Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent. – Victor Hugo
While literature is a feast for the soul through eyes, music does the job through the ears. Much like literature, music evokes emotions and feelings within the listener. When poetry is (literally) set in motion with music, the effect is a feast for the senses, complementing each other and creating emotions that are not possible by either of them alone, thereby making a sum greater than the parts.
The combination also provides abundant opportunities for those who appreciate both forms of art, allowing them to play with permutations and combinations that were not initially conceived, keeping the art alive and relevant for ages beyond its inception.
One of the most memorable songs from BhArathiyAr is பாயும் ஒளி நீ எனக்கு (paayum oLi nee enakku) that is within the கண்ணம்மா (kaNNamma) series that contains a number of romantic songs inspired by his wife chellamma.
BhArathiyAr lets his imagination soar to new heights here, describing their relationship with several metaphors that will give modern day poets as well as the logical portion of GMAT and GRE exams a run for their money! While the poem itself is a pleasure to digest even at a cursory glance, digging deeper brings additional joy. The choice of words and adjectives are exquisite.
The poem is structured in sets of relationships in the format “you are X to me as I am Y to you”, showing how inseparable they are and how they complement each other in life.
Give and Take
பாயும் ஒளி நீ எனக்கு, பார்க்கும் விழி நான் உனக்கு
தோயும் மது நீ எனக்கு, தும்பி அடி நான் உனக்கு
வாய் உரைக்க வருகுதில்லை வாழி நின்றன் மேன்மை எல்லாம்
தூய சுடர் வான் ஒளியே சூறை அமுதே கண்ணம்மா
paayum oLi nee enakku, pArkkum vizhi naan unakku
thOyum madhu nee enakku, thumbi adi naan unakku
vaai uraikka varugudhillai vaazhi nindRan mEnmai ellAm
thooya sudar vaan oLiyE sooRai amudhE kaNNamma
You are rays of light that hit me, while I am the eyes that can see (because of the light) and absorb the rays;
You are the dripping honey from flowers, while I am the bee that gets pleasure from it;
You are faultless as a flame – I don’t have words to describe (your love for me), but can only wish that your virtue shines forever.
What powerful sentences to start the poem! The adjectives (பாயும் ஒளி – bounding rays of light) and (பார்க்கும் விழி – the eyes that see) are subtle touches of brilliance and brings to the center, the notion of subjectivity in a relationship.
What is the point of abundant light when there are no eyes that are open to take the views in?! How will anyone know the pleasure of the nectar when there is no bee to convert it into honey?
Another subtle touch here is that one side of the relationship is independent and ‘giving’ while the other is dependent and ‘receiving’. Light will be there regardless of the eyes. But eyes are not helpful if they are not open or in darkness! BhArathiyAr is subtle but clear in his humility in appreciating his wife’s unconditional love to him in his own inimitable way.
In the subsequent verses, he describes their relationship in various ways, each with corresponding metaphors.
Enhancement and Embellishment
Moving on from the ‘give’ and ‘take’ pattern, BhArathiyAr elaborates on how he acts as a Decorator to his wife – helping her shine better and increasing his own value by that process.
வீணை அடி நீ எனக்கு மேவும் விரல் நான் உனக்கு
பூணும் வடம் நீ எனக்கு புது வயிரம் நான் உனக்கு
… தாரை அடி நீ எனக்கு தண் மதியம் நான் உனக்கு
You are the veena (Indian lute) to me, while I am the skilled fingers that make music (out of the veena);
You are the bangle, while I am like a new diamond that brings additional luster to the bangle.
You are the flowing stream in the night, and I am the full moon that reflects on its surface (and makes it glisten like silver)
Reacting to and channeling the untamed energy
Elsewhere, BhArathiyAr has described his strong notions on equality for women, driven both by his inherent beliefs and the prevalent social norms. His portrayal of woman as Shakti or pure energy represents his belief in the power and independence of women, a radical thought during his time. The verses in this song echo this sentiment where he sees himself as a mechanism to help channel this energy.
வான மழை நீ எனக்கு வண்ண மயில் நான் உனக்கு
… வீசு கமழ் நீ எனக்கு விரியும் மலர் நான் உனக்கு
… பானம் அடி நீ எனக்கு பாண்டம் அடி நான் உனக்கு
… பேசு பொருள் நீ எனக்கு பேணும் மொழி நான் உனக்கு
… செல்வம் அடி நீ எனக்கு சேம நிதி நான் உனக்கு
You are the rain, and I am the peacock that dances in joy (in response).
… You are the gentle breeze, and I am the flower that blossoms (in response)
… You are the quenching drink, and I am the container (that holds it).
… You are the meaning of words, and I am the linguistic construct (that helps express the words).
… You are the boundless wealth, and I am the savings fund.
The metaphors exemplify his convictions – where the female is the source of unbridled energy while he adds value to himself by reacting to and channeling that energy. This thought process is present throughout all the metaphors.
He sees him being attracted to his lover’s endless affection and thinks how best he can complement such a personality.
வெண்ணிலவு நீ எனக்கு மேவு கடல் நான் உனக்கு
பண்ணு சுதி நீ எனக்கு பாட்டு இனிமை நான் உனக்கு
You are the moon, and I am the waves of the ocean that are attracted to your pull.
You are the rhyme and rhythm, and I am the melody in the song.
Profoundly poetic metaphors that bring a bit of science without resorting to gimmicks!
Not only Bharathi sees himself as a complementary and supplementary support for his love, he sees true love as being unifying – two hearts beating as one.
காதல் அடி நீ எனக்கு காந்தம் அடி நான் உனக்கு
வேதம் அடி நீ எனக்கு வித்தை அடி நான் உனக்கு
நல்ல உயிர் நீ எனக்கு நாடி அடி நான் உனக்கு
You are the embodiment of love, and I am the attraction that is inherent in it.
You are the vedic scriptures, and I am the wisdom that is within them.
You are the life in a body, and I am the energetic pulse.
One interesting aside is the second verse. BhArathiyAr is hailed as the symbol of progressiveness and an antidote to Brahminical orthodoxy and related casteism that was prevalent during his time. True enough, he demonstrated these through his words and actions. At the same time, he was also a deep spiritualist, enjoying a close relationship with Sri Aurobindo when he was in Pondicherry and even receiving wisdom through many gurus on the Siddha lineage as well as within his own family following Vaishnavite tradition. Perhaps this gave him a unique perspective on vedic philosophy that he weaved through his songs seamlessly.
Over the last several decades and including the present time, where things are looked at in a more binary perspective, it would behoove us to take a page from BhArathiAr’s books where he had the wisdom to appreciate the value in both sides while not hesitating to raise a voice for what he felt were injustices without taking sides.
He tops off his song with a beautiful metaphor at the end:
வீரம் அடி நீ எனக்கு வெற்றி அடி நான் உனக்கு
You are bravery, and I am the victory that is its result!
This is quintessential of how we know BhArathiAr. Victory comes to those who are brave to face their fears and fight for what they believe in. While immediate victory may have eluded him in his lifetime, his bravery to raise the voice for many causes has won the hearts of millions since then, giving him everlasting fame!
While the poem itself is dense with beauty and purpose, it is taken to new levels when combined with another art form – music, which is what inspired this post. The tune to which these words are set, the characteristics of the singer’s voice, and the accompanying music evoke varied emotions to the same lyrics.
The most popular musical version of this song is from the film ஏழாவது மனிதன் (ezhAvadhu manidhan – seventh man). The film heavily leveraged BhArathiAr’s songs and were memorably composed by Late Sri. L. Vaidyanathan (of Malgudi Days theme music fame) in a traditional carnatic music fashion. The joyous tune and the sonorous voice of K J Yesudas bring to us the love and affection shown by BhArathiAr to his muse, Chellamma.
Another popular rendition of the song is by carnatic music maestro Ms. Bombay S Jayashree. In quite a contrast to the previous rendition, the singer lets her voice do the magic, with minimal background music support. The somber setting evoke either feelings of intense affection or that of sorrowful reflection of a person in solitude remembering his love. In either case, it is bound to pull the heartstrings of the listener.
But a masterpiece is always flexible enough to leave room for reinterpretation in the right hands. Even if written a hundred years back, the words are applicable even in a modern setting without impacting its soul, when handled elegantly, as is demonstrated by the Indian Raga team in their interpretation of this classic.
Just as BhArathiAr saw himself as embellishing and enhancing the inherent energy of his love, so have these musicians who have embellished and enhanced his lyrics to even greater heights than brought out by his words alone!
- Lyrical Delights – lyrics and explanation for the whole song
- Tamil and Vedas – Meaning of vedas within BhArathiAr’s songs
- Tamil Lexicon – additional explanation foro the song
- Mahakavi Bharathiar – history and influences on Bharathiar’s life