Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Unchavrithi Mahathmyam

Unchavrithi has a pivotal importance in Sampradhaya Bhajana Paddhathi. This is one of the key nithyakarmanushtanas of a Bhagavathar.

Etymology of Unchavrithi

The term Ă™ncham’ initially meant grains that have fallen off from the plant. Unchavrithi primarily meant living out of the grains that are left after a harvest festival.

With the passage of time, Unchavrithi indicated the way in which a Gruhastha Bhagavatha would lead his daily life (Dharmasastra prescribes other types of livelihood for Brahmacharees and Sanyaasees).

`Uncham’ in this context, meant the Akshatha (grains) that the Bhagavathar receives as a Grace of God, while he walks past the houses while singing Bhagavath Gunas and Naamas.  

A Marapaachi (Wooden Doll kept as an exhibit during Navaratri Kolu) dressed as an Unchavrithi Bhagavatha

Unchavrithi Mahaathmyam, as Extolled in the Puraanaas

In Mahabharatha, there is a story of an erudite scholar Padmanabhan, who, despite mastering all scriptures, had this doubt – Is it possible to attain the epitome of the purpose of life – Moksha, while in Gruhasthashrama itself?

His fellow scholars opined that unless one takes up Sanyasa, attaining Moksham is impossible. Not satisfied with this verdict, Padmanabha’s inquisitiveness to know the Absolute Truth took him to the land of the learned snake Thakshaka in Naaga Loka. (Needless to say, only a person with immense thapas can be qualified to travel to the Thakshaka loka). 

Thakshaka was not there at home. He was serving as the rein of the Sun God’s chariot. All the super powerful serpents serve as hackamores for one week at a stretch, and then retired for rest.

Resolute to rest only after dispelling his doubts, Padmanabha decides to wait at the mansion of Thakshaka, refusing the offerings that Thakshaka’s wife makes to him, as Aathithya maryadha. At the end of seven days, an exhausted Thakshaka returns home. Upon seeing a guest equally famished, he enquires the reason for Padmanabha’s visit.

Padmanabha put forth his question thus – While dispelling your duty as the rein of the Supreme Sun God himself, have you happened to see any miracles?

Thakshaka got reminiscent, and said - Our Sun God himself is a big miracle for us, for he works constantly while gifting the universe the luxury of a day / night distinction. But yesterday, we happened to witness a magnanimous phenomenon, which even our Sun God revered with utmost respect. As we were travelling through the vast expanse of space, dispelling darkness wherever we go, we spotted a Jyotis (divine light) hundred times brighter than that of our Sun God. As it approached us, it soaked our very Sun God in its effulgence. He rose from his seat, and offered his prostrations to this divine soul, and resumed the chariot only after the divine light crossed the Surya Mandalam.

Unchavrithi Mahathmyam as extolled in the Mahabharatha: The Sun God raises in reverence to the passing of the soul of an Unchavrithi Bhagavathar, who is crossing Surya Mandalam to reach Vaikundam
The Sun God then explained to us that the divine soul was that of an Unchavrithi Brahmana, who had practised Unchavrithi dharma throughout his life. After His death, the divine soul was going to Vaikunda Lokam.

Padmanabha’s questions were cleared instantly. He returned to his abode with profound clarity that the journey towards Moksha lies in observing Unchavrithi dharma.

Srimad Bhagavatham also lauds the glory of Unchavrithi in Ekadasha Skandham (11th Canto), 17th Chapter –

Shilonchavrithya Parithushta Chitho
Dharmam Mahaantham Virajam JushaaNaha
Mayyarppithaathma Gruha eeva Thishtan
Naathiprasakthaha Samupaithi Shaanthim

The Greatness of Giving Unchavrithi Bhiksha

Scriptures proclaim that giving one handful of rice as Unchavrithi is equal to Sahasra Brahmana Bhojanam.

Once there lived a man, who suffered from an excruciating stomach ache. Thirupathi Balaji came in his dreams and told him that the pain was a result of a heinous sin he had committed in his previous birth – He had neglected to take care of his mother. The Lord also gives him the remedy - This pain can be ended by giving Sahasra Bhojana. Though a poor person, he agreed to perform Sahasra Bhojana in a haste to get relieved from the unbearable pain.

But upon being cured, he is baffled on how to perform a Sahasra Bhojanam, as he was already living in extreme poverty. Thirupati Balaji appears in dreams again, and tells him that a devoted disciple of Purandara Dasa, Sri Vijaya Vittala Dasa would pass that way, doing Unchavrithi. If you offer him a handful of rice, that is equivalent to sahasra bhojanam.

Another story has it that, once, a miserly old lady was pounding rice in front of her house, when a pious Unchavrithi bhagavatha came. “How dare you beg for food without doing any job” she scorned at the Bhagavathar, and raised her club (Ulakka) at him. A few rice grains that were sticking on to the club accidentally fell into the poor Brahman’s akshaya paatram.

After her death, when Yama Raaja asks Chitraguptan for the list of good deeds she has done in her life, Chitragupta has one in his accounts – That she has given Bhiksha to an Unchavrithi Brahman. Thus is the greatness of giving bhiskha!

An Unchavrithi at Tiruvaiyaru during Thyagaraja Aradhana. 
Harikadha exponent Tiruvaiyaru Annasamy Bhagavathar, Mridanga Vidwan Palani Subramania Pillai, Subramania Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Alathur Brothers and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer can be seen. 
Image courtesy: Internet

Detailed Account of Unchavrithi Roopam

A detailed description of Unchavrithi, in prose form, can be found in the book Bhakthi Sandeha dhwaanta Bhaaskaram.

Unchavrithi Dharma Lakshanaas

The Unchavrithi Bhagavatha wears Panchakacham, has a shikha, and ties a parivattam / shirovastram, using a Naama vastram. This parivattam contains all four Vedas. The akshaya paatram is tied to a red rope (Unchavrithi sootram) and is hung from the left shoulder. He would have been initiated into Naama japa sootram and Unchavrithi Dharma Kainkarya sootram.

The bhagavatha either sings Bhagavath keerthanaas, or does Raama Naama japam. An Unchavrithi Bhagavathar would chant Raama Naama at least 6750 times. (1,08,000 Rama Naama divided by 16)

As the Unchavrithi Bhagavathar is the swaroopam of Sadguru, He does not do prathivandana.

The very objective of Unchavrithi is to remove even an iota of Ahankara (Ego) in both the person who does Unchavrithi and the person who gives Bhiksha, and immerse their hearts in Bhagavath Chintha.

Unchavrithi by Brahmasri Panchapagesa Bhagavathar. This punyathman does Nithya Unchavrithi as part of Bhagavatha Dharma

Unchavrithi is normally done during `Saanghava Kaalam’ (8 – 10 AM).  Both the Unchavrithi Brahmana and the Bhiksha-giver have their daily anushtanams (chores) until 8 AM. We anciently also did not have the practice of having breakfast. Since both the Unchavrithi Brahmana and the giver should not have taken food before giving Bhiksha, Unchavruthi should be done before Madhyanika kala (before 10:30 am).

Rice and dal (lentil) are usually given as Bhiksha. Though giving money is not a traditional practice, it is given in the present times, as it could be of convenience to the Bhagavathar.

Dharma shastra also prescribes the time period an Unchavruthi Brahmana can stay at a house while seeking Bhiksha. He can remain only for a godohana kaalam (time it takes for milk to flow from a cow’s udder to the ground.   

The gruhastha (householder) does paadha pooja, and the lady of the house gives the Bhiksha. In the instance of an Unchavrithi Bhagavatha crossing a house, he shall not come back to ask for Bhiksha. The lady will need to walk toward him to give Bhiksha.

For a person who gives Bhiksha, ensuring purity and a traditional attire is of pivotal importance. Purandara Dasa extols the fortune of a person who gives Bhiksha thus –

“Yogyaraagi Bhogyaraagi Bhaagyavanthavaraagi
Raagi thandheera Bhikshake Raagi Thandheera”
The Importance of Unchavrithi in Namasankeerthanam

Marudhanalloor Sri Sadguru Swamigal has given supreme importance to Unchavrithi in Sampradaya Bhajana Paddhathi. Sadguru’s spectacular stature in Unchavrithi roopam is sung in many of his Guru keerthans. During Sadguru’s time, Sharabhoji Maharaja saw Sri Ramachandra Prabhu Himself while Sadguru was in Unchavrithi attire.  

Sadguru Purandara Dasa, his disciple Sri Vijaya Vittala Dasa, Thyagaraja Swamigal, Vedantha Deshika Swamigal, Pudukottai Sri Gopalakrishna Sadguru, his son Sri Sanjeevi Bhagavathar etc had practiced Unchavrithi on a daily basis.

Pudukottai Sri Gopalakrishna Bhagavathar (Done as a Rangoli)

Even today, the rice and dal for the celebrations at Bodhendra Swamigal Madom at Govindapuram, and Sridhara Ayyavaal Madom at Thiruvisanallur is collected exclusively through Unchavrithi.

Bhajanothsavams and Unchavrithi

As the number of Bhagavathas practising Unchavrithi in the style as prescribed by Dharma Shastras is dwindling, with the passage of time, the coming generation may not even be aware of this divine practice. In such a circumstance, Bhajanothsavams become an ideal platform to participate in Unchavrithi

Unchavrithi Procession (Left: Pudukottai Gopalakrishna Swamigal, Right: Sanjeevi Swamigal)
Sri Sri Krishna Premi Anna

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Guruvaram Music Workshop @ Gayaki School of Performing Arts, Tripunithura

May 20 to 22 2018 would be cherished as special days in the lives of all the 25 participants who attended the Music Workshop at Gayaki School of Performing Arts, conducted by Dr. Baby Sreeram.

There are great musicians who are blessed in performing, others who are exemplary teachers, but Dr. Baby Sreeram proved her mettle in rendition as well as teaching music.

Gayaki Music Workshop Details

Chamber Concert –

The chamber concert held on Sunday had her featuring exquisite krithis. The session was also followed by an interactive session with special focus on rendering various aspects of Manodharma Sangeetha with emphasis on Neraval singing.

Guruvaram: Musical Workshop Series

With the desire of propagating Carnatic Music in its purest form, Gayaki School of Performing Arts is organizing a series of Music Workshop sessions, conducted by exponents in the field.
The inaugural workshop was done by Dr. G. Baby Sreeram. During the workshop, she taught the students a total of eight krithis, consisting of rare compositions of Trinity, Garbhapuri vasar and Neelakanta Sivan.

Baby Akka had meticulously scripted all the krithis with swara notations, making it very easy for the participants to follow and sign along. The neatly photocopied notes were distributed to participants in advance, thereby minimizing any confusion. 

Ijjanmam Idhai kadaithera
Neelakanda Shivan
Sree Krishno maam 
Muthuswami Deekshithar
Sree Venugopalam
Muthuswami Deekshithar
Karunanidhi Ilalo
Shyama Shasthi
Maruvakka daya
Dinanum ninai maname
Neelakanda Shivan
Thyagaraja Swami
Neevanti Deivamu (Thyagaraja krithi on Lord Muruga)
Thyagaraja Swami

An average teacher would compromise on the nuances of the krithis to match the capability of the students. But great teachers would take the students along with them, and with their excellent teaching skills, make the students proficient in handling even the subtle sangathis, thereby raising the standard of the students’ musical capability. The workshop was a testimony to this. 

Punctuating the magnanimous and heavy dose music lessons with fun here and there, the class was so lively. After singing one krithi at last after learning it, we would wonder “Wow! How did I learn that so fast?”… And the answer of course, is the Guru’s expertise in teaching. Baby akka would also visualize the music for us, to help us render it better. “After you complete singing the ragam before a krithi, finish it with a phrase that beautifully sums up that raga, like wrapping up a beautiful present”, she says, with her ever graceful smile. I am sure all the participants would have this analogy in mind whenever they render a raga.

While the audience consisted of a wide age range (from 8 to 40 years), all the participants had a genuine interest in music, and were rapt in attention throughout the session. It is this group effect that made all the participants accomplish the task of learning eight krithis in a short span of two days, an otherwise unimaginable feat.

Participants enjoying fun filled lunch sessions with our Gurus - Baby akka and Shanthala akka

Guruvaram Inaugural Workshop: Participants along with Dr. Baby Sreeram and Smt. Shanthala Raju

Baby akka being honored for the wonderful Music workshop

Gayaki School of Performing Arts

 Mrs. Shanthala Raju, owner of Gayaki School of Performing Arts, had painstakingly organized such a music workshop. Music workshops are a priceless experience to all artists. It is very rare that such music workshops are organized in Cochin too. With her primary focus on instilling classical music to all, all other motives like self interest or monitory benefit take a back seat. The very fact that the two day workshop was priced at a very nominal amount itself is proof to her genuine interest in making good music available to all. (Usual two day workshop fee is three times this amount)