The divine musical instrument, Veena, is usually associated with Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. But in the Navaratnamaala of Kalidasa, the Divine Mother, whom he addresses as Siva Kaanta, is also depicted as playing on the veena, and as being immersed in the melody produced by the flight of the musical notes, sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni, as the tips of Her charming fingers glide over the strings of the veena. In that state of ecstasy, Her heart is tender (mridula, मृदुल) as a delicate flower, and she becomes the embodiment of peace (saanti, शान्ति). In this form in which She is conceived, Ambika is known as Syaamala. The bliss that flows as a result of that internal peace is indescribable. While She is immersed in that bliss, the devotee who conceives of and concentrates of Her in that attitude of bliss, experiences the mercy (Karuna, करुण) that flows from Her tender heart. The verse that gives expression to this sentiment is:
कुचभरतान्ताम् नमामि शिवकान्ताम्॥
Sarigamapadhani rataam tam
Kuchabhara-taantaam namaami siva-kaantaam.
By surrendering ourselves to Siva Kaanta, radiating peace and bliss, in an atmosphere permeated with celestial music, our souls also find peace and happiness. The God realization achieved through the hard path of Vedic study, yoga, dhyaana, etc., is also achieved, when the mind gets soaked and lost in divine music. Saint Thyagaraja and other devotees, who surrendered their hearts to God through the musical medium, are witnesses to this truth.
Among compositions in praise of the Divine Mother, Soundarya Lahari of Sri Sankara, occupies a pre-eminent place. In that composition, the following verse occurs:
गले रेखास्तिस्रो गतिगमकगीतैकनिपुणॆ
विवाहव्यानद्ध त्रिगुणगुणसंख्याप्रतिभुव: ।
त्रयाणां ग्रामाणां स्थितिनियमसीमान इव ते ॥
Gale rekhaastisro gati-gamaka-geetaika nipune,
Trayaanaam graamaanaam sthiti-niyama-seemaanaiva te.
In this verse Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada’s profound knowledge of the theory and practice of music is evident. He refers to the three lines shining in the region of the throat of Ambika (gale rekhaastisro, गले रेखास्तिस्रो) and says that they are the marks of the triple threads (triguna guna, त्रिगुणगुण) with which maangalya was tied round Her neck, at the time of Her marriage, and also indicates Her mastery of the three elements in music, gati, gamaka, and geeta, and the three graamaas (trayaanaam graamaanaam, त्रयाणां ग्रामाणां) or scales of melodious music, as well as the origin and boundaries of the musical notes of each graama.
The lines on the throat of a woman take the place of Adam’s apple in the throat of a man. Adam’s apple is symbolic of the poison which Isvara retained in his gullet without allowing it either to come out or to get in. The lines which Ambika has on her throat are found on the throats of women. These are symbolic of the all-pervasiveness of God. Another illustration of this all-pervasiveness is to be found in the Madurai legend, according to which, Sri Sundareswara assumed the form of a boy worker and carried earth in a basket to oblige a devout old lady. When the Pandyan king dealt a blow with a cane on the back of this boy for his apparent sluggishness, it is recorded that this blow was felt on the back of every person in Madurai, including the king himself.
Both the verses I have quoted bring out the fundamental principles of advaita, the One-ness of God. Ambika or Sakti is absorbed in music or sound, which is Isvara or Brahmam,and thereby the identity of Ambika and Isvara is signified. Being merciful by nature, She showers Her grace on the devotee, who forgets himself in his devotion to Her through music, and that grace enables his atma to get merged with the paramaatma, or the Ultimate Truth.
February 7, 1958.