Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. Robert Frost
In this series of blog posts on Tamil poetry, we will look at the works of different poets beginning with Subramaniya Bharathi.
The word that comes to my mind when I think of Subramaniya Bharathi is fireball. His poetry reflected the fire burning in his soul. His powerful words expressed his strong beliefs on causes that mattered to him whether it was the liberation of his country, social inequalities, freedom of women or the sheer beauty of the Tamil language.
In the poem “Yaamarindu Mozhigalile” he exhorts us to seek pride in our language and our poets not parochially but to embrace its uplifting nature. Here is the English translation of the poem.
Of all the languages that we know
There is none as Tamil sweet;
Yet the world’s taunt, like ignorant beasts
We lie sunk in defeat.
What use to glory in that name
And live obscurely here
Instead of making that sweet tongue ring
Like a bell far off and near?
Of all the poets that we know
We see none who compare
With Kanban, Valluvan, Ilango –
Not boast this, but truth bare!
Dumb, deaf and blind we live now –
Listen, let us make it our aim
For our own sake from the house-tops
The greatness of Tamil to proclaim.
We must translate into Tamil
Great works of foreign lands,
While deathless works in Tamil
Are written by living hands;
No use in secret among ourselves
Repeating a stale old story –
The test of all true greatness is
That outsiders hail our glory.
Then only will our words ring bright
When brightness within one can find;
The arts in flood will surely release
Those sunk in pits and blind.
Raised up they will regain their sight
And status against odds;
Let us then taste this nectar of Tamil
And tasting it become as gods!
[‘Poems of Subramania Bharati, A Selection Translated by P.S.Sundaram’, Vikas Publishing House Pvt.Ltd., copyright P.S.Sundaram]
“Yaamarindu Mozhigalile” Ragamalika – Chitra Srikrishna(vocal) supported by Aditi Devarajan(violin)
Tyagaraja’s songs stand out for their simple lyrics that resonate with the listeners. His songs are an outpouring of his emotions towards Lord Rama be they joy, love, grief, or even anger. In the song “Teliyaleru Rama”, Tyagaraja bemoans the fact that we do not know the path to Bhakthi (devotion).
Instead of seeking Lord Rama’s grace, the composer says people are more interested in making money—bAga paikam(u-) jana lOlulu-airE. Tyagaraja sings that people seem content to follow a good routine—waking up at dawn, taking a bath and applying their bodies with sacred ash and rose water—yet hanker for money rather than earn Rama’s grace.
Teliyaleru Rama is a composition in the raga Dhenuka. The raga is the 9th Melakartha (parent) raga.
I can think of none other than the veteran Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer singing this unique composition.
Music, much like poetry, can evoke very different responses in its most ardent listeners. Context is likely the largest of the multiplier of response – positive and negative – to any stimulus.
Bhava, as it relates to carnatic music, is often not the sole result of the artist’s own emotions expressed in his or her rendition, but the listener’s familiarity with the subject matter or backstory – in other words, context. So many of Tyagaraja’s compositions are enriched by the listener’s knowledge of the story of Rama. Likewise for Purandara Dasa’s Jagadodharana and how the listeners connect to the unique relationship between a mother(Yashodha) and son(Krishna).
‘Akhilandeshwari’, the composition of Muthuswamy Dikshithar in the raga Dwijavanti is one such song that evokes nostalgia for many especially during the time of Navaratri. The song praises the goddess at the Tiruvannaikaval temple (of Jambukeswarar) inTrichy.
There is an interesting story, perhaps apocryphal, about this goddess. She was believed to be in an angry state of mind at the time of manifestation in the temple. Her devotees were reluctant to enter the sanctum sanctorum as they feared her wrath. The philosopher saint Adi Shankara who was visiting the temple placed a statue of Ganapathi in front of the goddess. The saint hoped that seeing her son in front of her would have a calming effect. He also created the Sri Chakra in the form of earrings for the goddess. The sri chakra is a diagram of nine interlocking triangles that radiate from a central point called the bindu. Adi Shankara believed that the powerful energy of the goddess would be harnessed in this chakra to mitigate its effects on the common man.
While composing the song, Dikshithar refers to the Ganapathi placed in front of the goddess – “lambodhara guruguha” in the charanam of the song.The composition is in Dwijavanti raga, a derivative of the 28th Melakartha Harikambodhi. Dwijavanti has its roots in Hindustani music and resembles raag Jaijaivanti. Dikshithar who had lived in northern India for many years (Varanasi) had picked up melodies from the Hindustani genre and used them in some of his compositions. Akhilandeshwari is one such example.
I can think of none other than stalwart M.S. Subbulakshmi singing this beautiful composition.