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.
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.
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.
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
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>.