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Sarasa Rangaswami

Navaratri, Dussera, Kolu or Durga Puja - by whatever name it is called in different parts of our country, is a very ancient Indian festival devoted to the ‘Tri-Devis’ (Lakshmi, Sakti & Saraswati). It is especially devoted to Goddess Sakti who is known as Durga or Mahishasura Mardani, and signifies the triumph of good over evil. Navaratri falls in the month of Kanya or Purattasi according to the Tamil calendar (around mid-September). It begins on the new moon day or the next day (prathama) and extends to nine or ten days. It ends with ‘Vijayadasami’, which is considered a very auspicious day. Thus Sakti worship was widely prevalent in ancient India.

To Devi Upasakas (Srividya Upasakas) , i.e. worshippers of Devi / Sakti, the Goddess, Navaratri means much more. They perform extensive homams (rituals) and pujas (prayers) to Goddess Rajarajeswari (another form of Goddess Sakti, who is worshipped in the form of a Srichakra or Meru).

Great composers like Oothukadu Venkata Kavi and Muthuswami Dikshitar who were initiated into ‘Srividya’ while they were young, have composed Navavarana kritis on Devi, which contain the essence of Mantra and Tantra Sastras. For those who are not able to perform puja, it can be said that the understanding and singing of Navavarana kritis in itself is equivalent to puja.

Though Venkata Kavi lived nearly a century before Dikshitar and was the first one to compose Navavarana kritis, his beautiful Kamakshi Navavarana was unknown to the music world until recently. The world owes a great debt to Sri Needamangalam Krishnamoorthy Bhagavatar who took pains not only to learn, sing and propagate Venkata Kavi’s Navavarana, but also to publish it in a book form with notations. But for his tireless efforts, a good musical treatise would have been lost and forgotten altogether.

Even until recent times, many musicians were not aware of Kamakshi Navavaranas. I have always wondered why. Probably Venkata Kavi had no proper Sishya-parampara (line of disciples), which could propagate his compositions. Or perhaps a great ‘Kavi’ (poet) as he was, sweet and poetic phrases poured forth from his lips in a never-ending stream that an ordinary musician was not competent enough to grasp. Or perhaps the various Talas and Jatis which he employed with ease in his compositions, were intricate and posed problems for the singer. Or his compositions with all their Madhyama and Durita-kala (medium and fast tempo) passages were more suited for dance than music.

A century later, music found a very high place among all the other fine Arts. This was during the Golden age of Carnatic music - thanks to the musical Trinity. It was at this time that Muthuswami Dikshitar swept the world with his musical compositions. He was not only a ‘Vainika-Gayaka’ (singer-cum-Vina-player) and a composer, but also a mystic, a person well versed in the Mantra and Tantra Sastras, Gandharva Vidya, Srividya, Jyotisha (astrology) as well. Owing to all these and also because Dikshitar’s kritis were mostly in the Chowka-kala (slow-tempo) and hence were bhava -laden, his Kamalamba Navavaranas became popular. Infact until recently, it led us to believe that it was the first of its kind to be composed. Even otherwise the greatness of Dikshitar can never be under estimated. He had no parallel in the world of music nor shall he ever have. No one can deny or resist the magical, spiritual and soul-stirring effect of his songs. He has also composed Vibhakti (case endings) kritis on Goddess Abhayamba of Mayuram and some times they are also referred to, as Abhyambika Navavaranas. Although in the strict sense of the word, they are not.

Maharaja Swati Tirunal has composed the Navaratri kritis. They became very popular especially in Kerala where great musicians used to sing them in temples and the courts of the kings during the Navaratri festival. Gradually these kritis spread to the other areas and thus we have today equally appealing kritis, both poetically and musically, which evoke bhakti (devotion) in the minds of singers as well the listeners.

Before we conclude, it must be re-iterated that for those who are unable to perform extensive Navavarana pujas during Navaratri, it is enough to just sing, understand or just listen to the Navavaranas.


Navavarana & Navaratri kritis - Part 2

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Related links: Navaratri kritis of Swati Tirunal
                     Prosodic beauty of the Navaratri kritis