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)
As naalayira divya prabandhams are regarded as the devotional hymns for Vaishnavism, the thevarams are considered the devotional hymns for Shaivism. There are seven volumes of poetry in the thevarams which are part of a larger literary work called the thirumurai. The thevarams showcase the work of three Nayanar saints of the 7th century – Sambandhar, Appar and Sundarar. The hymns are sung as a daily ritual in many Shaivite temples of Tamil Nadu.
Appar went through several tribulations during his life as his devotion to Lord Shiva was constantly tested. The ruling Pallava king Mahendravarma I was a follower of Jainism in his early years. In an attempt to punish saints such as Appar for their affiliation towards Shaivism the king persecuted them with acts of cruelty. In one such instance, Appar was thrown into a lime kiln for many days. When he came out of the lime kiln unscathed the saint sang the thevaram Massil Veenaiyum in the glory of Lord Shiva. In the song he likens his harsh environment to the sweet melody of the veena, the luminescence of the moon, the gentle breeze blowing and the sound of bees buzzing in a pond.
Here are danseuse Padma Subramaniam and Shyamala Balakrishnan singing this thevaram in the raga Mayamalavagowla.
Sundarar is best known for the thevaram Pitha Piraisoodi. There is an interesting story behind this thevaram. At Sundarar’s wedding, an old man appeared claiming that Sundarar was his slave. Sundarar protested and called the old man mad (pitha). The matter was brought to court, which ruled in favor of the old man. Sundarar was forced to follow him as his attendant. On reaching the temple at Tiruvennainallur the old man disappeared into the sanctom santorum, not to be seen again. That was when Sundarar realized that the old man was none other than Lord Shiva himself. Whereupon the Lord appeared in front of him and asked Sundarar to sing in his praise. Sundarar protested saying he didn’t even know how to start. Then the Lord asked him to begin singing with the first word he’d uttered upon seeing him – pitha.
Here is the stalwart M.S.Subbalakshmi singing this thevaram Pitha Piraisoodi in the raga Nadanamakriya.
These two thevarams hopefully give you, dear reader a sense of the poetry and devotion packed in the thevarams. Om Namah Sivaya!
The ninth of the twelve alwars, Kulasekhara Alwar, was a king of the Chera dynasty. Known as a philosopher king, he showed great interest in spirituality whilst still engaged in matters of state. His devotion took the form of poetry of which the Mukunda Mala in Sanskrit is the most famous work.
Several tales, possibly apocryphal, talk of his intense love for his Lord Ranganatha. Once when listening to a narration of the epic Ramayana at court, the king was so caught up with the story that in an emotional outburst, ordered his troops to prepare for the battle against Ravana! Only when the narrator brought the story to an end with Rama’s victory did the king heave a sigh of relief.
An earlier piece in the Deccan Herald, tells the tale of Kulashekhar Alwar and can be read here.
My first encounter with the work of Kulashekhar Alwar’s work was when I was working on a project on Saranagathi (or surrender). Kulashekhara Alwar composed the Perumal Tirumozhi – 105 verses or paasurams of exquisite devotional poetry, praising the deity at Vitthivakodu in Kerala. The CD that resulted from my project, featured 30 verses of the Perumal Tirumozhi. Here are four verses presented in the form of a ragamalika, from the CD Saranagathi.
Krishna the cowherd in watercolour- I painted this years back
Gopala Gopala Gopi Vallabha Gopala
Govinda Govinda Rasa Leela Govinda
The Bhakthi movement refers to the spiritual movement initiated by the Shaivite and Vaishnavite saints of India in the seventh century. From espousing the dualism of Dvaita Vedanta to the monoism of Advaita Vedanta, the Bhakthi saints brought a transformation in the spiritual growth of the country. Many of them spread their message through the form of devotional hymns – bhajans, abhangs, vachanas, dohas which the common man could easily relate to. I will be writing a series of posts tracing the path of Bhakhi saints across India and their musical contributions.
We begin with Andal, the female Alwar saint and her work – the Tiruppavai also referred to as paasurams. The twelve Alwars who were believed to have lived from 5th to 10th century CE were part of the Srivaishnava tradition of Tamil Nadu in southern India. They devoted their lives to the worship of the Hindu God Vishnu and his 8th avatar (incarnation) Krishna. The 4000 hymns composed by these saints are referred to as the Naalayiram Divya Prabandhams.
Andal was the only female among the Alwar saints. Her hymns known as Tiruppavai are in the form of octets and specially sung by devotees in the month of Margazhi (mid-December to mid-January in the English calendar). Andal was adopted by the Alwar saint Periyalvar as a baby when he discovered her lying under the Tulasi plant in a garden at Srivilliputhur. She is also referred to as Godhai and Nachiyar. Apart from the Tiruppavai,, Andal also composed the Nachiyar Tirumozhi, a set of 143 verses praising Lord Krishna.
The Tiruppavai is distinct for the intense piety and simplicity of thought reflected in the lyrics. It is often believed to be the essence of the Vedas. In the Tiruppavai, Andal speaks of how total surrender of oneself and continuous service at the Lord’s feet would lead to moksha (liberation from cycle of rebirth).
Here is a rendition of the ninth Tiruppavai in raga Hamir Kalyani by the maestro Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.
The last Tiruppavai lists the advantages accrued by devotees who sing all the thirty paasurams with piety in the month of margazhi. Here is a rendition of the tiruppavai sung by M.L.Vasanthakumari in raga Surutti.