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It was yet another day after the first national lockdown in 2021 that Carnatic musician R Suryaprakash happened to hear the call of a ‘kuyil’ (cuckoo) from the park near his home in Semmancheri in Chennai. The repeated call of the bird, however, brought memories of ‘Kuyil Pattu’, a poem written by great Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi (1882-1921). He thought of tuning the lines in the poem.

With the help of his scholar friend Arul Avvai Natarajan, Suryaprakash tuned and sang the entire 744 verses of Bharathi’s magnum opus, “Kuyil Pattu”, in a garland of 120 ragas including two of his own called “Kuyilkurinji” and “Suryavasantha”, and 15 talas, organising the lyrics in forms such as ‘kirthanam’, ‘virutham’, folk verses, ‘kannis’, ‘kavadichindu’, ‘thogayara’ and a new form “layavirutham”.

The “Kuyil Pattu Paduvom” has been presented in 22 episodes in the YouTube channel “Suryaprakash”. In every episode, Suryaprakash’s rendition is followed by a narration of the lyrical aspect of the songs rendered in that episode with English translation by Arul Avvai Natarajan, who is director of translations, Government of Tamil Nadu. Suryaprakash was awarded the title “Bharathi Mamani” for this recently.

The Carnatic musician said he was always fond of the poems written by Bharathi. As he grew up, the songs reflected in his concerts. “I have a passion for presenting a host of Tamil songs and ‘viruthams’ (a devotional verse) in my concerts. I started reading Bharathi’s poems when I was in school itself. His poems influenced me a lot and as a result I included at least one Bharathi song in my concert. It is a deep connection between Mahakavi (Bharathi) and my inner self which eventually led me to tune and sing his ‘Kuyil Pattu’,” he said. “I have presented entire concerts on Bharathiar songs and some unique themes too, such as (Papanasam) Sivanum Bharathiyum, Patriotic songs of Bharathi etc. I have set to tune several songs of Bharathi and also sung excerpts from Bharathi’s verses as Raragm Thanam Pallavi,” he said.

Suryaprakash tuned and sang the entire 744 verses of Bharathi’s magnum opus, “Kuyil Pattu”, in a garland of 120 ragas including two of his own called “Kuyilkurinji” and “Suryavasantha”, and 15 talas

Suryaprakash believes that Bharathi was ahead of his times and that’s why his poems are ‘forever’ contemporary. “Bharathi’s “Kannan Pattu” and patriotic songs are very popular, but he was much beyond that. “I used to delve into his aimless wanderings in ‘vasana kavithai’ and the languorous narrative of his dream, “Kuyil Pattu” that has an unexpected ending. One must not limit Bharathi as a nationalistic poet, he was much more than that,” he said.

Born in 1882 in Ettayapuram in Tamil Nadu, Subramania Bharathi lived in Puducherry in self-imposed exile for a decade (1908-1918). It was during this time, he wrote his master poems “Kuyil Pattu”,  “Kannan Pattu” and “Panchali Sabatham.”

Tuning of 744 verses was challenging, according to carnatic musician Suryaprakash. “The main criteria is the compatibility of the lyrical and musical bhava (feel). This majorly determined the choice of ragas and also the phrases of the chosen ragas. I found that certain verses are best suited to sing as ‘virutham’ and others set to tala,” he said. “I stumbled upon a new form where I sing a verse aligning to an implied meter but expound on some lyrical passages in freestyle to do justice to the emotions. I have named the form ‘laya virutham’,” said Suryaprakash, who started learning Carnatic music when he was seven. His first guru was none other than his uncle Tirukkodikaval V Rajamani. a disciple of veteran Carnatic vocalist Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.

Even though much has been written about Bharathi, this is the first time a video format with interpretation of the entire lines in “Kuyil Pattu” in Tamil and a translation in English appear in 22 episodes. “I wanted young readers to know more about Subramania Bharathi. It took a lot of time and energy. But I am happy that we could document it properly. I am grateful to Arul for translation and interpretation of the poems to the viewers in each episode,” he said.

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