Posted in Indian Art Culture Music

Secularizing and Trivializing the Hindu.

A Hindu voice heard across the spectrum was talking about how everything Hindu is diminished systematically that over years, even Deepavali has been rendered secular: Gone were the flowers, diyas, puja mandaps, gods and goddesses, bright colours, lehengas and finally even the bindi from the Deepavali season sale. New age Diwali ads propped up bindiless plain faces celebrating green Diwali without the sparkling fire crackers. Newspaper magazines screamed how unhealthy Diwali sweets were. Everything about Diwali polluted planet Earth. And this is not just about Diwali. Navratri is the women-centric nine day Hindu festival of India where and when womanhood is celebrated. Out came this tweet a couple of years back: ‘this Navratri let us see to that NO DURGA/GIRL IS RAPED, NO PARVATHI/WIFE IS BEATEN, NO SATI/WOMAN IS BURNT ALIVE, NO LAKSHMI/HOUSEWIFE HAS TO PROSTITUTE, NO SARASWATHI/TEEN IS SCHOOL DROPOUT, NO GODDESS/LADY IS ALCOHOLIC OR UNDER INFLUENCE OF SUBSTANCE etc., etc. You cannot demonize Hindu festivals more than this. This year we are seeing less of this drama. Probably because our guys have been coming up with good retorts: such as how this Christmas you MUST NOT BINGE ON HIGH CALORIE CAKES, how its cruel to kill turkey for thanksgiving, how for Eid you must not cull animals in consideration of rights issues. The greatest Ozone depleter is in fact beef-cattle raising. Substitute the Durga-Lakshmi-Saraswathis with Biblical characters. You have a script ready! That seems to be working kind of. Now menacing the Hindu festivals is finally easing. Its not just about Hindu festivals, everything Hindu is getting either neutralized as secular or trivialized ever so slowly yet steadily over years. A cultural appropriation is already taking place with churches in India playing a vital role in ‘taking over Hindu religious customs and incorporating them in Christian way of life in India.’ Kerala churches have Jayastambhas now and that’s just the tip of the ice berg. They have started observing all Hindu festivals in churches now claiming Hindu ancestry starting with Sankranthi/Pongal. You have the Christian Rangolis, Mantras and every other paraphernalia that is Hindu neatly fit into Christianity so cleverly. Christianity is already trying to absorb the Sanatana Dharma in its entirely in the very land of Dharma and its happening right under our noses. You see how Yoga is now practised doing away with Om chanting and they even have the Christian yoga lately. Meditation is also secular and no more a Hindu concept. You have to keep in mind that Gautam Buddha was first and foremost a Hindu. Dharma is a passive way of life. Proudly and unapologetically and unabashedly a Hindu. One of the profound things to happen to human civilization is Hindu Dharma. The day Dharma dies, god forbid, it won’t be long before Mother Earth ends her life. So wherever and whenever there is a violation/disregard/misappropriation of/for Hindu way of life and culture, voice it. Move mountains to see that Dharma prevails.

Posted in Indian Art Culture Music

Mood changer: Some fatfriend songs :D

Fat people or nice. They have no ‘vanjam’ in their heart. They eat to their heart’s content doing justice to their taste buds and appetite. Mostly people who are obese are sweet and without malice. I have some songs on this subject.

My first fave is ‘kathirikka kathirikka gundu kathirikka, endha kadaiyila nee arisi vaangura? ‘ ((hey) eggplant eggplant motu eggplant! in which shop do you buy rice??’

Luv this one from the 70s ‘nitham nitham nellu soru’ (daily daily grain (of) rice). This is my top karaoke favourite.

From an old type kitchen from the ’80s:

Personal favourite: Am I the salt or sugar in your kitchen. Am I the eyes or the book in your reading room.

Finally the legend from the ’50s from ‘Maya bazar’ (a story from Mahabharat). Kadodhgaja, son of Bheem is a very popular Hindu epic hero for his insatiable appetite. Its Hollywood inspired although I am not familiar with the original. Originally a b&w picture now colour.

Posted in Indian Art Culture Music

An Emotion Called SPB

There are very few memories that I carry from my parents’ times to this day…. I mean, most common things I shared with them are already lost… very few are surviving today but are running out fast into oblivion… so why I like SPB, Ilayaraja etc., is for an entirely different reason. SPB was one of the connecting dots to me with my parents. Whenever I would listen to his old songs of late 1970s, i would be transported back to my happy home when i was carefree kid like everyone else… In my teens, SPB became synonymous with unforgettable melodies, that being the Mike Mohan era ! In my middle age I continued to be drawn to SPB’s versatility with his glitzy chartbursters! Throughout my memorable part of life, SPB remained a steady component, taken for granted. Where will those like me find this comfort level ever. I liked his consistency. His soothing voice. His adaptability. I viewed him as a mature artist who cut through generations. Most importantly I saw him in a paternal role. May be never did I get to meet him but he was always there singing to my ears. I have drawn inspiration and happiness from him. And peace. I wish I had attended his Doha concert. Tickets were there. Mostly we skip these events never having the curiosity to get to know or see celebrities in person. However SPB is one enigmatic genius i wish I hadn’t missed out on…

It must have been the year 1980. The picture ‘Raja Parvai’ was entirely filmed in my mother’s school. Kamal Hassan was the hero, Madhavi the heroine. While my mom taught the deaf and the dumb kids (we used no euphemism in those days to mask the stark truth. truth was spoken straight to one’s eyes and ears), the film was shot in the blind section. Everyday my mother would come back with stories about the cast and the crew. When the film was released, ‘andhi mazhai’ became my mom’s top fave song that she got recorded in a sony cassette. After she passed away, for over 10 years i held on to the cassette and replayed her selections. There were those like ‘aaghaya gangai’, ‘sippi irukkudhu muthum irukkudhu’ all in the mellifluous tone of SPB as if soaked in honey. He was already a star by then.

My personal favourites became his ‘nandha en nila’ and ‘kamban emandhan’ and ‘ilakkanam maarudho’ that were not from Ilayaraja stable. MS Viswanathan was equally a legend in those days preceding Ilayaraja. However, I discovered these gems much later in life when I had the time to reminisce the 80s filmy music. By now I was addicted to Azhagan songs ‘sangeetha swarangal’ , ‘mazhaiyum neeye’ and ‘saathi malli poocharame’ – these remain my lifetime faves, gems from music director Maragatha Mani (who recently scored music for Bahubali when I thought he was lost and forgotten). The 80s were peppered with Mike Mohan’s sweetest melodies that were given gentlest treatment by SPB sir, with Ilayaraja scoring the music. 80s teens must know. Every single number by SPB from ‘ilaya nila pozhigiradhu’ to ‘nilave vaa’ balmed my heart in those years when I going through a personal crisis.

The unending saga of SPB superhits through late 70s to mid 90s upto the time of Roja with AR Rehman was golden period for us girls who went through school and college in those times. ‘Pani vizhum malar vanam’ oh my god! SPB-Ilayaraja-Vairamuthu combo was nothing short of fireworks starting with ‘idhu oru pon maalai pozhudhu’ to ‘vaa vennila’ just to name a couple. My bosom buddy from school Shobi would regale us by singing ‘vandanam en vandanam’ and ‘devi sri devi’ during our free classes and school excursions. By college time she graduated to ‘mandram vandha thendralukku.’ To this day for our school friends, these numbers are etched in heart in SPB and Shobi’s voices! Again for me, all these eased pain. Life became bearable.

Sweet Mylapore childhood memories include crooning of such numbers as ‘singari sarakku’ and ‘ilamai idho idho’ in our terrace. I recall these incredibly funfilled moments with my friend Rupa’s bro Satish, father of 2 kids now hahaha. Those were his faves as he also danced like Kamal to the songs!

One day in the year 1989 or whatever I am not sure, my father’s side relatives were asking me to watch the picture ‘Keladi Kanmani.’ They said it was made for those girls like me. I didn’t quite understand. It was a heavy subject as I found out. SP Balasubramanyam played the rare hero role in the film as a widower. He sings nonstop a song holding his breath for over a minute in the movie, which became a record in those days. His daughter in the picture stops him from remarrying. Obviously this is what my relatives were trying to relay to me. The film hurt me immensely but SPB’s offbeat romance with Radhika showed to me how love can be so mature. SPB turned out to be a natural actor fitting the role perfectly.

Post marriage, I happened to see repeat of this picture many times. Over years, my take on life too has changed. From confused angry teenager/young woman, I have also aged to accept things as they are and grow more tolerant and accommodating. One more SPB picture ‘Sigaram’ was like Part II of ‘Keladi Kanmani.’ For this one, SPB scored the music himself. Class. A very mature storyline. I always wondered why SPB chose to act in these two pictures. They were out of the ordinary no doubt. Of course the compelling script and story telling must have been the reasons.

In the year 1993, SPB numbers were superhit in ARR musical Roja which was dubbed into Hindi. The same year before I got married, I watched the first picture ‘Marupadiyum’ with my would be-hubby in cinemas. A remake of ‘Arth’ from Hindi. ‘Nalam vaazha ennalum’ was a beautiful meloncholy but with that one, we left the theatre. So much for watching a film for the first time as a couple! Wrong choice but the music made it worthwhile. Around this period I believe SPB peaked in his career as the threshold to Tamil cinema music was broken open and we had more aspiring playback singers flooding and trying their luck in Indian film industry. However to my knowledge, none has been able to breach SPB’s top spot to this day. I could detect some copycats of SPB in fact who would not focus on originality! SPB went on with his musical odyssey unperturbed by new developments but learning to adapt to new technology and new producers (people) and new audience. That is something we all have to learn from him. In the process he antagonized none. The more successful he proved, the more humble and down to earth he transformed into.

I loved SPB’s ‘Saajan’ songs that I knew by heart and sang to myself in the 90s. His ‘Ek duje ke liya’ did not impress me much probably because I didn’t feel at ease with his hindi. In Saajan he had turned around. But i love to bits his ‘valaiyosai galagalavena’ that he sung with Latha Mangeshkar in Tamil. His another beautiful number is ‘pallavi illamal paadugiren’ for Laxmikanth Pyarelal. In ‘Shankarabharanam’ from late 1970s SPB proved to us that mastering classical music need not have to be a qualifying criteria for aspiring musicians. You can be a natural without cultivated practice. Sometimes I think may be this is the secret formula for his success. ‘Kaadu madhiri control pannadha valarchi.’ As someone who was not a trained singer, SPB knew no bounds and had nothing to hold him back. His ‘Kaadhal oviyam’ renditions for instance. Every single one in this album keeps reverberating in the background of my mind pretty often, decades after it was composed and recorded.

Even until very recently SPB enthralled us with his sunny ‘sahana saaral thoovudho’ and ‘ballelakka’ lending voice for Rajni Kanth. Ballelakka especially with its tongue twisting lyrics used to amaze me. His trademark was that he was much emotive vocally, laughing and crying and rejoicing as the lyrics/verses and situation demanded. Voice modulation was his greatest asset.

In this middle age, I also play SPB’s ‘Lingashtakam’ and other devotionals every other day. SPB’s Arunalachala renderings move me to tears along with Ilayaraja’s own. We started going to Thiruvannamalai in the year 1997 before my husband took up his first foreign posting. Roads were crude then. One lane. And the temple town used to be empty for Pournamis! Throughout the trip in that eerie quiet and dark of the night when we would return, this is what we heard. Until today for temple visits etc., we play mostly this kind of music over slokas during long drives. Mantras demand concentration. SPB and Ilayaraja devotions are as breezy. Some verses can touch a chord in you as you weave your way through that spiritual journey…

A few years back when my aunt was admitted in a hospital for knee replacement, i got to learn that the adjacent suite was SPB’s for months, vacated only days earlier. I was attending to my aunt for 3 days. Apparently SPB had had his bariatric surgery. For those 3 days I tried to quiz the nursing staff as much as possible for any info on SPB the legend. They told me, in the hospital he was just like any other patient. Fair enough. I wanted to see the suite by myself and actually walked through it hahaha! I pictured him there and came back to tell my aunt about it! My aunt wished SPB had waited until her knee surgery so that both of us could have shaken hands with him. My hubby as usual teased me that i narrowly missed the photo opp and the chance to update my profile pic in FB with SPB! I don’t have the celebrity craze but SPB was different. For him, I had respect and reverence. I was in awe of him. It was not his star value that attracted me but his s0-called gentle manners, his sweet bubbly persona. He was my mother’s generation and that somehow mattered to me.

In every phase of my life, this man had a presence like in most of my girls’ – the 70s & 80s teens… we can’t put it into words how exactly we felt then… but we realize now that SPB is an emotion for us… We connect him with so many, many happy memories…

Dear SPB sir, you are leaving us with a very sweet lingering aftertaste you know. Will there ever be anyone like you again? I even loved your first one ‘aayiram nilave vaa’ for MGR. I used to wonder what kind of young man you must have been to have sung it for the doyen of Tamil film industry then in that adolescent voice of yours. I would think your voice broke out right after that recording! I have read about your humility, a rarity especially in the face of such a huge Himalayan success, i have followed your concerts world wide on and off without really consciously keeping track of you. You just were there all the time. What a phenomenal journey yours must have been. A life well lived sir, hats off to you! Gentle sweet soul.

I just lost one more dot that connected me to my parents…

Posted in Indian Art Culture Music

The Hindu Gift To World Music: Classical Music Instruments


Very few cultures in human race are gifted with rare acumen of producing, creating soulful music. Hindus are one such a gifted and unique species which is why India is home to not just one but two genres of Desi Classical Music: the Hindustani stream of the north and Carnatic classical of the south (apart from native classical dance forms from every other state that merit a separate write-up in their own right).

The aim of this post is to make a brief, if not complete, record of Hindu contribution to world music (by way of music instruments only). So this list is not exhaustive. There is scope for future additions.

India’s native classical instruments comprising the Stringed ones (like Sitar and Veena), Percussion (drums such as Mridangam and Tabla) and Wind (like the Bansuri) command a special place in global music stage, with Sitar and Tabla adapted by a wide range of western music followers. An array of other instruments vastly remain unpopular, although thriving in local scene, with the music tradition dying a slow death in some cases as in rural/folk country.

Hindus revere musical instruments which find a place in ritual worship by way of ‘puja’ (service), the highest respects, tributes, mankind can ever give these finest creations of God who gifted us the basic ‘Sapta Swaras’ (the seven notes of scale) that form the core of all sounds/tunes and beats (raags and taals) in universe. Simply everything is contained in ‘Sapta swaras.’ There is no sound or vibration that is out of scope of ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ne’ right?

musical instruments along with books and other tools find a venerable place in Hindu worship; this is Saraswathi Puja aka Ayudha Puja celebrated on the 9th day of Navrathri in the south.

We Hindus believe, Veena is the instrument of the very Goddess of learning/knowledge/wisdom Mother Saraswathi. If Saraswathi reigns supreme, Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth/fortunes and Shakthi, the Goddess of power/energy/strength cannot be far behind.

Lord Ganesha is revered as the master of drums.

India thus is this divine home where we view everything – including inanimate objects like music instruments, as life.

Our classical traditional instruments have less and less number of learners, teachers (gurus) and followers these days which is a big concern. This precarious situation endangers the transition of our native and pedigree music passed on over the millennia from our ancestors, to next generation. The music scene in Chennai, the gateway to Indian culture, is vibrant. Chennai is home to Carnatic  attracting thousands of classical music exponents and disciples from around the world during the famous December Music Season (Margazhi). But of late, even here we see vocal music gaining an overwhelming predominance over instrumental music which is kind of sad. Very few youngsters take to Indian instruments these days and interest is waning.

In Hindu culture, music translates to spirituality. Music is essentially a form of ‘bhakthi.’ Bhakthi and Music intertwine in search of the ultimate bliss: Nirvana.  That is why we have Meera Bhajans for instance or even the Thiruppavai-Thiruvembavai (in Tamil Nadu). The ‘Divine Being’ for Hindus revels in soulful music.’ Meera sang to her eternal love Krishna and her renditions are timeless.

Bansuri, the flute, is also the instrument of Lord Krishna, played in India for eons. The western flute version differs slightly from original desi version.  Called ‘Pullankuzhal’ in tamil, the south Indian flute is also a tad different from the northern Indian bansuri. Thus there is not a thing that Hindus did not discover or invent in an ancient civilization that pre-existed the current one.

The amazing north-south sync in the Indian classical music versions north & south of Tropic of Cancer is brilliant: The Sitar of north’s equivalent in the south is Veena. The Mridangam from down under finds a mate in Tabela (tabla) up north. The Nadaswaram (nagaswaram) played in south Indian weddings is substituted with Shehnai or Shenoy without which there is no north Indian wedding.

‘Yaazh’ (as proncounced in ‘Yaazhpaanam’ a Tamil city in Sri Lanka) is a unique ancient Thamizh stringed musical instrument. ‘Jalatharangam’ also specific to India played with bowls of varied sizes with different levels of water, gives a rare musical vibration.


Pranaams to Hindustani/Carnatic Classical and Folk Music traditions of Bharath (India)!

Computerized synchronization is killing traditional and native classical instruments of India in such an obscene fashion. Art is dying, artisans are dying because of electronic synthesis of our musical reverberations, even if it can be argued that this is one more step in evolution of music. Is it really possible to produce the ‘ghamaka’ of Veena cent percent with computers? No way! The finest nuances of Veena can be produced only in the instrument.

There are deliberate, steady and systematic designs and manipulations to trivialize, devalue, discredit and even disinherit (us of) and usurp anything and everything Hindu by gene, culture & heritage by some quarters, which is highly alarming. Aryabhatta was indeed the world’s first astronomer. Sushrutha was the world’s first plastic surgeon unquestioningly. Bhaskara did give the world Calculus and Trigonometry and Hindus did invent the Zero concept. Ayurveda to Yoga and Meditation, there is not a field ancient Hindus did not touch or pioneer in. Everything ground to a standstill by 7th century CE. Why. We Hindus never bother about patents either. Vasudeiva Kudumbakam, World is one family for us.

I have a request before I close: Dear Indian parents, PLEASE ENROLL YOUR KIDS FOR CLASSICAL INDIAN MUSIC INSTRUMENT TRAINING rather than aspire for Dance shows in television channels. You will be rendering yeoman service to Bharat Matha, Mother India.