A Temple Kutcheri by Pradeep Chakravarthy

Shri. Pradeep Chakravarthy. Image Courtesy: The Hindu

Shri. Pradeep Chakravarthy works with a well known Management consulting firm in Madras. He is a prolific writer, author, a music aficionado. Some of his books are Thanjavur: A cultural history , A Road Less Travelled on lesser known temples of Tamilnadu, and Kodaikanal. I am sure you would have come across his articles in The Hindu on the topics of temples, its connection to art and culture. He frequently organizes temple-walks in Chennai that highlight the history, culinary, and cultural impact of a given temple.

Recently, Pradeep Chakravarthy wrote a four series article in The Hindu, where select Carnatic compositions were elaborated with the connections they share with specific temples. BNandWWW is honored to present the unabridged versions of these articles here, which were kindly shared by the author. BNandWWW thanks Shri. Pradeep Chakravarthy for sharing them with our readers. You can contact the author at pradeepandanusha@gmail.com

Without further ado, here are the articles. Enjoy! 🙂

Part I – A Temple Kutcheri – Varnam

With credits to R Kausalya, Marabu foundation

(An edited version of this was published in The Hindu, dated December 11, 2014. URL: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/encapsulating-the-beauty-of-rajagopala/article6682798.ece)

Beginning this week, we travel through musical pieces in a concert to 4 outstanding temples in Tamil Nadu, immortalized in songs that continue to be sung in concerts.

The voice of MS cannot be forgotten even if her name no longer appears in the sabha convert lists as a performer. Among her many gems, who can forget the Viribhoni varnam in Bhairavi. The varnam is a short piece with several swaras that capture the essence of a raga, deceptively simple, they were probably placed in the beginning of the concert for the singer to get into the mod and train the voice for the complex songs that follow.

Viriboni is composed by Pacchimirian Adippayya. True to his epithet, Pacchimiriam means a green chilli and his compositions must have been that sharp. Sadly his other compositions are not in vogue but this one gem is enough. It is said that playing this varnam in three kalams is the best training for both vocalists and vainikas since it explores all the gamakas possible in the raga. The varnam has become a standard for varnams and for understanding the Bhairavi raga. It is also said that it originally had anubhandam or additional passages after the charanam but these are no longer sung. This Karnataka Brahmin lived during the time of Pratapasimha and Tulaja and is for this composition, known as the Tana Varna Margadarsi.

The brisk pace of a varnam also aims at getting the audience into the mood to appreciate heavier compositions. MS’s rendition of the swaras in higher speeds is legendary and so entrancing that we do not pause at the simple sahitya of the song –

This beautiful damsel is yearning for you, handsome Lord of Southern Dwaraka, Sri Rajagopala who has a smiling face.

We know very little of Adippayya, except that he was a musician in the Tanjore court, possibly counted Syama Shastri and Ghanam Krishna Iyer among his disciples. We do however know he had a high aesthetic sense – for who cannot love the smile of the uthsava deity in the Mannargudi Rajagopala Swami temple?

Image Courtesy: Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy Facebook Community

By the 17th century, the Nayaks were well established in Thanjavur. The insecurity Sevappa and Achutappa faced were no longer relevant. Raghunatha was well settled, the bounty of the Kaveri meant a full harvest and his life was one long life of encouraging the arts. We owe, for example, our veena today to him. The temple today spreads over 23 acres and is entered by a 154 feet high gopuram.

The Mannargudi Rajagopala temple received special attention among the Nayak kings since it was also their tutelary deity. King Vijayaraghava a great composer in his own right was so enamoured of the temple that he composed several songs and dance dramas on the deity. In his bid to elevate the status of the temple through literature, he transferred even stories of the Azhwars like Vipranarayana (Thondaradippodi) to have been set in Mannargudi and Ranganatha as Rajagopala. His Vipranarayana Charita Yakshagana is well worth staging today and would look divine if done in Mannargudi where it must have originally been performed.

Hemabjanayika Swayamvaramu is another dance drama telling the story of the temple goddess and Rajagopala marrying each other. Kaliyamardhana has detailed and lyrical descriptions of Mannargudi equated to Vaikunta. All these dramas have several different genres of music – darus and Padams being predominant. Vijayaraghava’s mudra was Mannarudasa, servant of this temple – Mannar here as another name for Rajagopala.

Another composer who sang of the temple is Muvvanallur (not Muvalur) Sabhapatayya who was inspired by the Padams of Kshetrayya who visited Thanjavur to compose padams. Sabhapatayya created his own style of metaphor while retaining the structure of Padams Kshetrayya created. Sabhapatayya’s padams are rarely sung or dance, but when they were performed in the temple they must have been magical amidst the soft glowing oil lamps in the mandapa. In the Nayak times, the temple must have been as much a preferred venue for music and dance as the Thanjavur palace itself!

Before the gopuram is a 54 feet high monolith granite pillar with the Nayak king sculptures in the bottom and Garuda at the top. It is unlikely that any other temple has a more outstanding dwajasthambam. The temple inscriptions indicate the presence of a temple for Vishnu during the period of Kulotunga Chola (1070-1120), when the deity was called Kulotunga Chola Vinnagar(Vishnu Griha) Alvar, Vanthuvarapathi Alvar and Rajadhiraja Vinnagar Peruman. However, even in those days, the temple would have been a small one and possibly built out of brick. The town called Rajadhiraja Chaturvedimangalam was part of the Suttamali Valanadu.The two Shiva temples and the Vishnu temples are all mentioned in inscriptions.

The growing of areca nuts, pepper and weaving of cloth seem to have been important trades in the town going by Chola inscriptions on sales taxes remitted to the temple. The sharp ascendance of the temple and its current size is from the Nayak times, when literally 50% of the revenue would have been spent on the temple to raise its famous walls, several water bodies including the lake like Haridra nadhi , the 16 gopuras, 18 vimanas and most of the 24 sannidhis. Unlike nowhere else, the conventional 10day brahmothsavam here is an 18 day affair with many vahanas used nowhere else. The current uthsava deity, Krishna wearing a dress of one piece of cloth and his bewitching smile dates from the Nayak time. The image is very similar to the Rama in the much smaller Vaduvur, also on the way to Mannargudi from Thanjavur. Among his most famous head dresses is the Vijayaraghava Kondai, a tribute to the love the Nayak king had for this deity.

Our focus here is on the varnam, but Dikshitar’s three kritis on the temple, testify to its importance even in the Maratha times. In his Saveri song, he mentions the lilas of this God, one of which was earring the earing of the Gopikas, and in the image we can still see different earrings in each ear.

Sri Rajagopala – Saveri – T. M. Krishna from ks1729 on Vimeo.

The town also has a rare Jain temple, but to write about it in this series, we have to wait for someone to compose a varnam on the temple, till then, every time as we hear Viribhoni in the concerts, let us meditate a bit on Mannargudi Rajagopala’s smile.

Part II – A Temple Kutcheri – Kriti

(This was published in The Hindu, dated January 1, 2015. URL: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/rare-kriti-on-a-famous-temple/article6724946.ece)

Following the article on the varnam, this is the second of a series on music and temple, which throws light on rarely heard kritis and kirtanas composed by Dikshitar.

The kriti, being the main part of the concert, one is spoilt for choice especially among the compositions of the Trinity, who developed the kriti and kirtanai to a majestic form. Both have a Pallavi-Anupallavi-Charanam format. Dikshitar sometimes skipped the anupallavi and ended with a samashti charanam. (Eg. Kriti, ‘Sri Kantimatim,’ by Dikshitar, that ends with Samashti charanam)

Daru (e.g ‘Bhavayami’) is in a similar format but longer and more narrative in structure. There is a minute difference between a kriti and a kirtanai – a kirtanai is only devotional and a kriti may have questions addressed to the deity. However, the differences between these two forms are not commonly agreed.

Chosen here is a rare song set in a rare raga, by a famous composer on a famous temple – Muthuswami Dikshitar’s kirtanai on Kanthimati Amman at the Nellaiyappar temple, Tirunelveli, is not heard often. In raga Hemavati, the song does not have rich references to the local legends of the temple but the rare raga and the placement of swaras evoke the gentle eddying waters of the Tamiraparani that flow beside this sacred temple that has much to do with music.

Dikshitar prostrates before Ambal, the young bride of Sankara and mother of Guruguha. He compares her face to the Bijakshara Hrim, and speaks of her being enshrined in a golden mansion studded with gems. He mentions a series of celestials – Indra, Himavan, Parasurama, Suka and Saunaka – associated with her. He concludes by mentioning the pure waters of the river and the deity being anointed with the waters from 108 Kalasas and conches.

Located at 147 km from Madurai, the temple spread over 14 acres, and has a massive gopuram, which is 850 ft long and 756 ft wide. Due to congestion, which has turned the entire agraharam into a crowded, messy commercial thoroughfare, it is hard to imagine that the temple is being surrounded by houses and filled with bamboo forests, the only remnant being the Venuvanam. The temple has 32 sacred water bodies as well. Perhaps Dikshitar’s reference to the 108 Kalasas may be because, the water bodies were actually used for the rituals, in his time.

Approximately next to a river is the dance hall. Among the five halls of dance, the copper (Thamira) dance hall is here, which also has the word copper in it. It is said that it was at this place that the Lord’s dance was witnessed by the Vedas.

Although hardly sung in concerts, the verses on the temple by Appar and Arunagirinathar, the sthalapuranam written in fine Tamil verse by Nellaiyappar Pillai, published in 1944, and Chokkanatha Pillai’s Kanthimathiamman Pillai Thamizh are all worthy of inclusion in concerts. [This is a favorite one of mine as performed by Smt. Alarmel Valli]

Separate shrines for the Goddess are a later phenomenon, but here, legend has it that the shrine for Nellaiyappar and Kanthimati Amman share the same date and are connected by the Sangili Mandapam. The Kanthimati amman shrine can be entered separately and functions almost as a separate temple.

The temple deserves more concerts from musicians for the number and variety of music-related inscriptions. Many of the Pandya inscriptions date back to Maravarman Sundarapandyan, when the town was known as Sri Vallabha Chaturvedimangalam. An inscription dated 1,230 records donations to two musicians, who played the Tharai and another who played the Tiru Chinnam and for 10 who played some other instrument (inscriptions were damaged due to insensitive renovation). The donor, like in many cases in these parts, came from Kerala. Perhaps the music of these parts and Kerala were similar in those times. There is also an inscription mentioning a donation to the temple by a maddalam player. This inscription is rated important enough to be carved in stone as well as in copper plates.

Suthamalli Perun Theruvu seems to have been the street where many important people lived in Tirunelveli. Even more remarkable are inscriptions in verse – that can be and were probably set to tune! These are mostly from Thadakanni Chirrudaiyan Uyyanindraduvan Gurukulatharyan. This Gurukulatharayan was an important chieftain and advisor for Maravarman Sundarapandyan and is credited with substantially developing Tirutangal as well. In the inscription here, he says he has given a substantial part of the land to Bikhshatanar so that Bikhshatanar does not need to ask for more. Even ordinary inscriptions gifting perpetual lamps are composed in verse. Another poet – chieftain Kalapalan has used puns in the phrases – Nel Veli (wall of grain) with Sol Veli (wall of words. i.e. a poem) and a Kal Veli (a wall of stones he built around the shrine).

Several inscriptions mention the donors for pillars but the musical pillars don’t have a donor. This rare feature is found in a few other Pandya temples as well. On the maha mandapam walls of the third prakaram are a set of musical notes – thalanka Pramanam of Pichandi Annavi – a resident of Pasuvanthanai village. The notes are engraved into a beautiful lotus flower on the floor. Another inscription mentions a music related word — Thamara suthimam. Apart from the music-related inscriptions, there are other important ones too.

Image Courtesy: The Hindu

Many refer to the gifting of flower gardens, which usually have lotuses. Sometimes, a set of 120 flowers is paid as an equivalent to 150 kalams of rice. The reason for gifting lotus meant that one had to build a pond as well, and a water storage device in this parched land was a boon. So not only did the temple have lotus, but farmers also had a water source. An inscription on the gopuram of Kanthimati Amman shrine mentions Rs.45,008, 9 Annas and 18 Paisa, as spent towards kumbabishekam that took place in 1833.

The long corridors of the temple, if aesthetically lit, can prove to be a mesmerising venue for concerts, and one hopes that the temple will, like in the past, reverberate with more music and serve as an inspiration for the present day composers.

Kriti: Sri Kantimatim
Ragam: Hemavati
Talam: Adi
Composer: Muthuswami Dikshitar
Kshetram: Thirunelveli
Deities: Nellaiappar and Kanthimati

Part III – A Temple Kutcheri – Padam

With credits to K V Raman, VAK Ranga Rao

(This was published in The Hindu, dated January 30, 2015. URL: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/speaks-of-sringara-and-devotion/article6835879.ece)

Relegated to after the main and paired with tukdas, if ever sung, the Padam continues to hold sway among dancers. Padams are longer songs with a Pallavi, anupallavi and several charanams where the singer “speaks” of love and devotion to God. It could be in happiness of the love being fulfilled, sadness that it is delayed and or not reciprocated.

Concerts in the early 20th century still featured Padams but they are rare today and that is a pity. The sentiment of the heroine longing for the Hero who is a God or on occasion a human, is an old literary tradition. Nammazhwar and Tirumangai Azhwar use it in their hymns. Jayadeva, Chandidas and Vidyapati are great composers from Bengal and Bihar. Annamaya and Narayana theertha were other great exponents who prepared the ground for the greatest Padam composer Kshetrayya from Muvva. He lived in the 17th century and refined the structure and content of the Padam as we know it today. Much later in the 19-20th centuries, smaller, lighter, less metaphor laden and sometimes more crudely erotic developments of the Padam became the Javali.

Our focus in the concert of words is however, Padams. True to his name’s meaning, Kshetrayya visited many holy places, and out of all of them, Kanchi seems to have been where he stayed the most. Scholars dispute the actual authorship of Padams he is credited with but among all lists, the temple that he specifically mentions the most in 23 songs is the Varadaraja temple at Kanchi. Perhaps it was because his name was Varadayya as well? Other temples close by like Tiruvallur, Tiru Allikeni and Tirutani. Scholar Rajanikant Rao believes the Padams on Varadaraja are dated 1625. The temple in those times must have had devadasi’s who were highly respected and would have been only happy to include this composers Padams on their deity.

One of his Padams, Maguva tana… in Mohanam was composed when he, in trance, saw Perundevi Tayar coming out of the Lord’s bedchamber in the morning. Sadly the loss of the Devadasi traditions has meant a loss of how the metaphor laden lyrics would have looked, for while a musician can revel in the lyrics and use the raga dexterously to bring out the emotion, the dancer has a broader canvas.

In addition to the many songs on the temple, is a small image of one of Kshetrayya’s important patrons, Tirumalai Nayaka. This king along with Raghunatha Nayaka and Abdullah Qutub Shah of Golkonda are mentioned in the Vedukato (Devagandhari/Kambhoji) Padam as his patrons.

Tirumalai Nayaka created the temple as we know it today, in fact much of Kanchipuram tourists visit today – the towering gopurams of the Varadaraja and Ekambranatha temples are from the wealth he got back from his expedition to Orissa. This important king and patron’s image is in the most unlikely of place, on the left side of the steps that lead to the shrine adjoining the sanctum of Perundevi Thayar. The entire shrine may well be his work for separate shrines for consorts appear only from the 16th centuries. Carved in miniature, the small deities remind us that even great kings like him were humble enough when they saw themselves in front of God, a lesson for musicians as they sing the devotion laden verses, to sing them for God but not for audience applause and self-aggrandizement.

The temple has a long history of music, it has two rare inscriptions one from the 13th century and the other from 1535 that specify for a share of the offerings to go to a section of women who sing the 4000 Divya Prabhanda hymns in front of the deity. Sadly this practice is long absent. Ladies were involved in many other tasks in the decoration and kitchen but this music connection is unique. This tradition of music must have inspired Kshetrayya. His ragas of songs on this temple are Dhanyasi, Kalyani, Pantuvarali, Ghanta, Bhairavi (where the nayika is angry with Varada), Mukhari and Todi.

His padams has varying themes, some are on reconciliation, others mediation between Varada and his lover, his Padam in Todi, Nelataa is inspired by a classic Tamil Sangam theme of a companion promising the nayika that she will arrange for Varada to return. In terms of metaphors, Na manasuvantidi in kalyani is the finest.

It must have been magic in the hands of an expert dancer and singer in the ambience of the temple. The heroine speaks of her love and says,

when I doodle with my nail, I draw your image, when I wake up I see you in the haze, when I see a shadow behind me I think its you and when I strum my Tamboora, I only hear your voice

Padams, may be less popular in the concerts, music less frequent in the temple but the immortal, metaphor laden words of Kshetrayya wait in out of print books, waiting for more artists to include music into the letters and bring hem back to life!

The temple that Kshetrayya specifically mentions the most in 23 songs is the Varadaraja temple at Kanchi.

Padam: Maguva Tana
Ragam: Mohanam
Composer: Kshetrayya
On deity: Sri Varadaraja
Temple: Kanchipuram

BN&WWW’s addition to the above.
Here is the padam transliterated below. (Source

Maguva tanakelika mamdiramu vedalen
Vagakada makamcivarada tellavare nanucu || Maguva ||
Vidajarugojjamgi – viridamda jadatonu
Kaducikkubadi penagu – Kamta saritonu

Niduda kannuladeru – nidura mabbutonu
Todari Padayugamu – dadabadedu nadatonu || Maguva | |
Sogasi sogayanivalapu – solapu jupulatonu
Vagavagala ghanasara – Vasanalatonu
Jigimimcu kemmovi – ciguru kempulatonu
Sagamu Kucamula Vidiya – camdurulatonu || Maguva ||

Taritipuseya sama – surati badalikatonu
Jaruta Pavada ceragu – jarpaita tonu
Irugadalakai damda – liccu tarunula tonu
Paramatma muvvago – pah tellavarenanucu || Maguva ||

Here is the translation of the same. (Source)

There the spouse divine emerges out of the bridal chamber,
Awakening amorous Varada of Kanchi,and announcing daybreak!
With untwined garland of roses drooping from plaited hair,
And intertwined riddles of encircling rounds of necklace;
With a haze of sleep hanging over the half-opened wide eyes
As the pair of feet get entangled, causing a faltering gait! (There the spouse)
As charming looks expose and cover her fatigue and surrender,
With all-pervading layers of fragrant odours of musk,
The ruby-like effulgences of leaf-buds of her lips,
And an array of crescents found on her half uncovered breasts! (There the spouse)

Part IV – A Temple Kutcheri – Thillana

With credits to R Kausalya, Marabu foundation

(This was published in The Hindu, dated Februaary 19, 2015. URL: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/religion/it-was-the-pinnacle-of-fine-arts/article6912547.ece)

“Last but not the least”, is a phrase that may have been coined for the thillana! Everyone from novices to rasikas will love a thillana for its brisk, literally foot tapping beat and melody. Again something that connects dance and music, the thillana is a great way to finish a concert with a flourish.

Scholars believe the first Thillana came in the 18th century and was composed by Melatur Verabadrayya. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer’s composition Gauri Nayaka is considered one of the most complex. Thillanas quickly became popular among Harikatha performances, in their ability to quickly revive energy on stage, especially when Harikatha performances went on for 4-5 hours.

Jathi takes precedence in thillanas over Sahitya. Often, the Sahitya is restricted to a few words in the charanam. Looking at composers of thillanas, the Tanjore quartet comes first and it’s not surprising since they are credited with codifying Bharathanatyam as we know it today. They have several thillanas to their credit in multiple ragas and languages. Many of them are similar in meaning but switch languages and patron names, all of them have a brisk tempo, a light bur expert use of the raga and above all are uniformly pleasing to the ear. They have published many of their works and the compositions can often be seen in music concerts and certainly in dance performances.

One of their finest thillanas is on one of the finest temples, the Thanjavur Brihadeswara temple. The temple was a centre for dance and has the finest Chola connections to dance today. Raja Raja’s inscriptions on the institution of 400 dancers with details of their address, procedure for replacing them (on merit and not political connections) are famous. The sculptures of the Karanas, though incomplete, are also important for using the four hands of Shiva they show the starting and finishing positions of the karana and conform to the Natya Shastra tenets. In these we see evidence of the high level of respect, popularity dance and music had in the Chola period in general and in the temple in particular.

Among all the shodasa upacharas, music and dance have the highest ability to influence the emotion of the devotee and push them to act for the better good of themselves and

the community. This is the core principle of the four purusharthas that form the basis of Sanatana dharma which we call Hinduism today. The thillana Dheem thanana in Hamsanandhi is set in Rupaka and composed by Ponnayya.

Image Courtesy: Thanjai Nalvar Nattiya Isai Karuvoolam

Image Courtesy: Thanjai Nalvar
Nattiya Isai Karuvoolam

In the charanam he says,

oh Sankara, save me as you are the one who saves anyone who asks you, even the devas pray to you as Brihadeswara.

The choice of the Brihadeswara temple for a thillana is appropriate since the temple was constructed at a time when music, dance and drama were more closely connected than they are today.

Raja Raja showered the temple with wealth of different types. In his time, an integral part of music compositions would have been the hymns of Sambandar, Navukkarasar and Sundarar, their images were set up by the king and donations and jewelry presented to them. 48 singers of these hymns were appointed, inscriptions list their names and include Manothmasivan, Purvasivan, Dharmasivan, Vamasivan and others. Also in the congregation were an udukkai player and Kotti Madhalam player. His gift of 400 dancers and 55 other musicians is well known. Instruments mentioned include, Meraviyam, Ganampadi, Vangiyam, Padaviyam, Veena, Ariyam, the conch etc. The Ekkalam was a wind instrument that announced the procession and the temple was gifted 13 of them in Gold. The karana sculptures are well known.

After Raja Raja we hear less about the music and dance in the temple. Rajendra Deva, the second son of Rajendra I in 1058, almost 50 years after the temple had been consecrated, made a provision for staging a play called Rajarajeswara Nataka at the grand festival of the deity, Rajarajeswara. We even have the name of the lead actor, Santi Kuttan Tiruvalan Tirumudukundran (Vridhachalam today) alias Vijaya Rajendra Acharyan and his troupe (varga). Evidently it must have been an enactment of how the temple was created and must have had the best of music, dance and drama of that era. In the Maratha times, especially from 1799 to 1835, more than 20 dance dramas were staged in the temple, all of them for more than 2 days and some for even 7 days.

A rare handwritten letter from Sivananda Nattuvanar, one of the quartette, complains to Shivaji II that the East India company authorities are preventing him from teaching Bharathanatyam and Kathak to students. Evidently, the quartette was adept at Kathak as well. It is said that the brothers are depicted in a painting of a dancing scene in the Mallapa Nayaka mantapam.

Konerirajapuram mural

Konerirajapuram mural depicting the tanjore quartet with devadasis

The Kuravanji medai that was the stage for the performances still exist. The other famous Kuravanji enacted was Sivakozhundu Desikar’s Sarabhendra Bhoopala Kuravanji. It may have even listened to the many evocative but lesser known compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar on this temple.

Fortunately, the temple is still a venue for music and dance performances, and one only hopes that performers there, recognise the magnificent role the temple has played in promoting music and dance and include compositions connected to the temple, including thillanas!

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