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Bharathiyar’s Oozhikoothu – The Dance of Kali

When, Composer Rajan Somasundaram told me his next project (after the brillianlty done Sangham poetry album Santham), was a song by Subramania Bharathiyar, I was already looking forward to it. And when he told me which poem he had chosen for his project,  I looked forward to it even more. Then he dropped the bombshell.

“Can you please translate the poem?”

The looking forward took a backseat now. A long way back.

The thing is, I have attempted a few translations of Bharathiyar, the firebrand Tamil poet who not only roused a whole generation to clamor for freedom, but also awakened in them concepts of equality, feminism, self-respect… all the good stuff…  He was a man born far, far ahead of his times, a man whose revolutionary ideas, I sincerely think even our generation is not ready for.  As for my translation attempts, they all looked feeble next to the original words of fire. Nothing could capture the essence of his words.

And the poem Rajan had chosen was Oozhikkoothu!! To put it simply, The Big Bang Theory. To be more specific, the cyclic destruction and resetting of the universe. The three worlds, the five elements, Time and Space itself are destroyed in an explosion of pure energy. Everything flows back into that energy and this explosion of pure energy  is described as the Dance of Kali – Her Dance of Destiny. The annihilation is followed by tranquility in the form of Shiva, and then recreation. The universe is reset and creation begins anew.

And Bharathiyar writes about it in his inimitable style. Fiery, powerful, thundering. And here I was asked to capture that in English. I was terrified to even touch it. English sounds so puny, incapable of conveying even an iota of what the original holds. Forget about lost in translation. I didn’t even know where to start. 

However, Rajan gave me the confidence to get going and explained the poem in detail to me, clueing me in on all the nuances. With complete awareness of my limitations and with a thousand apologies to the great poet, everyone who loves his work,  Tamil poetry, and the language in general, I took a stab at it. 

Of course it is a pale imitation. There are no English words, at least none that I know, to correctly convey the chaos and the thundering rhythm, the explosive energy, the destruction, and the recreation, that the cascading, almost onomatopoeic Tamil original does. But this is what it is, and you can read it as the subtitles/CC in the video.

On the other hand, the composer has masterfully managed to capture the right emotions with his music. It has been playing on a loop on my laptop since this morning and I still get goosebumps. At times, I just want to leave my seat, throw caution to the winds and step out in a dance of joy, never mind my pathetic dancing skills. The music just makes you want to move. Physically and spiritually.

The energetic and pulsating beginning seeks rhythm out of the emerging chaos,  and descending from that crescendo, the flute steps in, unobtrusive, serene, gliding in and you can see Kali transforming right before our eyes as she sets eyes on the tranquil Shiva. Her wrath melts away and she reaches out to him. The chapter on destruction closes and a new chapter begins. Universe reset. Let Life begin.

Sathyaprakash the singer has done justice to the composition – both lyrical and musical. He hits those giddily high notes with aplomb and smoothly returns to serenity towards the end.

Composer Rajan Somasundaram, take a bow, for a job extremely well-done. That Mundasu Kavinjar would approve!




One response »

  1. I was a bit surprised you chose a ragam about rain, Amrithavarshini (a ragam that literally translates to showers of nectar of immortality) for a poem essentially about destruction by fire.

    But it works, and sounds amazing. And the translation is excellent. Kudos.

    Liked by 1 person


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