Mahakavi Venkata Subba Iyer, popularly known as Venkata Kavi, who is the reincarnation of Sage Naradha is believed to have lived during the pre-Trinity days, that is in early 18th century and he spent his entire life at Oothukkadu composing innumerable songs praising Sri Kalinga Narthana Perumal. Unfortunately, none of the famed twelve Alwars, have mentioned about Lord Sri Kalinga Narthana Perumal and about Oothukkadu in any of their verses. It is to pacify this that single person, due to his selfless and pure devotion to the Lord, has composed and sung about the plays enacted by the Lord at Oothukkadu. It is no wonder, even after so many years, whoever listens to these songs, in a trance, find their self to bequeath the Lord.
According to legends, Shri Oothukadu Venkata Kavi had the fortune of having The Lord Shri Kalinga Narthana Krishna Himself as his Guru, and this is seen in the scholarly treatment seen in His Krithis, and 14 of His Krithis refer to Krishna as His Guru, one of them being His Tamil composition “Guru Paadaaravinda”.
Following is the list of Venkata Kavi's Guru Vishesha Krithis:
1. Enna punniyam seidheno - Reethigoula Ragam - Mishra chapu Thaalam
2. Uyndhadhu Uyndhadhen Maname - Devamanohari Ragam - Aadhi thaalam
3. Innum enna venum solladi - Kambhoji Ragam -Aadhi Thaalam
4. Kan Kanda Deivame - Begada ragam - Aadhi thaalam
5. Guru Paadaaravinda Komalam - Shriranjani Ragam - Roopaka Thaalam
6. Solli Mudiyumamo - Surutti Ragam - Aadhi Thaalam
7. Thiruvadi Malaro - Kharaharapriya Ragam - Aadhi Thaalam
8. aarumiyalaadha thavamaana shukha - Gaurimanohari Ragam - Khanda Chaapu Thaalam
9. Ellaam Gurunaadhan Karunai - Senchurutti Ragam - Aadhi Thaalam.
10. Solli Therivadhillaye - Shriranjani Ragam - Aadhi thaalam
11. Kaadhalaagi Vasamizhandhen - Reethigoula Ragam - Aadhi Thaalam
12. Kodutthu vaitha punniyavan - Natakurinji Ragam - Aadhi thaalam
13. Solla varam tharuvai - sama Ragam - Aadhi Thaalam
14. Thedi kandene - Malayamarutham Raagam - Aadhi thaalam.
Kamakshi Navavarna Krithis
Venkata Kavi, in his state of immense Bhakthi, visualised all forms Gods as One, thus following Advaita philosophy. This, he did, composing songs on all Forms of God, such as Shiva, Devi etc, all on the Kalinga Narthana form in Oothukadu. One such group of Krithis are the Kamakshi Navavarna Krithis.
These are a Set of 11 Krithis, comprising 9 Avarana Krithis, Dhyana and Mangala Krithi, and these Krithis are based on the esoteric Shri Vidhya worship, with each of His song detailing each of the 9 Avaranas.
Shri Vidhya, or the worship of the Mother Goddess in the Shri Chakra is an esoteric tradition of worship having a prominent significance in Hinduism. It is believed that even Lord Krishna had to undergo Shri Vidhya initiation before killing Kamsa Asura.
On these lines, Oothukadu Venkata Kavi took Shri Vidhya initiation from none other than Shri.Bhaskararaya, the commentator on Lalitha Sahasranama, and an authority of Shri Vidhya.
There is a tradition in Hinduism to worship Shri Krishna and Shri Rajarajeshwari Devi as one form, called “Gopalasundari”, or “Shri Vidhya Rajagopala”. This worship is detailed in texts such as “Krishna Karnamrutam”. Oothukadu Venkata Kavi followed this tradition, and visualizing the Goddess Herself in the Kalinga Narthana Swamy, he composed the Navavarna Krithis. The Krithis are as listed below:
1. Vanchayati yadi kushalam – Kalyani – Adi – Dhyana stuti – Here, he extolls the Devi and uses words like Ajapaa, visualizing the Devi as the Esoteric Ajapa (Hamsah Soham form). In the latter part of the Krithi, he also describes Devi as holding the Veena, enjoying Sweet Music etc.
2. Santatam aham seve – Deshakshi – Adi - (1st avaranam) – Mentioning the Avarana name (Thrailokya Mohana chakra) in the pallavi itself, Venkata Kavi praises the Goddess as one worshipped by Brahma, Devas and the whole world, and also by the Ashta Mathrikas such as Brahmi, Maheshwari etc.
3. Bhajaswa shree – Nadanamakriya – Adi - (2nd avaranam) – This is a short yet powerful krithi, where the poet describes the Goddess as the Deity of the second Avarana (The Sixteen-petalled Sarvashaparipuraka Chakra), and also worshipped by the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
4. Sarvajeeva dayapari – Shuddha Saveri – Mishra Chapu - (3rd avaranam) – In this energetic Suddha Saveri piece, the Kavi praises the Goddess as Shiva Bija Mantreshwari, and as the Goddess of the Sarvasamkshobhana Chakra (Third Avarana).
5. Yoga yogeshwari – Anandabhairavi – Khanda Triputa (2 kalais) - (4th avaranam) – This is one of the most melodious works in the equally melodious Anandabhairavi Ragam, and here, the Saint praises the Goddess in esoteric terms as Shri Vidhya Jnana, and Bhakti Nada Gana, also praising Her as the Goddess of the 14 triangles (representing the 14 universes), and as the Deity of SarvaSaubhagya Dayaka Chakra.
6. Neelalohita ramani – Balahamsa – Khanda Dhruvam (2 kalais) - (5th avaranam) – This is by length, the longest in the Navavarnam series, and in the rare Raga Balahamsa, the poet describes the Mother in a number of ways, most notable ones being The blue-hued one, The wish-fulfilling One, The one whose soul is the entire universe, and the one who is the form of the “Aham Brahma” tattva. The author has also used the Devi Bijakshara is this krithi. As usual the author also mentions the Avarana, Sarvarthasadhaka Chakra..
7. Sadanandamayi – Hindolam – Sankeerna Matyam - (6th avaranam) – On mere listening to this song, one would be filled with bliss and serenity. Here, Shri venkata Kavi extolls the Goddess in various forms such as Dasha Trikonayute (surrounded by 10 triangles), The reliever of Dvaita, The Prana of the five Koshas. The madhyamakalam has beautiful alliterations such as “Neerajanaya Neeraja Neekara Shekhara Ranjani Manjulavachana Niranjani”. He also mentions the Avarana “Sarvarakshakara Chakra”.
8. Sakalaloka nayika – Arabhi – Adi - (7th avaranam) – Here the poet adreesses the Goddess as the most Auspicious One, The Goddess of all the Sanskrit letters lika A, Ka, Cha etc upto Ksha, The One worshipped with the Hreem and the Kamsehvara Bija Mantras and the Deity of the “Sarvarogahara Chakra” (7th Avaranam).
9. Shankari Shri Rajarajeshwari – Madhyamavathi – Adi - (8th avaranam) – This stands out as one of the masterpieces of Venkata Kavi, and is also one of the very few Krithis that bear his signature “Venkata Kavi”. Here, he starts with the Avarana (Sarvasiddhprada Chakra), extolling the Devi as the three Goddesses (Kameshvari, Vajreshvari and Bhagamalini) who representing the three Gunas of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, rule over the Eighth Avarana. He then proceeds to praise the Devi in a number of exquisite forms, most notably, The Light inside everything, The One worshipped by Hari, Hara, Brahma and the Devas, The One responsible for the Five Great Works of Creation, Preservation, Destruction, Veiling and Grace, The One who yields Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa Samadhi, The One responsible behind Nataraja’s Dance, and so on.
10. Natajana kalpavalli – Punnagavarali – Adi - (9th avaranam) – The devotion-intense composition in Punnagavarali is capable of invoking Trance among the devoted. Such is the focus and intensity of Bhakthi in this song, and after submitting himself to the Sarvanandamaya Chakra Goddess of the 9th Avarana, the Bindu of the Shri Chakra, the composer in a state of ecstasy, invokes the Goddess in a variety of names praising Her as being worshipped by Shiva, Ganas Devas and Sages alike, and extolling Her as the enjoyer of Gana, Dhyana, Yoga, Japa and Tapas.
11. Haladharanujam praptum - Manirangu - Adi - Phala stuti/Mangalam – In the auspicious conclusion to the Navavarna, Venkata Kavi makes a pleading request to the Goddess, asking Her to bless him and give him Lord Krishna as a gift, also praising the Goddess in a number of ways.
Saptha Rathna Krithis
Oothukadu Venkata Kavi has also composed a set of Seven Krithis called the “Saptharathna Krithis”, seemingly the first composer to do so. One can observe a lot of similarities and differences in the style of the Saptharathna and the Pancharathna of the later day stalwart Shri Thyagaraja Swami, not to mention that Venkata Kavi lived much earlier than the time of Thyagaraja.
Each of the seven Krithis of the saptharatna brings a unique experience, and the composer has shown much variety in these Krithis. Six of the Krithis are in Sanskrit, glorifying the Jnaana Maarga, while the other is in Tamil, glorifying the Bhakthi Maarga.
Five of the seven Krithis are in praise of Shri Krishna, while two others are in praise of Lord Shiva, where Venkata Kavi has visualized the Kalinga Narthana Swami of Oothukadu in the form of Lord Shiva. In one of the Shiva Krithis “Aalaavadu Ennalo” in Paras Raga, he has listed out all the 63 Nayanmars of the Shaivite tradition.
The seven krithis are described briefly below:
1. Bhajanamrta – Nattai - The Kavi mentions several great devotees like Anjaneya, Prahlada, Azhwars, Nayanmars and so on, who worshipped different forms of God such as Vishnu, Shiva etc. The fact that Venkata Kavi has spontaneously mentioned devotees of both Vishnu and Shiva and worships Kartikeya too is an indicator of “Advaita Vedanta”. Purandaradasa and Tulasidasa are also mentioned.
2. Aganita mahima – Gowla – Extolling Lord Vishnu, this composition has 8 charanams in all, including an anchor charanam beginning with the words 'Namo namaste' with variations in not only melody but also lyrics in each of its sangatis. The final madhyamakala has 6 cycles. It highlights Venkata Kavi's deep knowledge of epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata
3. Madhava hrdi khelini' – Kalyani - Venkata Kavi was one of the few Carnatic composer to compose exclusive pieces on Radha. He has composed several pieces on Radha including a group of songs describing Radha's wedding with Krishna. In this piece, full of lilting words, he uses lovely expressions such as 'sarasa rasa rasane'. The piece is scholarly yet charming. One could immerse in the Shringara Rasa here.
4. Balasarasa murali – Keeravani - A song about Krishna's music, here Venkata Kavi exclaims: balasarasa murali sudharasa bhava madhura lahari vihara (Oh, one who resides in the lovely waves of ambrosia that the music from the flute is...). In this piece, the composer's knowledge of musical subtleties is seen in the 5th charanam where he has mentioned about graces and ornamentation like Ahatam and Pratyagatam
5. Jatadara – Todi - This beauty is on Lord Shiva and has 7 charanams including an anchor charanam. Venkata Kavi reveals his mastery over epics and mentions Shiva's casual play with Arjuna when he appeared as a hunter (as Kirata) before bestowing him the Pashupatastra. Another lovely facet of the composer is his usage of familiar words in very rare but beautiful contexts.
6. Alavadennalo – Paras - This is a unique piece for many reasons. It is again on Shiva but composed in lovely Tamil, making it the only Tamil song in the Saptaratna set. It mentions all of 63 Nayanmars in the madhyamakala charanams! These are set around the main charanam line - "innavaril oruvaraippole". The theme is - let me be free of births but if I am born, may it be like one of these 63... The finishes in the anupallavi and 5th charanam bring out the composer's intelligence in wedding rhythm and lyrics.
7. Sundara nandakumara – Madhyamavathi - A superb theme where each of the 8 madhyamakala charanas offers the 8 main articles of worship like Arghyam, Deepam, Tamboolam etc. It is quite possible that this krithi was part of his daily prayers. The madhyamakala charanams have been set around the 3rd line of the main charanam but the remarkable thing is that this starts a few units before the tala. Thus, the other charanams start on the beat but end before the beat, a clear demonstration of Venkata Kavi's rhythmic command.