Monthly Archives: January 2021

Bhakta Prahlada

Hiranyaksha (Eye for Materialism) and Hiranyakashipu (Wrapped in Materialism) were brothers born in the Rakshasa clan. When Hiranyaksha was killed by Lord Varaha, Hiranyakashipu was furious and wanted to take revenge on the Lord. Therefore he undertook severe penance. When he was away, Indra and his army attacked the rakshasa kingdom and finding that the rakshasa wife was pregnant, Indra decided to carry her away to his Loka so that when she gives birth to a child he can immediately kill the rakshasa child. However Sage Narada met Indra enroute and convinced Indra to release her saying that her child would not be an enemy of the gods but on the other hand would be one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu. Hearing Narada’s words, Indra released Hiranyakashipu’s wife. Narada took her to his hermitage and she spent her time listening to the Lord’s glories as expounded by the Sage. The child in the womb had picked up all the discourses by Narada (prenatal education)! 

Pleased with Hiranyakashipu’s penance, Lord Brahma appeared in front of him and asked him what he wanted. The rakshasa asked for immorality which was not possible. Hiranyakashipu then demanded, “I should not die at the hands of any of Lord’s creations such as, the gods, gandharvas, yakshas, human beings, rakshasas, animals etc. No weapon should destroy me. I should not die in the outer space, nor on earth nor in the waters. I should not die inside the house nor outside. Death should not come to me at day-time nor night-time.” Lord Brahma granted him the boon. The foolish rakshasa failed to realize that the cause of his death was embedded in his own words! Hiranyakashipu came back to his kingdom. He brought back his wife also from Narada’s ashram. She was blessed with a son who was named as Prahlada (one with exceptional brilliance). 

Prahlada grew up as an exceptional devotee of Lord Narayana since he was already initiated into Hari Tattwa by Guru Sage Narada when he was in his mother’s womb. At the appropriate time, he was sent to the Guru-kula for education. Hiranyakashipu vain and arrogant with the boons that he had obtained from Brahma, considered himself the supreme lord. Temples were built and his images were worshipped. “Hiranyaya Namaha” (salutations unto materialism in the form of gold) was the mantra! Prahlada on the other hand chanted “Om Namo Narayanaya” (Salutations unto the Supreme Lord, Narayana). The teachers tried to convince Prahlada to worship Hiranyakashipu but he not only politely refused, but initiated the other children into the Narayana Mantra. The terrified teachers brought back Prahlada to his parents and expressed their inability to change him. Hiranyakashipu tried but in vain. Seething with anger, he gave the most cruelest of punishments to his son. Prahlada was thrown down a mountain, tossed into the ocean, put into raging fire, brought under an elephant’s foot, thrown in front of a hungry lion and poisonous snakes, threatened by weapons, made to drink poison – but nothing happened to Prahlada. The Lord protected him and he came out of each test unscathed. 

The furious Hiranyakashipu dragged Prahlada to the court and challenged him to show Sri Hari. Little Prahlada said that the Lord was All-pervading, including in the pillar that Hiranyakashipu pointed out. The rakshasa struck the pillar with all his might and strength wanting to see the Lord, his arch-enemy whom Prahlada worshipped. Lo! The pillar split into two and from inside emerged a strange figure. It was neither man nor animal, it was half-man and half-lion. It was dusk – neither day or night. Lord Narayana who had come as Nara-Simha caught hold of Hiranyakashipu and dragged him unto the threshold of the hall – neither inside nor outside. The Lord placed the rakshasa on His lap – neither in space nor on ground nor water. Without using any weapons, Lord Narasimha used his beautiful long claws (nails) to rip apart the wicked rakshasa. Every bit of the boon had been taken care of, and yet Hiranyakashipu was killed by Lord Narasimha. The Lord then gathered his loving devotee, Prahlada to himself. Prahlada invoked and worshipped the Lord with chants while the devatas joyously rained down flowers.

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Raga Sankarabharana Mortgaged!

Pic Courtesy : The Hindu

The Maratha Kings who ruled over Thanjavur were great patrons of art. They patronised, encouraged and honoured great stalwarts of Carnatic Music and therefore Thanjavur became a prominent center of Carnatic Music. Narasayyar was one of the court musicians of the then ruler Serfoji. On one occasion, Narasayya elaborated and sang the Raga Sankarabharana for hours in the presence of the king. The king was extremely happy with Narasayyar’s mastery over the Raga and declared that in future he would be known as “Sankarabharana Narasayyar”.

 Once, due to some financial crisis, Narasayyar was in dire need of money. He did not know whom to approach and hesitated to ask anyone for help. But when it became inevitable, he went to meet Ramabhadra Moopanar who was a wealthy landlord and a great lover of music staying in Kapisthalam near Thanjavur. Moopanar was very happy to see Narasayyar. He received him, offered his hospitality and asked him to stay in his house for a few days. After two days of stay, very hesitatingly Narasayyar asked Moopanar for a loan. The generous Moopanar was shocked. He would have willingly given Narasayyar whom he adored whatever amount he wanted. And here the great musician was asking for a loan. Taking care not to hurt Narasayyar’s feelings, he asked him how much he wanted. Narasayyar told Moopanar that he wanted 80 gold coins (sovereigns). Moopanar agreed to give 80 gold coins as a loan and asked Narasayya if he would pledge anything, say, an “abharana” as security.

Narasayyar told him that he had with him an unique and special “abharana” to pledge, which could not be seen, but could only be heard! Moopanar was surprised and asked for the “abharana”. Narasayyar told him that he had the rare “abharana” called “Sankara-abharana” Raga which he was ready to pledge in return for the gold coins. Moopanar was stunned and surprised, but restraining himself and his feelings, he formally went through the normal procedure of documenting the transaction. 80 gold coins were given to Narasayyar as a loan, and he pledged his favourite Raga Sankarabharana as security to the money lender. The condition was that Narasayyar would not sing Raga Sankarabharana until he cleared the debt. Narasayyar collected the gold coins and left for Thanjavur. From that day onwards, he refrained from singing the Sankarabharana Raga in all his subsequent concerts. Music-lovers missed Narasayyar’s Sankarabharana Raga, but nobody knew the reason. 

Appu Rayar was serving as the Dewan of Thanjavur and Tiruchirapalli under the East India Company. There was a marriage function in his family in the town of Kumbhakonam. He wanted to celebrate the wedding on a grand scale and decided to arrange music concerts by eminent artists during the wedding. Narasayyar was also one amongst the performers. Large number of people gathered on the day of Narasayyar’s concert. Since Narasayya was known for his rendering of Raga Sankarabharana, Appu Rayar requested him to start the program in Raga Sankarabharana. Narasayyar politely declined to sing the Sankarabharana. After much insistence, Narasayyar told Appu Rayar the reason. Appu Rayar was stunned. A Raga mortgaged for a loan – hadn’t heard of it before. He immediately sent a messenger with 80 gold coins along with the interest to Moopanar’s place and asked him to bring back the promissory note. 

On hearing from the messenger, Ramabhadra Moopanar realized the seriousness of it all and himself accompanied the messenger with the signed deed to Kumbhakonam. He apologized for having agreed for the mortgage of the Raga. He explained to Appu Rayar the reason for handling the sensitive loan transaction issue with so much of formality. He declined to take back the 80 gold coins and asked Appu Rayar to give the gold coins along with all the accrued interest to Narasayyar. Moopanar also released the Sankarabharana Raga and requested Narasayyar to sing his favourite Sankarabharana Raga. All those assembled were astonished at the sequence of events. A musical Raga being mortgaged for a loan! One of the music-lovers ready to repay the loan with interest and another music-lover declining to take back the amount he had given as loan! However, everyone enjoyed the concert with Narasayyar at his best while rendering the Sankarabharana Raga!!

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