viLari and tODi rAga (was Re: Q: Tamil literature)

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Wed Sep 17 00:29:18 UTC 1997

In a message dated 97-09-16 12:55:03 EDT, jlc at CCR.JUSSIEU.FR writes:

<< There is an unpublished translation of Akam
 by V.M. Subramanya Ayyar (who was an assistant of U.V.S.)
 in the French Institute Library (Pondichery & Paris)

 The translation he gives for the passage you refer to is:

  "... at this season when the water is crystal clear
   and the voice of the joyful indian cuckoo which perches
   on the branch of profuse flowers
   combines with the string of the small lovable yA_l
   from which is produced a sweet and mournful note viLari
   wakes up people from sleep ..."

  [ ........... tIm toTai
    viLari narampi_n nayavaru cI_riyA_l
    mali pUm po:nkar maki_l kura_r kuyiloTu
    puNar tuyil eTuppum pu_nal teLi kAlaiyum ]

 To me the "mournful note" which is mentionned here
 is probably not a single note (i.e. one of the seven notes,
 as you advocate it is). >>

If you look at the Tamil text, it is very clear that there is no mention of
'mournful' note. Mr. Iyer has interpreted 'viLari' as viLarip paN. The Tamil
text does not say that. The text just has 'viLari narampu'.  In ancient Tamil
texts, 'narampu' can denote either the note or the string producing that
note. 'narampu' is not used to refer to 'paN'. Since each string was tuned to
a particular pitch, once the basic 'kural' string was chosen, other strings
will be assigned specific notes. Thus one 'narampu' will be assigned to one
note. So, it is clear that the text is referring to one note only.

Similarly, in aka. 317, the following lines

tuvaittezu tumpit taviricai viLari
utaittuviTu narampin2 immen2a imirum

'viLari' denotes the note and the 'narampu'  denotes the string which
produces that note. Obviously, the context of bumblebees humming will not
produce a multi-note melody but will sound more like an electronic 'sruti'
box (at least in my experience). In fact, for both of these poems, the
commentary based on UVS's notes gives the meaning as just a note and not as a

As for CilappatikAram, often using 'viLari' to denote the note except for a
few instances, the reason is simple. The excellent analysis by
aTiyArkkunallAr of the structure of the epic given in the commentary on the
'patikam' shows that iLaGko has masterfully woven the epic around a model of
Tamil interior landscape. You can see kuRiJci, mullai, marutam, neytal, pAlai
landscapes with the associated thematic elements. In such a setting, viLarip
pAlai or neytal yAz will occur only where it occurs in the kAn2alvari section
when kOvalan and mAtavi are singing on the seashore

nuLaiyar viLari noTitaruntIm pAlai  (7.48.1)

or when the author is giving technical descriptions of how the modal shift of
the tonic is done as in

kOTi viLari mERcempAlai yen2a
nITik kiTanta kELvik kiTakkaiyin   (3.88-89).

In all other places only those 'paN's relevant to the landscape will be
mentioned. For example 'mullaiitImpANi' in 'Aycciyar kuravai' section, or
'kuRiJcippaN' in the 'kunRak kuravai' section. So when the word 'viLari'
occurs in other contexts, it will only refer to the individual note and not
the paN.


S. Palaniappan

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