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Umbartharu (உம்பர் தரு) is a Tamil song that occurs as the 3rd in a set of 5 songs dedicated to Ganapati ( Pillayar, Ganesha) at the head of Arunagirinathar’s Thiruphughal.

umbartharu dhEnumaNi …… kasivAgi
oNkadaliR thEnamudhath …… thuNarvURi

It speaks of the wish fulfilling tree(umbartharu), the boon yielding cow (dhenu, kamadhenu), and the Hindu version of the Philosopher’s Stone (mani, cintamani), and, more importantly, that these should yield the boon of a kind and compassionate mind. From the ambrosia that is flowing, love should take root and sprout in our heart. We are left to infer that ambrosia starts flowing once a mind reclines in kindness and compassion.

inbarasaththE parugip …… palakAlum
endhanuyirk kAdharavut …… RaruLvAyE

It continues by stating that we should drink this ambrosia many times, whose flow, once started, is sustained by the love in our hearts. The song goes on to say that this will protect our life, but it subtly shifts from an impersonal to a personal, suggesting that “it” has a choice and possibly a will of its own.

In the following verse it continues by addressing Ganapati, subtly equating Ganapati to the healing nectar, that we just established as having a will of its own.

This objectification of health in itself, without elaborate philosophical dialogue, illustrates what all the myriads of gods really represent. In this case the obstacle is our disease — mental, emotional, physical — which is removed by this song, and by giving “it” a name, it becomes real. And by giving it a “character” it stays alive outside of our own consciousness, potentially healing us even during unconscious times. More importantly, personification also brings with it humility, which is the 3rd component of being healthy (1 — a compassionate and kind mind, 2 — love in your heart). Our humility lies in understanding that we don’t control all this and there is some great other, Ganapati, who exists outside of our ego-consciousness, who has to willingly participate in our healing for it to be successful. Without humility, love and compassion don’t add up to much.

(The complete lyrics, in Tamil and Latin script with meanings can be found here.)

The song is designed to be sung simply. It is not an elaborate arrangement: it does not require complicated instrument accompaniment or carnatic mastery. The Thiruphughal itself is a set of spontaneous compositions that essentially “appeared” in Arunagirinathar’s mind. It is similar in character to the Icaros that have appeared in the minds of Curanderos in the Amazon and as such, I think, they should be sung in a similar vein — laden with heart and soul, and stripped of mechanical or technical grandeur.

Music was a form of healing in traditional cultures but in modern times has been relegated to a performance art. Kurt Cobain’s lyrics — “Here we are now, entertain us” runs through all the commercialization of traditional arts and the emptiness with which they are practiced in the West. Natya Sashtra itself can be construed as a manual for social healing: in Unterwegs in die nächste Dimension we see an example of it when Korean shaman, Hiah Park, brings someone out of a destructive addiction by first taking him to the brink of death, and then back to a healthy life, entirely through dance.

But unfortunately there is very few who practice it with that in mind. Emphasis has been devoted to external measures and the soul has been lost. A great artist is simply someone who can perform perfectly.

Umbartharu is a song anyone can sing, and everyone should sing. Admittedly, if you sing like me — off key, in a hoarse voice resembling a disconcerting mixture of goat and frog — a private singing might be preferable, but the effect of the song will be there as long as the heart and mind are soaking up the intend.

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