Friday, November 27, 2009

Abhang Mela @ Nanganallur

I was at Nanganallur last Sunday (22nd Nov 2009) to attend an Abhang Mela, thanks to my friend Pammal Subbu who made me to attend this programme. The Abhang mela is all about singing the abhangs throughout the day from dawn to dusk. The programme was performed by leading singers like Smt. Kalyani Margabanthu (Sister of Swami Haridas Giri), Sri. Kadayanallur Rajagopal Bhagavathar, Sri. O.S. Sundar Bhagavathar and Sri Kadalur Gopi Bhagavathar. When I reached the venue the bhajan session by Sriman Kadayanallur Rajagopal Bhagavathar was in progress. He made the session very lively and made everyone participated in the bhajan by repeating the Bhagavan Namas and made everyone to do pradakshina around Vittala and Rukumabhai deities. My two sons enjoyed the bhajan and were dancing. Please read on to know more about Abhangs and Sri Kadayanallur Rajagopal.


The devotional poems composed by the Maharashtrian saint-poets like Tukaram, Jnanadev, Eknath and Namdev are known as Abhangs, that is, A+Bhang meaning those compositions that would never be wiped off the face of the earth. The abhang is a form of devotional poetry sung in praise of Lord Krishna also known as Vittala and Vithoba in Maharashtra. Rendering of abhangs attaches great importance to the lyrics, correct diction, chorus singing and most importantly the bhakti aspect. The rhythm (beat) is also specific with a Tod finale (Tirmanam). About eight hundred years ago, there were a number of God realised souls in Maharashtra who initiated the Bhakti Sampradaya and Nama Sankirtana Sampradaya.

The Bhakti Sampradaya was a mode of worship that was easily adopted and practiced by even the unlettered masses and thus the Nama Sankirtana cult and Varkari Sampradaya came into existence. The Varkari tradition underlines bhakti and spirituality. The Varkaris can be categorised as Vaishnavite saints from Maharashtra like Dhyaneshwar, Namdev, Tukaram and many others. The Varkaris go on a pilgrimage to Pandharpur twice a year. They walk all the way from their native places with the palkis of the saints. Individual sacrifice, non-violence, compassion, peaceful co-existence were the values they underlined. The saints of this lineage wrote booklets of verses in praise of the Almighty in simple language known as Haripath. This work united people of all castes and creeds. The annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Lord Vithal in Pandharpur is accompanied by dynamic singing of abhangs.

Kadayanallur Rajagopal

Kadayanallur is a small town in the Tirunelveli District of the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The name Kadayanallur comes from "Kadaikaleeswara", the name of the presiding deity of Kadaikaleeswarar kovil, a Hindu temple located in Kadayanallur. It is located in the foothills of the Western Ghats near the kuttralam Waterfalls and Tenkasi. Kadayanallur has produced many musicians famous of which is Shri.Kadayanallur Venkataraman who has set the tune for songs made popular by M.S. Subbulakshmi, like Kuraionrum illai, Sreeman Narayana, Bhavayami, Gopalabaalam, Jo Achyutananda, and Kandu kandu, which have captured the hearts of listeners with their lilt and melody. The Famous Abhang Chakravarthy Shri.Tukaram Ganapathy Maharaj also hails from this very small town of Kadayanallur. Comming from this very small town of Tamil Nadu is Sri.Kadyanallur S Rajagopal, the younger generation of the Kadayanallur Sampradaya Bhajan Family.

His grandfather, Father and his uncles were staunch followers of Shri Gopalakrishna Baghavathar (lovingly known as "Thatha") and Shri. Sanjeevi Baghavathar the Siants of Sampradya Bhajans. Sri Kadayanallur S Rajagopal under the instructions of Shri.Krishna Premi Swamigal lovingly known as "Anna" took to Spreading the Smapradhaya Bhajan's his ancestors were promoting. His melodious voice takes you through to God's abode. "Divyanama Chakravarthy" as he is known, he conducts "Radha Kalyanam" in "Pudukottai Sampradayam Bhajan Style".

Kadayanallur Rajagopal Bhagavathar has the blessings of "Kadaikaleeswarar" the presiding diety of Kadayanallur. With ardant devotion to music and inclination to "Sampradhaya Bhanjans" he learned the bhajan sampradaya from his "Guru" and father Sri.R.Seetharama Bhagavathar. For four generations their family has been devoting themselves to "Sampradhaya Bhajans". Since the age of five Sri.Kadayanallur Rajagopal Bhagavathar has been accompanying his father and grandfather Sri.T.S.Ramachandra Bhagavathar for various bhajan performances. At an age when youngsters are going around enjoying their lives, Rajagopal has exhibited abundant interest in "South Indian Sampradaya Bhajans", going around singing the praise of the "Lord". He is well conversant with musical instruments like Harmonium, Mridangam, Dolak, Tabla, Ganjira etc. He has taken painstaking efforts to establish a niche in the widely accepted bhajan form.Sri.Kadayanallur Rajagopal's "Divyanama" concerts have immense capacity to draw crowds to feel the divine embrace of the "Lord" himself.

Jai Panduranga Vittala!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sri Sreedhara Venkatesa Ayyaval

Today is the Aradhana of Sri Sreedhara Venkatesa Ayyaval, who is one of the three Gurus in the Dakshina Bhajana Sampradaya. THE ARADHANA of Sreedhara Venkatesa Ayyaval, a votary of "Nama Siddhanta", and a trendsetter in the field of bhajan and Nama sankeertanam, is celebrated in a village called “Tiruvisainallur”, near to Thiruvidaimaruthur between the Kumbakonam and Aaduthurai Highway.

Tiruvisainallur nestling on the bank of the River Cauvery in Thanjavur district, where Ayyaval stayed celebrates the event with great fanfare. The utsavam lasts for ten days ending on the New Moon day in the Tamil month of Karthigai. On all these days people from various places converge on Tiruvisainallur to worship Ayyaval. Especially on New Moon day, the crowd swells to take a bath in the well of the Ayyaval Math. It is said, Goddess Ganga manifested Herself on this day nearly 300 years ago to enable the great Siva devotee to bathe in the waters of the Ganga and thus pay off the penalty prescribed by the villagers for his act of having fed a harijan on his father's "sraddha" day. On all the ten days, exponents of "Harikatha" and Carnatic music render concerts. Please read on to know more about Sri Ayyaval.

Ayyaval, an erudite Karnataka smartha Brahmin, having spurned the ministerial offer made to him by the then ruler of Mysore, embarked upon a kshetradanam (pilgrimage) of the south along with his wife, Sundari Ammal, and settled down in the village of Tiruvisainallur. The place was then known as Shajirajapuram since it was gifted by Shaji II to 45 pandits well versed in the Vedas (1685 A.D. - 1712 A.D.). In fact, the sign board carrying the name of the village as Shajirajapuram was seen at the entrance to the village on the Veppathur-Kumbakonam road till 1950, and it was an "inam" village up to 1952. Ayyaval's profound scholarship in Sanskrit, and above all his devotion to Lord Siva attracted the notice of Shaji II. The fact that Shaji II was close to Ayyaval is revealed in Ayyaval's work, "Sahendra Vilasa", comprising eight sargams, on the king's expedition to Rameswaram.

Ayyaval was an ardent devotee of Mahalingaswamy at Tiruvidaimarudhur, also known as Madhyarjunam. Not a day passed without Ayyaval visiting the great shrine. Ayyaval spoke to God, and God spoke to him, and his life was replete with miracles. His work, "Taravali Stuthi" comprising 29 hymns on Siva has a story behind it. When he was in Thanjavur, Ayyaval is said to have brought back to life a boy who died of cobra bite. On this occasion, the above work was composed. It is the author's confirmed belief that by reciting these hymns sincerely one can save the life of his near and dear ones, whose hopes of survival are next to nothing.

Ayyaval lived during the period of Sadasiva Brahmendra and Bhodhendra Swamigal. And several incidents are cited to underline the strength of his bhakti which helped him to communicate with God. A few samples: During Krishna Jayanti, Krishna's portrait was decorated and taken in a procession along the streets of Tiruvisainallur. Some brahmins of the village heckled at Ayyaval and went away without stopping in front of his house. When the procession reached the next house, the portrait of Krishna had disappeared. It was being worshipped by Ayyaval in his house and the brahmins realised the greatness of Ayyaval who composed "Dola Navaratnamalika" then.

Some of his other compositions are Dayasathakam, Bhagavannama Bhushanam, Agyashasthi, Mathrubhuta Sathakam, Stuthi Padhathi, Siva Bhakti Kalpalatha, Sivabhaktha Lakshanam, Dharavali Stothram, Aarthihara Stothram, Kuleerashtakam, Jambunatha Ashtakam, Dosha Parikarashtakam, Krishnadwadasa Manjari, Achuthashtakam, Namamrutha Rasayanam - which speak only of the greatness of Siva and Vishnu namas. Tiruvisainallur and its surrounding areas suffered for want of rains for a long period. Moved by the hardship faced by the people, Ayyaval composed the stotram "Gulirashtakam" in the name of the local presiding deity Garkateswarar after which there was copious rain.

One day, Ayyaval wanted to cross the Cauvery to reach Tiruvidaimarudur on the other bank, but the river was in spate. Praying to Lord Siva, he composed Arthihara Stotram. Lord Siva, in the disguise of a temple priest (at Tiruvidaimarudur) came and offered the prasadam to Ayyaval and disappeared. He realised that it was none else than Madhyarjunar Himself!

Ayyaval's catholicity of outlook and humaneness are well brought out in his act of feeding a harijan on the sraddha day of his father. For the sraddha, Ayyaval had invited a few Brahmins of the village to conduct the rituals. He went to the Cauvery to have a bath and on his way back noticed a harijan lying on the side of the lane, weak from hunger and thirst. In a spontaneous gesture, Ayyaval quenched the harijan's thirst with the water in his kamandalam, and then fed him with the preparations made for the sraddha. The above act of Ayyaval caused a flutter and the priests abruptly left his house without completing the rituals connected with the ceremony. It is said that his house was bolted from the outside, to prevent the entry of any purohit to help Ayyaval complete the ceremony, and guards were posted. But to the surprise of everyone the chanting of mantras was heard.

It is said that those who helped Ayyaval complete the ceremony were none other than Lord Vigneswara and Subramanya. However, the villagers prescribed the penalty of taking a bath in the River Ganges on Ayyaval for his act. He prayed to his "Ishta Devata", Lord Siva to come to his rescue. It is said that the Goddess assured him that she would manifest Herself in the well in his house on New Moon day of Karthigai month. Just like Valmiki, he composed "Gangashtaka", and recited it in front of the well on the appointed day. The Ganges gushed out of the well and flooded the whole village. Even today, there is a place called Gangaikanda Thidal in Tiruvisainallur.

As stated by Ayyaval in Dayasatakam, man's miseries today are due to his deviating from the path of dharma laid down by the Vedas. The way Ayyaval attained "mukti" is again another mysterious event. His wife predeceased him. One day he went to the temple of Mahalingaswamy as usual; but did not return. He mingled with the eternal effulgence of Mahalingaswamy. Only a few days earlier he had informed his disciples of his end.

Reference :

The Hindu – “Ayyaval - embodiment of humaneness” by Sri R. Krishnamurthy & “A devout savant” by Sri N.V.R. Swamy