In 2000, Kamalhassan, a doyen of Indian cinema unveiled his multilingual magnum opus, Hey Ram. The movie featured an all-India cast ranging from Shah Rukh Khan from the north to Rani Mukherjee and Vasundhara Das from the East and a plethora of artists from the west and south. It had music by Maestro Illayaraja. The movie on first viewing comes across as disjointed and an egotistic journey by the actor/director. But on multiple viewings, the sheer effort put into the venture comes through. Today, it is one of my favorite tamil pictures for all that it offers and more. But thats not the reason for the post. This post is about one song, Vaishnava Janato from an album of excellent songs. You can listen to the full album here.
In its original form, Vaishnava Janato is a 15th century Hindu bhajan composed by Narsinh Mehta. The song had its tryst with destiny when Mahatma Gandhi embraced it during the freedom struggle. Since then it is in the musical lexicon of the entire nation. The song is a wonderful piece set typically to Raga Khamaj (or Khamas).
Nannu Palimpa is a wonderful composition of poet saint Tyagaraja, who lived in the 18th and early 19th century. The song is set to Raga Mohanam and is one of the more popular songs from his vast repertoire.
How is Vaishnava Janato related to Vaaranam Aayiram and where did Nannu Palimpa blend in you ask?.
And that my friends is why this song has its own dedicated post. In what can only be described as a masterful directorial touch by Kamalhassan and a composition of true genius by Ilayaraja, the piece in Hey Ram starts with Vaishnava Janato sung by Vibha Sharma, segues into Vaaranam Aayiram, drifts into a wedding nadhaswaram rendition of Nannu Palimpa and wraps up with a touch of Khamas- all in less than 5 minutes.
The visuals complete the epic nature of the composition. Kamalhassan, accompanied by a family entourage visits a potential bride’s house- a tradition from South India. The artists in the piece- Kamalhassan, Vaali, Girish Karnad, HemaMalini and Vasundhara Das play their roles to a T. It is followed by a wedding procession, complete with the nadhaswaram artist blowing into the instrument. Every second of the song is so well done that it befits multiple viewing. The attention to detail is just astounding.