My cousin Parnika is three years old, and even at her young age she’s showing signs of being kind of a genius (in my family’s opinion, at least)! In addition to learning English nursery rhymes at her daycare, her dad has been teaching her Hindi children’s songs (like lakdi ki kathi, which I also learned as a kid), Telugu songs, Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Sanskrit nottuswaras, and even some Tamil songs! When they came over to our house the day after Christmas, she insisted that I accompanied her on violin while she sang some nottuswaras and other songs: Tyagaraja’s vara leela gana lola, Dikshitar’s shakti sahita ganapatim, and a few others… stay tuned for when we hit the concert stage together in a couple years. That same evening, her dad told me about this Telugu song, Muddugare Yashoda. I hadn’t heard it before, but after looking it up I thought I had to make a blog post about it! (I also needed some way to procrastinate on packing before I go study abroad in Morocco this upcoming quarter.)
Muddugare Yashoda is a bright, simple song in Telugu, attributed to the fifteenth-century poet-saint Annamacharya (colloquially called Annamayya). Annamayya lived at the hilltop temple of Tirupati, where he composed thousands of songs to the god Venkateswara. He is largely responsible for pioneering a new poetic genre, the padam, which rapidly spread throughout south India. Around his lifetime, something like thirteen thousand (!) of his poems were inscribed on copper plates and stored in a vault inside the Tirupati temple, where they remained hidden until the twentieth century. Although we no longer know their original melodies, many of Annamayya’s compositions were set to music in the twentieth century, and they’ve become a popular part of the Carnatic repertoire. I’ve written about some of his songs in previous posts. David Shulman and Velcheru Narayana Rao have written extensively about Annamayya and translated many of his compositions; if you’re interested, check out their books God on the Hill: Temple Poems from Tirupati (2005) and When God is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Ksetrayya and Others (1994).
Many of Annamayya’s compositions are soaked in shringara (romantic and erotic love), and they’re written from the point of view of a female lover of the god. However, Muddugare Yashoda is quite different from Annamayya’s romantic padams. Instead, this song praises the young Krishna in a unique way; by comparing him to the Nine Gems (navaratna in Sanskrit) that have traditionally been prized across South and Southeast Asia.
The Navaratna (Nine Gems)
As their name suggests, the navaratna are a collection of nine gemstones that have a unique cultural significance in India and beyond. Bear with me as I try to summarize Hindu astrology as briefly as possible. Just like other astrological traditions, Hindu astrology is premised on the idea that celestial bodies can influence our lives (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes too). These are called the navagraha (“nine influencers”), and they’re worshipped as deities: the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, and the two “lunar nodes.”
It’s believed that wearing certain gems can have an astrological value; they can counteract negative influences from certain planets, and harness positive energy from others. Each of the nine gems in the navaratna group corresponds to a different planet, and when worn together, the grouping was believed to act as a talisman, protecting the wearer from negative energy and attracting positive influences from the heavens. Thus, navaratna jewelry arrangements have been popular since at least the tenth century AD, though the grouping may in fact be much older. Here’s the list of the navaratna and their Telugu names (they’ll be useful later on):
- Ruby (māṇikyamu) for the Sun
- Pearl (mutyamu) for the Moon
- Emerald (pacca, garuḍapacca) for Mercury
- Coral (pagaḍamu) for Mars
- Topaz/yellow sapphire (puṣyarāgamu) for Jupiter
- Diamond (vajramu) for Venus
- Blue sapphire (nīlamu, indranīlamu) for Saturn
- Hessonite (gōmēdhikamu) for the ascending “lunar node”
- Cat’s eye (vaiḍūryamu) for the descending “lunar node”
The navaratna arrangement has traveled widely beyond India, and enjoys significance in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and some parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian countries. In fact, the Order of the Nine Gems (Noppha Rat Ratcha Waraphon) is the highest title granted to Thai citizens by the royal family of Thailand!
The term navaratna also has connotations beyond physical gemstones. It’s been used to describe a group of nine special people in a royal court: the navratna of the Mughal emperor Akbar’s court (a century after Annamayya’s time) included the musician Tansen, the poet Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana, and Raja Birbal, the subject of many popular Indian folktales. Navratan korma is a popular north Indian dish that uses nine different vegetables. But anyway, back to the song…
Like I mentioned, in this song Annamayya draws upon the navaratna to praise the young Krishna; he references many popular incidents from Krishna’s childhood and adolescence. Today, Muddugare Yashoda is sung in Kurinji, a bright, cheerful raga, and is set to adi talam (eight-beat rhythmic cycle).
One interesting thing to note: this composition follows dvitiya-akshara-prasa, the Tamil and Telugu poetic convention of second-syllable rhyme. Each stanza of the song repeats a certain letter in the second syllable of each line: dda, ta, la… take a look! And please let me know if you have suggestions to improve on the translation.
Rendition by G. Balakrishna Prasad:
Listen to a concert rendition of this song by Sudha Raghunathan here.
ముద్దు గారే యశోద ముంగిట ముత్యము వీడు
దిద్దరాని మహిమల దేవకీ సుతుడు
muddu gārē yaśōda mungiṭa mutyamu vīḍu
diddarāni mahimala dēvakī sutuḍu
In front of Yashoda, who overflows with love, he shines like a pearl;
That son of Devaki, she whose glories are eternal.
అంతనింత గొల్లెతల అరచేతి మాణిక్యము
పంతమాడే కంసుని పాలి వజ్రము
కాంతుల మూడు లోకాల గరుడపచ్చా పూస
చెంతల మాలోనున్న చిన్ని కృష్ణుడు
antaninta golletala aracēti māṇikyamu
pantamāḍē kamsuni pāli vajramu
kāntula mūḍu lōkāla garuḍapaccā pūsa
centala mālōnunna cinni kṛṣṇuḍu
To each and every cowherd, he is the ruby in their palm*, instantly available;
Strong as a diamond, he vanquished the stubborn Kamsa;
He is like a small emerald bead, but his light radiates through the three worlds;
This little Krishna who is in our midst; within us, in fact.
*The Telugu idiom aracēti māṇikyamu literally means “the ruby in one’s palm,” and it ‘s used to describes something that is readily accessible.
రతికేళి రుక్మిణికి రంగుమోవి పగడము
మితి గోవర్ధనపు గోమేధికము
సతమై శంఖచక్రాల సందుల వైడూర్యము
గతియై మమ్ము గాచే కమలాక్షుడు
rati-kēḷi rukmiṇiki rangu-mōvi pagaḍamu
miti gōvardhanapu gōmēdhikamu
satamai śankha-cakrāla sandula vaiḍūryamu
gatiyai mammu gācē kamalākṣuḍu
To Rukmini in love-play, his lips seem as bright red as coral;
Lifting the Govardhana hill, he is firm like hassonite;
In between his conch and discus, his face shines eternally like cat’s eye;
Having become our refuge, he protects us, this lotus-eyed one.
కాళింగుని తలలాపై గప్పిన పుష్యరాగము
యేలేటి శ్రీ వేంకటాద్రి ఇంద్రనీలము
పాలజలనిధిలోన బాయని దివ్య రత్నము
బాలునీవలె దిరిగే పద్మనాభుడు
kāḷinguni talalapai gappina puṣyarāgamu
yēlēṭi śrī vēnkaṭādri indranīlamu
pāla-jala-nidhi-lōna bāyani divya ratnamu
bālunī-vale dirigē padmanābhuḍu
Dancing on the serpent Kalinga’s heads*, he was radiant like a yellow sapphire;
Reigning over Venkata hill, he is like a bright blue sapphire.**
Among the treasures of the milky ocean, he stands out as a divine jewel;
He who roams around like a little boy, this Padmanabha.
*I’ve written about another Carnatic song that references this incident: the Kalinga Narthana Thillana.
*The word for blue sapphire (indranīlamu) literally means “Indra’s sapphire”, and just as Indra is king of the gods, Venkateswara (Annamayya’s god) is king of the Venkata hill.
- An overview of the history of Indian jewelry
- Word-for-word meaning of the song
- A more poetic translation
Image sources: navaratna arrangement