Kaalai Thookki

Happy Shivaratri to everybody! May the One Who Dances keep you safe and happy!

NatarajaReaders who have been with me for a while know my bent towards Gods who dance. Over time, in different parts of the world, we humans have nominated many Gods. There are interesting commonalities. Natural phenomena such as rain and thunder are popular such as Indra (Hindu) and Thor (Norse). Astronomical deities are also prevalent, such as Chandra (Hindu), Ra (Egyptian) and Mama Killa (Inca). Human skill sets have a great deal of importance too, such as Saraswati (Hindu) and Apollo (Greek), both associated with knowledge, music, arts. As are human calamities such as war-Kartikeya (Hindu), Thor and Tyr (Norse) are examples. Wealth is naturally important, take Lakshmi (Hindu) or Caishen (Chinese). My point is that there are certain themes for which humankind have felt the need of Gods. But amongst all that, the idea of a God who dances to keep the world in motion- that is indeed unique. What a perfect idea!! His drum keeps time while he dances joyfully! And then someone somewhere came up with the idea of depicting this God in the form of Nataraja. Is there anything which is more perfect? And then someone else built a temple for this God in Thillai. And then poets and devotees sang to Him. Such is the song that I have selected for you today. It is written by Marimutta Pillai (1712-1787), one of eminent pre-trinity Tamil composers and set to Raga Yadukula Kambhoji.

O Lord  who dances with his foot raised, please raise your hand to reign over me! ‘ pleads the poet. The word for raise and that for holding up or carrying is the same in Tamil and the poet has used this word as a theme throughout the song. I very much enjoy Sanjay Subramanyan’s rendition, which I hope you will enjoy too!

Alternate link : Click here


Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Marimutta Pillai
Raga : Yadukula Kambhoji
Language : Tamil


காலை தூக்கி நின்று ஆடும் தெய்வமே என்னை கை தூக்கி ஆள் தெய்வமே

வேலை தூக்கும் பிள்ளை தனை பெற்ற தெய்வமே
மின்னும் புகழ்சேர் தில்லை பொன் அம்பலத்தில் ஒரு

செங்கையில் மான் தூக்கி சிவந்த மழுவும் தூக்கி
அங்கத்தில் ஒரு பெண்ணை அனுதினமும் தூக்கி
கங்கையை திங்களை கதித்த  சடைமேல் தூக்கி
இங்கும் அங்குமாய் தேடி இருவர் கண்டறியாத


kAlai tUkki ninDRu ADum deivamE ennai kai tUkki AL deivamE

vElai tUkkum piLLaitanai peTRa deivamE
minnum pugazhsEr tillai pon ambalattil oru

senkaiyil mAn tUkki sivanda mazhuvum tUkki
angattil oru peNNai anudinamum tUkki
gangayai tingaLai gatitta sadaimEl tUkki
ingum angumAi tEDi iruvar kanDaRiyAda


O Lord (deivamE) who dances (ADum) with his foot (kAlai) raised (tUkki), please raise (tUkki) your hand (kai) to reign (AL) over me (ennai)!

O Lord (deivamE) who bore (peTRa) the son who (piLLAI tanai) holds up (tUkkum) the spear (vElai)! In the glorious (pugazhsEr) sparkling (minnum) golden (pon) temple (amabalattil) of Chidambaram (tillai), (connection to pallavi – O Lord who raises) one (oru)…

Holding (tUkki) a deer (mAn) and also a reddish (sivanda) battle-axe (mazhu) in your beautiful hands (sem+kaiyyil=senkaiyyil) , He also always (anudinam) holds (tUkki) a woman (peNNai) on his body (angattil) (referring to Parvati on his lap? or half his body as Ardhanareeshwara?). He holds (tUkki) Ganga and the Moon (tingaL) on his thick (gatitta) locks (shadaiymel). He is unknown even to (kanDu + ariyAda = not seen and known) those who search (tEDi) here (ingum) and there (angumai), as did Brahma and Vishnu (Iruvar=the two, referring to the Legend of Shiva Linga, one form of which you can read here).


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Marimuttu Pillai, Sanjay Subrahmanyan

19 responses to “Kaalai Thookki

  1. R Sankara Prasad(RS Prasad)

    Dear Suja,

    Greetings. This is R S Prasad from rsprasad4music@gmail.com. I have been regularly following your posts related to Carnatic Music for quite some time. Please do accept my sincere appreciation and thanks for the wonderful service you are doing…

    A couple of observations/comments about this post on “Kalai thooki”…

    1. As one might see the entire song focuses on the word “thooki” (which means “raising”/”carrying”/”holding” etc.,) There is also a delicious slang angle/pun in the usage “kai thooki”…while lexically it may be translated as “raising the hand” – the context being “ennai kai thooki aal deivame” it actually means “lift me up”, “help me to move up” (a distant similarity is Mujhe lift karaado! – Adnan Sami). So the entire song can be savoured only if we understand and enjoy this linguistic nuance pertaining to “thooki”. The song gently chides the Lord, saying that it is nice of him to carry this and that – have a son who holds spear (vel) lift this, etc., (in tamil – only one word is used thooki) but he should actually ‘lift up’ his devotees – stated in Tamizh, the tone of the song comes off nicely – “Swami, nee kalai thooki aadu. velai thookkum kuzhanthaiyai petravane! maan, mazhu, parvathi, gangai ellam thookiyathi sarithaan. ennai eppothu kai thookki vida pogirai?” The appeal is earnest yet charming. “kai thooki viduthal” means to help, to reach out, to save, to lift some one up. “Kai thooki” is contrasted with all other acts of “thooki”.. Hope this is clear

    2. “iruvar” would refer to Vishnu and Brahma – The reference is to the Lingodhbhava episode, where both try to find (and fail in their attempt) the beginning and the end of Agni Stampa that later reveals itself as Parameswara. Later that Agni takes the form of mountain – which is Arunachala – Thiruvannamalai – “anna” here would mean “unattainable”/ “beyond access” ( compare words like ariyavonnatha…) Though the story goes that Brahma took the form of swan(to find the beginning/origin) and Vishnu took the form of boar(to find the end) – the interpretation is one cannot understand/attain Ultimate through power of Intellect(Brahma is the husband of Saraswati) or through the power of Wealth(Vishnu is the husband of Lakshmi)

    3. This is not to say that the translation is not good – it is excellent. What we need to remember most of the time syntactic/semantic uniqueness of the source language cannot be expressed in target language. Puns are a classic example of this. A tag line like ” A bank to bank on” cannot be translated – while the meaning can be conveyed the delicious spin on “bank” may not be possible in target language. This song is one such – with the focus on “thooki” and “kai thooki” . Closing this on a lighter note with a couple of examples – in the form of jokes

    Joke #1: (wives can enjoy, husbands can silently suffer the agony!)

    Lady #1: My husband is a book-worm? Yours?
    Lady #2: Just an ordinary one! (worm!)

    Joke #2(husbands can laugh their heads, wives can grind the teeth)

    Wife (excited): Honey, it is raining outside!!!
    Husband(reading a newspaper – in a matter-of-fact tone): Well, does it ever rain inside?

    • Thank you very much for being a regular reader and for taking the time and effort to write here. Every comment adds a facet to the understanding of the song; my other readers benefit equally.

      I have remarked upon the theme of ‘thooki’ in my text, I quote, “The word for raise and that for holding up or carrying is the same in Tamil and the poet has used this word as a theme throughout the song”. I did think of many of the points you make and I am glad you made them for the benefit of my other readers. I did not see it as ‘chiding’ the Lord though..it is interesting how these we interpret the same words in slightly different ‘moods’.

      Thanks for reminding me of the ‘iruvar’ – I never thought of that story and was wondering what iruvar meant!! I shall correct the text of my translation, I am grateful for your help.

      The translations of poetry and song always leave much to be desired. I limit myself to translating the words as closely as possible and hope that the discussion of the song provides enough ‘mood’ for those who don’t understand the original language of the song.

      Thanks for the light touch!
      Cheers. Suja

  2. R Sankara Prasad(RS Prasad)

    Joke #2: minor correction – it should read — husbands can laugh their heads off…

  3. Ramesh

    A favourite raga of mine. Usually I read your post with much attention to your explanation and insights. This time, I am reading your post with a light touch. In far away Imphal, , dark at 5.00 PM, Sanjay singing thanks to my computer, it is making a nice evening. Thanks so much !

    • I am surprised you got time to visit my blog during your travels! Glad you are enjoying a nice rendition of Sanjay in far away Imphal..
      cheers. Suja

  4. There is a second caraNam which many musicians do not sing. It goes as follows:
    நந்தி மத்தளம் தூக்க நாரதர் யாழ் தூக்க
    தோம் தோம் என்றயன் தாளம் சுருதியோடு தூக்க
    சிந்தை மகிழ்ந்து வானோர் சென்னி மேல் கரம் தூக்க
    முந்து வலியுடைய முயலகன் உன்னைத் தூக்க

    nandi mattaLam tUkka nAradar yAzh tUkka
    tOm tOm enRayan tALam surutiyODu tUkka
    sindai magizhndu vAnOr senni mel karam tUkka
    mundu valiyuDaiya muyalagan unnait tUkka

    Meaning: The bull holds the drum, nAradar carries the yAzh (lyre), Brahma keeps the beat and sruti. The celestials hold their hands over their heads in veneration. The powerful demon muyalagan lifts you up.

    (The last line is figurative. Shiva is dancing with his right foot on the demon who is on the floor. That episode has to do with the dArukA vanam sages confronting Shivawho strode like a mendicant attracting the young wives of the sages )

  5. RSR

    Madam, Why is the song missing? or I am missing it? This is a very rare record. Here it is.

    • Thank you for pointing out that the song is missing! I dont quite know how that happened..fixed now. And thanks also for a link to MS’s rendition, I shall listen as soon as I have a little time.
      Cheers. Suja

  6. V.V. Padmanabhan

    Are we making the simple beautiful lyric with obvious meaning complicated by meandering annotations?

    • The lyrics in all their simplicity and meaning are there in the footnote, if that is your quest. Otherwise, f you don’t like meandering annotations, my blog is not the right place for you sir! I meander, make links which may or not be meaningful to others, talk about what the song means to me, or perhaps talk about some random other things – that is what blogging is about! For just lyrics, there are many other sites like https://karnatik.com/index.shtml which I am happy to refer to you.
      Cheers. Suja

      • V.V.Padmanabhan

        Thanks for your response. I didnt intend or mean to be critical. On the contrary I enjoyed your introductory passage.

  7. V.V.Padmanabhan

    Madam, I think this tamil sangitha mummani was known as MarimuthA pillai and not as Marimuttu pillai. This hoever needa verification and cofirmation

  8. Sharada

    Wonderful job. I enjoyed both, music and your post and comments

  9. Pa. Si. Ramachandran, sr. Journalist

    Super Raagam. Super lyrics.

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