This week’s Carnatic Recommendation is Swathi Thirunal’s Nanamakhila from his Harikatha “Ajamilopakhyanam”. Ajamilopakhyanam is a story taken from Bhagavatam. It is about a Brahmin called Ajamila who swayed away from the path of Bhakti and gave into carnal pleasures.
Ajamila was raised according to the Vedic regulations. He was a perfectly trained Brahmin and had a chaste and beautiful wife.
But one day, while he was out in the fields collecting flowers for worshipping the Lord, he happened to see a drunken sudra and a prostitute engaged in sexual embrace. Ajamila became bewildered and attracted; his mind becoming more and more attached to the prostitute.
Inevitably, he became so entangled that he abandoned his family, wife and children and went off with the prostitute. Due to his illicit connection with the prostitute, he lost all his good qualities. He became a thief, a liar, a drunkard, even a murderer. He completely forgot about his original training as a Brahmin, and his whole life was ruined.
Engaging in sinful activities, Ajamila fell down from his position, and he begot many children through the prostitute. Even towards the end of his life, around the age of eighty, he was still begetting children. It is explained that while he was dying, which is a very fearful time, he began to call out to his pet child, whose name was Narayana. Narayana is another name of God or Krishna. At that time, the Yamadutas, the messengers of death, were coming. They were tying up the subtle body of Ajamila and preparing to take him to be punished by Yamaraja, the lord of death. At the same time, because he happened to be speaking the holy name of the Lord Narayana, the beautiful Visnudutas, the messengers of Krishna, also arrived there.
There was a discussion between the Yamadutas and the Visnudutas. The conclusion was that although Ajamila was sinful throughout his life and gave up his religious life, his wife and children and begot children through a prostitute, he nevertheless was purified from all these sins because at the last moment he chanted the holy name of Krishna, Narayana. [Taken from Wikipedia Page]
This story is told in 6th Skandam of Bhagavatam. Even Pothana’s Andhra Mahabhagavatam has some interesting poems describing this story.
Swathi Thirunal was a King of Travancore Princely State during British Raj. He ruled from 1813 to 1846. Note that he was a contemporary of the Trinity. He was a Musician himself. He was well versed with both Hindustani and Carnatic Music. But the most striking aspect of Swathi Thriunal’s work is the broad reach of his work. He composed music in Malayalam, Samskrit, Hindu, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Oriya and English as well. There is a Music Academy run on his name in Kerala. His descendant Prince Rama Varma is also a Carnatic Maestro living today.
“Nanamakhila” is one of the 9 songs from Ajamilopakhyanam. Ajamilopakhyanam basically is a Harikatha. It is very well known that Harikatha form of “Purana Pathanam” originated from Tamil Nadu and was later refined by Marathas – Tukaram and Namadeva especially. Harikatha is extremely famous form of Religious discourse in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharastra and Kerala as well. In recent times, it started loosing its sheen but as with other art forms, Hindus have started showing interest in moving back to the roots even in Hari Katha. Proofs [1,2].
Heres is a performance of Nanamikhila song by Mangalampalli Bala Murali.
That a form like Harikatha which evolved into its current form across states shows how much unification was achieved through this art form. Ajamilopakhyanam is an example of this unity.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to @emanin for introducing me to Swathi Thirunal’s work. I didnt know of Swathi Thirunal’s work before. There is a website being maintained with all his work documented. Please do visit and learn more.
Update: I wanted to point this out before someone makes a hue and cry about it.
The song mentioned above is in Bihaag ragam. However, since it keeps the original intent of this series alive, I will not make changes. Besides, according to Ranjan P Parrikar, Raga Bihag found its acceptance in Carnatic too. So, there goes.