When Maharaja Swati Tirunal was born in the 18th century, Iraiyamman Thampi was already an established poet and composer at the royal court of Travancore. True to custom, the boy was named after his birth-star - Swati. Thampi was so inspired on seeing the baby prince that he sang a lyrical Malayalam song, a lullaby which became famous throughout Kerala.
The song ‘Omanathingal Kidavo’ described the baby. With beautiful comparisons drawn from Nature and with a sweet and simple use of language and rhyme, Thampi outdid himself. In the song, he compares Swati to the Komala Thamara Poo (lovely lotus flower) and Poovil Niranya Madhuvo? (to the honey inside each flower). He compares the baby’s chubby face to the moon.
Then Thampi goes on to say that the baby’s first cries resemble the lilting sound of baby parrots (C heru Thatthagal Konjum Mozhiyo? ); his unsteady walk to that of a swaying peacock ( Saanjadi Aadum Mayilo? ) and his voice to a nightingale which sings a soft pancham note ( Mrudhu Panchamam Paadum Kuyilo? ). In the next verse he compares the baby’s gait with the frisky deer and his mien to that of a swan.
In 1996, looking for something new, I came across this song and setting it to Arabhi raga (madhyam sruti), introduced it to Carnatic audiences. And every time, I would highlight the fact that it was a famous lullaby by a famous poet about a famous composer-king. Rasikas, be they Tamil or Malayali, loved it. I released an audio too.
Now, many young musicians tell me that they have adapted this lullaby for their performances - even with piano accompaniment. This lullaby is sure to inspire generations to come, and take them to great heights with its succinct verse and soothing effect - just as a lullaby should be.
(Charumathi is a Carnatic vocalist, musicologist and writer.)