This was a rendezvous that was two millennia in the making. What else can you say about this album? Surprising isn’t it, that this mother lode of possibilities stayed untouched for two thousand years? I don’t mean from a research or academic point of view. Plenty on that front. I mean musically. Except for that ever popular yayum njayum that keeps popping up occasionally in film lyrics and the single-line-but-poem-in-itself yathum oore yaavarum kelir that starts off the hit song from the 70s superhit Ninaithale Inikkum, the bulk of Sangam poetry has been pretty unexplored in popular genres of music.
But to quote from a pair of very wise fools, “Ellathinum athintethaya samayamille Dasa?” and the time for Sangam poetry is now. North Carolina based Composer Rajan Somasundaram presents a rare bouquet of Sangam poetry exquisitely set to music on the grand scales of a symphony. Maestro William Curry who has conducted 30+ of the biggest orchestras in the country conducts the Durham Symphony for this album, also featuring an ensemble of 98 internationally acclaimed musicians and an eclectic mix of some of the most popular singers in India including Bombay Jayashri and Karthik.
Rajan has released the first song in the album, Veral Veli and this piece is sung by Bombay Jayashri. Veral Veli was authored by the poet Kapilar and is the 18th poem in Kurunthokai, part of the 2380 poem Sangam poetry compilation. This is a love poem set in the Kurinji landscape (mountains) and when you read the translation of these lines originally written in classical Tamil/Sangathamizh, you will realize that when it comes to love and longing, some things never change – whether you belong to the 2nd century BCE or 2020 CE.
The lines are spoken by the Nayaki’s friend to the Nayakan, delivering a message. (I prefer the Sanskrit/Tamil terms to the English hero and heroine. These somehow sound fuller) The message is simple. “Dude, you’d better hurry if you want your girl. She’s pining away like crazy and you know she’s at her prime. Someone’s going to come pluck her away or she’ll die pining. Either way you’ll lose her. She’s hanging on by a fragile thread. So, chop chop…” Only, Kapilar makes it sound good with his choice of words, metaphors, and poetic skill.
The words are a subtle reproach – gently goading, with a tinge of mild sarcasm – chiding him for not keeping his word about meeting her soon and letting him know that if he does not act soon, he’s going to lose his love.
The composition captures the spirit of these words and draws you into the conversation. Bombay Jayashri’s mellifluous rendition packs a subtle punch with an underlying tone of lighthearted teasing. It is amazing what a seasoned singer can bring to a composition, infusing it with the right nuances and depth of feeling.