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Navavaranams - A Study Of Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi And Dikshitar
The Navavarana pooja forms the mantric-tantric ritualistic part of Devi worship, associated with the Srichakra pooja. An avarana may be understood as a covering, a veil that must be removed in order to reach the supreme Shakti, residing at the centre point (bindu). It must be noted that each avarana has its own set of rituals associated with it and those practicing this worship are generally required to be thoroughly aware of details such as chakra, yogini and mudra devatas associated with it. This kind of ritual is said to have originated sometime around the 10th century AD and is followed by certain sects even today.

Two of the greatest composers in Carnatic music have composed krtis specifically intended for this occasion. They are Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi and Muttuswami Dikshitar. Another renowned composer, Swati Tirunal, has composed a set known as 'Navaratri krtis' addressed to Lakshmi, Saraswati and Devi but these do not have the avarana ritualistic details like the other two. It is now fairly well accepted that Venkata Kavi was the first to compose Navavarana krtis. Late T.S. Parthasarathy, in his foreword to Sankaranarayanan's book, 'Kamakshi Navavaranams,' states that "Venkata Kavi's command over Sanskrit is breath-taking but the language used by him in many places is abstruse, as it ought to be, as the subject is esoteric."

Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi is said to have lived between the period of Purandara Dasa-Annamacharya and the Trinity and his period is placed roughly between 1700 and 1765. Venkata Kavi attained enormous popularity through mellifluous compositions in Tamil such as Alaippayude (Kanada), Taye Yashoda (Todi), Pal vadiyum mukham (Nattaikkuranji) but these are in reality a small side of him. Only recently, a majority of his works have been discovered by the music field at large and these reveal that he possessed tremendous scholarship in both Sanskrit and Tamil and was a master of melody and rhythm, who composed hundreds of pieces suitable for music, dance, operas and musical discourses. The doyen of Carnatiac music Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer had little hesitation in stating in a commendation of Sankaranarayanan's book (mentioned above) that "Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi is in the same stature as the famed Trinity of Carnatic Music".

Muthuswami Dikshitar (1773 - 1835) needs no introduction to music lovers. He is one of the greatest composers in world music and arguably the most complete composer in Indian music in the sense of his familiarity with Carnatic, Hindustani and Western music. Dikshitar has few to rival him in planning and executing grand themes like vibhakti krtis on Rama, Krishna, Kartikeya and masterpieces like Sri Rajagopala (Saveri), Ranganayakam (Nayaki), Chetashri (Dwijavanti), to name a few.

But, in reality, the Navavaranams of these two great seers have a far greater significance than this glittering annual festival of nine nights. They can be rendered at any time of the year.

This article attempts to take a bird's eye's view of both these great composers' Navavaranams.

KAMAKSHI NAVAVARANAMS OF OOTHUKKADU VENKATA KAVI

Song Raga Tala Remarks
Sri Ganeshwara Shanmukhapriya Adi Vinayaka stuti
Vanchayasi edi kushalam Kalyani Adi Dhyana stuti
Santatam aham seve Deshakshi Adi 1st avaranam
Bhajaswa sri tripura sundari Nadanamakriya Adi 2nd avaranam
Sarva jeeva dayapari Shuddhasaveri M Chapu 3rd avaranam
Yogayogeshwari Anandabhairavi Khanda Triputa 4th avaranam
Neela lohita ramani Balahamsa Khanda Dhruvam 5th avaranam
Sadanandamayi Hindolam Sankeerna Mathyam 6th avaranam
Sakala loka nayike Arabhi Adi 7th avaranam
Shankari sri Rajarajeshwari Madhyamavati Adi 8th avaranam
Natajana kalpa valli Punnagavarali Adi 9th avaranam
Haladharanujam Manirangu Adi Phala stuti
Notes:
1. The usage of the verb bhajasva is rare. The composer uses the root bha, to ask the Goddess to resort to him, to turn her attention towards him.
2. For the 6th avaranam in Hindolam, another version also exists in Khanda Matya with largely different lyrics.
3. Some scholars believe that Sri chakra matangi (Suruti) is appropriate for Mangala krti.


KAMALAMBA NAVAVARANAMS OF MUTHUSWAMI DIKSHITAR

Song Raga Tala Remarks
Sri Mahaganapatiravatumam Gowla Mishra Chapu Vinayaka stuti
Kamalambike Todi Tishra Ekam Dhyana stuti
Kamalamba Anandabhairavi Mishra Chapu 1st avaranam
Kamalambam bhajare Kalyani Adi 2nd avaranam
Sri Kamalambikaya Shankarabharanam Tishra Ekam 3rd avaranam
Kamalambikayai Kambhodhi Khanda Atam 4th avaranam
Sri Kamalambayah Bhairavi Mishra Jhampa 5th avaranam
Kamalambikayah Punnagavarali Tishra Ekam 6th avaranam
Sri Kamalambikayam Sahana Tishra Triputa 7th avaranam
Sri Kamalambike Ghanta Adi 8th avaranam
Sri Kamalamba Ahiri Tishra Ekam 9th avaranam
Sri Kamalambike Sri Khanda Ekam Mangala stuti
Notes:
1. Dikshitar has composed the pieces in different vibhaktis.

Now, let me try and compare and contrast both these works.

Deity addressed: While Venkata Kavi has addressed his compositions to the Goddess Kamakshi of Kanchi, Dikshitar addressed his to Goddess Kamalamba of Tiruvarur. Both choices are interesting in different ways. Tiruvarur was the birthplace of Dikshitar and he highlighted the presiding deity of his hometown. Kamakshi of Kanchi, on the other hand, is of direct significance to followers of Srichakra pooja.

Intent and goal: It is remarkable that Venkata Kavi asks the Goddess to grant the acquaintance of Lord Krishna in the piece, Haladharanujam praptum in Manirangu. It is noteworthy that the gopis worshipped the Devi with precisely the same end in mind. Dikshitar's navavaranams seem intended directly for the Goddess' own benevolence.

Complimentary pieces: Though the main pieces are 9 in number, both Venkata Kavi and Dikshitar have composed a preliminary worship piece (dhyana krti) and a concluding auspicious piece (mangala krti/phala stuti). Venkata Kavi has also composed a piece on Lord Vinayaka, Sri Ganeshwara (Shankmukhapriya) where he specifically refers to this Lord as 'srividyopasana bodhakara' while Dikshitar's Sri Mahaganapatiravatumam (Gowla) is taken to be the Vinayaka stuti for his Navavarana set presumably because it mentions Tiruvarur through the phrase, 'kamalalaya tataviharo'.

Style: Though the subject matter is much the same and many essential facts cannot be changed, both these composers have created the pieces in such contrasting styles. The choice of words, the manner of expression leave one in little doubt that two great minds have been at work and though they think alike, their expressions are distinctly original. Venkata Kavi's style is - like most of his other compositions - highly personal and direct, while Dikshitar's is generally introverted and meditative.

Ragas selected: Dikshitar chose several Ghana Ragas for his Navavaranams like Todi, Shankarabharanam, Kambhodhi, Kalyani, Bhairavi and also added some rakti ragas like Sahana, Ghanta, Anandabhairavi, Ahiri and Punnagavarali. Venkata Kavi chose rakti ragas like Anandabhairavi, Punnagavarali, Nadanamakriya, a couple of (now) rare ones like Deshakshi and Balahamsa and used a ghana raga like Kalyani only one piece (Dhyana stuti).

Tempo: The tempo (kalapramanam) of the entire Navavarana set of Dikshitar is measured, often with sparse words that clothe them with majesty. Compositions like Sri Kamalambikaya (Shankarabharanam), Sri Kamalambike (Ghanta), have a meditative feel to it. Venkata Kavi's compositions contrast with this style in a significant manner and are mostly in medium tempo with words akin to a torrential downpour in some instances. Even the slow, meditative pieces such as Yoga yogeshwari (Anandabhairavi), Neelalohita ramani (Balahamsa) and Sadanandamayi (Hindolam) have faster (madhyamakala) sections reflecting his Niagara like flow.

Scholarship: Both Venkata Kavi and Dikshitar have shown their tremendous scholarship and familiarity with the intricacies of mantric-tantric rituals associated with the Srichakra pooja in their avarana krtis. Venkata Kavi's pieces abound in the chakra, yogini details of each avarana as also the Mudra devatas. Muttuswami Dikshitar has also incorporated several of these details in his pieces. Venkata Kavi prefers to reveal these early on in the piece while Dikshitar has tended to do so in the latter part of his compositions. Venkata Kavi also makes references to the seed (beeja) mantra in a few of his compositions, like haim, kleem, eem and so on.

Rhythmic command: Both Venkata Kavi and Dikshitar have shown their proficiency in rhythm in these compositions by using some interesting talas, apart from Adi, Mishra Chapu etc. Dikshitar opts for talas in the Sapta tala system like Mishra Jhampa, Khanda Ata, Tishra Triputa etc. It should be noted that many of Dikshitar's tala choices were based on the kind of chakra that he was focusing on. For example, the 4th song in Kambodhi is based on Sarvasowbhagya dayaka chakra symbolized by 14 triangles and he used the 14-unit Khanda Ata for this.

Venkata Kavi has chosen his Kamakshi navavaranams to set bars in rhythm that has seldom been rivaled. He opted to compose in rare talas from the 35 tala system such as Khanda Triputa (9 units), Khanda Dhruvam (17-units) and Sankeerna Matyam (20 units). He has also indulged in gati bhedam (shift of gait) in his Madhyamavati piece, Shankari where he flits back and forth from Chaturashra (4 units) and Tishra (3 units). In his piece in Hindolam, Sadanandamayi, he has employed another remarkable innovation - change of kalai in the charanam (from 2 kalais to 1 kalai). This composition remains a singular example of this excellent feature.

Signature: Venkata Kavi has used his mudra, 'Venkata Kavi' only in 3 compositions (out of nearly 400 compositions that have come down to us). One of them is the avarana krti in Madhyamavati, Shankari Sri Rajarajeshwari. 'Guruguha' was Dikshitar's signature and appears in all of his works.

Overall Quality: The Navavarana pieces of Dikshitar and Venkata Kavi can easily find their placement among the best works in Carnatic music. The intellectual, aesthetic and the spiritual merge to create a wonderful blend - that is the delight of musicians, music lovers, students of music, Sanskrit scholars, experts in the Srichakra pooja and numerous others. These compositions speak volumes for the composers' melodic, rhythmic and literary skills not to mention their sublime thoughts.

As Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi says succinctly in the final line of the final avarana krti in Punnagavarali: "sarasara navavarana gana dhyana yoga japa tapa rasike''.

"Oh Goddess, You are pleased by the navavarana singing, meditation and practices". It would be no exaggeration to state that listening to them, meditating upon them, learning them and sharing them with people around would enrich our own lives and musical worth several-fold.
Comments
Venkatakailasam - venkatakailasam@gmail.com
Perhaps Swati Thirunal's Navarathri krities may also be included along with this. Nice compilation!

Saranya - saranya.gurumurthy@gmail.com
Nice article sir. I have compared Sri chakra description of brahmmanda puranam and Dikshitar's navavarnams in my blog.