Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kannan piranthaan and art songs

kaṇṇaṉ pirandāṉ engaḻ kaṇṇaṉ pirandāṉ
inda kāṟṟathai eṭṭu disaiyilum kūṟiḍum

tiṇṇamuḍayāṉ maṇi vaṇṇamuḍayāṉ
uyar devar talaivaṉ puvimisai thōṉṟiḍa

paṇṇai isaippīr neñjil puṇṇai oḻippīr
inda pāriṉile tuyar nīṅgiḍum enṟidai

eṇṇisai koḻvīr naṉgu kaṇṇai viḻippīr
ini ēdum kuṟaivillai vedam tuṇai unḍu

sankaran vandān iṅgu maṅgalam enrāṉ
nalla candiraṉ vandiṅgu amudai poḻindanaṉ

baṅgam onṟillai moḻi maṅguvadillai
inda pārin kaṇmunbu vānattile niṉṟu

gaṅgaiyum vandāḻ kalai maṅgayum vandāḻ
inba ādiparāsakti anbudaṉ yendinaḻ

sengamalattāḻ engil poṅgum mugattāḻ
tirudēviyum vandiṅgu siṟappuḍan niṉṟaṉaḻ

English verse:
The Lord's come, our Lord's come,
Far and wide proclaims the wind,

Firm as ever, the Blue Hued's come
Has the Lord of the gods, says the wind.

Sing and heal the pain in your heart,
That, the grief of the world, shall begone;

Fixed on Him, awaken, for your part,
The Word's with us for all wants are gone.

Shiva blessed us with good tiding,
With the nectar of moonlight exceeding;

No blemish, no wane of the tongue,
Upon the sky, in the world's eye, sung.

The Ganges and Speech, were beheld
As Power, with love, the Babe, had held.

The red lotus, Her face shames,
As Wealth attends His myriad games.

We cannot well appreciate art or music without a study of contrasts. We have throughout seen songs in the kriti form and reckoned them as poetry. Here we go the other way. We have a song by the poet patriot Subrahmanya Bharathi, on the birth of Krishna. This song is what one would call an "art song". It was first written as a poem and was then set to music for a solo singer or a small chorus. In common music genre parlance, it would fall in the classical easy listening and classical categories. In common performances, it is orchestrated and not improvised. The first line becomes a refrain. It does not well fall into the kriti form, such that one could attach embellishments at different points. It is also in a rare raga, Saranga tarangini, in which there are only a few kritis and uses the misra chapu talam. However, the song is generally rendered in only one precise way. So, the raga and taalam were not given earlier, nor were the ascent and descent of the raga. Nor were the lyrics put forth in our usual kriti, color coded format, as the music is mostly predetermined and this is different from what we have seen. I think this music setting was by the poet himself, but am not sure. In the west, many art songs and Leider of the 18th and 19th centuries are known, such as the Erlking, based on a Goethe poem, and famous for Franz Schubert's musical setting. These art songs were part of the large currents of change that flowed from one musical era to the next.

About the verses: Speech personified, Sarasvati, or Vakdevi, is the goddess of all the arts, including music, speech and rhetoric. The arts, in Hindu culture, are considered to be sixty four in number and include some trades and crafts as well, including, most strangely, thievery. Sarasvati, the consort of Brahma, who resides on a white lotus, as opposed to his red lotus, is the only Muse available in the Hindu pantheon; but she is a full goddess and also has some of the functions of Apollo. There are also certain classes of supernatural beings like the kinnaras, a horse-headed but otherwise anthropomorphic group, who form the hordes of Kubera, the celestial treasurer and live high in the Himalayas. They are proficient in music and with their animal like parts are reminiscent of figures from the west like Pan. The Greek centaurs were reversed in form from the Kinnaras, having a human head and equine body, but were also sometimes associated with learning. In this site of course, the main Muse that would watch over us, is Erato, the Muse of lyric poetry, who holds a lyre, as opposed to Sarasvati, who holds a Veena or the Indian lute.

Please note that we have followed the usual scheme of reckoning of gods by the personification of their domain of control. It may interest the inquiring reader to note that I adopted this convention not just for the ease of readers from different cultures and heritages. This convention actually has a firm basis. It is used even in the the Upanishads and the Vedas, in the Sanskrit. Cf. Kaatopanishad and how it refers to the god of death and righteousness, for one example.

Tamil Transliteration details: As we have seen earlier, in the romanization, note the hard "ṟ" sound as in "atrium", the unique ḻ sound as in Tami, the hard "ḷ" sound as in Glamorgan, the "ṅ" as in "bang", the "ñ" as in "banjo" and the soft ṉ sound as in "Great Dane", apart from the short and long u and o sounds, all not present in Sanskrit. The romanization is according to the National Library of Calcutta standard, as ISO 15919 doesn't cover these cases.

Krishna's advent in song: Incidentally, there are vast numbers of songs in Carnatic and related music about Krishna's exploits, but not many describing just the event of His birth.
Here is the actual event as in the Bhagavatam (also called the Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavata Purana) 9:24:55-57. Krishna was born to Devaki and Vasudeva in prison (hence his patronymic Vaasudeva). Shuka narrates the Bhagavatam to King Pareekshith, the grandson of the Pandavas.
    aṣṭamastu tayorasīt svayameva hariḥ kila|
    subhadrā ca mahābhāgā tava rājan pitamahī||

    yadayada hi dharmasya kśayo vruddhiśca pāpamanaḥ|
    tada tu bhagavanīśa ātmānaṁ srujate hariḥ||

    na hyasya janmano hetuḥ karmaṇo vā mahīpate|
    ātmamāyāṁ vineśasya parasya druṣṭurātmanaḥ||
"To them, as the eight son, Vishnu(Hari) Himself was born. Subhadra, the fortunate, your grandmother, O King, (was also born).

Whenever goodness wanes and evil waxes, Vishnu personally comes down to this world.

Neither does He have a birth, nor an advent (cause). Nor is He bound to the fruits of His actions, O king! The omniscient, all pervading and omnipotent transcendent One, acts (came to earth), by His
own grace." (cf. with the concept of "svatantra" in the song Nadopasance)

The Bhagavatam is the basis of many of the schools of modern Hinduism dedicated to Vishnu, irrespective of their underlying philosophies, such as the Gaudiya tradition in the east of India, and is a corner stone of all the others, such as the Sri Vaishnava tradition of the southern states. In the latter, the 4000 hymns of the Alwar saints are held as equal to the Vedas, and so, can be said to figure higher in precedence. The Bhagavatam is universally exalted, even among the non-Vishnu schools of worship. This book is where the incarnations of Vishnu and other exploits are described elaborately.


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