8. ‘En Palli Kondir’ – ‘Why are you stretched out on the ground?’

Song in the construction of tamil South Indian history and identity

8. ‘En Palli Kondir’ - ‘Why are you stretched out on the ground?’


The 18th century scholar Arunacala Kavirayar became widely popular throughout South India for his setting of the 13th century poet Kamban’s Tamil language version of the Ramayana in ‘opera’ form (i.e. a song cycle performed in conjunction with narration) using an accessible, easily singable manner. Two of his musician associates in the town of Sirgazhi approached him saying :

  … [T]hat with his scholarship he should compose an opera for which they would help him set the tunes and the tala. He thought deeply on the choice of a subject for an opera. It was not surprising that the life of Sri Rama came to his mind as the only fitting theme. The reason for composing an opera was that Kamban had handled it in the form of poetic stanzas. But these art forms appealed to only erudite scholars and were beyond the capacity of ordinary man and woman. An opera would easily gain the hearts of the lay people and would serve his purpose fully (S.V. Krishnamurty 1982:8).

Premiere: A New Ramayana Musicale Tops the Charts

The god Visnu in his reclining posture.

Once Arunacala Kavirayar finished writing the cycle of songs, he planned for an official ‘arangetram’ (premiere) to take place. Centuries previously, when the poet Kamban created his Tamil language version of the Ramayana, it had been given its premiere at the huge Sri Ranganatha Vishnu temple at Srirangam, which has the tallest temple tower in Asia and is believed to be the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world. As told by M. Arunacalam, anxious to have his new Ramanataka Kirttanai (songs on the story of Rama) premiered in the same place, he approached the Vaishnava priests at Srirangam who said that in order for this to occur there would have to be a sign from the Lord. Kavirayar responded by singing the song ‘En Palli Kondir Ayya’ (Why are you lying there as if asleep, Lord?). It is set on Vishnu in the posture he takes as Ranganathar at Srirangam, reclining on the coiled many-headed serpent Adisesha, king of the snakes and devotee and protector of Vishnu. In response to Arunacala’s request, that evening, Vishnu appeared to the head priest in a dream “instructing him to celebrate the publication” (Arunacalam 1989:196).

The song is a gentle ninda stuti, praise-blame, in which the composer feigns surprise at seeing Vishnu lying down, and tries to ascertain how the god got so exhausted. It’s very similar to the ninda-stuti songs on Siva Nataraja earlier considered, except now the group of stories invoked in ‘En Palli Kondir’ focuses on Vishnu, especially in his incarnation as Rama.


Song 8. ‘En Palli Kondir? – ‘Why are you stretched out on the ground?’
Composer: Arunacala Kavirayar (ca. 1711-1778)
Raga: Mohana
Tala: Adi
Sung by T. Raghava Iyengar, before 1939


En palli kondir ayya Sri Ranganatha?
Why have you stretched yourself on the ground, Lord Sri Ranganatha?

Ambalputtasaya paruvata maduvile
In this valley isle of flowering trees

Avadaritta irandatru naduvile
Flanked by two rivers wherein you are born (refers to the Vaisnavite temple town Srirangam)

Kausika sol kurittadarko?
Are you fatigued after your toils, obeying Kausika’s behests?

Arakki kulayil ambu tarittadarko?
Shooting arrows at the demon hordes?

Isan villai murittadarko?
Bending and breaking the bow of Siva to marry Sita?

Parasuraman urambarittadarko?
Or depriving Parasuraman of his famed battle-axe?

Masilada mithilesan pennudan vazhinadanda ilaippo?
Is it that you are tired walking all the way along with Sita, the daughter of the pure Janaka, the Raja Rishi of Mithila?

Dusilada guhan odattile gangai kurai kadanda ilaippo?
Or fording the Ganges in the boat of Guhan, the ferryman without any blemish?

Misramamam chitrakuta sikarakkal misai nadanda ilaippo?
Are you feeling the strain of your adventures since you settled in the Chitrakutam?

Kasinimel marisan odiya gadikurandai ilaippo?
The pursuit of illusory golden deer that was Maricha?

Odi kalaitto?
Are you weary after your wanderings in the forests?

Deviyai tedi ilaitto?
Or the unremitting search for your Queen?

Marangal ezhum tulaitto?
The task of shooting seven trees with one arrow?

Kadalai katti valaitto?
Or your efforts to cross the sea?

Ilangai ennum kaval managarai iditta varuttamo?
The pain of razing the sinlocked city that was Lanka?

Ravana adikalai aditta varuttamo?
Or the distasteful need to annihilate Ravana and his demon hordes?



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
Musical examples


By Matthew Allen

© Médiathèque Caraïbe / Conseil Départemental de la Guadeloupe,  2016-2020