Today happens to be Subrahmanya Bharathi’s birthday. His work needs no introduction from me. While the blog’s aim is to introduce Ilayaraaja songs from my perspective, today would be a fine day to share a song written by Bharathi and composed by Ilayaraaja. Song: Ninnai Charan AdaindhEn. Film: Bharathi.

The film chose to capture Bharathi’s life on screen. It had a song written by Mu Metha (Mayil Pola) and Pulamaipithan (Edhilum Ingu Iruppaan). The rest were Bharathi’s songs. When one looks at the songs from this film, aside from Bharathi’s words and Raaja’s music recorded partly in Budapest with a symphony orchestra, what registers is which song of Bharathi has been used for what situation. Not stopping there, I find it quite interesting to read how Bharathi might have actually meant for a song to be read and if that was how the film picturized it. This might be speculative. But trying to involve thoughts on such a path might be rewarding though it might not conclusively tell one if Bharathi indeed intended it thus, unless one has conclusive anecdotal evidence. But I feel it’s worth it. So allow me to indulge. Glancing at this song (Ninnai Charan AdaindhEn) from the film’s perspective, I shall delve as to what I feel is Bharathi’s travel which Raaja has understood to a nicety to be able to reflect in his music.

The film plays this song when Bharathi is separated from his wife Chellamma and 2 daughters. He seeks to choose a groom for his daughter, Thangamma, and his wife temporarily leaves him over a disagreement, with their daughters. Separated from Thangamma, he yearns for her presence by his side through this song. With Bharathi’s words, there is an overarching sense of a “Search” in this song which the film’s situation exploits. Ilayaraaja’s music underlines this sadness and search with inexplicable beauty and Bombay Jayashree’s rendition backs it up quite wonderfully. But Raaja’s music works for me on 2 levels. One, it fits the situation in the film to a T. Two, it understands Bharathi’s inner travel. The two in my opinion are similar and different at the same time. The similarity lies in the theme of a search. The difference is that the film’s search ends with the yearning for a daughter from a father. Bharathi’s search is spiritual.

Bharathi’s Kannamma is famous. Bharathi was a devotee of Krishna (Kannan). He gave Kannan a feminine form and called “her” Kannamma and Kannamma was a flame from his adolescence are two theories I have come across over her nomenclature. I prefer the feminine form of Kannan for there is a certain romance behind it. Women we agree are the fairer sex. Krishna was known for his beautiful form. So Krishna as a woman gains a superlative beauty in such an imagination. Bharathi wrote a number of poems on his Kannamma imagining her to be his infatuation, lover, child and deity. A child is known for its beauty too. So Kannamma as his child has Krishna as a woman and a child. This is what I call romance. This particular song was written and composed by Bharathi (Yes. He was a renowned musician too) placing Kannamma as his family deity. I feel this song has little correlation with his personal life (since he addresses it in first person, it does attain a personal nature) and is more of a generic prayer from a devotee. However, there is a beautiful travel through this song. The raga Raaja chooses to compose this song is Purya Dhanasri. He begins it with a hum in his voice which squeezes a sorrow out of the devotee (or Bharathi in the film, however we see it). Let me delve on the lines to illustrate further:

நின்னை சரணடைந்தேன், கண்ணம்மா

நின்னை சரணடைந்தேன்

பொன்னை, உயர்வை, புகழை விரும்பிடும்

என்னை கவலைகள் தின்ன தகாதென்று… (நின்னை)

The devotee seeks release from sorrows as he goes after wealth, fame and fortune. It is easy to see his yearning and search is materialistic. He seeks it with a certain longing which reflects through the music. Let us assume for the sake of argument that his wishes are granted. Why I assume so is because of the interlude that follows. A search follows the flute and bells and there is a certain sorrow in the music once you begin to invest in it. This sorrow could be a result of not realizing his wishes. But it is also likely he is not satisfied with what he has got. Who is satisfied with material conquests, after all? What seeks to convince me is Bharathi’s charanam which follows:

மிடிமையும் அச்சமும் மேவி என் நெஞ்சிற்

குடிமை புகுந்தன, கொன்றவை போக்கென்று… (நின்னை)

Midimai in Tamil is poverty. Bharathi refers to a fear and poverty in the mind and not in his worldly life. So I safely assume the devotee has got his wish of a trouble free path seeking wealth, fame and glory. But he feels his mind is empty and poor. So he asks his Goddess to kill the poverty and fear in his heart. Is the path laid out for him? Raaja answers it in the next interlude. There is a certain calmness exuded in the second interlude from the flute. The devotee seems sure of his path. How am I certain? Bharathi answers for me:

தன்செயலெண்ணி தவிப்பது தீர்ந்திங்கு

நின்செயல் செய்து நிறைவு பெரும் வண்ணம்… (நின்னை)

The seeker understands thanseyal (selfishness) is not the way but ninseyal, i.e. Kannamma’s will or in a spiritual context, possibly doing the deed of others (helping others out), in a selfless way is the way to fill the heart. Bharathi very clearly uses the word midimai and niraivu, a pair of opposites, in the 2 charanams and that I feel makes it very clear. The devotee’s journey is nearing completion. He has risen from being nobody to being somebody in the world, senses a vacuum in his heart and learns the way to fill it. He has won over life. Again, Raaja underlines it in the third interlude. The rhythm pattern changes drastically. cheNdais are let out marvelously. The composer lays a victory path for the poet as he proclaims:

துன்பம் இனி இல்லை, சோர்வில்லை

சோர்வில்லை, தோற்பில்லை

நல்லது தீயது நாம் அறியோம்

நாம் அறியோம் நாம் அறியோம்

அன்பு நெறியில் அறங்கள் வளர்த்திட

நல்லது நாட்டுக! தீமையை ஒட்டுக… (நின்னை)

He sees no distress, tiredness or defeat in his path henceforth. He indeed has won! The cheNdais keep beating through this charanam and this charanam alone as the song reaches a climax of emotional crescendo. Raja absolutely nails it bang on here. The devotee also reveals an understanding that it was his Goddess Kannamma who granted him his wishes and also guided his soul ahead and completely surrenders to her now, asking her one final time to guide him, the ignoramus (nalladhu theeyadhu naam ariyOm) for he seeks material wealth one moment and spiritual fulfillment the next, across life with kindness, driving evil away, which I assume is done as the cheNdais continue ringing.

There is a logical growth in the poem which Bharathi traverses sublimely (if at all I am worthy of putting in a good word for the old gentleman). Equally remarkable in my opinion is Raaja’s in depth understanding of Bharathi’s immortal words and doing justice to it (in fact leading Bharathi’s words laying his musical red carpet for us) on one hand and also nailing the required emotion on screen. Bharathi’s poetic genius finds fulfillment musically in Ilayaraaja’s genius.

Listen to Bombay Jayashree’s full rendition:

This is Raaja rendering it:

Film’s version:

PS: The blog has been off for a couple of months. Yours truly felt it might not hurt to wait till today to restart. I may not update it every day but I promise to update it once or twice a week. Cheers.