“We see this workshop as an offering in the pandemic; the gift of sleep is a blessing,” says music artist Gurupriya Atreya over phone from Bengaluru. She is talking about her collaboration with Chennai-based vocalist Vedanth Bharadwaj and their virtual, weekly workshop on lullabies that began in October 2020.
In its 23rd week, the event has succeeded in creating a global community of children, parents, grandparents, singers and artists united by an oral tradition of timeless soothing melodies sung as a pre-sleep routine.
Simultaneously, Duroflex, manufacturer of mattresses that brands itself as The Sleep Company, on World Sleep Day (March 19) launched Sounds of Sleep — a digital music series that “aims to revive, celebrate, and recreate India’s rich tradition of regional lullabies in a digitally convenient way.”
Aimed at new-age parents who are looking to inculcate healthy pre-sleep routines for their loved ones, the six-episode series is hosted by actor and mother Kalki Koechlin. It features popular singers like Monali Thakur, Shilpa Rao, Chinmayi Sripada, Sanah Moidutty, Shalmili Kholgade and Geetha Madhuri.
Based on a 2016 study by Marieve Corbeil, a doctoral candidate at Université de Montréal, that proves “lullabies are the best way to calm an infant”, the music series is “for new-age parents and about the importance of healthy sleep,” says Smitha Murarka, VP Marketing Duroflex.
In an interview published in Education Week Corbeil states:
“I found infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a children’s song, which they didn’t even know, as they did when listening to baby talk. Singing to infants is continuous, has steady beats and many repetitions of melody and words, compared to intermittent and much-more variable baby talk. Those factors make music much more predictable and perhaps more reassuring for infants. Finally, live singing is much more effective than recorded singing, and face-to-face singing is best of all.”
Both Gurupriya and Vedanth feel that the pandemic gave them the time and opportunity to make their dream of collating an album of lullabies a reality. Vedanth, who is well known for his rendition of the songs from the Bhakti and Sufi traditions, admits to being surprised by the response.
“The magic of lullabies has brought so many people on to one platform,” he says.
Pick a tune
Though the duo began with around 12 songs, it was soon flooded with songs from different cultures and languages, and have now covered Tamil, Bengali, Urdu, Spanish, Trinidadian, Assamese, Nepali, Malayalam, Sinhalese and Punjabi.
Once a month, a lullaby from a film — like Nanhi Kali Sone Chali (Sujata) is also featured because “it is very relatable,” says Gurupriya. Vedanth and Gurupriya have also sourced lullabies from families.
Conducted over Zoom, their workshops have 100 participants; it is also live streamed on YouTube for another set of audiences. They also feature special sessions with guest artistes like indie pop group The Ghosts (who performed the Christmas-related lullaby ‘Silent Night’); Punjabi singer Radhika Sood Nayak; Malaysian singer Cheryl and the Nepali theatre actor Amjad Parwej.
Their recent lullaby concert at Tantrotsav in Auroville was meant to instill calmness as a prelude to the high energy festivities at midnight. “When we performed, the children fell asleep,” says Gurupriya.
Art begets art
Auroville-based artist Osher Shanti Rozin describes the workshop as “an amazing initiative”. Touched by the sweetness of the songs, she began illustrations for the lullabies.
As she started listening to and understanding the lyrics, she began to focus on bringing out the emotions from within the lullaby. “It’s not about the details but about the feelings,” says Osher, who uses mixed media like watercolours, pencils, crayons, black and glitter pens to express herself.
Vedanth talks about interesting discoveries they made during this workshop series. “The beauty of a lullaby is in its simplicity,” he says. “The same song has been rendered over centuries by practitioners and has evolved.” He talks about how a Tamil word entered a Spanish lullaby through nomads who travelled from southern India to Andalusia in Spain.
In the context of adding words and images, storyteller and actor Janaki Sabesh has an amusing story. When on summer vacation in Thrissur, she would sing a popular Malayalam lullaby to calm her sister Rekha who missed her parents.
“I would add images that my sister could identify with,” says Janaki and sings, “ arara ariraro, kaathala ezhindu…. pallu thechu Horlicks kudichu kulikanum … kovil poitu vara vazhila … Icecream namma chapdanum ” [We will wake up in the morning, brush our teeth, drink Horlicks, bathe … go to the temple and on our way back, we will have ice cream].
Recalling the lullabies her mother sang to her children and grandchildren, storyteller Smitha Nair, who lives in Kochi, says, “It has a soothing effect on babies. In Kerala, the most famous lullaby is ‘Omana Thinkal Kidaavo’ by Iriyamaan Thambi written in 1813 for the baby King Swati Thirunal of Travancore. It’s so full of love and splendour and a beautiful wish for the infant.” Another of her favourites is ‘Unni aarariro’ from the Malayalam film Avalude Raavugal .
Smitha also mentions listening to Bombay Jayahsree’s album Vatsalyam (see box) when she was expecting her children.
Kalki Koechlin, who hosts the Sounds of Sleep, recalls looking for soothing music “to put my baby to sleep and to create a healthy sleep routine for her. I knew India had a very rich collection of regional lullabies but found it difficult to discover these hidden gems.” Which is why she is thrilled to host this series, and hopes “to share the sense of warmth, nostalgia and bonding experience for every new parent.”
- In 2003, Carnatic musician Bombay Jayashree released Vatsalyam , an album of popular lullabies from different Indian languages. The album contained songs such as ‘Mannupugazh’ (Tamil); ‘Jasoda Hari’ (Brij Bhasha); ‘Omana Thinkal Kidaavo’ (Malayalam); ‘Ghumer Boodi’ (Bengali); ‘Laali Shri Hayavadana’ (Kannada); ‘Jo Jo Jo Raama’ (Telugu) and ‘Kanne Navamaniye’ (Tamil).
- She also wrote the lyrics for and sang ‘Pi’s Lullaby’ for the 2012 film Life of Pi . The song was nominated for the Best Original Song at the 85th Academy Awards. In her blog, the singer writes that director Ang Lee described the mood for the song in these words, “A child sleeps not because he is sleepy, but because he feels safe.”
- Duroflex Sounds of Sleep premièred on World Sleep Day, helping its audience rediscover lullabies from different parts of India and understand why lullabies are good for sleep. Upcoming episodes are:.
- April 09– Tamil - Chinmayi Sripada
- April 16 – Punjabi - Shilpa Rao
- April 23 – Telugu - Geetha Madhuri
- Episodes can be viewed on the Duroflexworld YouTube channel