He Ambā will appear on our upcoming album Śakti.
In 2003, I learned this simple chant from Swami Nirvanananda. The words are taken from a traditional bhajan, and Swamiji took those words and wrote a beautiful original melody. I’m not sure where the words originate, but I have heard versions from Ammachi and her devotees as well as from devotees of Sathya Sai Baba.
The original words, as sung by Ammachi and Sai Baba, are as follows (these are the words exactly as they appear in the Ammachi song book, Bhajanamritam Volume 1:
hē ambā hē ambā hē ambā bōl
īśvara sata chita ānanda bōl
sāmba sadāśiva sāmba sadāśiva
sāmba sadāśiva bōl
pālaka prē raka satipati bōl
ambā… ambā… jaya jagadambā…
akhilāṇdēśvari jaya jagadambā
When I learned it from Swami Nirvanananda, he had dropped the last two lines, and changed the fourth line slightly to this:
pālaka preraka jagatpati bol
I’m not sure if that's how it was taught to him or if he made that change himself, but that is how I've sung it for years.
Tweaking the Words
I love this song, but something about it has always felt a little bit off. It seems to have a bit of a split personality, where the song can’t quite decide whether it’s about Ambā, the Divine Mother, or if it’s about Lord Śiva.
Aside from not knowing whether it’s about Ambā or Śiva, there are also some odd choices with the Sanskrit that I felt I needed to correct.
For instance, I don’t like the words sata chita ānanda, because they ignore the Sanskrit rules of saṃdhi, the combining and/or altering of particular adjacent letters. These three words — sat सत् “existence”, cit चित् “thinking” or “conscious”, and ānanda आनन्द “joy” or “pure happiness” — when combined according to the rules of saṃdhi, should be written and pronounced saccidānanda ( सच्चिदानन्द ). The t ( त ) in sat ( सत् ) joins the c ( च ) in cit ( चित् ) and becomes cc ( च्च), a double length c. The t ( त ) in cit ( चित् ) when followed by ā ( आ ) becomes dā ( दा ). Saccidānanda is, in my opinion, easier to say and more pleasing to the ear than satcitānanda (as many westerners tend to say it), or sata chita ānanda (as it appears in the original version of this song).
So that was an easy change to make. As for the split-personality nature of the lyrics, that will take some more work. I want this song to be unambiguously about Ambā, so let’s examine what further changes need to be made.
The first line — he ambā he ambā he ambā bol — means “Say ‘O Mother, O Mother, O Mother’” (bol [ बोल् ] in Hindi means “talk”). This line is a reminder to always keep the Divine Mother in your heart and mind, and Her name on your tongue. This line is definitely about the Divine Mother. And the last two lines are also unequivocally about Divine Mother: ambā… ambā… jaya jagadambā… akhilāndeśvari jaya jagadambā.
But everything in between that first line and the last seems to be directed to Lord Śiva.
The second line — īśvara saccidānanda bol — means “Say ‘God is Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss’”. Īśvara in this context is either vocative masculine or vocative neuter, and is therefore not referring to Ambā, the Divine Mother. To keep the vocative case and change the gender to feminine, the line becomes īśvarī saccidānanda bol.
The third line — sāmba sadāśiva sāmba sadāśiva sāmba sadāśiva bol — is, at a cursory glance, definitely about Lord Śiva, but could be interpreted in a way that still makes it about Ambā. The word sāmba is a combination of the root sa ( स ) with the vocative case of ambā ( अम्बा ), which is amba ( अम्ब ) with a short a at the end. The vowels at the end of sa and the beginning of amba combine to form a long ā, and we get sāmba. But what does sa mean? It means “with”, and it is the root of words like saṃgha (“gathering” or “community”) and saṃkīrtana (kirtan practiced together in a group). So, this interpretation of sāmba sadāśiva means “The Eternal Lord Śiva is always in the presence of Ambā, the Divine Mother”. This works for me, and even though the line seems to be directed to Lord Śiva, I interpret it to mean that even the mighty Lord Śiva is a devotee of and seeks the company of the Divine Mother. So, no changes are necessary for this line.
But the fourth line… There’s no interpreting our way around this one. It is absolutely about Śiva. Pālaka means “guardian”, and preraka means “inspiration”. Both are gender neutral, and will work whether we sing to Ambā or Śiva. But satipati means “Husband of Sati”, which is Śiva. Even changing satipati to jagatpati as in Swami Nirvanananda’s version, this can’t refer to Ambā because pati is always masculine and means either “husband” or “lord”. So jagatpati means “Lord of the World”. I decided to keep the jagat and simply change it to be about the Mother, so now I sing this line as pālaka preraka jagadambā bol, meaning “Say ‘You are my protection and my inspiration, O Mother of the World!’”
So, after reworking the song, here are the words as they will be sung for our recording, and in any future live performances:
he ambā he ambā he ambā bol
īśvarī saccidānanda bol
sāmba sadāśiva sāmba sadāśiva
sāmba sadāśiva bōl
pālaka preraka jagadambā bol