The lecture demonstration “Maasaru Ponne…” described what women have done for music and what music has done for them

She wrote intense verses about the love of her life; she wrote about her dreams, her desires… a woman poet or composer wrote passionately. However, she had to “struggle to get noticed in a male-dominated society of fine arts,” said Dr. T. Sathish Kumar. “They defied social norms to create a niche for themselves.” These composers came up with “immortal compositions and are role models for all of us,” he added.

Sathish was speaking at “Maasaru Ponne…” a lecture demonstration of songs on and of women presented by Rajalakshmi Fine Arts and FICCI Ladies Organisation, Coimbatore Chapter. The event was organised as part of Coimbatore Vizha.

From Avvayar who laid the foundation for women poets, to Bombay Jayashri who has been nominated to the Oscars, Sathish highlighted the contributions women composers made to the world of Carnatic music. Abinaya Ramesh, a disciple of Bombay Jayashri, sang some of the songs.

Poet Avudai Akkal faced indescribable difficulties in life. Widowed even before she reached womanhood, the bond she shared with her guru was disparaged by her townsfolk. Avudai Akkal hence lived a secluded life, said Sathish. He spoke of patriot, poet and activist Sarojini Naidu and Karaikkal Ammayar, a Tamil poet saint. Abinaya sang a verse composed by Karaikkal Ammayar.

She then sang “Vaaranam Aayiram”, an exquisite composition by a young woman who was madly in love — Andal. In the song, Andal describes her dream wedding step-by-step to her friend. Sathish wondered why one should see Andal’s verses in religious light. “Why not accept it as a young girl’s outpouring of love?” he asked.

Of dreams

Sathish also presented English translations of some of the Kannada poems of the 12th century poet Akka Mahadevi. Abinaya sang one of them, in which Akka Mahadevi talks about her dream about an ‘ascetic with white teeth and matted curls’. The lecture-demonstration also featured the works of other composers including Meera Bai, Ambujam Krishna, and Bangalore Nagarathinam who started the Thyagaraja Utsavam in Thiruvaiyaru.

In the later part of the session, Sathish described how women were portrayed by male composers. From extolling the virtues and sublime beauty of women to eroticism, male composers have largely portrayed women romantically, he said. He spoke of Arunachala Kavirayar, who is part of the Tamil Trinity. Abinaya sang his composition, “Yaaro Ivar Yaaro”.

Ilago Adigal, in his magnum opus Silappathigaram, glorifies Kannagi and in doing so, puts down Madhavi as a woman of questionable character. Ilago Adigal’s prowess in Tamil shines through every word in Silappathigaram.

“The terms he uses to describe Kannagi… He calls her ‘maasaru ponne’, gold without impurities, ‘valamburi muthae’, a pearl inside the rare conch…the virtues of womanhood are brought out through his description of Kannagi,” said Sathish.

Abinaya rendered ‘Maasaru ponne’ for the audience followed by a composition by Thyagaraja, who wrote, ‘Your (Rama’s) victory is because of Sita. She could have burned down Ravanan with her eyes. But she waited for you to come’.

The event closed with a gem written by Bharathiyar. “Go to him, friend, and ask him what he has in his mind. I’m not ready to be left in the lurch,” a confident woman tells her friend in “Kannan mana nilai”. The message Bharathi’s woman conveys in the poem is: ‘You cannot just brush me aside — give me my due respect’.