Thursday, December 15, 2011

Totakashtakam - Music for Healing

Totakashtakam - Music for Healing Ft. Jaya Vidyasagar, Rishi S for Sonore Unison

Whenever I sing or listen to this chant , I can visualize Dawn ,the hues of pink and blue breaking through the dark night sky , chirping birds, the serenity and peace of that Godly hour. Even without understanding the lyrics, it works its charm through your heart and soothes it.

But there is a beautiful history to this chant.

was one of the chief disciples of Adi Shankara.

It is said that
when Adi Shankara was at Shringeri, he met a boy named Giri. Adi Shankara accepted the boy as his disciple. Giri was a hard-working and loyal servant of his Guru, Adi Shankara, though he did not appear bright to the other disciples. One day, Giri was washing his Guru's clothes, when Adi Shankara sat down to begin a lesson on Advaita Vedanta. He however did not start the lesson saying he was waiting for Giri to come back from his chores. At this, another disciple Padmapada pointed to a wall and said that it would be the same if Adi Shankara taught to this dumb object as he taught to Giri. Now, Shankara wanted to reward Giri for his loyalty and devotion. Thus he mentally granted Giri the complete knowledge of all the śāstras (sciences). The enlightened Giri composed extempore the Totakashtakam, Sanskrit verses , in praise of the Guru Adi Shankara.

The metre he has used in this composition is the difficult but beautiful totaka. Hence he was given the name Totakacharya. Every word of this exquisite hymn bespeaks the utter devotion of its author to Shankara. Shankara, the Guru, is all to him. There is nothing equal to the Guru; nothing superior to him. The Guru is the dispeller of the darkness of ignorance. There can be no greater good than the removal of ignorance. The spirit of devotion of the disciple is best expressed in the soul-moving burden of this song : Be Thou my refuge, O Master, Shankara (bhava Shankara deshika me sharanam)!

Thus due to the grace of the Guru, Giri became a 'knower' of all scriptures, and he earned the respect of Padmapada and other disciples He became one of Shankara's four most important disciples, and was later entrusted with running the Jyotirmath at Badari.

The Script with the translated meaning goes as follows:-

||तोटकाष्टकं ||

The TotakAShtakam has been composed in the toTaka meter, in which each pAda (quarter) has four sa-gaNa's. Here a sa-gaNa is made up of two short syllables followed by a long one. The hymn naturally lends itself to be set to music.

विदिताखिलशास्त्रसुधाजलधे महितोपनिषत् कथितार्थनिधे | हृदये कलये विमलं चरणं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||१||

O knower of the nectar-ocean of the scriptures, the expounder of the knowledge of the great upanishadic treasure! I meditate on Your pure lotus feet in my heart | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

करुणावरुणालय पालय मां भवसागरदुःखविदूनहृदम् | रचयाखिलदर्शनतत्त्वविदं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||२||

Save me whose heart is afflicted by the misery of the ocean of births, O (You who are) the ocean of compassion! (By Your grace) make me the knower of the truths of all the systems of philosophy | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

भवता जनता सुहिता भविता निजबोधविचारण चारुमते | कलयेश्वरजीवविवेकविदं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||३||

The people have found happiness due to You, who have the intellect adept in the inquiry into Self-knowledge | Make me understand the knowledge of God and the soul | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

भव एव भवानिति मे नितरां समजायत चेतसि कौतुकिता | मम वारय मोहमहाजलधिं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणं ||४||

You are Lord Shiva Himself | Knowing this my mind is filled with an abundance of joy | Put an end to my sea of delusion | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

सुकृते | अधिकृते बहुधा भवतो भविता समदर्शनलालसता | अतिदीनमिमं परिपालय मां भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||५||

Only after numerous virtuous deeds have been performed in many ways, does a keen desire for the experience of Brahman through You arise. Protect (me who am) extremely helpless | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

जगतीमवितुं कलिताकृतयो विचरन्ति महामहसश्छलतः | अहिमांशुरिवात्र विभासि गुरो भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||६||

For the sake of saving the world, (Your) great (disciples) wander assuming various forms and guises | O Guru, You shine like the sun (among them). O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

गुरुपुंगव पुंगवकेतन ते समतामयतां नहि को | अपि सुधीः | शरणागतवत्सल तत्त्वनिधे भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||७||

O Best among the Gurus! The Lord whose flag bears the emblem of the bull! You have no equal among the wise | You who are affectionate to those who seek refuge! The treasure of truth! O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

विदिता न मया विशदैककला न च किंचन काञ्चनमस्ति गुरो | द्रुतमेव विधेहि कृपां सहजां भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||८||

I have neither understood even one branch of knowledge clearly, nor do I possess any wealth, O Guru | Quickly bestow on me the compassion which is natural to You | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

My memory of this chant goes back to 2002, when I had the privilege of presenting this song in the presence of the former Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee and his cabinet ministry in Delhi for a function commemorating the Kanchi Shankaracharya's 50th year of ascending the Peetham.

I had set it to tune basing it on an early morning Raaga, Bhibhas(of the Bhairav thaat).

A very big thank you to Rishi S, without whose help , this chant wouldn't have shaped up so beautifully. His arrangement and mixing has given a serene meditative feel to this divine shloka. Thank you Rishi, privileged to have an excellent friend like you-in all respects! :)

Composed and rendered by - Jaya Vidyasagar

Mixing and Arrangement :- Rishi S

Record Label :- Sonore Unison

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nee(Reprise) - Celebrating Raag Yaman

An improvisation piece based on an original composition " Nee" in Raag Yaman(Hindusani)/ Kalyani(Carnatic).

Nee, the original composition I had lent vocals to, on which this reprise is based, has been melodiously composed and mixed by Rishi S, written by Aisoorya for the label Sonore Unison.

Nee(Reprise) is an improvisation on the original ,delving into the Raaga that has always been close to my heart. Yaman- An all time peace bestowing Raag.

Yaman is the raag with which almost every music student enters this fascinating world of raags. The aura and the magic that this raag holds will always remain a mystery even to the greatest of musician, or scholar.

Though its usually the first raag that is taught to aspiring students of music, its a raag that you never really stop learning. There are innumerable aspects, sides, to raag Yaman - a thousand musical phrases can be woven around its basic melodic structure. It is a raag that gives the musician infinite opportunities to improvise and explore.

For me Yaman invokes spirituality, peace, love, harmony and a beauty that enthralls me every time I sing it.

Raag Yaman

Thaat Kalyan

Aaroha Ni Re Ga Ma Dha Ni Sa
Avroha Sa Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Re Sa


Ni Re Ga, Ga
Ma Pa, Ma Ga Re Sa

(Ma is teevra, all other swaras are Shudha)



Samvaadi Ni
Prahar (Time)


Evening (Raat ka Pratham Prahar)

Shaadava Sampoorna (omits Pa in the Aroha, Avaroha has all 7 swaras)

Vocals and Improvisation:- Jaya Vidyasagar

Original Composition and Mixing:- Rishi S

Lyrics:- Aisoorya Vijaykumar

Label:- Sonore Unison

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Spiritual Bites : Introspection - Ft. Rishi S, Jaya Vidyasagar

Santh Kabīr (1440—1518) was a mystic poet and saint of India, whose writings have greatly influenced the Bhakti movement.

Kabir composed in a pithy and earthy style, replete with surprise and inventive imagery. He expressed his poems orally in Hindi. His Hindi was of a vernacular, straightforward kind, very much like his philosophies.

His verses often began with some strongly worded insult to get the attention of passers-by. Kabir has enjoyed a revival of popularity over the past half century as arguably the most accessible and understandable of the Indian saints, with a special influence over spiritual traditions.

Kabir and his followers named his poetic output as ‘bāņīs’ - utterances. These include songs and couplets, called variously dohe, śalokā (Sanskrit ślokā), or sākhī (Sanskrit sākşī). The latter term, meaning ‘witness,’ best indicates the use that Kabir and his followers envisioned for these poems: “As direct evidence of the Truth, a sākhī is… meant to be memorized… A sākhī is… meant to evoke the highest Truth.” As such, memorizing, reciting, and thus pondering over these utterances constitutes, for Kabir and his followers, a path to spiritual awakening.

In this doha he says :-

बुरा जो देखन मैं चला, बुरा ना मिल्या कोई

जो मन खोजा अपना, तो मुझसे बुरा ना कोई

I went on the search for the Bad Person/Evil, A bad person/ Evil I couldn't find
When I searched deep within my mind- my innerself , No one is Nastier then Me


This Doha is about observing ones own mind. Kabir says that he searched the world for the bad , the real evil person but he couldn't find an evil person no matter where he looked. Then he looked within at his own thinking process, his own mind. Thats when he found the real evil person , lived in his mind, unchecked. When we accuse, condemn another, it is our mind that is doing the finger pointing. Resultantly, we find ourselves being busy in criticizing and condemning others and conveniently term them as crooked or evil. In this simple two-line insightful doha, he says that instead of finding fault and maligning others, dive deep into your own self. Amazingly, an honest introspection will reveal that all fault lies with "us" and "our" perceptions and attitudes. If there is any evil or crookedness, it is in "us". Correcting this and opting for a loving and compassionate attitude will change one's perceptions and the world will appear wonderful again.

This was my first attempt at recording an orginal composition. Rishi S, A wonderful composer from Hyderabad has composed this soulful melody. It was a beautiful enriching experience.

Im glad my journey into singing original compositions began with this insightful Kabir couplet ,composed so melodiously By Rishi :)

Vocals - Jaya Vidyasagar

Composed and Mixed by - Rishi S

Label - Sonore Unison

Friday, March 11, 2011

Baajlo Tomar Alor Benu

The traditional six day countdown to Mahasaptami starts from Mahalaya. Goddess Durga visits the earth for only four days but seven days prior to the Pujas, starts the Mahalaya. Sarat in its bloom,mingled with the festive spirit of Durga Puja reaches its pitch on the day of Mahalaya.

This day bears immense significance for the Bengalis. It is according to the myths that Sree Rama hastily performed Durga Puja just before he set for Lanka to rescue Sita from Ravana.
According to Puranas, King Suratha, used to worship goddess Durga in spring. Thus Durga Puja was also known as Basanti Puja. But Rama preponed the Puja and worshiped Durga in autumn and that is why it is known as 'Akal Bodhon' or untimely worship. It was considered untimely as it is in the myths that puja was performed when the Gods and Goddesses were awake i.e. "Uttarayan" and was not held when the Gods and Goddesses rested ie."Dakshinayan". It was on the day of Mahalaya,the beginning of "devipaksha",the Gods and Goddesses woke up to prepare themselves for Durga Puja.

“Mahisasura Mardini “is a hugely popular early AIR programme which is being broadcast (first on Akashvani, Kolkata) since 1930. It is a beautiful two-hour audio montage of Chandipath (chanting from Chandi) recitation from the scriptural verses of Sri Sri Chandi or Durga Saptashati, Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama.
This programme, which began in 1930, is aired every year at day-break on Mahalaya even till today. The programme, which started off as a live-performance has been broadcast in its pre-recorded format since the late nineteen-sixties. However, its great popularity remains undiminished even till today.
This program has almost become synonymous with Mahalaya which is celebrated to usher the Debipaksha lunar fortnight and the Durga Puja . To this day, the whole of Bengal rises up in the chilly pre dawn hours, 4 am at morning to be precise, of the Mahalaya day to tune in to the “Mahisasura Mardini” broadcast.

The person who will always be remembered for making Mahalaya memorable to one and all is Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the magical voice behind the “Mahisasura Mardini.” The legendary narrator recites the holy verses and tells the story of the descent of Durga to earth, in his inimitable style.
Bhadraji passed away long ago, but his recorded voice still forms the core of the Mahalaya program. In a sonorous, reverberating voice Birendra Bhadra renders the Mahalaya recital for two thrilling hours, mesmerizing every household with the divine aura of his narration, as the Bengalis submerge their souls in quiet moments of prayer.
Mahisasura Mardini is a remarkable piece of audio drama matchless in Indian culture. Though the theme is mythical and the mantras Vedic, this program is a landmark composition. It's scripted by Bani Kumar, and narrated by Bhadra while Dijen Mukhopadhya, Manobendra Mukhopadhya , Sandhya Mukhopadhya, Arati Mukhopadhya, Utpala Sen, Shyamal Mitra and Supriti Ghosh sang in their melodious voices. The enchanting music is composed by none other than the immortal Pankaj Mullick. As the recital begins, the serene morning air resonates with the long drawn sound of the sacred conch shell, immediately followed by a chorus of invocation, melodiously setting the stage for the recitation of the Chandipath.

Set to Raag Bhairavi, Bajlo Tomar is the first song that is beautifully rendered by Supriti Gosh.

I was first introduced to Bengali music and culture by my music teacher in school -Mrs. Shaili Banerjee. It was due to her that my passion and love for Bengali songs grew. She was someone who stood by, supported and watched me grow from a shy school girl who was terrified of the mic to a confident young girl who started loving the stage as a second home. Being a South Indian, I was naturally worried about picking up a Bengali song and that too to be performed during Durga pooja to an entirely Bengali audience. But Mrs Banerjee was confident and pushed me to perform it. It turned out to be one of the most memorable performances for me. The love and affection showered by the Bengali people when they heard the song was overwhelming. After that ,I was invited to perform the same song at several Durga Pooja funstions. And everytime it was a new and exhilarating experience. Surprisingly wherever I have performed this song ,despite the language barrier people would sway with devotion and be enraptured by this beautiful composition.

This recording was a performance I gave at Subramanya Samaj in Mumbai. Though the audience was primarily South Indian, most people came up and specially mentioned this song post the performance.

Over the years I lost in touch with my teacher, but her love and her genuine interest in my music lingered in my heart and will always be cherished wherever I am.

Mrs Banerjee, This one is for you Ma'am :) Thank you :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Maili Chadar

Maili Chadar is a heartwarming song written and sung by the late Sri. Hari Om Sharan. He remains one of the most popular bhajan singers in India. His bhajans are straight from the heart, sung without any exaggeration and simplicity. Pandit Jasraj once compared his style of singing to that of a "fakir" (saint).

"Maili Chadar" is one of Hari Om Sharan's most popular bhajans.

This bhajan is a touching description of a devotee's feelings towards God. The lyrics go in the form of a one-to-one conversation between a devotee and the Lord.
Standing at the doorstep of the Lord's chamber, the devotee here draws a comparison between a precious human life as a soiled blanket (maili chaadar) given by God in a pure form, which we, in our quest for materialism, bring it down to a state that we ourselves are ashamed to even stand in God's presence.
With purity in thought, word and action, God sends us into this world. But we tend to forget the very purpose of life and only seek to cultivate vices and emit negativity. What can we sing to Him, when we have broken the strings of this human instrument. What can we garland Him with, when we have just lost and failed in our own eyes?

As a young school-going girl growing up in Bombay, I remember this particular recording used to be my father's favourite, and was played almost every morning. My father, a person ruled more by his heart than the head, would never fail to be moved and would wipe a tear at the end of this song.
This used to be a constant source of amusement for me as a school kid. I realized much later what actually made my father wipe a tear when I actually understood the true meaning of this song and when I started performing it.
At the time of a performance, I would get so involved in the overall feel of the song that it would even make me forget the lyrics :)
This beautiful bhajan has wonderfully worked its charm on both my father and me and I'm sure for most people who have heard it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Remembering Panditji

One of my earliest recollections of devotional music was a beautiful abhang "Majhe maher Pandhari" sung by Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. I was too young to realise the greatness of the legend back then but the voice and the bhaava left a long lasting impression on me. Panditji, was truly a magician when he perfomed. He could sing a serious Puriya Dhanashree Khayal with as much ease and beauty as he would render a Bhajan or an Abhang. He has truly been an inspiration and guide for many aspiring classical musicians. The impact and the musical legacy he has left behind is just too immensly great to put down in words.

This song Baaje Muraliya is one of my personal favourites which Panditji had rendered along with Lataji. This Bhajan tugs at the heartsrings and when you hear Panditji sing you truly can visualise Krishna mesmersing with his Murali(flute) in Vrindavan. This was one of the earliest Bhajans I had learnt and i can never thank my mother enough for pushing me to learn it even when I never really understood its lyrical or musical beauty.

This was one of my earliest performances of this song, sung many years back at a concert. With all its flaws and imperfections, this is still close to my heart as it was the first time I really felt the song and sang it, all the while panditji's rich melifluous voice ringing in the back of my mind.
Panditji, this one is my humble tribute to you.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Tum Asha Vishwas Hamare"

Here is a song is close to my heart. A beautiful Bhajan on Lord Rama.

"Tum Asha Vishwas Hamare" is a wonderful song sung by the eternally timeless Lataji in the Hindi film Subah. Subah was a remake of a 1982 Marathi Movie Umbartha directed by Jabbar Patel.
The music was composed by Pt. Hridayanath Mangeshkar and has a wonderful morning prayer kind of feel to it. The lyrics are written by Pt. Narendra Sharma, who was known for his simple yet eloquent poetry.

The lyrics , the music, the entire composition is so mesmerizing. It has never failed to bring tears to my eyes.
Here is my humble tribute to Lataji which i performed at Prempuri Ashram in Mumbai.