Category Archives: Aruna Sairam

Unnai Allal

I have no recourse but you, O Mother who has created the whole world! You have made me dance  on this stage of the drama of the world, where one ports different guises. I can dance no more!  For your divine heart to find the compassion to think ‘enough dancing’ and let me have a rest, what recourse do I have but you?

If  I had been born with the gift for words, this is the poetry I would have written. If I had been born with a Voice, this is the song I would have sung. Lacking both, I listen again and again to this beautiful composition by Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973) and lose myself in this most comforting of ragas, Kalyani.

Kalyani (Sanskrit) means auspicious, bringing good-fortune, beautiful. An important part of Carnatic music, this raga has Middle-Eastern origins. There are hundreds of compositions in this raga which are often sung as elaborate numbers in concerts. So of course I have heard it many times from childhood and find great comfort in its familiarity. Yet with certain compositions, there is something special. A matter of resonance I think – like a tuning fork, Unnai Allal makes me resonate in exactly the same frequency. To know more about this raga, click here.

This is a very cleverly written piece of poetry. The words are simple (see footnote) but it manages to encompasses many of basic Hindu beliefs – Maya and rebirth (the drama/theatre of the world where one ports many guises), Bhakti, surrender (no recourse except you), monotheistic-polymorphic God (many named and all pervading), Jeevatma-Paramatma link (resides in one’s heart/soul),  Mukti (allow to stop dancing). An excellent prayer song. See footnote for lyrics.

To present this song, I urge you to watch this video (from 0:31) of a very young Sanjay Subrahmanyan. How brilliant is he!! This is a video which I always watch with a great deal of pleasure and with sadness because I long to be there, at that temple, listening to Kalyani in those ancient corridors. Is Kalyani sanctified by the earth on which it is sung? Or is the earth sanctified by the sound of Kalyani? Both…both..My Tamil blood craves the feel of those temple grounds.

And if you fall in love with the song, like I did, listen below to a more elaborate and simply superb rendition by Aruna Sairam. It is from her excellent album Unnai Allal which I am happy to recommend to you.

Alternate link : This is available on online music sites such as Spotify and

Footnote (Lyrics):

Language : Tamil

உன்னை அல்லால் வேறே கதி இல்லை அம்மா
உலகெல்லாம் ஈன்ற அன்னை (உன்னை அல்லால்)

என்னை ஒர் வேடமிட்டுலக நாடக அரங்கில் ஆட விட்டாய் ( வைத்தாய்?)
என்னால் இனி ஆட முடியாது
திருவுள்ளம் இறங்கி ஆடினது போதுமென்று ஓய்வளிக்க (உன்னை அல்லால்)

நீயே மீனாக்ஷி காமாக்ஷி நீலாயதாக்ஷி
என பல பெயருடன் எங்கும் நிறைந்தவள்
என் மனக் கோவிலிலும்  எழுந்தருளிய தாயே
திருமயிலை வளரும் (உன்னை அல்லால்)


unnai allAl vErE gati illai ammA
ulagellAm InDRa annai

ennai Or vEDamiTTulaga nAdaga arangil ADa  viTTAi (/vaiththai)
ennAl ini ADa muDiyAdu
tiruvuLLam irangi ADinadu pOdum enDRu OyvaLikka (unnai allAl)

nIyE mInAkshii kAmAkshi nIlAyatAkshi
ena pala peyaruDan engum niraindavaL
en manak kOvililum ezhundaruLiya tAyE
tirumayilai vaLarum (unnai allAl)


I have no (illai) recourse (vErE gati) but you (unnai allAl), O Mother (annai) who has created (InDRa) the whole world (ulagellAm)!

You have made (viTTai) me (ennai) dance (ADa) on this stage (arangil) of the drama (nAdaga) of the world (ulaga) where one ports (iTTu) different guises (veDam). I can (ennAl) dance (ADa) no more (ini muDiyAdu)!  For your divine heart (tiru uLLam) to find the compassion (irangi) to think ‘enough dancing’ (ADinadu pOdum ena) and let me have a rest (Oyvu aLikka), what recourse do I have but you?

You are indeed (nI dAn) present everywhere (engum niraidavaL) with many names (pala peyaruDan) such as (ena) Meenakshi, Kamakshi and Neelayadakshi. O Mother (tAyE) who has blessed me by residing (ezhudu aruLiya) even in the temple (kOvilum) of my heart (en mana)! O Mother who is in holy Mayilai (tiru mayilai), what recourse do I have but you?



Filed under Aruna Sairam, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Papanasam Sivan, Rama Varma, Sanjay Subrahmanyan

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

Sri Satyanarayanam

Sri Satyanarayana is a form of Vishnu worshipped at auspicious occasions. So it is appropriate indeed that I start my blog with a prayer to Sri Satyanarayana.

If you are a Carnatic Music fan, you are perhaps wondering why I am starting with a rather minor raga with a not-often heard kriti. But what can I say, the heart likes what it likes! I recently came across an album called Ekaika Ragam by Aruna Sairam. It has just this one kriti, in two tracks. I was totally hooked after just one listen! Generally music is a private pastime for me, not a group activity. But while listening to this wonderful rendition, I so wanted to share it with someone else – anyone else. So on that impulse I have commenced on this blog.

What is it about the haunting notes of the Shubhapantuvarali raga? It has such a great appeal for me!  It is a somber and gentle raga, drawing me into a meditative state with ease. If you want to read more about this raga, click here.

Sri Satyanarayanam is composed by Muthuswami Dikshithar. Written in Sanskrit, it pays homage to the Lord of Badrinath. I have such lovely associations with Badri! I remember visiting it as a teenager with my parents, my grandmother, my sister and another family very close to us. I was perhaps 15. We went to Haridwar and Rishikesh, taking dips in the Ganges, walking across Lakshman Jhula, visiting temples and ashrams. Then we went on a bus to Badrinath and I lost my heart to the mountains. To this day, I love being amongst mountains and if the Alps that I see from my window in Switzerland are not quite as lofty as the Himalayas, they are equally beautiful. Our trip ended with a long trek to Kedarnath which remains, to this day, one of the best memories of my lifetime. When I listen to Sri Satyanarayanam, all of those wonderful memories come rushing back and I am lost in memories of days which will never come back again. See the footnote for lyrics and meaning of this song.

You can listen in to the album here . Track 1 is the alapana and taanam and track 2 is the kriti. I hope you enjoy listening to it as I much as I do.

Footnote (Lyrics ) :

Language : Sanskrit

श्री सत्यनारायणं उपास्महे नित्यं
सत्य ज्ञानानन्द मयं सर्वं विष्णु मयं

वासवादि पूजितं वर मुनि गण भावितं
दासजन परिपालितं भासमान बदरी स्थितं

वैश्य जाति कारणं वटु वेष धारिणं
कलियुग प्रसन्नं वसु प्रदान निपुणं
(मध्यमकाल साहित्यम्)
मत्स्य कूर्म वराहादि दशावतार प्रभावम्
शङ्ख चक्राब्ज हस्तं गुरुगुह नुत प्रसिद्धं

Transliteration :

shrI satyanArAyaNam upAsmE nityam
satya jnAnAnada mayam sarvam vishNu mayam

vAsavAdi pUjitam vara muni gaNa bhAvitam
dAsa jana paripAlitam bhAsamAna badari sthitam

vaishya jAti kAraNam vaTu vEsha dhAriNam
kali yuga prasannam vasu pradAna nipuNam
(madhyamakAla sAhityam)
matsya kUrma varahAdi dashAvatAra prabhAvam
shankha chakrAbja hastam guruguha nuta prasiddham

I always (nityam) worship (upAsmahE) Shri Satyanarayana. He is full of (-mayam) of truth (satya) and knowledge (jnAna). He is all things (sarvam), he is the essence of Vishnu (vishNumayam).

He is worshipped by (pUjitam) by Indra etc (vAsavAdi) (or the Vasus etc?). He is contemplated on (bhAvitam) by the foremost (vara) groups of sages (muni gaNa). He protects (parapAlitam) his devotees (dAsa jana). He is situated at (sthitam) as the lustrous (bhAsamAna) Badari (=Badrinath).

He is the creator (kAraNam) of the business community (vaishya jAti). He wore (dhAriNam) the disguise (vEsha) of a Brahmachari=young Brahmin (vaTu) (refers to Vamana avatara). He is kindly disposed towards (prasannam) the Kali yuga. He is expert (nipuNam) in providing (pradAna) wealth (vasu). He came forth (prabhAvam, from verb prabhavat) in the ten incarnations (dashAvatAra) like Matsya, Kurma and Varaha etc. He holds in his hand (hastam) a conch (shankha), a discus (chakra) and a lotus (abja). He is renowned (prasiddham) as being worshipped by guruguha (Dikshithar’s signature).

For notation click here.





Filed under Aruna Sairam, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, Muthuswami Dikshithar