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Experiential Understanding Of Reality Through Fine Arts
SampradAyEna Samudbhavam: Session 6 - SvAnubhava

Sujit Sudhaman

||  Sri Gurubhyo Namah ||

SampradAyEna  Samudbhavam: Session 6  - SvAnubhava

Experiential Understanding of Reality Through Fine Arts

On July 25, 2020, on a very sunny and balmy Saturday afternoon in Massachusetts, we were treated to a soothing lec-dem session by Smt. Aparna Balaji Founder/Director of Abhyaas School of Music.  This was on the topic of SvAnubhava – Personal Experience.  This was the last lec-dem session in the series of six sessions of “SampradAyEna Samudbhavam – the earlier sessions being on “Bhakti” (Devotion),  “Lalitha KalA”  (Fine Arts), “VAgEyakAra” (Composers), “KAraNa” (Purpose), and “Svaroopa(True Form).  These sessions were all interconnected and the coherence among all these topics was brought out time and again throughout the whole series.

Smt. Aparna started the session with the composition of Saint-Poet Thyagaraja – “Therathiyaga RAdha nAlOli ,Tirupati Venkataramana” where Thyagaraja bows down to the Lord and seeks blessings from the Lord to remove the jealousy within him, which limits him in pursuit of higher goals aligned with Dharma and Moksha.  This is kind of a linkage between the first session Bhakti and Svanubhava, where through Bhakti or devotion, Thyagaraja seeks the experience of Brahman and pleads with the Lord to remove the barriers in him.

Smt. Aparna also captured the fact that by virtue of music, she has enriched her own experience by being able to connect to her roots, traditions, and to people from various backgrounds. She highlighted the fact that Telugu was introduced to her through music and has expanded her horizon of interactions by becoming familiar with compositions in Telugu.  Music and fine arts thus create a forum for teachers to share their knowledge, information and experience and spread positive energy in the community.

She went on to do a recap of the earlier sessions, starting with the most fundamental requisite Bhakti – (Devotion), moving to Lalitha KalA (The various art forms to express devotion), VagEyakAra (composers who produce the  sAhitya to express devotion), KAraNa (the fundamental driving force behind the art forms to express devotion) and slowly ascending to the higher plane of Swaroopa (True form) where one is drawn towards the ultimate truth, and culminating in SvAnubhava (Personal Experience or First Hand experience of the Truth).  So, in essence, Sampradayena Samudbhavam was  a journey towards spiritual upliftment riding in the chariot of music.

Smt. Aparna went on to expound more on SvAnubhava.  It is all about a deep personal experience of Existence or Brahman.   She added  that it is difficult to comprehend the experiences of other individuals.  However, the droplets of each one’s experience of the Divine form  the ocean of exploration of our Existence.  Reiterating that we are all just emotional beings, she stated that the art forms provide a platform for artists to perform, learn from one another, and experience Existence.

Smt. Aparna also went to elaborate on how art forms help to create a balance between inner and outer personas and also with the environment around us, by helping put things in perspective.  She alluded to the three art forms discussed in Lalita Kala, namely Music, Dance and Theater.   

In Music, with Kalpita Sangeeta, the artists deal with structured compositions, and  in Manodharma Sangeeta, the artists can bring to the fore, their exploration and innovation. So artists need to strike the right balance to progress well.

In Dance, the Nava Rasas, were explained encore. Navarasas – Nine different emotions present in all our lives are Sringara – Romance, Hasya – Laughter, Karuna – Mercy, Roudra – Anger, Veera – bravery, Bhayanaka – Fear, Beebhatsya – Disgust, Adbhuta – Wonder/Surprise, Shanta - Peace

Smt. Aparna went on to bring out some salient points regarding these emotions.  Karuna is to be shown to others, not to oneself – it would result in unintended self-pity.  Similarly, Roudra is to be shown towards ourselves, not others, to overcome the negative within us. Bhaya or Fear is usually the fear of the unknown, and will continue to be unknown until we know our Self.  Beebhatsya or disgust should be towards our past bad deeds.

In Theater, artists play different characters, displaying a plethora of emotions, so they learn to balance among reality, imagination and fantasy.

In all of these forms, it is important for the artist to balance between available information and facts, and what the intellect can do creatively with them. 

Tying this session back to the first session on Bhakti, Smt. Aparna stated that art forms greatly help us experience Bhakti through various compositions and their expositions.  Bhakti was referred to as a state of mind where one experiences the Divine through Jnana Yoga or Karma Yoga.  One needs to let go of the Ego!  She went on to add that Saint Thyagaraja in one of his compositions points out that Jealousy comes from Ego, and Surrender of the Ego is the only way to experience true Bhakti. And, the only way to be able to surrender the ego, is through the guidance and Grace of a Spiritual Guru.  Art forms and traditions thus pave the way for this spiritual journey.

She also mentioned another composition of Thyagaraja, which says “Nee Namamuche Namadi” – implying that, by chanting the name of the Lord, his mind became clear.  Nothing around him mattered as it was all Maya.  He continues to plead with the Lord to remove limitations and hindrance to getting clarity about the Self.

Subsequent to this elucidation of Svanubhava, we were treated to very enchanting renditions of various compositions, by Smt. Aparna’s students, starting with “MOkshamu GaladA.”  This talked about one’s longing for Self-Realization, by asking the question, “Is there a way to get Mukti to get rid of worldly things?  Is there anything which connects my mind to the Divine.?”  It goes on to say that constant pondering on Existence provides the answers that we are looking for.

The next song was composed By Saint Thyagaraja “IkakAvellasinadEmi ManasA” in Balahamsa raga, set to Adi Thala, the essence being “Oh Mind, what One thing can one aspire for; Narayana already resides in our heart, and Rama is already removing darkness in our lives”

While some songs addressed the eternal quest, other songs addressed specific feelings that composers had.

A composition by Ootakadu Venkata Kavi, “Yenna Punyam Seidu Sadguru Natha,” extolled the virtues of Swami Vedanta Desikan.  Here the composer asks Jagadguru Krishna – “what good deed have I done to be able to think about you and sing about you?  In essence, this is an illustration of Gratitude towards one’s Spiritual Master and towards the Divine.  Smt. Aparna also highlighted  that the best way to be happy is to show gratitude.  This also led to the follow up question of “why are we worried, if gratitude can give happiness?”

The reason for this worry was ascribed to Fear or Bhaya, of the unknown. This was addressed in  the composition “Anjike Yathakayya Sajjanarige” by Sri Purandara Dasa, rendered in Kalyani Raga and Mishra Chapu Tala.  The composition states that there should be no fear for Sajjana (or good people) once they have prayed to Sanjeeva Raya or Hanuman.  Whether there is fear in reality or in a dream, if you pray to Hanuman, your fear is removed.

The focus now shifted to exploring compositions of contemporary composers, starting with the works of Dr. Thangam Parameshwaran.  Her composition “Neelakanta Hara Natana Shiva” pays respect to the form of Shiva seen in Kapaleeshwara temple in Mylapore, Chennai.

Aparna ji also sang a composition of Madurai Shri. T. Srinivasan. “Karunai Deivame Karpagame, ”  appealing to the Mother Divine to show mercy on us and bless us with joy in our lives.

Another song, “Ninna Daye Ondu Iddare Saaku”  from another contemporary composer, Guru Murthy Vellal on Guru Raghavendra was rendered by two students.  The connotation here was “I pray for salvation.  I seem to go after materialistic things though I am aware that they are useless – please take care of me and guide me.” Again the spirit of surrender to the Guru is being invoked in this song.

Following this was a rendition on the idea of Friendship – “Maitreem Bhajata,” a composition by Sri Chandrashekara Saraswati or Periyava from Sri Kanchi Math.  The song exhorts one to cultivate friendships, forsake unhealthy competition, and forgo pettiness.  The Lord, our father is very compassionate, and forgiving, and all people attain prosperity, happiness and spiritual upliftment.

This was aptly followed by a tribute to Periyava, with a Periyava Panchakam.

Smt. Aparna elaborated that we need to “Feed the need, not the greed!”  In essence, we have to continue to conquer the 6 vices or AriShadVarga.  As we progress along this path, we will automatically stop blaming others, and will start living our lives with an inclusive and expanded mindset. Every time we retrogress on this path, we need to burn more energy to get back to the same state – hence one should be mindful of pitfalls on the spiritual path.

Smt. Aparna summarized that despite our strong traditional upbringing, we create a void in ourselves due to several of our thoughts and actions, whereby we compare, compete and end up compromising on the principles we are expected to uphold.  Art forms help one rediscover the fundamentals and help in filling this void.  VagEyakArAs have constantly mentioned these fallibilities of the human mind and plead with the divine to help them overcome these weaknesses. Art forms also help put a spotlight on society’s cultural and linguistic tenets, while at the same time, touching the emotional and spiritual planes of an individual.

Smt. Aparna concluded the session  with a composition by Sri Jagannatha Dasa, “Roga Harana Krupa Sagara Shri Guru Raghavendra Paripaaliso” again on Guru Sri Raghavendra, whose Krupa or Grace was seen in the smooth conduct of the entire series on “SampradAyEna Samudbhavam” 

During the Q&A session, a very appropriate question for teens was asked by a bright student – “how is spirituality relevant to youngsters and modern lifestyles, as it is normally associated with older people?”  Smt. Aparna answered the question by stating that, by pursuing spirituality through art forms, the younger generation gets connected to their traditional culture. It also enables them to mingle with like minded groups, thereby reinforcing concepts and experiences, and opens up a pathway towards deeper spiritual exploration, in order to become a true seeker.

This also quells the popular misconception that spirituality is to be pursued only when one becomes old. Spirituality basically enables one to lead a happy, balanced life in society, and hence needs to be instilled at a young age. Having this spiritual mooring helps every individual to live a happy life and be resilient to challenges that are presented.

With the conclusion of the main session, it was a pleasure to have Smt. Ranjani Saigal, who is the Executive director of Ekal Vidyalaya, as the guest speaker.  It was a great learning experience to hear about her thoughts and experiences. She mentioned that the current “Corona” pandemic is also a form of “Karuna” to mankind, as a larger section of mankind has been propelled into having a spiritual mindset and to engage in inward contemplation.  She went on to give various examples of why we should have unwavering faith in the Divine, because the Divine will certainly protect us.  She also brought out a great ideal about service – “If God gives the opportunity to help, take that up without hesitation, as it is only through the Grace of God that we even get that opportunity!”

She concluded with a quote from Guru Raghavendra, who said the following before entering his Brindavana – 

“Now, I take leave of you,

Though I will not be there in person

My presence can be felt  through my works and in my Brindavana

You can serve me best by propagating and listening through my works”

This is precisely what the Smt. Aparna and the Abhyaas School of music are doing, by propagating the work of Vageyakaras, and during the course of this lec-dem series, we certainly felt the presence of these great saint-poets.

In the closing remarks, Sri Raghavendra Vencharla (RV) of NESRSB thanked  Smt Aparna Balaji , Shri Balaji Rajamai and Abhyaas School of Music for organizing this delightful program and making it very impactful and enchanting, despite a lot of technical and logistic hurdles due to Covid.

While it seemed like the end of a program, it was in fact a new beginning for all, being able to  explore the world through the eyes of music and art forms,  and also seeing this as a gateway to spiritual upliftment and liberation.

And thus, with the Blessings and Divine Grace of Sri Hari Vayu Gurugalu and under the auspices of  NE-SRS Brundavan ( https://www.ne-srsbrundavan.org/ )  the Abhyaas School of Music was able to weave this wonderful journey of Self-Discovery through the landscape of art forms, enchanting and enthralling the eager audiences.

||Sarvam Sri Krishnarpanam Astu||

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