The musical style of ‘Ramananjali’

It is a vast ocean of music including many styles, as many stalwarts and eminent music directors have contributed to it. However, it may be broadly categorized as presently coming under these styles of Indian music:-

  • Semi-Classical/ Light Classical
  • Devotional - Nama Sankeertanas/Bhajans
  • Karnatic Classical
  • Folk
  • Free style - English songs
  • Classical Dance – Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi
Ramana’s life - the foundation of ‘Ramana Music’

We can see many instances in Bhagavan’s life that may be seen as the seeds of this gigantic tree of ‘Ramananjali’.

  • Mother Azhagamma served the senior ladies of Tiruchuzli and learnt spiritual songs that were couched in the symbolism of cooking. Surely Sundaram mandiram would have resounded with these songs as she tirelessly cooked to serve every comers all through the day and sometime even at night and the child Ramana too must have spontaneously heard and learnt these songs right from the cradle.
  • Immediately after his enlightenment on 17th July 1896, Bhagavan equates his steady abidance in the Self to ‘sruti’ in music. ‘Other thoughts may come and go but the ‘I’ continued like the unbroken sruti note…’
  • At the request of Palaniswamy, Bhagavan spontaneously composed the ‘Arunachala Aksharamanamalai’ for devotees to sing as they went to seek bhiksha for Bhagavan and others staying with him. The words of the other four of ‘Five Hymns on Arunachala’ came to Bhagavan and “insisted” that he ‘put them down’.
  • Bhagavan composed ‘Appalam song’ for Mother as she would sing other spiritual songs (Vedantic songs) in the symbolism of ‘cooking’.
  • Bhagavan would tap ‘talam’ (keep time) with two small sticks on an iron coal brazier when Tiruppugazh was sung in his presence at Skandasram.
  • When Bhagavan was residing at Virupaksha Cave, on 18th November, 1907 Ganapati Muni surrendered to Bhagavan, got from him the first spoken upadesa and announced to the whole world that this was no ordinary sage. He hailed him as ‘Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi’. Thus the Muni gave to the world the sweet name ‘Ramana’ by which to sing the glory of Bhagavan. Soon thereafter, in gratitude at having obtained the rarest of Sadgurus, the Muni composed ‘Uma Sahasram’ (thousand verses in praise of Goddess Uma). In this poem Ganapati Muni has penned a few verses in praise of Bhagavan Ramana. These are perhaps the first poetic works on Bhagavan that are available to us today.
  • Not much later, a person who called himself ‘Satyamangalam Venkatarama Iyer’ came and composed five beautiful hymns on Bhagavan called ‘Ramana Stuti Panchakam’. Of these ‘Ramana Sadguru’ was sung regularly in Bhagavan’s presence and he too would join in the singing.
  • Manavasi Ramaswami Iyer was miraculously cured by Bhagavan. Compositions on Bhagavan came to him spontaneously along with musical scores. Thus he became the first ‘Vaggeyakara’ or musical composer of ‘Ramana Sangitam’ and may be called ‘Ramana Sangita Pitamaha’. Bhagavan himself corrected the metre and rhyme of the first composition and guided Ramaswami Iyer.
  • Siva Prakasam Pillai, Ramana Dasa Sadananda and even the unassuming Ramanatha Brahmachari composed lilting poetry on Bhagavan Ramana that was eminently suitable to be sung.
  • Muruganar Swami composed tens of thousands of poems on Bhagavan. The whole of one work the ‘Ramana Sannidhi Murai’ is in the Tamil classical ‘Pan’ style.
  • Shuddhananda Bharathi, Sadhu Om Swami and many others were graced by Bhagavan to write the most fascinating poetry on him. Thus an ocean of the choicest poetry on Bhagavan came into being, almost waiting to be sung! This appears to have no parallel in spiritual history. Nowhere else do we have such a huge body of spiritual literature on a jivan mukta, and that even contemporaneously to his sojourn on earth.
The ‘birth’ of ‘Ramana Sangitam’ (Ramana Music) as a specific codified body of music
  • In 1956 Manavasi Ramaswami Iyer spotted a slender girl, 19 years of age, singing at Bhagavan’s Samadhi at Sri Ramanasramam and practically insisted on teaching her the first song she would learn of Ramana Music. This was his own composition ‘Sharanagathi’.
  • In 1965 this young lady followed her husband to Delhi and to the Ramana Kendra there, where Prof.K.Swaminathan introduced them to the works of Muruganar.
  • Her husband, A.R.Natarajan having fallen in love with these beautiful poems on Bhagavan Ramana goaded her into setting them to music saying, ‘If only I was an expert in classical music like you are, I would have been singing this long by now!’
  • She came from a family whose life breath was karnatik classical music. She herself had received intensive training in it almost from babyhood and was deeply soaked in it. She was confident that she could sing any song that was taught to her. but composing music? With much hesitation, for the first time she tried to set the great poems to music and there was no looking back. Ramana Music became the over-riding passion for Smt.Sulochana Natarajan.
How was ‘Ramananjali’ born?
  • In 1978 Sri V.Ganesan, then Editor of ‘The Mountain Path’ came across a pre-recorded cassette of devotional music in IBH, Bombay and requested them to produce a similar cassette on Bhagavan Ramana in connection with the forthcoming Birth Centenary Celebrations of Bhagavan.
  • Sri T.N.Venkataraman, President of Sri Ramanasramam, entrusted the task of rendering this cassette to Smt.Sulochana Natarajan and the group of singers at Bangalore who were then learning ‘Ramana songs’ from her.
  • The necessary wherewithal for putting together a professional team and for a professional recording was provided by Jagannath of Prabhath Sound Studios and the first cassette ‘Ramananjali’ was produced.
  • By the unfathomable divine play of Ramana when an opportunity arose for the live performance of this music on 3rd January 1980, the birth centenary day of Bhagavan, ‘Ramananjali’ became a performing troupe as well.
  • This gave an impetus to have a continuously growing repertoire of Ramana Sangitam, it also opened avenues for the performance of this music in other arenas like the karnatik classical music and dance fields as well.
Role of Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning in strengthening Ramananjali
  • Soon after the birth of ‘Ramananjali’, in March 1979 Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning was formed in Bangalore and Ramana Music became one of its major wings.
  • A stream of Ramana Music recordings, productions and programs followed with many eminent music directors setting the music for the poems and with many new translation especially in Kannada and Telugu.
  • By the immense power of Bhagavan, and the affectionate encouragement of Sri Ramanasramam, Ramananjali has recorded more than 200 productions, given more than 400 live programs and currently has about 2000 songs in its repertoire.

Some special compositions in Light-Classical style are

  1. Ramana Nitya Seva (songs on Bhagavan’s worship through the day)
  2. Ramana Akshara Malar Malai (on the lines of Bhagavan’s ‘Arunachala Akshara Mana Malai’)
  3. Folks songs
  4. Namavalis (simple lead-chorus songs)
The poets featuring in Ramananjali

Watching the growth of Ramananjali keenly and diving into it repeatedly, Smt.Sulochana Natarajan could suddenly see the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place and she began her indefatigable task of bringing them together. In the Semi-Classical area she began to consolidate the compositions according to each of the composers, filling in the blanks wherever she found them. So we now have in Ramananjali’s audio productions:

  • Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (all the poetic works)
  • Vasishta Ganapati Muni (all poetic works on Bhagavan and Mother Azhagammal)
  • Satyamangalam Venkatarama Iyer (all poetic works – ‘Ramana Stuti Panchakam’)
  • Sivaprakasam Pillai (adaptation of ‘Ramana Pada Malai’ to Ramana Pada Pancharatnam)
  • Muruganar Swami (coverage of every title in ‘Ramana Sannidhi Murai’, selections from ‘Ramana Deva Malai’, ‘Ramana Anubhooti’ and ‘Ramana Sharana Pallandu’)
  • Sadhu Om Swami ( coverage of every title from ‘Ramana Geetham’, ‘Ramana Tiruvembavai’, and selections from ‘Ramana Varnangal and Other Songs’, ‘Ramana kilikkanni’ and ‘Guruvarul Andadi’)
  • Jagadeeswara Sastry ( ‘Ramana Sahasranamam’ and selections from ‘Sri Ramana Stotra Ratnavali’)
  • Shuddhananda Bharati (Selections from ‘Arul Aruvi’, songs from ‘Ramana Vijayam’ and stray poems)
  • Ramana Dasa Sadananda (Selections from ‘Ramana Stuti Dasakam’)
  • Meenakshi Sundaram (Selections from ’Sri Ramana Bhagavan Tottirapaamaalai’)
  • Ramanatha Brahmachari (Selections from ‘Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi Stotra Anubhuti’)
  • Viswanatha Swami (‘Ramana Ashtottaram’ and the poem ‘Ayi piba’)
  • Ramachandran (Selections from ‘Mega sandesham’)
  • Narendra Kesari Sharma Upadhyaya (Selections from ‘Ramana Lahari’)
  • Shantananda Puri (‘Ramana Suprabhatam’ and ‘Azhagamma Ashtottara Shata Namavali’)
  • Venkateswara Sastri (the poem ‘Ramana Vara Tudi’)
  • Lakshmana Sharma (the poem ‘Ramana Dvadasha Akshara Stotram’)
  • T.K.Sundaresa Iyer (the poem ‘Ramana Dhyanam’)
  • Dr.Sarada (stray poems)
  • Tamil Nambi (‘Kodattil Tanneer’ and other poems)

Kannada Poets in Ramananjali

  1. C.N.Sastry (‘Sakala Graha Bala’ and other poems)
  2. Pu. Th. Na. ( Selections from ‘Sri Ramana Prabha’)
  3. Dr.A.S.Venugopala Rao (selections from ‘Ramana Poornima’, ‘Aruna Ramana’ and other compilations)
  4. Dodda Range Gowda (selections from ‘Ramanana Kondadiro’)
  5. Sant Keshav Das (‘Vairagya Chakravarthi’ and other poems)
  6. Swami Virajananda (‘Entha Anandavaayite’ and other poems)
  7. S.K.Narayana Rao (‘Yaavagalu’)

While the above have composed original poetry in Kannada, major translations have been done by

  1. Dr.N.S.Lakshminarayana Bhatta
  2. R.N.Jayagopal
  3. J.H.B.Acharya
  4. Vijaya Narasimha

Telugu Poet in Ramananjali

  1. Y.V.Venkateswara Rao (all of ‘Ramana Gana Tarangini’ and ‘Sri Ramana Nitya Seva’ and stray compositions)

Hindi Poets in Ramananjali

  1. G.Kameshwar (‘Chal Arunachal’)
  2. P.S.Dixit
  3. Saraswathi Kumar Deepak
  4. Ramanatha Shastri
The Vaggeyakaras in Ramananjali (who have themselves composed music for their poems)
  • Manavasi Ramaswami Iyer (selections from his compositions particularly ‘Sharanagathi’, ‘Matrubhuteswaram’, ‘Yogambike’ among others)
  • Murugayya Pankajakshi (selections)
  • Raj Kumar Bharathi (selections from ‘Onre Ramana’)
  • K.V.S (‘Gomata Lakshmi’ and other songs)
Many music directors’ contribution to Ramananjali
  • The majority of the compositions in Ramananjali, beginning with those of Bhagavan Ramana himself, are ‘poetic compositions’ wherein the poems have not been set to music by the composer.
  • ‘Musical compositions’, on the other hand, like those of Manavasi Ramaswami Iyer, are those that have been set to music originally by the composer at the very time of the composition. (Such a composer is called a ‘Vaggeyakara’ if his composition is in classical style).
  • The original compositions of Bhagavan Ramana (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Sanskrit), Ganapati Muni (Sanskrit) and Satyamangalam Venkatarama Iyer (Tamil) have been set to music by Smt.Sulochana Natarajan. She has also set to music many of the compositions of Muruganar, Sadhu Om, Sivaprakasam Pillai and Shuddhananda Bharati.
  • The other compositions currently in the repertoire of Ramana Sangitam have been set to music by many stalwarts in the fields of classical and semi-classical music. These include the translations of Bhagavan Ramana’s works as well as those on Ramana into other languages (at present Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and English).
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