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Namasankirtanam is best way to promote peace, says Udaiyalur Kalyanaraman
CHENNAI, November 23: Chennai is slowly warming up to host the annual classical dance and music festival- Isai Visha - soon. Like the annual musical extravaganza, the decade-old Namasankirtanam Festival, too, has become quite popular among bhajan-lovers and audience, cutting across age.

Like in the previous years, the current festival (November 16 to 27, 2011) at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, T. Nagar, is seeing veteran bhagavathas enthralling the audience with their enchanting performance. It is a unique festival, where more than two dozen leading Bhagavathas are performing daily Sampradaya Bhajan (traditional) and engaging the audience in singing simple Namavalis.

For years, Namasankirtham has come to be identified as the easiest way to beseech the blessings of Almighty in Kali Yugam. Many Bhagavathas have dedicated their entire life for propagating Pracheena Sampradya Bhajan all over India. By this way, they have laid the foundation for the prosperity of younger generation.

It is being organized for more than a decade now by Bhagavatha Seva Trust (started during the Namasankirtanam Festival in 2002) along with Integrated Academy for Performing Arts and Sri Krishnagana Sabha. The programmes are sponsored by City Union Bank, Shriram Group and Integrated Enterprise.

Namasankirtanam, also called “Kirtan Yoga”, is the best way to beat stress and overcome tension. It assumes greater significance at a time when the Indian economy and corporates have started seeing the adverse effect of global crisis with threats of downsizing, pink slips, lay-offs looming large. By listening to and singing Gita Govindam, Kirtanas, Ashtapathis and Namvalis apart from dancing on the occasions, it is possible to feel the unique experience of divine and bhakthi.

Namasankirtanam to promote national integration
Talking to Carnatic Darbar amidst his busy schedule at the festival, the Managing Trustee of Bhagavatha Seva Trust and a legend in Sampradaya Bhajan, Udaiyalur Shri. K Kalyanaraman Bhagavathar, said, “Namasankirtanam is the best way to promote peace and national integration since Gita Govindam has Kirtanas written by mahans in different languages”.

Hailing from Udaiyalur village near Kumbakonam, he studied MA Bed and joined the teaching profession. The village has produced veteran Bhagavathas. He took considerable interest in Bhajan when he was just five years old. His guru is Thiruvidaimaruthur Shri Venkatrama Bhagavathar. Udaiyalur has been performing traditional bhajans and devotional songs all over India for the past 35 years. He has also performed in several countries, including the U.S., Canada, Middle East countries, Singapore and Malaysia. Credited with a number laurels and excellence awards, he has been conducting programmes regularly in AIR (All-India Radio) and TV channels. He has also come out with CDs and DVDs on bhajans.

Trust support to deserving Bhagavathas
He is the prime mover behind starting the annual festival in 2000 and forming the trust two years later. He found that a number of Bhagavathas who sacrificed the most part of their life for propagation of Namasankirtanam were not able run their families due to old age and paucity of income. This led to the Trust to provide monthly assistance of Rs. 1000 to deserving Bhagavathas. It has so far covered 52 of them. It also takes care of the medical expenses of deserving cases and supports their children’s education. The Trust has also honored with a title and cash award 171 Bhaghavathas from 2004 to 2010. During this year’s festival, 25 Bhagavathas will be honored. Recounting the rich history and heritage of Bhajans, he said Marudanallur Shri Sadguru Swamigal was the pioneer of Namasankirtanam. He hailed from Mardunallur near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district. His original name was Venkatraman. As he was propagating Namasankirtanam, his devotees called him Sadguru.

In the 17th century, he travelled all over the country and collected the leading kirtanas or compositions of mahans and compiled them as Sampradaya Bhajan (traditional Bhajan), also called Namasankirtanam. That way, he advocated unity in diversity and promoted national integration through Sampradaya Bhajan.

Explaining the origin of leading Kirtans authored by various Mahans in different Indian languages, Shri Kalyanaraman said before Sadguru Swamigal compiled and structured Gita Govindam, the country had stalwarts such as Shri Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal from Govindapuram in Thanjavur district, who advocated the importance of reciting Rama Nama, and Thiruvisanallur Sridhara Ayyaval, who highlighted the significance of reciting Siva Nama.

It was Sadguru Swamigal who found out the Jeeva Samadhi of Shri Bodendra Saraswati Swamigal. Sadguru went about collecting Kirtis of Mahans in various languages for his unique compilation of Sampradaya Bhajan. These Mahans had inculcated Bhakthi, he pointed out.

Sampradaya Bhajan starts with Gita Govindam or Thodaya Mangalam written in Telugu by Badrachala Shri Ramadasar. It is followed by Guru Kirtanas. Then follows the 24 Ashtapadis which were originally written by Sri Jayadev in Oriya and Sadguru translated them into Sanskirit.

Sadguru composed each Ashtapadi in different ragas for singing them according to the situation. He also collected Shri Krishna Leela Tharangini and the Kirtans of Shri Purandara Dasar in Telugu and that of Shri Gopalakrishna Bharathi from Anathandapuram near Mayiladuthuram (Mayavaram) in Tamil.

Further, Shri Sadguru collected the Kirtans of Meera, Kabir and Thulasidasar written in Hindi and those of Thukkaram, Ghnadev and other Maharasthra Santh or mahans in Marathi. In Samparadaya Bhajan, stressed Shri Kalyanaraman, it is important to conduct both Radha Kalyanam and Seetha Kalyanam for two days and complete the singing of all the 24 Ashtapadis.

Kirtanas’ relevance in modern age
“We are singing in 21st century Shri Jayadev’s Ashtapadis written in 12st century. It only shows the vision of mahans and relevance of their kirtanas in the modern world,” he said.

What is more striking is that Purandaradasar’s kirtanas contain management lessons and they can be explained to MBA students. Companies can encourage conducting Bhajan programmes once in a week or month for their employees to promote only Bhakthi. It could prove an effective means for stress management.

He felt that like other prohits and temple archahas, it was possible for Bhagavahas to take up Namasankirtanam as a full-time profession. “For this, they need the basic knowledge and dedication and sincerity,” he added. It was also necessary for children to learn Bhajan as a part of their school education, he pointed out.

Bhajan School at Tambaram
Shri Kalyanaraman disclosed that at the new Sankara School at Tambaram a full-fledged Bhajan school called Kanchi Mahaswami Namasankirtna Padasala was ready to start classes from next academic year. It would offer three-year semester course in Sampradaya Bhajan for 500 students. It wouldl be a boon for students as they could learn Bhajan while attending vedic and CBSE classes, he pointed out.


* The author (V Balasubrmanian), is an admirer of Namasankirtanam for over three decades. He hails from Vilangudi village near Kumbakonam. The village has an unbroken record of conducting Sri Radha Kalyanam Utsav at Shri Perumal Temple for the last 112 years. His Mail ID: visbala@gmail.com
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