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Arayar Sevai : Divine Music and Dance : Part 1

From: Sadagopan (
Date: Wed Dec 30 1998 - 17:50:18 PST

Dear BhakthAs :

This is the season of Thiru AdhyayanOthsavam at 
Srirangam, SriVilliputthUr and AzhwAr Thirunahari .
During the 21 days of this uthsavam at Srirangam 
for instance, Abhinayam , singing folowed by 
Commentary (vyAkhyAnam ) from TampirAn pati is
peformed by the Arayars. This is a tradition that 
goes back to Sri Ranganatha Muni(824-924 A.D.) , 
who was directly initated into Divya Prabhandham and 
Yoga rahasyam by Swami Sri NammAzhwAr
at ThirukkuruhUr .

NammAzhwAr's upadEsam 
NammAzhwAr himself has recommended his Thiruvaimozhi
to be sung and danced in front of the Lord . His prathama
sishyar , Mathura Kavi AzhwAr did just that and spent his 
life propagting the message of Thiruvaimozh to one and all
( thEvu maRRaRiyEn KuruhUr Nampi , paavininissai
paatit thiruivEnE ). 

In his Thiruvaimozhi (TVM )paasuram(9.10.11) , NammAzhwAr 
envisages the use of music and dancing to salute the 
Lord . This palasruthi paasuram is :

PaaDu  saarA vinai paRRa vENduveer 
maada needu KuruhUr SatakOpan soll
paadalAna Tamizh AayiratthuLip patthum
paadiyADip paNiminavan tALkalE 

Professor VasudhA NaarAyaNan in her scholarly
treatise , " vernacular VedA : Recitation , Revelation
and Ritual " translates the meaning of the above paasuram
this way :

O you who want to break 
the hold of deeds
and stop them from coming close
worship the feet of the Lord ,
singing and dancing these ten 
of the thousand Tamil songs
sung by SatakOpan who hails from KurukUr 
a city with lofty mansions 
--TVM : 9.10.11

Dr.V.N. VedAntha Desikan , the author of 
AzhwAr ThiruvuLLam translates this verse 
as follows :

" People who wish to keep all grief at a long distance !
Of the thousand verses of advice tendered by SatakOpan of 
ThirukkuruhUr (of tall palatial rsidences ), use this 
decad to perform reverential worship with flowers , say ,
at the Lord's feet .While doing so , DANCE AND SING 

There are many other paasurams of NammazhwAr 
and the other AzhwArs that recommend music and 
dance as a part of the rituals to worship our Lord .

Arayars and their use of Dance & Music in worship
We will cover the veda pramANam for the use of
Dance and music in the worship of our Lord in
the next posting . Here , we will give a history of 
the Arayar sEvai .
ThiruvAimozhi is generally considered as the essence 
of Saama Vedam , the Vedam of UdhgItham . NammAzhwAr is 
hailed as "Vedam Tamizh seytha MaaRan ". He instructed 
Naatha Muni on the Divya Prabhandham including ThiruvAimozhi . 
When Naatha Muni returned to his native place , Veera NaarAyaNa 
Puram after his initiation by NammAzhwAr ,
the EmperumAn of this kshEthram commanded Naatha Muni
to set the divya prabhandham to music and tALam and 
teach it to one and all . Naatha Muni taught his two
nephews , Melai ahatthu AzhwAn ( VaradAchAr ) and
Keezhai ahatthu AzhwAn ( KrishNamaacchAr ) the raagams
and the tAlams that he had set for the 4,000 Paasurams .
NigamAntha MahA Desikan celebrates this extraordinary service 
to Sri Vaishnava community rendered by naatha Muni
this way :

Kaalam Valampurianna naRkkaathal adiyavarkku
TaaLam Vazhangit thamizh maRai INNISAI TANTHA VALLAL
MooLum tava neRi mootiya Naatha Muni KazhalE
nALum thozhuthezhuvOm namakkAr nihar nanilatthE 

Swami Desikan compared the two disciples of Naatha Muni
to Kaalam and Valampuri ( two musical instruments ) 
and acknowledged their services to spread the deva 
ghAnam . The male line of descendants and disciples of 
the nephews of Naatha Muni maintained this singing 
and dancing (abhinayam ) tradition of rendering divya
Prabhandhams and nurtured the traition of Arayar sEvai 
for the past eleven hundred plus years in its pristine 
from . 

The arayars service to our SiddhAntham is matchless.
Once a great arayar was dispatched by the Srirangam 
VaishnavA community to kanchipuram with a mission . 
This arayar pleased so verymuch the heart of Sri VaradarAjan
through his exquisite singing  and dancing of the divya
Prabhandha paasurams that the Lord of Kanchi conceded 
to send RaamAnujA to Srirangam to take over the duties
of nourishing our sampradhAyam after AlavandhAr's 
attainment of parama Padham . Lord of Srirangam 
carrying the title of "Gaayaka Saarvabhouman "
listens with rapture to the services of Arayars 
and honors them with Brahma Ratham at the end of 
the Adhyayana Uthsavam.Our Lord of Srirangam 
enjoys VeeNai rendering by VidwAn RengarAjan , just
as ThiruvEnakatamudayAN enjoys the VeeNA rendering 
by the descendants of TaLapAkkam AnnamAchAryA .
Professor NarAyaNan has referred to stalwarts like 
ThiruvallikkENi Venakta varadhan , late Sri V.V.Sadagopan 
and Sri Raama Bharathi carrying on this tradition 
of teaching this deva ghAnam to students to maintain
this mode of musical service to the Lord and 
remind us that the Divya Prabhandham is an
anubhava Grantham both in the mode of recital 
and commentary . 

At the great and auspicious stage(arena /Rangam ) of 
Srirangam , " the performative intrepretations "
of Divya prabhandham in general and Thiruvaimozhi
in particular continue even today in an uninterrupted
fashion from the times of Naatha Muni .

The ten paasurams of ThiruvAimozhi (TVM )recited ,
intrepreted and commented on the ten nights
of Iraa Patthu uthsavam are :

1. TVM : 1.1.1--uyaRvaRavyur nalamudayavan 
2. TVM :2.10.1--kiLaroLi Ilamai keduvathan munn
3. TVM : 3.3.1--ozhivil kAlamellAm udanAi manni
4. TVM : 4.10.1--onRum thEvum ulahamuyirum maRRum 
5. TVM : 5.8.1--AarAavamudhE adiyEnudalam ninn paal
6. TVM : 6.10.1--Ulaham uNda PeruvAyA 
7. TVM : 7.2.1--kangum pahalum kaNDyilaRiyAL
8. TVM : 8.10.1--NedumARkku adimai seyvEn pOlavai
9. TVM : 9.10.1--maalai naNNI thozhuthezhuminE vinai keda 
10.TVM :10.1.1--TaaLa ThAmarait taDamaNi vayaRRiru MohUr

The samslesham (the Union ) and the VislEsham
of the AzhwAr are intrepreted with a depth of
feeling by the Arayars in front of NamperumAL .
The emotional turmoils , the inner awakening 
and the spiritual blossming of AzhwAr are enacted 
for us in an unforgettable manner using ance and 
music . Stories of Kamsa Vadham , HiraNya Vadham ,
IrAvaNa vadham are enacted to remind us of the 
supermacy of the Lord over evil forces . The stories
of amruth amathanam , VamanAvathAram and Mutthuk KuRi
are dramatized with appropriate abhinayams .

Each of the divya desams , where Arayar sevai continues ,
have their own age old traditions . For instance , the 
Cymbals used referred to as AzhwAr are the largest in
size at ThirukkuruhUr ; at Thiru NaarAyaNapuram , 
the passurams are sung without abhinayam . Professor
VasudhA NaarAyaNan , Srimathi KaLLapirAN RanganAyaki
AmmAl have provided many additional inputs on 
the different aspects of Arayar sEvais .

We will now move on to the veda pramANams for 
the use of dance and music in Bhagavadh sEvanam .

AzhwAr AchAryan ThiruvadigaLE SaraNam
ThiruviNNagar VaradachAri Sadagopan