Like the sun dispels darkness in the world, Nammalzhwar’s Thiruvaimozhi shines a light that dispels the darkness of ignorance within us. Here are the first four verses from the 1st decad of the Thiruvaimozhi rendered as a viruttam.
In this Tamil poem by Bharathidasan, the poet describes the beauty of nature in the morning and evening.
You and I
You and I are so crazy
about each other,
as hot as a potter’s fire.
Out of the same chunk
of clay, shape a you,
shape a me. Crush us
both into clay again, mix
it with water, reshape
a you, reshape a me.
So, I have you in my body,
and you’ll have me forever in yours, too.
Guan Daosheng (~1250)
translated by Qiu Xiaolong
Does this poem remind you of Kurunthokai 40 (Sangam poetry)? Click here
to check out the Tamil poem and a few movie songs that express the simile of rainwater and red earth.
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)
Musicians are sometimes asked to present concerts on a certain theme. The concert could be based on compositions of one particular composer or a God or even an event. Poets too are asked to complete a verse or even a poem using a particular word or a phrase.
While reading a book on Sanskrit poems, I stumbled upon this wonderful poem (author unknown) that made me laugh out loud. Here is the English translation of the poem.
A certain maid at Rama’s coronation,
Befuddled by the wine of celebration,
Dropped a gold jug, which down the staircase rang:
Moving on I came across this poem by Bhartrhari where he talks about the relationship between a couple.
In former days we’d both agree
That you were me, and I was you.
What has now happened to us two,
That you are you, and I am me?
I was reminded of another poem by Khahlil Gibran on marriage where he holds a different viewpoint.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Recently I learnt a couple of vachanas. Vachanas are devotional octets composed by Veerashaiva saints from Karnataka such as Akka Mahadevi and Basavanna. They are characterized by simple lyrics that speak directly to the listener. Here is Hindustani great Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur rendering a vachana of Akka Mahadevi.
Numerous composers have attempted to set the more popular vachanas to music. By no means is this confined to Kannada poetry. Vernacular poetry from the Divya Prabandham of the Alwar saints in Tamil, Kabir’s dohas, Sangam literature such as the verses from Silappadikaram (MS Subbalakshmi singing Vadavaraya Mathakki at her UN concert in 1966) have all been brought to life by composers and musicians. My album Saranagathi was one such attempt – with a original music score by a friend/musician in the US who composed the music for 30 verses from Kulasekhara Alwar’s Perumal Tirumozhi.
When poetry is set to music there’s a new dimension added to it. The same verses reach a wider audience. Many of us have listened to MS rendering Bhaja Govindam – can you now imagine reciting the same verses in staccato fashion? It doesn’t matter if you sing off-key, but you’re in your comfort zone singing a tune from your childhood. If you try reciting the same verses, you feel there’s something missing.
I believe a composer has a big responsibility when he’s setting the music for a poem. He needs to understand the lyrics and the mood of the poet before selecting the raga. One cannot choose a raga like Shuba Pantuvarali when the poet talks about a rainy day, neither can we listen to Sama when Rama goes to war with the lord of Lanka!
Years back, a dancer in the SF Bay Area had asked me to set the music for a few verses penned by a Sanskrit professor in DC. The whole piece was about an immigrant’s dilemma in the US. The poem began with the the immigrant pondering as to why he was drawn to the land of opportunity. The questions haunted his mind day and night. I chose raga Mohanam for the introductory verse. The next verse talked about why he continued to live in a land where he was treated as a secondary citizen (Bhagesri seemed appropriate here to bring out the element of despair). As this was a dance program there was a visual element in the mix and to that extent made my job easier.
Poetry is all about emotion as is music. When the two meet, there’s magic in the air. I am concluding this post with a recording of Kabir’s doha in the dulcet voice of Jagjit Singh. Kabir’s dohas are very emotive, brief in length, rich in imagery and earthy in style.
Posted in Music