It is well known that Sri Tyagaraja Swamy is a great devotee of Srirama. His devotion is such that he sang of glorious visions of Srirama in all the divine splendor in many of his krithis. Now, we may ask – did the Supreme Being actually come down in front of Tyagaraja, in a masculine form, holding bow and arrows, wearing nice silk clothes and adorned with beautiful ornaments? Or did Tyagaraja imagine all this in his mind? It becomes apparent, when we examine these krithis with sufficient attention, that Tyagaraja is singing from a deep experience of realization, and not from mere imagination. Let us approach a gem among such krithis, Nanu palimpa, which the Saint composed in Mohana Ragam.
Nanu paalimpa nadachi vacchitivo, naa praana naathaa
Vanaja nayana, nee momu joocute, jeevanamani nenaruna manasu marmamu delisi
Surapati neelamani nibha tanuvuto, uramuna mutyapu sarula chayamuto
Karamuna sara kodanda kaanthito, dharani tanayato, tyaagaraajaarchita
The lyric appears simple enough for anyone who can understand Telugu.
Oh Lord of my life, have you come walking, to save me? The key to understanding this krithi is in the address, naa praana naathha! Praana (breath) is essential to a living being. Obviously, there is no life without breath. The one that is in charge of breath is the Supreme Being. Who and where is this Supreme Being? He is not different from the life force that exists within and animates all life. So, the nameless, formless force that animates all life has now come walking to save Tyagaraja. Please note that the arrival was not in haste – as in the case of Gajendra Moksham, or Droupadi Mana Samrakshanam. He came walking, almost as if for a stroll. This is further explained in the next stanza.
The formless life force from the opening line is now addressed as vanaja nayana, an epithet for Sri Vishnu (and his incarnations). By this direct address, Tyagaraja identifies the Almighty more clearly, giving him a name, a form and a character – naama, roopa, guna. Oh lotus eyed one! My life’s desire is just to see your face. In your compassion, you acknowledge my wish, he says. The form that was sketched lightly thus gets a more elaborate treatment in the last stanza. We get the full description.
The one who came is surapati, god of gods, of blue hued body that is brilliant like a sapphire. Beautiful pearl necklaces adorn his broad chest. Mighty bow and arrows are shining in his hands. His consort Sita is accompanying him. Being god of gods, he is the Almighty – nothing is impossible for him. Blue is the color of deep. Rama is deep like an ocean in his compassion and he is also all pervading like the sky. He is a king and a warrior, indicated by the broad chest, ornaments and the weapons. However, the power he wields is not for violence but for protection, as indicated by the gentle presence of his consort along his side. Thus, the formless force that animates all life, the all-pervading Vishnu, the god of gods, who has come now in his deep compassion as valorous king Srirama, with his consort Sita to offer protection.
The melodic structure of Raga Mohana is both universal and extremely pleasant. Even those not particularly familiar with Carnatic music are easily mesmerized by its beauty. The gentle and protective feel of the lyric is enhanced a thousand fold when sung in Mohana, thus creating a mood of all encompassing serenity.