and mOnai in Tamil - it is edhugai in how the words end rather than begin.

“It is usual to go back to the first line with a fast 'manasija kOti kOti', after beginning in slow tempo - chowkha kAlam. Slow tempo is a hallmark of Dikshitar’s kritis and gives scope to the musician to explore the raga's various nuances. And Sanskrit language’s majesty helps, creating the image of a grand procession of an elephant.

“But, as we are always in a hurry, we find such slow tempo boring after some time. Dikshitar provides relief for this with some fast movements. Madhyama kAlam comes as a relief to chowkha kAlam, as a piece of clove in a sweet-sweet laddu! In most of his kritis, we find madhya kAla phrases at the end of anupallavi and charanam. But, in this kriti, the pallavi and charanam themselves have madhyama kAla endings. Might be, because, Subrahmanya is a vibrant young man (endrum ilayavan) and He wants to go running right from the word go!

'bhUSurAdhi samasthajana pUjithAbja sharaNAya'

‘One whose lotus feet are worshipped by Brahmins and others’. 'bhUsurAdhi' - Brahmins and ...others. 'bhU' is earth, surA are devAs, 'bhUsurA' means Brahmins, or 'earthly DevAs', as they, by their veda chanting and rituals, bring the blessings of the Devas to earth. But is He the God of Brahmins only? Not at all. In fact, while his one wife is the daughter of Indra, the king of Devas, the other is the daughter of a tribal chieftain - ‘sura magal and kura magal’. He is the God of all people.

'pUjithAbja sharaNAya' – Lotus feet to be worshipped. Abja is lotus; 'Ab' is water; that which grows in water is abjam. Likewise, Jalajam, ambujam, sarojam, neerajam (jala, ambu... all mean water). 'Kam' also means water - kamjam is lotus, hence, ‘kamjadhalAya dAkshi’.

'vASuki thakShakAdhi sarpa swarUpa dharanAya'

‘One who takes the form of snakes like Vasuki and Thaksha’. 'Sarpa' literally means 'kundalini' - the Energy of Life. Snake has a spiral-like form, so does our kundalini, in normal circumstances. But if we perform concentrated penance, it wakes up in full glory, and then merges with the Ultimate.

“Subrahmanya has strong connections with snakes. If we see a snake in our dreams, we perform Subrahmanya pooja. In many Andhra and Karnataka temples, they have His idols only in snake form, eg., in the place called Subrahmanya itself. Telugus fondly say 'subbarAyudu', meaning Subrahmanya as well as snake. Adisankara has also brought out this connection in his 'Bhujangam'! Snake does not have legs, and uses its whole body as hands - bhujam, and moves about in a wavy rhythm. The 'chandas' similar to a snake's movement is called 'bhujanga prayAdham'. Acharya has sung bhujangams, ashtakams and pancharatnams on many Gods, but on Subrahmanya only Bhujangam - may be to emphasis that Subrahmanya is the bhujangam Himself. Dikshitar mentions the famous snakes Vasuki and Taksha. When the Sea of Milk (pArkadal) was churned with Manthragiri, Vasuki snake was used to tie that hillock: a poisonous snake helping to extract nectar!

“Incidentally, what is Subrahmanya's vAhanA - peacock, dire enemy of the snakes! This goes to show that, in His presence, all enmity vanishes. Likewise, a 'simha swapna' terrorizes an elephant. But we have an elephant sitting on a lion! Heramba, a form of Ganesha, has a lion as His vAhanA. Or take Vishnu - His bed is a snake (Adishesha) and his vAhanA, Garuda, enemy of snakes! Finally, will a lion leave a bull alive? But we have Shiva on the Rishaba (bull) and Devi on Simha (lion)! The philosophy behind all these is, hate should and does disappear (dwEsha bhAvam) in the sannidhi of the Lord.

'vAsavAdhi sakala dEva vandhithAya varENyAya '

‘One who is worshipped by Vasava and other Devas'. “Dikshithar now turns to the real 'suras' - not earthly, or bhu, suras. Appropriately, while 'bhUsurAdhi' was in the lower octave, 'vAsavAdhi' is in the upper octave. Vasava is Indra. When Indra himself worships, all other Devas, ‘sakala dEva’, follow suit (yathA rAjA thathA prajA). Not just worshipping - Indra gave his daughter Devasena in marriage to Subrahmanya; as a result, Deva-senapathi became Devasena-pathi!

“After saying samasthajana pUjithAya and then sakaladEva vandhithAya, finally, Dikshithar says, 'varENyAya' - means THE BEST. To emphasise His superlative nature, Dikshitar has used this word from the most sacred, Gayathri Mantra- the essence of the Vedas. “varENyAya also continues the 'andhya prAsam' of SubrahmanyAya, lAvaNyAya, charaNyAya, but, as it is the essence of the Vedas, it is at the peak of anupallavi. “The beginnings of each line, too, have 'edhugai prAsam' - 'shrI Su', 'bhUsu', 'vAsa', 'dhAsa'. Dikshithar had ‘rachanA visesham’. ‘rachanA’ means lyrical beauty - unified effect of sound and meaning, each falling into its place at ease. 'Composed' or 'composure' itself means peace, ease. This great composer gives us 'Sollamaidhi’ and ‘porulamaidhi', as we say in Tamil!


“Having used a superlative but not satisfied with it, Dikshitar throws in more, one after the other. 'dhAsajana apIshta pradha' - one who is very good at fulfilling his devotees' wishes. Stop here? No. 'dhaksha thara' - the best among those who are good at fulfilling the wishes of devotees. 'thara' - better in comparison (in Tamil we say 'tharamAnadhu'). Enough? No, one final superlative - 'agragaNyAya'! 'gaNyAya' - esteemed to be in; 'agra' - first place.

'thAraka simhamukha sUrapadmAsura samharthrE'

‘One who vanquished Tharaka, Simhamukha and Soorapadma.’ “ Tharaka is elephant- faced, Simhamukha lion-faced and Soorapadma has a rAkshasa face. In the South, we celebrate Soorasamharam - Soorapadma was the king of Asuras, the chief villain. But in the north, Tharaka takes this place. Kalidasa’s 'Kumarasambhavam' says that Kumara was born for vanquishing Tharakasura. And, in Subrahmanya Bhujangam, Adisankara mentions all three. “Okay; Dikshitar has spoken of His beauty (kOti kOti manasija lAvaNyAya), kindness (dhInacharanyAya, apIshtavarapradhAksh, agrahaNyAya) and valour (‘asura samhara’); what next? What signifies Dikshitar's kritis? His mudhra - 'Guruguha'. This is Subrahmanya's greatest quality. He is the one who teaches us the path to the Ultimate. He even taught His father, Shiva ('guruvAi ararkkum upadEsam vaiththa' - Arunagiri). He is 'thagappan swAmi - swAminAthaswAmi and 'gnAnapandithaswAmi'. So Dikshithar expands on it.

'thApa-thrya harana nipuna thathvOpadEsa karthrE'

“Jeevatma - human soul - has three kinds of desires – thApa thryam. They are Aadhyatmikam, Aadhiboudhikam, Aaadhidhaivikam. And all three lead to suffering; the first to suffering within our soul; the second brought about by other (human/animal) beings; and the last, Aadhi dhaivikam, God's work, or, our fate - vidhi. Subrahmanya teaches us how to win over them - he is an expert - nipunA - at such teaching.

vIranuta guruguhAyAjHnAna dhvAnta savitr

'vIranutha' - Wisdom and valour - we ignorantly think that they are different. But the truly wise man - gnAni - can take any form, but still be a gnAni inside. In the midst of Gita upadesam, or the most profound Gnanopadesham, Krishna tells Arjuna to take his bow and fight - ‘gAntIpathai edudA, ambai thodudA’.

“Subrahmanya is a 'gnAnavIra' - the wise warrior, c-in- c of the devasena and worshipped by all brave and wise men. Hence, 'vIranutha'. 'nutha' - one who is worshipped. One more interpretation - He has nine deputies whose names all start with 'vIra' - vIrabAhu, vIrakEsari, vIramahEndra etc. For this reason also, He is 'vIranutha'.

'guruguhAya' - After valour, again gnAna! Subrahmanya's abodes are mostly hillocks or caves - guhai ('kurinjikkadavul' in Tamil).

“There is an underlying philosophical meaning - He is the Divine Truth residing deep in the cave that is our heart. And, when He comes out and preaches, he is 'guruguhA'. This is also Dikshitar's mudhra, having flown spontaneously out of his heart into his words. 'agnAna dwAntha savithrE' ' ‘dwAntham' - darkness; Savitha - Sun. Just as Sun drives out the darkness, Subrahmanya drives out the darkness of ignorance. The use of the word 'savithA' for Sun is significant here. Sun - Surya - has several other names - Aadithya, BhUsha, Bhaskara, Bhanu, Marthanda, Dinamani (more to be found in Aadhithya Hrdayam). Of these, ‘savithA’ is the chosen one to appear in the ultimate mantra, the Gayathri Manthra.

“In Gayathri mantra, we pray that the brilliant wisdom light of the Ultimate, likened to the glow of the Sun, should awaken our inner wisdom and make it glow, too. What is special about ‘Savitha’ is it does not talk of Sun as the destroyer of darkness, but, instead emphasise Sun’s creative nature. Savitha – literally, one who creates: the Tamil word ‘prasavam’ - giving birth - has same root. Sun does destroy darkness, dirt, insects etc, but more importantly induces rain, growth of vegetation, our good health and even our mental growth. Similarly, Subrahmanya not just vanquishes darkness (of the mind), but also fills this void space with wisdom. The use of the name ‘Savitha’ is particularly appropriate. (ThirumurugAtruppadai starts with a similar simile of dawn).

“The whole point of this kriti is to show Subrahmanya to be the essence of Gayathri, which in turn is the essence of Vedas. The kriti starts with BrahmanyAya; at the high point of the anupallavi we have 'varENyAya' and the high point of charanam has 'savithru'. The kriti touches its peak at this point.

vijayavallI bhartrE saktyAyudha dhartrE

“Next, 'vijayavallI barthrE'. This is interesting. A real gnAni can be anything outside; brave, beautiful, kind, etc. He is SUrasamhAramUrthi, the valiant victor in Tiruchendur; a sanyAsi in Palani; a Brahmachari boy teacher in Swamimalai; Devasena's and Valli's husband in Tirupparankundram and Tiruttani. Vijayavalli is none but Valli. (Devasena is Jayanthi). So His consorts are Jaya and Vijaya! Valli Kalyanam is a great story: but the philosophy there? Subrahmanya frees the mind, held hostage by the IndriyAs (the tribal folk in the story) and merges it with Himself. This also goes to show how much of a 'dhInacharanyA' He is - He, the Son of Universe's first couple, took on many different roles just to please the deep, innocent love of a tribal girl. 'sakthyAyudha dhartrE' - one who wears the powerful spear - ShaktivEl. No other God is so stongly associated with his weapon as Subrahmanya with vEl.

dhIrAya natavidhAtrE dEvarAja jAmAtrE

'dhIrAya' means strength, fearlessness and that is correct. But another meaning is sharp intellect. This 'dhI' sound is found in Gayathri too! Gayathri's use of 'dhI' refers to our intellect, which, we pray, be induced by the Ultimate Light (paramAthma thEjas). The root meaning of the word 'gAyathri' is 'that which protects/elevates the one who sings it'. Sing? The recital of Vedas, in up-down fashion, is itself like a song, which is why it is so pleasing just to listen to Veda recital. Dikshitar has made this kriti as a kind of musical Gayathri and hence borrows many words and ideas from Gayathri Mantra.

“Which is the first and basic swara of the saptaswara? Shadjam. The cooing of peacock is likened to Shadjam, and peacock reminds us of what? Him! (Arunagiri says 'maragadha mayUra perumAl kAN'). If He is the Lord of Shadjam, the base note, is He not the Lord of music too? And must He not have a Sangeetha Gayathri on him? Which is why, He created Dikshitar, started him off with a sugar candy and got him to sing this kriti!

'natha vidhAtrE' Vidhatha is Brahma. natha here is the same as nutha in vIranutha - means one who is worshipped. We all know the story. Subrahmanya asked Brahma for the meaning of Pranava Mantra and did not reeive a satisfactory answer. So our young boy imprisoned Brahma and took over his duty of Creation. In some temples, eg. Kanchi Kumarakkottam, we can see Subrahmanya donning the japamAla and kamandalu of Brahma. Shiva came to Brahma's rescue, "OK, my son, Brahma does not know; you tell me the answer, if you know". Pat came the reply, "I can not be talked to like this; if you want me to answer, ask like a student does, not like a teacher". Even great people take pleasure in losing to their offspring! Shiva went down to Subrahmanya and got 'PranavOpadEsha'. A lesson in this to all of us - in pursuit of knowledge, there is no shame. Having now realized Subrahmanya's greatness, Brahma worshipped Him and was released back to his job. 'dEvaraja jAmathrE' - son-in-law of Indra, we have already seen the meaning of this.

'bhUrAdhi bhuvana bhOktrE'

'bhUrAdhi' - earth and other; bhuvana - worlds. It is customary to classify the infinite number of worlds into 14, of which seven are below, and further classifying them as 'bhUr-bhuva-suvar' ie lower, middle and upper worlds. Recognize these? Gayathri again! We add a 'Om' to it and recite as part of many our rituals. The idea is that the fruits of our rituals should reach all of the people in all of these worlds. 'bOkthA' means ruled by, enjoyed by. Are not the happenings-on in all these worlds at and for His pleasure? Finally,

'bhOga mOksha pradhAtrE'

“As we saw, He is the one who rules over and enjoys all good things in this world, while giving us the illusion that we too enjoy various pleasures like wealth, position and fame. 'dhAthA' - one who gives. 'pradhAthA' - expert at giving. In the fourth person, it becomes 'pradhAtrE'. As long as this illusion - drama - is on, it is fine for us to enjoy. However, to think this drama is the real thing is to delude ourselves. Once the drama is over, should we not go back to our real selves? This is the when the mind (manas) - the drama stage - dies and the Atman alone exists. He gives us this state too - as 'agnAna dwAnta savithA'. 'mOksha pradhAthA'. We seek bhOga, wealth and offspring, from Dhanalakshmi, Santhanalakshmi and others; and, moksha from Dakshinamurthi and others. Both bhogam and moksham, Subrahmanya gives us. What more does one want? “Having said this, Dikshithar has nothing to add: so, he ends the kriti.”

Paramacharya finished his discourse by advising Ariyakudi: " Great composers have created hundreds of Telugu and Sanskrit songs (as indeed Tamil songs) of much musical beauty, but lyrical beauty as well. Musicians should sing them, fully understanding their meaning. No point in saying, 'I do not understand them!' - if we desire, do we not spend time and energy on all sorts of other things? Musicians should dedicate themselves not just to pure music but also to proper rendition of words without losing the 'osandha artha visEsham'. As confirmed by the President’s award, you are pre-eminent in the music world; so, do your best towards this cause. May Subrahmanya's Grace be with you in this endeavor." Ariyakkudi was totally moved, and paid his obeisance saying," This has been the best day in my life".

And, instantly, the Paramacharya returned to his mauna vratham!

(Author’s note: This is an abridged version of a profound discourse. Those who understand Tamil will find the 48 page long full version in Deivathin Kural, volume 7. Many Dikshitha’s krithis are not just musical gems but vedic treasure houses. The Paramacharya’s advice to the musicians to understand the meaning of what they sing applies equally to the listeners: listening then becomes both pleasing and enriching!)

Jaya Jaya Sankara; Hara Hara Sankara