Category Archives: Gopalakrishna Bharathi

Irakkam Varamal

nataraja1Is God really compassionate? I worry about this, the way I worry about so many unsolvable problems in the world. Is the compassion we ascribe to Him/Her just wishful thinking on our part? If you are a non-believer, this question is moot. But I am a die-hard believer; I hold the kind of belief which is beyond reason, beyond logic. So this question is important to me, especially because I stumble ever so often in my life and am very much in need of both compassion and forgiveness.

The thing is, I think that the qualities ascribed to God are determined by men; there can be no real proof to their veracity. The Hindu pantheon has evolved over the thousands of years from the time of Rig Veda. Some deities have gained importance; others have lost it. Their qualities, their functions, their stories, everything has changed, developed and evolved. Even die-hard believers have to agree that it is men who have ‘designed’ the qualities of Gods. And men, being so very fallible, may have added compassion to the list of Godly qualities because it suits us just fine! As the poet says in my song choice of today ‘பழி எத்தனை நான் செய்தினும் பாலித்திடும் சிவ சிதம்பரம்’ (However many sins/errors I commit, Shiva of Chidambaram protects me). Wishful thinking?

I guess I’ll not have the answer to this question until I am past the stage of needing compassion. Still, I too, like the poet of this song, make a fundamental assumption that God is compassionate.  இரக்கம் வராமல் போனதென்ன காரணம் ? The poet asks, ‘what is the reason that you have no compassion towards me?’ as if His/Her compassion were a right and not a privilege. ‘I have come to you having heard and believed that you are an ocean of compassion‘ he says. I guess we believers are all in the same boat – we have heard, we have believed and we pray for compassion. And so the song feels very real, very true and close to our heart.

This beautiful song is a composition of Gopalakrishna Bharati however I understand that the madhyamakala sahityam is not written by him. Set to Raga Behag, it pulls effortlessly at my heart. My love for Behag is endless; I can listen to this raga any number of times! There are many beautiful renditions of this song. One in particular I would like to recommend is KVN’s very simple and graceful one here (you need free membership of Sangeethapriya).

But today as I was playing catch-up with the Margazhi Maha Utsavam episodes on Youtube, I came upon this very nice version by Vignesh Ishwar. In fact I enjoyed the whole concert. He starts with leisurely chera rAvadE in Ritigowla, then a Begada alapana (09:02), innum parAmukham at 16:20 (very nice neraval!),  vazhi maraittirukkudE in Todi from 26:56 which I liked particularly  (TMK’s influence is clearly audible!) and of course irakkam varAmal from 38:40. I do like Vignesh Ishwar’s rendition;  perhaps I would have preferred a tad less ornamentation. He has a gentle and emotive voice, a very nice range and skills which will see him in good stead over the years to come. I like. A young man to watch.

irakkam varAmal from 38:40.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Gopalakrishna Bharati
Raga : Behag
Language : Tamil

இரக்கம் வராமல் போனதென்ன காரணம் என் சுவாமி (-க்கு)

கருணைக் கடல் என்று உன்னைக்
காதிற்/காதில்  கேட்டு நம்பி வந்தேன் (இரக்கம்)

ஆலம் அருந்தி அண்டர் உயிரை ஆதரித்த உமது கீர்த்தி
பாலகிருஷ்ணன் பாடி தினமும் பணிந்திடும் நடராஜ மூர்த்தி

பழி எத்தனை நான் செய்தினும்*
பாலித்திடும் சிவ சிதம்பரம் (alt: பாலித்திடும் சிதம்பரம் என )
மொழி கற்றவர் வழி உற்றுனை   (alt: வழி பெற்றவர்)
முப்பொழுதும் மறவேனே 
(இரக்கம் )


irakkam varAmal pOnadenna kAraNam en swAmi (-kku)

karuNai kaDal enDRu unnai
kAdiR/kAdil kETTu nambi vandEn (irakkam)

Alam arundi anDar uyirai Adaritta umadu kIrtti
bAlakrishNan pADi dinamum paNindiDum naTarAja mUrti

pazhi ettanai nAn seydinum*
pAlittiDum shiva chidambaram
mozhi kaTravar vazhi uTRunai (alt: vazhi peTravar)
muppozhudum maRavEnE

Note: I listened intently to a number of renditions; most singers say ‘seydiDum’ not ‘seydinum’. However KVN sings it as ‘seydinum’ or even ‘seyyinum’.  As this makes more grammatical sense, I am sticking with this!  


What is the reason (enna kAraNam) that you don’t feel (varamal ponadu) compassion (irakkam) towards me?

Having heard (kAdir kETTu) that you are an ocean (kaDal) of compassion (karuNai), I have come (vandEn) trusting (nambi) you (unnai).

It is your (umadu) fame (kIrtti) that you saved (Adaritta, literally supported) the lives (uyirai) of the celestials (anDar) by drinking (arundi) poison (Alam). (Note: This refers to the story of the churning of the oceans). You are the embodiment (mUrti) of Nataraja that Balakrishnan (signature of the poet) worships (paNindiDum) by singing (pADi) everyday (dinamum).

However many (ettanai) sins/errors (pazhi) I (nAn) commit (seydinum), Lord Shiva of Chidambaram is the one who protects (pAlittiDum). Closely following (uTRu) the way (vazhi) of those who have learnt (kaTravar) the language (mozhi) (I assume this implies the language of worship?), I will not forget (maRavEnE) you (unnai ) all day (muppozhudu – literally, the three parts of the day ie. Morning, Noon, Evening). [Alternate wording : Like (implied) those who have learnt (kaTravar) the language (mozhi) and have found (peTravar) the way (vazhi)]


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Vignesh Ishwar

Karanam Kettu Vaadi

Please ask why my dear Lord Shiva has not not come yet, my friend. Why does the infinitely compassionate Lord test my patience by remaining invisible? Did I try to do something I ought not to do?

FootprintsWhy does God not respond to us? This is a question which dogs all true believers. God is compassionate we say. God forgives all our mistakes, we just have to ask, we say. God loves us, we say. We are God’s children and He will come running just as a mother runs to her child in need, we say. Yet in reality few of us have truly experienced this kind of instant response from God.  If all this is true, why does He not answer our call?

Even the most faithful are dogged with the question of why there is no visible response from God to all one’s pleas. Even I, who tend to be philosophical about life, have been known to pray ‘please, one sign, just one sign!’. This reminds me of the famous allegorical poem called Footprints in the Sand. As there is some dispute regarding authorship, I will leave it unsaid. The content is of more interest to us.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,
other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed
that during the low periods of my life,
when I was suffering from
anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord,
‘You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?’
The Lord replied,
‘The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand,
is when I carried you.’

The poem reminds us that though it may seem that we have had no response, it may just be that we are too blind to see it.

These are my ruminations on the song choice of the day by Gopalakrishna Bharathi. In Karanam Kettu Vadi, the poet wonders what he has done that God does not hear his call. Comparing himself to all the great ones who transgressed but whose calls have indeed been answered, he asks his friend to go and demand of God himself what his reasons are for ignoring the poet’s pleas. Set to raga Purvikalyani which I quite adore, I am rather surprised at how rarely this song is sung in concerts today. It is in fact my reference song in Purvikalyani; the song I sing to myself to recognize the raga. I’ve fond memories of my mother singing it in my childhood. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. To know more about the raga, click here.

To present this song, I first give you a version I listen to often by Sudha Raghunathan, who has long reigned supreme in the field of Carnatic Music. With the instrumentation used, it almost becomes a piece of ‘light music’. I love the timbre of her voice!

Alternate Link : Click here.

The second version I present is traditional one by Trichur V.Ramachandran.  The Maestro has sung this beautifully; I am sure you will be as charmed as I am.

Alternate Link : Click here and download item 9. Needs free membership of

The third one if a joyful flight into Purvikalyani by the magnificent Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan on the violin.

Alternate Link : Click here.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Gopalakrishna Bharathi
Raga : Purvikalyani

Language : Tamil

காரணம் கேட்டு வாடி -சகி
காதலன் சிதம்பர நாதன் இன்னும் வராத (காரணம்)

பூரண தயவுள்ள பொன்னம்பல துரை  என்
பொறுமையை சோதிக்க மறைமுகம் ஆனதன் (காரணம்)

கல்லாலும் வில்லாலும் கட்டி அடித்தேனோ
கண்ணப்பன் செய்ததைக் கனவிலும் செய்தேனோ
செல்லா மனைக்குத் தூது சென்றுவா என்றேனோ
செய்யாத காரியம் செய்யவும் முயன்றேனோ (alt: துணிந்தேனோ)


kAraNam kETTu vADi -sakhi
kAdalan chidambara nAdan innum varAda

pUraNa dayavuLLa ponnambala durai en
porumaiyai sOdikka maRaimugam Anadan

kallAlum villAlum kaTTi aDittEnO
kaNNappan seidadai kanavinilum seidEnO
chellA manaikku tUdu senDRu vA enDREnO
seyyAda kAriyam seyya muyanDREnO (alt: tuNindEnO)


Please ask (kETTu vADi) why (kAraNam) my dear (kAdalan) Lord (nAdan) of Chidambaram (Lord Shiva) has not come (varAda) yet (innum), my friend (sakhI).

(Ask why does) the infinitely (pUraNa=completely) compassionate (dayavuLLa) Lord (dorai) of the Golden Temple (Chidambaram) (ponnambala) testing (sOdikka) my (en) patience (purumaiyai) in remaining (Anadan) invisible (maRaimugam).

Did I strike him (kaTTi aDittEnO) with stones (kallAlum) and bows (villAlum)? (refers to Arjuna facing Shiva as a hunter). Or did I even dream (kanavilum) of doing (seidEnO) what Kannappan did (seidadai) (Kannappa Nayanar put his foot on the Shiva Linga). Did I tell him (enDREnO) to go (senDRu vA) as a messenger (tUdu) to a house (manaikku) to which one should not go? (chellA) (The Lord went on behalf of Sundaramurti Nayanar to his first wife’s home). Or did I try (muyenDREnO) / dare (tuNindEnO) to do (seyya) something (kAriyam) which I ought not to do (seyyAda)?


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan, Sudha Raghunathan, Trichur V.Ramachandran

Idu Dano Thillai Sthalam

Ah! So this is the sacred site of Thillai! Alas, I did not really know it all these days! Like a madman I wandered wondering is it this? or is it that? He promised to show the way and beckoned me here. In Varanasi, I have heard everyone refer to it as Kailasa (the holy abode of Shiva) but (till now) I did not observe and really know it.

NatarajaEven the names of some places carry power, don’t you think? You hear the name Kashi and think of Lord Shiva, of salvation, of Adi Shankaracharya being asked by a Chandala ‘Who are you asking to move aside, the body or the Aatman?’. When you think of Srirangam, you think immediately of the immensity of Sri Vishnu, of the banks of Kaveri, of ancient shlokas and hymns which reverberate to this day. Such is also the power of the name Thillai. The Nataraja Temple is the most celebrated of temples for the worshippers of Lord Shiva. How many wonderful songs have been dedicated to the dancing Lord here! But I never had the opportunity to see it until last week. I was on a temple tour and the last stop was at Chidambaram. If you would like to read of my travel experiences, click here.

Ah finally’ I said to myself as we stepped into the temple. It was crowded where people stood peering into the sanctum from outside. We paid for the archana and were allowed into the hall in front of the sanctum. It was difficult to see the deity as He is much decorated with garlands and jewels. We arrived just in time for the Abhishekam of the crystal Lingam. The priest showered the icon with sandalwood paste, with curd, with rice and with ash. As I saw this, I was taken back to a memory from my teen years. We, as a family, were visiting the shores of Ganges close to Delhi for a dip. I asked my grandmother doubtfully ‘Truly? Our sins are all washed away?’ . That night as we camped near the river, I had a lucid dream of being showered by holy ashes as I sat still in lotus position. The dream was startling in its clarity; I can still picture it today. I felt washed of all evil, born anew. I woke the next morning and my dip in the Ganges felt like a confirmation of my dream.

All these thoughts flashed through my eyes as I watched the abhishekam conclude with the ashes. My sixteen year old self did not have many sins to wash out; my fifty-four year old self is burdened heavily indeed. As the icon was showered with ashes, I felt my soul being showered by them as well. Tears flowed from my eyes as as I watched, feeling the magic that is Thillai ambalam (temple). And I sang to myself இது தானோ தில்லை ஸ்தலம்- Ah, so this is the sacred site of Thillai!

This wonderful song by Gopalakrishna Bharathi is set to raga Behag. To know more about this raga, click here.

I would very much like that you hear both the versions I present below. The first version is by Ranjani and Gayatri. It is reverential, with a sense of amazement almost. This is how I felt when I stepped into the temple.

The second version by Abhishek Raghuram is joyous, elated. It is a discovery, a wonder, a celebration. This is what I felt as I sat amongst the old stone pillars afterwards, thinking of my experience. The young man is in superb voice, I feel joyful every time I listen to this song!

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Gopalakrishna Bharathi
Raga : Behag
Language: Tamil

இது தானோ தில்லை ஸ்தலம்
இத்தனை நாளும் அறியேனே

அதுவோ இதுவோ என்று அலைந்திடும் பேயனை
கதி தருவேன் என்று கை காட்டி அழைத்திடும்

காசினியில் இதை கயிலை என்று எல்லோரும்
பேசக் கேட்டதே அன்றி பேணிப் பார்த்தறிந்திலேன் (alt: பார்த்தறிந்திடும் )

Transliteration :

idu dAno tillai sthalam
ittanai nALum aRiyEnE

aduvo iduvo endru alaindiDum pEyanai
gati taruvEn endru kai kATTI azhaittiDum

kAsiniyil idai kayilai endru ellOrum
pesak keTTadE andri pENip pArttaRindilEn (alt: pArttaRindiDum)


Ah! So this is the sacred site of Thillai!
Alas, I did not really know it all these days!

Like a madman I wandered wondering is it this? or is it that?
He promised to show the way and beckoned me here.

I have heard everyone refer to it as Kailasa (the holy abode of Shiva) of this world but (till now) I did not observe and really know it.

Note: I am unsure how to translate the alternate version as the sentence feels incomplete.


Filed under Abhishek Raghuram, Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Ranjani Gayatri

Thandai Thai Irundal

If you had parents, would you have been brought to such lows? While one man hit you with stones, another kicked you with his feet, yet another hit you with a bow, and one cut you with an axe, another one called you a madman and the Pandya king of Madurai hit you with a cane! When these things happened, of whom were you thinking,  O Lord?

Lord ShivaOn first reading, does it shock you that this song is actually in praise of Lord Shiva? We are all so used to songs singing the glories of God and here is Gopalakrishna Bharathi writing of all the insults meted out to Him! An excellent device to grab our attention, don’t you think?   Yet each of these incidents have a story of the Lord’s greatness in the background. This kind of backhanded praise of the Lord is called nindA stuti.

Lord Shiva being svayambhu or self-born has no parents so he may be called an orphan.  Orphans seldom get treated fairly in our society and the poet points out all the times in which the Lord was seemingly ill-treated. In the end, he asks ‘when all this happened, whom did you think of?’. When in trouble, you may exclaim ‘Oh God’ in English or some curse word but in Indian languages, one often refers to one’s mother or father (amma, for example). So whose name would an orphan take? The poet’s clever question bring us back to the the main refrain of the song, ‘if you had a father and a mother, would you have been brought to such lows in this world, O Lord?’.

Why write songs like this? You may wonder, just as I do. My theory is that those who are believers also have a constant fear that the Lord will reject them based on their behaviour. Songs like this give us solace by reminding us that our Lord is very accommodating when it comes to his bhaktas.

The poet brings out a number of incidents from various stories and legends to illustrate his point. I have given a short synopsis of these incidents for your knowledge and interest.

One who hit the Lord with stones : This refers to Sakkiya Nayanar who was a Buddhist but came to be a great devotee of Shiva. When he comes upon Lord Shiva’s temple at Tirucchangamangai, he is overcome with love for God and without realising what he is doing, he picks up a stone and flings it at the Lord as if he were pelting flowers. This then becomes a daily habit. One day, realising he was starting to eat without first pelting the Lord, he goes running to the temple. His devotion moves the Lord who appears in person to bless him.

One who kicked the Lord with his feet : This refers to Kannappa Nayanar. It is said that one day he notices that one eye of the Shiva Linga is oozing blood and tears. Thinking that the Lord’s eyes are injured, he plucks out his own eye with an arrow and places it in place of the Linga’s eye. Next the other eye starts oozing blood. Placing his toe in position of the second eye, so that he would know where it was once he became blind, he starts to pluck out his other eye. The Lord appears to stop him and bless him, restoring both his eyes.

One who hit the Lord with a bow : This refers to an incident from the Mahabharata. Arjuna goes to the Himalayas to perform austerities and obtain the weapon Pashupatastra from Lord Shiva. The Lord is pleased and appears in the form of a hunter (kirATa). To test Arjuna, he shoots an arrow at a boar at the same time that Arjuna does. Disputing over who shot the arrow first, they descend to a fight. Arjuna, the best of warriors, is surprised that he cannot defeat the humble hunter. Finally recognizing the Lord, he surrenders to him. He is then blessed with the weapon he seeks.

One who called the Lord a madman : This refers to Sundarar, also called Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. It is said that on the day Sundarar was to be wed, an old man comes to stop the wedding claiming that  Sundarar was his slave. Sundarar, who was from a good and wealthy family, mocks him as a madman, as one possessed. This goes to court and the old man produces a document substantiating his claim. When asked to show his house, the old man leads them to the temple and disappears. He then appears as Lord Shiva to Sundarar and blesses him, saying that he was destined to be a slave to God.

One who hit the Lord with a cane : This is an incident from the story about the great devotional poet, Manikkavachagar. When the Vaigai river starts overflowing, the Pandya king of Madurai orders all citizens to either labour or pay for the labour to build dikes. An old lady called Pittuvani Ammaiyar, a devotee of our Lord, is troubled because she does not have the money to hire someone to do her share. The Lord, hearing her distress, comes as a labourer and offers to do the job for the price of some pittu, the food that she makes and sells. He takes the pittu and goes to the dikes but instead of completing the job, he does nothing. The king who comes to inspect is infuriated and hits the labourer with a cane. Instead of hurting him, this recoils on the king and everyone around. The king at once realises that this is the Lord and is aghast. The Lord vanishes and a voice comes from the heavens for the king to release Mannickavachagar, the great devotee of Shiva, whom the king has imprisoned. Pittuvani Ammaiyar too is released from this earth on the same day.

One who cut Lord Shiva with an axe : Once, Lord Shiva challenged Parashurama to a battle to test his skills in warfare. They engaged in a fierce battle for twenty one days. While ducking to avoid being hit by the Trident (Trishūl) of Lord Shiva, Parashurama a vigorously attacked him with his axe. It struck Lord Shiva on the forehead creating a wound. Lord Shiva was very pleased to see the skills of his disciple and embraced him.  Lord Shiva preserved this wound as an ornament in honour of his disciple; ‘Khanda-parshu’ (wounded by Parashu) is one of the thousand names of Lord Shiva. 

I am indebted to where I found much of this information. A reader kindly helped me with pointing out the last story.

This song is set to raga Shanmukhapriya. To know more about this raga, click here. To present this song, I have chosen an old recording of N.C.Vasanthakokilam (1919-1951). A Carnatic Musician and an actress, she popularised many songs of Gopalakrishna Bharathi, including our song choice of today. This is historically important as there was, until even the 1940’s, a certain resistance to singing Tamil songs in Carnatic Music. Charsur has an interesting article on the subject of Tamil Isai movement; to read click here.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Gopalakrishna Bharathi
Raga : Shanmukhapriya
Language : Tamil

தந்தை தாய் இருந்தால் உலகத்தில் உமக்கிந்த
தாழ்வெல்லாம்  வருமோ அய்யா – பெற்ற

அந்த மிகுந்த ஸ்ரீ அம்பல வாணரே  (unsure about this line)
Alternate : அந்தமில் நடம் செய்யும் அம்பல வாணரே
அருமை உடனே பெற்று பெருமை உடன் வளர்த்த

கல்லால் ஒருவன் அடிக்க -உடல் சிலிர்க்க
காலின் (Alt:காலில்) செருப்பால் ஒரு வேடன் வந்தே (Alt:வந்து) உதைக்க
வில்லால் ஒருவன் அடிக்க -காண்டீபம் என்னும் (Alt:என்ற)
கூசாமல் ஒருவன் கை கோடாலியால் வெட்ட
கூட்டத்தில் ஒருவன் பித்தா பேயா என திட்ட
வீசி மதுரை மாறன் பிரம்பால் அடிக்க
அந்த வேளை யாரை நினைந்தீரோ அய்யா

Transliteration :

tandai tAi irundAl ulagattil umakkinda
tAzhvellAm varumO ayyA – peTRa

anda migunda shrI ambala vANarE
Alternate: andamil natam seyyum ambala vANarE
arumai uDanE petru perumai uDan vaLartta

kallAl oruvan aDikka -uDal silirkka
kAlin (Alt: kAlil) seruppAl oru vEDan vandE (Alt:vandu) udaikka
villAl oruvan aDikka –gANDibam ennum (Alt: endra)
kUsAmal oruvan kai kODAliyAl veTTa
kUTTattil oruvan pittA pEyA ena tiTTa
vIsi madurai mAran pirambAl aDikka
anda vELai yArai ninaindIrO ayyA

Translation :

If you had (irundAl=if there had been) a father (tandai) and a mother (tAi), would you have been brought to such lows (tAzhvu) (treated so badly) in this world (ulagattil) O Lord (ayya)?

Resident (vANar) of that (anda) prosperous (migunda srI) Chidambaram (ambalam) [Alternate : That resident of Chidambaram who dances (natam seyyum) at the End (andam)], if you had been born (peTRu) dear (arumai) to your parents (implied) and brought up with pride (perumai) (would you have been brought to such lows?)

While one man (oruvan) hit you (aDikka) with stones (kallAl), body (uDal) horripilating ie. getting goose-bumps (silirkka), while another hunter (vEDan) came (vandu) and kicked you (udaikka) with the shoes on his feet (kAlin seruppAl), while yet another hit you (aDikka) with his bow (villAl) called Gandibam (=Gandiva), another one cut you (veTTa) without hesitation (kUsAmal) with an axe (kODali),  while another abused (tiTTa) you publicly (kUTTattil = in a crowd)  as mad (pittA) and possessed (pEyA), while the Pandya King of Madurai threw (vIsi) a bamboo cane (pirambAl) and hit you (aDikka), at that time (anda vELai) whom (yArai) did you remember (ninaindIRo) O Lord (ayya) ?


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, N.C.Vasanthakokilam

Vazhi Maraithirukkude

ThiruppungurBirth or Worth? Or neither? What criteria should open the doors of a temple? The answer seems self-evident to me yet it is still otherwise in practice in some temples in India. Is that not sad?

My thoughts today are triggered by the discussion with my readers in my last musical post. The late Jon Higgins, an American, and Yesudas, an Indian Christian are both well known names in the Carnatic Music arena. As Carnatic vocalists they cannot but sing in praise of Hindu Gods all the time. Even otherwise, if their lives’ work is not a worship of Goddess Saraswati then I don’t know what is! Yet both were denied entry to certain temples on account of their not being Hindu. Who could be more deserving? Anyway, if it depended on what we deserved, the halls of temples would be empty indeed!

In fact, even Hindus of the lowest-classes used to be denied entry into temples. A terrible thing, this injustice meted out in the name of caste. I have had non-Indians talk to me as if this was true of Indians alone, this class-based injustice. I think not; this kind of injustice is a disease of humankind. Did the people of Israel get just treatment from the ruling Egyptians at the time of Moses? Or the African-Americans get justice in their slavery? What of the Aboriginals in Australia hunted like animals? Or the ethnic cleansing in Serbia in recent history? Oh the shame of it!

Such was case of Nandanar who was born in servitude, at the bottom of the caste ladder. He lived around the 5th/6th AD in South India. His caste was such that he was denied even entry to the temples. Yet he was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Shiva. Overcome with the desire to get just a glimpse of his Lord in the temple, he set off once to Thiruppungur. Standing outside the door, he tried to peer in to see the sanctum sanctorum but the great statue of Shiva’s bull, Nandi, blocked his view. It is said that on hearing his plea, the statue moved aside so that he could have a glimpse of the sanctum. Even now at this temple, Nandi is not in his usual place but a bit aside. This very Nandnar, denied even entry to temples, is now revered as one of the 63 Nayanmar saints whose statues decorate the halls of Shiva temples all over South India. What a come about!

One version of Nandanar’s life story was written as an upanyasam (musical discourse) by Gopalakrishna Bharathi (1811-1896). His songs were used in the film Nandanar made in 1942. If you enjoy Carnatic music, this is a recommended watch. In addition to songs by Gopalakrishna Bharathi, we also get to hear songs written by the great poet-composer Papanasam Sivan and Kothamangalam Subbu (1910-1974) of Thillana Mohanambal fame. The wonderful vocalist Dandapani Desikar plays the lead and impressive Serukalathur Sama plays his Brahmin overlord.  You can watch a good quality print of this film here (no subtitles).

My song choice of today is written by Gopalakrishna Bharathi in his Nandanar Charithram.  ‘Alas, my view is blocked by a mountain-like bull which is lying down’ says he. ‘Even after coming to this town, will not this sinner of Parayan caste have his sins pardoned?’ he goes on to ask.  He accepts that he cannot enter the temple. ‘It is enough if I can see you from the chariot stop, I will not enter the temple’ he says and begs ‘Will not your bull move just a little?’. For lyrics and translation, see footnote.

The song is sung in Raga Todi in the film; I believe Gopalakrishna Bharathi composed it in Todi as well. The version I have chosen for you is presented in Nattakurinji by the melodious and incredibly talented sisters Ranjani & Gayathri. I find the slow and meditative quality of the song very touching indeed. If you would like to know more about the raga, click here.

In his next song in Nanadanar Charithram , Gopalakrishna Bharathi has Lord Shiva saying to Nandi – சற்றே விலகி இரும் பிள்ளாய் சந்நிதானம் மறைக்குதாமே ‘Do move a little, my son. It seems you are blocking the view of the sanctum’. And that is what I say to the priests of the temples who deny entry to anyone at all – சற்றே விலகியிரும், சந்நிதானத்தை மறைக்காதீர் ‘Move aside, don’t block the sanctum’.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Gopalakrishna Bharathi
Raga : Nattakurinji
Language : Tamil

வழி மறைத்திருக்குதே மலை போலே
ஒரு மாடு படுத்திருக்குதே

பாவி பறையன் (Alternates : நந்தன், ஏழை ) இந்த ஊரில் வந்து என்ன (Alt: வந்தும் இவன்)
பாவம் தீரேனோ (உந்தன்) பாதத்தில் சேரேனோ ஏறேனோ சிவலோக நாதா (Alt: நாதன்)

தேரடியில் (Alt: தேரடியிலே) நின்று தரிசித்தாலும் போதும்
கோயில் (Alt: கோயிலில்) வர மாட்டேனே (Alt: மாட்டேன் ஐயே)
ஓர் அடி விலகினால் போதும் இங்கே நின்று
உற்று பார்க்க (alt: பார்க்கவே) சற்றே ஆகிலும் விலகாதோ உந்தன் மாடு

Transliteration :

vazhi maraittirukkudE malai pOlE
oru mADu paDuttirukkudE

pAvi paraiyan (alt: nandan, Ezhai) inda Uril vandu enna (alt: vandum ivan)
pAvam tIrEnO (undan) pAdattil sErEnO ErEnO sivalOka nAdA

tEraDiyil (alt: tEraDiyilE) inDRu darisittAl pOdum
koyil (alt: koyilil) vara mATTEnE (alt: mATTEn aiyyE)
Or aDi vilaginAl podum ingE nindRu uTRu pArkka (alt: pArkkavE)
chaTRE Agilum vilagAdO undan mADu

Translation :

Alas (implied), my view (vazhi=way) is blocked (maraittirukkudE ) by a (oru) mountain-like (malai pOlE) bull (mADu) which is lying down (paDuttirukkudE)!

Even after coming to (vandu) this (inda) town (Uril), will not this sinner (pAvi) of Parayan caste have his sins (pAvam) pardoned (tirEnO, literally end, vanish)? Will I not reach (sErEnO) your feet (pAdatti) ? Will I not ascend (ErEnO) to your abode (sivalOka), O Lord Shiva (Lord, from Sanskrit natha)?

It is enough (pOdum) today (inDru) if I can see you (darisittAl) from the foot (aDiyil) of the chariot (tEr) (note: this is outside the temple gates), I will not enter (vara mATTEnE, literally not come) the temple (kOyil). It is enough (pOdum) if your bull moves (vilaginAl) by one (Or) foot (aDi) for me to peer (uTru pArkka) from standing (ninDRu) here (ingE). Will not your (undan) bull (mADu) move (vilagAdO) just a little (chaTRE Agilum) ?


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Dandapani Desikar, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Ranjani Gayatri

Shivaratri : Natanam Aadinar

Happy Shivaratri ! The Cosmic Dancer is very dear to me, especially as Nataraja, the Lord of dance & music. The idea of the eternal dance which keeps the rhythms of the universe is so alluring somehow. And to my art loving eyes, this form of Nataraja designed by sculptors of the Chola period (880-1279) is perfect. A beautiful synthesis of the active and the static, the circle representing both the whole and the infinite, Shiva perfectly balanced holding both symbols of destruction and  protection  – what a  perfect illustration of the concept of Shiva!!

I remember a book I read in my late teens called the Tao of Physics, which linked two worlds which fascinated me, Physics and Eastern Mysticism. The cover of the Indian edition of this book featured Shiva as Nataraja. The author Fritzof Capra says that “every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction…without end…For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena.” For me, the macro world of the universe, the micro world of quantum physics, the subtle world of music and dance, the mysticism of Shiva’s Cosmic dance to the sound of the pranava – all these have merged into an intricately patterned whole.

To celebrate Shivaratri and his Cosmic Dance, I present the song Natanam Aadinar (He Danced) by Gopalakrishna Bharathi (1811-1896). The song is set to the raga Vasanta. If you would like to know more about the raga, click here. The lyrics are available on this site. As it is a traditional Bharatanatyam song, I went searching for a suitable clip and found this rather unusual street side performance. I hope you enjoy it !

Natanam Adinar–Raga Vasanta



Filed under Carnatic Music, Classical Dance, Compositions in Tamil, Gopalakrishna Bharathi