Celestial Blessings



The upcoming concert Planet Prayers by senior students of Jayashree Varadarajan will be a testament to the interdisciplinary connections between Karnatik music and Indian astrological science. Indian astrology believes that the positions of the nine planets at the time of one’s birth determines an individual’s birth chart which then helps predict future events. Muthuswami Dikshitar, a musical titan, composed nine songs in praise of the planets. Dikshitar lived in the Tamil Nadu of the 1800s, and is regarded as one among the trinity of revered composers,whose compositions are sung to this day all around the world. The “navagraha krithis” or nine songs composed to praise the nine planets by Muthuswami Dikshitar will anchor the music program.

Jayashree Varadarajan says, “These nine compositions are unique and are a testament to the composer’s thorough knowledge of Sanskrit, astrology, and the rules of Karnatik music. The genius of Dikshitar as a composer is revealed in the way each composition is structured. Through research that I have conducted for several years, I collected many renderings of these compositions to help me while teaching them. The students have worked hard to learn these compositions by imbibing the meaning of every word and singing it with appropriate reverence. By teaching and rendering them correctly, we can invoke the blessings of the nine planets, helping those who sing and hear them.” The story of how Dikshitar wrote these nine krithis is a fascinating one. One of his disciples, Thambiappan, was afflicted with severe stomach pain, causing him a lot of distress. Dikshitar asked him for his horoscope and noted that Jupiter needed to be appeased to help cure him. He then composed “Brahaspathe” in praise of Jupiter and instructed his disciple to sing it for 40 days with intense devotion. Soon, Thambiappan was cured, and his disciples urged Dikshitar to compose songs in praise of the other planets as well. Thus was born this set of compositions called as the “navagraha krithis.” The composer took care to compose these songs in the soolaadhi saptha talas or seven rhythmic cycles codified by Purandaradasa, widely regarded as the Guru Pitamaha of Karnatik music.

According to Hindu belief, each planet is ruled by a presiding deity. For instance, it is widely believed that the moon is ruled by Parvathi and Mars by Murugan. Compositions in praise of each of the presiding deities, chosen from many languages, will also be sung. The program will end with a thillana composed by Jayashree in Sanskrit in praise of the nine planets. Jayashree adds, “These compositions are not performed often because they are very challenging. They are akin to Vedic chanting where supreme care has to be taken not to cause unhappiness, as each song is filled with powerful sounds. Fifty of my senior students are participating, wearing the appropriate colors associated with each of the nine planets when they sing the krithis. I hope that the concert, based on painstaking research, will be an oral and visual presentation invoking the blessings of the nine planets for those who sing and hear them.”

Saturday, March 3, 4 p.m. Cubberley Theater, 4000 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto. Benefit program for Shiva Murugan Tmeple, Concord. $15, $25 sponsor, $10 children aged 5-12. (408) 252-1359, (408) 274-1443, (408) 557-8909.

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