Culture

Perumal Murugan's Poem in Solidarity With Statues Set to Music by T.M. Krishna

"Those who behead statues are also killing the work of the artists who made those statues. And we are also to blame because we never ask who the artist is."

The destruction of Lenin’s statue by BJP workers in Agartala following the party’s victory over the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the recent Tripura assembly elections led to copycat attacks on statues of Periyar in Tamil Nadu and Dr B.R. Ambedkar in Uttar Pradesh.

In response to this trend, the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan has penned a poem that the classical singer T.M. Krishna has set to music and rendered in the Carnatic style.

In the words of  Krishna:

In the recent past, we have seen a spate of attacks on symbols of thought, symbols of diverse thinking, on people who represent it, various political, social, philosophical ideas. They may have not agreed with each other – whether it was Lenin, Ambedkar, Gandhi or Periyar. They represented different ways of looking at ourselves and society.

By attacking, vandalising and destroying their statues, all those indulging in these acts, or who are supporting them from behind, are sending us a message: that they do not tolerate different thinking. That they will try to build a homogenous, monolithic, ugly India. And it is time all of us got together to stop this nonsense.

These attacks are also attacks on artwork. Each statue was made by an artist. By beheading them, they are also killing the work of these artists. We are also to blame because we never ask “Who is the artist?” Maybe this is the moment we also think about that.

And this song, which I’m going to render for you, is a response to these acts of violence on symbols of thinking. The song has been written by the great writer, poet and my dear friend Perumal Murugan. It’s in the raaga Kalyani, set to adi talam.

Lyrics:

சிலைகள் எல்லாம் கலையின் வடிவம்
கலையே காலம் போற்றும் செல்வம்

Statues are works of art
Art that time treasures

அனுபல்லவி (second section)

அலை மோதும் கற்பனை கொண்டு
விலை யில்லா உழைப்பில் வடித்த

W​ith boundless imagination
​P​riceless labour did sculpt

சரணம் (final section)

மலைமேல் கோவிலில் மறைந்து நின்று
மனதை மயக்கும் கடவுளர் எனினும்
சாலை நடுவில் சிறந்து நின்று
சரித்திரம் பேசும் பெரியார் எனினும்

Be it the ​g​od who enchants
From the hilltop
Or P​eriyar, who reminds us of our past
Standing tall in the middle of the road

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Krishna rendered another socio-political message to great effect in 2016 in the form of the ‘Chennai poromboke paadal’ (Tamil for ‘Chennai uncultivable-land song’), also supported by Murugan. It was produced by environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman, with lyrics by Chennai-based musician Kaber Vasuki, as part of a campaign to rescue the Ennore creek and Kosasthalaiyar river from unregulated construction and dumping of industrial effluents.

Note: This article originally attributed the lyrics to the ‘Poromboke song’ to Kaber Vasuki and Tenma. The lyrics were composed by Kaber alone and the mistake was corrected on March 29, 2018.