Udayalur Kalyanaraman traced the history of Marudanallur Sadguru Swami
A full house of rasikas, vidwans and vidushis greeted Udayalur Kalyanaraman, noted Namasankeertanam exponent, at his lec-dem at the Music Academy — an eloquent sign of the popularity and high esteem in which he is held. In his lec-dem, ‘Bhajana Sampradaya — Marudanallur Sadguru Swami,’ the veteran artiste shared nuggets about the history, pioneering vision and divinity of the Bhajana Sampradaya.
Thanjavur, on the banks of the Cauvery, heartland of the finest artistic traditions, was associated with the lives of avathara purushas and saints such as Sri Bodhendra Saraswathi Swamigal (Govindapuram), Sridhara Ayyaval (Tiruvisanallur ) and Sadguru Swamigal (Marudanallur), regarded as the Bhagavatha Trinity.
Born into an illustrious Telugu Brahmin family, to Alamelu and Venkata Subramanya Iyer, young Venkata Raman, later known as Sathguru Swamigal (1777-1817), grew up in an atmosphere enriched by anushtana, Bhagawata Sampradaya and Veda adhyayana. His father’s sole worry was that the child had not uttered a single word even at the age of five.
On a visit to nearby Manancheri village to perform a purohitha ceremony at the house of Gopala Bhagavathar, a Bodhendral devotee, he confided his anxiety. No cause for worry, reassured the Bhagavathar. Seating the boy on his lap, he murmured Rama nama in his ears. And behold! The child began to speak, his first word naturally being ‘Rama.’ Was not Lord Rama the child’s kula devatha?
The boy’s upanayanam and later his marriage, were duly conducted. Looking up to his father as his guru, Sadguru Swamgal received from him the Unchavritthi (Bhagavatha) Dharma that he chose to live by.
Descriptive verses sung in Sahana raga detailed Swamigal’s transcendent form when he set out on unchavritti — his every waking and sleeping second resonating with the Rama nama uttered 1,08,000 times each day, his anushtana sheening him with the brilliance of the sun, his unchavritti cloth wound around his head, its ends hanging free to the exact length, his akshaya patram in hand, with thousands of sishyas and devotees bearing chamaras (ceremonial fans) gathered around.
Desirous of worshipping at the places sanctified by Lord Rama’s presence, Sadguru Swamigal embarked on a pada yatra towards Ayodhya, accompanied by his wife Janaki.
Reaching Talapakkam (Andhra) en route, he sojourned there, imbibing and adding compositions of saints such as Annamacharya and Bhadrachala Ramadasa to the namasankeertana repertoire. In Orissa, losing himself in Jayadeva’s luminous Ashtapadi, he obtained the original text and tuned these poems in bhava-appropriate ragas. Which is why sangita vidwans may exercise the liberty to change these ragas in concert, but Bhagavathas must adhere to the original sampradaya!
Other compositions he included were the bhakti verses of Meera Bai, Kabir, Narayana Tirtha, Purandara Dasa, Tukaram, Marathi abhangs and Tamil devotionals such as Tiruvachakam. At Talapakkam, he had a dream in which Sri Bodhendral told him to end his pilgrimage and return to Dakshina Desa where he had a great mission to complete.
A hundred years had elapsed since the jeeva samadhi of Swamigal’s manasika guru, Sri Bodhendral. But no-one knew where the saint’s adhisthana was situated. Realising that his mission was to locate and rebuild it, Swamigal undertook a vow of complete fasting and began Nama Sankeertana, seated on the banks of the dry Cauvery river bed. Foregoing food, water and sleep, he immersed himself in an intense meditative search, bearing great suffering. Nine such days passed.
On the tenth day, covering and binding his feet together with a cloth, to ensure that he would not inadvertently tread on the adhistana, he inched over the dry river bed, moving on his knees.
Exhausted and on the verge of collapse, he discovered the exact spot of the adhisthana, guided there by the emanation of the saint’s voice chanting the Rama Nama. The Serfoji maharaja, who became Swamigal’s devotee, undertook the construction of Bodhendral’s adhistana structure. The king also dedicated an entire village to the Bhagavatas.
Today, the Namasankeertana tradition flourishes at the Marudanallur Sadguru Bhaktha Sabha. Right from the Thodaya Mangalam, the sampradaya bhajanas, Radha, Rukmini and Seetha Kalyanam are duly conducted as per krama. Sadguru Swamigal’s inclusion of devotional compositions in pancha bhasha (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Hindi) with those in the deva bhasha (Sanskrit) shines as a true symbol of national integration through music.