The supreme as the mother
Worship of the supreme in the form of a mother is one of the oldest cults and has existed across most of the ancient civilisations of the world. The figurine of a mother goddess was found in the excavations at Mohenjodaro, thereby testifying to Her worship in the Indus Valley Civilisation also.
Worship of the mother goddess is central to the Hindu faith as is evident from the numerous temples devoted to Her all over the country. Shaivaites refer to the Goddess as amba which is synonymous with mother. The Vaishnavaites call her as thAyAr (in Tamizh) which once again means mother.
To ancient man and to his modern descendant, the world is a bewildering place with many unseen challenges and dangers lurking around the corner. Faced with many predicaments and pitfalls, man for all his bravado, becomes a child and looks for security from the mother, She who in her infinite mercy will protect Her offspring. To a mother, her children are foremost and she thus never fails her child when it comes to her seeking protection. Thus there is a manifestation of the universal mother for almost any event and occasion. For wealth She is Lakshmi, for intelligence She is Saraswathi and for courage She is Parvathi. When there is an illness She manifests as Shitala or Indrakshi. When worship is offered to the Gods in a sacrificial flame She manifests as Swaha and carries the offerings to them. If the ancestors are being appeased She manifests as Svadha. Mother is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.
It is perhaps in Bengal that the concept of worshipping Devi as mother is most prevalent. In that region, known for its Shakti cult, the Goddess is simply referred to as ?Ma? which means mother. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a living example of a realised soul who had long surrendered to the supreme mother.
Even the great Adi Sankara bowed to the supreme quality of motherhood. When he took up the orders of a monk, he promised his mother that he would return to her when she needed him. Overcoming the protests of the orthodoxy, Sankara performed the last rites for his mother despite his having long become a monk who had discarded all worldly connections. Many of Sankara?s works are dedicated to the Goddess as the mother and one in particular, the shAradA bhujangaprayAtAShTakam refers to her as the mother repeatedly in stanza after stanza.
Similarly when Kalidasa was belittled as a fool by his wife, it was at the feet of Goddess Kali that he took refuge and emerged from his prayer as a great scholar. The first shlOka that he composed, was the shyAmaLA daNDakam in Her praise.
Given this background it is therefore not surprising that many of the composers in Carnatic Music, dedicated many of their compositions to the Mother Goddess. For Syama Sastry, there was none else in this world other than the Mother, for he was the priest at a temple where She is enshrined as Bangaru Kamakshi in Tanjavur. Most of his compositions are dedicated to Her and among these many of them use words that refer to the Goddess as mother. Two of these namely mAyamma (nATakuranji) and nannu brOva (janaranjani) are featured here.
Tyagaraja is well known as a devotee of Rama. But he too left behind a select corpus of songs on Devi. Among the shrines he visited he composed a pancharatnam, literally five gems, on Goddess Tripurasundari of Tiruvottriyur. Among these is kanna talli nIvu (sAvEri).
Muttuswami Dikshitar, the youngest in the Trinity composed many of his kritis on the Goddess where he referred to Her as mother. Among his very few compositions on Lakshmi is hiraNmayIm (lalita) said to have been composed at a time of great financial stress. The song uses the word mAtaram, referring to Goddess Lakshmi as mother.
Papanasam Sivan, the modern day equivalent of Tyagaraja was an ardent devotee of the Goddess and in particular of Goddess Karpagambal at Mylapore. Many are the songs he composed on Her. But he composed on several other temples where She is enshrined and a particularly moving piece where he entreats the mother to alleviate his sufferings is shivakAma sundari (mukhAri).
Praying to the Goddess as mother is thus one of the most endearing forms of worship. Tiger Varadachariar when asked to evaluate each of the Trinity chose to do so in terms of their relationship with the Supreme Mother. To him, Syama Sastry appeared to be the child that demands attention from its mother, while Tyagaraja was the mischievous prattling child. Dikshitar he said, was the child that pleases its mother by its sweet words and orderly work.
But to Sankara must go the last word. Completing his saundaryalahari on the beauties of the Mother he states that the entire work was due to the power of speech She gave him and he was thus praising Her with it, just as one offers camphor to the sun. Truly a sentiment that encompasses all forms of worship. Rendering these songs most evocatively is Gayatri Venkataraghavan, a young artiste who is fast making a name for herself in the concert arena. Gayatri Venkataraghavan was initially trained in Carnatic Vocal Music by Smt Padma Veeraraghavan, Smt Rukmini Ramani and later by Sri A Sundaresan. She received advanced training from Sri V Subrahmaniam, one of the senior most disciples of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.
Gayatri has been performing regularly at various Sabhas in Madras and at other centres such as Madurai, Tiruvananthapuram, Tiruchi, Tirunelveli, Mysore etc. In 2000 she gave her first performance at the Music Academy. In the same year, Gayatri made her debut at the Tyagaraja Festival conducted by the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams.
She has been performing regularly for the AIR since 1993, when she won the National Music Competition. She has also received many awards such as the Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer 90th birthday scholarship, the concert prize at the Gokulashtami series of the Krishna Gana Sabha in 1993, the H Natarajan Memorial Prize from the Academy in 2000 and the Thulasi Raman Prize from the Krishna Gana Sabha in 2000.