Multi-faceted genius Sri T.N. Seshagopalan (TNS) began his 5 day harikatha on Valmiki Ramayanam today at the Youth Hostel, Indira Nagar, Adayar, Chennai. The harikatha is being organized by Hamsadhwani. TNS was accompanied on the violin by Sri G. Chandramouli and on the mrudangam by Sri M.S. Varadan.
Sri L. Swaminathan, author of books on Valmiki Ramayanam, ‘inaugurated’ the harikatha. In his speech, he said that Sri Valmiki was worried about the propagation of his veda, the Ramayanam but his worries disappeared when Lava and Kusha joined his ashrama. They set music to Valmiki Ramayanam and made it a ‘musical’. Sri L. Swaminathan went on to say that Valmiki Ramayanam is about enlightenment and not about entertainment and took digs at carnatic music concerts going to the extent of branding them as entertainment. He made some comments like “this is not Ariyakkudi (Ramanuja Iyengar) or Semmangudi (Srinivasa Iyer) concert; this is not enterntainment”, which could have clearly been avoided. In fact almost all compositions sung in carnatic concerts (most of them by the trinity) are about bhakti and are in a way enhanced by the richness of the great music. In fact, Sri TNS himself has said in one of his harikathas on Thyagaraja Ramayanam earlier that “Sri Thyagaraja’s rAmAyaNam or rAmAnubhavam is special and different from other rAmAyaNams in that sangItam is used as a honey and that one who is more inclined towards literature can read/hear/know/experience rAmA through the literary beauty while one who is not can let the sangItam (music) take over and experience rAmA through it”.
The harikatha was a very fulfilling experience on day 1 itself. The hard work that TNS must have put is something unimaginable. He was able to quote from Valmiki Ramayanam, Kamba Ramayanam, Sri Thyagaraja’s compositions and from numerous other sources at will. He laced his harikatha with humorous anecdotes, giving simple examples that people could relate to and use to understand the teachings of Ramayanam better. Standing there on stage for close to 3 hours is in itself a difficult task. To rattle off shloka after shloka without using any material for reference, weaving it all together in a nice continuous narration and delivering it as though one has been doing it for years together is very difficult to do in my opinion.
Here are some of the notes I took. These however form only a small portion of what TNS told. Any shortcomings in these will mostly be due to my ignorance and limitations in my ability to understand/express what TNS told. Corrections, if any, are welcome:
► Salutations to the coel Valmiki who sits on the poem like branch and goes on singing sweetly “rAmA, rAmA, …. “
kUjantam rAma rAmeti madhuram madhurAksharam
Aruhya kavitAshAkham vandE valmIkikOkilam
► What has dragged so many people here today to listen is not the harikatha performer but Ramayanam itself which is madhuram. Whichever bee comes to taste the nectar of Ramayanam ultimately gets immersed in it.
► Who in this world will not attain salvation upon hearing the story of Lord Rama composed by Sri Valmiki, the lion among Poets who always lived in the jungle
vAlmIkE muni simhasya kavitA vana chAriNa
shruNvan rAma kadha nAdam kO na yAti parAm gathim
► One gets sharaNAgati only when one becomes a paramabhakta
► TNS with all humility said: “Listen to me like you would to a child at home. So many greats have sung/talked about Valmiki Ramayanam before …… Unqualified though as I may be, I am standing here with the belief that to tell about Rama, you need no qualification except bhakti”
► Let the whole world become holy by this river called “Ramayana – The Story of Rama” which originates from the mountain of Valmiki and joins the ocean of Rama.
vAlmIki giri sambhUtA rAma sAgara gAmini
puinathu bhuvanam punyA rAmAyaNa mahA nadi
People who are soaked in Rama bhakti will attain mOksha
► Ramayanams other than the “Valmiki Ramayanam” are an adaptation in some form of the “Valmiki Ramayanam” to the authors’ own culture. Even Kamban (author of Kamba Ramayanam in Tamil) has said that he has followed the “Valmiki Ramayanam”
► Sloka that refers to the start/beginning of Ramayana: When the God who is know by Vedas was born as the son of Dasharatha, Veda was born again from Sage Valmiki as Ramayana
veda vEdyE parE pumsi jAte dasaradAtmajE
veda prachEthasa dAsIth sAkshAt rAmAyaNAtmanA
► It is very difficult, if not impossible, to understand the vEdAs. Even vEdAs and upanishads do not tell what is “brahmam”. Though people do not know about brahmam, they should at least know about “brahmaguNam”. Rama lived and showed that a person can have all the 64 guNAs.
► If not for Valmiki, we might not have come to know about Rama’s guNAs
► There are many people these days who claim to be gurus and even sadgurus. A person who teaches how to do something is a guru. Sadguru is one, by observing and following whom, we even learn what he has left unsaid. We are able to visualize what he has visualized. He lives and stays as an example of how to lead a life.
► Narada makes his entrance at the beginning of Ramayanam and seeks Valmiki. Valmiki asks Narada – a thoughtful meditator, a sagacious thinker and an eternally studious sage – about a man who is an embodiment of all merited endowments in his form and calibre
tapaha svAdhyAya niratAm tapasvI vAgvidAm varam
nAradam paripapracha vAlmIkihi muni pumgavam
► TNS said that Narada is the guru here and Valmiki as like a shishya. TNS wondered which shishya asks such beautiful questions to gurus these days. He said these days shishyas ask why India lost to Bangladesh and blame it all upon Indira Gandhi for creating Bangladesh and leading to India’s ouster from the World Cup
► Valmiki asks: Oh Narada! Please tell me who is the one who has these 16 characteristics in this world and who is presently living? I should be able to see such a person. I will meditate on him.
kOnvasmin sAmpradam lOkE guNavAn kashcha vIryavAn
dharmagnAnashcha krutagnashca satyavAkyO dhriDa vrataha
► On Lord Rama: One emerged from Ikshvaku dynasty and known to people as Rama – he is conscientious, highly valorous, resplendent, steadfast and a controller of vice and vile and his own senses, as well
ikshvaaku vamsha prabhavO rAmO nAma janaihi shrutAhA
niyata AtmA mahAvIryo dyutimAn dhritimAn vashI
► On Lord Rama: He equals the Brahma, the people’s God; he is an exalted one for he is the sustainer of all worlds. He eliminates enemies completely. Thus he is a guardian of all living beings and he guards probity, in its entirety
prajApati samaha shrImAn datA ripu nishUdanaha
rakshitA jIvalokasya dharmasya pari rakshitA
► On Lord Rama: He is the champion of his own righteousness/values. He is also the champion of his own people’s welfare
rakshitA svasya dharmasya sva janasya cha rakshitA
► TNS: “Narada says the complete story of Rama in such a short fashion like I sing a 4-kalai pallavi within 20 min in a concert”
► TNS described Valmiki’s anguish on seeing a hunter kill a male krouncha bird using the raga subhapantuvarALi
► As the time was nearing 9:26PM which was supposed to be the start of the nakshatra punarpUsam, TNS wanted to tell about Sri Rama’s birth, the day being the auspicious Rama Navami day. TNS then went on to describe, with the help of shlokas from the Valmiki Ramayanam, how Dasharatha who ruled over Ayodhya, a kingdom where all people seemed to have Rama’s guNAs and were very happy with his rule, grieved that he had no descendants. TNS even sang the Arunachala Kavi written verse “piLLai illAda bhAgyam” and said that he cannot sing it in concerts because then people might ask him to put kalpana swarams at say piLLai or even worser say at illAda . TNS then said that King Dasharatha wanted to perform the Ashwamedha Yagna to beget children. One of the King’s ministers Sumantra tells him about the importance of the sage Rishyasringa and requests the king to invite the sage to preside over the Yagna as the sage’s entry into any kingdom is considered very auspicious for the kingdom and for its people.
► TNS then went on to describe the story of Sage Rishyasringa and how he got married. As it was almost 9:20PM, TNS quickly led rasikas through a narrative of how King Dasharatha and his wives were blessed with four children – Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Shatrugna. TNS said that the sage Vashishtha had already seen that the Lord had chosen King Dasharatha as the appropriate father.
► TNS also displayed his prowess in astrology when he spent some time discussing the “jAdagam (kunDli)” of Lord Rama. He told some very interesting significance of the different positions of planets in the jAdagam. He made many interpretations of his own on the same too. For example, he said that the exile period of 14 years was described by Sage Valmiki as 5 + 9 years and this seemed to match with the fact that Sukran (who gives rAjayOgyam) had both the 5th and the 9th pArvai in the jAdagam.
► TNS ended the day’s harikatha while describing Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Shatrughna as children by saying that children should not be made to stay awake till late in the night.