Theerada Vilaiyattu Pillai

Krishna's MischiefCan one call oneself Tamil if one doesn’t know this song? This gem amongst the gems written by the great poet Subramanya Bharathi has such an extraordinary appeal! For one, we all love stories about the mischievous and quite irresistible  Lord Krishna, don’t we? And then there is the poet’s expertise in choosing words and metres which resonate so deeply with the audience.  However poetry by its very nature finds itself at a disadvantage crossing borders; for isn’t poetry about language at its very best, its very beautiful? Who but natives can really appreciate it? But once it has been sung as a song, it crosses borders so much more easily!

Popular as a ‘light’ piece in Carnatic Music, this song happily bridges the gap between the classical and the popular. I hope you will join me on a walk-through of this beautiful poem and its meaning. I limit myself only to the verses sung by Carnatic musicians.

Raga: Sindhu Bhairavi

தீராத விளையாட்டுப் பிள்ளை – கண்ணன்
தெருவிலே பெண்களுக்கோயாத தொல்லை

tIrAda viLaiyATTUp piLLai – kaNNan
teruvilE peNgaLukkOyAda tollai

Krishna (kaNNan) is such an endlessly (tIrAda) playful (viLaiyATTu) boy (piLLai)!! He is a ceaseless (OyAda) trouble (tollai) to the women (peNgaLukku) on the street (teruvilE)!

The first verse sets the scene perfectly. Such an endlessly mischievous lad, the poet says, that he is Trouble with a capital T to all the women on the street. Why women? Did He not direct any mischief towards the men? But no, He never did! He was the darling of the women and he loved them dearly; yet it is those very women He troubled! Our symbolism starts here..He is Parama Purusha, the supreme male aspect.  All creation, Prakriti, is the female aspect. We see this symbolism again and again in poetry from all around India.

Raga : Sindhu Bhairavi

தின்னப் பழம் கொண்டு தருவான் – பாதி
தின்கின்ற போதிலே தட்டிப் பறிப்பான்
என்னப்பன் என்னைய்யன் என்றால் – அதனை
எச்சிற்  படுத்திக் கடித்துக் கொடுப்பான்

tinnap pazham koNDu taruvAn – pAdi
tinginDRa pOdilE taTTip paRippAn
ennappan ennaiyyan enDRAl – adanai
echchiR paduttik kaDittuk koDuppAn

He will bring (konDu) and give (taruvAn) fruit (pazham) to eat (tinna). While (pOdilE) eating (pAdi =half, tinginDRa) he will grab it (taTTi paRippAn)! If (enDRAl) one cajoles him (ennappan, ennaiyyan as terms of endearment) – he will bite it (kaDittu) and contaminate it by eating (echchiR=jhUTA in hindi) and then give it back (koDuppAn).

What mischief! He grabs back the fruit he has given and takes a bite before giving it back! I wonder, is this concept of contamination by eating/saliva unique to India? In the olden days, at the wedding feast, a wife would eat off the plate eaten by her husband to denote the closeness of the new relationship. Sharing of food half eaten by others is a privilege limited to those who are near and dear. Here the poet wants to show how close the relationship is between the Lord and his subjects. Krishna is happy to eat the fruit half-eaten by his loved ones (remember Rama and Sabari?) and what He gives back we take as prasaadam. So what does the fruit denote? All that He gives us, of course! Perhaps the poet wants to say also that He who gives may equally take away.

Raga : Kamas

அழகுள்ள மலர் கொண்டு வந்தே (alt: வந்து ) – என்னை
அழ அழச் செய்தபின் கண்ணை மூடிக்கொள்
குழலிலே சூட்டுவேன் என்பான் – என்னைக்
குருடாக்கி மலரினைத் தோழிக்கு வைப்பான்

azhaguLLa malar koNDu vandE (alt: vandu) – ennai
azha azha seydapin kaNNai mUDikkoL
kuzhalilE sUTTuvEn enbAn – ennai
kuruDAkki malarinai tOzhikku vaippAn

He will bring (konDu vandE) a beautiful (azhaguLLa) flower (malar). After (pin)  making one cry (azha azha seyda) He will say (enbAn) ‘close (mUDikkoL) your eyes (kaNNai), I will adorn (sUTTuvEn) your braid (kuzhalilE) with it’. After making (Akki) me (ennai) blind (kuruDu), he will place (vaippAn) the flower (malarinai) on my friend (tOzhikku)!

Have you ever seen something you wanted very badly? Perhaps you begged and pleaded for it, perhaps you worked hard for it, but you thought you almost had it. And then when you relax for a moment, it is gone, given to some other. In real life this could be tragic. Imagine it is the promotion you worked hard for, the treat your parents promised you, the relaxed retirement you look for after a lifetime of work. And then circumstances occur when it seems to be snatched away from you. How frustrating it is, how depressing when it happens! If we can see it as no more than Krishna’s mischief, his leela, perhaps it will console us.

(Don’t miss the mridangam at this interval in the BJ performance, how good it sounds!!)

Raga : Shanmukhapriya

பின்னலைப் பின்னின்றிழுப்பான் -தலை
பின்னே திரும்பு(ம்) முன்னே சென்று மறைவான்
வண்ணப் புதுச் சேலை தனிலே -புழுதி
வாரிச் சொரிந்தே வருத்திக் குலைப்பான்

pinnalaip pinninDRizhuppAn – talai
pinnE tirumbu(m ) munnE chenDRu maRaivAn
vaNNap puduch chElai tanilE – puzhudi
vArich chorindE varuttik kulaippAn

He will pull (izhuppAn) one’s braid (pinnalai) while standing behind (pin ninDru). Before (munnE) one can turn (tirumbum) one’s head (talai) back (pinnE) He will disappear (chenDRu maRaivAn)! He will make one sorrowful (varutti) and agitated (kulaippan) by throwing (vAri) dust (puzhudi) on (tanilE) one’s new (pudu) colourful (vaNNa) sari (sElai).

Krishna pulling at a Gopi’s hair and disappearing – isn’t it a disarming portrayal of our mischief making Lord? Has your metaphorical braid been pulled by someone or something at any time? How frustrating not to be able to pinpoint who did it! And what about your metaphorical new clothes? Has someone thrown dust as it?  These are common life occurrences, aren’t they! They sadden us, agitate us, disturb us. And yet we smile when we think of Krishna and his mischief. That too is a leela.

Raga : Mand

புல்லாங்குழல் கொண்டு வருவான் – அமுது
பொங்கித் ததும்ப நற்கீதம் படிப்பான்
கள்ளால் மயங்குவது போலே – அதனை  (alt:அதைக்)
கண் மூடி வாய் திறந்தே கேட்டிருப்போம்

pullAnguzhal konDu varuvAn – amudu
pongit tadumba naRgItam paDippAn
kaLLAl mayanguvadu pOlE – adanai (alt:adai)
kaN mUDi vAy tiRandE kETTiruppOm

He will bring (konDu varuvAn) a flute (pullAnguzhal). He will recite (paDippAn) good (nal) songs (gItam) which overflow (pongi tadumba) with nectar (amudu). And like (pOlE) one gets intoxicated (mayanguvadu) with liquor (kaLLAl), we would be listening (kETTiruppOm) with closed (mUDi) eyes (kaN) and open (tirandE) mouths (vAy)!

This is a lovely verse where Krishna is portrayed as the enchanter that He is. And oh, how I love Raga Mand! In the other verses the poet talks of how He troubles and agitates the women. In contrast, this verse is about how he fascinates with his playing of a different kind. What is Krishna’s song in your lives? What is that which enchants you, intoxicates you, absorbs you? As to me, I hear Krishna’s song in so many things – in the light which reflects off the lake I see from my window, in that pause between two notes when Lalgudi plays Mohanam in a CD I have, in the perfection of Vermeer’s Milkmaid, in that smell of the earth just after it rains, in the memory of cuddling my children when they were babies and a million other things besides.  These are indeed nectarine as the poet says. After listing all the mischief the Lord plays on us, it is good of the poet to remind us of how He plays his music for us too!

To present this song, I have chosen renditions by two divas of the Carnatic Music world, Bombay Jayashri and Nithyasree Mahadevan. I have always loved Bombay Jayashri’s voice and in this recording it sounds warm and lovely, as smooth as honey.

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It is Nithyasree Mahadevan’s crisp enunciation which attracts me to this performance. This is poetry as it should sound!

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For Reference :
Poetry : Subramanya Bharathi
Raga : Ragamalika – Sindhu Bhairavi, Kamas, Shanmukhapriya, Mand
Language : Tamil


Filed under Bombay Jayashri, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Nithyasree Mahadevan, Subramanya Bharathi

14 responses to “Theerada Vilaiyattu Pillai

  1. Jay

    A lovely song to start the day !

    Both versions were good. I’ve often wondered why singers vary so much. You see how many youngsters in the reality shows get hounded on so many minute aspects including enunciation. Nityashree’s voice sounds so young, kiLinda or tender as they call in Malayalam, whereas Bombay Jayashree’s is really majestic. I like crisp versions myself, make it easier to transcribe the song.

    I particularly liked your statement on how music can transcend so many borders. Add to that: Krishna the divine personality has that quality to transcend hearts. Yusfali Kecheri, celebrated poet, lyricst and filmmaker, a transcendental personality remarks while holding his own grandchild “ it reminds me of darling Krishna”. He has admitted his weakness for Krishna.
    Yusafali, a sanskrit scholar has penned the award winning “janaki jaane raama”. To add to your list of how life reminds you of Krishna, I’d go further – not just as an enchanter but Krishna reminds us of Divine. From an old song checkout the lyrics:
    viDarunna Poovinda madhu nee allo? (aren’t you the nectar in the blooming flower)
    Viryunna jeevande vidhi nee allo? (aren’t you the Determiner of blooming life)


    • Hello Jay! Actually I think this is from an old recording of Nithyasree so I guess she must have been very young. And yes BJ’s voice is majestic, I agree!

      Music transcends border so much more easily that poetry. Look at us Carnatic Music lovers – we happily listen to songs in languages we don’t speak but that doesn’t come in the way of our enjoyment!

      Havent the poets always told us to look for Krishna everywhere? Your quote reminds me of another gift to us from Bharathiyar. Kakkai Siraginile Nandalala talks of seeing Krishna everywhere. Not just in good experiences but even difficult ones – tIkkuL viralai vaitAl nanda lAlA, ninnai tINDum inbam tOnDrudaDA – (if I put my finger into the fire, I feel the pleasure of touching you). Such should be our Krishna experience as well….
      Cheers. Suja

  2. Ramesh

    Well, even I, who is a complete ignoramus in Tamil, know this song so I presume by your criteria I can call myself Tamil 🙂 A classic indeed.

    Bombay Jayashri’s voice, for some reason, sounds absolutely majestic live, but somewhat insipid in recordings, to my ear. Have no clue why. Listening to her live is an amazing experience, even when acoustics are bad. If she performs at the Royal Albert Hall or the Concertgebouw , it would be worth going a thousand miles to enjoy.

    Granted I am art challenged, but I never understood the allure of Vermeer’s Milkmaid. Let us say that the close resemblance to Rajalakshmi (my mythical proportionally challenged Indian lady) is uncomfortable close :):):) So Krishna’s song is better in your other poetic metaphors ! Lalgudi’s Mohanam – well that even transcends divinity.

    • BJ does sound divine live, doesn’t she! However, I don’t feel insipidity in this recording even though no recording can compare to the live sound.

      You made me smile with your comment about The Milkmaid, though I want to protest in defense of all the Rajalakshmis of the world! If being categorized by colour is racism, to be categorized by size or form (even for a joke) comes too close for comfort!! But thank you for the comment because you have inspired me to think of writing a sister blog called ‘Art to my Eyes’ 🙂 As to Lalgudi, I have always put his music on a pedestal which rises above all. The Moghul emperor Jahangir quoted Amir Khusrao when he saw Kashmir; I quote the same words when I listen to Lalgudi at his best : ‘Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast’ = ‘If there is heaven on earth, it is here, it is here it is here’. (PS: I put Vermeer on the same pedestal that I put Lalgudi on 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

  3. I continue to enjoy the music pieces and descriptions. descriptions.I still do not understand a word of Tamil.I stay north of Vindhyas and geographies surely do not come in the way of the waves of sound or music.The Comments always intimidates.Cultured,refined understanding and above all great ears.Them all.

  4. R S Prasad

    Hi Suja, happy to reconnect with your blog after quite some gap. Wondering if you have enjoyed Lalgudi’s rendition of this piece. He brings out the meaning of the lyrics highlighting words/phrases like “pinnalai pinn nindru izhuppan”, “thatti parippan”, “puzhuthi vaari”, “kallall mayanguvadhu pole” etc., Improvisations at these points by that great soul will leave one speechless – with due respect to vocalists even they have failed where Sri Lalgudi succeeds with gay abandon… That reminds me of one more thing.. It is a well known secret that many vocalists listen to Lalgudi’s renditions and sangati-s (as he was a master in carving out sangati-s in strict alignment with the context/meaning of krithis) – if time permits please listen to Ada modi galathe…(Charukesi) Lalgudi will plead, persuade, chide, ridicule, show resignation and finally bring out the divine reconciliation (accepting that Lord Rama will not speak – after all he made only his brother to speak to Hanuman (considered Shankaraamsham) first. Ironically enough Lalgudi, the instrumentalist is the gateway to examine the significance of krithis and arrive at a nuanced understanding… God Bless your efforts, with prayers and best wishes, r s prasad

    • Hello Prasad, a pleasure to see you back here! I am sorry for such a tardy reply, I am been very busy in my personal life and sadly neglecting my blog. I am extremely fond of Lalgudi’s rendition of this piece. He is sheer magic! I put him on a pedestal far above any musician I know! But still, I feel that listeners to listen extensively to vocalists, become familiar with the words and meanings before listening to Lalgudi to get a full appreciation of his skills. Just as you say, our appreciation for his interpretation of the words/phrases you highlight is because we know the song so well and understand the words. Even without that his music is beautiful, yes, but we dont get the full extent of his mastery. Thanks for your wishes and prayer, I am ever grateful.
      Cheers. Suja

  5. RSR

    you must have given link to the song rendered by D.K.PATTAMMAL

  6. RSR

    you are missing the background music score. The ragas were chosen by Sudharsanam.

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