Sufi mystics’ ‘Fana’ & Saint Thyagaraja’s song Terateeyagaraada…

In this post I’m going explore the close similarities between the Sufi ideal of FANA and Saint Thyagaraja’s song titled TERATEEYAGARAADA. Let me explain what triggered my thought process. I usually take my morning walk in a garden nearby in Mulund, a suburb in Mumbai. This is a huge garden and it takes about 3 minutes of brisk walk to complete one round.The garden is surrounded by man-made concrete jungle on all 3 sides while the 4th side offers a grand view of a Hill. Usually, I reach the garden very early in the morning when it’s pitch dark and foggy. One cannot see the hills with any clarity. We just know it’s there. The clarity of view improves gradually with every round of walk I take and after a while as the day breaks and the fog clears, all of a sudden one would see the majestic and imposing hill facing you. Today as I was circling round the garden, I suddenly recollected a famous song of the Saint Thyagaraja – “Tera teeyagarada……”.  Let us see the connection now.

This is a composition sung in the Raga GowliPanthu. The tune is melodious and meanings are profound. (Here is  one more link to the song sung by my favourite musician MD Ramanthan). The saint is seeking the Lord’s grace for removing the screen of ignorance covering his mind. The ignorance is exactly like the darkness and the early morning fog acting as a screen to the majestic mountain. Just as the sun breaks out and clears the fog enabling us to see the hills, the Lord’s grace is being sought by the saint to clear his foggy thinking. The ignorance is turning the mind into a veritable hell of anger, jealousy and arrogance, which effectively diverts us from our pursuits of absolute happiness, bliss, freedom, Nirvana or Moksha. The saint further elaborates the point with a number of interesting metaphors. For instance he compares the ignorant mind to that of a hungry fish falling prey to an angler’s hook. It’s like darkness at the base of a lamp and so on .
Now let me say something about  a Sufi mystic’s ideal of ‘Fana’. It’s the Sufi term for annihilation, destruction or extinction of the self with its negative values. And it’s the very same annihilation of our ego-centric value system that the Saint Thyagaraja talks about in the composition. In such a state where one achieves complete freedom from the arrogant self, a Sufi is said to have attained oneness with Allah. It’s the same thing as Nirvana in Budhism, Moksha in Hinduism or Mukhti in Sikhism.

Viewed in a completely different context, the composition offers yet another insight. Let us try to understand why the Saint is seeking the grace of God to remove the screen of negative qualities? Because the origin or source of many of the negative qualities are not even known to us. While Hindu scriptures describe this as ‘Vasanas’ or Kashaaya, Western psychologists refer to this as the UNCONSCIOUS. The latter term is an invention of the famous psychologist Carl Jung who talks extensively about Personal Unconscious & Collective Unconscious. According to Carl Jung, the Unconscious keeps projecting these negative qualities without our knowledge and is the cause of our misery. While a Jungian would advocate psychotherapy and counselling, a Hindu would look upon the Lord (Eswara or Narayana) as the psychotherapist and invoke His blessings and grace to destroy the negative qualities of the self.