Navavaranams

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Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi and Muttuswami Dikshitar are the only major composers who composed a set of krtis symbolising the Navavarana worship. Noted musical scholar T S Parthasarathy, in his foreword to Sankaranarayanan's book, 'Kamakshi Navavaranams' states that "Venkata Kavi's command over Sanskrit is breath-taking but the language used by him in many places is abstruse, as it ought to be, as the subject is esoteric."  

Even though his compositions are replete with scholarly content, they are not merely abstract compositions that summarise factual details. 

They are soulful outpourings that brim with sublime devotion – an incredible combination of intellect, emotion, knowledge and inspiration.  Each song is addressed directly to the Goddess except the dhyana krti, which is addressed on one's mind.  So, every song gives a personalized touch, which is typical of Venkata Kavi's style. 

The navavarana pooja forms the mantric-tantric ritualistic part of Devi worship, associated with the Shreechakra pooja. An avarana may be understood as a covering, a veil that must be removed in order to reach the supreme Shakti, residing at the center point (bindu). It must be noted that each avarana has its own set of rituals associated with it and those practising this worship are generally required to be thoroughly aware of details such as chakra, yogini and mudra devatas associated with it. This kind of ritual is said to have originated sometime around the 10th century AD and is followed by certain sects even today.

KAMAKSHI NAVAVARANAM COMPOSITIONS  

 

Song

Raga

Tala

Remarks

Shree Ganeshwara

Shanmukhapriya

Adi

Vinayaka stuti

Vanchhasi yadi kushalam

Kalyani

Adi

Dhyana stuti

Santatam aham seve

Deshakshi

Adi

1st avaranam

Bhajaswa shree tripura sundari

Nadanamakriya

Adi

2nd avaranam

Sarva jeeva dayapari

Shuddhasaveri

Mishra Chapu

3rd avaranam

Yogayogeshwari

Anandabhairavi

Khanda Triputa

4th avaranam

Neela lohita ramani

Balahamsa

Khanda Dhruvam

5th avaranam

Sadanandamayi

Hindolam

Sankeerna Mathyam

6th avaranam

Sakala loka nayike

Arabhi

Adi

7th avaranam

Shankari shree Rajarajeshwari

Madhyamavati

Adi

8th avaranam

Natajana kalpa valli

Punnagavarali

Adi

9th avaranam

Haladharanujam

Manirangu

Adi

Phala stuti

 

  1. Deity addressed: Venkata Kavi has addressed his compositions to the Goddess Kamakshi of Kanchi. Kamakshi of Kanchi is of direct significance to followers of Shreechakra pooja. In the prelude piece (dhyana stuti) in Kalyani, the composer asserts:

vaanchhasi yadi kushalam maanasa para-
maananda rasa sindhu madhya mani bindu chakra nilayaam nirantaram
dhyaayeta shree kaamaaksheem

"Oh, if thou wish to be happy, worship Goddess kamakshi, who resides in the Bindu chakra in the sea of nectar of eternal joy."

  1. Clear documentation:  The composer clearly documents the fact that these are well intended sets of pieces, right from the Vinayaka stuti where he has employed significant phrases like:'shree vidyopaasana bodhakara', 'anala saara antargata vighna yantra harana' and 'aamoda pramoda sena naayaka'. In the 6th avarana krti, he says that the goddess glows with extra effulgence during the 9 days: 'nava parvaantara bhaasini'.  He concludes the 9th avarana krti with the significant phrase: saara saara navaavarana gaana dhyaana yoga japa tapa rasike.
  2. Deep erudition: The pieces are exceedingly scholarly with significant words and phrases that can be traced to Lalitopakhyanam, Taittreya Upanishad, Lalita Sahasranamam and several other such sources.  Expressions such as "chintamani shreepura madhye" (seen in 1st avaranam) are taken from tantrik texts dealing with samayachara, the method and procedure prescribed for inner worship of the shree chakra. So is "kaamakala pradarshini" (3rd avaranam) which denotes the subject-object (prakasha and vimarsha) state of the Almighty.  Tantra shastra refers to the harmony of Shiva-Shakti by the single term, kaamakala, part of the Primordial Desire which led to creation. 

    In the 6th avarana krti in Hindolam, he mentions that the Goddess is worshipped by the eight regents of the Directions (ashta dik paalaka):

    sadaa vinuta sura vaasava paavaka shamana nairta 

    yaadasampati pavana dhanada eeshaana dishaampataye

    It is obvious that Venkata Kavi was not merely familiar with numerous works but had deeply internalized their content and spirit.  He has also mentioned several beeja aksharas (powerful syllables) such as 'eem', 'hreem' and 'kleem'  in various krtis.  Further, there are several references about the Devi holding instruments and permeating lustrously such as:.

    'maanikya manohara veena dharanam'- (in Vanchasi yadi kushalam)

    'tantri samanvita veena dhaarini'- (in Sarvajeeva dayakari)

  3. Complimentary pieces: Though the main pieces are 9 in number, Venkata Kavi has composed a preliminary worship piece (dhyana krti) and a concluding auspicious piece (mangala krti/phala stuti). Venkata Kavi has also composed a piece on Lord Vinayaka, Shree Ganeshwara (Shankmukhapriya) where he specifically refers to this Lord as 'Shree vidyopasana bodhakara'.
  4. Ragas selected: Venkata Kavi chose rakti ragas like Anandabhairavi, Punnagavarali, Nadanamakriya, a couple of (now) rare ones like Deshakshi and Balahamsa and used a major raga like Kalyani in only one piece (Dhyana stuti). However, he has treated a relatively minor raga like Hindolam with great depth with a composition in a heavy-weight tala of 20 units (Sankeera Mathya).
  5. Tempo: The tempo (kalapramanam) of several pieces in this set are in medium pace, with words akin to a torrential downpour in some instances. Even slow, meditative pieces such as Yoga yogeshwari and Sadaanandamayi have faster sections reflecting a niagara-like flow. The charanam madhyamakalam section of Neela lohita ramani is a case in point.

aham brahma tatvaatmaka vitarana nirvikalpa taru chintaamani madhye
sachchidaananda para vidye
atyatishaya shubha phala vara taru samooha kadamba vana madhye
aananda nrtye
dyuti pallava kara komala dhrta paashaankusha chitre bhandaasura samhaara charitre …(neela lohita ramani)

7. Scholarship: Venkata Kavi has shown tremendous scholarship and familiarity with the intricacies of mantric-tantric rituals associated with the Shree chakra pooja in the avarana krtis. Venkata Kavi's pieces are abound in the chakra, yogini details of each avarana as also the Mudra devatas. Venkata Kavi also makes references to the seed (beeja) mantra in a few of his compositions, like haim, kleem, eem and so on. His general scholarship comes through everywhere but specially in instances such as the 2nd avarana krti, where he has used the verb bhajasva in a rare context. The composer uses the root word 'bhaj' not to ask the Goddess to worship him (as may incorrectly be imagined in a common context) but more to turn her attention towards him and protect him. 

8. Rhythmic command: Venkata Kavi has shown his proficiency in rhythm in these compositions by using some interesting talas, apart from Adi, Mishra Chapu etc. His rhythmic prowess comes through with almost deliberate intent in these compositions. His choice of unusual and rare talas such as Khanda Triputa, Khanda Dhruva and Sankeerna Mathya shows his bold intent to set exceedingly high standards. He has also indulged in gait transitions in two speeds between chaturashra (4 units) and tishra (3) in his Madhyamavati piece, Shankari shree raaja raajeshvari. In his piece in Hindolam, Sadanandamayi, he has employed another remarkable innovation – change of kalai in the charanam (from 2 kalais to 1 kalai). This composition remains a singular example of this excellent feature.

9. Soulful melody:  It is not as though he is making any statement but his credentials as an ati uttama vaggeyakara come through in these pieces and challenge the best of musicians to master them and render them convincingly. 

10. Signature: Venkata Kavi seems to have used the his own name 'Venkata Kavi' only in 5-6 compositions (out of nearly 500 compositions that have been discovered so far). One of them is the avarana krti in Madhyamavati, Shankari Shree Rajarajeshwari.  Several other compositions of his - especially those on Krishna - have a reference to Krishna's Kalinga Nartana (which is indicative of his devotion to the presiding diety of Oottukkadu temple). Even in the navavaranam set, the final composition, Haladharanujam praptum includes the phrase, 'kaleeya phana pada nyasam' in the final charanam. 

11. Extra versions: The 6th aavaranam in Hindolam also has another version (in Khanda Mathyam) with largely different lyrics but scholars hold that the one in Sankeerna Mathyam clearly belongs to the set. Similarly, Shree chakra matangi (Surati) is also considered by a few as the 9th avarana krti as opposed to Punnagavarali. However studies reveal that that composition could be an extra worship piece and not the avarana krti. 

12. Intent and goal: While it is normal to find phala shruti (declaration of results) in works such as this, it is remarkable that Venkata Kavi has instead composed a phala stuti (prayer for result) for his Kamakshi Navavaranam.  He asks the Goddess to bestow the acquaintance of Lord Krishna in the piece, Haladharanujam praptum in Manirangu. It is noteworthy that the gopis worshipped the Devi with the same intent, observing the 'kaatyaayani vrata'.

There is no doubt that Venkata Kavi's Navavaranams blend intellectual, aesthetic, rhythmic, lyrical, esoteric and spiritual aspects in a manner that uplifts musicians, students and music lovers as well as practitioners of Shree chakra worship.

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Navavaranams - lyrics in English