Karuna Cheivan Enthu Thamasam Krishna ?

Vaidyanathan Pushpagiri

Karuna Cheivan Enthu Thamasam Krishna ?
Why is there so much delay in conferring your bliss, Krishna?
Composed byRavivarman Thampi (popularly known as Irayimman Thampi), the uncle of the great Maharaja of Travancore State, Swathi Thirunal, on the Lord Guruvayurappan. 
 It was popularized by  the late "Vengalakural" Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. (1st September, 1896 - 16th October, 1974)
He was born to Anantha Bhagavatar and Parvati Ammal  on September 01, 1896 at Chembai,  Palakkad. A great grandson of "Chakra Tanam" Subba Aiyar who was a contemporary of the musical Trinity and son of Chembai Anantha Bhagavatar.  The young Vaidyanathan had music in his blood.  He learnt  music from his father.
 Music in his family was taught and learnt as part of religious instruction.   His early training under his father equipped himself fully to give independent performances even as a child.  A humble man, deeply religious he attributed all his success to his favorite God - Guruvayurappan. Chembai  had his  first concert in 1905 at a Temple festival in Ottapalam a village/town in Kerala in Palakkad district. The seeds of his long career in Carnatic Music was sown at these concerts in the temple festivals of Vaikom and Guruvayur.
Probably in the history of Carnatic Music Chembai's career of seventy long years is unsurpassed when compared to other famous musicians of India.
His speciality?  He could do a neraval and swaraprasthara from any given point.
A hall mark of his mental alertness and vidwat it was complimented by his rich vibrant voice and a ringing tone reminiscent of the Bell Metal (Vengalam)  bells that one used in pujas, with its power and majesty yet sweet and melodious tones.   "Chembai  was different from the others because his voice - that booming, metallic, powerful, overpowering voice - which never seemed to depart from sruti." - to quote a connoisseur of carnatic music. 
During his heydays, which was from his early childhood till his death, Chembai's music had a direct appeal to his listeners with his hallmark quality of rich vibrant voice and a booming  tone.
Mr. B.V.K.Sastri, musicologist says, "The deep solid tone seeming to illuminate such model figure in his singing and the joy of the pure nadha when he held on to single notes are something not easily forgotten.''
He was  an abject slave and an ardent devotee of the Lord of Guruvayur. I don't think he has ever missed a single Ekadasi Day Darshan, at Guruvayur, which is sort of a record comparable only to the one set by Guruvayur Kesavan, the elephant extraordinaire.
The Legend: Chembai. The Loss and Regaining of his Voice : in his own words.
“On January 7, 1952, I was giving a concert at holy Suchindram. An hour had elapsed and I was at the peak of my performance. All of a sudden, my vocal chords got stuck up, as it were, and my voice totally failed me. The concert broke up in confrusion. Many rushed up to the dais to render help. Doctors tried their best with pills and potions but to no avail.
I went through life without any hope and no ray of hope seemed to come (from) anywhere. In this state of desperation, in 1954, on the great Ekadasi Day in Guruvayur, I stood before the Lord and wrung out my heart to Him. I could not give vocal utterance to my anguish. Memories of the glorious days when I had sung His praises surged forward.
O Lord, I cried out, will Thou not let me sing Thy praises? Will Thou let my heart break, for without this outward expression of my heart's agony, I can hardly live? Hadst Thou in the past not given the gift of speech to the great Muka Kavi? Had he not sung Thy praises in enchanting Sanskrit verses known so well as the Muka Panchasati Stotras?
In my agony and mute supplication to the Lord, I had not noticed a Namboothiri standing at a distance of some fifty feet from me. He divined my trouble and came to me. He had evidently heard my inarticulate prayer. He promised to rid me of my trouble, Guruvayurappan willing.
The Lord had sent his minister to help me and I regained my voice.
In keeping with my promise I have since then been singing the praises of Bhagavan. Every year, I have the 'Udayastamana' puja performed at the Guruvayoor Temple  and the sum of Rs. 5,000 needed for it comes from the concerts that Guruvayurappan himself arranged."
Any wonder then that Guruvayurappan, is the Kaliyuga Varadhan?
He performed his last concert on 16 October 1974, at a temple in Ottapalam, which had been the venue of his first concert. He had finished his concert with his favourite song "Karunai Cheivan Endu Thamasam Krishna" (Why is there so much delay in conferring your bliss, Krishna?) and passed away shortly thereafter. Even after his demise, Chembai continues to inspire many musicians.
It is a very beautiful song, initially set up in Sri Raaga. It is a compostion that has saahitya (lyrics) which  induces Karuna rasa.
The song:
karuNa ceyvAn entu tAmasam : Iriyamman tampi - kriti
yadukula kAmbooji (shrI)   tALam  : cApu
karuNa ceyvAn entu tAmasam krShNA
kazhalinE kai tozhunnEn
sharaNAgatanmArkkiShTa varadAnam ceytu cemmE
guruvAyUr puram tannil maruvumakhila durita haraNa bhagavanS
gurutara bhavasindhau duritasa~ncayamAkum
tiratannil muzhukunna naragatikkavalambam
marakata maNivaNNan hari tannE ennum tava
carita varNNanaN^N^aLil sakala munikaL paravatarivanadhunA
The following is a translation in English courtesy Dr. P.P. Narayanswamy.
Why the delay in showing kindness, Lord Krishna,
I worship your feet with my folded palms.
Granting the desires of devotees who seek asylum in you,
You rest in Guruvayoor, oh Lord, remover of all sorrows.
Your chaste feet, lovingly caressed by the Lotus Maiden,
Whether I serve them with reverence from near
Or think of serving them from afar
To you, Whose greatness fills the universe,
This is a matter of indifference.
I have learned from the Sages who have extolled your exploits
That you, Hari, emerald like handsome Lord,
Are the refuge for the teeming humanity
Who live on the surf of the great ocean of suffering called life.
I see you in my heart, handsome as Cupid,
Your hair adorned with peacock feathers,
Your glances, a mixture of compassion and smile
Your chest showing Kousthabham and garlands of wild flowers
Your ankles adorned with jingling golden anklets.
Creator and protector of the worlds
Lord Padmanabha, who resides in Guruvayoor,
May it please you, without delay, with compassion,
To remove my illnesses like rheumatism
And bless me with health and prosperity.
"Kandu kandangirikkum janangale,
Kandilennu varuthunnathum Bhavaan
Randu nalu dinam kodangoruthane,
Thandilethi naduthannathum Bhavaan
Malika mugalileriya mannante,
Tholil marappu kethunnathum Bhavaan
Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janardhanaa
Krishna Govinda Narayana Hare!"
Wonderful! beyond words, beyond description!! (and equally beyond translation by me!!!)
Vasudeva sutam devam, kamsa chanura mardanam, devaki paramanandam, krishnan vande jagat gurum! -   jnana paana.
"The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy."
"There is no theory to be internalized and applied in this psychology. Ancient practices spontaneously induce what each person needs as the individual and the universal coincide. The work proceeds through intellectual knowledge of the playing field (jnana yoga), emotional devotion to the ideal (bhakti yoga) and right action that includes both feeling and knowledge(karma yoga).  This is the experience of everyone in this world, the drama of the ascent of man from a state of utter dejection, sorrow and total breakdown and hopelessness to a state of perfect understanding, clarity, renewed strength and triumph." 
Even after his demise, Chembai continues  to enjoy a cult-like following among his large network of disciples and admirers throughout India and abroad. This  is a small dedication to that great vidwan.
I am extremely indebted to the various people whose inspirations have guided me in compiling this tribute to this much admired Sangeetha Vidwan, whose Kutcheries I never missed to attend at Calcutta organised by the Rasika Ranjana Sabha.  Starting at about 4. 29 pyem  on a Sunday, it used to continue upto midnight. It was my priveledge to attend to his small requests as I was posted as 'the' volunteer next to the dais, to attend to the performers as well as the VVIP and VIP patrons in the first five rows of the Hall.
"Agre pasyami thejo nibhidatara kalayavalI lobhaniyam
Peeyushaplavithoham tadhanu tadutare divya kaisora vesham
Taarunyarambha ramyam parama sukharasa svadharom
Naaradhadhyai: vilasathu upanishadh sundarI mandalaisccha "  (Narayaneeyam Slokam 100.1) 
Oh Guruvayurappa ! I see in your sannidhi a bright blue effulgence having the hue of Kaasampoo (Kalaya Flower)  pushpa cluster .I am now immersed in that deep nectarine experience.  Next I see in the middle of that blue effulgence, a beautiful child at the beginning of youth and surrounded by admirers like Sage Naaradha with joyous  horripilation and the various Upanishads in the form of lovely ladies singing Your praise.  courtesy: http://www.ramanuja.org/sv/bhakti/archives/aug99/0123.html
Was Lord Krishna of Guruvayur too hasty in conferring HIS Bliss on this renowned musician from Kerala?
Often times I wonder!!


Vaidyanathan Pushpagiri

dear dr. p.e. sarangadhara  kartha:

thank you. "once bhagavan opens his eyes on you, what else is required?" so true.  even today, at my advanced age of three score and ten, everytime i visit guruvayur and stand before him i involuntarily shed tears, and what i see him for the fleeting moment of nirmalya darisanam is only a blurr.  but he is always clear in my mind's eye. 
there was a time in my working life, when i was on the brink of insanity.  my wife took a 41-day nama japam at our residence before our family deity, and on its culmination she took me to guruvayur, and after his darshan i  became my normal self but slowly. 
that, what i am today is only due to his grace.
this i believe.  
god bless.

Dr. P. E. Sarangadhara Kartha

dear shri vp,
the narration about the loss and regaining of chembai's  voice  brought tears in my eyes. once bhagavan opens his eyes on you, what else is required?
let him bless you.
with prayers, kartha

Vaidyanathan Pushpagiri

raghunathan, thanks. 
 every time i think of the lord of guruvayur i am reminded of this portly figure from chembai, a village from palghat,  an illustrous son and a great devotee.  more than his music which is divine, his ready wit used to raise peels of laughter, because this "great" knew how to laugh at himself!!
he was in his elements in his kutcheries when his accompanists were stalwarts like palghat mani iyer, on the mridhangam, t.n. krishnan on the violin and vilwadhri iyer on the ghatam.  it would be doing a great disservice if do not mention another two performing artistes who would follow him swaram for swaram:  the khanjira and the moharsing players.  by insisting on all these panthadhis he was making a livilihood for the lesser players in the carnatic field. 
i remember he would ask the front benchers whether he could continue even after the traditional 10.30 pyem closing time.  one must see to believe the entire audience giving him a standing ovation for him to continue.  having established his rapport with the audience and  ensuring that he would not sing to the empty chairs, he would continue majestically towards the very end often times stretching to the early hours of monday morning.
i give you two references on chembai which i earnestly feel you should read. take your time and your adoration of this great human being will increase.


Raghunathan Kadangode / / 7 yrs ago
Raghunathan Kadangode

a spectacular commendable work. thanks.
i have "seen" the katcheries of the blessed champai only a few times. what attracted me specially was the rapport he was able to establish not only with entire mass of audience but also with his co-musicians on the stage. the entire human conglomeration will be resonating mentally to his nadabrahma.
an interesting fun raising aside is that he will talk in a very pleasant way cracking jokes to his colleagues in the inter-spaces of the concert
 which will be heard by every body in the audience through the sound system, making the entire hall explode with laughter.
ha! "the champai"!! he was music taken the form of a man!! .....may his tribe increase!!!

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