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Ode to Muruga

Rupa Srikanth
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Devotion Sujatha Vijayaraghavan explores the nuances of Andavan Pichai’s composition in her documentary. Rupa Srikanth

Sangeeta Isvaran.
Sangeeta Isvaran.

Natyarangam presented a screening of musician-Bharatanatyam researcher Sujatha Vijayaraghavan’s Tamil Pada Varnam Projects that had been undertaken with a fellowship from the Government of India. The ‘Nee Manamirangi’ pada varnam in Lathangi , adi tala, was compiled from saint-poetess Andavan Pichai’s devotional lyrics and set to tune by her daughter, musician Kamakshi Kuppuswamy.

The varnam was a combined effort of four talented women (Sujatha refers to them as ‘housewives’ ), Andavan Pichai and Kamakshi Kuppuswamy, abhinaya-expert Kalanidhi Narayanan, who triggered the creative process and visualised the varnam along with Bharatanatyam teacher Savitri Jagannatha Rao.

The credits for the crisp theermanams go to musician-nattuvangam artist Kamala Rani of Kalakshetra.

Sujatha explored the nuances of the composition from different angles - literary, musical and visual - through an informative session with the artists themselves. The varnam is an ode to Muruga, a young (‘payyan’) god, who gave visions to Andavan Pichai and inspired her to compose and sing. She had no formal education, yet her simple compositions were descriptive with poetic use of words; referring to Muruga and his wives she says, “Sura magal oru paal, Kura magal oru paal, maruvidum Azhagane, Malaimagal magane,” and on Muruga’s looks, “Mukundanin Marugane Murugone”.

Lilting rhythm

Kamakshi’s effort in matching swaraksharas lead her to Lathangi, with the pallavi that began with the Nishadam and the charana swaras where the Nishada and Deivatam swaras appear repeatedly to match the lyrics, ‘Nee, pranava porul nee...’ and ‘Veda vidhiyin vidhi..’ This gave the composition a lilting, unique rhythm.

Since Guru Kalanidhi had envisioned the devotional varnam for younger dancers, who could relate to the context and emote with understanding, the visualisation was straight forward. The Kalakshetra-style of literal translation of the line was followed sometimes by a depiction of the mythological episode or just repeated with varying gestures. The lyrics gave clear instances or feats such as the burning of Manmatha or the killing of the asura Soorapadman that could be expanded on. The jathi korvais were short, enjoyable statements of rhythm.

The recording of the varnam was done in 1995. Dancer Sangeeta Isvaran, one of the first students of Abhinaya Sudha, guru Kalanidhi’s dance school, had performed this piece as a young, charming dancer, with involvement and grace. Her netra abhinaya was particularly eye-catching.

With accomplished nattuvangam by Savitri and beautiful rendering by Radha Badri, Padmanabhan (violin) and Nellai D. Kannan (mridangam) adding to the musical beauty, the pada varnam piece stands out and will contribute to the rich repertoire for generations of future dancers. Sujatha has done well to record the making and the meaning behind this bhakti-soaked composition.


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