It is a matter of common knowledge that the Gayatri is hailed to be the supreme mantra. It is the prayer to the Almighty for the induction of serene knowledge in us. The Gayatri which we offer as prayer, is to the Lord Narayana dwelling in the Sun, to bestow upon us knowledge and protection. Swami Sivananda, in his magnum opus Sadhana says, ‘’whichever your ishta devata may be, yet the regular repetitions of a few malas of the Gayatri will bestow upon you all that is auspicious and benevolent to you, herein and thereafter.’’
He continues, ‘’there this is the Greatest of all Mantras and its presiding deity is the Pra-Brahman itself. Yet, it is acceptable to all types of aspirants, for its conceived as worship of Devi, worship of Lord Hari, worship of Aditya or the sun and also as pure Nirguna worship of Brahman.
The Tejas of the Brahmachari lies in his Gayatri Japa. The support and prosperity of the Grihastha is again the Gayatri, strength and solace of the Vanaprastha is again the Gayatri. Thus the Gayatri is the constant guide, support and strength and verily is the summum bonum of life.
So great is its importance that the Japa of the Gayatri is laid down as a compulsory daily Sadhana, in the life of every Hindu. This daily Sadhana is the supremely important Sandhyavandanam. The scriptures have laid down the injunction that the Sandhyavandanam is not merely a daily ritual – it’s a ‘nitya karma’- something that has to be done the same way one eats and drinks to sustain oneself physically day after day at different points in the day. Kanchi Mahaperiyavaa Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi went further and emphatically averred that the number of Gayatris recited mentally for people in corporate jobs or otherwise, should be a minimum of 108 on working days and a minimum of 1008 on weekends.
Since the Sandhyavandanam is the bedrock of Gayatri Japa, this ritual begins with a two-part purification step. The first part is the ‘’aachamanam’’ which is done by sipping water thrice and reciting mentally:
”om achyutaaya namaha, om anantaaya namaha, om govindaaya namaha’’
The second step of the purification is the recitation of the twelve (or twenty-four depending on the tradition) of Narayana or Vishnu.
The first twelve of these names are:
Reason for these twelve names of Vishnu
An initial question that arises in us is the reason for these twelve names and why they should be the names of the Almightly in the form of Vishnu.
In the Vamana Purana written by Veda Vyasa, there is a set of thirteen slokas which is regarded as the Dhyana Snana i.e. meditative bath. These 13 slokas are to be recited to achieve internal purification, once the external bathing (external purification) is over. Each of these slokas address Lord Narayana in various forms and His description, and the set concludes with an invocation to the river goddess Ganga and a dedication to Lord Krishna.
Due to the act of being an internal purification, the twelve names of Lord Vishnu are recited along with correspondingly touching the cheeks, eyes, nose, ears, shoulders, navel and finally the head.
Lord Narayana is regarded as the presiding deity of the sun. The sun sustains life on the earth and hence Narayana who regarded as the protector or the one who sustains, becomes the deity of the sun. Hence reciting these twelve/twenty-four names of Vishu assumes paramount importance.
Enter Mysore Vasudevacharya!
That peerless composer of the twentieth century, Mysore Vasudevacharya clearly recognized the importance of these twelve names and has bequeathed to us a set of twelve very beautiful and charming kritis. Each of these kritis is in praise of one name of Lord Vishnu from this set of twelve names.
The details of these kritis in the order of the names as it appears in the Sandhyavandanam ritual are:
|#||Name||Opening words of Kriti||Raga||Tala|
|shrI kEshava mAm pAlaya||bhairavi
|3||mAdhava||bhaja mAdhavam||hindustAni kApi||Adi|
|5||viSHNu||satatam shrI viSNum||kalyANi||Adi – 2 kalai|
|7||Trivikrama||trivikramam aham||kAmbhOji||Adi – 2 kalai|
|10||hrishikesha||paripAhimAm shrI||dhanyAsi||Adi (dESadi)|
|12||dAmOdara||dAmOdaramanisham||shankarAbharaNam||Adi – 2 kalai|
It can be seen that Vasudevachar has used predominantly the popular and rakti ragas. What violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman refers to as ‘’Chakravarti Ragas’’ – Bhairavi, Todi, Kalyani, Shankarabharanam, Kambhoji have been given full prominence in this set of kritis, underscoring the importance of these ragas and also the respective kritis featured in them. Additionally other classical majestic and rakti ragas like Natakurinji, Dhanyasi, Nayaki and Sama have been used. To add to the popular appeal, a Hamsadhvani has been featured and Vasudevachar has given a touch of the rare by featuring Jayantasri in this set.
Each of these kritis will be highlighted in the forthcoming parts.
In this endeavour of collecting the material and learning and polishing each of these kritis, I am deeply indebted to the following five people for their help, support and encouragement:
- I first thank Dr. K.Vageesh – he was the first person to draw my attention to the existence of this set of kritis and he also demonstrated snatches of some of these kritis by singing them to me. It was immediately evident that this was a treasure house!
- I thank Dr. Radha Venkatachalam for being gracious enough to allow me to present this concert under the aegis of Music Education Trust with this set of kritis as the theme. The concert is scheduled on Thursday, December 31, 2015 at 6:00 PM. My team is M.R.Gopinath (violin) and Madipakkam Suresh (mridangam). The venue is the Gokhale Sastri Hall, Karpagambal Nagar, Mylapore, Chennai – 4.
- I sincerely thank Shri Lakshman Ragde for supplying me with various notations and lyrics of these kritis and most importantly, some of the versions of kritis sung by eminent vidwans and vidushis. Without this, learning these kritis wouldn’t have been possible.
- I am really grateful to Shri Vedanth Ramanujam for his encouragement and his offer of printing these out as a pamphlet.
- Last but not the least, I sincerely thank Rajani Arjun Shankar for patiently going through each of the saahityams and helping me with the translations. Rajani has put up with my innumerable questions and her inputs and continued enthusiasm have been invaluable in this whole endeavour.
To be continued…