Music and Vallalar’s verses

Updated - March 24, 2016 12:56 pm IST

Published - December 31, 2015 05:54 pm IST

Rama Kausalya.  File Photo

Rama Kausalya. File Photo

Vallalar is known mainly as a philosopher and an inspirational spiritual leader, who has left behind thousands of poems. But if one looks closely at his literary output, it becomes evident that the musical potential in his verses is on an outstanding scale. Dr. Rama Kausalya took up the musical aspects of Vallalar’s works for analysis in a lec-dem for Sangeeth Sagar Cultural Trust .

Kausalya said the 19th century, in which Vallalar lived was a golden era for Tamil compositions, for it was the era that gave us composers such as Gopalakrishna Bharati, Mahavaidyanatha Iyer and the Thanjavur quartet. She said that Vallalar was a good singer and his voice was described as kinnara saareeram - a celestial voice - by violinist Sirkazhi Narayanaswami Pillai, who was close to Vallalar. It is said that the arangetram of Vedanayagam Pillai’s Sarvasamaya kritis was in the presence of Vallalar.

Recently, Kausalya organised a workshop at Thillaisthanam on the singing of Vallalar’s poems, and students from all over Tamil Nadu were trained by Arimalam Padmanabhan, Tribhuvanam Atmanathan and Shyamala Venkateswaran. Thirty compositions were taught.

Kausalya said that it was hard to think of any other composer who had composed in so many literary and musical genres. Vallalar has to his credit padams, kritis (with pallavi, anupallavi and charanam), folk songs such as ‘Ananda Kalippu,’ songs for women such as kummi and akkacchi, Tiruppalliezhuchi, viruthams and Tamil verses that come under the category of ‘pa.’ Interestingly, even his folk songs and songs for children have a spiritual content. The songs may appear light and playful, but behind the superficial meaning there is a spiritual message hidden beautifully in the simple lines of poetry.

Vallalar has composed Kannis, which are similar to Thyagaraja’s Divyanama kirtanas, where there is a pallavi and many charanams. He even composed two songs to Western notes. Kausalya said that one of them goes – ‘Bhogam, Sukhabhogam, Sivabhogam Adhu Nityam.’ (There is only one joy that is everlasting- the joy of worshipping Siva).

Madhuvanthi Badri sang some of Vallalar’s compositions, to show the huge sweep that he had. ‘Varuvaar Azhaithu Vaadi’ (Begada) is a padam in Nayaki bhavam, but the more profound meaning is that the jivatma is aching for nearness to the Paramatma. ‘Dandanitten’ in Thodi is a song of supplication and surrender, and has seven charanams.

‘Enakkum Unakkum’ is usually sung in Charukesi, but Madhuvanthi sang it in a soul stirring Desh.

Vallalar has also composed a type of verse known as undi para , which one also finds in the Tiruvachagam. Although it isn’t exactly clear what undi para is, commentators are of the opinion that it is a folk dance for girls. Madhuvanthi sang a song of this genre composed by Vallalar - ‘Iravu Vidindhadhu,’ in Atana. ‘Ambalathil Adugindra,’ a chindu, was sung in a moving Abheri. The song chosen from the genre known as ‘Ananda Kalippu’ was sung in Kapi.

As to who tuned the songs, Kausalya said that since Vallalar was known to be a good singer and since many of the tunes are referred to as ‘traditional tunes’, and have been handed down over the years, it is probable that these are the original tunes, although subsequently latter day musicians also set some of Vallalar’s compositions to tune. The important thing is how every type of verse Vallalar wrote has the ease of adaptability to music and dance.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.