Rama Naama Vaibhavam – Saint Thyagaraja’s Musical Insights (Part2)

The great philosopher, J Krishnamoorthy, famously said: Word is NOT the thing – the description is NOT the described. JK is basically nudging us to enjoy the essence of a word and not get hooked on to the word. This message of JK is profound in its own way in the context in which he said it ( I am not going to elaborate this further here).  However, our saints emphasized just the opposite when it came to the significance of  the Lord’s name. They maintained that His name or NAAMA is greater than the Lord Himself. Alwars also echoed the same sentiment when they said: The NAAMA is greater than the NAAMI (meaning the Lord). Saint Thyagaraja was equally passionate in bringing out this message in his own inimitable style in his famous song in the raaga BILAHARI – Naa Jeevaadharama…..(You can click on the link and listen to the Raga and the kriti sung by the great maestro Maharajapuram Santanam).

The kriti starts off in great tempo and waxes eloquent on the greatness of the Lord Srirama. A simple translation of this composition goes somewhat like this: Aren’t You the very source of  my life and the fruits of my Tapas? You are the brilliance in my sight and the source of fragrance of my nose. . and isn’t your human form the embodiment of the letters of the name that I chant. And you are the flower of my worship.

The key line in this composition is the 3rd line of the charanam: “Na Japa Varna Rupama”. A simple translation of this is:  Are you the form emerging out of  the letters constituting my Rama ‘japa’?

What a profound and significant statement this is! The more one thinks about it, the more one understands the different dimensions of  the saint’s thought processes. Let us explore this statement further.  How could a form emerge out of the letters? Isn’t it counter intuitive? It may sound so, but in matters of spirituality one has to use the heart and not the Mind to understand the significance of the words used by the saints. We will get an insight if we consider the limitations of  the form as against the Rama Japa. Look at the form. Doesn’t the form, being physical, limit the attributes and characteristics of the person described? Evidently, it does. On the other hand, Rama Naama can conjure up unlimited or infinite visions of the person or the entity described. For instance, the moment a discerning devotee utters the word Rama, he is reminded at once of all the glories and great attributes of the person described – the attributes ranging from truthfulness,virtuousness, righteousness, knowledge, prowess, firm resolve etc . Each attribute will inspire a certain image and vision in the mind of the devotee. Therefore, a limiting physical form of the Lord can never capture his limitless or infinite attributes.

Put differently, the word RAMA may be considered as the bridge connecting the NIRGUNA BRAHMAN and the SAGUNA BRAHMAN. Without this bridge, the form of the SAGUNA BRAHMAN will not have much significance. In that sense the bridge (NAAMA) is greater than the NAAMI.

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 3:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rama Naama Vaibhavam – Saint Thyagaraja’s Musical Insights

In the next few posts, I will make an effort to highlight several interesting compositions of Saint Thyagaraja, which give a peek into the saint’s philosophical insights.

My first topic for discussion will be NAMA MAHATMYAM  as elaborated by Thyagaraja through his ‘kritis’. There are at least 15 compositions by the saint on this topic alone. In this post I will discuss one such composition of the saint.

What’s in a name? This was the famous question posed in the Shakespearean Play ROMEO AND JULIET. A fitting answer to this can come only from the Hindu religious scriptures. For Hindus, Name is everything. That is because in the Sanskrit language words are built on the basis of root words known as ‘dhatus’ with specific meanings. Vishnu Sahasranamam explains the concept of NAMA beautifully saying ‘YAANI NAAMANI GAUNANI’, meaning names are based on ‘Gunas’ and denote the characteristics of the person described.

As we know, Thyagaraja is a devotee of the Lord Rama and  therefore Rama NAMA is the subject of several of his ‘kritis’. In this post, I will discuss a well- known ‘kriti’ which gives the essence of ‘Rama Nama’. It is EVARANI NIRNAINTURA….. in the Raga Devamritavarshini. In this composition the saint has elevated Rama beyond Narayana & Shiva. Perhaps a better way of putting this would be that RAMA is depicted as the synthesis of the two Gods NARAYANA & SHIVA.

The ‘kriti’ starts with a question: How will you decide or figure out the essence of Sri Rama? Will you equate Him to Shiva or to Narayana? He answers saying that the two letters of the name Rama are derived from two ‘seed letters’ (Bijaksharas) – RA from OM NAMO NARAYANAYA & MA from OM NAMAH SHIVAYA. He elaborates saying RA is the ‘Jeevam’ or life for the Ashtakshara Mantra OM NAMO NARAYANAYA while MA is the ‘Jeevam’ or the very life for the Panchakshara Mantra OM NAMAH SHIVAYA. Thus Rama is the ultimate  ‘Parabrahman’ combining the essence of both the deities Narayana & Shiva. This point needs further explanation. Before I do so, listen to this beautiful  song sung by the great musician KV Narayana samy @ the following link


If you carefully listen to ‘charanam’, it gives the essence of the RAMA NAMA as already explained above. ‘Charanam says: SIVA MANTRAMUNAKU MA JEEVAMU, MADHAVA MANTRAMUNAKU RA JEEVAMU.

Now let us see how RA is the jeevam or the life of the Mantra OM NAMO NARAYANAYA. To understand how, let us remove the letter RA from the above Mantra . It will read as  NA AYANAYA, which gives a meaning just the opposite of the word NARAYANAYA. That is – NOT A PLACE OF REFUGE FOR THE ASPIRANT. Similarly, if you remove the letter MA from the Mantra OM NAMAH SHIVAYA, it will read as NA SHIVAYA. Clearly this also negates the very meaning of the MANTRA. That is, it would mean NOT FOR GOOD.

One could derive one more significance to this composition. There seems to be a subtle attempt here to bring about a spirit of unity between the  Shaivites & Vaishnavites!

The song is befittingly sung in the Raga DEVAMRITA VARSHINI, which literally means ‘Devas raining nectar’. The tune of the song is delightful to listen to, the meanings are sublime and they  are conveyed in very simple words in just 6 lines.

NOTE: This interpretation of the letters of  RAMA by the saint Thaygaraja is taken straight from the Upanishad, titled – RAMA RAHASYOPANISHAD.

Published in: on November 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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