This Dipavali, there seems no better wish to people of all faiths than the Sanskrit song sung by MS Subbulakshmi at the UN General Assembly on 23rd October 1966.
The song is attributed by popular report to the Kanchi Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati (1894-1994). I’ve also read that it was composed by the eminent musicologist Dr V Raghavan with the Paramacharya’s blessings and set to music by Vasant Desai. The Kanchi Paramacharya was the saintly personage whom the Dalai Lama described as “the only monk of the century” and whom heads of state, PMs, CMs, the Queen of Spain and the poorest and the shyest felt drawn to. Warring factions united in respecting him. So the song came from a very good place.
The story goes that MS suddenly lost her voice prior to the UN concert. She prayed to the Kanchi Paramacharya to save her, as India’s representative, from the disgrace of a no-show and recovered in time to sing and win a standing ovation for the song. We can hear it on YouTube and watch that shy Indian lady back in October 1966, draped in a sari with a bindi on her forehead and a string of jasmine and roses tucked into her hair.
The words are:
maitrim bhajata, akhila hrit jaitrim/Atmavad eva parann api pashyata/ yudhham tyajata, spardham tyajata/tyajata pareshu akrama-kramanam. janani prithivi kamadugharte/janako devah sakala dayaluh/damyata, datta, dayadhvam’ janata/ shreyo bhuyat sakala jananam.
They mean: ‘Cultivate friendship and humility, which will conquer the hearts of everyone. Look upon others as akin to yourself, as your own. Renounce war, give up competition (jealousy), give up aggression; do not be aggressive.
Mother Earth gives us all that we desire, God is One and compassionate to all, as we should be. Practise restraint (damyata), generosity (datta) and compassion (dayadhavam), people of the world (janata). May all be happy and prosperous’.
The words ‘damyata’, ‘datta’ and ‘dayadhvam’ occur in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in a story by Rishi Yajnavalkya, in which these words are the message from the universe contained in the roar of thunder.
Inspired by the luminous personality of the Kanchi Paramacharya, who was known for his divine insight, and for whom nobody was apparently too small or insignificant, here’s a tiny true story for Dipavali.
Sometime in the 1960s, a poor bangle-seller wandered from place to place selling his wares at villages and rural fairs. One day, he wandered into the temple town of Kanchipuram. Somehow, nobody seemed interested in buying anything. Tired and dejected by late afternoon, he sat down at the doorway of the Kanchi Kamakoti Matth. From deep within, the Kanchi Paramacharya suddenly told an aide, “Give the bangle-seller at the gate food and buttermilk. Ask him to wait. Quietly tell the devotees who come for evening darshan to buy bangles for their womenfolk in Devi’s honour.”
Of course they did, and the bangle-seller went away feeling cherished and successful.
Not everyone may be in a position to perform great deeds of service but good thoughts and small, sweet acts of loving kindness could be the lamps we light this Dipavali.