By Nandini Ramani
Enlightening moments of devotional poetry and music prevailed upon every member in the audience at a unique exposition, Chhanda Tamizh Tandha Kanda-k-Kadavul by Tiruppugazh exponent Valayapettai R. Krishnan accompanied by his wife and senior Carnatic vocalist T.V. Sundaravalli and daughter Bhavya Harisankar. The programme was part of the Panchamurti festival devised by the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, under the guidance of its Chairman Deva and Member-Secretary Chitra Visweswaran, to a packed auditorium with intent listeners.
“Iraivaa! Edu taa, Adu taa” – “God! Whatever You have decided to give, give that”, sang the saint-poet and composer Arunagirinatha, at the shrine in Nagapattinam, expressing his utter surrender and absolute devotion to his favourite deity Lord Muruga. This was narrated by Tiruppugazh exponent Valaypettai R. Krishnan in the course of his lecture-demonstration. It was one of the many moving narrations by the versatile speaker as he highlighted the content of the Tiruppugazh hymns coated with deep devotion, spirituality, philosophy and the pursuit of salvation by the singing minstrel, Arunagirinatha.
At the outset, the speaker described the literary and poetical genius of the composer, giving importance to the aspect of chhandam – the metrical arrangement adopted by Arunagirinatha to suit his songs addressed to the deity at several holy shrines. Prevalence of the vast expanse of the different tala structures (anga talas), which do not come under the 108 tala system, their rhythmical pattern (using syllables like tana, thaana), the concluding adornment like a pendant in a necklace (tongal - hanging), Chhanda-k-kuzhippu (the winding up of a cluster of chhandams) of every segment, the use of unique phrases and references to epics in the content – were all discussed with exquisite vocal rendition of suitable examples. Other composers like Vannaccharabham Dandapani Swamigal (19th century) and Pamban Swamigal (20thcentury) who followed this mode of composing were highlighted.
Chosing appropriate Tiruppugazh pieces to explain the different aspects of the poetical set up, like the short (kuril), long (nedil), stress (vallinam), soft (mellinam), idaiyinam (middle type) usage of tonal arrangements like the Vedic recitation (at Tiruchirappalli) were all discussed in yet another inspiring episode, accompanied by the soul-filling vocal rendition by the trio including the speaker, making the exposition a very soulful, moving homage to the 650 years old Tiruppugazh compositions and their immortal composer. The speaker mentioned an extensive list prepared by Vannachcharbham Dandapani Swamigal on the different ‘healing qualities ‘ ascribed to each Tiruppugazh
In a lighter vein, Krishnan made pointed reference to the different clusters of word-setup in Tiruppugazh hymns, which are like tongue-twisters, and would surely help to improve the pronunciation of news readers in Tamil TV channels! He added on a warning note that wrong pronunciation and wrong pauses or misuse of the chhandams may cause unholy and unhealthy results. In this context, Krishnan cited a funny episode of how a humble devotee suffering from acute stomach ache, began rendering the Tiruppugazh hymns with mistakes and how Lord Muruga came down and healed his ailment to stop him from continuing his faulty approach towards the compositions of His dear devotee, Arunagiri! This incident has been recorded by Dandapani Swamigal in his work titled Pulavar Puranam which extols several mystic devotees of Lord Muruga. The speaker concluded that if such a devotee could receive the Lord’s grace at once, you can imagine the extent of the bountiful blessings that one with clear diction and deep devotion could get by chanting the Tiruppugazh as well as the shadakshari – Saravanabhava.
T.V. Sundaravalli is an inheritor of the rich musical corpus of Tiruppugazh and the traditional bhajana pathantara of the ashtapadis from her versatile father, musician-scholar T.S. Vasudevan – a profound practitioner of these musical treasures that he inherited from his father, an authority in the sampradaya bhajana paddhati). Sundaravalli’s bhava-laden singing heightened the excellence of the presentation; it was heartening to hear her talented daughter Bhavya sing all the compositions with impeccable pronunciation of the chaste Tamizh lyrics, without looking into the book even once – a rare feat in this tech-savvy music scenario.
E. Gayatri, Vice Chancellor, Tamilnadu University of Performing Arts, presided over the event and honoured Valayapettai R. Krishnan and the group, which was accompanied by talented violinist R.S. Sudha and the vibrant mridangist Sai Sankar.