Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Vilakku Music in Silappadikaram

By  Siddhartha Jagannath

On July 20th, I attended a talk by Dr. Nagaswami at the Arkay convention center on Vilakku music in Silappadikaram. He began by quoting a line from Silappadikaram, namely, “Tamizh murudarinda thanmayinai”. In essence, this line says that Tamil scholarship consists of mastery in 3 fields- music, drama, and literature, Dr. Nagaswamy said. Nowadays, people only study a third of Tamil - the literature part alone and are considered scholars. No one seems to consider music and dance as being an integral part of Tamil scholarship. Prof. Nagaswami said that there is an urgent need to create a new generation of scholars who have mastery in all three fields.

Silappadikaram has two types of poetry in it, Dr. Nagaswamy continued. They are Aham and Puram poetry. Aham deals mainly with Sringara rasa while Puram deals with Dharma mainly. The first two cantos of Silappadikaram, Madurai and Puhar Khandams, are Aham poetry while the third canto, the Vanci khandam is Puram poetry.

Prof. Nagaswami then went on to compare the early sangam Tolkappiam to Bharata’s Natya shastra, providing striking similarities to help prove his point. While Natya shastra is in Sanskrit and Tolkapiam (upon which the Silappadikaram is based) is in Tamil, both are very much alike. For instance, both works mention the 8 Rasas and Bhavas, 4 Abhinayas, 4 Vrittis, 2 dharmis, 7 svaras etc. Singara was called inbam, hasya was nahai, karuna was azhukai, raudra was vehuli, veeram was perumitam, bhayanaka was bhayam/accam, bibatsa was izivaral, and adbhutam was viyappu. Both mention many instruments like the flute, veena and the mridangam.
Dr. Nagaswami then proceeded to discuss the main topic of the lecture - Vilakku music. Aided by Dr. Abhiramasundari who demonstrated different compositions, Nagaswami discussed the various parts of Vilakku Pattu. The word Pattu is a composition that is meant to be sung and danced. Vilakku pattus have fourteen parts. Each of these parts are further divided into sub-parts. For example, one the fourteen parts is the Vritti or the theme. There are four kinds of Vrittis - Bharati, Arabhati, Sattvati and Kaisiki. Bharati generally has to do with dance while Arabhati has more to do with war-related subjects. Sattvati, as the name suggests, deals with topics related to Dharma. Kaisiki themes, on the other hand, are Sringara rasa-based themes. 

Dr. Abhiramasundari then demonstrated a few Vilakku songs that Dr. Nagaswamy had mentioned in his lecture. Dr. Nagaswamy has an uncanny knack and a remarkable style of communicating the most complicated concepts in a simple, succinct manner. One could clearly and easily see the components of Bharata’s Natya shastra systematically laid out in the Tolkapiam.

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