During the just-concluded Naha Sivaratri, the question came up as to whether any Carnatic composition specifically mentions the festival. There are plenty of songs on Lord Siva but searching for any specific reference to Maha Sivaratri is a tough task. However, there is one, by Purandara Dasa.

Purandaradasa by S Rajam

The song, Siva Darusana Namagaayitu is found in the Sri Purandara Mani Malai of Madras Lalithangi and ML Vasanthakumari, set in raga Madhyamavati and tala Adi (p 100 of the 1955 edition). It is one of the rare compositions of Purandara Dasa where Siva and not Vishnu forms the theme.

A young Vasanthakumari

Listen to it here https://youtu.be/2_RLSQepVb8

But then, perhaps anticipating such comments, the composer has firmly included an admonition at the end, to which I shall come appropriately at the end of this article. For the record there are other compositions on Siva by Purandara Dasa. Chandrachooda Siva Sankara is on Lord Kumbheswara of Kumbakonam and has been sung by ML Vasanthakumari as a ragamalika – Shankarabharanam, Hamsanandi, Todi and Kamas. The last charanam, which identifies the kshetram is set in all four ragas in reverse order.

Listen to it here https://youtu.be/67rh53Plrfg

Karunanidhiye Isa is on Tiruvannamalai and the song has gained traction in recent times with a tune in Kurinji by RK Shriramkumar.

Listen to it here https://youtu.be/gvp_X3pOEaU

Siva Darusana Namagaayitu is structured as a set of devotees going to the temple of Mallikarjunaswami in Srisailam. During the composer’s lifetime, which coincided with the zenith of the Vijayanagar Empire, much expansion and construction happened at this shrine and clearly, it was a very popular place for pilgrimage. King Krishnadevaraya had visited it immediately after his victory over the Gajapatis and endowed the temple with land and much else. The shrine itself is much older, being a Padal Petra Sthalam. There is a delectable reference comparing the Lord here to the jasmine that blooms in the evening in Adi Sankara’s Sivanandalahari. Being one of the 12 jyotirlingas it also finds mention in his Dvadasa Linga Stuti. To Akka Mahadevi of the 12th century, the Lord here was her spiritual ideal. 

The temple witnesses a ten-day Brahmotsavam during MahaSivaratri, which itself is on the seventh day of this festive period. The wedding of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated that evening. It is to be remembered that this celestial marriage is the most popular legend behind the observance of this event all over the country. The composition reflects on a just concluded darshan of the Lord. ‘We have just seen the Lord on Sivaratri,” is the burden of the Pallavi. Purandara Dasa uses the word jaagarane – meaning remaining awake – which is part of the observances prescribed for this event. The anupallavi is more specific on the kshetra – “Having bathed in the sin-destroying Patalaganga, we saw the Jyotirlinga and got rid of our daily concerns.” Srisailam itself is located on the banks of the river Krishna, which at this spot is known as Patalaganga. It is considered very important to bathe in it before going to the shrine proper. Thus, by combining the reference to Jyotirlinga and the Patalaganga, Purandara Dasamakes it clear that he means Srisailam in this song and no other temple.

The charanam is most interesting as it has what Dr V Raghavan would have referred to as a ‘knot’ – it states that Siva looks at the boon-giving Saraswati and dances in joy on Nandi. The line as given in the book is Brahmana Rani (the queen of Brahma). But this is clearly either a misprint or an error that has come down the ages. The Goddess at Srisailam is Bhramaramba. She is also referred to as Bhramara Rani – the queen of the bees. Depicted as an eight-armed icon, legend has it that the Goddess took on the form of a bee to kill a demon who could not be vanquished by any two or four-armed creature. The line clearly meant Bhramara Rani which over time became Brahmana Rani. It is significant to note that on Maha Sivaratri day, just prior to the wedding, Lord Shiva here goes around on the Nandi Vahana exactly as Purandaradasa describes it. In addition, Maha Sivaratri is also associated with the Tandava of Siva, which he performs in the presence of the Goddess.

This is not an oft-heard song of Purandara Dasa and I would have never known of it had it not been for my mentor and friend, the late S Rajam. He had learnt the composition directly from Madras Lalithangi and had also sketched its theme in one of his famed musical letter pads. 

And now for the admonition – “I saw the Lord on the hill even as I meditated on Purandara Vittala who is Hari Narayana” is how the song ends. To realised souls such as Purandara Dasa such differences in form were immaterial. Who are we to obsess over such things?

This article appeared in The Hindu dated March 4, 2022

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