Singing of Krishna
The incarnation of Vishnu as Krishna the cowherd prince, and the action-filled life that he led, have been the subject of innumerable works. It has inspired sages, scholars, bards, poets, musicians and dancers to rise to new heights in creativity. Compiling the names of all those who have worked on Krishna as a theme would be near impossible. This offering looks at a few creations.
The Srimad Bhagavatam is considered the most authoritative source on the life and exploits of Krishna. The work of Krishnadvaipayana Vyasa, who is himself considered an incarnation of Vishnu, it is divided into 12 cantos and comprises 355 chapters and around 18000 verses. It deals with all the avataras of Vishnu and the lion?s share is given to the Krishna Avatara. This album begins and ends with the first and last verses of the Bhagavatam. It is believed that reciting these two verses alone has the same beneficial effect as the reading of the entire Bhagavatam.
The Bhagavatam had an inspiring effect on Narayana Teertha of Varahur, who lived in the 16th century. He composed a set of songs based on the life of Krishna, beginning with his birth and ending with his marriage to Rukmini. The work, titled the Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini is divided into twelve sections each of which is called a Tarangam. The song featured here, Pahi Mam Pahi Mam is the 99th song of the collection and is in the 10th Tarangam. Musicians have set the works of Narayana Teertha to several tunes and though this song is conventionally sung in Raga Bhupalam, here it is presented in Raga Bhauli.
The Bhakti Movement had much to do with Krishna. Beginning from the almost the 8th century AD, we have had a series of devotees who have expressed their ecstasy in song. These have come from diverse backgrounds, from humble potters and weavers to mighty kings. The Azhwars of Vaishnava lineage in South India were among the earliest representatives. While Andal is perhaps best known for her immortal Tiruppavai on Krishna, we present here a lullaby by her father Periyazhwar.
In the Bhakti lineage comes Bilva Mangal or Leela Suka Dasa, of Telugu origin, who originally led a life of pleasure and later had his eyes opened to the joy of true devotion. His work, the Krishna Karnamritam, comprises 328 verses on the beauty of Krishna?s form and exploits and is divided into three sections each of which is called an Aasvasah. The verse Kasturi Tilakam, presented here, is from the Krishna Karnamritam.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534) of Bengal is believed to have taken the Krishna Karnamritam to his native place and written a commentary in Bengali for the first Aasvasah alone. Chaitanya himself led the Bhakti movement in Bengal and though he taught many disciples, he restricted his work to just one set of eight verses called the Shikshashtaka. This collection embodies his principles and teachings and the first verse Cheto Darpana Marjanam is featured here, set to music by the singer.
Close to Bengal is Orissa and perhaps the greatest gift from that region to the world of music and dance is the Gita Govinda, the work of Jayadeva of the 12th century. Each song in this collection has eight padas or verses which is why it is also called the Ashtapadi. Several scholars have created works on the same structure since the time of Jayadeva, but none has equalled the original in stature. The Gita Govinda describes the love of Krishna and Radha. Sung regularly in Orissa temples, the songs made a place for themselves in classical dance as well. In South India, they were readily received in Kerala first. By the 17th century they had entered the Carnatic bastion of Tanjavur. The present day tunes are by several musicians. The first attempt in modern times to tune the songs was by Tirumalairajanpattinam Ramudu Bhagavatar. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908-2003) has also set several verses to music. One of the pieces Vadasiyati Kinchitapi is presented here.
Amongst the Carnatic Trinity, Tyagaraja (1767-1847) and Muttuswami Dikshitar (1775/6-1835) were inspired by Krishna. While the bulk of Tyagaraja?s output has Rama as its theme, there are a few songs by him on Krishna also. Perhaps his Pancharatna kriti Sadhinchene in Raga Arabhi best sums up his equal devotion to Krishna and Rama. Tyagaraja also created the opera Nauka Charitramu which deals with the sports of Krishna and the Gopis. His Venuganaloluni (Raga Kedaragaula) is said to have been performed by him in Madras in 1837/9 when he visited the residence of his disciple ?Veena? Kuppayyar. The family deity of Kuppayyar was Venugopalaswami and Tyagaraja paid obeisance to the idol with this song.
Muttuswami Dikshitar during his relatively short life managed to visit an amazing number of temples and towns. His Cheta Sri Balakrishnam in Raga Dvijavanti does not mention any shrine but it has been conventionally assigned to the temple of Sri Vidya Rajagopalaswami in Mannargudi. It presents a beautiful picture of Krishna and mentions several incidents in his life. It also has an enchanting description in the charanam where the beauty of Krishna is compared with several flowers and leaves.
The Haridasa movement of Mysore was inspired by its devotion to Hari or Krishna. These wandering bards dedicated their lives to singing the Lord?s praise. The foremost among these was Purandaradasa (1484-1564). Surapura Ananda Dasa (c 1780) who used the signature of Kamalesa Vittala Dasa in his works is one of the lesser known members of this sect, but his song Kandu Danyanade, set in Raga Behag and dedicated to Lord Krishna at Udupi is well known.
How can any write up on Krishna not include Meerabai (16th century), the Rajput princess and contemporary of the Mughal Emperor Akbar? She preferred a lifetime of Krishna worship to a happy married life complete with royal comfort. Her songs, all of them in the form of bhajans made their entry into Carnatic music thanks to MS Subbulakshmi (1916-2004) who acted as Meera in a film of the same name and later included her bhajans in all her concerts. Hari main to, one of Meera?s songs is presented here.