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Namaruchi: An Ecstatic Taste Of The Divine

K. ARVIND
01/11/2018

Namaruchi: An Ecstatic Taste of the Divine

नाहम्‌ वसामि वैकुन्ठे योगिनाम्‌ ह्रुदये न च ।
मद्‌ भक्ता यत्र गायन्ति तत्र तिष्ठामि नारद ॥

naaham vasaami vaikunThe yoginaam hrudaye na cha |
mad bhaktaa yatra gaayanti tatra tiShThaami naarada ||

I reside neither in Vaikuntha nor in the hearts of Yogis,
I dwell there, where my devotees sing My name
(Lord Narayana to Sage Narada in a shloka from Padma Purana)

In the final weekend of 2017, when most Bostonians were curled up in the warmth of their homes to avoid the brutal winter outside, many blessed souls ventured out to receive a taste of divinity at a wonderful festival of music and dance at Andover. This grand festival known as “Nama Ruchi”, held at the Sri Chinmaya Maruti Temple, brought to life the magic and joy of the practice of “nama sankeertana” - dwelling on the attributes of the divine through song and dance. The festival organized by Gnanananda Seva Samajam, USA, was based on the Indian bhajan tradition, and celebrated “Sri Radha Krishna Kalyanam”, the celestial wedding of Lord Krishna with Radha Devi. The musicians who came from ten different states and Canada, showered devotees with hundreds of melodious songs over the weekend. The audience was not expected to just passively listen, but instead was actively encouraged to join in the chorus by repeating after the singers and joining in dance. The soul-stirring songs in several different languages, set to classical Indian ragas, Marathi abhangs and folksy tunes, and filled to the brim with bhava and bhakti, evoked spontaneous dances of joy in adults and children alike. There could not have been a more enthralling way to end the year!

Sampradaya Bhajan

Nama sankeertana”, which literally means extolling the names of the divine, forms the core foundation of the “Sampradaya Hari Hara Bhajansystem also known as “Dakshina Bharata Sampradaya Bhajan(Traditional Southern Indian Bhajan), the padhdhati or system which “Nama Ruchi” is based on. Even though this padhdhati was established in Southern India, it draws from and integrates musical compositions of great saints from Northern India such as Mirabai, Kabirdas, Tukaram, Ramdev, Namdev, Jnaneshwar, Chaitanya, and Jayadeva, as well as Southern Indian composers such as Narayana Theertha, Bhadrachala Ramadasa, Thyagaraja, Purandaradasa, and various bhagavatars in the tradition. A number of the songs in the tradition are therefore in Marathi (including many abhangs on Lord Panduranga Vittala of Pandaripur) and Hindi, as well as in Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. This unusual melding of the Northern and Southern traditions is perhaps explained at least in part by the fact that the trinity of illustrious Gurus who established this tradition, namely Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi Swamigal (1638-1692) who later served as 60th Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Mutt, Sri Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyaval (1635-1720), and Sri Venkatramana Dikshitar, popularly known as Sri Marudanallur Sadguru Swamigal (1777-1817), lived in the Cauvery Delta area in Tamil Nadu in the 17th and 18th centuries, when this area was ruled by Maratha kings. Sri Sadguru Swamigal is credited with shaping the core of the tradition, and several bhagavatas including Sri Gopalakrishna Bhagavatar, who appeared in the two centuries since, embellished the tradition further. In modern times, Sri Haridhos Giri Swamigal, a disciple of Sri Gnanananda Giri Swamigal (who served as the head of the Jyotir Math which was established by Sri Adi Shankara himself) not only brought the Bhajan tradition to the mainstream of music by making it an integral part of the December Music Festival in Chennai, but also spread the tradition all over the world. One of the lead bhagavatars in the Nama Ruchi event, Sri Gurunathan is a direct disciple of Sri Haridhos Giri Swamigal, and is blessed with a wonderful commanding baritone voice like his Guru.

Dwelling on the Divine

The main highlights of the first day of the festival were a musical treat in the morning consisting of the Ashtapadi songs from the 12th century Sanskrit poet Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda mahakavya, and a dance ecstasy accompanied by wonderful Bhajans known as “Divya Nama Sankeertana” in the evening. However, these were just two items in a whole sequence of music-filled events.

The day started with a traditional Ganapathi Homam. This was followed by “Paduka Pooja, a ceremony in which the sandals of spiritual preceptors including Kanchi Paramacharya, Swami Chinmayananda, Sringeri Acharyas, Shirdi Sai Baba and Raghavendra Swamy were worshipped, invoking their presence and blessings for the event. The rest of the day followed the traditional bhajan paddhati in the following sequence:

  1. Naamaavali and Pundaleekam: A “namaavali” is a simple melodious number stringing together a few names of the Lord. Pundaleekam consists of musical exhortations to remember (smaranam), salute (namah) or call to victory (jai) various divinities, to which the audience reacts by singing appropriate responses known as prativachanas.
  2. Dhyaana Shlokas: Chanting of Sanskrit hymns while dwelling on various divinities.
  3. Thodaya Mangalam: a compilation of songs by Sri Sadguru Swamigal, which were composed by saints such as Annamacharya, Bhadrachala Ramadasa and Vijayagopala Swamigal. The songs sung included “Jaya Janaki Ramana” (Raga: naattai) and “Murahara Nakhadara” (Raga: madhyamavati).
  4. Guru Dhyaanam: songs praising the preceptors of the lineage including Adi Shankara, Bodhendra Saraswati Swamigal (Raga: bhyaakadai), Gnananda Swamigal (Raga: thodi), Sridhara Venkatesa Ayyal (Raga: Shankarabharanam), Sri Sadguru Swamigal (Raga: Sahana), Kanchi Paramacharya (Raga: Shivaranjani), and Haridhos Giri Swamigal
  5. Guru and Sadhu abhangs: Marathi devotional songs in praise of preceptors and saints.
  6. Ashtapadi: The afternoon reverberated with 21 of the 24 (the remaining three were sung the next day as part of Radha Kalyanam) wonderful “ashtapadi” songs from Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda (Song on Krishna), interspersed with shlokas  and naamavalis. Ashtapadis consist of 8 verses each and are based on the story of Sri Radhakrishna as narrated in the tenth puraana composed by the great Sage Vedavyasa. It is a story of divine love between Sri Krishna and Radha Devi, their separation and subsequent reunion. Even though the story exudes srungara rasa, it is interpreted as depicting the relationship of love between the individual and the Lord. Singing of the ashtapadis is a deeply devotional experience, and is accorded the same status as chanting of the Vedas. A “deepa aarathi” is performed at the end of each ashtapadi. Each of the ashtapadis was sung in a different raga including bhairavi (ashtapadi #2), pantuvaraali (#3), bilahari (#9) and shankarabharanam (#12).
  7. Sri Krishna Leela Tharangini and Panchapati: Ashtapadi is traditionally followed by Narayana Teertha’s Sri Krishna Leela Tharangini, and compositions of Bhadrachala Ramadas (Telugu), Purandara Dasa (Kannada), Sadasiva Brahmendral (Sanskrit), Gopalakrishna Bharati (Tamil) and Thyagaraja.
  8. Pooja Upachara Keerthanas: Here a pooja or worship of the deities was performed, and each stage of the pooja was accompanied by delightful songs in various ragas. The songs included “Baaro Muraare” (Raga: desh), and “Kastoorigana Saaraa” (Raga: madhyamavati). The songs were followed by chanting of veda mantras and shlokas and “upachara keertana”.
  9. Ganeshaadi Dhyanam: The next event consisted of a rendering of bhajans on various deities including Ganesha, Saraswati, Muruga, Shiva, Rama, Krishna, Panduranga, Hanuman, and Ayyappa.
  10. Divyanama Sankeertanam: This wonderful evening event consisted of ecstatic dancing around a ceremonial panchamukha (with 5 wicks) lamp by devotees as the bhagavatas rendered beautiful bhajans. The theme of the bhajans was to sing the names of divinities and extol their positive attributes, and the underlying attitude was one of joy rather than complaint, pleading or an expression of virakti bhava. The lamp represents the Lord and the “deepa pradkshina” (circumambulation of the lamp) signifies being in the Lord’s company courting his friendship through ecstatic dance and, and forgetting ourselves in bliss. Doing the deepa pradakshina is accorded the equivalence of circumambulating the Universe and visiting all the sacred pilgrimage spots. All devotees present were invited to come to the stage in small groups to join the dance, reminding them of Lord Krishna’s promise that “I will take care of one who leaves their shyness to dance with Him”. The lamp was first brought to the center of the stage dancing to the rhythm of “Sri Rama Sri Rama” (Raga: Kedaram) and reverentially placed on a pedestal inviting Sri Rama to be there (“Rama Bhadra Raa”, Raga: Anandabhairavi). The bhagavatas then started dancing around the lamp inviting the presence of Lord Krishna (“Aadi Moolame Kuzhandai Kanna”) and were joined by ladies and little girls as the singers moved on to a song inviting Lord Panduranga (“Shanka Chakra Garuda Kamala”). The next song in Kannada (“Deva Banda Namma”, Raga: behaag) got ladies out of their seats and dancing in the hall, and the song after (“Ambe Gowri Mayya”, Raga: beemplaas) drew them to the stage. After this there was a steady stream of groups of women, children and men dancing in joy to various bhajans including “Om Shakti Om Shakti Om”, “Pahi Gajanana”, “Dhanya Ho Pradakshina” (Raga: Maandu), “Krishna Rama Govinda” (Raga: Punnnagavaraali), “Kamala Vallabha Govinda” (Raga: Shankarabharanam), “Krishna Krishna Govinda Krishna” (Raga: Nadanamakriya), “Gopika Ramana Gokulotsava” (Raga: Anandabhairavi), “Gora Bhavaarnava” (Raga: Kaapi) and Mirabai’s “Hari Guna Gaavat” (Raga: Madhyamaavati). This was followed by prostrations to an adorable little boy playing Krishna (“Tvameva Mama Sharanam”, Raga: simhendra madhyamam), and rasa kreeda depicting gopikas dancing around Lord Krishna (“Gopi Gopala” (Raga: poorvi Kalyani), Mirabai’s “Joolata Radha” (Raga: Saveri)). This was followed by three brisk and lively Bharatanatyam dances (“Jaya Janaki Kantha”, “Radha Mukha Kamala” and a “Thillana”) by Amrita Thirumalai and Shreya Srinivas, students of Guru Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai. The evening concluded with auspicious mangalam songs and a haarati for Gnanananda Giri Swamigal.

A Divine Wedding

The first 21 ashtapadis portray a story of the joy of love and pain of separation between the divine lovers Krishna and Radha. The lovers are finally united through a celestial wedding known as Radhakrishna Kalyanam (or Radha Kalyanam). The last 3 ashtapadis are reserved for this Radha Kalyanam event that was the highlight of the second day of the Namaruchi festival. In this divine wedding, which signifies the merging of the jeevatama (individual soul) with the paramatma (universal soul), the rituals of a traditional Southern Indian wedding are enacted with music and dance that are filled with bhakti bhava towards the bride Radha Devi and groom Sri Krishna.

The day started with a traditional “unjavruti by Sri Nagaraja Bhagavathar, an ego-effacing and revered ritual practiced in Southern Indian villages, in which a bhagavata seeks alms and is honored with a “paada pooja. This was followed by a sequence of events detected by the traditional paddhati. The sequence again started with “Pundaleekam”, “Vigneshwara Pooja”, “Thodaya Mangalam”, and “Guru Dhyanam”. The beautiful songs infused with bhakti again got many devotees to leave their chairs and start dancing. The traditional sequence continued with the following events:

    1. Kalyana Ashtapadi: The 21st ashtapadi (Kalyana Ashtapadi, Raga: madhyamaavati) was rendered by the bhagavatas, as ladies representing the bride’s family brought wedding presents (“seer varisai”) to the stage. This was followed by the 23rd (Bhagavad Kataaksham, Raga: naadanamakriya) and 24th (Alankaram, Raga: Mangala Kausikam) ashtapadis.
    2. Gowri Kalyanam: The core wedding rituals were inaugurated with the beautiful “Gowri Kalyana Vaibhavame” sung in chorus in raga kedaram led by Sri Gurunathan Bhagavatar.
    3. Muthu Kuththal: A ritual in which sanctified rice (“akshata”) is offered into a mortar (“ural”). Devotees then crush the rice with a wooden rod (“ulakkai”). The symbolism here was explained as cleansing of oneself in front of the Lord by offering all karmas to Him. This ritual again was packed with beautiful songs as men, women and children walked on to the stage to place rice in the mortar and crush it with a wooden rod to the rhythm of songs sung in raga nadanamakriya ( “Allo Neledallo”, “Paahi Maam Gopala”, “Krishna Krishna”), anandabhairavi (“Soovi Soovi”) and punnagavaraali (“Soovi Soovi”).
  • Thalandu Shobanai: The bride and bridegroom are symbolically anointed with oil to prepare for a taila snaanam (Krishna Krishnayani, Raga: pantuvaraali).
  • Lagnaashtakam: A sequence of songs that announce the names of the divine guests as they arrive to witness this divine wedding: Surya, Chandra and the Nava Grahas (Raga: gaulai), the divine musicians and dancers (Raga: kedara gaulai), the divinities associated with the eight directions (Raga: ataanaa), the great bhaktas of Krishna (Raga: thodi), Lord Shiva and his family (Raga: kaanadaa), the great sages (Raga: khaambodi), the devis and patrivratas (Raga: behaag), and the divinities associated with the sacred rivers (Raga: madhyamavati). The bhagavatas then sang the bhajan “Radhe Krishna Bolo” to invite the entire Guru parampara to witness the wedding. This soul-stirring song moved the entire audience to get up and dance with great delight.
  • Nalangu Padhdhati: After the wedding is solemnized the bride and groom are celebrated as a couple through various songs: “Gauri Kalyana Vaibhavame” (Raga: suddhabangalaa), “Raa Rajakumara” (Raga: madhyamaavati), “Poolachendlaadane” (playing with flower bouqets, Raga: saamaa). This was followed by “oonjal laali” songs in which the bridge and groom are imagined to be gently rocking on a swing: “Vedamirandum”, “Laali Karunaa Samudraa” (Raga: anandabhairavi). The divine couple were then sent off sailing in a row boat with ladies dancing in the role of oarsmen (“Pachchai Maa Malai Pol Meni” – sung in a folksy tune). The symbolism is that one can effortlessly sail across the ocean of life by reciting the Lord’s names.
  • Dolotsavam: This ritual celebrates the divine bride and groom entering the “shayana gruha” or private quarters for the evening, with a number of songs that cover the offering of milk and fruits (“Aarakimpave Paal” , Raga: thodi), offering of betel leaves (“Vitemu Saayave”, Raga: Karakarapriya), haarathi (“Sadaa Enna” - Raga: behaag, “Radha Kalyana Vaibhavame” - Raga: sankarabharanam), nalangu (“Raa Rajakumaara” – Raga: madhyamaavati), padyam recited by Radha Devi (“Sharanambu”, Raga: anandabhairavi), padyam recited by Sri Krishna (“Kanmani Radhika”), and oonjal or rocking on a swing (“Joolata Radha”, Raga: saveri).

The Magicians

In the Padma Purana, Lord Narayana assures Sage Nararda that he is present wherever his devotees sing his glory. This can only mean that the Lord must have been fully present at the Namaruchi festival on December 30th and 31st, where devotees were fully immersed in extolling His glories. He may not have been visible to human eyes, but everyone present would have felt His divine presence in the wonderful music, dance and bhakti that filled the air.

This magical experience was brought to Boston by the generous bhagavatas, instrumentalists, Gnanananda Samajam USA, the Namaruchi event organizers and volunteers, and devotees who braved the cold and took the time and effort to travel from various parts of the United States and Canada to participate in the event, and to bless the Boston community. Every one of them deserves the community’s gratitude for bringing this wonderful experience to us.

Bhagavathas: Sri. Nagarajan Bhagavathar (Buffalo, NY), Bhagavathar Sri. Gurunathan (Sacramento, CA), Sri. Santhanam Bhagavathar (Boston), Bhagavathar Sri. Siva (Boston), Bhagavathar Sri. Nandakumar (DC), Bhagavathar Sri. Bala (Atlanta), Bhagavathar Sri. Ravi Radhakrishnan (DC) and others.

Percussionists: Sri. Karthik Narayanaswamy (Harmonium, Phoenix, AZ), Sri. Mali Santhanakrishnan (Mridangam, Boston), Sri Dhamo Srinivasan (Mridangam, NJ), Sri. Pravin Seetaraman (Mridangam, Boston), Sri. Sriram (Ghatam, Connecticut), Sri. Ravi Tharaka Raman (Dolki, Boston), Sri. Tushar (Tabla, Canada), Sri Tanveer (Harmonium, Canada), Sri. Sumanth (Harmonium & Mridangam, Canada) and others.

Organizers: Sri Krishnamoorthy Subramani, Murali Gopinathan, Venkat Krishnamurthy, Nathan Sreenivasan, Badarinadh Vissapragada, T R Venkatesh, Smt. Meenakshi and Visak Krishnamoorthy.

Volunteers: Pradeep Nair, Aparna Mouli, Nithya Murali, Lakshmi Chandra, Jagan Ramya, Ganesh Raji, Ganapathy Subramanian, Ramesh Lavanya, Sri Harsha Noumuduri, Srinivas Meka, Yamuna Visak, Kalpana Krishnan, Suresh Krishnan and Subhashini.

The organizers are grateful to Sri Rajesh Sastrigal and Sri Satyanarayana Bhat (from the Chinmaya Maruti Temple) and their families for their constant help and support.

YOUTUBE VIDEO LINKS: 1, 2, 3, 4

PHOTO ALBUMS LINKS: 1, 2



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