It is Diwali day and I find myself in the centre of a Roman amphitheatre. I rotate slowly, taking in the magnificence of the stones around me. We are in Verona, Italy with our friends from India for whom we are playing tour-guides. We have been here before; we had seen a performance of the opera Aida a few years ago. At that time the arena was overflowing with people, today there are just a couple of tourists besides us. In the quietness which surrounds me, I am deeply aware of the past. These stones have held their place for 2000 years. They have seen gladiators come to a gory end, knights jousting, actors performing and bulls bleeding their hearts out. Today as I stand before them I wonder, what was it all for? The gladiators who fought hard are gone, both the winners and the losers. The lords who ordered the fights are gone, as is the audience which craved blood. The triumphs and the tragedies of the past are all gone. All for nothing. No winners here, only losers. I am overwhelmed with a sense of futility.
My mood is desolate. I stare at the stones berating myself. Why did I not do better with my life? I was dealt a good hand; I was born to a good family, with sufficient wealth and a good ethical & moral sense. I was blessed with reasonable intelligence, an empathetic heart and good health. Why did I not do better? Why have I made no spiritual progress? Why did I make so many wrong and immature choices? Why did I give so much importance to what means little and little importance to what means a lot? If I could press a re-boot button, I would. That is what death and re-birth are about, isn’t it? But then one is dealt a different hand and we forget the lessons of the past – what guarantee that I would do a better job of it? I do not dare ask to be released from this cycle but if only I could remember next time that it is spiritual progress which is of true value, maybe then I would live a better, more meaningful life.
And so I come upon my song choice for today. Pirava Varam Tarum says Papanasam Sivan, ‘Please give me the boon that I may not be born again. Even if I am reborn, give me the boon that I do not forget your divine feet.’ He seems to speak for me. ‘..bless me, so that the sins of the past are removed, so that my mental anxiety comes to an end’. See footnote for lyrics. Set to Raga Latangi, it does not sound as sad as I feel but still, the song speaks to me today. This raga is said to have curative properties, will it heal my troubled heart?
First listen to the song as featured in the film Nandanar (1942), sung by M.M.Dandapani Desikar.
My favourite classical rendition of this song is by the violinist duo, brothers Ganesh & Kumaresh. This time Ganesh provides vocals as well as playing the instrument of which he is a veritable Master (I bow to your skills sirs!) The wonderful exploration of Raga Latangi following the kriti has a touch of genius. This is a 20 min rendition, do take the time to enjoy it.
You can also listen to the track here.
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Tamil
பிறவா வரம் தாரும் பெம்மானே (பிறவா)
பிறவா வரம் தாரும் இறைவா மறுபடி
பிறவா வரம் தாரும் பிறந்தாலும் உன் திருவடி
மறவா வரம் தாரும் மாநில மேல் இனி / மீதினில் (பிறவா)
பார்வதி நேயா பக்த சகாயா
பந்தம் அறாதா வந்தருள் தா தா
முந்தி / முந்தை வினை கோற சிந்தாகுலம் தீர
எந்தை உன் பாதாரவிந்தம் துணை சேர (பிறவா)
Notation is available here. I believe my translation is more accurate than what is given in this site.
piRavA varam tArum pemmAnE (piRavA)
piRavA varam tAarum iRaivA marubadi
piRavA varam tArum piRandAlum un tiruvadi
maRavA varam tArum mAnila mEl ini / mIdinil (piRavA)
pArvati nEyA bakta SaHAyA
bandam aRAdA vandaruL tA tA
mundi / mundai vinai kOra chintAkulam tIra
endai un pAdAravindam tuNai sEra (piRavA)
Please give me (tArum) the boon (varam) that I may not be born again (piravA) O Lord (pemmAn)!
Give me (tArum) the boon (varam) that I may not be born (piravA) again on this (mIdu) earth (mAnila) . Even if I am born (pirandAlum) again (marubadi), give me (tArum) the boon (varam) that I do not forget (maravA) your divine feet (tiruvadi).
O Beloved (nEyA) of Parvati ! O Support (sahAyA) of your devotees (bhakta)! Will my ties (bandam) never break (aRa = to remove) ? Please come (vandu) and bless me (aRul ta), so that the sins (vinai=evil deeds) of the past (mundai) are removed (kORa=killed), so that my mental anxiety (chintAkulam) comes to an end (tIra) and I can attain (tuNai sEra=join) your (un) lotus like feet (pAdAravindam), O my Master (endai)!
Footnote (Raaga) :
The scales of Latangi are as follows :
Aarohanam (Ascending) : S R2 G3 M2 P D1 N3 S’
Avarohanam (Descending) : S’ N3 D1 P M2 G3 R2 S
Latangi is 63rd on the Melakarta Scale. It is also called Geetapriya. It is a very sweet sounding raga. The first half of the octave is the same as that of the very commonly sung raga Kalyani and the second half is like Kamavardani. Read more about handling this raga here. It is said to be suitable for singing in the evening and night. Latangi sets a compassionate and devotional mood with hints of courageousness. Charulata Mani says that it is ‘attractive and sensuous, meditative and mildly melancholic, a sweet-and-sour combination’. Some well known songs in this raga are Aparadhamula and Marivere by Patnam Subramanya Iyer, and Pirava Varam and Venkataramana by Papananasam Sivan.
Note : The 12 notes in the octave are named as below. Please note that C is used as Sa for the sake of simplicity as the scale is relative in Carnatic Music. Also note that the scales paint only a superficial picture of the raga as the gamakas(ornamentations) are a very important part of a raga.