Apoorva Ramayana of Tyagaraja

By Ramakrishna Easwaran
Chennai: 28-02-2020 10:40PM
Last Updated: 28-02-2020 10:40PM

Valmiki's epic has been embellished by generations of poets and story-tellers. Tyagaraja, who delighted in diving in the ocean of Ramakatha, has brought out some unique pearls of this tale. He hints at some of these unheard stories in a line or two of his lyrics. I have made a feeble attempt to collect some of these tid-bits, scattered in the 600-odd kritis of this divine vaageyakaaraka.

There is a fabled species of deer, called 'kavarimaan' in Tamil, that is said to lose its life rather than lose a single strand of the hair from its fur. Tiruvalluvar says:

'Mayir neeppin vazhaak kavarimaan annar
uyir neeppar maanam varin'

And, who hasn't heard of the golden deer, the Maareecha - 'maaya maan' - in Ramayana? But have you heard of a 'kavarimaan' in Ramayana? Well, that is the unusual story that Tyagabrahmam talks of in the charanam of his Kaikavasi raga kriti 'Vaachaamagocharame'.

During the vanavaasa one day, Seethadevi sees a darting deer near her parnasala and wishes to have its tail hair for making a fan (chaamara). Rama guesses his Devi's desire and sends down an arrow from the Kodanda to sever the tuft of hair without bodily harming the deer. The deer, sensing the loss of its proud image on losing the hair, turns its neck to the arrow, choosing to sacrifice its life. Heaven knows, the deer considered it a privilege to die from a Rama baana! The embodiment of karunya that he is, the Lord instantaneously latches on to the working of the deer's mind and shoots another arrow to destroy the first, before it hits the blessed deer.

Tyagaraja, in his inimitable style, conveys several gunaas of his favorite Lord in the charanam of this kriti. First, for the true devotee there is no need to explicitly state what his mind's desire or his need is - the Lord figures it out himself. Seetha did not have to ask- He knew (maanavathi madhinerigi). The deer did not have to ask for 'prana danam'. In fact, quite the opposite, it wanted to offer its life. But He came to its rescue. Second, the compassion. Saving the lowly deer's life is even more important to him than satisfying the whims of his consort because he is the saviour of the sufferer (dheenaarthi bhanjanudai). Third, the speed of response (vegame. munnu chanina baanambunattu chedara jeya ledha). Kamban says 'Edutthadu kandanar, ittradu kettaar' to tell us the speed with which he handled the Shivadhanus. Raamabaana works at literally the manovegam. Even in these days of ballistic guided missiles, you may not be able to recall or destroy a missile already locked on to its target, before it causes its lethal effect.

Going back to the anupallavi, you will delight at the antithetic juxtaposing of the tale of yet another deer, the Maareecha 'maaya maan'. Again to fulfill the wish of the Piraatti, but with how different a result (for the deer)! Naturally, the qualities of such a perfect being are beyond what can be expressed by word or grasped by thought (vaachamagocharame), says Thyagaraaja.

This is the only kriti to be found in this sampurna-shaadava raga, derived from the 60th mela, Nitimati. How appropriate is it for this unique tale to be set to a unique raga? And that too a vivadi raga? (see 'A peep into vivadi ragas' by T.M. Anantharaman in the views section of Carnatic Darbar). We are left wondering 'varnimpa tharame' (is it possible to describe) Thyaagaraja mahima?

The full lyric

Raga: Kaikavasi Thala: Desaadi

Vaachaamagocharame manasa
varn?impa tarame rama mahima
Re-chaari maareechuni pad?aga kot?t?i
ren?d?o vaani sikhikosagene
Maanavati madinerigi
Chaamaramaut?akastramuneya kani
Maanambukai med?a daachaga
Maadhavun?d?u kani karagi vegame
Deenaarti bhanjanud?ai praan?a
Daanambosaga munnu chanina
Baan?ambunatt?u chedara jeya ledha
Gaana lola thyaagaraaja nutu mahima

Note: For those interested in listening to this kriti, I recommend M.S. Subbalakshmi's Akashvani Archives, 1979, Vol 2, AIRK 20