Song in the construction of tamil South Indian history and identity
11. ‘Vazhi Maraittu’ – ‘My View is Obstructed’
One of the major Tamil films of 1942 was ‘Nandanar,’ a film with a strong social emphasis which directly considered the issue of untouchability in South India. The film was based on a group of songs by the composer Gopalakrishna Bharati (1810-1896), who composed an opera on Nandan, a Dalit (formerly ‘untouchable’) devotee of Siva who had a passionate desire to have darshan (to have sight, i.e. to worship) of Siva at the great temple in Cidambaram. But, as Dalits were not permitted to enter and worship in Hindu temples at that time, Nandan’s pilgrimage to Cidambaram is frought with uncertainty and pathos.
Bharati’s song cycle ‘Nandan Charitram’ (‘Story of Nandan’) was first performed in a ‘harikatha’ manner similar to Arunacala Kavirayar’s opera on Rama - a small group of musicians would go around to different towns and villages, performing songs about the life of a god or hero, providing a multimedia entertainment interspersing songs with narration and dance. Just as Arunacala Kavirayar’s songs on Rama became tremendously popular, Gopalakrishna Bharati’s songs on Nandan quickly gained renown around his home area. The Hindunewspaper reported that music lovers from nearby Karaikkal (a French territory in the 19th century) were staying out so late to listen to Bharati’s songs that they were sleeping through work :
|“When the French official Cisse received reports that employees in Karaikal were sleeping instead of working, he conducted an inquiry. After gathering reports about Bharati’s performance being the cause of the ‘problem’, he decided to see it for himself. Cisse was so impressed with the kalakshebam and he came forward to publish the work” (Kolappan 2013).|
The song lyrics to Bharati’s Nandan Charitram were published in 1861; by the end of the 19th century Nandanar had become a play, then a silent film, and then was remade again as a talking film in 1933, 1935, and 1942. Bharati’s songs from Nandanar remain extremely popular in concert performance today.
M.M. Dandapani Desikar (who earlier sang Song 9, ‘Jagajjanani’) performs ‘Vazhi Maraittu’ from the film. In a short prelude to the song, Nandan and group of fellow worshippers approach the entrance to the temple but find that their line of sight to see the deity Siva inside is blocked. Nandan starts singing beginning with the anupallavi section, wondering whether even after coming all this way, he will have the opportunity to see Siva. As the pallavi states, it is Siva’s bull Nandi who is sitting, “just like a mountain,” squarely in the path and blocking his view. In the caranam Nandan indicates that he understands he is not allowed inside the temple, asking just that if Nandi could move just a little bit, he would be able to glimpse Siva from the street outside the temple. Finally, Nandan’s plea is heard as the statue of Nandi moves to the side, and Siva is visible to Nandan and his group of friends who are thrilled and transition to an energetic and joyful song.
Gopalakrishna Bharati’s songs in Nandanar are mid-19th century compositions. It is notable that in them Nandan does not present an outright challenge to caste orthodoxy or argue in favor of his Dalit community having equal rights to others in regards to temple access (see Sherinian 2013 for a recent study of Tamil Dalit self-empowerment). Rather, instead of asking or demanding to be let in, he simply requests, “Won’t your bull move just a little bit?” Gopalakrishna Bharati himself was a Brahmin, and wrote from that social position, sympathetic to bettering conditions for lower caste Indians although stopping short of calling for revolutionary change.
Song 11. ‘Vazhi Maraittu’ – ‘My View is Obstructed’
Composer: Gopalakrishna Bharati (1810-1896)
In film ‘Nandanar,’1942
Sung by M.M. Dandapani Desikar
Vazhi maraittirukkude, malai pole
My view is obstructed – just like a mountain
oru madu paduttirukkude, sankara
a bull is lying here, lord.
Pavi paraiyan nan, inda uril vantum ivan
My cursed self, even after coming to this place
I am not rid of my sin
Undan padattil sereno ereno
Can I not reach your feet, to lift me up?
O Siva, Lord of the Kailas.
Teradiyile indru darisittalum podum
It is enough if I am able to glimpse you from the street of the temple chariot
Kovilukkul varamatten swami, inda
I won’t come inside the temple, O Lord
Oradi vilahinal podum inge nindru
It is enough if it would move just one foot
Uttrupparka satre ahilum vilahado madu
To gaze at you from here; won’t your bull move just a little bit?
1. Maraintu Iruntu - What is the Secret?
2. Inimel Avarkkum - From Now On
3. Kaiyil Panam Illamal - Without Money in Hand
4. Ella Arumaigalum - My all-knowing all-seeing Lord
5. Pazham Ni Appa - You are the Fruit
6. Nadamadi Tirinda - You Used to Get About Quite Well
7. Ethukkittanai Modi Tan - Why This Love Quarrel?
8. En Palli Kondir - Why are You Stretched Out on the Ground?
9. Jagajjanani - Mother of the Universe
10. Taye Yasoda - Oh Mother Yasoda
11. Vazhi Maraittu - My View is Obstructed
By Matthew Allen
© Médiathèque Caraïbe / Conseil Départemental de la Guadeloupe, 2016-2020