The kriti, being the main part of the concert, one is spoilt for choice especially among the compositions of the Trinity, who developed the kriti and kirtanai to a majestic form. Both have a Pallavi-Anupallavi-Charanam format. Dikshitar sometimes skipped the anupallavi and ended with a samashti charanam. (eg. kriti, ‘Sri Kantimatim,’ by Dikshitar, that ends with samashti charanam)
Daru (e.g ‘Bhavayami’) is in a similar format but longer and more narrative in structure. There is a minute difference between a kriti and a kirtanai - a kirtanai is only devotional and a kriti may have questions addressed to the deity. However, the differences between these two forms are not commonly agreed.
Chosen here is a rare song set in a rare raga, by a famous composer on a famous temple - Muthuswami Dikshitar’s kirtanai on Kanthimati Amman at the Nellaiyappar temple, Tirunelveli, is not heard often. In raga Hemavati, the song does not have rich references to the local legends of the temple but the rare raga and the placement of swaras evoke the gentle eddying waters of the Tamiraparani that flow beside this sacred temple that has much to do with music.
Dikshitar prostrates before Ambal, the young bride of Sankara and mother of Guruguha. He compares her face to the Bijakshara Hrim, and speaks of her being enshrined in a golden mansion studded with gems. He mentions a series of celestials – Indra, Himavan, Parasurama, Suka and Saunaka - associated with her. He concludes by mentioning the pure waters of the river and the deity being anointed with the waters from 108 kalasas and conches.
Located at 147 km from Madurai, the temple spread over 14 acres, and has a massive gopuram, which is 850 ft long and 756 ft wide. Due to congestion, which has turned the entire agraharam into a crowded, messy commercial thoroughfare, it is hard to imagine that the temple is being surrounded by houses and filled with bamboo forests, the only remnant being the Venuvanam. The temple has 32 sacred water bodies as well. Perhaps Dikshitar’s reference to the 108 Kalasas may be because, the water bodies were actually used for the rituals, in his time.
Approximately next to a river is the dance hall. Among the five halls of dance, the copper (Thamira) dance hall is here, which also has the word copper in it. It is said that it was at this place that the Lord’s dance was witnessed by the Vedas.
Although hardly sung in concerts, the verses on the temple by Appar and Arunagirinathar, the sthalapuranam written in fine Tamil verse by Nellaiyappar Pillai, published in 1944, and Chokkanatha Pillai’s Kanthimathiamman Pillai Thamizh are all worthy of inclusion in concerts.
Separate shrines for the Goddess are a later phenomenon, but here, legend has it that the shrine for Nellaiyappar and Kanthimati Amman share the same date and are connected by the Sangili Mandapam. The Kanthimati amman shrine can be entered separately and functions almost as a separate temple.
The temple deserves more concerts from musicians for the number and variety of music-related inscriptions. Many of the Pandya inscriptions date back to Maravarman Sundarapandyan, when the town was known as Sri Vallabha Chaturvedimangalam. An inscription dated 1,230 records donations to two musicians, who played the Tharai and another who played the Tiru Chinnam and for 10 who played some other instrument (inscriptions were damaged due to insensitive renovation). The donor, like in many cases in these parts, came from Kerala. Perhaps the music of these parts and Kerala were similar in those times. There is also an inscription mentioning a donation to the temple by a maddalam player. This inscription is rated important enough to be carved in stone as well as in copper plates.
Suthamalli Perun Theruvu seems to have been the street where many important people lived in Tirunelveli. Even more remarkable are inscriptions in verse – that can be and were probably set to tune! These are mostly from Thadakanni Chirrudaiyan Uyyanindraduvan Gurukulatharyan. This Gurukulatharayan was an important chieftain and advisor for Maravarman Sundarapandyan and is credited with substantially developing Tirutangal as well. In the inscription here, he says he has given a substantial part of the land to Bikhshatanar so that Bikhshatanar does not need to ask for more. Even ordinary inscriptions gifting perpetual lamps are composed in verse. Another poet – chieftain Kalapalan has used puns in the phrases – Nel Veli (wall of grain) with Sol Veli (wall of words. i.e. a poem) and a Kal Veli (a wall of stones he built around the shrine).
Several inscriptions mention the donors for pillars but the musical pillars don’t have a donor. This rare feature is found in a few other Pandya temples as well. On the maha mandapam walls of the third prakaram are a set of musical notes – thalanka Pramanam of Pichandi Annavi – a resident of Pasuvanthanai village. The notes are engraved into a beautiful lotus flower on the floor. Another inscription mentions a music related word -- Thamara suthimam. Apart from the music-related inscriptions, there are other important ones too.
Many refer to the gifting of flower gardens, which usually have lotuses. Sometimes, a set of 120 flowers is paid as an equivalent to 150 kalams of rice. The reason for gifting lotus meant that one had to build a pond as well, and a water storage device in this parched land was a boon. So not only did the temple have lotus, but farmers also had a water source. An inscription on the gopuram of Kanthimati Amman shrine mentions Rs.45,008, 9 Annas and 18 Paisa, as spent towards kumbabishekam that took place in 1833.
The long corridors of the temple, if aesthetically lit, can prove to be a mesmerising venue for concerts, and one hopes that the temple will, like in the past, reverberate with more music and serve as an inspiration for the present day composers.
(The writer may be contacted at pradeepandanusha @gmail.com)
Shri Guruguhajananim Vandeham...
Hrîmkâra Bîjâkâra vadanâm
Hiranya manimaya Shôbhâ Sadanâm…
The verses on the temple by Appar and Arunagirinathar, the sthalapuranam by Nellaiyappar Pillai, and Chokkanatha Pillai’s Kanthimathiamman Pillai Thamizh are all worthy of inclusion in concerts.
Deities:Nellaiappar and Kanthimati
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