Meet Krishnan and Sundaravalli to whom Thiruppugazh has been much more than an academic pursuit.

“Spreading Tamil songs, especially Thiruppugazh far and wide has been our humble mission. This has been our endeavour for nearly 35 years and we had decided, when we began, to concentrate at the grassroots level. We wanted to inculcate the Thiruppugazh-culture in the minds of our children,” says Krishnan. He is amidst a pile of books, keenly watched by his wife, Carnatic musician T.V. Sundaravalli and daughter Bhavya. Krishnan is looking into some cross-reference details in connection with a talk he has to deliver.

“One thing is for sure. Those who have learnt Thiruppugazh and participated in the competitions organised by our Murugan Thiruvarut Sangam have (Nalla Vaazhkai Amaidhal) flourished as musicians,” says Sundaravalli exuding purpose, sincerity and satisfaction.

Thiruppugazh does not fall in line with the pallavi, anupallavi and charanam format, namely the kriti. One should not therefore revert to the pallavi at every point (i.e., after the anupallavi and the charanam) and each hymn should end with a meaningful couplet formed by combining the last line and the middle line of the song. The sequence should be to name The Lord (‘Perumale') and follow it with a plea (‘Arulvaye' or ‘Tharuvaye'). “And this should be the singing practice and needs to be adhered to faithfully,” Krishnan asserts with all his learning and experience.

In the same instructive vein he reminds us of the cardinal rule, that the sandham –‘or thalam, or meter' - should not be disturbed while rendering these songs. The sandham would be indicated mostly at the beginning of every song - sometimes containing enormous complexity and sometimes exceptionally simple and even, in its basic form. Studying Thiruppugazh has been much more than an academic pursuit for this family. Thiruppugazh, is Thala Prabandham, they say.

The significance

Arunagirinathar has taken poetic licence in the use of certain phrases or in conjoining of sounds to suit sandam requirements. He has exemplified the usage of the two “la's,” and the “zha” with a remarkable and passionate attachment to the language and its grammar. Krishnan sings a few verses to substantiate this observation. He also mentions how Thiruppugazh Mani, another eminent scholar had words of praise for Krishnan and Sundaravalli when they rendered the hymns bearing in mind fully these finer nuances that are exclusive to a language.

“Mere perfunctory learning will not suffice. Setting these songs to tune is a daunting task. Aspects relating to diction, melodic orientations and suitability of the raga that heighten the mood and meaning of the lyrics all have to be taken into account,” Krishnan explains.

The competitions Murugan Thiruvarut Sangam organises are held in December and the panel of judges comprises two persons “one with a sound and practical knowledge of Thiruppugazh and the other could be a sangeetha vidwan or a laya vidwan and the judges themselves are trained to enhance their assessing abilities.”

The prizes are for both individuals and groups. Each group spans only two classes (say 2nd standard to 4th) and the unjust classification of an age group that ranges from 15 to 60 is thus avoided. The ‘prize-money' and the expenses for this event are met from voluntary contributions from friends who show an interest and the results are reviewed and scrutinised to accommodate winners who narrowly miss the bus. “All this is done to rope in more participants in the coming years and to recognise the efforts taken by the children and the participating schools.”

In December last year there were about 150 children from seven or eight schools and the prizes awarded were nearly 70 in number. “Parents of great performers are honoured by this sangam for their invaluable contribution to our music culture as they have helped form the next generation.”

Krishnan also makes his contributions to various spiritual magazines and has published a few books. His writing is characterised by depth and serious intention and reflects high ideals.

Music has been the life-blood of this family. Krishnan's ancestry can be traced to Syama Sastri. Sundaravalli's grandfather, Seetharama Bagavathar was an instinctive singer who won the praise of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar. Bagavathar had his long association with Vallimalai Swamigal who was instrumental in making Thiruppugazh known to our music world. “My father Vasudevan, quite naturally, had the intuitive aesthetic ability that could capture the ideal tune for each Thiruppugazh. He was a great admirer of GNB and in fact was his school-mate,” Sundaravalli tells us. She is a post-graduate in music and learnt from Prof. S. Ramanathan, S. Rajam and Sulochana Pattabhiraman. A family that has progressed well, taking upon itself a noble task, working with a combined zeal, knowing that it is on firm ground. It is such people who make history.

(sivakumar2004 @gmail.com)