செவ்வாய், 13 டிசம்பர், 2016

The preceptor as patron of arts


-Suganthy Krishnamachari


He made music and dance an integral part of worship at Srirangam.

Thiruvarangathamudanar, who eulogised Ramanujacharya through his ‘Ramanuja Nootrandhadhi,’ says in verse 37, that the Ramayana dwells in Ramanuja. Therein lies a clue to the extent of Ramanuja’s knowledge of music. In the Bala Kanda (4th sarga, 8th sloka), Valmiki, says the Ramayana can be sung to the accompaniment of string and percussion instruments, and that it lends itself to the three degrees of speed — Vilambita, Madhyama and Durita. In Ayodhya Kanda (2nd sarga, 35th sloka), Valmiki says that Rama is an expert in music. So the epic by its very nature is musical; the music knowledge of its hero is vouchsafed by the chronicler himself. And if such an epic is said to be embodied in Ramanuja, then the music knowledge of the Acharya can easily be guessed at.
In a sense it was music that enlarged the canvas on which Ramanuja operated. Ramanuja was in Kanchipuram, serving Lord Varadaraja. But Ranganatha of Srirangam had other plans for him. Knowing of Varadaraja’s love of music, Ranganatha sent Thriuvaranga Perumal Araiyar to Kanchipuram on a mission — he had to somehow get Varadaraja to part with Ramanuja. So pleased was Varadaraja with the Araiyar’s musical rendering of paasurams, that He said, “Except for Me and My Consort, ask Me for anything. And it shall be yours.” Needless to say, the Araiyar asked for Ramanuja. Thus Ramanuja was brought on to the world stage because of music, and went on to accomplish great things in Srirangam and in other places.

Ramanuja’s exposure to music began early. The Araayirappadi Guru Parampara Prabhavam says that he learnt Nammazhwar’s Thiruvaimozhi from Thiruvaranga Perumal Araiyar, with relevant music and tala for the paasurams. (Pannisai taalathodu payindru kondaar). Ramanuja must have realised that music helped commit verses to memory. That is why he appointed a group of people, calledVinnappam Seivaar , to recite verses with music in temples.

Music has always been integral to worship. The singing of Sama Veda is known as Udgita. There is a passage in the Chandogya Upanishad, which says Udgita must be worshipped. Thus the Upanishad equates Udgita, or the musical rendering of the Sama Veda with the Pranava.

In Srimad Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna says that He is present not in the hearts of yogis or even in Sri Vaikuntha, but where His names are sung. Knowing the role of music in taking us closer to the Supreme One, Ramanuja ensured the presentation of paasurams through music.

Among the various groups, called kothus, which he appointed for various temple related tasks in Srirangam, one was called Isai Vaanar and another was Natana Asiriyargal (dance teachers). Thus the Acharya also arranged for dance and music to be taught. These two groups also had to perform in other temples, during festivals. This was to ensure that a desire for paasurams, rendered through music and dance, was fostered in other places, besides Srirangam. There were also women dancers, attached to the Srirangam temple, who danced to paasurams. In Ramanuja’s time, Araiyars were called isaikaarar —musicians, indicating that their music and dance had been recognised as a profession. Ramanuja felt that enacting paasurams would help people understand the meaning of the verses better. So he appointed a group of people called Ramanuja Adiyar. They were actors who would act out the verses.

Ramanuja institutionalised Araiyar Sevai, which conforms to the definition of music as given by Sarngadeva in Sangita Ratnakara: “Geetam vadyam tatha nrityam, trayam sangitamuchyate” — vocal music, instrumental music and dance together constitute music. Araiyars sing, dance and keep beat with a pair of cymbals.

Although these days concerts are broadcast on radio or telecast on television and are even streamed live, people still go to sabhas, for the experience of listening to music in the company of others. Ramanuja must have known that this would always be the preferred mode of listening to music. So he made sure that in Srirangam both Ranganatha and His Consort were witness to Araiyar Sevai, together with all the devotees. In Srirangam, Ramanuja instituted the practice of playing veena for Lord Ranganatha, a tradition that still continues.

Ramanuja also had knowledge of dance, and even corrected Azhwar Thiruvaranga Perumal Araiyar on one occasion. Araiyar was rendering an abhinaya for Thiruvoimozhi verse 5-3-6, where Nammazhwar sings as Parankusa nayaki, who is pining for the Lord. This verse has the word “vasapaduthinaan”, meaning captured. For this word, Araiyar’s abhinayam showed a fishing net being cast. Ramanuja signalled to him that there was a better way of expressing Nammazhwar’s thoughts. The Lord’s eyes are captivating and He must have used them to capture the heart of Parankusa Nayaki, Ramanuja reasoned, and signalled to the Araiyar that he had to indicate the beauty of the Lord’s eyes through his abhinaya.

Thus Ramanuja, capitalising on his knowledge of music and dance, put the verses of Nammazhwar within reach of the common man, by arranging for them to be sung, danced and acted.

(The author acknowledges the inputs given by Vaishnavism scholar Kidambi Narayanan.)

courtesy: The Hindu


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