Monthly Archives: May 2009


What are vachanas? Octets (8 lines) in Kannada composed by Shaivite followers. Basavanna, Akka Mahadevi are some of the well-known vachana composers.
Vachanas reflect intense bhakthi of Shiva in simple soul-stirring lyrics and are original pieces of literature of the 12th century. They are often referred to as the Bible of the Shaivite community (Vaishnavism spread around the same period) and the simple language and poetic beauty of the vachanas were appealing to the  masses.

Raag Marwa and Sohini

Many ragas sound similar to the layman, how does one distinguish one from the other? Let’s take the case of two Hindustani ragas – Marwa and Sohini.

The first time I came across Marwa was when I was learning a vachana of  the Shaivite mystic, Basavanna.My teacher was a disciple of Pandit Basvaraj Rajguru. “Emphasize on the phrase, n-r-g-m-d”, my teacher exhorted. Raag Marwa is traditionally presented at sunset.

Here is a beautiful rendition of raag Marwa by Ustad Amir Khan.

Sohini which sounds similar to Marwa corresponds to raga Hamsanandi in the Carnatic scale. In Sohini, the emphasis is on the phrase, g-m-d-n.  In Carnatic music, gamakas are an essential feature in the presentation.  The beauty of rendering similar melodic phrases in a different style (Hindustani) presents its own distinctive challenge. Here is a beautiful rendition of raag Sohini by Ustad Rashid Khan. Sohini is traditionally presented at sunrise.




Hindustani/Carnatic ragas

This is the first of more posts on Hindustani/carnatic ragas. Here is a list (not comprehensive) of common ragas to both genres.
Bhoop (H) – Mohanam (C)
Yaman (H) – Kalyani (C)
Bilawal – Shankarabharanam
Puryadhanashri – Pantuvarali
Abogi – Abogi
Malkauns – Hindoilam
Sohini – Hamsanandi
Jayjayvanti – Dwijavanti
Hamir – Amirkalyani
Bhairavi – Sindhubhairavi

The mystic Chera king, Kulasekhara Alwar

My interest in Vaishnavite traditions and Divya Prabandhams grew as I prepared for my CD recording (see main page). My article on Kulasekhara Alwar, the philosopher-king was published in the Sunday Herald a few weeks back. I’ve posted the article here for your convenience.
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The Mystic Chera King

“I may appear crazy to others but it is they who are really crazy. Yes! I am madly in love with my Lord!’ (in Tamil “Peyarai yenakku yaavarum yaanum oru peyanai evarkkum idhu pesi yen”).
Were these the words of a madman?  These words form one of the 105 quatrains (pasurams) of Kulasekhara Alwar’s Perumal Tirumozhi. that speak of his love for Lord Ranganatha of Srirangam. Kulasekhara, was a Chera king who ruled over present-day Kerala in the 9th century AD.
Beginning in the 7th century, the Bhakti movement centered around Lord Vishnu saw a resurgence in South India. Twelve poets, collectively called the Alwars, over the span of two centuries, created an exquisite collection of hymns, collectively called the “Divya Prabhandham.” These hymns are known for their exquisite lyrical content and high emotive appeal. Allegorical and set in first person, the hymns convey the poets’ intense feeling of bhakthi towards the Lord.
The ninth of the twelve alwars, Kulasekhara Alwar, whilst still engaged in matters of state, showed great interest in spirituality. Several tales, possibly apocryphal, talk of his intense love for his Lord. Once when listening to a narration of the Ramayana at court the king, was so caught up with the story that in an emotional outburst, ordered his troops to prepare for the battle against Ravana! Only when the narrator brought the story to an end with Rama’s victory did the king heave a sigh of relief.
Another story speaks of how his single-minded focus on serving Lord Vishnu alarmed his courtiers, who felt he was ignoring royal matters. In an atttempt to discredit the priests that the king patronized, they charged the priests of stealing the temple jewels. The king in an effort to disprove their suspicions, declared that he would place his hand in a pot of poisonous snakes. “If I am bitten, then what you say would be true. If my faith in the priests of Vishnu is justified, I will not be harmed.” It goes on to say how the king was unscathed, after subjecting himself to this test with a pot of poisonous snakes.
Kulasekara eventually renounced his royal responsibilities and proceeded to Srirangam, the bastion of Vaishnavism. It was here that he composed his most famous work the Mukundamala (“garland of hymns for Mukunda”) and parts of the Perumal Tirumozhi. The latter part of his life was largely spent in Tirupati. The threshold at the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord Balaji Temple in Tirupati is known as the “Kulasekhara padi” – a tribute to this philosopher king’s desire to serve the Lord, if only as an inanimate object in his temple!
Though Kulasekhara Alwar is believed to have died young, before he reached his 30th birthday, he lives on in the regular chanting of his Perumal Thirumozhi in temples throughout South India. In the first week of March, this mystic king’s birth anniversary, under the Punar Poosam star,  is being celebrated by the Hindu Vaishnavite community all over the world.

Concert at Kannika Parameswari temple, Malleswaram


The Kannika Parameshwari temple on 8th cross is one of the oldest temples in the city. It is a landmark in the Malleswaram region of Bangalore. My accompanists for the temple concert were MS Govindaswamy(violin) and C.Cheluvaraju (mridangam).

Here is the song list for the concert –
1. Vandi suvudhadhi – Nattai – Kanda Chapu – Purandaradasa
2. Shambho mahadeva – Pantuvarali – Rupakam – Tyagaraja – N/S
3. Himagiri tanaye – Shudha Dhanyasi – Adi – Muthiah Bhagavathar – R
4. Ranjani malai – Ranjani/Sriranjani/Megha ranjani/Janaranjani – Adi – Tanjavur Shankara Iyer
5. Ekambresa nayaki – Shanmukhapriya – Adi – Dikshithar – RNS
6. Vachana (enna vaama kshema) – Marva – Eka – Basavanna
7. Kaliyuga varadhan – Brindavana Saranga – Adi – Periyasami Tooran
8. Devaki kanda mukunda – Madhuvanti – Adi – Purandara dasa
9. Sloka – Ragamalalika
10. Tillana – Poornachandrika – Adi – Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar

Mum’s the word

[This article originally appeared in the Deccan Herald]

“They are freshly washed!” I become conscious of the hovering waiter. I ‘m seated at a newly opened “fine-dining” restaurant in the neighbourhood. The waiter must have seen me staring at the glasses on my table. After he takes my order and leaves, I begin to wonder if the food is being prepared in a clean kitchen? When was the last time these plates had been washed in hot water? The poor waiter had no idea that I had actually been admiring the fluted design of the glasses! In his over-zealous attempt to please, he had inadvertently led me to ponder on the restaurant’s hygiene.

I have barely begun to eat, when my cell phone rings. I see it’s my friend. “I didn’t make it!” he says in a voice filled with disappointment. He had failed to clear the admission test for the college of his choice. “The worst thing is the principal told me that I missed the cutoff by only a few marks!” Even as I sympathize with him, I fume at the principal’s insensitivity for giving my friend the complete details of his failure. How relevant was it to mention that he’d missed by just a few marks?

There are times when I wish people refrain from full disclosure. Holding back is hard, as there’s a little voice inside all of us that says “Keep going, tell all!” It’s one of those peculiar traits we seem to have – an enthusiasm to blurt it ALL out. Rarely do we stop to think if the other person truly needs the gory details. The line demarcating a succinct synopsis from needless Bollywood narration is unclear to most.

The best way I have found to not cross the line is to keep the lovely Spanish proverb in mind – “If you keep your mouth shut, the flies won’t get in!”