Friday, November 03, 2006

A musical introspection...

Minister Duraimurugan has made a comment that there should be more Carnatic songs in Tamizh. I agree with him partly.

When I was a kid, my parents put me through Carnatic music lessons. My daily commute from Kodambakkam to my school took me 2-3 hours by schoolbus. The driver used to wander all over town before he reached school and ditto on the return trip. When I reached home around 5.30 PM, I'd find my music teacher waiting for me. To my eyes, she used to be the very devil who prevented me from eating and made me shout at the top of my lungs for 2 hours! I'd have a glass of coffee and start singing.

I don't remember anyone having ever explained to me the meaning behind having sarali varisai, jantai varisai, alankarams ,ragam, thalam etc...Don't get me wrong, my teacher was an excellent one. But I was the rambunctious kid that wanted explanations for everything. So, there I was - singing in some unknown language (Telugu, mostly) sans the meaning, without knowing the raga bhavam or the history behind the song. Besides, I didn't have any peers at school who were learning music. Or let's just say, I didn't know anyone who did and we never talked about music much. Film music was much more catchy and interesting and I understood the meaning of the lyrics (for good or for bad!). We used to discuss it on the schoolbus and the lyrics being in Tamizh did help. I don't find it strange that I gave up carnatic music when the opportunity first presented itself to me! It had no meaning to me.

We moved from Chennai to Madurai and my father kept pushing me to take music lessons,

"Child, you'll regret it later. Learn to sing."

I was reluctant. I didn't want to scream at the top of my lungs on an empty stomach again in some unknown language blah blah blah...

But my parents used to listen to a lot of carnatic music. One fine day, I ended up listening to the Late Maharajapuram Santhanam. It was a collection of "Oothukkadu Venkatasubbaier" kritis on Krishna sung live on Janmashtami. I was mesmerized. The voice, the ragas and the bhavam in his singing held me spellbound. For the first time in my life, I understood the meaning of the songs because they were in Tamizh instead of Telugu. It kindled my interest in music again and I started listening to more and more music. I learnt "Mohana rama" on my own with a vengeance just because Shri Santhanam had rendered it so beautifully! I think my teacher would've been happy if I'd applied myself with half the interest I showed in learning this song. :)

Anyways, many, many years later, I feel that now I have a better sense of appreciation for carnatic music than I did as a kid. I understand certain nuances that I didn't earlier. Its not like I am much more knowledgeable now. Maybe, age tempers you with experiences and stress that you realize the soothing quality of music? I don't know. But I completely agree with Suhasini's Sindhu in "Sindhubhairavi":

"Kavalai edhumilla rasikkum mettukudi
Cherikkum sera venum, adhukkum paattupadi
Enniye paaru, ethanai peru
thangame neeyum tamizh paattum paadu.."

[The rich don't have any worries and they enjoy music. But your music should also reach the poor masses. Think about how many people are out there. Thangame, please sing Tamizh songs also...]

Even today, when I sing a Papanasam Sivan krithi in Tamizh, I enjoy it much more than I do a Tyagaraja krithi. A while back, someone asked me to translate my Tamil blog on "Akhilandeswari" to English. I sincerely tried it for two days but I couldn't find the words in English! But when I thought about the same topic in Tamizh, I felt like I could write 10 more pages about it. Sigh. There's something about the mother tongue. Maybe I'd have continued music lessons if my teacher had taught me more Tamil krithis? :)

Regardless of how many foreign languages one is fluent in, the mother tongue will always rule the roost!

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Narayanan Venkitu said...


I sent a mail to Durai Murugan's Secretary today about a project that I am planning.

Me / My brother or anyone who can, can write tamil lyrics for Famous Carnatic songs and we'll sing it ditto like the Sanskrit song.

I've take up Vathapi Ganapathim and HImagiri Thanaye. Don't know how it will turn up. Let's see.

Let me know if you have an suggestions.

Narayanan Venkitu said...

Forgot to mention - Nicely written as usual...The Sindhu Bhairavi song ..though I didn't accept when I was young..makes more sense now.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...although I have nothing to say thats relevant to this blog, i wanted to comment because i read the word "Oothukkadu" :)
Two years ago, our entire dance ballet for the decemer season was on Oothukkadu songs on lord krisha. I agree that they are most beautiful. Probably, while dancing, we dont feel the change in language so much, coz we are able to express it- and thus understand it..after all, the expressions/bhavams remain the same.

Muthukumar Puranam said...

Think you missed the point why we are made to sing Thyagaiyah's songs or any keerthis. Thyagaiah through these same songs attained mukthi, sri Rama along with his consort and lakshmana and anjaneya came knocking his door. The vibrations are powerful. We are passing on these same vibrations to generations to come. WHether you understand it or not sanskrit hymns undoubtedly makes one peaceful. SAme about thiagaraja swamis, annamaias etc I think. Also song's bhavam is explicit despite its language. Once I was reading some article of s.Ramakrishnan on his visit to vadalur (Ramalinga adigal shrine, not sure how many of us know him). One village young lady was singing his songs. Author approached her and asked "Do you know the meaning of these songs?" She said "Why not? meaning of these songs is Anbu, ADigal does not sing about anything else". Even when manikavachagar asked about meaning of his thiruvasagam "He showed shiva lingam and merged into it". ALso evenif we translate great works, we can never live up its power and also it will end up killing original keerthis. These songs are not written by sitting and thinking over tons of cigs and coffee (cinema karangala solren). They are direct from heart in which god alone dwelt.

Subha said...

Venkitu sir,

I was more thinking along the lines of more songs being composed in Tamizh rather than being translated..! But sounds like an interesting effort..let me know how I can help!

Subha said...

thanks for stopping by...

Subha said...

I agree that Tyagarajar or Annamacharya or any other's great composer's songs are overflowing with bhavam, bhakthi and devotion! That's why their songs stand apart from so many. But, personally, carnatic music students should be taught the meaning of Telugu or Sanskrit songs before they're made to sing it. The world is full of vibrations. These vibrations will not carry any power with them unless they are chanted from the heart with emotion. That can only be understood via the lyrics or language. Otherwise, if you listen to a lot of Carnatic musicians, they have the ragam right but the sahithyam will be chewed into pieces!

For example, singing

"Nannu palimpa nadaci vachithivo Rama"
without knowing the meaning is different from singing it knowing the intention of the composer! That's all I am saying.

Tamizh being my mother tongue, I can understand songs in it without any special effort on my part...

Muthukumar Puranam said...

YEah, I am sure helps to enjoy more when singing with meaning of lyrics knows. NO doudt about that. One shud keep making effort to know the "jeevan" of those songs. which is at far higher plane. We need to preserve these songs as it serves as inspiration and confidence that one rama will come down walking on this earth to protect us. Anyways I feel whether we know its meaning or not, we shud preserve these songs than discord it.

SamY said...

ha ha ... I never learnt carnatic coz I disliked my music teached who forced me to sing ... somehow singing (when its me) still doesn't appeal as much as listening :D ... not that I have the voice I had

when it comes to non-carnatic I weight by lyrics ... but when it comes to carnatic I just njoi the pleasure of the music :) ... the vagaries in patterns, cadence ... a more normal number takes a much longer time to sink :(

wonder what sense u'd make of those which r predominantly instrumental kind :D

Narayanan Venkitu said...


I'll let you know soon.

Transalation - doesn't mean it has to be word to word.

Anonymous said...

we used to take yoga classes back home at madras. we used to chant Bhagavad gita an d we often used to wonder about the artham. But our yoga master used to tell us that when u hear a meaning, then ur mind will start pondering on whether it is right, then go on to develop its own interpretations, make you to argue with yourself and begin a never ending cycle :end result : you forget concentration and the devotion in it. So it was better not to know the meaning sometimes..

same is true with carnatic music though in a different sense. The power of the unknown is really something else. Even though we dont know something, we carry belief in it. "Pattu nu potu odachuta svarasyame illama poidum" nu solluva.

and bhakti transcends all barriers.let along languages. I sincerely believe that it is good for songs to be left the way they are. It would be only trying to write Thirupavai in english. Just for the world to understand!!!

Anonymous said...

very well written...i am becoming a fan of ur posts..u should move to chi town..I heard that they teach tamil songs..

U know who I am...

and remove this word verification

Subha said...


We should preserve these songs!

Subha said...


With intrumental, I undergo a paradigm shift. I become more oriented toward the music and because I've already heard the sahityam and I know it, it becomes easy for me to appreciate..:)


Hmm..I guess there's always going to be this dichotomy between the lyrics-people and the music-people..:)

Yeah, I know who you are..:) But if I take out the word verification, then I'd have lotsa spam..:)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. To reach more audience in TN, Carnatic songs need to have more Tamil songs. It is fine for those that understand Carnatic music and grew up in that culture to say it transcends barriers. But what about the rest of the population.

Secondly, looking at the decline of audience for Carnatic music, added to the aging current Rasikas, if some changes aren't made, it will become obsolete like Sanskrit. Take for instance film music. I can't remember the last time I heard songs with Carnatic touch.