Sunday, January 29, 2012

Another musical Sunday

- By Deepa Krishnan
I am having a magical Sunday morning, listening to this great lady sing. 

This is M S Subbulakshmi, and she is singing Swati Thirunal's famous Aliveni. Her voice brings to my mind, visions of a blue-skinned lotus-navelled Lord Vishnu. The maiden yearns for a tryst with this beautiful God, and begs her friend to go fetch him. In her anguish, she wonders - why is he late? Is he dallying with someone else? She praises her friend, showers kind words on her, and begs her to go and bring him.

In case you didn't know, Swati Thirunal Rama Varma was the ruler of the Travancore kingdom. He died in 1846 at the very young age of 33; but not before leaving behind an incredible legacy of poetry and song. How does a king manage to write like this? This is a woman's voice! Her love and longing! But he so beautifully becomes that voice...he dissolves the lines between personal and religious, creating an atmosphere of ecstatic longing for the Divine. Truly this King is no ordinary man!

Here are the words of the maiden, sung to her friend:

Oh Aliveni, lady with tresses the colour of black bees! What shall I do now? Oh Maanini - most respected lady! 

Tell me, what shall I do, the lotus eyed Sri Padmanabha has not come yet! 

Oh Komalaangi, she of the charming form! Of what use are the humming of the bees, the gentle breeze, sandal paste and the fragrant jasmine; if my beloved does not come?

Who is the blessed damsel, I wonder, enjoying the company of Sarasaksha, he who resembles Cupid! 

I keep looking for him to come by the usual path, but I cannot see, as my eyes are brimming with tears. Has my darling forgotten all the sweet words he uttered when we were together!  

Kambukanthi,  oh lady with the graceful neck like a conch! Don't delay anymore. Please tell him of my misery and bring him at once to me.

Here is the song itself, in case you want to hear it. The way MS sings it, you can sense the devotion and grace.

And of course, this song has inspired classical dancers as well. I loved this Bharatanatyam version of Aliveni by Sujatha Srinivasan; look how poetically she shows the black tresses; and how masterfully she gestures "I have an idea, let me send Him a letter!"

And there is this piece in Mohiniattam as well - different genre, same emotion! The dance begins around minute 1:30, so some patience please! 

To me this dance is very familiar because it was part of a school program (I went to a South Indian school , right?). I saw it then, and did not see the meaning, nor understand its context in the larger stream of Vaishnavism or the Bhakti Movement. But I see it today and it speaks so much more to me. Perhaps you have to be a woman, not a schoolgirl, to feel this shringara rasa! :)