Kanna Kattarul

Once there was a community called ‘The-Learned‘. They called the others ‘Not-The-Learned‘. I wonder, did the ‘Not-the-Learned‘ call themselves ‘The-Learned‘ amongst themselves? Who knows? Demonising the enemies is a well-known psychological tactic, isn’t it! Our protagonist belonged to the ‘Not-the-Learned‘ community though some say that he was born to ‘The-Learned‘ and went over to the other side. Some even say that he was son of the best amongst the ‘The-Learned‘ himself.

His mother prayed and sought the boon that he should live a long life and be all powerful. How can we know the power of a mother’s prayer? He went on to establish a powerful kingdom far to the east, in high lands after defeating a previous dynasty of ethnic origins, another community that ‘The-Learned‘ demonized. The three dynasties which followed him in that region trace their origins to him. They say he ruled for a long time, eons over different eras. Perhaps it was him, perhaps there were descendants of the same ilk. Let us not question that, stories lose their charm if examined too closely.

Our protagonist became more and more powerful, defeating enemies and enlarging his kingdom amongst the ‘Not-the-learned‘. Then his eyes turned towards the lands of ‘The-Learned‘. He defeated the ruler and took over those lands too. Powerful indeed! It is said that all the power went to his head, that he insulted a venerable lady of ‘The-Learned‘, that he kidnapped 16,000 women. Maybe true. Maybe an exaggeration. Stories are written by the victors, and in our story our protagonist is the not eventual victor. You remember that he was said to be fathered by one of ‘The-Learned‘? Tired of his atrocities, all ‘The-Learned‘ begged his father for assistance.

But there were his mother’s prayers to protect him, and more time passed. Finally, his father was re-born and grew up to marry his mother-re-born. Or perhaps it was his father’s descendants; it matters not to us. It is then that the venerable lady whom he had insulted went to his mother-re-born. Eons have passed, so I imagine that it is another such offended lady. Remember that ‘The-Learned‘ were now the subjugated community? A society which offers violence to women does not stop at one; violence against women, especially subjugated women, often becomes endemic in communities. It happens today. Anyway, it is said that his mother-re-born was offended by his treatment of women, and she herself went to his father-re-born for permission to wage war against her son. The war was furious, with many powerful weapons used by both parties. Finally our protagonist was defeated when he was beheaded by the discus weapon of his father-re-born.

It is this defeat of a powerful foe of ‘The-Learned‘ by the foremost amongst them that we celebrate on Kartika Amavasya, just before syzygy (showing off a new word I just learnt!) in the Oct-Nov lunar cycle. Or at least, one of the myriad reasons quoted by those in the know. I am, of course, talking about Deepavali/Diwali being the celebration of the destruction of Narakasura by Krishna.

As I browsed for ideas for a post today, I came upon this kriti in the auspicious raga Madhyamavati composed by Papanasam Sivan. Surprisingly, I don’t remember having heard it before though I see that there are a few renditions available online. I must also confess that I haven’t quite taken a liking to the song…I wonder why? Maybe you’ll like it better. But it’s still perfect for Deepavali as the lyrics honour the day. Here is a rendition by the evergreen Sudha Raghunathan. I’ve listened to her for close to 40 years and she still sounds good to me!

kriti from 3:00

Footnote ( Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Papanasam Sivan
Raga : Madhyamavati
Language: Tamil

கண்ணா காத்தருள் மேக வண்ணா
கடைக்கண் பார்த்தருள் -கமலக்

விண்ணாடரும் முனிவரும் வணங்கி வேண்ட
நரகாசுர வதம் செய்ய விரைந்து வந்த

பாமை வடிவான பூமிப்பிராட்டி
தேரோட்ட அசுரர் குலம் அழித்தவா
சக்ரபாணி உலகெலாம் மங்கள
தீபாவளி ஒளி வீச அருள் புரிந்த


kaNNa kAttaruL mEgha vaNNA
kaDaikkaN pArttaruL -kamalak

viNNADarum munivarum vaNangi vENDa
narakAsura vadam seyya viraindu vanda

bhAmai vaDivAna bhUmipiraTTi
tErOTTa asurar kulam azhittavA
chakrapANi ulagelAm mangaLa
dIpAvaLi oLi vIsa aruL purinda


O Lotus-Eyed Krishna (kamalak-kaNNA, also Kanna means Krishna) coloured (vaNNA) like the clouds (mEgha)! Bless (aruL) us (implied) with a glance (kaDaikkaN pArttu – literally looking from the corner of the eyes)!

When the celestial beings (viNNADar) and (-um) sages (munivar) worshipfully (vaNangi) requested (vENDa), you are the one (implied) who came (vanda) speedily (viraindu) to kill (vadam seyya) Narakasura.

With Bhudevi (bhUmi pirATTi) in her form (vaDivAna) as Satyabhama (bhamai) driving (OTTa) the chariot (tEr), you Krishna, the Discus-Holder (chakrapANi), are the one who destroyed (azhittavA) the demon (asura) clans (kulam). You are the one who graced (arUl purinda) us (implied) so that (implied) the auspicious (mangaLa) rows (Avali) of lamps (dIpa) shine brightly (oLi vIsa) worldwide (ulagelAm).


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Papanasam Sivan, Sudha Raghunathan

5 responses to “Kanna Kattarul

  1. indigoite

    A story told in your inimitable style. I was just thinking of how little I knew of the Narakasura story, which underpins the Diwali celebration at least in Tamil Nadu – most of us celebrate without having an idea of what it is that we are celebrating !!

    Is that what the story is ? I have to read some source to understand all the oblique references of yours !!

    Have been having an overdose of Madhyamavathi lately. Whatever radio station we tune to, seems to be playing this raga. After listening to Palintsu Kamakshi for about 20 times, I am ready to take a year long holiday ! Yest is indeed a lovely raga, but ….

    Sudha Ragunathan has waxed and waned a bit. About five years ago, she had gone a bit stale and crowds at her concerts dwindled. She seemed to have regained her mojo and the last two times I went to her kutcheri, it was superb. And then the pandemic intervened . I suspect when kutcheris resume, there wil a burst of appreciation and crowds. Sometimes a forced holiday ensures we come back with redoubled vigour.

    My vocabulary added by one word too 🙂

    Happy Diwali. Not sure what the protocols on this are in your country, but I do hope the little boy sets off an atom bomb near you 🙂

    • My story was written for those who already know the story 🙂 You’ll have to look it up to get the story as old in our ancient books. I know there is no point in trying to make sense of these old stories, but that’s what I was trying to do.

      I do always enjoy Madhyamavati but I get your point – how much is too much? I remember others coming back from music festivals and saying that it was just some particular sung in so many concerts again and again. As to Sudha Raghunathan, I used to have her music on repeat once upon a time; I have a lingering affection from those days. Listening to her feels like homecoming. Nowadays I listen to no-one on repeat, there is just too much to listen to!

      No fireworks for us, no get togethers either. Still strict rules here. Our little fellow will have to wait for another year to have a Deepavali celebration with his grandparents 🙂

      Cheers. Suja

  2. yesars


  3. Padma

    Dear Suja
    What an interesting story and you made me keep guessing till the end as to whom you are referring ?
    With so much of atrocities happening against women, my mind was working on those lines only ! Probably we need a mother reborn in every household to wage a war against the son who is going the wrong way !
    Well that apart , Sudha Raghunathan s rendition is in her inimitable style .. in her melodious voice .. me too hearing this Kriti first time . Her flow of Kalpana Swaras, I have always admired . But as you say, nothing very extraordinary in this Kriti .
    Quite an effort to search an unknown lKriti apt for the occasion 👍👍

    Sudha has been having these chats with noted personalities on various topics during this pandemic .. you must have watched then I suppose .
    A few others like RaGa sisters have started giving online concerts .
    Looks like that’s going to be the normal for quite some time now
    Thank you Suja
    Keep your posts coming
    Cheers and love

    • Dear Padma, I am glad you enjoyed the story. Sudha Raghunathan has been a stalwart in this field for so long and has given great pleasure to many of us. I watched a couple of her chats. Unfortunately, I am so very time constrained that I cannot watch as much as I would like. There are a lot of online concerts coming in December but realistically speaking, I am not sure how many I can really get to watch! Sigh..
      Take care,

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