Bhavageethe – Poetry and Music

Songs are but poetry set to music some would argue. In Kannada, such poetry set to music, is called Bhavageethe. From the vachanas to the dasarpadas to the poems of Kuvempu, composers have added to the allure of the poetry, by setting them to music. Vachanas are devotional octets composed by Veerashaiva saints from Karnataka such as Akka Mahadevi and Basavanna. They are characterized by simple lyrics that speak directly to the listener.

By bringing poems to non-readers, Bhavageethe have enjoyed great popularity in Karnataka. As with many fields, specialists that focus singing Bhavageethe have emerged. One such popular singer amongst the current crop of performers is M.D. Pallavi.

This weekend, as part of the Sontakke Global Music festival, Pallavi gave a short performance at the Bangalore Gayana Samaja. Despite its brevity the session had a tremendous impact on the audience. As she presented the work of composers Mysore Ananthaswamy, and HS Venkateshmurthy’s Kannada translation of a Surdas Bhajan in raag Bhairavi, the lyrical nature of the songs had some people in the audience singing along.

Poetry set to music is not confined to Kannada literature alone. Vernacular poetry from the Divya Prabandham of the Alwar saints in Tamil, Kabir’s dohas, Sangam literature such as the verses from Silappadikaram (MS Subbalakshmi singing Vadavaraya Mathakki at her UN concert in 1966) have all been brought to life by composers and musicians. In modern times poets such as Bharathiyaar and Kannadasan in Tamil or Gulzar in Hindi have been a great source of popular songs that started their lives as poems.

Enjoy MD Pallavi singing a bhavageethe set to music by HS Venkateshmurthy in raag Bhairavi. 

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About Chitra Srikrishna 50 Articles
Chitra Srikrishna is a Carnatic vocalist and writer living in Bengaluru & Columbus. Chitra blogs for Sruti, runs the podcast Raga Ruminations and produces RaagTime, a radio show on Indian music. Her albums include devotional poetry of Tamil Alwars & Dasa kritis, & thematic compositions on Rama and Hanuman. She's the musical half of a multimedia performance duo HumRaag. Her program BHAKTHI explores the journey of the mystics of India. Her latest Antah Prerna -A Musical Telling of an Entrepreneur's Journey debuted at Bangalore International Centre in 2018.