This song, set in sAranga raga and rUpaka tALa is one of the pancabhUta kritis of the composer, by which I mean it is one of the five songs that celebrate Shiva manifesting as the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and space. South India has temples for each of the manifestations and the most common grouping comprises EkAmrEsvara in Kanchipuram for earth, jambUkEsvara at Tiruvanaikka (near Trichy) for water, aruNAcalEsvara at Tiruvannamalai for fire, srIkAlahastIsa at Srikalahasti for air and citsabhEsvara at Chidambaram for space. The last is also synonymous with Nataraja who is the processional deity. Dikshitar has visited each of these shrines and composed songs on each of the manifestations of Shiva – cintayamAkandamUlakandam in bhairavi, jambUpatE in Yamuna, aruNAcalanAtham in sAranga, shrIkAlahastIsha in ushAni/husEni and AnandanatanaprakAsam in kEdAram.
This being the week when the great dIpam is lit at Tiruvannamalai, the song aruNAcalanAtham repeatedly comes to mind. And here is a synopsis of what Dikshitar sets out to describe in his song. I am aware that I am not stating anything new but like all of Diskhitar’s works, aruNAcalanAtham is a thing of beauty and therefore a joy forever. May it bear with my feeble attempt at interpreting it.
The first line goes – aruNAcalanAtham smarAmi, anisham apItakucAmbA samEtam
I meditate on the Lord of the Arunachala hill, who is eternal and in the company of Apitakuchamba
By seeing Chidambaram, by being born, in Tiruvarur, by dying in Kasi, or by merely thinking of Arunachala, one will surely attain Liberation, thus goes the Arunachala Mahatmiyam. The words used are smaraNAt aruNAcalam and Dikshitar uses the same term (smarAmi). The anupallavi reiterates this as we shall see. The term anisham is significant. It can mean smarAmi anisham – meditating ceaselessly. It can also be anisham as a standalone term meaning nightless, which therefore means ever bright. This being a linga depicting fire, it is appropriate and relevant that Diskhitar uses the term signifying light. Indeed, most of the song is full of allusions to fire and light. Anisham or eternal can also be a reference to the ancientness of Arunachala, considered to be one of the oldest rock formations on earth.
apItakucAmba samEtam –in the company of the Goddess whose teats are yet to be suckled. The Arunachala Mahatmyam has it that after the slaying of Mahishasura, Durga observed penance here and pleased with her, the Lord appeared as a fiery linga and united with her. She is apItakucAmba as she is newly married and has not yet had children. The Lord here is said to be ardhanArIsvara, one whose half is feminine and so he is ever in the company of the Goddess. Bhringi was a devotee of Shiva who did not recognise Parvati and so ignored her while circumambulating the Lord. Parvati came and stood very close to Shiva whereupon Bhringi turned into an insect and circled Shiva alone. Finally Shiva gave Parvati one half of his body and also granted salvation to Bhringi. The special status given to Bhringi annoys Parvati who quarrels with the Lord. This is celebrated as the oodal utsavam in the month of Thai (Jan/Feb) at Tiruvannamalai. In her Letters from Ramanasramam, Suri Nagamma has Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi give another reason for the quarrel. Parvati and Shiva played dice in which Shiva lost whereupon Parvati and her companions needled him. Tempers flared and the divine couple separated and came together later.
smaranAt kaivalya prada caraNAravindam – His lotus feet give salvation to those who just think of him (ref pallavi meaning)
taruNAdityakOTi sankAsha cidAnandam – Ever established in bliss and like ten million rising suns
karuNArasAdikandam – the source of the essence of compassion and other attributes. The term rasa also denotes liquid and as per the Upanishads, fire gave rise to water.
sharaNAgatasuravrndam – hordes of divine beings take refuge in his feet. The hill of Arunachala which is said to be Shiva Himself, is surrounded by temples dedicated to eight lingas, each worshipped by the divine being in charge of that direction.
aprAkrta tEjomaya lingam – He manifests as the extraordinary fiery linga. (ref the explanation for apItakucAmba)
atyadhbhutakaradhrtasArangam – in his wondrous hand he carries a deer. It is noteworthy that the Arunachala temple has several utsava moorthies (processional icons) of Shiva, all of them carrying deer
apramEyam – he is inestimable or immeasurable. This is a reference to the appearance of Shiva as an endless tower of fire the origin and end of which Vishnu and Brahma search for in vain. This manifestation is celebrated during Kartikai Deepam when a fire is lit on the hill, perhaps commemorating the volcanic eruption that is said to have given rise to Arunachala.
aparNAbjabhrngam – He is ever hovering like a bee around the lotus-like face of Aparna. The goddess is said to have done penance here surrounded by five fires and eschewing even leaves for sustenance. She is hence referred to as aparNa.
ArUDhottungavrShaturangam – He is on a tall bull, which he uses as his mount. Even now the silver vrshabham used at this temple during the Kartikai festival is one of the tallest.
viprOttama vishEShAntarangam – He is an especially close confidante to the foremost among Brahmins. This could be a reference to Sundaramurthy Nayanar for whom Shiva was a close friend. It could also mean Tirugnanasambandar to whom Shiva appeared as a pillar of light at Araiyaninallur and guided him from there to Tiruvannamalai. Many centuries later, Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi was guided to Tiruvannamalai by a jyoti at the same place.
vIraguruguhatAraprasangam – Ever in the company of the brave guruguha (Skanda) and consort (Uma) – depicting Shiva as somAskanda of which there are three icons in the temple
svapradIpamaulividhrtagangam – wielding the Ganga on his effulgent locks. The effulgence is another reference to light
svaprakAshajitasOmAgnipatangam – defeating in brilliance the moon, fire and the sun. We must turn again to Suri Nagamma and Bhagavan for a probable explanation. In his discourse on Uma, Bhagavan has it that Parvati once playfully shut Shiva’s two eyes thereby cutting off all light to the earth, which at once fell into turmoil. Shiva restored order by opening his third eye. A contrite Parvati did penance and was reunited with Shiva at Arunachala and He gave her half His form.
What is interesting in this song are the references to fire and light – anisham, taruNAditya, tEjOmayalingam, svapradIpa, svaprakAsha, soma, agni, patanga
It is also noteworthy that the syllable ‘ra’ keeps appearing. It is the bIja or syllable for fire. And finally, sAranga is another term for camphor, a highly flammable substance.
Note: I am no expert in Sanskrit. What little I know is what I learnt by myself. There may be errors here for which I would be grateful for corrections.