We first got to know this famous Tyagaraja song in high school. Then we had four languages to cope with: Telugu I, Telugu II, English, and Hindi. Father used to help me in many ways for my final board examination. Often he would meet our class teachers in the Saturday weekly market or main street and politely enquire about my studies. One English teacher even offered free tuition due to my father’s extraordinary good offices and communication skills with people. Not wanting to take any risk, he procured for me a thick tome (guide) written by five pundits for the prescribed Telugu text. There were many interesting lessons and selections for us, two or three stand out in memory still to this day. 1) A section from ఆంధ్ర మహాభారతము (నన్నయ) 2) an essay on Tyagaraja with some examples of his compositions and 3) a few poems by ఎఱ్ఱాప్రగడ. I understood most of the essay about Tyagaraja, but I must confess it did not fully touch my heart. This is not due to any unfamiliarity with devotional music. Even as a teenager I used to listen to a number of Carnatic music pieces (both vocal and instrumental) either in live stage performances, small intimate family gatherings, or on the AIR radio. Plus there was quite a bit of singing at home or around in the streets. After all, for any art (particularly poetry or music) we have to really feel it (in our hearts). Only then you can fully appreciate it and if one is lucky, we can go beyond all the way to the stratosphere. The music finally has to touch the inner self (ఆత్మ). I learnt after many years the sad truth about music: Only a very select few are blessed with it and still a miniscule are truly moved by it. That is, perhaps a few in a thousand can completely understand a Tyagaraja (Annamayya or Dikshitar) composition - I mean hear the complete lyrics, meaning of each phrase, entire emotional content, and genuinely feel the melting of heart inwardly. Now let us come to this gem, the fifth one in ‘Pancha-ratna’ set.
1. చందురు వర్ణుని = Here, it refers to the color of 4 O’clock flower. The flowers come in many different colors and shades but there is one variety with a strong blue-purple-gray combination. Rama’s color is difficult to describe - it is not like blue sky, it tends more towards the dark water filled clouds’ color. The clouds are ever ready to burst into a downpour, a downpour of compassion. So, this line says thus: “These are all great people, great souls who can see (internally) in their lotuses of hearts Sri Rama’s body hue and attractive form, and enjoy the supreme joy (Brahma-ananda) that arises spontaneously upon looking at Sri Rama”.
This is not ordinary joy, it is like an innocent child having a grand birthday celebration sitting in her mother’s lap surrounded by her friends and relatives. Now imagine that joy multiplied by thousand, nay million times. The venerable Paramacharya explained about Brahma-ananda somewhere in one of his speeches (అనుగ్రహ భాషణములు).
2. సరగున = swiftly, వడిగా, వెనువెంటనే; స్వాoతము = మనసు, mind;
There are some who can readily surrender themselves and their (lotus like) minds at the feet of a guru or the Lord (Sri Rama) . They are in deed great persons. For the modern analytically trained person (scientist or genuinely rational enquiring individual), it may seem odd rather unbecoming to touch the feet of an elder, దేవత, or guru. But man, in most situations carries the burden of “bloated ego” with possessions, wealth, degrees, or official status. For learning anything or for eagerly accepting ‘grace’, the first thing we have to surrender ourselves is our useless vanity and the burdensome feeling of ego. How tragically we miss such invaluable opportunities to learn and receive blessings - sad, one is at times unbelievably stupid, come to think of it. These basic manners should be learnt in childhood. Deliberately one must bow and wait for the guru’s words. There is no other way in this dangerous forest of life.
3. Here the individual’s mind is compared to a wadering monkey. మానస వనచర, మానస వనరుహ both seem appropriate. If we are trying to capture the forever drifting of thought (the mind), then the comparison with monkey is apt. But monkeys too are very focussed when they groom each other carefully looking for the pesky parasites. A person’s mind can also be described as a delicate lotus flower - after all it too gets bruised easily, yet in the right conditions it emanates lovely fragrance and exudes gentle beauty.
4. This line is really exquisite.
నీ మేను నామ వైభవములను
నీ పరాక్రమ ధైర్య శాంత మానసము నీవులను
రఘువర నీ యెడ సద్భక్తియు జనించకను
Here we get to learn the rules of Telugu grammar (oh, the great Chinnayasuri - we learnt it in Pre-University, 12th standard). When we have a list of items, we add lu+nu = lanu (లు+ను=లను), at the end of the list. Now to quip, here is a laundry list. May I digress a bit with the indulgence of the reader? We had a very gentle dhoban, actually we had two excellent launderers, the one in the village known as Simhachalam and the other वेङ्कन्न. The latter was a highly evolved devout person and often treated most simple maladies. Like many householders we used to keep track of the clothes before handing over to the launderer. We never realized our वेङ्कन्न was much smarter - he would put a black identifying mark for each household. That simple technique solved the problem of logistics. Then why did we waste our time in keeping a notebook for the laundry list? Just a silly habit of getting engrossed in the worldly things. The precious time could have been spent in learning a Tyagaraja kirtana or हरे नाम स्मरण! If the launderer can handle hundreds of clothes, sort them, wash them, and press them into neat stacks for each house, then why should we unnecessarily fret and waste time in making lists? It is better to make a list of the Vishnu-sahasranama or other important matters.
Here in this list we can pick up any one item and make the mind centered on that item alone. It could be Sri Rama’s graceful body, His name, His splendour, or His courage. Over many centuries, composers have dwelt on His inimitable qualities and sung soul-stirring songs. Or we can just focus on His unwavering commitment to a word given. He offered loyal friendship to Sugriva and kept His word. He willingly gave protection to Vibhishana and made him King of Lanka, right on the spot. All those people who constantly keep extolling Rama’s qualities through joyous songs are indubitably great souls!
5. కనకకశిపుసుత = ప్రహ్లాద
They are all pious, great, and eternal (i.e., they are ever present and exist all the time. We just need to ask for their help.). They all know and feel the Brahma-ananda.
6. Here the esteemed poet composer (of course, foremost Tyagayya was (is) a very great disciplined bhakta) obliquely hints at the essence of our dharma (Hinduism, for want of a better equivalent word in English). Whatever is mentioned in the ancient books, namely Srimad-Bhagavatam, Valmiki Ramayana (or any of the faithful translations in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi etc.), Gita, Vedas, and Puranas is genuinely true; the truly learned scholars or saints see no disagreements or discrepancies in various canonical texts. One can faithfully follow any one of the six schools (షణ్మతములు). See for example some of the illuminating expositions given by the revered Paramacharya. The exact number of the celestials is thirty-three crores. There are those who have insight into the minds of the celestials, who are endowed with long life due to the joy of music (with its exalted exquisite combination of the appropriate melody, rhythm, and meaning), with boundless communion with Paramatma - they’re all dear to Tyagaraja and they all are great persons, great souls.
7. When the love and affection accumulates and overflows, devotees take the name of Sri Rama and such persons are sincere servants of Rama (who is praised by Tyagaraja) - they’re so many of them, they all are great people! Indeed. (This is not a complete commentary or exposition on the great composition. I’ve tried to choose several stanzas and dwell on their deeper meaning and import.)