Article on Maharaja Swathi Thirunal

It is said that once the great musical sage Narada asked Lord Vishnu,
"Oh Lord! Where do you actually reside? In Vaikunta? In the hearts of Yogis?"
and Vishnu sang,
"Naaham vasaami Vaikunte,
Yoginaam hridaye na cha,
Mad bhaktaa yathra gaayanthi,
Thathra thishtaami Naarada."
("I don't live in Vaikunta, nor in the hearts of Yogis.
I am present where my devotees Sing tunefully about me.")
While most believers would agree that we need the grace of God for our well
being, it is equally pertinent that God needs His or Her Devotees too, to sing
His/Her praises! The amount of popularity enjoyed by Sri Rama today for
instance, would be significantly less without the contribution of great devotees
like Valmiki, Tulasidas, Thyagaraja, Bhadrachala Ramadasa and others.
Our own Lord Sri Padmanabhaswamy is no different in this respect.
Despite having had a long line of Padmanabha Dasas to serve Him, the
place that Maharaja Sri Swathi Thirunal has, is utterly unique and special,
not just in the history of the temple, but in the history of Indian culture itself.
Sangeetha Pithaamaha The Great Grandfather of Music, Sri Purandaradasa
Malagi paadidare, kulitu keluvanu - If you lie down and sing, I'll sit up and listen
Kulitu paadidare, nintu keluvanu - If you sit and sing, I will stand up and listen
Nintu paadidare, nalidu keluvanu - If you stand and sing, I will dance and listen
Nalidu paadidare, Swargasure bittenembe, Purandara Vittala !
- If you Dance and sing, then it is indeed Heaven, Oh Purandara Vittala!
Maharaja Swathi Thirunal personified the sentiment contained within this
Much better known is The Sanskrit sloka from ‘Sankraha Chudamani’
which says
"Sangeethamapi sahithyam Saraswathya sthana dwayam
Ekam aapatha madhuram anyathaalochanamrutham”
meaning, "Music and poetry are the two breasts of Saraswathi.
Music pleases one the moment one hears it, whereas poetry gives pleasure
after one contemplates it or analyzes it."
Maharaja Swathi Thirunal personifies this too and could be rightly called
"Saraswathyputhra" or the "Son of Goddess Saraswathy": somebody who
embodied Music, Dance and Poetry in equal measure.
Like most people who are more evolved than others and who are visionaries
ahead of their time, he had to suffer a lot and was forced to lead a tragic and
frustrating life. But within this short life, his accomplishments in various areas
like music, literature, administration, astronomy, social reforms, spirituality,
languages and temple administration to name a few, literally boggle the mind!
If people can be categorized as
the village idiot,
the local hero,
the national treasure
the world class individual,
Maharaja Swathi Thirunal was somebody who was truly world class. The
outcome is rarely a happy one when world class individuals and their lives are
at the mercy of people from the "village idiot" category and we can
observe this phenomenon occur again and again, throughout history.
Mozart, Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Meerabai, Avvayyar, Thyagaraja
.....they all had to go through this. But all these people left behind something
beautiful, joyful and inspirational that lived and continues to live, long after their
In the year 2013 the world celebrated the 200th birth anniversary of Maharaja.
What else happened in 2013?
Shiva and Vishnu followers continued their fight with each other.
Sunni and Shia Muslims continued to kill each other.
Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar fans continued to insult each other,
long after both these great singers had passed on.
Gurus of one school of music ordered their students to stay away from rival
schools of music........and so on and so forth.
When division and separatism seems to be the order of the day even in 2013,
it is quite amazing how inclusive and universal a spirit Maharaja had, even
though he lived 200 years ago.
Apart from sending his brilliant court musician Shatkala Govinda Marar to
Tiruvaiyyaar to invite Sri Thyagara to come to Travancore, he invited vidwans
from all over the country to adorn his court and quenched his thirst for
knowledge in various aspects of music, both South Indian (Carnatic) as well as
North Indian (Hindustani). To the best of my knowledge he remains one of the
few individuals, if not the Only individual who encompasses Indian classical
music as a whole, having composed Swarajathis, Jathiswarams, Pada
Varnams, Thaana Varnams, Keerthanams, Ragamalikas, Thillanas, Padams
and Javalis in the  Carnatic style and Dhrupads, Khayals, Thumris, Bhajans,
Horis, Tappas and Taranas in the Hindusthani style. Despite the forms of
composition being so varied and despite having written the lyrics in languages
as diverse as Malayalam, Manipravalam, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi
and Braj Bhasha, the same typical and unmistakably sweet and lilting "Swathi
Touch"  runs through all his works and connects them like a silken thread.
The most salient factor that runs through all his works is his love, passion
and obssession with Sri Padmanabhaswamy. Despite being such an ardent
devotee of Lord Sri Padmanabha, Maharaja Swathi Thirunal composed dozens
of exquisite compositions on Rama, Krishna, Ganesha, Anjaneya, Narasimha,
Subrahmanya, Siva, Saraswathy, Lakshmi and Durga. He composed songs for
the nine evenings of Navarathri, nine songs depicting the nine forms of devotion
or "Nava Vidha Bhakthi" (Being Sravanam - Listening to the names of the Lord,
Keerthanam - Singing/chanting of the names of the Lord
Smaranam - Remembering the Lord
Paada Sevanam - Serving at the feet of the Lord
Archanam - Worship or Pooja
Vandanam - Saluting the Lord
Daasyam - Being a slave to the Lord
Sakhyam - Seeing the Lord as a friend
Aatma Nivedanam - Surrendering oneself or offering one's soul to the Lord) and
organized the music for the Naadaswara Seva at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy
temple. These songs continue to be played to this day, though the standard
of the musicians has gone down somewhat during the last decade or two, with
many of the senior musicians passing away.
Every year, during the first two weeks of January, a music festival is organized
at the Kuthiramalika Palace where Maharaja spent the very last part of his life.
This festival called the "Swathi Sangeethotsavam" continues to attract larger
and larger crowds of music lovers year after year. Only compositions of
Maharaja are sung and I network with the artists who are invited, to ensure that
almost no song is repeated during the course of the festival. Many videos from
the festival are uploaded on in the IDs musique4ever and
musiquebox and are enjoyed by viewers from all over the world. When
Maharaja's 200th brithday is celebrated, the Swathi Sangeethotsavam is
expected to celebrate it's 15th birthday in from January 4 to 13, 2014.
The discovery of a huge amount of wealth recently, rocketed the Sri
Padmanabhaswamy Temple to fame all over India and outside the country too.
The treausre has brought out greed, anxiety, fear, pride and so many kinds
of emotions in people, not to mention miles and miles of space in the print
media and hours upon hours of meaningless debates and panel discussions
on TV channels where people try to shout each other down.
In the middle of this cacophony, I feel blessed to be dealing with the non
tension generating and infinitely more priceless treasures that have been left
for the whole world to enjoy, by the Ultimate Padmanabha Dasa, Maharaja
Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma.
By Rama Varma (Not Swathi Thirunal),
Kawadiar Palace,


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