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The kamalAmba Navavaranams of Muthuswami Dikshitar - AN OVERVIEW

Wish you all a wonderful Navaratri season! The Navaratri or the Nine Nights is a festival dedicated to the three prime Goddesses of the Hindu tradition, namely, Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. As always, we will cover this year's festival also with the same intensity as we did in the previous years. While we took up the Navaratri kritis of Swati Tirunal in 2000 and the Kamakshi Navavaranams of Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi in 2001, this year will be devoted to a detailed study of the kamalAmba Navavaranams of Muthuswami Dikshitar.

In this context, it would be appropriate to acknowledge and appreciate the unstinted help of Dr. P P Narayanaswami, who has provided the lyrics of all the Navavaranams in Sanskrit pdf, English pdf and text format, and Dr. Vidyasankar Sundaresan, who has written the meanings and significance of each of the Avaranams.


The set of compositions popularly known as kamalAmba navAvaraNa consists of eleven kritis composed by the illustrious composer, Muthuswami Dikshitar, in praise of Goddess kamalAmba of the mammoth temple at Tiruvarur. In this set of kritis, the composer is at his best, and the lyrics are par excellence! While in many of the group kritis that Dikshitar is believed to have composed, some kritis are missing (perhaps lost to us forever), the kamalAmba navAvaraNa series has fortunately come down to us in a complete form.


It consists of a benedictory (dhyAna) k.rti, followed by eight compositions, one in each of the eight declinations of the proper noun “kamalambA” (or sometimes kamalAmbikA) in feminine gender, continuing on to a tenth k.rti which employs all the declinations (vibhakti-s) of the Sanskrit language; the series concludes with an auspicious maN^gaLa k.rti, appropriately set in the auspicious rAga srIrAgam. Each of the nine songs is on one of the nine enclosures (AvaraNam) of the shrIcakra (the auspicious wheel). In each k.rti, Dikshitar carefully brings out the name of the cakra, its geometry, many salient features specific to the cakra, and the devata-s associated with it. On many occasions, Dikshitar cleverly indulges in very lengthy word constructions, which to a layman may seem like a tongue-twister. The word “guruguha” (used in several meanings) appears in all these compositions as the composer’s signature or mudra. The rAga mudra is incorporated (through the art of shleSha (double meaning), in most of these compositions. The dhyAna k.rti in toDi does not feature a rAga mudrA, and the kritis in Anandabhairavi (first AvaraNam), and shaN^karAbharaNam (third AvaraNam) have only partial rAga mudras (the word “Ananda” for the former, and shaN^kara for the latter). The kambhoji, sahAnA, and Ahiri compositions have disguised rAga mudrAs (kAmbhoja, shAna, Ahari, respectively). All other kritis have the proper rAga mudrA.


The kritis of the kamalAmba navAvaraNa series are as follows:


1. dhyAna k.rti in saMbodhanA vibhakti (vocative case) - kamalAmbikE, tODi, rUpaka tALa


2. The first AvaraNa k.rti in prathamA vibhakti (nominative) on trailokyamohana cakra - kamalAmba saMrakShatu mAM, Anandabhairavi, tripuTa tALa


3. The second AvaraNa k.rti in dvitIyA vibhakti (accusative) on sarvAshaparipUraka cakra - kamalAmbAM bhaja re, kalyANi, Adi tALa


4. The third AvaraNa k.rti in tritIyA vibhakti (instrumental) on sarvasaMkShobhaNa cakra - shrIkamalAmbikayA, shaN^karAbharaNam rUpaka tALa


5. The fourth AvaraNa k.rti in caturthI vibhakti (dative) on sarvasaubhAgyadAyaka cakra - kamalAmbikAyai, kAMbhoji, aTa tALa


6. The fifth AvaraNa k.rti in pa~ncamI vibhakti (ablative) on sarvArthasAdhaka cakra - shrI kamalAMbAyAH, bhairavi, jhaMpa tALa


7. The sixth AvaraNa k.rti in ShaShThI vibhakti (genitive) on sarvarakShAkara cakra - kamalAmbikAyAH, punnAgavarALi, rUpaka tALa


8. The seventh AvaraNa k.rti in saptamI vibhakti (locative) on sarvarogahara cakra - shrI kamalAmbikAyAM , sahAnA, tripuTa tALa


9. The eighth AvaraNa k.rti in saMbodhanA vibhakti (vocative) on sarvasiddhiprada cakra - shrI kamalAMbike, ghaNTa, Adi tALa


10. The ninth and last AvaraNa k.rti in all eight  vibhaktis (cases) on sarvAnandamaya cakra - shrI kamalAMbA jayati, Ahiri, rUpaka tALa


(The pallavi employs prathamA vibhakti, the anupallavi, the dvitIya and tritIyA vibhaktis, while the caraNam has one line each in caturthI, pa~ncamI, ShaShThI and saptamI vibhaktis. The line set in caturthI vibhakti also incorporates the sambodhanA, while the two lines sung in madhyamakAla return to the prathamA vibhakti.)


11. The final auspicious maN^gaLa k.rti - shrI kamalAmbike,  shrIrAgaM, khaNDa eka tALa


The shrIcakra:


Since each of these compositions is on one of the nine AvaraNams (enclosures) of the shrI cakra, we will now quickly describe the geometry of the cakra. The shrI cakra, or the auspicious wheel is a geometrical diagram employed in the worship of Goddess Tripurasundari, according to Tantric rituals. It is more than a mere diagram, and has mystic powers and great significance in the shakti worship tradition. The outer portion of the shrI cakra consists of four units - the outermost layer gateway of three rectangular walls (bhUpura), three circles (trivalaya, or v.rttatraya), a sixteen petaled rose (ShoDashadaLa padma), and an eight-petaled rose (aShTadaLa padma). The core of the shrI cakra consists of numerous triangles - a set of fourteen triangles (manukoNa), two sets of ten triangles (bahirdashAra and antardashAra), a set of eight triangles (vasukoNa), and the innermost sole triangle (trikoNa). In fact these various triangles are formed by the intersections of four isosceles triangles with vertex pointing upwards (called the shiva group), and five isosceles triangles with downward vertices (called the shakti group) all situated inside the eight petaled rose. The culmination of all these is the bindu, a single dot placed at the center. Each sub-cakra bears the name of its presiding deity, as well as the subordinate deities (yoginis) associated with it.


A quick definition of the shrI cakra can be found in Adi Sankara’s famous work, Saundaryalahari (verse 11) as follows:


            caturbhiH shrIkaNThaiH shivayuvatibhiH pa~ncabhirapi

            prabhinnAbhiH shaMbhornavabhirapi mUlaprak.rtibhiH |


            trirekhAbhiH sArdhaM tava sharaNakoNAH pariNatAH  ||


It is customary to sing the kamalambA navAvaraNa group kritis, first by invoking Lord Ganesha through the k.rti, “shrImahAgaNapatiravatu mAm” in rAga gauLa, followed by a salutation to Lord SubrahmaNya (guruguha) through the composition “bAlasubrahmaNyam” in rAga suraTi. These two particular kritis might have been chosen, not for any particular reason, but perhaps one of the oldest books on kamalAmba Navavaranam by Kallidaikkuricci Vina Sundaram Iyer (supplement volume 16)  has printed these songs preceding the AvaraNa songs.

The kamalAMbA navAvarANa kritis are very auspicious, deep in meaning and content, and bring out the deeper insights into the shrI vidyA upAsana. Dikshitar has packed numerous tantric and shrIvidyA details in these songs, which makes it difficult to translate them adequately into English. While the meanings may be straightforward for those who have adequate knowledge of shrIvidyA upAsana and have contemplated on it, for ordinary people, it is a hidden treasure.  Hence, we shall only attempt a simple word to word meaning approach to these songs, and will not attempt to provide the deeper esoteric inner meanings. Interested readers may refer to many treatises on this topic that are readily available.





Posted on October 8, 2002


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