Setting poetry to music – Pushing Boundaries (Part 2)

In an earlier column we explored how musicians attempt to push boundaries in their presentations, particularly by bringing poetry, often arcane, to the stage. In this post, let’s continue examining how others have attempted to similarly expand both the listeners’ choices and their own exploration of vernacular poetry.

Swati Tirunal is perhaps the most famous of all poet-composers from Kerala. The works of other Malayalam poets such as Warriyar, Thampi, Tulasivanam are slowly becoming popular as they are presented as songs thanks to the efforts of vocalists such as Shankaran Namboothiri. Here is the composition “Karuna Cheyvaa Enthu Thaamasam” of Irayimman Thampi in praise of Lord Guruvayoorappa rendered by Jesudas in raga Yadukala Kambodhi. The original piece was set in another raga, but Chembai Bhagavathar (Jesudas’s guru) sang this song in raga Yadukula Kambodhi. 


Kshetrayya (also called Kshetragna) was a Telugu poet who created a niche with his evocative padams. A padam is a musical composition set as a monologue that shows the feeling of one lover has for another. It is commonly heard in dance recitals and at the end of musical concerts. Kshetrayya’s padams were centered on Lord Krishna devotee and her love for him. Listen to the famous “Ososi” padam in raga Mukhari rendered by stalwarts T. Brinda and T. Mukta who were the pioneers of this musical form.


Of late, Rabindra Sangeet is being heard in classical concerts with greater frequency. Whether a concert by the legendary MS Subbalakshmi or Vijay Siva, from the current crop of top-notch musicians, the lyrics and melody of these evocative songs have raised the performance to another level. Here is the popular Rabindra Sangeet piece “Amaar Mallika Bone” sung by MS Subbalakshmi.


Tiruppavai are devotional verses in Tamil by the Alwar saint Andal in praise of Lord Krishna. Tiruppavai concerts are becoming popular with Hari Katha exponents such as Kalyanapuram Aravamudachariar and more recently Vishakha Hari giving musical discourses on these verses. Tiruppavai are a part of the 4000 Divya Prabandhangal, compositions of the Alwar saints. The prabandhangal, as they are referred to, are chanted as verses and some have been set to music by different musicians. In fact, I’ve had the opportunity to present the works of Kulashekara Alwar,  in an album titled “Saranagathi” featuring 30 Divya Prabandhangal set to music in the form of a ragamalika. Here is a snippet from Saranagathi.

Change is inevitable with the times and musicians continue to expand their repertoire and creativity. Do let me know your thoughts as to how you feel about the music scene evolving in your eyes.

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About Chitra Srikrishna 0 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.