Encapsulating the beauty of Rajagopala - Mannargudi Tiruvarur District.
The Mannargudi temple has caught the fancy of many artists.
(Beginning this week, we travel to four outstanding temples in Tamil Nadu, which are immortalised in songs that are rendered in concerts even today.)
Many songs have attained special status just for the way M.S. rendered them. Among the gems is the ‘Viribhoni’ varnam in Bhairavi by Pacchimiriam Adaiyappa. The varnam is a short piece with Muktayi swaram and several rounds of chittaiswarams that capture the essence of the raga. Deceptively simple, they were probably placed in the beginning of the concert for the singer to warm up for the complex songs to follow.
(The temple tank with the gopuram of Mannargudi Rajagopala Swami Temple in the background in Mannargudi. Photo: M. Srinath)
The brisk pace of the varnam also gets the audience into the mood. M.S.’s rendition of the swaras in higher speed was legendary and so entrancing that one would not pause at the simple sahitya of the song – “This beautiful damsel is yearning for you, handsome Lord of Southern Dwaraka, Sri Rajagopala who has a smiling face.”
We know very little of Adaiyappa, except that he was a musician in the Thanjavur court, possibly counted Syama Sastri and Ghanam Krishna Iyer among his disciples. We do, however, know he had a high aesthetic sense – for who cannot love the smile of the utsava deity in the Mannargudi Rajagopala Swami temple?
The Mannargudi Rajagopala Swami temple received special attention among the Nayak kings since it was also their tutelary deity. King Vijayaraghava, a great composer in his own right, was so enamoured of the temple that he composed several songs and dance-dramas on the deity. In his bid to elevate the status of the temple through literature, he transferred even stories of the Azhwars such as Vipranarayana (Thondaradippodi) to have been set in Mannargudi and Ranganatha as Rajagopala. His ‘Vipranarayana Charita Yakshagana’ is well worth staging today and would look divine if done in Mannargudi, where it must have originally been performed. ‘Hemabjanayika Swayamvaramu’ is another dance drama that narrates the marriage that takes place between the temple goddess and Rajagopala. Kaliyamardhana has detailed lyrical descriptions of Mannargudi equated to Vaikunta. All these dramas have several different genres of music – darus and padams being predominant.
Vijayaraghava’s mudra was Mannarudasa, servant of this temple – Mannar here as another name for Rajagopala.
Another composer who sang of the temple is Muvvanallur (not Muvalur) Sabhapatayya. He was inspired by the padams of Kshetrayya, who visited Thanjavur to compose them. Sabhapatayya created his own style of metaphor while retaining the structure of padams that Kshetrayya created. Sabhapatayya’s padams are rarely sung or danced, but when they were performed in the temple they must have been magical amidst the soft glowing oil lamps in the mandapam. In the Nayak times, the temple must have been as much a preferred venue for music and dance as the Thanjavur palace itself!