Saint Tyagaraja, one among the grand musical trinity of the Carnatic (South Indian) classical music, was a composer of very high order. The legend says that he was bestowed with the wisdom of “SĀMA Vēda” by the very sage NĀRADA. His compositions are filled with divine romance, literal articulations that melt our hearts, the musical structure (The Rāga, Tāḷa, Laya, etc.) that makes us spellbound. Many of his compositions are lost in the abyss of time. But those that are available, reminds us of his eternal existence and attune us into the domains of divine romantic ecstasy in which he was once immersed!
In this article, I choose one of his songs “Śōbhillu Saptaswara …” that extol the beauty of the 7 musical notes (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni). It is composed in Jaganmōhini Rāga and set to Rūpaka Tāḷa. There is also my flute audio (an informal presentation) attached, for the feel of the music. Just to remind you that Carnatic composition of “Kīrtana” has three parts: Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charaṇam (and sometimes a Chiṭṭa-Swaram – a blend of notes for aesthetic beauty).
Listen, read and enjoy!
The Flute Audio:
Śōbhillu Saptaswara Sundarula Bhajimpave Manasā …
- Śōbhillu = Shine; Sapta = 7; Swara = Musical Notes; Sundarula = Those having beautiful bodies or Divine Angels; Bhajimpave = Praise; Manasā = Oh my heart!
- IMPORT: “Oh my heart, keep praising and repeating the names and thoughts of those divine angels who shine in the form of 7 musical notes“.
The addressing of the song is to the heart or “Manas”. The singer who sings this songs, eventually addresses to their own heart and so the listeners.In not saying whose heart, the composer intends all of us to meditate and kindle our own hearts. Heart is the place where the “Jīva” exists, according to our scriptures. That is why the physical heart, which surrounds the “manas” is always in the state of pulsation – which is characteristic of Prāṇa/Life, called in the scriptures as “Spandana”. The whole Universe pulsates. Observe this video, for example, to see how Earth pulsates!
This pulsation is the key that suggests that a planet is alive, just like our heart beat suggests that we are alive. We know how music has intimate connection with our “manas” (hence the words like heart-touching or heart-rendering, or heart-felt, etc. came into existence). Music can influence our moods. So, the addressing here is to that “Manas”, which has its seat in our heart-center.
It seems that the 7 musical notes are angels. How so? This whole universe comes from the formula of 7, in our frame of reference (i.e., as we observe) – called “Sapta-Sapti = 7×7”. We have 7 colors (Varṇās), 7 musical notes (Swarās), 7 dhātūs (tissues) in our body, 7 groups of elements, 7 atmospheric layers (Maruts) etc, 7 planes of existence (Bhuvanās).
In our present situation, the 7 musical notes that form the base for any utterance are being mentioned. A musical note is nothing but a sound frequency. The science of cymatics suggests that the physical universe may have been formed from a primordial sound. Some of the relevant information can be seen in the following video.
Vēdic theory does not “suggest”, but “affirms” that the Universe originates from “Śabda Brahma” or the SOUND consciousness. Here, sound is not the audible sound, but the base on which the audible sound exists i.e., NĀDA. Following the 7- formula, this Universe occurs in 7 stages. The same can be also seen in other world scriptures (like bible states that creation occurred in 7 days – actually 7 stages, etc.). Each stage is called a “Vyāhṛti” – Bhu, Bhuvaḥ, Suvaḥ, etc. in the Vēda. Each musical note represents each of this stage.
When it comes to physical world, each musical note represents the audible notes of “Sa, Ri, Ga, etc.”. These Vyāhṛtīs (or sounds in our plane of comprehension) are presided by respective god-heads. Though, GOD is ONE, the manifestations are many i.e. “Ēkaṃ Sad Vipraṃ Bahudā VadaṂti” says the Vēda. Thus, Tyagaraja is saying that the seven musical notes are “Sundarās” or Divine Angels.
Nābhi Hṛt Kaṇṭha Rasana Nāsādulayaṃdu (Śōbhillu Saptaswara…)
- Nābhi = Navel; Hṛt = Heart; Kaṇṭha = Throat; Rasana = Tongue; Nāsa+Ādula+Aṃdu = In the nose and other centers;
- IMPORT: “These seven angels shine in the centers of Navel, Heart, Throat, Tongue, Nose, etc.“
In the Pallavi, Tyagaraja is addressing his heart and softly asked it to praise those lords of 7 musical notes, from which this whole cosmos occurs. In this anupallavi he is hinting us their locations in our body. Can there be a location to an angel? Don’t we have a home and yet we carry our work from office? In that situation, where are we? The primary residence is the “home”, and secondary is “office”. Similarly, the conscious principles or Angels or Dēvās take their abode in certain places of Universe/our Body and carry their functions through out the Universe/Body. These centers are considered to be very pious.
Here, in our song, Tyagaraja is saying that these seven musical notes take their abode in the centers of Navel, Heart, Throat, Nose, Tongue, etc. Navel, throat and heart belong to the domain of “Chakrās“. Tongue articulates the verbal utterance. Nose is the very agent that helps in using the “AIR” according to the need of the musical utterance. When you have a cold, you will understand the importance of NOSE in singing a song or uttering a word! So, the seven notes not only are associated to the Chakrās (more can be found at 33) The Coiled Serpent – Kundalini), but also to other centers of the body. So, in a way, Tyagaraja is suggesting that the whole body is presided by these musical notes. The usage of “Ādi or etc.” is the hint here. He could have stopped at nose or he could have mentioned some 7 places where the 7 notes exist. But he ended the pointer with “ETC” to suggest us that all the centers, as extolled by the ancient scriptures, are presided by the 7 deities!
PS: This is the fundamental principle used by “musical therapy”, which aims to cure any ailment through music. How so? Because each Swara/Note is associated with each part of the body (physical as well as subtle) through respective center, one can stimulate that part/center in order to bring back the disrupted body part into its natural state, by proper utterance of certain combination of these notes.
Also, the chakras mentioned are Navel – Maṇipura Chakra, Heart – Anāhata Chakra and Throat – Viśuddhi Chakra. From the navel of Viṣṇu came the lotus of consciousness and from it came the lord of consciousness – BRAHMA. So, the NAVEL center is symbolic for the primary stage of utterance — Desire to utter or The Ichha. The heart center is where his consort resides – LAKṢMI, the treasurer of cosmic knowledge – The Jñāna. The throat center is what utters forth the utterance or musical sound — The dynamizing agent or The Kriya. The three centers, as suggested by Tyagaraja, are nothing but the centers of “Ichha, Jñāna and Kriya”. These when associated with other centers of Prāṇa/Nose and physical utterance/Tongue, we can sing the glory of the lord in the form of divine music. This is what is being subtly suggested in this anupallavi.
Dhara Ṛk Sāmādulalō Vara Gāyatri Hṛdayamuna
Sura Bhūsura Mānasamuna Subha Tyāgarājuni Yeda
- Dhara = The Earth; Ṛk = Rig Vēda; Sāma = Sāma Vēda; Ādulalo = ETC; Vara = Pure; Gāyatri = The Gāyatri’s; Hṛdayamuna = In the heart of; Sura = Cosmic Angels; Bhū+Sura = The angels of Earth; Mānasamuna = In their Hearts; Subha = Pious; Tyāgarājuni Yeda = In the heart of Tyāgarāja.
- IMPORT: “These 7 notes also shine in the Vēdās and other wisdom branches that take their abode in physical creation. They not only shine in the heart of divine GĀYATRI but also through the hearts of cosmic and physical angels as well as Tyāgarājā’s (my) heart.“
In this Charaṇam he continues to hint us that these seven notes are not only exist in our physical body (aforementioned centers), but also exist as the root principles of the following:
- Dhara (Earth): This implies physical creation or manifested Universe. How is the creation manifested? Through periodic movements! SUN, MOON, Earth, other planets, etc., are always on the move. As observed from Earth, they all have a periodicity in their movement. This is the DIVINE or Cosmic Rhythm.This rhythm is the basis for cosmic music. What is this cosmic music? The very life that we see around, in the form of flora and fauna, is the musical symphony that allures any observer! Thus, the 7 notes of music take their abode in the physical manifestation of this creation!
- Ṛk (Rig Vēda) and Sāma (Sāma Vēda): Why is Tyagaraja saying that 7notes shine through the vēdas? Are the vēdas not books? How can musical notes shine through books? The thing is, one need to understand what Ṛk and Sāma mean. A detailed exploration can be found at 23) The Vedas. In simple terms, “RIG VĒDA” implies a LIGHT RAY (ṛk = a ray of light) or the vibrations in our vocals and “SĀMA VĒDA” implies the characteristic of sound or Pulsation. Light and sound have intimate relation as both are called “Varṇa” in sanskrit. So, is not through the trill of vocals and respiratory pulsations that we utter the music? The same also happens in cosmos i.e., anything is manifested due to the LIGHT of divine grace and the pulsation of his LIFE force/Prāṇa. Thus, the 7 notes shine through Rig and Sāma!
- Gāyatri: Again, I have already dealt with the splendors of Gāyatri in 21) Gayatri & The Mantra, please have a look. In summary, GĀYATRI is that which causes the splendors of LIFE on our Earth and in cosmos. The subject of Gāyatri mantra is the solar deity – SUN GOD. So, the heart of Gāyatri implies the heart of this solar deity who is the ONE GOD. So, it seems that these 7 notes shine through the ONE GOD himself!
- Sura, Bhūsura, Mānasamuna: There are two types of angels. Dēvās and Pitṛ Dēvās. Dēvās cause the many non-physical entities while the Pitṛ Dēvās cause the many physical entities in this creation. “Bhū Sura” is generally translated as “Brāhmins”, but I prefer to go to the roots: Bhū = Physical and Surās = Angels i.e., the angels responsible for physical creation. So, it seems that these 7 notes shine through the hearts of Dēvās as well as Pitṛ Dēvās!
- He concludes the song by saying that these 7 notes are shining through his own heart! Interesting to note is that he used “heart” every where. The seat of heart is where the LORD exists. See any scripture – The lord does not exist in head but in heart. So, in saying the heart of so many entities (vēda, dēva, etc.) HE is uniformly implying that the 7 notes are nothing but the emanations of ONE LORD who sits in the heart of EVERYTHING!
Such is the beauty and profundity of Tyāgarājā’s composition. With this approach to his lyrics, associate the music as well and see the domains into which it will take you to!