Some say it was 5000 years ago. Others say otherwise. No matter. It was in the mists of time, a very very long time ago. In a little hamlet close to the river Yamuna, there lived a little boy. He was perhaps only five or six when he used to go out grazing the cows with all the little cowherds in the community.
One day some of his friends went to have a drink at a pond called Madu. They had been warned to keep away from this place, which was occupied by a poisonous snake called Kalia, but in their thirst they forgot. The water had become poisonous and they all swooned. Our little cowherd found them thus and was very angry with the snake. He clambered up a nearby tree and dived into the depths of the pool.
Feeling this disturbance, this giant five-headed snake came up from the depths and wrapped its coils around the boy. His friends ran to call the adults and soon everyone was wailing and shouting for him to come back. But instead he smiled and leapt on the head of the snake. He sprang from head to head as it tried to strike him with its many fangs. His anklets jangled and the little feather in his top knot danced to his rhythm, while the water lapping at the shore provided music.
Finally the snake was tired out and begged forgiveness. The little cowherd banished the snake and its family to a far off place and the pool became safe once more.
Did this all happen? Perhaps it was only a little boy who jumped on a garden snake? Or was there a Loch Ness monster lookalike? Or perhaps this is just another metaphor as many Indian stories are, the five heads of the snake representing the five senses which we need to learn to control? And if we do not, it will poison our whole surrounding? There is a hint of this as the five headed snake begs forgiveness saying that it had been afflicted with the dreaded disease called ‘Ego’.
But you see, seeking the truth is Jnana Yoga, and the control of the senses is Raja Yoga. Both yogas had become out of fashion, being far too difficult. The followers of Bhakti Yoga worshipped the little one instead of following the symbolism. But that too is a good path to follow.
Many many years later, in the year 1700 or so, a poet-composer was born in another little hamlet in the deep South of India. He worshipped at the local temple where the deity was the little cowherd dancing on Kalia. How he loved this little dancer! His love poured out as poetry and music, each word bringing to life the much loved child-cowherd. Blessed with a way with words as well as an extraordinary sense of music and rhythm, his songs are a favourite with Carnatic music fans and of Bhaktas who get a vision of their loved little boy when they hear his music. The poet-composer was called Venkata Subbaiyer and he was from the hamlet of Oothukadu.
Today I present Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer’s Kalinga Nartana (The Kalinga Dance) Thillana. This is set to raga Gambheera Nattai. If you would like to know more about this raga, click here. A Thillana is a special type of composition where the rhythmic aspect is emphasised by using special words with no meaning for the Pallavi and Anupallavi. As Thillanas are best suited for dancing, I have chosen a Kuchipudi performance from youtube.
And below is an excellent performance of the same song by Aruna Sairam, one of my favourite singers. You can find the lyrics here.