Brilliant & Beautiful Begada Shining through Dikshitar’s Sri Maatah

In Praise of Devi and Sri Vidya – Muthuswami Dikshitar

There is no doubt that each member of the Musical Trinity (Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri) has handled the perennially fascinating and classical raga Begada with exquisite elegance.  Tyagaraja has several lilting compositions to his credit and many of these are very popular in concerts.  Syama Sastri has bequeathed the offbeat Adi Tala Varnam ‘Dayanidhe’ along with the really beautiful Kamakshi Naato Vaada.

Dikshitar has given us four compositions – the lesser known but elegant Madhurambaya in Chapu tala; the very popular compact starter Vallabhanayakasya and the superlative Tyagarajaaya Namaste, both in Rupaka tala.

However it is the fourth kriti Srimaataha that is to be highlighted in this article, with navaratri around the corner.  To begin with, this Adi tala kriti isn’t very popular on the concert platform.  Added to that, there seems to be some dispute with regards to whether it is in 1-kalai or 2-kalai with different schools singing it the way they’ve been taught and so both versions are prevalent to some extent.

However, going by the mood of the kriti and studying it in detail, and considering Dikshitar’s overall output and his general predilections, one is naturally and intuitively led to conclude that this kriti sounds best when it is rendered in the slow double kalai, which truly brings out the grandeur of this wonderful composition beautifully.  The word ‘sri’ starts off emphatically on the antara gandhara swara which is truly the ‘life note’ of Begada.  This sets the tone of the majestic composition that augurs brilliantly for what is to follow.

This kriti can be said to be a summary of the Lalitha Sahasranamam.  The very obvious reference is the starting word of the kriti – Srimata which is the first word of the Lalitha Sahasranama as well.

The kriti is in the ‘sambodana vibhakti’ i.e. in the vocative case.

Pallavi:

shrI mAtah shiva vAmAHNkE

shrI cakrarUpa tATaHNkE mAmava

Anupallavi:

shrI mahArAjHnI vadana shashAHNkE

citprati bimbE gaLajita shaHNkhE

Madhyama Kala:

mAmava varapradAyikE kusumasAyikE akhilANDa nAyikE

Charanam:

ramA bhArati rati shacIshArAdhita pAdayugaLE bagaLE

mamAbhISta phaladAna catura kOmaLa shyAmaLE sakala niSkaLE

pramAtR pramANa pramEya prapaHnca prakAsha karatala viraLE

samAnAdhikarahitE svapUjita sAdhujanAnAm ati saraLE

Madhyama Kala:

yamAdyaStAHNgayOganirata samyamidhyEya hRt kamalE vimalE

himAdri jAmAtR jambUpati sahitE kushalE guruguha vatsalE

Considering the first word Srimaata, it is known that ‘sri’ denotes Lakshmi and ’sri’ also is said to denote Saraswathi.  The syllable ‘ma’ again denotes Lakshmi (for example, a parallel where Tyagaraja uses the word ‘maavaraa’ to describe Rama; ‘maavara’ means the lord of Lakshmi; in the first charana of the Nata Pancharatna Kriti Jagadaanandakaaraka).  ‘ma’ also means ‘measurable’ and hence it can perhaps be inferred that Lakshmi is measurable.  And the one who actually does the measuring is the moksha swaroopini i.e. the supreme Goddess Devi and hence she is Srimaataa; one who measures Lakshmi.

‘Sri’ also strangely, is a word for poison – as in the name Srikantan denoting Shiva, the one who drank poison during the churning of the ocean.  Now, in the Ardhanaari swaroopa, since Devi is one half of Shiva, she also has the poison in *her* throat as well.  Hence due to this, she is Srimaataa.

She is seated on the left thigh of Shiva (siva vaamaanke).

Dikshitar refers to Devi’s gem-studded earrings in the form of the Shri Chakra, installed by Adi Shankara, at the shrine of Akhilandeshwari at Tiruvanaikkaval as “Shri Chakra Roopa Taatanka”.  A reference to the Soundharya Lahari (sloka #28) may be made here; the sloka begins with the words ‘tava janani taatanka mahima…’

The anupallavi begins with the word Srimahaaraagni, which is second word in the Lalitha Sahasranama.  Ostensibly, the epithet means that Devi is the empress of all the worlds extant and beyond.  Commentaries on the Lalitha Sahasranamam however aver that there are multiple layers of meaning that the word Srimahaaraagni denotes and these need to be learnt directly from a Guru and a practitioner of Srividya.

The reference to the simile with the moon comes next – having a face like the shining moon – vadana shashaanke.  Incidentally, shasha means a rabbit and anka means ‘a part of’.  Looking at the full moon (poornachandra) from the earth, there are two shapes that are said to be visible – one is that of a rabbit and the other that of a deer.  Hence the reference of the rabbit and the name Shashanka denoting the moon.

She represents the Absolute Consciousness , which is the reference to the ‘Chit’ and the ‘pratibimbam’ is the mirror.  The phrase ‘chit pratibimbe’ actually means that the anandam (bliss) that comes from the ‘chit’, she shows it to us as a reflection.  Or alternately, it can be referred that she herself is the reflection of the absolute bliss.  (It is worth mentioning here that the word ‘Bimbam’ means ‘a form’ and pratibimbam means ‘reflection’).

Dikshitar goes on to describe her neck which beats the grace of the conch – ‘galajita shankhe’.

She is the giver of all special boons.  The word ‘daayike’ means giver.  The prefix ‘pra’ when added to ‘daayike’ makes the meaning to be the giver of special boons and blessings.  In the form of Tripurasundari, Devi has two weapons in her hands – bows made of sugarcane (saayike) and flowers (kusuma).  Both of these are the weapons used to Manmatha (Cupid or Kamadeva) to entice all of us in this world in Maya.  By having these two weapons in her control, Devi gets us out of this Maya, giving us the ultimate bliss.  What she expects from us is only surrender.  Hence the reason for her having ‘kusuma saayike’ which is also known as the ‘panchabaanam’.

Dikshitar ends the anupallavi with a dramatic pronouncement that she’s finally the sovereign (naayike) of the entire (akhila) cosmos (anda).

In the charanam, Dikshitar describes how Lakshmi (ramaa) and Saraswathi (bhaarati) along with Rati and Indra (Sachi + Eesha – Sachi’s husband) are singing in praise of her (aaraadhita).  There is a reference to the Soundhariya Lahari where they are singing in her praise, She gets up to receive her Lord Shiva at the entrance, and that instance everyone bows to her and worships her feet (paadayugale).

The word ‘bagale’ is interesting and unusual.  The story behind the word goes like this:

In the Devi Bhagavatham, there is the paraasakti’s prabhaava varnanam (description of paarasakti) in the 7th canto.  Vyasa narrates the following story to Janamajeya.

There was an asura in the clan of Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyapu called Durgaman.  He was so powerful that no one was able to stand up to him and fight him.  Consequently no rituals, homams and rites could be performed due to his demoniac preventions of these and this led to severe drought, hunger and starvation everywhere.

As a last resort, the brahma rishis performed a pooja to Ambika, i.e. Devi, and she appeared as a Shataakshi in the form of Bhuvaneswari with numerous eyes and arms.  Each of her arms carried bows, flowers, lotuses, leaves, succulent fruits and fruit trees, among scores of other things, with the intention to drive away all the hunger, starvation and deprivation.

This form of Devi had eyes that streamed and this led to the creation of many rivers.  Devi in this form is known as Saakambari and is worshipped during Navaratri.

The asura Duragaman was naturally opposed to her and he arrived with his entire army to counter Devi as Shataakshi.  This induced the emergence of the following shaktis from her – Kalika, Taarini, Bala, Tripura, Bhairavi, Ramaa, Mathangi, Tripurasiundari, Kamakshi, Tulaja Devi, Jambini, Mohini, Chinna Masta (a form of Devi without a head), Guhya Kaali (with 10,000 hands) along with 32 other Sakthis in addition to another 64 forms of different Sakthis with still more numerous other sakthis.  One of the sakthis that emerges along with Kalika, Taarini, Bala and others is Bagala and hence the reference to Bagale!

Moving on to the next line, Dikshitar says that Devi is adept in granting divine intentions to him (mamAbhISta phaladAna catura) and she is beautiful, with dark tresses.

Sakala denotes the many forms she is worshipped through – pictures, bimbam, idols and the srichakram, both two and three dimensional.

She is finally nishkala – beyond all forms.  The temple town of Tiruppenrundurai (near Karaikkudi) Devi is Yogambika and Shiva as her spouse is Atmanathan and both of them are formless here.

We will consider the next sentence as a whole:

pramAtR pramANa pramEya prapaHnca prakAsha karatala viraLE

The above sentence is a beautiful blend of the abstract.  Pramaatr is the one who thinks that s/he needs to completely know the divine mother in all her glory.  ‘Pramaana’ is the actual way to achieve this knowledge.  And finally ‘Prameya’ is the act of the actual knowing of Devi.  Finally, the purport is that Devi is all the three and beyond these three as well.  (It would not be out of place to mention here that the ‘pra’ prefix is special.  For example, the word ‘siddha’ acquires a different and an extra special connotation when prefixed with ‘pra’, thus becoming ‘prasiddha’!  There are many examples in Dikshitar’s kritis that abound in this.

The natural flow of things is only from Devi, and from within, as Devi is present in all of us.  The Yoga Maya is a mere toy in her hands and one of the things that has evolved is the ‘prapancham’, our world, and which shines because of her sheer ‘prakaasa’.

karatala viraLE – she has very unusual (virale) and unique hands using which she will take all of us beyond our worlds, beyond our time, space and causation.

samAnAdhikarahitE svapUjita sAdhujanAnAm ati saraLE

While no one is equal to her (samAnAdhikarahitE), she is most easily accessible (ati saraLE) to people who worship her for her sake (swapUjita) and not out of any ulterior motives (saadhujanaanaam).

yamAdyaStAHNgayOganirata samyamidhyEya hRt kamalE vimalE

For those who are serious practitioners of the eight-limbed yoga (comprising Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi), and who are absorbed in this (nirata) with complete control (samyami), such people contemplating on Devi (dhyEya) have her always in their hearts (hrtkamle).

himAdri jAmAtR jambUpati sahitE kushalE guruguha vatsalE

Dikshitar goes on to declare that she is totally pure (vimale) and ends this kriti by saying that she is always at the side of Shiva, as the Lord of Jambukeswara (jambupati sahite), who is the son-in-law (jaamaatru) of Himavan (Himalayas – the father of Parvati).  And finally she is ever dear (vatsale) to Guru Guha – meaning both he, Dikshitar, as well as Lord Subramanya.

Chengalpet Ranganathan used to render this kriti in a slow and mellow tempo and the way the classical Begada is constructed through this kriti is simply magnificent.  Rendered with due regard to its meaning, this kriti is nothing short of true meditation – a mirror to what the Sri Vidya is all about.

We conclude this article with what Dr. V. Raghavan has written:

Such is the work, such is the high quantity, of the art of Dikshitar, a scholar and master, a versatile genius.  Like the title Vainika-gayaka he gave himself, another is found in one of his compositions in Bauli – “Pandita-Tara”, meaning ‘more scholarly than others’.   This offers us the key to an understanding of another dimension of Dikshitar’s work and art.  I have observed that when a musician grows in knowledge and maturity, steadiness and reflectiveness, he begins to develop a greater interest in Dikshitar’s compositions.

With inputs from Smt. Lathangi Shankar, Karaikudi

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About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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One Response to Brilliant & Beautiful Begada Shining through Dikshitar’s Sri Maatah

  1. vittal says:

    when one listen’s to kalpakam swaminathan’s veena version of this krithi, it’s same as Mohan Santhanam sir mentioned, “slow and mellow tempo”.One actually needs headphones to hear the fragile and beautiful transition between notes.

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