Timeless Tamil Ideas

Yaadum Oore – Yaavarum Kelir‘ (All Worlds are mine ; all beings are my kin) – thundered the Indian Prime Minister in Tamil, in the United Nations General Assembly ; paraphrased the words in Hindi, acknowledging the fact that they were written 3000 years ago by a Great Poet Kaniyan Poongundranaar.

The name Kaniyan Poongundranaar is known only to those familiar with Tamil Sangam Literature – a bygone golden era of Tamil history. More famous than his name are his words ‘yaadum Oore yaavarum kelir’ thanks to their periodic use in Tamil film music and  more importantly their simplicity, profundity and economy of expression.

These are powerful words, that at once establish the vision of a borderless planet and the kinship of the ancient Tamil mind with all of humanity.  As the PM reinforced, ‘This sense of belonging beyond borders is unique to India‘. Sanskrit phrases such as vasudhaiva kutumbakam and svadesho bhuvana trayam (Adi Sankara) echo the same spirit that is shared by hearts all across the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent.

The words யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர் form the opening phrases of a verse from the puranAnURu – புறநானூறு, one of the 8 compilations of verses the ‘eTTu thogai’ (a set of 8 compilations) dating back to the Sangam period – with such progressive ideas in currency when much of the world was battling for survival.

Fully translated, this verse reads thus.

All worlds are mine; all beings my kin. The good and bad that happen to us are our own doing and are not caused by anyone. Death is a given. We are beyond likes and dislikes. The renunciate assure us that the spirit reaches its destination much like a raft floating on a flooded river.  We are beyond fascination for the great and even beyond ridicule for the powerless.

This lone verse by kaNiyan Poongundranaar is not to be taken in isolation. The powerful words here are representative of a large volume of ancient Tamil poetry that we can proudly declare as our heritage.

These and several other verses speak of our interconnectedness; of the ancient people’s prayers for peace, the insistence on the value of learning, the spirit of adventure.

See for instance:

unbathu naazhi uduppadu irandu – piravum ellaam orokkumme –  (Puranaanooru)

‘… It is only a morsel of food that is consumed by a human regardless of whether they are a monarch or a poor hunter. Likewise it is only two pieces of cloth that cover their being. There is thus a unity of physical needs – across the human species…..’

utruzhi udaviyum uruporul koduttum katral nandre katral nandre (Puranaanooru)

” It is important to get educated at all costs ….”

tiraikadal odium diraviyam tedu  (Kondrai Venthan – Auvaiyaar 2nd Millennium)

“Travel across the oceans – Seek Wealth ….”

The immortal words of the Sangam era poet Kaniyan Poongundranaar  are ever more relevant in the networked world of today. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister of the World’s largest democracy (a native Gujarati speaker fluent in Hindi)  chose to recite these words in Tamil,  the very language that they were written.

In reciting these words, he shares this wisdom with the world at large and places the achievements of the Indian diaspora in context.  In quoting these Tamil words, he unequivocally gives the world a lesson in Indian history. The reiteration of these words uttered originally by the Sangam Poet 3 millennia ago, words that were passed down in tattered palm leaf manuscripts that were published for the first time on paper in the late 1800s by UV Swaminatha Iyer (during the print media revolution then) is simply a global celebration of this timeless idea  in the age of social media.

In short, the Prime Minister’s words are nothing short of a universal proclamation of the progressive ideals of an ancient civilization.

Here is a video presentation of a group rendition of such timeless Tamil words in the flagship song ‘Yaadum Oore’ rendered as part of the ‘Murasu Symphony’ at the World Tamil Conference, Chicago, July 2019.



Kanniks Kannikeswaran


September 28, 2019 at 5:54 am Leave a comment

Illaiyaraja – Padma Vibhushan

Back in my teens, in 1981, I was lying on the floor listening to VividhBharati on a  well-worn Murphy Transistor Radio that would fit in the palm of your hand. The 2A Eveready Battery was on life support. My brothers and I were praying that the battery would last, anxious to enjoy every second of what we could listen to on the radio at 9:30 at Saturday night.

It was well past bedtime in our household; it was an art to keep the transistor volume at the right level; enough to hear the radio above the sound of the fan. Just about the right volume to not disturb my father in the next room lest we would awaken him from his deep slumber (something which he would never take to pleasantly, especially in those days when his hearing was good!).

The much awaited sponsored programs (vilambara dhaarar alikkum nigazchigal) started; the second film presented that night was ‘Panneer Pushpangal’. I didn’t like the name; but my ears pricked up when the music director’s name was announced. Then came the strings ; soon after, the sound of Uma Ramanan’s voice cut through the night. I increased the volume on the little radio. It didn’t matter if it woke my father up. The scolding would be worth it. ‘Aananda raagam’ – she sang; I didnt know what to focus on; the voice, the singing, the tune, or the powerful strings. This was out of the world; like nothing I had ever heard before. Wait. Was it based on a Raga? There were no markings of kacheri-sangitam in the song, but the scale was unmistakably that of Simhendra Madhyamam. Yes, this was a different paradigm; a fully loaded orchestral construct based on the scale of a raga that I had not been too fond of until then.

“This music deserves every reward under the sun” – I thought then.

36 years later, people are still talking about this song. I saw a recent performance of this song with live string accompaniment; my mind playing back images that I had conjured in my mind – as I had heard this song, lying flat on a thin mattress on the floor on a warm late-summer night 3.5 decades ago, snapping back to reality as the emcee LR Narayanan cut the program short just as the penultimate bgm started.

Anandaragam is just one. There are tons of songs such as these that were part of my teenage years and early 20s.  Illayaraja was an integral part of growing up in Madras (now Chennai!); the man kept creating new vistas in music with the limited tools at disposal – in an age prior to the studio era of sequencing, digital recording, digital editing, auto tuning and pitch correction.

It is a delight to still use a palm size device – create a play list and play a seemingly never ending list of songs that transport me back to that era.  I had never imagined on that sultry summer night that such a playlist would be available in every corner of the world. And, as a teenager,  I hadn’t imagined that the effect of those songs would be the same, some 35 years later.

I think Illaiyaraja’s music and the impact that it had on society is beyond rewards and titles. Every song of his that has touched and moved people is a ‘Ratna’ in itself.


Kanniks Kannikeswaran

January 26, 2018 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment


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  33. TedX Talk by Kanniks Kannikeswaran, Cincinnati OH, March 2015, Video Clip.
  34. Templenet, The Comprehensive Website on Indian Temples
  35. Building Community Through Music, Interview Published in Sruti Magazine, June, 2017
  36. Shanti – A Journey of Peace, Cupertino CA, April 2016, Curtain Call Video Clip
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  38. Shanti – A Journey of Peace, Audience Feedback, Cupertino, April 2016, Video Clip
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  46. A Journey to bring Peace through Music, Vidya Pradhan, April 2017.
  47. The Rising Sun, Special Events, GE APAF Symposium, September 2016.
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  49. Shanti raises over $227,000 to benefit Aim for Seva, Kalyani Giri, March 2010.
  50. Invocation performed at Madison Square Garden, September 2014
  51. Dazzling Shanti concert raises funds for studies, Shalini Narang, India West, May 2016

August 22, 2017 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

Illaiyaraja and Manikkavacagar’s ‘porchuNNam’

The Tamil month of Margazhi celebrates the work of the Saint Poet Manikkavacagar.  Reflecting on the legacy of the poet, with Tiruvadirai (the full moon night in the darkest month of the year) just coming up, I youtubed Manikkavacakar on my iphone and immediately ran into ‘Tiruvacakam in Symphony’ recorded  in 2005 by Illaiyaraja.


What is Tiruvaacakam?

Tiruvaacakam (Sacred Sayings) – or Tiruvasagam  is a collection of poems packed with devotion and alliteration written by the Saint Poet Manikkavaacagar expressing his bhakti to Shiva, several hundred years ago.

The tiruvaacakam consists of several thematic chapters such as Tiruvempavai, Tiru-Ammaanai, Achho patikam, porchunnam, Tirupponnoosal etc.

The chapter porchunnam’ contains 20 verses. Roughly translated ‘porchunnam’ means ‘songs sung to accompany the joyous ritual of preparing (pounding) incensed powder for the Lord’.

porchunnam’ is featured in the 5th Track in the album.

porchunnam’ is referred to as ‘aananda manOlayam’ i.e. transforming into a state of oneness through a joyous state of being. Illaiyarajas’ arrangement of these verses does reflect this state of joy.

From the standpoint of Tamil rules that govern classical poetry, the verse form is classified as an ‘aru seer kazhi nedil adi aasiriya viruttam’. Ignore the term if it fails to ring a bell from your 11th standard Tamil grammar lessons. Just remember the number 6.

The orchestral arrangement projects a brisk waltz like character for these verses (3+3). vocalizing the sense of joy seen in the poetry, based entirely on the scale of the Karnataka raga sarasangi.

What is sarasangi? It is a raga with a scale that differs from that of sankarabharanam by just one note, the dha. Illaiyaraja has dealt with this scale (with some minor variations) before in songs such as ‘meenamma meenamma’, ‘muthu muthu medai pottu’  (mostly sarasangi!) etc. some eighteen years ago.

The strophic hymns of Tiruvaacakam are usually sung in the mohana ragam. Typical musical arrangements would involve the repetition of the same melody for each of the verses. Illaiyaraja’s arrangement however brings out porchunnam with a difference.

Violins, violas, celli, basses, woodwinds, brass and various percussion instruments bring this track to life along with a western chorus and an Indian chorus singing characteristically tamil phrases such as ‘tandananna’. On top of all this, there is a galaxy of singers such as Unnikrishnan and Vijay Yesudoss.

Once the spirit of the scale of sarasangi falls in place (a minute or so into the track), the entire track sticks to it. There are several ‘charanams’, each in a different tune within the confines of the same scale. Even the background music leads to these charanams is different; one of them even gives a glimpse of the scale of hamsadhwani with a careful withholding of just two notes ma and dha for a few cycles. While it is cased in a symphonic setup there are moments where something tugs at your heart very much like the Illaiyaraja melodies of the yesteryears.

Apart from the refrain ‘Aada porchunnam idittum naame’ there is no repetition in melody anywhere. The first charanamsundara neer’ starts on ‘pa’, the second one ‘vaal tadam’ on ni. ‘muttani’ and ‘mai ani’ start further higher up. The next two charanamsvatta malar’ and ‘vedamum’ start much lower down. (Only 7 out of the 20 verses written are featured in this rendition)

The words in the last stanza stand out.

vEdamum vELviyum AyinArkku – meimaiyum poimaiyum AyinArkku
sOdiyumAi iruL AyinArkku – tunbamumAi inbam AyinArkku
pAdiyumAi muRRum AyinArkku- bandamumAi vIDum AyinArkku
Adiyum antamum AyinArkku – Ada porchuNNam idittum name

“The One who is both the knowledge and the yajna – one who is both the wholesome truth and the illusion – the one who is the light and the dark at the same time – the one who is an embodiment of both pain and pleasure – the one who is ‘part and the whole’, the one who is bondage as well as liberation – the one who is both the beginning and the end – Shiva – enshrined in Tiruvaiyaru – for him we pound the incensed powder with much joy”.

Porchunnam is to be enjoyed at many levels; one is just by reading the lyrics and appreciating the alliteration; the next is just getting the purport and the meaning of the verse; the third is to actually sing it and feel the words sing ink into you, leaving you in awe of the centuries over which these words have survived; in awe of the classicism inherent in Tamil – a language that you take for granted as your mother tongue.

Illaiyaraja’s version of porchunnam, transports you to a different world. The words are cloaked with so many layers of ‘happenings’. Groupings of instruments such as woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion, voices weave layer after layer around the words; the scale of sarasangi is unleashed as a pravaha of notes in an 8 minute deluge as it gushes forth into finale with a ‘tandananna’ chorus and a strong punctuation by the timpani.

One of Illaiyaraja’s best creations ever.

January 10, 2017 at 10:33 pm Leave a comment

The passage of time

Nothing represents the changing times more than the little hand held device that we use on an hourly basis.

We used to rely on sundials (before our lifetime), grandfather clocks and wrist watches to track the passage of time. Not any more. The smartphone does it for you.

We relied on good old biological clocks and then the shrill alarm clock and then the radio alarm for years; now it is all in the smartphone.

We relied on date-calendars (where you turn one page off every day), on monthly-page-turn calendars and then the calendar on your ‘Outlook’ on the computer; the smart phone tracks your calendar, it tracks birthdays and anniversaries and even ghost sends greetings.



We relied on good old notebooks and pens; then on the crude text editors and then sophisticated word processors – and yes, you are right, you do it all on the smart phone.

We were fast at mental arithmetic. Then we started using logarithmic tables in our 12th grade. The calculator completely changed how our minds processed numbers while in College. Now, even that calculator is part of your smartphone.

We made hundreds of phone calls to announce our child’s birth, spending long hours on the phone and tallying phone bills later. Now, we just make an announcement on Whatsap and Facebook, share photos and videos. Despite this 5 minute post, we spend an eternity browsing messages on FB and Whatsapp. Well, thats another story. But again, it is all in your palm.

We relied on AT&T to make global calls, paying a fortune. Disruptive market forces cheapened these calls as we started spending more money and time on them. Now, with international calls free on intelligent phones we spend even more time, messaging and reading messages, keeping in touch ‘virtually’ with a huge network of people. And we pay what we used to pay AT&T in the days of the heavy black phone with a spring controlled dial, a heavy receiver a limited length wire that would always get coiled, and a ratchet ring tone and an annoying ‘Busy Tone’ that we have almost completely forgotten.

I still very clearly remember that windy, cold day some years ago when I was walking on Fisherman’s Wharf, feeling the weight in the pockets of my brand-new sweatshirt. It was the combined weight of a GPS (to tell me where I was), a blackberry (to stay connected) and an ipod. Content as I was with all these ‘abilities’, I still wished that all these could operate out of the same device, so that I would have to carry just one device. Would that even be possible, I thought.

And guess what, it has come true way beyond what anyone could have imagined. Of course, the ipod maker has reigned, taking in their sweep, geographical positioning as well as telephony.

16 years ago, at the turn of the millennium cellphones were bulky. Now cellphones are bulky again in a different way. They do way too much more. They have made us think differently and have affected all walks of society. Why, a hemisphere away from here, over a billion people are prodded towards thinking about carrying out every single business transaction on a handheld smart device.

I just saw firework displays in Sydney on someone’s facebook post and was reminded of watching the same on television 17 years ago wondering what Y2K would do to humanity. That bulky television set is long gone, replaced by a smarter, sleeker and less expensive device.

Time is unstoppable. Change is inevitable. Let us welcome 2017 with the wish that the changes that we as humans create work towards the betterment of the world at large.

Wishing everyone a very happy Gregorian New Year 2017 and beyond.


Kanniks Kannikeswaran

December 31, 2016 at 11:36 am Leave a comment

kabAli it is and not kapAli

The word ‘kabAli’ is prime cannon fodder for my pseudo Tamil friends who don’t lose any opportunity to deride the “consonantal economy” (read ‘their perceived inadequacy’) of the Tamil language with a friendly yet condescending smug smirk.

‘KabAli’ is the most uttered/searched Tamil word this week thanks to our native kannada/marathi speaking superstar.


Probably one of the most ancient landmarks of Chennai (perhaps not the current one but the one supposedly demolished earlier by the Portugese) is the Kapalisvara temple in Tiru Mayilai; and the association between the skull kapala and Shiva is there all over Indian mythology. However, for all practical purpuses, Kapalisvara becomes Kabalisvara and the Kapali temple becomes the famous KabAli koyil. Not only devotees and temple priests, even rowdies are named Kabaali.(I am very sure no rowdy was born one to start with).

There is so much of interchangeability between pa and ba both represented by the Tamil letter ப.

The humble ப doubles up, nay quadruples into pa, pha, ba and bha as demanded by the situation. Thus we have the sanskrit word pAdam to denote a foot, paNi to denote a snake (phani in sanskrit), palam pronounced balam in Tamil to denote strength, and pasmam pronounced basmam to denote bhasma (ash).

The nature of the Tamil language is such that sometimes the pa in a sanskrit word morphs into a ba.

Thus, growing up in Chennai, I always thought Poories were Boories. And I have also heard the word Padmini pronounced Batmini. Even the tamil word palli becomes balli on occasion.

If ‘pa’ occurs in the middle of a word, it gets pronounced as pa only when prefixed with an ‘ip’, as in kappal, theppam, kappam etc. or an ‘it’ as in natpu, thatpam etc. Otherwise, ba takes over. shApam becomes sAbam but japam becomes jabam, tApam becomes tAbam, kapham becomes kabam; even Gopal becomes Gobal – perhaps thanks to the Tamil word tabal (postal services) and needless to say subham becomes subam.
(Note – tapas, tApam, kapham, gopal, subham are all shared between Tamil and Sanskrit).


Our Karnatic Musicians regardless of some of their misadventures with Telugu words faithfully render the Papanasam Sivam song ‘kapAli’ with the pA intact!

Regardless of the mohana raga classic, the film kabAli establishes the ba firmly in place.

Try saying ‘kapali da kapali’! See how wimpy it sounds. It is an emasculated version of the now powerful swagger ‘kabali da kabali’.

So, I swell with pride as I tell my pseudo Tamil speaking friends. Wipe away your smiles. Sanskrit or no sanskrit – kabAli it is. None other than our superstar has established it. Even the lexicon will change in order to honor him.

July 21, 2016 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

Where do we begin?

I am appalled by the events of the last few days in the United States.

The fact that we are all connected to the same source gets blurred in the stark presence of racial divide and centuries of prejudice and more importantly in the illusion of division and duality that deprives us  of our fundamental sense of oneness.

Despite mind blowing connectivity, a shared knowledge-space, and an app-driven world, there is a tremendous deficit of equality and justice.  Differences get amplified. The undercurrent of oneness is muffled by the din of clamor for resources arising from a false perception of scarcity, competition, one-upmanship, a false veneer of superiority to disguise the sense of fallibility that lies within.

We  are all collectively responsible for the current state of society that fosters hatred and propels some into acts of hate and violence. We are blinded by the illusion of separateness and a survival mentality  and have bred ‘otherization’ to extreme levels.

Let us set aside the past for a minute.

What do we as responsible global citizens want? What is the possibility that we see?

A violence free world! A world where justice and equality can be taken for granted. A world that is enveloped by every human’s love for all of creation. A world where ‘love’ not ‘the sense of the other’ defines how we relate to one another as human beings enjoying this brief tenure on earth.

I believe that it is a realizable possibility. Even in our lifetime. All that is missing is for us to collectively want it; ask for it; and see it unfold before us. Which secure human mind would not want the world to be thus?

We need to start with this end in our  mind. Educate one another, educate the next generation; our leaders need to start with this eutopian vision of an ‘otherless’ world and a paradigm of abundance – a state of ‘Shanti’ and design our ‘present’ with this future in mind.

Our healing can happen only when we all dip into this space of oneness with a powerful sense of intentionality.  Dip into a space that is beyond religion and beyond the human perception of God where differences naturally do not exist. After all isn’t our fundamental human nature all the same regardless of what our identity is?

I unabashedly borrow a page from my daughter’s blog and derive inspiration from the Sesame Street song ‘We are all earthlings’ that I used to watch along with my kids tearing up each time as I heard the muppets.

Let us all relate to each other in this space of love and possibility


July 8, 2016 at 10:42 pm Leave a comment

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