வெள்ளி, 16 டிசம்பர், 2016

Acharya remembered through music


-Suganthy Krishnamachari

Melukote temple

Did you know that there are folk songs, 1,000 years old, dating back to Ramanuja? Melukote Araiyar Srirama Sarma elaborates to Suganthy Krishnamachari.

Vaishnavite Acharya Ramanuja spent many years in Karnataka. His presence there was remembered years after his death by commoner and royalty alike, and many verses were composed by kings and scholars in praise of the Acharya, and set to tune too. During a recent visit to Melukote, I met the Araiyar of Melukote temple - Srirama Sarma, a Presidential awardee for Sanskrit (2014). Sarma has, over the years, put together all Kannada compositions about Ramanuja.
Geetha Gopalam, with seven lines in each verse (saptapadhi), was composed by the King of Mysore - Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar (1673-1704 C.E.), and it has many verses about the Azhwars and also about Ramanuja. Srirama Sarma explains three verses from the Geetha Gopalam, in praise of Ramanuja. These verses are in Yadukulakhambodi ragam and set to Ata talam. “Oh, Ramanuja, save us,” is the refrain. The first verse praises Ramanuja who became the Lord’s Acharya in Tirumala. When there was a dispute about the deity, Ramanuja defeated his opponents, and showed that the Truth the Vedantas spoke about was Lord Srinivasa. The next verse talks of Ramanuja explaining the Vedantas to Kurungudi Nambi. In the third verse, Ramanuja’s retrieval of the Selvapilla idol is described. There is also a mangalam to Ramanuja in the Geetha Gopalam, which is in Madhumadhavi ragam, Ata talam. Here again there are three verses. The first verse says Ramanuja is Adisesha incarnate, and that his good qualities ensure that those who believe in him attain liberation through him. The second verse talks of how Ramanuja propagated the religion of the Azhwars. The third verse says that Ramanuja’s joy lay in explaining Vedanta to ardent seekers of spiritual enlightenment.

Rangachari, better known as Chikku Upadhyaya, who was the teacher of Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar, composed Divya Suri Charitam, in which 25 verses in chapters 10, 13 and 14 are about Ramanuja. Chikku Upadhyaya says the greatness of Ramanuja has already been recorded in Tamil, and he will now narrate it in equally beautiful Kannada. He also adds that he is doing this upon the request of Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar. He records the date of composition too. He says it is being written in 1,600 Satavaahana Saka, Pingala Samvatsara, Panguni, Sukla paksha, Ashtami, Monday. “This means the work was composed in 1,678 C.E.,” explains Sarma.

“I have heard Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar’s and Chikku Upadhyaya’s verses sung in concerts. Sadly, that is no longer the case,” says Srirama Sarma.

The outpouring of bhakti needs no scholarship, and Ramanuja’s followers were drawn from the simplest of people. “Each village had 18 castes and Ramanuja had followers from all castes.” During his stay in Karnataka, Ramanuja, with his disciples would visit different villages and the Acharya would give the villagers holy water, and his disciples would serve a traditional feast to the villagers. The villagers would sing simple folk songs to welcome Ramanuja. “These songs still continue to be popular in Karnataka,” says Sarma. The verses are simple, as in the case of all folk songs, and are about Srinivasa, Ranganatha, Hanuman, Selva Pillai and of course, Acharya Ramanuja himself. The women in the villages would perform a mangala harathi and there was a song for that too.

How did Sarma become familiar with these folk songs? “Even today the Acharya families of Melukote have sishyas in more than 400 villages in Karnataka. In fact we have sishyas in Ooty and Coorg too. During our visits to these places, the villagers still welcome us with the age-old folk songs. That’s one reason why I am familiar with these songs. Besides, during Panguni Brahmotsavam in Melukote, people from many villages come here. They have a rich repertoire of folk songs that describe incidents in the life of Ramanuja, during his stay in Karnataka. These songs which are in old Kannada, describe three avataras of Adi Sesha as Lakshmana, Balarama and Ramanujacharya. And most of these folk songs date back to the time of Ramanuja. That means they are almost 1,000 years old!”

There are folk songs about the flowers of Melukote, the ritual procession of the deity of Melukote, and one song says that all the communities of Melukote are custodians of the temple. If you visit Melukote during the Vairamudi festival or during the Makar Sankranthi celebrations, you can witness the joie de vivre of the people from far flung villages, as they participate in the festivals, dancing and singing songs that have been handed down to them through the years. As one tradition after another is lost to the march of time, it is heartening that these folk songs that recall the great Acharya Ramanuja still continue to be heard in Melukote. Robust as folk songs usually are, they are fully evocative of the bhakti of the villagers.
During our visits to the villages in Karnataka, the local people still welcome us with the age-old folk songs- Araiyar Srirama Sarma.

Other literary works on Ramanujar:  Sarma has heard Telugu pilgrims to Melukote sing verses from Acharya Sukta Muktavali, a Telugu work about Ramanuja.

Rangaraja, the father of Chikku Upadhyaya, wrote the first Kannada work on Visishtadvaita, and the first Kannada commentary on Thiruvaimozhi.

Srinivasa Iyengar, father of Araiyar Srirama Sarma, knew 14 languages. He travelled all over India by foot, and wherever he went, he translated verses from the Divya Prabandham into the local language.

His Marathi translations of some Divya Prabandham verses are still recited in some villages in Maharashtra.

Srinivasa Iyengar translated Ramanuja Nootrandhadhi to Kannada, and artists would dance to the Kannada version during the Aadi Pooram festival in Melukote.


Courtesy: The Hindu




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