Category Archives: Carnatic Music

Maargazhi Maasam

It is that time of the year. Yes, it is the Holiday season, the rainy season (in the West Coast) and the snow season (in the East Coast). But that is not what I am referring to. Around this time of December, the Tamizh month of Maargazhi kicks in, bringing with it a beautiful mix of devotion, music and a weather that perfectly complements it.

The Tamizh calendar is a Hindu calendar used predominantly in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and a few other places across the world. The Tamizh New Year kicks off usually on the 14th of April and a new month arrives around mid month of the Gregorian calendar. Maargazhi is the month that falls between mid-December and mid-January. It is followed by the month of Thai which has the popular harvest festival of Pongal (Makara Sankranthi in other states of the country). Margazhi and Thai together form the brief winter time in south India also referred to as Mun Pani (early dew) months.

srivilliputtur temple

Maargazhi gains its prominence in Hindu culture with its close association with the works of Sri Andal Aazhwar, a lady poet saint who lived many centuries ago. Aandal was born to Sri. Periazhwar, the head priest at the Srivilliputtur temple dedicated to the Lord Vatapathrasayee. The story of Godai (as she was known before becoming Andal) is interesting in itself and you can read all about it here. Of interest from a musical standpoint is her love for Lord Krishna and desire to marry him. Story goes that in the month of Maargazhi, Godhai woke up before dawn everyday and sang the glory of the Lord walking around town as she made her way to the temple. This set of thirty hymns is called as Thiruppavai.  At the end of the thirty days, the Lord is said to have taken her to be his consort.

Sri Andal, image courtesy

Growing up, Thiruppavai was an integral part of our life during Maargazhi. The local Ramnagar Ramar Kovil Bhajana Goshti (relegious song group) would walk around the neighborhood singing not just Thiruppavai but very many songs in the praise of the Lord. Residents would wake up earlier than usual, take a quick bath and wait with rice outside the house. When the Bhajanai Goshti walked past each residence, the people in the house would come out and offer Bhikshai (alms). Concerts would happen all around town and the spirit of Maargazhi would be all pervasive at temples.

Image courtesy The Hindu. Art by Keshav.
Image courtesy The Hindu. Art by Keshav.

Coinciding with the month of Maargazhi, Chennai kicks off its annual tradition, the December music season. For the month of December, the large city of Chennai lives, breathes and thrives on music. Artists of all stripes and experience give concerts across the many Sabhas (music venues) around town. Crowds cram these concerts from late in the afternoon to late at night. While the music season itself is not directly affiliated to Maargazhi, it kind of works hand in glove to make the time all the more glorious. On TV and radio, concerts are a mainstay from 6 in the morning. Even the non-Carnatic-music-lover would find it hard to escape the joy that the season brings.

Over the years, many artists have offered their renditions of the full set of 30 hymns that constitute the Thiruppavai. From Maargazhi Thingal in a brisk Nattai through the elevated experience of Maayanai Mannu in Shri and the subtle Thoomani Maadathu in Amir Kalyani to the upbeat Pullin Vai in Atana, the peppy Maale Manivanni in Kuntala Varali culminating with Vanga Kadal Kadaintha in Surutti, Thiruppavai offers something for everyone. So here are some versions of the Thiruppavai for you to listen and enjoy.

Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar’s Version

The definitive version rendered in Ariyakudi’s inimitable style, this is my go to rendition every year. You can hear it here <Part 1><Part 2>.

M.L.Vasanthakumari’s Version

As good as the Ariyakudi version, it boasts the talent and voice of the one and only MLV. An excellent way to experience Thiruppavai. You can listen to it here.

Sudha Raghunathan’s Version

Sudha, a disciple of MLV offers her own version of Thiruppavai. As much as her tutelage and style owes it to MLV, this version is good but not on par with her teacher’s. Nevertheless, it is very popular due to its wide availability.  You can listen to it here <Part 1><Part 2>.

Carnatic Music in Malayalam cinema

I grew up in the city of Coimbatore, not too far from the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border.  I had and continue to have a lot of Malayalee and Tamilalee friends. I never quite picked up the language but given the context, could make heads or tails in the conversation.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Malayalam cinema was going through its golden period. Every other movie made its way to the National Awards and Mohanlal, Mamooty and a slew of actors held center stage. While I didnt really watch very many Malayalam movies, one thing that I took to was their soundtrack. It would not be a stretch to say that in the last three decades, there has not been a better showcase of Carnatic music than in Malayalam movies.

How did this happen? One could start with the voices – Yesudas who stormed into the scene around the same time. There were others like Neyyatinkara Vasudevan, Jayachandran and S.Janaki who also made waves. Yesudas subsequently brought in M.G.Sreekumar and Kavikuyil Chitra. Malayalam music directors of the time had a keen ear for Carnatic music- G.DevarajanM. Raveendran, M.G. Radhakrishnan, Johnson, and Illayaraja.  The musical nature of some of the movies at the time – Bharatam, Chitram, His Highness Abdullah, Sargam, Sopanam, Manichitrathazhu, Swathi Thirunal and many more was either the cause or the result of this magic. In this post, I will present a really small set of those spectacular movie soundtracks that continue to hold sway over me.

1. Swathi Thirunal


This is what I would call a full Carnatic soundtrack. A movie that was critically panned for its theme, it nevertheless featured an all star vocal cast including Neyyattinkara Vasudevan, Chitra, Yesudas, S.P.B, Balamurali Krishna and more. This M.B.Sreenivasan album is one of my all time favorites and it a huge challenge to pick a single favorite. Be it the Charukesi piece by Yesudas, or Kanada by Neyyatinkara or the Vasantha piece by Yesudas and Neyyatinkara or the Misra Pilu piece sung gorgeously by Balamurali or the Dhanasri thillana by M.G.Sreekumar, each one is a gem.  But for the sake of this post, I would like to put forth this short yet impactful Darbari Kanada piece by SPB – Devanuke Pathi.

2. Sargam


I never got to see this movie but I heard it was good. What I did hear (many times over) was its soundtrack.  Featuring music by Bombay Ravi, this movie was built around music as its central theme and it shows. K.J.Yesudas and Chitra pretty much owned and dominated the album with such pieces like Raaga Sudha rasa (Aandholika), Pravahame.  My personal favorite is the wonderful Kedaragowla piece, Aandholanam.

3. Bharatham


Yet another Raveendran-Mohanlal combo that did wonders. The movie with its dark theme was a popular hit and went on to win National Awards. A movie that showcased the price of fame in Carnatic music and what it does to relationships, it featured some awesome music by Raveendran.  The selection here includes Rama Katha Ganalayam (pivotal moment in the movie driven by KJY’s excellent rendition), the great Shankarabharanam piece, Raghuvamsapathe and the Nattai piece Gopangane. My personal pick here is the Hamsadwani piece by K.J.Y, Sree Vinayakam.

4. Chithram


This is one movie I did get to see. A serious start segues into a humorous middle only to climax on a not so happy note. All that aside, the movie’s breezy middle portion has some hidden gems. This was a huge hit back then and the Kannur Rajan scored music was a big contributor. Two nice pieces here are the romantic piece that is still rooted in Madhyamavathi, Eeran Megham and the M.G.Sreekumar rendered Dikshithar krithi in Nattai, Swami Nadha. But the standout here is the fantastic rendition of Thyagaraja’s Abheri gem, Nagumo by Neyyattinkara Vasudevan and M.G.Sreekumar.

5.  His Highness Abdullah


One can argue that this maybe the benchmark against which all Carnatic themed Malayalam film music could be measured. And as a movie, it standouts as a remarkable classical music based enterprise from Pranavam Arts. A Raveendran soundtrack rich in classical tones for a movie rooted in the same art form, it was a joy to watch and to listen. With good pieces in the form of Pramadhanam Vendum, and the Kanada piece, Nadharoopini gloriously rendered by M.G.S and much more, there was a lot to enjoy. The standout song though was Deva Sabhathalam featuring Yesudas / M.G.Sreekumar in two versions, Raveendran master and Sharath. Even today, I get goosebumps listening to this piece.

As I made my way through this list, I realized it would not really fit in one post. So I will defer the rest of the selection to a second post for a future date. And no better way to conclude this post than with the final lines from the song, “Anandam Ananthanandham Jagadanandam Sangeetham”

As always, a full Youtube playlist with pretty much all the songs featured in this post are available here. Enjoy.