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[Editor's Note: 1) This article has links to several audio files, all of which are in Real Audio (32 kbps, streaming stereo) format. To play these, you will need the Real One player, available for free download, from Real Networks 2) The audio clippings included in this article, are strictly for informational and illustrative purposes only 3) Click here for the standard transliteration scheme]

LORD GANESHA is glorified as "VIGHNESVARA" (Lord of all obstacles) or "VIGHNA NASHAKA" (destroyer of all obstacles). Hence it is only natural that Lord gaNEsha is worshiped at the commencement of every venture a devoted Hindu undertakes, whether it is a household duty, a religious worship, an academic pursuit, or a business adventure. Even while jotting down something on a small notepad, many people start by inscribing a pillayar chuzhi at the top of the page! The music concerts are no exceptions in this regard, and it is no wonder that the karnatik music scene is flooded with literally hundreds of songs in praise of gaNEsha. Every composer has made a contribution, some in large numbers, and some in a handful. A k.rti on Lord gaNEsha is mandatory at the beginning of every concert for its success, and this is usually rendered after the opening warm-up piece, namely a varnam.

In this write-up, we try to highlight some of the popular compositions on Lord gaNEsha from a variety of composers that we frequently hear in concert platforms.

The attached PDF files have lyrics of numerous gaNEsha compositions:

There is a composition of every imaginable format and flavor in karnAtik music in praise of gaNEsha. Music lessons for the beginners usually commence with the traditional piLLari gItam, "shrI gaNanAta sindUra varNa" composed by the sangIta pitAmaha, saint purandaradAsa. There is a varnam on gaNEsha, "gaNa nAyaka" in the pleasant rAgam sunAdavinOdini, composed by mahArAjapuram santAnam. Pallavi expositions in the rAgam hamsadhvani invariably feature lyrics in praise of gaNEsha (just like the pallavis in Sanmukhapriya are mostly in praise of Lord subrahmaNya). There are two rAgamAlika compositions, "ucciSTa gaNapathE" (composed by sundarEsha sharma) and "vinAyakA vinAyakA" (ghana rAga pa~ncaka rAgamAlika composed by gaNapati saccidAnanda), both popularized by santAnam. And there is an ugA bhOga, "satata gaNanAtha" by purandaradAsa. I have not come across any tillAna on gaNapati, but I am sure there must be some! dIkSitar has given us a noTTu svara sAhityam (western band melody), "shakti sahita gaNapatim" on gaNapati. Devotees all over sing several popular bhajan songs and nAmavalis on vinAyaka. The tamil saint poetess auvaiyyAr poured out many soulful devotional songs and prayers (vinAyakar agaval) on gaNanAyaka. There is even a mangaLam devoted to gaNEsha. pApanAsham shivan's "vighna vinAyaka mUrttikku mangaLam", in madhyamAvati is an appropriate mangaLa k.rti on vinAyaka.

In between these special types of compositions lie hundreds of soul stirring k.rtis devoted to gaNapati. We shall undertake a tour of some of these popular vinAyaka k.rtis.

hamsadhvani and vinAyaka

For some strange (unknown) reason, rAgam hamsadhvani and Lord vinAyaka have become inseparable. Indeed, rAmasvAmi dIkSitar created the rAgam hamsadhvani, but he did not compose any song in praise of vinAyaka in this beautiful pentatonic scale. He composed a lakSya prabandham on Lord shiva and a varNam on subrahmaNya in hamsadhvani. It was left to his son muttusvAmi dIkSitar to compose the most popular k.rti in all of karnAtik music, "vAtApi gaNapatim bhajEham". As someone joked, if dIkSitar has copyrighted this single k.rti, it would easily fetch several million dollars today!

It might have been sheer coincidence that dIkSitar chose rAgam hamsadhvani for praising vinAyaka in this composition. I am not aware of any mythological reference, where vinAyaka was pleased with the sounds (dhvani) of a swan (hamsa)! Perhaps the two contributing factors were: (i) the pentatonic scale, hamsadhvani, as an opening piece, has the mesmerizing effect of creating a proper concert atmosphere, and (ii) Lord gaNapati has to be invoked at the beginning of a concert. The last line in the caraNam, namely "hamsadhvani pUjita hErambam" might have triggered a tradition that led everyone to believe that a k.rti in hamsadhvani is very appropriate to please vinAyaka and seek his blessings. Most composers, therefore, have composed gaNEsha songs in hamsadhvani - but there are non-hamsadhvani gaNEsha k.rtis (as well as non-gaNEsha k.rtis in hamsadhvani). Among the non-hamsadhvani choices, composers have employed varied rAgams. Some very popular (like kAmbhOji, tODi, kalyANi, mOhanam, hindOLam), a few somewhat popular (mOhanakalyANi, navarasakannaDa, bahudAri, kamalAmanOhari, mAND), some very rare (like rAgacUDAmaNi, sALagam, dUrvAnki, sarvashrI). There is no hard and fast rule, but this wedding between gaNEsha k.rtis and hamsadhvani rAgam is here to stay!

muttusvAmi dIkSitar's Compositions

Among all composers of karnAtik music, muttusvAmi dIkSitar was the most widely traveled, and this accounts for the large number of kSEtra k.rtis he composed on numerous Gods and Goddesses located in various Hindu temples - from the himAlayAs in the north to the very tip of South India. Since he spent a great deal of time in the mammoth Temple of Lord tyAgarAja in tiruvArUr, we find quite a number of gaNapati k.rtis in praise of shrines in and around this location. So far, 27 of his compositions on gaNEsha are available to us (28, if we count the "spurious" k.rti "gaNapatE mahAmatE" in kalyANi), and a bulk of them is on various gaNapati shrines in the inner courtyard of the tiruvArUr temple.

SoDasha GaNapatis

The mudgaLa purANam lists thirty-two different forms of gaNapati, namely:

bAla, taruNa, bhakti, vIra, shakti, dEvija, siddhi, ucciSTha, vighna, kSipra, hEramba, lakSmi, mahA, vijaya, n.rtya, Urdhva, EkAkSara, varada, tryakSara, kSipra prasAda, haridra, Ekadanta, s.rSti, uddaNDa, .rNamOcana, duNDi, dvimukha, trimukha, siMha, yOga, durgA, sa.nkaTahara

An on-line edition of the book, Loving gaNEsha - Hinduism's Endearing Elephant-faced God, by Sadguru Sivaya Subramamuniya Swami (Kauai AdhInam, Hawaii), as well as beautiful pictures of all these 32 forms of gaNapati can be viewed at http://www.himalayanacademy.com/books/lg/lg-ch-05.html

Also, the skanda purANam has descriptions of 56 vinAyakas, and shAradA tilaka tantra describes 51 forms. For some reasons unknown (to me), the first 16 of the 32 forms listed above have been categorized as SoDasha gaNapatis. In the Tamil book, "kOTIshvara ayyar kIrtanaigaL", we can see the pictures of these sixteen forms, drawn by the eminent musicologist/painter S. Rajam. (See also http://www.nyganeshtemple.org/publications/photoalbum/pa_shodasagaNesha.htm for individual photos of all sixteen gaNapati forms) One can also see idols of all these sixteen gaNesha forms installed in an eight-sided chariot-shaped structure at the shrI shankara maNDapam in rAmEshvaram.

There are icons of these 16 forms in the courtyard of the tiruvArUr Temple, and dIkSitar has sung in praise of some (perhaps all) of them. Of the 27 available k.rits, eight are on temples outside the tiruvArUr area, two have unknown locations, thus leaving us with 17 k.rtis on tiruvArUr. These already include four k.rtis on the mahA gaNapati form, leaving us with 13 k.rtis to account for the remaining 15 forms of gaNapati. Hence it is impossible that we have a k.rti on each of these 16 forms. Except for mahA and ucciSTha forms, the textual tradition does not match the description in these tiruvArUr gaNapati k.rtis. Again, some of the k.rtis like "gaNEsha kumAra" with a samaSTi caraNam are merely generic epithets - which lead us to no conclusions regarding exact locations. Thus, the Sodasha gaNapati theme (a set of 16 dikSitar k.rtis in Tiruvarur, one for each of the 16 different forms) could be a myth. There might have been a set of 16 k.rtis composed by dIkSitar on SoDasha gaNapatis of tiruvArUr, but all of them have not come down to us at this time.

Here is a list of all dIkSitar k.rtis on gaNEsha, with the temple locations:

mahAgaNapatiM vandE (tODi) (tiruvArUr)

ucciSTha gaNapatau (kAshirAmakriya) (tiruvArUr)

shakti sahita gaNapatim (shankarAbharaNam - noTTu svaram) (tiruvArUr)

hErambAya (athANa) ) (tiruvArUr)

gaNEsha kumAra (junjhUThi) (tiruvArUr)

gaNarAjEna (Arabhi) (tiruvArUr)

gaNanAyakam (rudrapriya) (tiruvArUr)

hastivadanAya (navarOj) (tiruvArUr)

vighnEshvaram (malahari) (tiruvArUr)

lambOdarAya (varALi) (tirunelvEli)

shvEta gaNapatim (rAgacUDAmaNi) (tiruvAlamchuzhi)

rakta gaNapatim (mOhanam) (kEraLa, tiruvanantapuram?)

vAmAnkasthitAyA vallabhAya (athANA) (location unknown)

muttusvAmi dIkSitar always took a fancy to composing group k.rtis on a unified theme, numbering eight, one in each of the eight vibhaktis (declinations of a noun). Searches through various k.rtis in the above list yield such a group of all vibhaktis (though on different temple locations). Also, we can observe that he has employed the five ghana rAgams in the above songs - mahA gaNapatim (nATTai), shrI mahA gaNapatiravatumAm (gauLa), gaNarAjEna (Arabhi), lambOdarAya (varALi), and shrI mUlAdhAra cakra (shrI). In this list, he has used the rAgams malahari, vEgavAhini and aThANa, twice. The group also includes a noTTu svara sAhityam, "shakti sahita gaNapatim" (shankarAbharaNam) sung in a western band melody!

The cAmaram k.rti "siddhi vinAyakaM anisham" on the siddhi form of vinAyaka mentions the vinAyaka caturthi in the phrases "bhAdrapada mAsa caturtyAm", and is very appropriate for this festive day. The song "shvEta gaNapatim" is in the rare asampUrNa mELa rAgam, rAgacUDAmaNi. The kAshirAmakriya composition "ucciSTha gaNapatau" on the ucciSTha form is considered tAntrik in nature. The mOhanam k.rti, "rakta gaNaptim" is in praise of a shrine somewhere in kEraLa. In this song, dIkSitar refers to "parashurAma kSetra prabhAvam, payasA~nna homAdi vibhavam" (pointing out that the composition is on a kEraLa temple, which is famous for the "pAyasam" offerings!).

Undoubtedly, the most famous k.rti on vinAyaka is "vAtApi gaNapatim bhajEham". A separate article would be needed to discuss the importance of this ever-popular gaNEsha k.rti! A 30 page research article, "vAtApi gaNapatim - sculptural, poetic, and musical texts in a hymn to gaNEsha" by Amy Caitlin appears in the book: GANESH - Studies of an Asian God, Edited by Robert L. Brown (State University of New York Press, 1991).


Click here for Part II of this article

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