Monday, November 16, 2015


Articles by Rajani Arjun Shankar and Veena Venkatramani

Veenavaadhini’s Trip to Palani and Tiruchengodu - Veena Venkatramani

On the night of 21st of August, a band of people left from the Chennai Central, making our way to Pazhani,

travelling on the Pazhani Express. Comprising people from the ages of 10 to 60, all 15 of us were geared up for

the two day visit to the temples of Pazhani, Tiruchengode and Namakkal. In keeping with custom, our
teachers, Jeyaraaj sir and Jaysri ma’am had planned the annual trip of our Veenavaadhini school. We visit a

different temple each year, and sing compositions of Muthuswamy Dikshitar which are particular to those

locations. This time too, a week before the trip, we had learnt the songs that were to be sung this time, and

had a final group rehearsal as well. We were all set to go.

We reached Pazhani at 7 the next morning, and made our way to Ganesh Lodge. The lodge, albeit small, makes

up for its size by having a wonderful view of the temple atop the hill. It is bang opposite the foot of the Pazhani

malai, and if you’re lucky enough to have a room facing that side, you can see the temple at any time from

your room as well. After a quick breakfast, we dressed up in the chosen colour for the day, purple, and set out.

Some of us had already begun rehearsing the songs that we would be singing under our breath, looking up

lyrics on the internet, or in our notebooks. There are two ways to get on top of the hill, on which the temple

stands. One is by a 4-seater cable car, and the other would be to walk up the mountain by foot. Every day

witnesses several of ardent devotees making their way up the temple, after getting off to a good start by

praying at the Pillaiyar kovil that is built at the foot of the ascending steps. Since we had elderly people

amongst us, and were afraid that the sun would rise soon and make us sweat it out, we decided to go up by

the cable cars. And it was a good decision. The view that the cable car affords us is fantastic. In a 5 minute

journey, you can see the entire town surrounding the hill, and the enveloping Western Ghats in the distance,

and the sight of lush greenery makes a good start to the pilgrimage. As you reach the top, you can also see the

nearby Idumban hill.

Legend has it that Idumban was an asura, who was taking two hills from the northern Himalayas, slung across

his shoulders. With Shiva’s abode in the north in Kailasam, it was believed that the world was tilting to the

north, and thus to retain this balance, he was carrying these hills to the South. On his way, he stopped at

Pazhani for a brief rest. Once rested, when he got up to continue his journey, he found that he could not lift

one of the hills. On a closer observation, he found Murugan, who had just left his parents’ house in anger after

being fooled out of the Gnanapazham, was sitting atop the hill. Humbled at being defeated by a lad after the

ensuing fight, he left the hills as they were and became an ardent devotee of Murugan himself. As the Pazhani

Murugan temple was built atop one hill, a temple for Idumban was built on the other, and can be seen directly


We reached the temple walls and entered the sannidhi of the God. We were told that the “aarathi” would take

place in half an hour. The sastrigal of the inner sanctorum desired us to sing songs as we waited, and thus we

sang, “Sri Guruguha” in Devakriya, “Saravana Bhava ennum” in Shanmugapriya.

Pazhani murugan is depicted as a hermit, with a stick, the dandham in his hand, and is called Dandayudhapani.

It is said that the idol of the God here is made by Bogar muni, on the 18 rishis of lore. An ardent devotee of

Murugan, he made the idol out of 9 poisonous substances, known as the Navapashanam, which when

combined together, form a medicinal substance. The priests here perform paalabhishekham to the idol and

the milk when drunk is supposed to provide a cure for various maladies. Over the years, with various

abishekhams, the idol has somewhat diminished in size, since it is made out of herbs, and not out of metal.

As the aarathi was performed, we sang Dandayudhapanim, composed by Dikshitar, in Anandabhairavi. We

also sang two tiruppugazh, Kariya periya in ragam Mohanam, and Apakaram, in the ragam Chakravaham.

Next, we saw the shrine built to Bogar muni, with the maragathalingam, and other idols that the muni is

supposed to have worshipped. According to history, the muni is supposed to have entered a cave below the

shrine one day when he felt he was nearing his end, and rumoured never to have come back. He is said to have

attained Jeevasamadhi in the cave below. It is also said that the cave has a direct tunnel to the shrine of

Murugan. The muni is said to have built 9 idols of Murugan, but only one is known to priests.

Having finished a pradakshanam of the temple, and buying the famous Panchamritam, some of us decided to

go back down the hill by cable car, while some of the others walked down the steps. The walk down takes

around 20 minutes, and is quite tiring for somebody who is not used to exercise, as the steps are plenty in

number and a little steep. The road back to the hotel was littered with shops selling all kinds of odds and ends,

and several juice shops, intended to help travelers beat the heat.

We ate our lunch at a restaurant called Nalapakam. The meal here is typical elai sapaadu, and is a treat to the

taste buds. The food is served over several courses, and the paruppu podi deserves a special mention. It  was

served with ghee, and very soon all of us were craving for more. We were served rice with sambar, rasam,

podi, morkozhambu and curd rice with a strong vetthakozhambu, and the entire meal was unforgettable. How

much ever we may delight in other cuisines, there is nothing like well-made South India “meals”.

That evening was spent in some of us taking rest and some of us shopping, and soon we had to leave for Erode

by road. We left at 5 p.m., and reached Erode by 8, had dinner, and slept, resting ourselves for the temples to

be visited the next day.

We left from Erode at 8 in the morning, all dressed in yellow. The journey from Erode to Tiruchengode was an

hour long, and we played a Carnatic antakshari as we went, to pass the time. The temple of Tiruchengode is

dedicated to Ardhanareeshwar, an avatar, the right half of which is Shiva, and the left, his consort Parvathi.

According to history, one of the 18 rishis, Bringhimunivar, was an ardent devotee of Shiva. Seeing his immense

devotion, Parvathi requested Shiva to make her a part of him so that the muni would worship her as well. To

accede to her request, Shiva took the form of Ardhanareeshwarar, a half-man, half-woman avatar. The muni,

however, turned himself into a bee, and continued to circle just the face of Shiva. An angry Parvathi cursed the

muni to hell.  Although the muni’s curse was later on broken, that is a story for another temple.

The temple atop a plateau, and overlooks a vast plain, surrounded by ranges of hills. At the time we went, a

slight mist was beginning to blanket the surroundings, giving the entire area a slight chill. A colourful gopuram

tops the temple, with figurines of various gods and goddesses. In order to enter the temple, we had to

descend several steps. At the top of the steps, the gopuram is almost at eye level. This makes it all the more

noticeable, unlike other temples where one has to crane one’s neck and look up in order to appreciate the

beauty of the gopuram. The walls of the temple were crooked, and a quaint sky blue. To the left, there was a

flight of steps leading back up to the hill top. To our surprise, there was no crowd at the temple, which meant

we could get a longer Darshan of the idol.

At the entrance to the sannidhi, there is an idol of Nari Ganapathy. The story is that Pillaiyar turned into a lady

to assist Ambal when she visited the area, and is thus known as Nari Ganapathy.

Inside the sannidhi, the walls are decorated with colourful paintings explaining the story of Bringhimunivar and

Ardhanareeshwarar. We were allowed the privilege of sitting just outside the sanctum sanctorum, allowing us

to have an extremely close look of the idol. The face of the idol is substituted by a lingam. There is a very

visible gold thali around the neck of the idol, symbolizing the female half. The rest of the idol is draped in a

white veshti. While the sastrigal performed the arathi, we sang “Ardhanareeshwaram” in the ragam

Kumudakriya, a composition of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, in roopakam. Completing the arathi, the priest then

lifted the veshti of the idol, and allowed us a glimpse of the legs of the idol. It seemed to be made of bronze,

and had seemingly three legs. Only then were we explained that the middle “leg” was the line separating the

veshti and the saree of the God and the Goddess. At that moment, it felt like a rare sight to be lucky enough to

behold, and this was echoed in the cries of all the devotees who had gathered in the sannidhi. After tasting the

teertham, we made our way out of the shrine. We next visited the shrine of Adiseshan, accompanied by his

wives on either side, and flanked by Rahu and Kethu below. The priest here said that praying to this particular

shrine is known to relieve and cure people with all kinds of pains and illnesses. Next was a smaller shrine of

Kala Bhairavam, the fierce manifestation of Shiva, wearing a garland of skulls, and smeared with ash. The eyes

of this particular idol seemed to be emanating anger and ferocity. There was also a shrine for

“Chengottuvelavar”, named after the Tiruchengodu region. An unusual feature about this idol was that, unlike

other idols of Murugan where he holds the emblem of the rooster in his left hand, in this idol, he is shown

holding the rooster itself in his left hand. The form of the rooster was clearly visible in the idol’s hands, as the

priest inside lifted the veshti of the idol to show us this. We did a pradakshanam of the entire temple, and

three-quarters of an hour having flown past without anyone noticing, we decided to leave.

It was then that we noticed another hill adjacent to the temple, with a Pillaiyar kovil on top. The hill seemed

almost double the height of this hill, and with no method of going up except by our own feet, we were told

that the trek up and down takes an hour and half. Due to a lack of time, we decided against going up to the

temple, and to continue on to Namakkal, with a desire to come back and visit the Uchi Pillaiyar at a later date.

The ride from Tiruchengode to Namakkal was another hour. Namakkal is famous for its temples for Anjaneyar

and Narasimhan, and it was these temples that we had planned to visit. We first made our way to the

Anjaneyar temple. Hundreds of people thronged the entrance of the temple, and we were unable to make our

way inside. However, someone from our group knew one of the priests inside, and thus once again luck

favoured us and we were able to get inside from a back entrance and sit in front of the shrine. The idol of

Hanuman is 18 feet tall and imposing, and his arms and folded as though in prayer. The eyes of the idol are

supposedly focused towards the feet of the idol of Narasimhan, in His temple at the opposite end of the road.

Unlike other temples where the idol is generally draped in a veshti or a saree, this is not the case here. There is

also no gopuram for the temple. On either side of the idol, there are wooden steps which have built for priests

to be able to climb to the top, when they need to perform abishekam and other rituals.

As we sat down, we saw hundreds of milk packets piled up at one side. And it was growing, as several devotees

offered more packets of milk. Soon, a few priests brought in huge barrels and buckets and began emptying the

packets of milk in at the rate of 1 packet in 2 seconds. It was efficiency at its peak. In the meantime, one of the

other priests climbed to the top and performed abishekam with sandalwood.  As it all poured down, the priest

proceeded to clean the idol in preparation for the paal abishekam to be performed next. As this happened, we

sang “Ramachandram Bhavayami” in Vasantha, “Anjaneyam sada”, a nottuswaram composed by Dikhsitar, and

“Veera Hanumate”.

Once the barrels and buckets were full, some of them were hoisted up onto the wooden slab to the three

priests who had gathered above, while some were retained below. Finally, all was ready. As one, the priests

poured the milk down the idol. It was a sight to see the entire 18 feet tall idol covered in white as they

continuously bathed the idol in milk, from the top and the ground. Soon, the entire floor was covered in milk.

All around, you could hear murmurs of the Hanuman Chalisa. We could not, however, stay for the entire ritual,

since there was somebody waiting outside to take us to the Narasimhan temple as well. On our way out, some

of us made the mistake of going out not the way we came, but through the front entrance of the temple.

Hundreds of devotees had gathered near the shrine, with bottles and other utensils, to take the milk with

which the abishekam had been performed. The milk was been let out through a pipe from the shrine and had

an outlet at the side. This was a balm to some of us who were a little upset at the quantum of milk that was

being used for the ritual, and what we thought would not be used for anything afterwards. With the number of

people that had gathered and the size of the temple, a stampede ensued and it was an effort to elbow one’s

way out through the crowd and come out of the temple. Only when we came out did we learn that the paal

abishekam ritual occurs on the first Sunday of each month, and we found ourselves once again extremely lucky

to have been there on such a day.

The Narasimhan kovil was at the other end of the road, with shops on the left side of the road, and the houses

on the right. One of our group members knew someone who could take us around the temple and explain the

legends to us. Behind the temple towered a huge hill, with a fort atop. We learnt that this was the Namakkal

fort, and had a Varadarajaperumal kovil inside. However, this was open only in the evening, which meant that

however inviting the climb looked, we would not be able to enter inside, since it was only late morning.

The first shrine we visited was that of Namagiri Lakshmi. According to residents of Namakkal, this goddess is

the reason for the mathematical genius of Ramanujam and was the one who initiated him into it. Those who

prayed to her would succeed in their academic ventures. Since most of our group consisted of students, we

prayed very ardently at this shrine. Next we made our way to the main shrine, for which the temple is known.

The sannidhi was a little dim, and extremely cool, as we went inside in a line. The walls contained sculptures of

various forms of Vishnu, like the Ananthapadmanabhaswamy avatar, and all the avatars in the Dashavataram,

in black. One avatar which caught our eye was the Varaha avataram, which was depicted with all the four

vedas sprouting of the God’s mouth. In all the sculptures, the lines of eyes, the mouth, the vibuthi, and the

veshti were drawn in saffron paste, thus highlighting them. In the centre shrine, was the form of Narasimhan.

The idol was flanked on the right by Suryan and Shiva, and on the left by Chandran and Brahma. Thus, all of

the trinity were present in this shrine. This is the reason that there are no temples for Shiva built in Nammakal.

Since there was a long line of people waiting behind us, we could not linger and admire the sculptures for long,

and we had to leave.

After a quick meal, we made our way to our final temple stop, in Bhavani. Bhavani is another small town in the

area, and has a temple, built on the banks of the meeting point of three rivers, namely Kaveri, Bhavani, and

Amiruthavahini (which supposedly sprouts from below the shrine of the God). The temple is built in honour of

Shiva, who is called Sangameshwarar here.

On reaching the temple, we first made our way to the river bank, at the point where all three rivers converge,

and dipped our feet in the cool water. All around, devotees were dipping themselves entirely, while the

children frolicked in the water. Next we made our way to the shrine for Goddess Vedanayaki. The shrine was

inside a circular room, and standing with our back to the Goddess, you could see the river Kaveri exactly

opposite. To the right of the shrine, we found a locked room, with an unjal inside.  The wall to the right had a

tablet, describing a very interesting story behind the cradle.

Back in the days of the British rule, a certain British officer who administered this area, was once visited in his

dream at night by the form of a young girl, who beckoned him outside his house urgently. Just as he woke up

and rushed outside his house, a raging fire emerged and his house collapsed. After the chaos subsided and he

turned to look for and thank the girl, he found her missing. Determined to find her, he made enquiries and the

temple priests told him that it was the Goddess Vedanayaki who had saved him. To make sure, he decided to

lay a vigil at night. He cut three holes in the temple wall opposite the shrine of the Goddess and lay watch at

night. He saw the form of the Goddess emerging and saw that it was the same girl who had saved him. To

thank her, he then gifted her with an ivory cradle, the very cradle which we saw hung in the locked room.

Having prayed at the shrine of Sangameshwarar, we saw that clouds were gathering, and rushed to make our

way back to the hotel. Once back, we ate our lunch, and then went to pack our bags and get ready to leave in

the evening for the station. We rested for a bit, and then ate dinner at a nearby Adyar Ananda Bhavan,

and then made our way to the station. All of us were happily tired by this time, and having gotten on to the train, we

just slept. We reached Chennai the next morning at around 5 a.m. Since it was a Monday,

and each of us had to get started for the week with office, school, college, etc., we rushed back home, after

bidding everyone a brief goodbye.

This pilgrimage is certainly a must-do for people, even if they are not extremely devout. The landscapes, the

sculptures, architecture and stories behind each temple are interesting by themselves. To sign off, our trip was

an extremely memorable one, and the images of the various idols, gopurams, shrines, etc., will not be easy to


Veenavaadhini’s Yatra to Palani and Tiruchengodu - Rajani Arjun Shankar

If there is one god who is loved and adored by almost anyone in Tamil Nadu and whose shrine is

replicated in dozens of cities across several countries, and whose unique temple practices like the

Padayatra or Kavadi or Abhishekams are known and followed by people in all these shrines, it must the

young child-god Murugan, known as Dandayudhapani, in Palani. The town of Palani resonates with the

fervor of Murugan devotees who throng the place in hundreds on a normal day and in thousands at

other times. It is a place in worship for at least two thousand years, being mentioned in

Tirumurugattruppadai, a Sangam period poem.

So it is most fitting that Muthuswamy Dikshitar, whose birth and name are closely connected to

Murugan, whose very signature “Guruguha” was in honour of this god, should visit this sacred place and

compose two Kritis, one at the hill temple, and one at the temple called as Tiruvavinankudi that is at the

base of the hill, about half a kilometre away.  We at Veenavaadhini were fortunate to visit these two

temples, and sing the Kritis composed by Dikshitar in those shrines. The Kritis are “Sharavanabhava” in

Revagupti and “Dandayudhapanim” in Ananda Bhairavi.

We left Chennai by train (Palani Express) and reached Palani on Saturday, 22nd August 2015. We reached

our hotel, and in less than an hour, we were on our way to Tiruvavinankudi.  A small but beautiful

temple, it gets its name from the five celestials who worshipped Murugan here – Tiru (Lakshmi), A

(Kamadhenu), Inan (Surya), Ku (Bhumi) and Ti (Agni). The main deity is called “Kuzhandhai Velayudha

Swamy” and he is seated on his vehicle, the peacock. As described by Dikshitar in the Revagupti Kriti, he

holds Varada and Abhaya Mudras with one pair of hands. The other pair holds his usual weapons –

Shakti and Vajra. There are many other shrines and the temple has some very beautiful trees- an Amla

(Nelli) tree that is the Sthala Vriksha and also large Nagalinga and Kadamba trees.

We went up the hill by cable car, and waited near the Utsavar (Shanmukhar) shrine for some time.

During this time, we sang several songs – Shri Guruguha (Devakriya), Valli Devasenapate (Khamas),

Saravanabhava Ennum (Shanmukhapriya) and some Tiruppugazh songs. When we finally reached the

Moolavar (main sanctum), we had but a few minutes to quickly sing the long Anandabhairavi Kriti. We

then worshipped the Samadhi of Bhogar, the Siddhar who made the beautiful idol of Dandayudhapani

with Navapashanam - 9 different herbal/mineral extracts. Hence the milk, Sandal paste and

Panchamritam etc. that come into contact with the idol of the lord are highly curative. Some of us

walked down the steps while others took the cable car down.

Later that day, we covered the hundred-odd kilometres from Palani to Erode by road and spent the

night at Erode, which is a business centre and a prosperous town. The next morning we left around 8am

to Tiruchengode, which is around 30 kilometres away. The temple is on a large hill, although one need

not climb the 1300 steps to reach it. Like Tiruttani, it is possible to drive up to the temple.

The Tiruchengode temple is equally famous for the Ardhanareeshwara shrine and that of Murugan,

known as Sengottu Velar here. Dikshitar has composed the hauntingly beautiful Kriti in Kumudakriya

“Ardhanareeshwaram Aradhyami” here. We were lucky that just when we went, there weren’t many

people in the temple. We were allowed by the priests to sing the Kriti in the main sanctum.

Ardhanareeshwara stands tall and well-adorned, a perfect blend of feminine grace and masculine

stateliness, the latter emphasized by the Danda he holds with his right hand. The idol is Svayambhu and

there is a spring with a perennial flow of water under the feet of the deity. The idol of Sengottuvelar is

unique too. The “Vel” is carved in stone, and Murugan is cradling his rooster between his left hand and

thigh. This is visible in portraits, but to see it in the Moolavar’s form, we have to request the priest to

move aside  the lord’s Veshti to show us the bird nestled there. (The priest obliged us kindly.) There is a

large image of Adisesha, who worshipped here. This is why the hill is called Sarpagiri or Nagachalam.

Arunagirinathar in particular uses this description in his songs and Anubhuti verses.

Probably due to the snake connection, this shrine is visited by couples praying for progeny. Vallimalai

Swamigal was born to his parents after offering prayers here and his childhood name is Ardhanari.

Since we had the day at Erode, we also visited Namakkal and saw the famous Hanuman temple, and the

Narasimhar temple. The latter has the shrine of Namagiri Thayar, the beloved Ishta-Devata of

Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The priest told the children to pray well to do well in their studies,

for this is a goddess who solved complicated mathematical problems for the great man in his dreams.

Later that day, we visited the Sangameshwara temple which is situated right at the confluence of the

Bhavani and Kaveri rivers. One can see the waters of the Kaveri, from the sanctum. The goddess here,

Vedanayaki, has an ivory cot gifted by the British Collector William Karo in gratitude for saving his life.

The goddess assumed the form of a little girl, woke him up and brought him out of a collapsing

bungalow. There is a lovely, large Ilandhai (Badari) tree in the temple as the Sthala Vriksha.

This covers the Kongu Nadu temples visited by Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Many more temples in the Chola

and Pandya lands beckon!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Navarathri musical get together

In keeping with our yearly customs, our gurus at Veenavaadhini, Sri Jeyaraaj Krishnan and Smt. Jaysri Jeyaraaj Krishnan are arranging a musical evening, on the 21st of October, on the occasion of Saraswathi Poojai. Each of our students will be performing for a short duration, rendering a variety of kritis by different composers. The programme schedule is as follows:

3:00-3:10 p.m.- Anish
3:10-3:20 p.m.-Karpagam
3:20-3:30 p.m. - Sujaya & Shivani
3:30-3:40 p.m.- Anjana
3:40-3:50 p.m.- Sai Shruthi & Vedhavalli
3:50-4:00 p.m.- Shashank
4:00-4:10 p.m.- Smt. Mangala & Smt. Geetha (Veenai duet)
4:10-4:20 p.m.- Smt. Prabha Vijayaraghavan
4:20-4:30 p.m.-  Shrinidhi
4:30-4:40 p.m.- Archana & Vinitha
4:40-4:50 p.m.- Shymala Thyagarajar
4:50-5:00 p.m.- Smt. Geetha (Vocal)
5:00-5:10 p.m.- Sabarish & Vishnu
5:10-5:20 p.m.- Sanjana
5:20-5:30 p.m.- Samyuktha
5:30-5:40 p.m.- Krishna
5:40-5:50 p.m.- Aparna (Veena)
5:50-6:00 p.m.- Shraddha
6:00-6:10 p.m.- Pranav
6:10-6:20 p.m.- Aishwarya Mahesh
6:20-6:30 p.m.- Aditya
6:30-6:40 p.m.- Swatha Kannan
6:40-6:50 p.m.- Rajini Arjun Shankar
6:50-7:00 p.m.- Varsha
7:00-7:30 p.m.- Veena
7:30-8:00 p.m.- Meenakshi & Kamakshi

All rasikas are welcome to gather and encourage the budding performers! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014


The divine music composer Nadajyoti  Muthuswami Dikshitar  has visited many holy places all over the country, and it has been our endeavour at Veenavaadhini to follow his footsteps to the same places and  sing the Kritis he has composed at each shrine.  Towards this end, we made a recent trip
to Chidambaram and some places around it.

The first town we went to was Tiruvenkadu.  A  vast and beautiful temple, venerated as Adi
Chidambaram, and adored by  many saints, this temple has become of great pilgrim interest in recent
times, due to its place as the Budhan (Mercury) shrine among the Navagraha temples around
Kumbhakonam.  Budhan has an exclusive sanctum and looks extremely charming (is he not “Roopena Apratimam” – unparalleled in beauty according to Vyasa?) in his green garment etc. But we are going ahead of the order. The lord of the Kshetra is Shiva, Shvetaranyeshwara, who seems  happy to leave the crowds and fuss to Budhan, and is enshrined  in blissful quiet , in the company of  goddess Brahmavidyambika, she of the unique  name, giver of divine wisdom.  Another remarkable feature in this temple is the shrine of Aghora murthy, a valorous form taken by Shiva, identified with Veerabhadra created by him, to destroy Daksha and his sacrifice. His striking pose, standing with a Trishulam across two of his many hands, is awe-inspiring.  In these four shrines , we sang the following Kritis composed by Diskhitar here :
1. Shwetaranyeshwaram – Arabhi – Adi
2. Brahmavidyambike – Kalyani – Adi
3. Rudrakopa-jata-virabhadram – Rudrapriya – Rupakam
4. Budham Ashrayami – Natakurinji – Mishra Jhampa

Chidambaram is one of the most revered and beloved temples of Shiva in the country. Its importance in the Saiva tradition is immeasurable. It is the foremost among the Pancha Bhuta Kshetras, being the
subtlest of elements – ether. This is the “Hridaya” (heart) sthanam of the universe, and the great dance that the gods and sages watched awestruck, is the heartbeat of the universe.  Little wonder that his form as the cosmic dancer enthralls people all over the world.

The large temple precincts, with the Sivaganga tank, a separate temple for goddess Shivakamasundari, and many  Sabhas, need  several hours to  see fully. The gold-thatched Sabha, where the lord provides us a glimpse of his wondrous dance, is right next to the sanctum of Govindaraja,  blissfully reclining on Adisesha,  enjoying the dance. The feeling of seeing the two great gods in cordial association is indescribable. That is of course, only for us mere mortals. Dikshitar captures is beautifully , when he describes Govindaraja as “Deva-kanaka-sabhesha-hitaya”. That phrase sums up the essence of  Surati, as well as of Chidambaram, which is one of the  Thevara Sthalams, as well as the 108 Divyadesams. We sang the following compositions here:
1. Shivakameshwarim – Kalyani – Adi
2. Chidambara Natarajam – Kedaram – Adi
3. Chintayeham  Sada Chitsabhanayakam – Nottuswaram
4. Govindarajaya Namaste – Surati –Rupakam
5. Santatam Govindarajam – Nottuswaram

The following day, we visited Vaideeswaran Koil. This temple is intimately connected with the
birth of our beloved Dikshitar, for it was here that his parents, who were yearning for progeny,
were blessed by a vision of the goddess, Balambika,  in their dreams, and were promised a
divine child. The lord is  worshipped as the master physician (Vaidya-natha) and the sacred tank 
here , Siddhamrita Teertham, is  believed to have special healing properties. Subrahmanya,
affectionately known as Muthayya or Selva-muthu-kumara-swamy ( after whom his parents
named Muthuswami Dikshitar ) is the object of many Kritis, padams, javalis and literary works of
several poets and saints. Balambika is lovingly called Thaiyalnayaki, Thaiyal being theTamil word
for a lovely young girl – Bala. Thus every sanctum here is unique.

As the lord is the great physician, the refuge of all those seeking  good health,  it was natural
that we had to wait patiently for our appointment with him. We sang these Kritis here :
1. Sri Vaidyanatham –  Athana - Adi
2. Bhajare Re Chittha  Balambikam – Kalyani – Mishra Chapu
3. Kumara Swaminam  - Asaveri – Adi
4. Angarakam Ashrayami – Surati - Rupakam

On our way back to Chennai , we visited the sprawling and serene temple at Sirkazhi, talking about the life of the Saint Gnanasambandar , who was born here and seeing the temple tank on whose banks he was fed the milk of wisdom  by Parvati and Shiva. We climbed up to visit the unique shrines of Uma Maheswara and Sattanathaswami, wondering if Muthuswami Dikshitar had not visited this lovely and important Kshetra, and if those Kritis were lost to us.

We came back, with  memories of charming temples and melodious Kritis, grateful for our good fortune.


Sunday, June 15, 2014



Veenavaadhini Sampradaya Sangit Trust held a Muthuswami Dikshitar Jayanti Veenotsavam at
Arkay Convention Centre on 26 and 27 April, to celebrate the great Carnatic composer’s 439th
anniversary which fell earlier that month. The festival featured three veena concerts over the two
evenings. The veena being a divine instrument and Dikshitar himself being a ‘vainika gayaka’ (veena
player and singer), there could not have been a more apt choice of instrument to pay tribute to the
legend who is one-third of the famous Carnatic Music Trinity.

The festival was inaugurated by veteran veena vidwan Smt. Padmavathy Ananthagopalan, who later
praised Veenavaadhini’s efforts and the day’s artistes in a speech. The first concert was a recital by a
Veenavaadhini student, Kum. Veena Venkatramani. Her setlist consisted of many Dikshitar gems such as ‘Swaminathena’ in Brindavanasaranga and ‘Matangi Sri Rajarajeswari’ in Ramamanohari, rendered in their pristine form as handed down along the Dikshitar sishya parampara. The main piece of the concert was ‘Brihadeeswaraya’ in Sankarabharanam, again a Dikshitar masterpiece. It was preceded by a crisp ragam and tanam. The youngster truly lived up to her name by treating the rasikas assembled at the hall that evening to some quality music. She was skilfully supported on the mridangam by Sri R Ramkumar.

This was followed by a concert of accomplished veena vidwan P Vasanthkumar. He, too, filled his
concert with marvelous Dikshitar compositions, such as ‘Panchashat Peetharoopini’ in Devagandharam and ‘Paradevata’ in Dhanyasi. His choice of main piece was the famous ‘Sri Subrahmanyaya Namaste’ in Kambhoji. He concluded with Dikshitar’s Chaturdasa Ragamalika, a composition in 14 ragas, ‘Sri Viswanatham’. It is very beautiful but requires much skill to play or sing due to the rapid raga changes, and is hence seldom heard in concerts. The vidwan’s experience shone through in the whole concert and was established in the final number. The concert was enhanced by Sri K R Ganesh’s melodious mridangam.

The second day’s agenda had Veena duo Smt Jaysri Jeyaraaj Krishnan and Sri JT Jeyaraaj Krishnan
present their much-awaited annual thematic concert. This year, the theme was ‘Sri Krishna Charitram
through Dikshitar Kritis’. Earlier themes have included The Ramayana through Dikshitar Kritis and
Unique Names from the Lalita Sahasranamam found in Dikshitar Kritis, among others. The full house at Arkay Convention Centre was thrilled by nine rare Dikshitar Kritis on Lord Krishna. Ragas covered ranged from well-known Mohanam (Gopika Manoharam) and Kambhoji (Gopalakrishnaya Namaste) to rarely-heard Gopikavasantam (Balakrishnam Bhavayami) and Isamanohari (Ananta Balakrishna). The narration was by Smt Rajani Shankar, who introduced the Kritis and their meanings, explaining how they covered the whole story of Krishna from his birth and his pranks as a child, to his famed Rasalila with the Gopikas, to his becoming the king of Dwaraka and his expounding the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. The narration threw light on many stories referred to and on the choice of words and clever raga mudras used by the composer. It must be noted that the concert structure was not different from the concert format – the songs chosen just had a particular theme. The concert was a pleasing experience. Smt Jaysri sang the words along with the veena at specific points to demonstrate their flow, reinforcing Dikshitar’s credentials as a peerless Vaggeyakara (composer of both melody and lyric). In no way did the importance given to lyric mean compromise on the manodharma aspect of the concert – the alapanas were of a high calibre, including those of less-known ragas like Nasamani (followed by Sri Krishno Maam Rakshatu). The ragam and thanam in Kambhoji was one to remember and swarams in Mohanam flowed like the Yamuna with the Lord playing on its banks. The chief guest, Sri NV Subramaniam, had nothing but praise for the artistes. In all, the festival was an enjoyable one, proving that the veena’s popularity is in no danger and exposing listeners to a vast number of Dikshitar Kritis. One hopes for a similarly successful event next year.


Sunday, March 2, 2014


In continuation of efforts already taken to visit sacred temples noted for songs composed by Nadajyothi Muthuswamy Dikshitar during his pilgrimage, Smt Jaysri and Sri Jeyaraaj Krishnan on 29th July 2012 collected 24 passengers to visit Tiruttani, the holy shrine where Muthuswamy Dikshitar had the unique privilege of encountering Lord Subramanya in the form of an elderly devotee on the way to the temple situated in the hilltop. The old man placed sugar candy in Dikshitar’s tongue and on Sri Dikshitar’s realization of the presence of Lord Muruga instantaneously poured forth the unmatched song Sri Nathadi Guruguho Jayathi Jayathi and later on Manasa Guruguha Roopam Bhajare, the two masterpieces of Dikshitar. The intention of the party was to sing at least these two songs before the presiding deity in the temple.

The journey started on the early morning of 29th July 2012 at 5 a.m. engaging big cabs and proceeded to Thiruttani nonstop and arrived at the foothill at 8 am, and the main temple at 9 a.m.  after some of us had breakfast.  It was a crowded day at this place, being a Sunday and also an auspicious day. We were led to the sanctum sanctorum thanks to a priest in the temple. The senior students of Veenavaadhini under the leadership of Smt Jaysri Jeyaraaj Krishnan and Sri Jeyaraaj reproduced these two songs mentioned above with devotion, clarity and feelings using a Tanpura for sruti support. It gave immense satisfaction to all assembled there particularly the teacher and the taught. They were asked to sing one more song and the group happily rendered Sri Guruguha in the raga Devakriya. We then waited for the Prasad and came around the temple. On reaching the car park, we were exposed to freshly plucked amrit fruit and other articles like peacock feathers etc which would give pleasure to the owner and would be worthy of being exhibited.  A panoramic view from all corners of the hilltop was exciting.

The next stoppage was at a Vishnu temple in Nemili, some few kilometers away from Thiruttani. Legend has it that the lord assumed a sitting posture here to block with his back the river which threatened to submerge the village. A lovely serene atmosphere.  All the more, the learned priest made all the difference by enriching our knowledge with his facts and figures.

We had heard of a Veera Anjaneya temple in Nallatur on the border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and on the bank of the river Palar, and this temple was on the “to be seen” list. Quite a long journey from the Vishnu temple, but an imposing figure of Hanuman in a meditative pose, which in itself was 10 feet in height and was placed on another 10 feet high platform, was visible from a distance of ½ kilometer. At the entrance was this statue and leading to the main temple was a pathway prepared using marble stone and covered by a dome like construction. We prayed at the moorthy worshipped there. A few of us helped ourselves with some with some water and cool drinks to quench our thirst.

From the Hanuman temple we were on the road to the temple of Mahishasura Mardhini in Maddur not far away from the national highway.  This idol is reported to have been dug up recently (about 50 years back) when railway construction was going on in this area. We came to the other side of the railway crossing and located the temple. It was crowded and only a few minutes were left for closing the gate for the morning session. We were fortunate to have a fine Darshan of the goddess. There was a neat passage these with prepared lanes to guide the devotees. We were told that the neem tree situated in the temple premises had leaves which did not have the bitter taste. We sampled the leaves and they were sweet!

Thus in one stroke, Jaysri and Jeyaraaj Krishnan treated us to a fine showing of four temples. “A wonderful trip!” was everyone’s verdict. The clock read 2:30 pm when we reached Mylapore tank. We dispersed after a delicious lunch at a nearby Hotel.  Our memorable pilgrimage with Dikshitar to Tiruttani came to a close.

This article was written by my father-in-law Late Sri J Thyagarajan. -Jaysri JeyaraajKrishnan

Friday, October 25, 2013


Veenavaadhini celebrated its 6th Anniversary as a musical evening, on Saturday 27th July, 2013 at Sastri Hall, Mylapore, Chennai. While students and parents were in attendance quite early, the Chief Guest Sri T.T.Narendran (Senior Veena Vidwan and Music Critic) made a dramatic appearance a little later, coming in straight from the airport. It was indeed proof of his kindness and his regard for Veena and our Vainika gurus Sri Jeyaraaj and Smt Jaysri.  Veenavaadhini has been showcasing their students every year in each of their Anniversary events.  We have had Kum Jayash and Kum Manash Ramanathan, and Kum Veena Venkatramani perform in the past years.   This year it was the turn of Santosh Jayaram from Mumbai.  Given below is a brief profile of Santosh.
A young and promising artist placed in Mumbai, Santosh was born in Calcutta, where he started learning both vocal and Veena from the tender age of 5 at Sri Guruguha Gana Vidyalaya. He has had the privilege of learning from Vainika Vidwan Late A. Anantharama Iyer and his sister Late A. Champakavalli, son and daughter respectively of Brahmasri A. Ananthakrishna Iyer, who belongs to the direct sishya parampara of Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Santosh has since then undergone training from A.Srividya (daughter of A. Anantharama Iyer), Smt. Revathi Sadasivam and is currently receiving advanced training from Sri Jeyaraaj and Smt Jaysri. An MBA and a B-tech graduate working as a Product Manager at a reputed financial services company, he has also formed his own Fusion music project by the name Agnya, as a part of which he has toured to several cities across the country to perform live.

The evening's programme was planned as follows:
6:15 pm: Veena Recital By Sri Santosh Jayaram (Student of Veenavaadhini) with Sri R Ramkumar – Mridangam
8:00 pm: The Chief Guest Speaks
8:10 pm: Vote of Thanks

Many musicians including Papanasam Sri Kumar, Sri Bharadwaj Raman etc. and many music-lovers graced the audience.

The evening's concert by Sri Santosh Jayaram and Sri Ramkumar, was an excellent one. Santosh kept the audience riveted to their seats with his pleasing Alapanas and brilliant Swaras. The accompaniment and Tani were both excellent.
The list of songs played :
1. Saveri varnam - Kothavasal Venkatrama Iyer
2. Ekadantam - Bilahari (S) - Muthuswamy Dikshitar
3. Sri Satyanarayanam - Shivapantuvarali (R, S) - Muthuswamy Dikshitar
4. Rajarajaradhite - Niroshta - Muthiah Bhagavatar
5. Pakkala nilapadi -Kharaharapriya (R, Tanam, S, Tani) - Thyagarajaswamy
6. Ranjani Mrdu Pankaka lochani - Ragamalika - Tanjavur Sankara Iyer
7. Tillana - Brindavana Saranga - Lalgudi Jayaraman
Sri TT Narendran, in the chief guest address, lauded the concert highly. He also said that about 75 years ago, Sri Ananthakrishna Ayyar , who moved to Calcutta and started the Guruguha Gana Vidyalaya , was a one-man university, and his son and daughter (Sri Anantarama Bhagavathar and Smt Champakavalli) , and now his grandchildren have carried on his work admirably.  He appreciated the Vainika couple for carrying on the work of their Gurus Sri Anantharama Iyer and Smt Champakavalli in Chennai, including taking junior students of their Guru , such as Santosh, under their wing.
The event ended with a vote of thanks by Sri Jeyaraaj.

Report by Rajani Arjun Shankar

Saturday, May 11, 2013


VEENAVAADHINI'S TIRUVARUR  TRIP By Aparna Shankar - Dec 26, 2012

 Imagine understanding the meaning of a song which is not in your language, then appreciating  why the composer said so. It is a heady feeling we students at Veenavaadhini ( a trust for music founded by Veena artistes Jeyaraaj and Jaysri  ( www.veenajj.com ) are getting more and more often, and loving it more and more. This heady feeling is caused by a combination of research and observation; reading and seeing; finding out and experiencing. This December, we decided to take it to a new dimension – living.
    By virtue of our Gurus belonging to the sishya parampara of the illustrious Carnatic music composer Muthuswami Dikshitar, we are privileged to be imbibing the tradition, and have taken it upon ourselves to retrace the steps of Dikshitar – not chronologically – but by rendering his kritis at the places in which he composed them. Tiruvotriyur, Tiruvallikeni, Kanchipuram, Tiruttani, Tirukazhukundram and the like have been covered by us at the Veenavaadhini group already. This time, we took the endeavour to a new level and headed to Tiruvarur; geographically many times further away from Chennai, but special to all musicians, music lovers and students because it was not only Dikshitar’s hometown but also that of other two of the Carnatic Music Trinity – Saint Thyagaraja and Syama Sastry.
    Our idea was to sing the Tyagaraja vibhakti kritis, Kamalamba Navavaranams and other individual kritis at the respective shrines. We also planned to visit other places near Tiruvarur where he had been. Each student learnt one vibhakti kriti; we all learnt Sri Nilotpalanayike; some of us keenly learnt songs assigned to others as well. Three weeks of intense preparation blended smoothly with the Chennai December Music Season. Music and smiles all round.
    Early 22nd December morning, we boarded the train to Tiruvarur. Banter, icebreaking, books and sleep were all part the travel. The younger of us revelled in a Carnatic antakshari. The train arriving an hour late did not dampen any spirits, not least because of the fabulous homemade lunch! After freshening up – for which – women being women, we took over an hour – and headed over to the houses of the Trinity. It was humbling to say the least. Tyagaraja’s house – only his birthplace, he moved to Tiruvaiyaru not long after – consisted of a single room and some structures added later. Dikshitar’s house had been converted into a mutt, with an idol and some beautiful reliefs and pictures. Syama Sastri’s house was an adorable little place with many unseen pictures and idols. We sang a song of each composer at their respective abodes, and also sang at Dikshitar’s house, Muthuswaminam Guruvaram, a composition of our Guru Smt Jaysri on Muthuswamy Dikshitar in the raga Hamsanandi.
    We then proceeded to the main temple. Time was in short supply, so we took a quick look at all the main shrines and sang about three songs (Vallabha nayakasya, Nagalingam, Tyagaraja Yogavaibhavam  and Kamalambam Bhajare), promising ourselves and the priests more on Monday.  We were lucky to witness the abhishekam of Maragathalingam and the evening puja (Ardha Jama Puja) where the Lord is taken in a palanquin to the musical sounds of 16 traditional temple instruments.
    The next day was a packed one. There were eight temples in and around Tiruvarur scheduled to be visited for the day. ‘Around’ here means several dozens of kilometres, by the way! We first headed to the Renukadevi temple in Vijayapuram. Renukadevi is the mother of Parashurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu. The song in praise of her is Renukadevi in Kannadabangala. Interestingly, we had a rather distant view of her the first time. A few of us took our time to circle the shrine, by which time the priest arrived and opened a gate to give us a closer darshan.
    We drove over to Nagapattinam’s Kayarohaneswarar temple and sang Kayarohanesam in Devagandharam and Amba Neelayatakshi, on the eponymous goddess, in Nilambari. This is one of the saptavitankas. That is, the utsavar is an identical copy of the Tiruvarur Tyagarajaswami. It is known as Sundara vitanka. The temple was sprawling and grand.
    Next up was the adjacent Saundararaja Perumal temple, a Vishnu temple. Our guru sang Saundararaja in Brindavanasaranga, a kriti known to the priest, who joined in with his deep, rich voice. The deity was tall, majestic and liberally adorned – it is not for no reason Vishnu is known as Alankara-priya, the one who loves being adorned. His feet were under a platform, but visible to us as long as we bent down. The priest quoted Andal’s Tiruppavai, ‘Koodi irundu kulirndelor empavai’, urging us to sing a song all together, which we did.
We moved on to Sikkal, hometown of the legendary Sikkil Sisters and the current crowd-puller Sikkil Gurucharan. It was crowded and dark due to a power cut, which gave the place an old-worldly, mysterious charm. The famed Sikkal Singaravelar is the subject of Dikshitar’s ‘Shrngara shaktyayudhadhara’ in Ramamanohari. The Siva idol, so the story goes, is made of butter which refused to budge and is accordingly called Navaniteswarar. Its being stuck gave rise to the place’s name Sikkal. There was also a Vishnu temple attached.
Keezhvelur, where Dikshitar gave us ‘Akshayalingavibho’ in Sankarabharanam, the main piece – jewel in the necklace – of so many a concert! This place is also called Keevalur. The shrines were on a first floor, accessible by a flight of stairs. There is a story behind this. There was once a lingam in a forest. A spider realised its divinity and built a web over it to keep it clean. An elephant later visited it, and to do abhishekam for it, poured water on it, destroying the web. The peeved spider rebuilt it after the elephant left. The elephant destroyed it again. This cycle continued till the angry spider climbed into the elephant’s trunk and bit it, killing both. The spider was to be born again once due to his one sin, and was born as a king. Remembering his past life, he built the temple over stairs to prevent elephants from entering. This and more stories were related to us by a committed temple administrator who acted spontaneously as a fantastic guide. There were scores of shrines on the ground. This is also the place where the bankrupt Kubera is said to have prayed to recharge his powers.
We returned to Tiruvarur for lunch, after which we went to Kuzhikkarai. The Kuzhikkarai temple is built on private land. The builder of this temple, Vaidyalinga Mudaliar, desired Dikshitar to sing his praise. Dikshitar, never one to compose on a mere mortal, refused, but mentioned him in an epic 14-raga song, Sri Viswanatham. There were paintings on the roof such as the stages of existence – plants, animals, birds, fish and people. The other songs of this kshetra that we sang are Viswanathena in Saamanta and Annapurne Visalakshi in Saama.  
The penultimate stop for the day was Tirukannamangai, a Vishnu Temple where the gods came as bees to witness His wedding and stayed on (and are still there). The song here was Bhaktavatsalam in Vamsavati. The final visit of the day was to Pulivalam, another Vishnu temple. Dikshitar honoured the Lord with Venkatachalapate in Karnataka Kaapi.
Day 3 morning was all for the Tiruvarur temple. First, we stopped by the massive Kamalalayam tank to sing Sri Mahaganapatir Avatumam, in praise of Maatru Uraitha Vinayakar. Inside, our gurus sang the Kamalamba Navavaranams (a treat for the ears, indeed). Kamalamba is famously sitting in a special yogic posture impossible for humans. We walked over to the Nilotpalamba shrine and sang Sri Nilotpalanayike in Nariritigaulai. Finally, the beloved of the Nayanmars, Lord Tyagaraja! Each youngster sang a song – some tentatively, afraid of not doing justice to the master, some boldly, full of verve.
A brief walk from the temple is a temple of Sundaramurti Nayanar, his home. Here, we rendered Dikshitar’s only kriti on a human, Sundaramurtim in Takka. Sundaramurti Nayanar is an incarnation of a celestial, so strictly speaking Dikshitar never sang of mortal men.
In the evening, we proved our loyalty to secularism by visiting Nagore Dargah and Velankanni Church, bearably crowded though it was Christmas Eve.
The lengthy van journeys proved good times to discuss a variety of topics, like the music season, kalpanaswaram, philosophy, Facebook and Tendulkar’s retirement from ODI cricket!
In summary, this was an invaluable learning experience, where we listened to and rendered good music, visited places we would have never known about otherwise or given a second thought if we had come across them any other way. We got insights about stories, religion and life in general, and shared our ideas. I feel extremely lucky and privileged to have had this experience.