Setting Narayana Guru’s poems to music an exploration into multiple layers of experience: T M Krishna

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Setting to music poems of Sree Narayana Guru is an exploration into multiple levels of experience latent in the works of the spiritual leader and social reformer, says Carnatic vocalist and activist T M Krishna.

“I actually think that any good writing that doesn’t have multilayers within, it is a third rate writing. It is the multiple layers of meaning and experience that make Guru’s poems unique,” Krishna said at the ongoing four-day Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL) here.

It is actually the ability to make one imagine the ultimate test of any good poetry, and this comes automatically in Guru’s poems, Krishna, who has set to Carnatic ragas a bouquet of poems of the 20th century Kerala-born philosopher, noted in a conversation with journalist Saraswathy Nagarajan on the opening day of MBIFL .

“When you sing Guru’s poems, you are not singing their semantic meaning alone. Guru has written literally about Vishnu and Siva. There are a lot of bhakti poems. And then, within them are there multiple layers of meaning that transcend time, historicity and contemporariness,” he said.

The accomplished vocalist said while singing Guru’s poetry, one is also singing the meaning of the sound that comes by sheer force of language, whether he is writing in Malayalam, Tamil or Sanskrit. “I think one should not underestimate the depths of meaning that is there in the sound, the sabda.”

The multi-dimensional features of Guru’s poems are such that it took some time for him to get actually into that world and internalise them, he pointed out.

To a question, Krishna said he chose to set some of the poems of Guru in the ‘keerthana’ format as that is the Carnatic form people are most familiar with and it was the best way of making known something that had remained largely unknown for long.

On why the musical dimensions latent in Guru’s poetry have remained unexplored for long, he said it was mainly due to political and social reasons, and added that wherever Guru’s works were sung, the reception had been fantastic.

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