Vishaka Hari brings historical women of substance alive

By Sudha Jagannathan
Chennai: 31-12-2018 4:58PM

Harikatha exponent Vishaka Hari had a full house at The Music Academy on the evening of December 2018. It was an inspiring discourse as she sketched out the women of substance in India from the past. She combined bhakthi with Sangeetham in her presentation. Daughter-in-law of Krishna Premi Swami, a well-known exponent of Harikatha with deep insight into puranas, epics and many other Hindu religious stories, Madisar-clad Vishaka Hari is also a Chartered Accountant. Her narrative style was simple and friendly. And, she backed it up with a deep historical perspective and by dipping into their personal episodes. Her training as a Carnatic vocalist under the legendary violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman has come a long way for this Harikatha exponent to connect the audience at large with melodic singing.

Sita, Kunti, Draupadi, Maitreyi, Gargi,Tara, Avayaar - women from the times of epics, puranas and the modern day, all deserve elevated place in the Indian mindsets especially for the way they conducted themselves with courage, humility and selflessness. Vishaka Hari not only portrayed the highness of these women but also managed to get it across to the audience with simple elucidation mixed with musical articulation. Vishaka Hari drove the point home that had it not been for these brave women of India, the countrymen won't be sitting and enjoying the life now in the modern times.

Jagath Janani Seetha Devi of Valmiki Ramayana ranked foremost among the heroines of former times. Sita was not just the most beautiful woman. Her high qualities were beyond description. Vishaka Hari portrayed the fearless mindset of Sita when Rama was about to be exiled. She steadfastly stood her ground and followed Rama in his foot-steps. The path in the dense forest was not strewn with roses. Yet, Sita preferred to go along with her beloved Rama. “Ramayana of Valmiki is full of the Sita story though the story itself is named as Ramayana,” Vishaka Hari pointed out. Valmiki was all admiration for Sita who didn’t fear Ravana. She wanted her Rama to come and rescue her and politely spurned Hanuman’s offer to carry her on his back to Rama. This revealed the courage in her. That Sita could tell this to Hanuman even as she was surrounded by Rakshashis or demons proved her inner strength. She ignored Ravana by placing a grass in front of her to address him. She also adviced and warned him sternly of the dire consequences. Sita is an outstanding woman of substance that India and Indians could be proud of.

Draupadi from the Mahabharatha was a brave lady who called for Krishna even as she was being disrobed in the midst of Raja Darbar. Such was her bhakthi towards Lord Krishna who threw around her protective reams of saree. She roared like a lioness in the Darbar, explained Vishaka Hari. Vishaka Hari also mentioned Kunti, the mother of Pandavas and a devotee of Krishna, who asked the Lord to give her only problems. Kunti was convinced that when problems were there Krishna would be around to solve them. That way, Kunti felt she could be with Krishna always. Andal is the incarnation of Niladevi, who is an epitome of surrender. Andal composed Tiruppavi to attain Lord Krishna. Vishaka Hari also talked about Maitreyi and Gargi who stood as modulators for the scholars of the past. These women of Vedic times were adept in scriptures and warfare. Tara, the spouse of Vali, was an expert in governance when Vali ruled the kingdom at Kiskinta. Vali was felled by the arrow of Rama. When he was about to breath his last, he advised Sugriva, his brother who sided with Rama, to seek the guidance of Tara who was more than a minister. According to Vali, Tara’s intuition never went wrong at any point of time. Sabari’s penance (tapas) was foremost. She waited for Rama several years and attained moksha or liberation. Avvaiyar was such a divine lady who was a princess but prayed to Lord Ganesh to be endowed with old age at a young age to do service to the Lord. Her prayers were answered by Lord Vinayaka, and her hair turned grey while she was about to be married. She composed “Athi chudi” and “Konrai Venthan” for the children, which contained very many simple tips.

Vishaka Hari also mentioned Akkamal of the twelfth-century, a brave person and an ascetic preaching the glory of the divine. There is also a temple for Akka Mahadevi in Karnataka. She was a devotee of Shiva and Parvati. She considered Lord Shiva as her husband. She refused to marry King Kausika and wandered off to Srisailam mountains. She was considered by modern scholars to be a prominent figure in the field of female emancipation. A household name in Karnataka, she had said that she was a woman only in name and that her mind, body and soul belonged to Lord Shiva.Her teachings came to be respected by many scholars to renounce the world and seek the Brahman. Hence, she was called as Akka. Ahalya Bhai was born at Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. She was one more brave lady who had built many temples and Ghats at Dwaraka, Nathdwara, Kashi and other places. Already trained to be a ruler, Ahilyabai petitioned the Peshwa after Malhar's death, and the death of her son, to take over the administration herself. The Somnath temple was built by Ahalya Bhai after it was devastated by the Moguls. Among Ahilyabai's accomplishments was the development of Indore from a small village to a prosperous and beautiful city. Her own capital, however, was in nearby Maheshwar, a town on the banks of the Narmada River. She also built forts and roads in Malwa, sponsored festivals and gave donations for regular worship in many Hindu temples. Outside Malwa, she built dozens of temples, Ghats, wells, tanks and rest-houses across an area stretching from the Himalayas to pilgrimage centres in South India.

Shyama Sastr kritis such as "Rave Himagiri Tanaye" (Todi) and Eppadi Manam (Huseni) , Sri Janaki Tanaye (Kalaakanti) and the like were effectively employed to celebrate these women of substance. She brought the curtain down by singing Vande Mataram. All in all, it proved a good education - on history, at that. And, the musical interludes during the discourse provided an additional fodder for the mind. The experience was indeed wholesome.