lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sex between sects

I find all this outrage and umbrage taken at arts rather bemusing, to say the least. Guardians of decency, morality and Indian culture decide what is acceptable and in doing so decide what is good for everybody; who made them arbitrators?

When they ban books, force art exhibitions to close and stop filmmakers plying their trade, these guardians of public propriety only display their own narrow-mindedness. When I read about these things I am always reminded of Tom Lehrer's assertion:

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder,
For filth (I'm glad to say) is in
the mind of the beholder.
When correctly viewed,
Everything is lewd.
(I could tell you things about Peter Pan,
And the Wizard of Oz, there's a dirty old man!)
I suppose I should be glad that these people don't seem to read science fiction. They'd have lynched Frank Herbert for his idea of Orange Catholic Bible,
the 'Accumulated Book,' the religious text produced by the Compendium of Ecumenical Translators. It contains elements of most ancient religions, including the Maometh Sarri, Mahayana Christianity, Zensunni Catholicism and Buddhislamic traditions. Its supreme commandment is considered to be: 'Thou shalt not disfigure the soul.'
When these guardians of public morals turn their attention to music and dance and their own faith, will they ban performing Jayadeva's ashtapadis? Kshetrayya? Will they raze Khajuraho? Will they prohibit the chanting of Lalitha Sahasra Naamam as it contains praises of the goddess body part by body part? Will they ban the Puranas and classics where gods copulate and covet other men's wives, ascetics lech, and unnatural births abound?

All right, I have finished ranting.

I have been thinking about this lovely padam of late. A padam is a slow composition with romantic or erotic love as theme, and features towards the end of a recital. This one though, I have not heard or seen performed, well known as it is.

Composed by Vangala Seenayya, better known as Ghanam Seenayya, this padam in raga Kuranji is brilliant. Then I found a version, much abridged in that only one charanam was sung, online. I was disappointed to hear it, I must say.

What was wonderful satire was turned into a dirge, and all playful humour was lost. Mispronunciations were there aplenty, the accent was awful and the phrases were broken in wrong places. That wasn't all or the worst, though. The singer ruined the punch line.

You see, artists tend to start with the anupallavi when performing padams; I don't like it, but it's a free world. But if the artist understood the lyric, and realised that the anupallavi contains the punch line, surely the song would have started with the pallavi? The joke is built declaration by declaration.

శివదీక్షాపరురాలనురా నే శీలమింతైన విడువజాలనురా
శివశివ గురునాజ్ఙ మీరనురా శ్రీవైష్ణవుడంటే చేరనురా
Sivadeekhshaa paruraalanuraa, nE Seelamintaina viDuvajaalanuraa,
Siva Siva gurunaajna meeranuraa, SreevaishNavuDanTE chEranuraa

I have been initiated into worship of Siva; I cannot forgo my virtue the least bit; in my god's name I won't break my teacher's commandment; I will not sleep with a man who worships Vishnu.

Ghanam Seenayya was a devotee of Ranganatha Swami of Sri Rangam, all known compositions of his bear the signature 'mannaaru ranga' and are dedicated to the god. So this is a tongue in cheek description of a seduction of a basivi, a woman dedicated to worship Siva by none other than the god.

I think we had greater levels of tolerance and sense of humour in earlier centuries. Taraa SaSaankamu, Tara's seduction of her husband's disciple Chandra, written around the same time, in the early eighteenth century, did not provoke howls of protest about degradation of morals. Siva deekshaa didn't either, for all that it poked fun at the differences in Hindu sects and insularity thereof.

Only the first charanam seems to be performed these days, which is a pity as one misses the point of the composition.

వడిగ వచ్చి మఠము జొరకుమురా శివార్చనవేళ తలుపు తెరువకురా
మడుగుకావిచెరగు దీయకురా మాటిమాటికి నీవు నోరు మూయకురా
vaDiga vachchi maThamu jorakumuraa, SivaarchanavELa talupu teruvakuraa
maDudukaavi cheragu deeyakuraa, maaTimaaTiki neevu nOru mooyakuraa.

Don't come rushing into the monastery, and open the door during my devotions; don't fumble with folds of my drape, don't keep silencing me. (maDugu is clean, kaavi is the saffron dye favoured by ascetics.)

పంచాక్షరీజపశీలనురా కూకిపలుకులు వినజాలనురా
కొంచెపు వగలు నేనెంచనురా మ్రొక్కుదు రుద్రాక్షసరులు తెంచకురా
panchaaksharee japaSeelanuraa, kookipalukulu vinajaalanuraa
konchepu vagalu nE nenchanuraa, mrokkudu rudraakshasarulu tenchakuraa

I am committed to reciting the panchaakshari mantra, I cannot listen to your sweet nothings; I will not consider your beguilements, I beg you, don't break my rudraaksha ropes. (kookipalukulu - sounds of a pigeon, cooing)

అజ్జచూచి చన్ను లదుమకురా నా సెజ్జగొలుసుబట్టి గదియకురా
బుజ్జగించకు పసిగోలనురా నా కెమ్మోవి నొక్కకు భక్తురాలనురా
ajja choochi channu ladumakuraa, naa sejjagolusubaTTi gadiyakuraa,
bujjaginchaku pasigOlanuraa, naa kemmOvi nokkaku bhakturaalanuraa

Don't squeeze my breasts at every chance, don't pull me closer by my sacred chain; don't cajole an innocent maiden, don't caress my mouth, I am a worshipper. (sejja is the pouch Shaivaites carry round their necks, containing the relics of their faith.)

మోము మోమునుబట్టి చేర్చకురా నీ నామముతోడ బూతిగూర్చకురా
వేమరు తొడభిక్ష వేడకురా పోపోరా మన్నారురంగ మల్లాడకురా
mOmu mOmunabaTTi chErchakuraa, nee naamamutODa booti goorchakuraa
vEmaru toDabhiksha vEDakuraa, pOpOraa mannaru ranga mallaaDukuraa

Don't bring your face close to mine, don't mix your sect markings with my sacred ash; don't repeatedly beg for alms of my thighs; get away with you, Mannaru Ranga, don't struggle with me. (toDa bhiksha is a lovely phrase, an euphemism for sexual favours, and mallaaDu is to grapple in close quarters)

As the song develops, it is clear that the seduction is proceeding apace. The nayaki keeps saying no, and yet in each charanam she permits more liberties. The last line makes you wonder who is seducing whom.

Now all Shaivaites can go to holy war with Vaishnavaites, having read this outrageous padam explained, ha!

This is my two-hundredth post, by the way.


Update: Here's a spirited rendition of the padam by S Janaki, in the film Pooja phalam, music score by S Rajeswara Rao. Link gratefully received from Megha.


Blogger Shirsha said...

And the worst part is, if you've seen the 'offensive' paintings you'll realise how all the more foolish all this is! In fact you'll find it amusing...Bah!

4:46 pm  
Blogger Kavita said...

people have all the time in the world for these silly things! the tv channels go over board with thei Breaking NEWS! congrats for the 200- wishing you many more readable posts- kavita

6:29 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

This is a nice post, Lali. Why didn't you hold forth more about the raga and the poet? Is the Natakuranji varnam by the same composer?

9:26 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

Lali, enjoyed the rant, as well as the beautiful poem (or rather, your translation of it- wish I knew Telugu!) The frequent attempts by the so-called moral brigade to stifle creative expression are sickening in the extreme.

8:19 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Shirsha- I know, it is absurd what things people find offensive.

Kavita- I don't watch telly, only do crosswords in the dailies, so I miss most of the 'breaking news' circus, thank goodness. And why is your blog invisible?

Ash- There's no pleasing you. The Natakuranji varnam is by Kuppusami, my books tell me. Unless you meant the ata tala varnam, which was composed by veena Kuppaiyar.

Dipali- Thank you. These keepers of our national morality amaze me with their presumption. How can they tell us what is obscene or in bad taste? As if we can't decide for ourselves?

10:33 am  
Blogger Siva Sivaaa said...

According to the guardians of 'Indian Culture' - YOU, yes, you are a HERETIC ;-)

1:42 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Siva- Hey, look who came commenting. Welcome back. Yeah, like they are going to issue death threats about a song written a couple of centuries ago. I am not too worried, unless you are planning to blow the whistle. :-)

2:57 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

Thou shalt not disfigure the soul.
Methinks this is the single most relevant religious truth ever.

8:34 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Dipali- Right, now consider yourself entered in the books of dangerous people as a candidate for inciting indecency, provoking moral outrage whatever that means, and more. The guardians of our thought processes know the best, after all.

I thought it was a profound insight too, by the way.

9:55 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

The more insecure an edifice, more violently it wobbles at the smallest disturbance.
What worries me, apart from the violent behaviour of the few, is the lack of response by the more mature body-politic. If they consider outright condemning of such behaviour as a potential to lose votes, does it mean that there are many voters who approve of this behaviour ??

9:48 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- Sigh. Your first sentence said it all. And it is scary to contemplate.

9:20 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

Vinod read this blog yesterday- he is most impressed. Had to pass this on to you!

8:31 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Dipali- Lady, pass my thanks to Vinod.. :-)

10:36 am  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

Beautiful poetry and translation, Mrs. M. I wish I was capable of such things too..

4:10 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ram- Thanks. But give it a try before dismissing your capabilities so. You might surprise yourself.

7:17 pm  
Blogger S said...

Thats a nice article.
I have fallen in love with the S.Janaki version of the song..and have been exploring the web to know its details in the past 1-2 weeks. As of now, this is the best info I got apart from one more source.(with meaning....owing to my restricted "old" Telugu really helped)


12:13 pm  

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