Most Carnatic musicians would agree to the fact that spirituality aligns very closely to the compositions they compose or sing. Those who enjoy listening to Carnatic music can be classified into two categories. There are people who love listening to the ragas and compositions and savoring the nuances of the classical compositions. Then, there are the connoisseurs who dive deep into understanding the meaning of each composition and tracing their origin.
Musician and Carnatic singer Priya R. Pai has come up with a YouTube series titled Sreshtah that will take one on a musical trip through well-known and little known temples in Kerala, each having unique myths, folklores, history and origin. And of course, they are told by setting classical compositions dedicated to the presiding deity, which is a novelty. “Ninty-nine per cent of Carnatic compositions are devotional, though there are patriotic or folk compositions too,” begins Priya, who runs the Saveri School of Music in Kochi, adding that she had earlier posted videos of her Carnatic songs on social media platforms that were well received. Then there was the fact that whenever she sang a kriti or a raga, the deity or temples mentioned in the song came unbidden to her mind. “I wondered why I could not travel to those temples and sing there, as pointed out by my daughters,” she says.
From that thought sprung the idea of not only singing at the temples she visited, but also educating viewers about the history and traditions of the temples.
The first episode featured the famous Perandoor Bhagavathi Temple in Elamakkara. The pilot episode, with her singing a kriti along with her daughter and her student while narrating the history of the temple, received an encouraging response which motivated her to continue with her endeavour.
Priya, along with her students, then travelled to the Mukkottil Temple at Thevakkal, where she again sang a composition dedicated to the deity on the premises of the temple. The third episode was a surprise to her. “The Kuzhikkattu Kavu Bhagavathi Temple is relatively unknown and is located in sylvan surroundings. The idol placed in the moolasthanam was shifted to the temple from deep inside a forest area. Along with my students, we travelled to the moolasthanam in the forest and that was an unforgettable journey.”
The next episode was on the Azheekkal Sri Varaha Devaswom in Cherai. Priya informs that there are only three temples dedicated to Sri Varahamurthy in Kerala. She shares some history. “The idols there were brought from Goa in the 16th century by GS Brahmin families who migrated to Kochi, and installed at the temple. Another interesting aspect of the temple is the famous chariot drawn by thousands of devotees on rails during the annual Rathotsava festival.”
For the fifth episode, they travelled to the famous Datta Sri Anjaneya Temple in Desom, which has a unique custom of devotees dedicating coconuts and then observing a 41-day fast with the belief that their prayers will get answered. Consequently, there are thousands of coconuts placed by the devotees there. Priya says, “There, I sang a composition composed by my Guru, dedicated to Lord Anjaneya.”
The unique musical journey has been a wonderful experience for Priya as well as her students. “Some of my students, who did not even light the lamp in their homes, have become strong believers and have understood the puranas and history of each temple.”
Talking of her future plans, Priya reveals that she wants to visit each and every temple in India and continue her musical journey.