Composition Extraordinaire & Voice Immortal Series by Vicky Iyengar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Composition Extraordinaire & Voice Immortal Series – 17
Oru Sundariyude Katha – ഒരു സുന്ദരിയുടെ കഥ (1972) – “Navami Maha Navami” (നവമി മഹാ നവമി) – Raga: Sankarabharanam (സങ്കരഭരണം) – Composed by G Devarajan (ഗ ടെവരജണ്ണ്) – Voice: P Susheela (പുലാപക സുശീല) – Lyrics: Vayalar Rama Varma (വയലാര് രാമ വരമ )
The Film: Oru Sundariyude Katha is a 1972 Indian Malayalam feature film based on P Kesav Dev’s (b.1904) novel – “Oru Sundariyude Athmakadha”, directed by Thoppil Bhasi and produced by M Kunchacko under “Excel Productions” Banner. The film stars Prem Nazir, Jayabharathi, K P Ummer, Manavalan Joseph, Adoor Pankajam, Mavelikkara Ponnamma, Vijayakumari, S P Pillai, KPAC Lalitha & Adoor Bhasi in lead roles. The film had musical score by G. Devarajan. The cinematography was by U Rajagopal while Venkitaraman handled the editing.
Plot: The story (about the trails & tribulations of a woman) is set in a remote village. Sundari (Jayabarathy), a young woman, lives with her father (S P Pillai), step mother, sister and brother. Sundari is often subjected to eve-teasing and harassment. A cart vendor (Adoor Bhasi) in the local market spreads rumours about Sundari’s moral character, when her father arranges to get her married. Unable to defend her chastity, Sundari leaves the village & vows never to return back. Madan (Prem Nazir) who works as a porter in a railway station rescues her provides accommodation and rechristens her as ‘Lathika”. One night Madan tries to sexually harass Lathika in an inebriated state. Lathika fends of the attack and Madan turns remorseful. But due to attacks from other anti social elements in the neighborhood, both of them take shelter in a rich woman’s house (Adoor Pankajam). Lathika takes the job of a house maid but soon realizes that her duties include entertaining, rich and the powerful. One night, Madan happens to witness an assault on her womanhood and rescues her. Madan is arrested but eventually released. Students in a nearby hostel pen erotic songs connecting Madan and Lathika. Madan attacks them and lands in jail for 6 months. In the meantime she hears the news of her father passing away and becomes devastated. She gets acquainted with a powerful contractor’s family who introduces her to an engineer (K P Ummer). He forcibly violates her, but hearing her sad story, the engineer becomes remorseful. Upon release, Madan happens to meet Lathika in the engineer’s house whereupon she declares that she is settled.
The Crew: Kunchacko’s Udaya Studios produced 4 films: ‘Vellinakshatram’, ‘Nalla Thanka’, ‘Jeevithanauka’ and ‘Visappinte Vili’. Jeevithanauka (1951), starring Thikkurissy Sukumaran Nair was a commercial box office success and ran for 250 days. It was no looking back and Kunchacko went on to produce Achchan, Avan Varunnu and Kidappadam under the banner of Udaya. Kidappadam was a commercial failure, and that made Kunchacko to close down Udaya Studio for a while. However, it was revived again within a few years ably supported by an acquaintance. In 1960, Kunchacko ventured into film direction with “Umma” which he followed with “Neela Saari” and “Seetha”. He went on to direct 40 films in his career of many genres including Mythology, Vadakkan Pattu, Comedy and Societal-Themed films. Some of his notable films are “Bharya”, “Unniyarcha”, “Palattukoman”, “Sakunthala”, “Pazhassiraja”, “Mainatheruvi Kolacase”, “Ponnapuram Kotta”, “Anarkali” and “Kannappanunni”. Kunchako tasted success both as a Producer & Director. Directors like M. Krishnan Nair (Agni, Mrigam, Kattuthulasi), A. Vincent (Gandharva Kshethram), Thoppil Bhasi (Oru Sundariyude Katha, Ningalenne Communistakki) and K. Raghunath (Laura Neeyevide) have collaborated with Kuchako’s production house- Udhaya Studios.
Kesava Pillai of the Malayalam renaissance literature movement (b.1904), better known by his pen-name P. Kesavadev, was a novelist, playwright, social reformer of Kerala state, South India. “Odayil Ninnu” (From the Gutter 1942), “Nadhi”, “Bhrandalayam”, “Ayalkar” (Academy Award), “Ethirppu” (autobiography) and “Oru Sundariyude Athmakadha” are some among his celebrated 128 literary works. Kesava Dev emerged as one of the makers of modern Malayalam fiction. Dev employed commonplace themes and unconventional style of prose with ordinary mortals as heroes and heroines (a rickshaw puller as a hero in “Odiyil Ninnu”). “Bhranthalayam” (The Mad House; 1949) is a novel based on the tragedy of partition of the nation (brings out the ethnological dimensions). Rowdy (1958) the novel is based on the story of an orphan abused in every possible manner, resorting to arms in defence against the community. Ayalkar (The Neighbours; 1963) is Kesava Dev’s best known work – his masterpiece. The novel on the other hand narrates the history of the state for a period of about fifty years from the times of feudalism to the rise of the new era winning the author, the Sahithya Akademi Award. The other major novels are Nadi (1951), Ulakka (1951), Kannadi (1961), Sakhavu Karottu Karanavar (1961), Pankajakshiyude Diary (1963), Prema Viddi (1963), Swapnam (1967), Snehikkan Vendi (1967), Adhikaram (1968), Oru Sundariyude Atmakatha (1970). His unfinished novel “Padicha Kallanmar” was recently rewritten and published by his wife Seethalekshmy Dev. Kesava Dev has written about 300 short stories. Many of them are superb literary gems. A few major collections are: Annathe Nadakam (1956) (11 stories); Thiranjedutha Kathakal 1 (1965); (38 stories); Thiranjedutha Kathakal 2 (1989) (43 stories) & Katha – Dev (2000) (31 stories). Though Kesava Dev is well known for his contributions as a Novelist and Short Story writer, the full-length plays and one act plays he has written were very popular in those days and attracted huge audience when enacted on stages. The notable plays are: Pradhanamanthri (1940); Munnottu (1947); Manthriyaakkalle (1949); Njanippokamunistaavum(1953); Thondukari (1954); Mazhayangum Kudayingum (1956) & Orumur Thenga (1959)
Thoppil Bhasi (playwright, screenwriter, and film director) was associated with the communist movement in Kerala and his play “Ningalenne Communistakki” (You Made Me a Communist) is considered to be a groundbreaking event in the history of Malayalam theatre. Thoppil Bhasi’s dramas, “Mudiyanaya Puthran” and “Puthiya Akasham”, “Puthiya Bhumi” were awarded the Kerala Sahithya Academy Awards He was also the recipient of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Fellowship in 1981, Professor N Krishna Pillai Award and the Soviet Land Nehru Award. Thoppil Bhasi was prolific in terms of his creative output during his active years in theatre and movies. He authored 16 full-length plays, screenplays for over a 100 movies, directed 16 movies and his autobiography was titled, “Oliviley Ormakal”.
The Composer: G Devarajan: The “Grand Sire” of the Golden Era of Malayalam Film Music
With his heart deeply rooted in Communist ideals, a strict traditionalist, interpretationalist and a musical purist Paravoor Govindan Devarajan (പരവൂര് ഗോവിന്ദന് ദേവരാജന്), popularly known as G. Devarajan scored music for 337 Malayalam films & 12 Tamil films was a major force to reckon with in Malayalam film music and laid the substratum for it. Journalist K Santosh aptly describes the man & his music – “He was perhaps the first composer whose oeuvre defined and exemplified light music in its truest sense, broadening the emotions of the medium and reflecting the aspirations, agonies, joys and hopes of Kerala society”. Many of his compositions (all original) have been simply termed “immortal” and have withstood the tides of time. He was credited for composing film songs in maximum number of Carnatic “ragas”. His breadth of knowledge in Carnatic, Hindusthani or Folk music was simply astounding. He would infuse western harmonies in compositions deviating from the classical orthodoxy without desecrating the lyrics, retaining their true value.
Born at Paravur, Kollam district in Kerala, Devarajan (lit. translated King of the Celestials) rendered his first classical concert at the age of 18. He was soon attracted to the Communist movement and decided to dedicate his creative energy for popular music. He joined the once famous drama troupe of Kerala, the Kerala People’s Arts Club (KPAC). The work that brought him to limelight was the drama song (composed & sung by himself) titled “Ponnarivaal Ambiliyil Kanneriyunnoole”, written by his associate O. N. V. Kurup. KPAC and its members had a distinctive leaning towards the communist ideology, and their dramas did play a role in spreading the ideology among the Keralite masses. Through his compositions, Devarajan could cast an indelible imprint in the Malayali theatre arena, especially after the famous KPAC drama “Ningalenne Communistaakki” written by Thoppil Bhasi in 1952.
He became an independent composer with the film “Kaalam Maarunnu”, in the year 1955. The acclaimed lyricist Vayalar Rama Varma – Devarajan collaboration came to fruition with the film “Chathurangam” (1959). The movie “Bharya” (1962) was considered a milestone for both Vayalar & Devarajan. Thereafter the duo teamed up to produce some of the imperishable compositions such as “Vasantharaavinte”, “Odakuzhalum”, “Kaathe Vaa Kadale Vaa”, “Periyare Periyare”, “Kannuneer Muthumay”, “Marakkumo Enne”, “Paalazhikidavil”, “Edhu Kadalilo, “Urukiuruki”, “Thamara Kulakadavil”, Iniyente Inakkili”, “Parakkum Thalikayil”, “Muthusikkadha”, “Ashtami Rohini”, “Tharattu Paadadhe’, “Penkodi Penkodi”, “Kai Niraya Valayitta”, “Kaatil Ilam Kaaatil”, “Veetil Oru Thram”, “Swapnathilenne”, “Ekantha Kamukan”, “Priyathama”, “Shaarikapaithale”, “Malini Nadhiyil”, “Sapthsaagaraputhrigale”, “Muttathe Mullayil”, “Kalichimaaratha Kaalam”, “Chitrakaarante Hrudayam”, “Poovittu Poovittu”, “Mayilaadum Mathilakathu”, “Premakavithakalae”, Ezhu Sundara, “Akashangalilurukkum”, “Himavaahini”, “Mayilpeeli”, “Vellichirakulla”, “Njan Piranna Naatil”, “Anjyatha Gaayika”, “Vilichu Njan”, “Omanathinkal”, “Thinkalum Kathiroliyum”, “Mizhi Meen Pole”, “Urakam Varadha”, “Kilukilukam Kili”, “Sindhoora Meghame”, “Chethi Mandaram”, “Paathirapakshigale”, “Vadhuvaranmaare”, “Thappukottampuram”, “Parashuraman Mazhuverin”, “Seethadevi Swayamvaram”, “Kalyana Sougandhika”, “Thuranitta Jalangal”, “Daaliya Pookale”, “Yaamini Yaamini”, “Ellorum Paadathu”, “Pachamalaiyil”, “Madhyvenalavdhiyayi”, “Pooja Pooja”, “Karayathe Muthe”, “Paamaram Palungu”, “Kaveriponthennale”, “Naazhikamaniyude”, “Varshameghame”, “Poonthenaruvi”, “Sravana Chandrika”, “Maalakhamaar”, “Mallike Mallike”, “Palliyaramana”, “Abhinandanam”, “Raja Shilpi”, “Kaathuvannu”, “Mohalasyam”, “Chandrakiranam”, “Udhayagrikottaiyile”, “Eeso Mariyam”, “Navami Mahanavami”, “Sooryakantha”, “Yakshiamabala”, “Nalacharithrathile”, “Pranayakala Vallabha, “Kaidhapuzha”, “Onnam Ponnona”, “Maathave”, “Sanchari Swapna”, “Aakasham Mungiya”, “Neelambujakshimaare”, “Paathirathanupu”, “Poovukalku Punyakaalam”, & “Pachakarpooramalaiyil”.
Poet Vayalar: Vayalar Ramavarma (1928-75), often known as Vayalar, was a modern Malayalam language poet and lyricist from the southern Indian state of Kerala. His famous works include “Sargasangeetham”, “Mulankaadu”, “Padamudrakal”, “Aayisha”, “Oru Judas Janikkunnu”. He was awarded Kerala Sahithya Academy Award (Kerala literary academy award) in 1961 for Sargasangeetham, the President’s gold medal for best lyricist in 1974, and the Kerala state film award for best lyricist three times. Vayalar wrote about 2000 songs for 223 Malayalam movies and for several plays. Among his most popular songs is the one he wrote for theatre, the KPAC naatakagaanam, “Balikudeerangalae”. Many of his poems contain romantic notions about “revolution” and about the triumph of science over religion. He was associated with the leftist political movement in Kerala. The “Vayalar-Devarajan” was a prolific lyricist-composer combination which lasted till the death of Vayalar.
About the Raga: Often quoted as the “King of Carnatic Ragas”, Dhirasankarabharanam, commonly known as Sankarabharanam, is the 29th Melakarta raga in the 72 Melakarta raga system of Carnatic music. Since this raga has many Gamakas (ornamentations), it is glorified as “Sarva Gamaka Manika Rakti Ragam” in Telugu. Known as Bilawal in the Hindustani music system, this rāga offers a large scope for both melodious & majestic compositions. As it is a Melakarta rāga, by definition it is a Sampurna raga (has all seven notes in ascending (arohana) and descending (avrohana) scale. It is the Shuddha Madhyamam equivalent of 65th Melakarta raga Kalyani. Due to the even spacing of svaras, many janya rāgas can be derived from Sankarabharanam. It is one of the melakarta ragas that has high number of Janya rāgas (derived scales) associated with it. Many of the Janya ragas are very popular on their own, lending themselves to elaboration, interpretation and evoking different moods. Some of them are Arabhi, Atana, Bilahari, Devagandhari, Hamsadhvani, Kadanakutuhalam, Niroshta, Shuddha Sāveri, Purnachandrika, Janaranjani, Kedaram, Kurinji, Navroj, Sarasvati-Manohari, Nagadhvani etc. Sankarabharanam’s notes when shifted using Graha bhedam, yields 5 other major Melakarta ragas, namely, Kalyani, Hanumatodi, Natabhairavi, Kharaharapriya and Harikambhoji.
Sankarabharanam has been decorated with compositions by almost all composers (the Trinities) – Eduta Nilachite, Bhakti Bhikhamiyave, Maryadha Kadhura, Swararagasudharasa, Sundareshwaruni by Tyagaraja; Dakshinamurthe, Sadashivam Upasmahe, Akshayalingavibho and Sri Kamalamba by Muthuswami Dikshitar in Sanskrit, Pogadirelo Ranga by Purandara Dasa, Sarojadala Netri and Devi Minanethri by Syama Shastri in Telugu, Chalamela (Ata Tala Varnam) and Devi Jagath Janani by Swathi Thirunal, Alarulu Kuriyaga by Annamacharya in Telugu. The Hindustani equivalent Bilawal’s origin can be traced to a tribe called the Velavulli. Bilawal, despite its close resemblance to Sankarabharanam has tinges of Bilahari in it. The Indian national anthem is set to tune in Raag Bilawal (Alahaiya Bilawal).
Soundtrack: MaestroDevarajan picked his prized team to render the 5 compositions penned by Vayalar: “Arayilottamundudutha” (K J Yesudas), “Navami Maha Navami” (P Susheela), “Paavanamadhuraanilaye” (P Jayachandran), “Seethapakshi Seethapakshi” (P Susheela) & “Venna Tholkkumudalode” (K J Yesudas).
Reproduced below is the Libretto by Vayalar:
നവമി മഹാനവമി നാഥാ നര്മാധ നധികരൈയില്ല്
നവരാത്രി വളരതും കാമ സുരഭി
അമ്രുതവര്ഷിനിഗാല സ്വര ദെവതകല്ല്
ആരധിക്കമാരല്ലൊ ദേവി നിന് ആരധിക്കമാരല്ലൊ
സഖിഗലാല് അവരുടെ കരവള്ളികയിലെ
ശങ്കരബരനമായ് ഉണരെനും ഞാണ് ഉണരെനും
അമര സുന്ദരികല് ഋതു കന്യകകല്
പരിചാരികമാരല്ലോ ദേവി നിന് പരിചാരികമാരല്ലോ
അവരുടെ മണിരത്ന മണി മഞ്ഞുശേയുലെ
അഞ്ജലി മുകുലാമയ് വിടെരെനും ഞാണ് വിടെരെനും
navami maha navami naadha narmadha
nadhi karayil navarathri valarthum kaama surabhi
amruthavarshinikal swara dhevathakal
aaraadhikamaarallo dhevi nin aaraadhikamaarallo
sakhikalaal avarude karavallikayile
shankarabharanamaay unarenam njaan unarenam
amara sundarikal rithu kannyakakal
parichaarikamaarallo dhevi nin parichaarikamaarallo
avarude navarathna mani manjushayile
anjali mukulamaay vidarenam njaan vidarenam
The Unparalleled & Symmetrical Vocals of P Susheela: A “distinguished” composition needs a “celebrated” voice, and that’s exactly what Maestro Devarajan technically effectuated here. His favored songstress vocally steps in to complete the musical expedition of sorts with her involved comprehension. The subtle cessation after the beginning phrase “navami” sets the mood of the composition and the grandeur of the raga before she perseveres the oscillation to “maha navami”. In this vocal execution or construction, she outdistances her contemporaries. What better way to invoke the “aesthetics” of the raga than to just sing the first lyrical lines of this masterpiece “naadha narmadha nadhi karayil navarathri valarthum kaama surabhi”. Her tonal “shibboleth” paves the way for the elevation in “amruthavarshinikal swara dhevathakal aaraadhikamaarallo” to create the needed outcome – call it her exquisite “tonal art”.
If the prosodic beauty in the anupallavi (second lyrical lines) “sakhikalaal avarude karavallikayile shankarabharanamaay unarenam njaan unarenam” blends perfectly and is stunningly beautiful musically, it is due in no small measure to the great scope that the raga possesses and to the limitless creativity of Maestro Devarajan. The soprano passages it to extraterrestrial heights as she perorates in “unarenam njaan unarenam”. This composition is another masterpiece that testifies to his genius and wherein the music itself reveals in subliminal tone, the truth of the character played by the heroine, a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. In about three minutes the Maestro has intricately woven magic through the notes. His penchant to dwell in the ‘scalar’ details with “manodharma” was very evident. Such is the soulful quality of the song – label it a “chaste” music.
Her unerring faithful enunciation of the lyrics sought to highlight and brings out the total beauty of Vayalar’s third lyrical phrase “amara sundarikal rithu kannyakakal parichaarikamaarallo” adding transcendental quality to the rendition. The emotive “avarude navarathna mani manjushayile anjali mukulamaay vidarenam” was like caviar, never failing to thrill the cognoscenti, who knew the true value of these compositions – display of her brilliance indeed. The soprano struck an emotionally responsive chord in “anjali mukulamaay vidarenam njaan vidarenam”- with her “sui generis” glides and curves imparting a distinctive character to the song. Her vocal equilibrium (balancing the “sobriety” and the “grandeur “of the raga) was simply phenomenal. Her navigation through the minute nuances of the raga with the “sancharas” from the lower octave to the higher ones is extremely gratifying.
Whenever I think of “Sankarabharanam”, I am reminded of the living legend – the serene and divine vocals of P Susheela!