The raga of the most popular version of the highly Sanskritised lullaby of Lord Ayyappa of Shabarimala has been composed in Raga Madhayamavathi, which is a glorious raga denoting Mangalam (Welfare) in Carnatic music. The song that could be written by either Kambangudi Kulathur Srinivasa Iyer or Konnakathu Janaki Amma (the authorship of the song remains food for debate as the Devaswom Board has taken the stance that the song’s author stays unidentified yet), is recited at the temple of Shabarimala before closing the door of the sanctum every night.
As we know, all lullabies carry with them a strain of melancholy. Harivarasanam, also called Hariharasuthashtakam is not an exception. Particularly since Madhayamavathi raga generally signifies the conclusion of a concert. The essence of Madhayamavathi is seeking forgiveness for mistakes that might have intruded during the performance. An Audava raga (one having five notes in both ascent and descent) coming symmetrically aligned in Arohana and Avarohana, Madhyamavathi is deemed as a melodious deluge capable of washing off all errors besides bestowing welfare for all.
Many a singer has tried out Harivarasana right from the times it had become popular. However, it has been the piece composed by the late musician G Devarajan for KJ Yesudas in 1975 in the movie Swami Ayyappan, that majority of this generation would have grown up listening to. Recently, when asked what feeling had a version sung by SP Balasubramaniam aroused in him, an ardent devotee of both Ayyappan and music said he would never settle to sleep listening to it. Instead, he averred he would tend to dance owing to the fast rhythm of the composition as well as the exuberance emitting from SP’s rendition.
On the other hand, for any devotee staying at the Shabarimala premises until the closure of the sanctum at 11 pm, the official lullaby of Ayyappan sung by Yesudas is definitely unaccountable as regards to the delight conjured by it. The emotions of the devotees thronging there at the time of playing it are more or less converged to that of a stupor as Sharana Manthras (chanting calls to the saviour) from a million throats tend to complement the mellifluous original presentation. To be fair, not just the people’s Sarana Manthras but the gentle yet robust night breeze combing the dense night canopy of the forest, non-stop pitch-laying hum from infinite crickets, cicadas and multi-coloured amphibians, an owls toot here, a night jar’s echo there, all contributing to the harmonious cause. Quite a symphony, anyone would bet on it.
Finally when things settle into a silent abyss at the end of the song, the raging fumes from the great pyre of Shabarimala along with the night wind also settle to discuss the aesthetics of the day that has just been brilliantly complemented by Yesudas’ magical voice.
Then there are many that would like to relate the melancholy obvious in the rendition of this Ashtapadi styled Ashtakam (eight-versed) to a tragic occurrence at the temple of more than half a century back. Around the year 1950, a man from Alappuzha used to stay at the temple premises even after the season months giving company to the then chief priest Easwaran Nampoothiri. They developed in course of time an intimate fellowship chiefly due to the common factor between them – ardent devotion towards Ayyappa. The man, VR Gopala Menon who would recite Harivarasanam regularly during his time at the temple premises at night times when the priest would be concluding the days’ work was asked to move out of the Sannidhanam by the Devaswom Board after its conception.
Menon heeded to the order of the Board and moved out giving great pain to his friend, Nampoothiri. He eventually passed away at Vandiperiyar based tea-estate. Hearing this news, the head priest was saddened deeply and at the end of the rituals of the day, started singing Harivarasanam as doors were about to close. The head priest’s resorting to this poignant act, certainly was out of the respect and care he had for Menon particularly considering the latter’s devotion for the Lord. Considerable time has passed after that incident. Nampoothiri has well followed suit his dear friend to the abode of Lord. Nonetheless, those people of the present times that are informed of this rare tale of friendship cannot be blamed for considering the melancholic hint of Harivarasana as a token of apology for the great grievance caused by some immature thoughts of the authority more than sixty years back.
However, today as well when the verses unfold in the voice of the heavenly singer, all the assistant priests at the temple leave the sanctum one by one with just the head priest in there. And as the song comes to a conclusion, he extinguishes the ritual lamps gently on at a time to eventually close the doors for the night.