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A Song that is a Barometer and a River Like no Other – Neeraduvan Nilayil

And Quiet Flows the Nila

And Quiet Flows the Nila (Pic Courtesy : Wikipedia)

There must be something in the waters of Bharathapuzha. How else do you explain all that cultural, literary, spiritual and artistic magnificence that sprouted and thrived along its banks?

Unfortunately all that magnificence seems to have given way for maleficence these days from what I hear. The general malaise of corruption that seems to be killing life as it should be lived everywhere, is slowly choking the life out of Bharathapuzha too. But we are not here to discuss that. It’s Bharathapuzha as Nila that I come to talk about and as Nila, she continues to flow unabated, because she flows where no corruption can breach an entry – in the psyche of every Malayali who cherishes his art, his music and his poetry. And there, she is no mere river; she is a manifestation, of a whole ethos.

Me? I have never seen the river, but she flows forever in my mind – serene, graceful, gentle and lyrically soothing.

Nila has held sway over the Malayali psyche ever since he put pen to paper and word to music. She has been a recurring presence in every art form – popular or otherwise – songs, poetry, movies, either as the focus of attention or gently meandering along as a quiet background, an omnipresent witness to the unfolding events.

And among all references to Nila, the closest to my heart is this:

Song: Neeraduvan Nilayil Neeraduvan
Movie: Nakhakshathangal
Lyrics: ONV Kurup
Music: Bombay Ravi
Singer: KJ Yesudas

The song’s composer Bombay Ravi, who was so finely attuned to the music in the Malayali’s heart, heard the notes of the Nila, and poured it all into a crucible, to melt, shape and chisel into a brilliant masterpiece.

Neeraduvan is one of his best and easily one of the permanent fixtures in my list. It’s a song that has always been a fail proof measure of my moods and thus a barometer of my mind. If I was happy, it sent waves of joy crashing along the shores of my soul and if I was feeling low, it could reduce me to tears. Not that it is a particularly sad song, but there is an underlying, almost imperceptible undertone of melancholy running through it, that you recognize only when your heart is vibrating at the same frequency. It rouses a feeling of loss, of something you cannot quite wrap your mind around; just an irreplaceable sense of loss of something you knew you never had.

From the initial aalap to the soothing conclusion, the song is sheer magic. The pleasantly long aalaap, that this Voice and only this Voice could have carried off, rises like a miracle from the heart of the river and the poet lyricist’s mind and soars away, carrying you along with promises of enchantment that lie ahead. Then it slowly proceeds to the ebbs and the swells, and the occasional moonlit sandbank midstream.

The simple narration of the sensuous disrobing of the voluptuously wet moon that sends a delightful sandal chill spreading along the river banks, the fragrant blooms along the waters, the wood nymphs gilding their hair, the lovelorn gandharvan and his enchanted music, everything together conspire to carry you away into a land of music and magic; of gandharvas and nymphs and a love that although never mentioned, always exists.

And naturally, for a song that enchants and mesmerizes to this extent, the composer could have chosen none other than what is probably his favorite raga. He loved this raga so much that he repeated it for two more songs in the same movie. The lilting Manjal Prasadavum, which won KS Chithra her second National Award and the ethereally beautiful Aareyum Bhavagayakanaakkum.

Neeraduvan Nilayil Neeraduvan is BEAUTIFUL, and not just in the name of its Raga – Mohanam. And despite the mention of sandal in the lyrics, this song reminds me of Ramacham or Vettiver – cooling, soothing and essentially purifying.


20 responses »

  1. Great post.

    I just wondered if there is a song which describe a night so beautifully and effortlessly. Searched to see what others say about it and found this blog . Perhaps “Vaaka poo maram choodum” match it with lyrics but when it comes to tune , this wins .


  2. Barring a few words here and there, I couldn’t make out the meaning of the lyrics. Still, the song managed to get in between me somehow, perhaps it’s the melancholy, like you said. This must have been one of ONV’s (RIP) favorite, I guess. Yesudas and Ravi took it further; polished it, and bestowed it a glint that will shine through ages. Your words too, ma’am, did justice to the masterpiece. Thanks very much for the article. It will help the illiterates like me to get the meaning as well as the context. I have taken the liberty to borrow a paragraph out of your blog for my FB post. Have also shared the link to your blog. Thanks again. Cheers!


  3. I think the raga of the Alap of this song is arabhi


  4. Manoj Pavithran

    Just happened to stumble on this page. I have to say, your description is as eolquent as the song is beautiful…and the song is beautiful


  5. Pingback: Post 101- Looking Back with Gratitude | Kurukshetra

  6. came across this while searching about literary works on nila.

    nice to read about nila & had expresed well the power and magic of the lyrics & music which take one, who loves bharathapuzha, to a nice mood.


  7. This was a very inconsequential post. Just a few lines about my love for this song. I know nothing about the science of music or the intricacies behind it. And that is precisely why I never write about that. All I know is how a song makes me feel and what it does to me, and maybe something about the lyrics because of an innate love for words. That was all that prompted me to write this post about one of my favorite songs.
    I wrote it, I posted it and there it was. Perhaps a few comments, a few likes a few readers… I did not expect anything more than that.
    But some posts refuse to live inconsequential lives. They take on a life of their own and become something else entirely – like a catalyst, in this case.

    What I thought was just another post of mine opened up some floodgates and what poured forth was a goldmine (pardon the mixed metaphors here) of information from renowned musicians and esteemed critics. So much so that I thought it would be a shame if I did not save that cornucopia of information and (selfishly) add to my blog. They have been kind enough to let me do so, and my thanks to all those involved.

    Steve Mathen, (Musician, Music Composer and Expert), who posted the article on his Facebook page, Rex Isaacs Sir, a musician with three decades of experience in the music industry (he was part of the orchestra of this song), Ethiran Kathiravan, well-known for his brilliant pieces on art, music and movies and Jayashree Thottekkat (writer, friend and fellow music lover) for asking the right questions☺

    Here it is, the post and the entire chain of conversation borrowed from Steve Mathen’s FB page.


  8. Well said, Remi. You have found words to express your love for this song.


  9. Jyothi Unniraman

    You saidi it,Remi….a touching tribute ton a great song.Congrats !


  10. An all time favourite of mine too Remy.Play the song close your eyes and you can see the pale blue moonlight glistening on the Kaithas,feel the cool breeze and your afloat on Nila.
    Bombay Ravi’s music,especially the BGM ( my recent enlightenment tells me that the credit might go to somebody else) is heavenly.Thanks for a treatise on the song.Will come back and read again in detail


  11. And how can one forget the heart-in-a-vise Karayunnu Puzha chirikkunnu, which also explores the “vulnerability” of Nila. Beautiful read.


  12. Vino Kingston




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