Category Archives: M.L.Vasanthakumari

Azhaga Azhaga

azhagar-koilAre Gods beautiful?

According to the great poets and songwriters of India, Gods are indeed beautiful. We even come across hymns and prayers from ancient times which describe the beauty of the Gods in extravagant terms.

But why do Gods need to be beautiful? This bothers me somewhat, especially in the climate of today where there is an obsession over beauty. I would like to think of Gods as being compassionate, loving, just, generous and forgiving. In comparison, beauty seems to be such an inessential quality! Surely this focus on beauty is worth questioning?

I guess we humans have always been drawn to beauty. We like to decorate ourselves with cosmetics, jewellery and garments in order to make ourselves more beautiful. I remember visiting archaeological museums and admiring the way even the most ancient of people made rings, necklaces and other such ornaments. Cosmetics aren’t anything new either; I believe it comes from the time of the ancient Egyptians. Still, I find that the world today has taken this pursuit of beauty to such extremes! Plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons has become so common. Why, I read recently of Far-Eastern ladies having surgery to make their eyes bigger, short (or not!) people deliberately having their legs broken and stretched so that they could be taller! I am rather horrified! Yet the practices such as lengthening the neck as practiced in some African tribes are no different and these practices have been around for years. Body piercing and tattooing too has been around for a long time. I guess my protests against this madness for beauty are a bit hypocritical; like many ladies, I too make attempts to present myself as well as I can. Still, I see beauty as no more than a superficial thing and giving it importance goes against my grain. So I come back to the question, why describe Gods as being beautiful?

TED lecture by neurobiologist Samir Zeki that I happened to watch gave me an interesting perspective; in fact, that is what prompted me to write this post. In his research, he has found that there are neural correlations between the subjective mental states of love and the experience of beauty. In effect, there is one common area of mental activity located in the medial orbital frontal cortex which is active when one experiences beauty and also happens to be the same area which is active when you look at the face of the person you love very much. Does it mean that we experience both emotions similarly, I wonder? Does an experience of beauty trigger us to love the object which gives us this experience and equally, do we see beauty in all that we love? I am just speculating but I wonder if Gods are described as beautiful to make it easy for us to love them?

Yesterday I was listening to a Podcast on aesthetics and there was a comment which caught my attention. The speaker talked about a ‘vocabulary cloud’ which links the words beauty, truth and goodness. I immediately thought of ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’, not the movie, but the philosophy. I did a quick search to see if I could find the exact source, but I only found imprecise info linking it to the Upanishads (if you know the source, can you please add a comment with the info? Much obliged!). ‘What‘, I asked myself, ‘if it is only the presence of Satyam (Truth) and Shivam (Goodness) which brings about the quality of Sundaram (Beauty)‘?  I remember my university days when I used to find great beauty in the perfection of a well-solved mathematical problem, the perfect ratios in nature etc. I used to describe them as beautiful; and yes, there was truth in them, goodness in them. Now that kind of beauty truly attracts me; I am very comfortable associating such beauty with the Divine!

I chose the song which came first to my mind when I thought of this subject. Written in praise of the deity from Azhagar Koil (the temple of the Handsome One), it is written by Ambujam Krishna is a very emotive and personal style. Set to Shuddha Dhanyasi, a lyrically appealing Raga, it is a very beautiful song and I hope it pleases you as much as it pleases me. MLV was famous for this song and if you haven’t heard her as yet, be sure to listen here to one of her many renditions available freely on the net. There is also a very pleasing rendition by Bombay Jayashri which I like very much. But with an intention of listening to young artists whenever possible, here is a very nicely done rendition by Saketharaman.

Alternate Link : Click here (free membership to Sangeethamshare is required)


Footnote (Lyrics) 

Language : Tamil

பல்லவி
அழகா அழகா என்றழைத்துக் கை தொழுது வந்தேன்
திருமாலிருஞ்சோலை உறையும் வடி  (வழகா)

அனுபல்லவி
வழுவாது திருப்பாதம் தொழுதேத்தும் அன்பர்க்கு
அருள் வாரிச் சொரிந்து அவர் உள்ளம் கவரும் கள்  (ளழகா)

சரணம்
நடந்து நடந்து உன் சன்னிதி வந்தேன்
நாதன் உன் நற்றால் நிழல் தாராயோ?
நாடி நாடி உன் புகழ் கேட்டு வந்தேன்
நாரணா என் குரல் செவியுரக் கேளாயோ?
அடைக்கலம் அடைக்கலம் என்றுனை அடைந்தேன்
அபயக் கரம் தந்து வினை தீராயோ?
பாடிப் பாடி உனைப் போற்றிப் பணியும் எனக்குப்
பவழ வாய் திறந்து அஞ்சேலென்று அருளாயோ?

மத்யமகால சாகித்தியம்

விரிஜ்யோதி கமலமென உன் முகத்தே திகழும்
இருவிழி அருள் தேனை அள்ளி அள்ளி உண்டு
மறை புகழும் திரு மார்பில் மன்னி என்று உரைந்திட
மன வண்டுன் புகழ் பாட மையலுடன் உனை நாடி   (அழகா)

Transliteration

pallavi
azhagA azhagA enDRazhaittuk kai tozhudu vandEn
tirumAlirunjchOlai uRaiyum vaDi (vazhagA)

anupallavi
vazhuvAdu tiruppAdam tozhudEttum anbarkku
aruL vArich chorindu avar uLLam kavarum kaL   (LazhagA)

charaNam
naDandu naDandu un sannidi vandEn
nAtan un naTRAl nizhal tArAyO?
nADi nADi un pugazh kETTu vandEn
nAraNA en kural seviyurak kELAyO?
aDaikkalam aDaikkalam enDRunai aDaindEn
abhayak karam tandu vinai tIrAyO?
pADip pADi unaip pOTRip paNiyum enakkup
pavazha vAy tiRandu anjElenDRu aruLAyO?

madyamakAla sAhityam

virijyOti kamalamena un mugattE tigazhum
iruvizhi aruL tEnai aLLi aLLi uNDu
maRai pugazhum tiru mArbil manni enDRu uraindiDa
mana vaNDun pugazh pADa maiyyaluDan unai nADi  (azhagA)

Translation

pallavi
Oh handsome one (azhagA)! Thus (enDRu) have I called out (azhaittu) as I have come (vandEn), hands (kai) held in worship (tozhudu). O One with the handsome form (vadivazhagA) who lives in (uRaiyum) Thirumalirunsolai (literally Tirumal=Vishnu, irum=residing in, solai=grove also called Sri Kallazhagar Perumal Temple or Azhagar Koil near Madurai).

anupallavi
For the devotees (anbar) who worshipfully praise (tozhudu=worship, Ettu=praise) the sacred feet (tiru+pAdam) which never fail us (vazhuvAdu), Kallazhagar (the name of the deity) attracts (kavarum) their hearts (uLLam) by showering them (chorindu) in a torrent (vAri) of blessings (aruL).

charNam
I have come walking (naDandu) a long way (implied by the second naDandu) to your sanctum (sannidhi). O Lord (nAtan), will you not give me (tArAyo) your protection/shelter (nizhal) out of your goodness (naTRAl)? Hearing of (kETTu) your glory (pugazh), I have come (vandEn) seeking (nADi nADi) O Narayana (nAraNA), do you not hear (kELAyO) my (en) loud (ura) voice (kuRal) ? Calling out (implied) ‘Sanctuary Sanctuary‘ (aDaikkalam)  thus (enDRu) I have approached you (aDaindEn), will you not bring an end to (tIrAyo) to my misfortune (vinai) by giving me (tandu) your gesture of fearlessness (abhaya karam, a mudra indicating protection)? Will you not open (tiRandu) your coral (pavazha) lips (vAy, literally mouth) and bless (aruLAyo) me (ennai) by saying ‘Do not fear‘ (anjEl enDRu), I who worship you (paNiyum) by singing (pADi) again and again (indicated by second pADi) in praise of (pOTRi) you (unai)?

My mind (mana) is like a bee (vaNDu) which seeks you (nADi) in attraction (maiyyaluDan) of the two eyes (iru vizhi) which are like luminous blooming (viri jyoti) lotuses (kamalam) in your face (mugattE tigazhum), to grab again and again (aLLi aLLi) the honey (tEnai) of your benevolence (aruL). Singing (pADa) your (un) praise (pugazh), and saying (uraindiDa)  ‘Forgive Me’ (manni) to the holy chest (tiru marbil)..(O Handsome one!)

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Filed under Ambujam Krishna, Bombay Jayashri, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, M.L.Vasanthakumari, Saketharaman, Uncategorized

Arumo Aval

In January, this blog quietly celebrated it’s third birthday. What started as a whim has developed into a beloved project. My today’s post is in celebration of my fascination with music, Carnatic Music in particular.

As an analyst at heart, I will start with a graphical representation of the world of Carnatic Music as I see it.

Life of a composition

The journey of a song before it reaches the humble ears of a rasika quite fascinates me. There is so much creativity in each step of the process, and by so many individuals !

Firstly there is this marvellous Raga-Melody relationship. The majority of Carnatic Ragas have not started their life in some structured process. Instead they emerged from an aesthetic developed over time based on the intellectual and emotional experience of a people or an individual. There seems to be a feedback loop, unstructured though it is; concrete ideas develop from such a cloud of experience and then contribute back to the cloud. At some point of time in the loop, there is a consensus on how a subset of melodies are to be sung. We  just call this consensus a Raga. Obviously, there are multiple bursts of creativity even before this stage is reached!

A Raga is not set in stone; the consensus continues to evolve. Words and cadence, melodies and rhythm are then developed not in isolation, but feeding back from the Raga consensus and the collective experiences of all those concerned. The words, cadence and rhythm feed from the mood of the Raga. And as more lyrics are written, the mood of the Raga acquires new meaning from these. Each of these boxes I have drawn above – Raga, Words and Cadence, Melody and Rhythm are affected and affect the other.

Sometimes the definer of the Raga, the lyricist and composer are all the same (e.g. Omkarakarini in Lavangi by Balamuralikrishna). At times each step is by a different individual at a different time (e.g.. Hamir Kalyani from unknown origins, Andal writing Thoomani Madattil many centuries ago (dates contested), Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar tuning the words in the 20th century). Apart from the great bursts of creativity by the named individuals, there are many invisible others who contribute to the process by forming the cloud of experience in which the creators live.

And thus we have a composition. It is taught to a student with contributions from his or her guru, and their gurus and so on. There is intense creativity at this stage too. Sangatis, for example, belong to the guru-shishya parampara. In time, the student becomes a performer.  By that time he or she has lived in this cloud of intellectual and emotional experience for years and absorbed so many influences. Their performance, including their manodharma, is in effect a wonderful fruit of a long evolution.

Thus we, the shrotas, finally come to hear a piece of music. You may think us of an unimportant part of the whole, but I beg to differ. That wonderful effect it has within your heart and mind and body? That is the culmination point of that piece of music, its point of self-actualisation. Imagine how far it has travelled, with how many creative contributions to finally reach your ears! It is as if our ancestors touch us across centuries! We, the listeners, do not stand in isolation, but become a part of the system, providing the feedback into the cloud of intellectual and emotional experience.

When I hear, for example, Arumo Aval, I wonder: Who first sang a melody with the yearning of separation in far away Rajasthan? Who all heard and loved it so much that they wrote more songs in the same style?  When did this style of singing acquire an identity, a name? When and who turned it from a style of singing to a grammar called a Raga? How and when did it traverse 2500 kms across India to establish itself in Carnatic Music? I don’t know the answer to any of that. But when I look over my shoulder, I see an infinite web of silver strands, with countless nodes where contributors stand, some glowing bright with importance, others just shadowy figures, some with bright colourful turbans. I see the web continue far into the future too. And I am ensnared in this silver web, unable to move away. Will my yearning for more music ever be satiated? ArumO Aval?

And so to my song choice of today, based, I admit, purely on the rightness of the first two words to the theme of this post!

 Arumo Aval is a lovely song written by Kannan Iyengar in Mand and made famous by the great songstress of yesteryears, M.L.Vasantakumari, to whom we shall listen first. To know more about Mand, click here.

Alternate link : click here.

The version I listen to most often is the one by T.M.Krishna, which I quite adore!  As an aside, he rolls his Rs with such gusto, doesn’t he? I so like it!

Alternate link : click here.

 With this post I am taking a short hiatus as I am away travelling. I will be back blogging in a month or so, see you then!


Footnote (Lyrics) :

பல்லவி
ஆறுமோ ஆவல் ஆறுமுகனை நேரில் காணாது

அனுபல்லவி
ஏறுமயில் ஏறி குன்றுதோறும் நின்றாடியவன்
பெரும் புகழும் தெரிந்தும் அவன்  பேரழகை பருகாமல்

சரணம்
ஞான குருபரன் தீனர்க்கருள் குகன்
வானவரும் தொழும்  ஆனந்த வைபோகன்
காண கிடைக்குமோ  கூறுதற்க்கில்லாமல்
அற்புத தரிசனம் கற்பனை செய்தால் மட்டும்

Transliteration

pallavi
Arumo Aval Arumuganai nEril kANAdu

Anupallavi
Erumayil Eri kunDRu tOrum ninDRADiyavan
perum pugazhum terindum avan pErazhagai parugAmal

charaNam
jnAna guruparan dInarkkarul guhan
vAnavarum tozhum Ananda vaibOgan
kANakkiDaikkumo kUrudark-killAmal
arpuda darisanam karpanai seidAl maTTum

Translation

Will my yearning (Aval) be appeased (Arumo) without meeting (=without seeing (kANAdu) directly (nEril)) the six-faced Lord Murugan (Arumugan)?

Even after knowing the great (perum) fame (pugazh) of He who rode a peacock (Erumayil Eri) and danced (ninDRu Adiyavan=stood and danced) on each hilltop (kunDRu tOrum), will my yearning be appeased (ArumO Aval) without drinking (parugAmal) in his (avan) great beauty (pEr azhagai)?

He who is the guru and deity (paran) of knowledge (jnAna), the hidden One (guhan) who bestows grace (aRul) on the wretched (dInarkku), He is the one worshipped (tozhum) even by the celestials (vAnavarum), He delights (vaibOgan) in joy (Ananda)! Will I ever get to (kiDaikkumO) see (kANa) this wonderful (arpuda) vision (darisanam) without having to say (kUrudarkkillAmal)? Will my yearning be appeased (ArumO Aval) by imagining (karpanai seidAl) alone (maTTum)?

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Kannan Iyengar, M.L.Vasanthakumari, T.M.Krishna

Rama Katha Sudha

Diwali

Happy Deepavali to all my readers! May the lamps you light enlighten your minds, may the sweets you eat sweeten your thoughts and words!

Lord Rama has been resident in my mind this whole week. Though the significance of Deepavali is region dependent, it is the story of Lord Rama’s return from the forest which lingers in my mind. Like everyone else in India, I learnt the stories from numerous sources. In childhood, my grandmother and my mother would tell the stories with great verve and energy. A little older, I read my own first version by C.Rajagopalachari which I enjoyed very much. I learnt so much from that book! I’ve read a few more versions since then but they never had the impact that the first book did. When I had kids of my own, I bought the comic book series from Amar Chitra Katha and read them along with my children. At the same time, we also saw the highly popular but atrociously made televised series by Ramanand Sagar. I also remember street performance of Ram Lila, upanyasams at temple grounds, Katha Kali performances…oh so many versions! The Ramayana in my mind is a mishmash from all these sources, with background music to match!

‘What would be the right song to celebrate His return from the forest?’ I ask myself. Something mangalakaram, in madhyamavati or kurinji I tell myself, though I have already featured these ragas. A mangalam perhaps? Surely He would have been invited back with a nice aarati? Sri Rama Chandranukku comes to mind. Yet..I don’t want to sing mangalam in this blog as yet (for the uninitiated, it indicates an end of a concert).  To find inspiration, I let my mind wander from story to story. Images flash past one after the other. Rama as a child, the treasured prince. Rama as a young man called to take up arms for Vishwamitra. Rama’s first sight of Sita. Kaikeyi’s jealousy. The banishment. Life in Chitrakoot. Shurpanakha’s nose. The golden deer. Lakshman’s rekha. Sita’s abduction. Garuda’s death. The heartbreak of Rama. Sugreeva and Bali. Questionable warfare. Hanuman. Sita amongst Ashoka trees. Vibheeshana’s defection. Hanuman’s burning tail. The bridge across the ocean. Waking Kumbhakarna. Indrajit’s magic. Lakshmana’s fall. Sanjeevani. Ravana’s ten heads. Victory. The triumphant return. Deepavali. Ah, how I take my pleasure in this old tale of Gods and sages, of demons and kings, of men who are animals and animals who are Gods. And I have my song for this post!

To drink the nectar like essence of the story of Rama is equal to ruling a kingdom’ says Tyagaraja. I hope you too have remembered the story of Rama along with me on this holy day and enjoyed its essence. ‘It is indeed the boat which enables us to cross the flaming ocean of existence in which we are bound by karma’ says the Saint. To see full lyrics and translation, see footnote.

On an aside, I remember a time, a long time ago, when I did not really appreciate Madhyamavati. It used to feel somewhat staid to me. Now I am amazed at how blind – or rather deaf – I was! This beautiful raga pours well-being into one’s soul; I will adopt Tyagaraja’s words and call this sudha rasa – the essence of nectar. To know more about this raga, click here.

When it comes to presenting this song, I am overwhelmed by the riches available to me. After listening to many hours of music, I have selected the confident and melodious version by Trichur V.Ramachandran (1940-), an artist I am featuring for the first time in my blog. A holder of all the prestigious awards (Sangeet Natak Academy, Padma Bhushan, Sangeetha Kalanidhi), he was for fortunate in having both the great G.N.Balasubramaniam and M.L.Vasanthakumari as his gurus.

If you have the time, I urge you to also listen to the versions by his Gurus as well. G.N.Balasubramaniam (1910-1965) sings in his inimitable style, with his strong and pure voice while M.L.Vasanthakumari’s (1928-1990) version is both melodious and energetic. While you are in the mood for yesteryear greats, perhaps you would like to watch a video of this rare live performance by the greatest of them all, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (1908-2003).

For an instrumental version, I offer a rendition by the greatest of violinists, Lalgudi Jayaraman (1930-2013), a rendition which I love and listen to often. It has a wonderful call-and-answer with his son, G.J.R.Krishnan. Do not miss!

 


Footnote (Lyrics) :

I do not speak Telugu and am indebted to various internet sites for the lyrics below.

Transliteration in Devanagri

राम कथा सुधा रस पानम् ओक राज्यमु जेसुने

भामा मणि जानकी सौमित्री
भरतादुलतो भूमि वेलयु श्री

धर्माद्यखिल फलदमे मनसा
धैर्यानन्द सौख्य निकेतनमे
कर्म बन्ध ज्वालन अब्धि नावमे
कलि हरमे त्यागराज विनुतुडगु

Transliteration in English

pallavi
rAma kathA sudhA rasa pAnam oka rAjyamu jEsunE

anupallavi
bhAmA maNi jAnakI saumitrI
bharatAdulatO bhUmi vElayu shrI

charanam
dharmAdyakhila phaladamE manasA
dhairyAnanda saukhya nikEtanamE
karma bandha jvAlana abdhi nAvamE
kali haramE tyAgarAja vinutuDagu

Translation

Drinking the nectar like essence of Sri Rama’s story is equal to ruling a kingdom.

He who shines on this earth along with the jewel amongst women, Janaki, the son of Saumitra (Lakshmana), Bharata and others.

Oh my mind! (Drinking the essence of Sri Rama’s story) bestows the fruit of everything like Dharma etc. It is the abode of courage, bliss and well-being. It is the boat which enables us to cross the burning ocean of existence to which we are bound by karma. It is the destroyer of kali yuga. The Lord who is praised by Tyagaraja.

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Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Telugu, G.N.Balasubramaniam, Lalgudi Jayaraman, M.L.Vasanthakumari, Trichur V.Ramachandran, Tyagaraja