Hymns or sthothrams, are an integral part of Hindu culture. While most of them are associated with ‘physical’ worship of the deity in a certain prescribed manner, in the last few decades, just listening to them has gained popularity, thanks to the ubiquity of electronic media and personal audio players.
My exposure to devotional hymns happened at a very early age. Both my grandfathers were plugged into the devotional aspect of hymns and would make it a part of their daily routine. My paternal grandfather was very particular about the daily ‘Sandhya Vandanam’ and the associated hymns like Aditya Hrudayam etc. My maternal grandfather was into Devi worship and he could easily recite most of the hymns (He would even use some of the stanzas as lullabies, repeating them for good effect).
Interestingly, both had tales to support the effect of reciting or listening to these hymns or performing the associated rituals. Once when I mentioned that I was afraid to take the road near the burial ground, my paternal grandfather assured me it was the abode of Lord Siva and referred to a stanza in one of the hymns. He quickly recalled how he would cycle his way through the snake infested fields in late evenings, with the thoughts of Lord Siva. My maternal grandfather would narrate small incidents like how a hymn of Goddess Raja Rajeshwari came to his rescue when a bull attacked him on the road.
I sampled quite a many of the devotional hymns on the radio first and then followed them across all the new technologies and devices. But for some reason, I could never really whole-heartedly get involved in the ‘physical’ worship aspect of these hymns and stuck to the listening part. And, as I continued to feed my mind it with books of all kind, specially the ones on the Western philosophy and the Western perspective of Hinduism (minus ISKCON), I became an observant person, instead of a devout person. This in a way, shaped my perspective of Hindu religion as well. I remained an agnostic all throughout, with a few bursts of no-mind faith or strong devotional feelings.
But my interest in music of all kinds, specially the Indian classical music, brought out about a different sense of affinity to these hymns. Over the years, I managed to sneak in a few moments of immersion, even with a very busy mind digging into the meaning or the musical sense of these hymns.
In a few articles I will attempt to present my perspective about a few hymns that stayed with me over the years. Let me begin with my favorite of all–Kanakadhara Stothram.
…To be continued