Kalinga Nartanam

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.

Kuchipudi performance

And below is an excellent performance of the same song by Aruna Sairam, one of my favourite singers. You can find the lyrics here.

Aruna Sairam–Kalinga Nartana Tillana



Filed under Aruna Sairam, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer

7 responses to “Kalinga Nartanam

  1. Was searching for the sahityam for this, after listening to Aruna Sairam’s rendition and here I am, again, Suja. Thanks for this post.

    The lyrics link does have lyrics but the text doesn’t seem “Sanskrit enough” to me. “deela manohara”? “sarasa dala naya naayaka”? “kim vadati?”, I was wondering, just as you did in another post.

    • HI Srinivas, Good to see you in my blog again 🙂 I wrote this post a long while back before I started writing the lyrics and translation myself. It was my frustration with the quality of lyrics available online that I had started researching, transcribing and translating in my future posts. It is my intention to go back to my old posts and add a lyrics section to all of them, but it does take quite a bit of time 🙂 I will make sure that I will do it for this song and send you a note when I do.
      Cheers. Suja

      • Divya

        Hi Suja,
        I landed up here while looking up my favourite kriti. I just recently set this in bharatanatyam piece to perform. I happened to find the lyrics in another video that you may have already seen. I add it here anyway just incase.

        Loved your blog btw. I am trained in bharatanatyam but never in carnatic music. Like you say listening to carnatic music is like coming home, even if I dont understand all the nuances. Your post is definitely an interesting guide. This is the piece which has my 3 year old hooked now and hope it opens her into the world of carnatic music.


      • Hi Divya, welcome to my blog! Thank you for your words of appreciation, very kind of you 🙂 It is great that you are introducing Carnatic Music to your little one, surely it will give her pleasure all her life. And you know, though physical umbilical cords are cut at birth, mothers and children forge metaphorical umbilical cords with shared interests in music and dance, in food, in books, in travel and such…and these cords tie us together forever. If I close my eyes, I can see my mother singing her favourite kritis while she stirred something in the pot, her red kumkumam streaked carelessly, her sari end tucked into her waist, so involved in her music! And one day your daughter too will remember you keeping beat to Kalinga Nartanam..what a lovely cord to tie between mother and daughter!

      • Rohit

        Plz share sanskrit lyrics

  2. Rohit

    Hello Suja,
    Thank you for such a great information. Really appreciate. can you please write the Lyrics in Sanskrit. i am looking for the Lyrics in Sanskrit.

    • Hello Rohit. I don’t have the lyrics in Sanskrit, they are available only in Tamil or English transliteration. Normally, I would try and type up the Sanskrit myself as I do for many compositions. That does take time, as the spellings are not one-to-one and I also verify the meaning of every word. That takes quite a few hours, hours which I don’t have at the moment. If and when I can, I will have a go and let you know once its done.
      Cheers. Suja

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