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Bird songs - 2/7/24 - Vannam Vanam

by Vaishnavi Duvvuri


#vannam-vanam, #south-indian,

Happy Valentines month to all the love birds out there! That’s weird, did I say birds?? Well, that’s a little silly because this week we played all Telugu and Tamil songs about birbs.

We were actually Googling the other day what February is known for other than Valentine’s Day, and we found out that February is actually National Bird-Feeding Month. And we ended up finding an ungodly amount of songs in Tamil and Telugu about birds.. but we picked a few we liked

ఈ నేల ప్రతి రేడియో స్టేషన్, టీవీ ఛానెల్, వాలెంటైన్స్ సందర్బంగా శృంగార గీతాలను, రొమాంటిక్ సినిమాలనీ ప్రసారం చేస్తారు. గాని మేము ఈరోజు కార్యక్రమాన్ని ప్రేమ పక్షులు గురించి కాదు, కేవలం పక్షుల గురించి నిర్వహించాము.

Keeravani - Anveshana (1985) 

    • By: Vaish
    • Language: Telugu
    • Singers: SP Balasubrahmanyam, S. Janaki
    • Composer: Ilayaraja
    • Lyrics: Veturi


This song is lyrically and musically genius, and one of the best compositions of Ilayaraja.

In this movie, Anveshana (which means exploration), the female protagonist Bhanupriya, is tasked to research on interpretations of bird sounds/voices in a forest where the entire movie (and this song) is picturized. She is doing research for a character who wants to prove that music was born from bird’s songs and that many raagas (if you want to know more about what a raaga is) can be found in bird’s voices. 

So, Keeravani, which is this song’s name,  is also the name of the 21st melakarta raga in Carnatic music, and it is also the raaga that this entire song was made in. 

Furthermore, Keeravani’s literal translation means the voice of a parrot - referencing to the research being done by the main character. 

And in Telugu, Keeravani generally means a women who’s words are cute like a parrot’s - so in the movie setting this song is being sung by a man interested in the main protagonist so he is calling her the Keeravani. 

Chinnamani Kuyile - Amman Kovil Kizhakale (1986) romantic drama film

    • By: Kaushi
    • Language: Tamil
    • Composer: Ilaiyaraaja
    • Singer: S. P. Balasubrahmanyam
    • Lyricist: Gangai Amaran

So the previous song was called Keeravani and was set to the raga which is also called Keeravani. The next song, Chinnamani Kuyile from the 1986 romantic drama film Amman Kovil Kizhakale, is also set to Keeravani raga. 

The movie title, Amman Kovil Kizhakale, means East Side of Amman Temple, and Amman means Goddess, and this film was actually a blockbuster film at the time.

The song name, Chinnamani Kuyile: Chinnamani is a pet name and is also the main male character’s name and Kuyil is Cuckoo bird.

So this song was actually famous at the time because Illaiyaraja challenged his norm and created a song using NO violins or cellos, and only guitar, flute, shehnai, and some keyboard. This was such a big deal at the time because he broke the myth that he couldn’t compose without using violins. But he clearly did, and did an amazing job and pairing his genius composition with the legend vocals of SPB, you have an absolute masterpiece. 

They reference the Cuckoo bird in both name and sound throughout the song

Ku Ku Ku Koyila Raave - Sithara (1984) 

    • By: Vaish
    • Language: Telugu
    • Singers: S. Janaki, SPB
    • Composer: Ilayaraja
    • Lyrics: Veturi

This movie, Sithara, was adopted from the film director Vamsy’s novel “Mahal lo Kokila” or Koel in the Mansion. 

In my interpretation, this movie was about the main protagonist’s journey of finding and fighting for her autonomy. She’s an excellent dancer and performer, yet the protagonist’s brother locks her in his mansion and doesn’t let her see the world nor let the world see her due to it being a cultural custom in her town and family.

Birds were a really big motif throughout this film, showing that grapple of freedom. There are so many birds in the mansion she lives in locked into cages - which constantly symbolize the female character being locked physically and mentally in the mahal. When she meets a performer she falls in love with, she starts to struggle with choosing between following her customs or living a life of freedom. For the first time, the perfomer starts to let the birds out of the cages, symbolizing the start of her journey for freedom. 

To me, this is a tale where a woman has to free herself of the shackles put onto her, physically and mentally, by society’s traditions and customs. In this story specifically, it’s her brother, the patriarch of the family who enforces his family’s customs through fear and intimidation. But In reality, her brother symbolizes the old-fashioned patriarchal traditions of yesterday that bound many of us down, especially women, and the mahal, the mansion, is the life we live conforming to these traditions out of fear. A bird born in a cage never knows that it’s being locked and restricted until it gets a taste of freedom. Sithara in this movie, although in a beautiful big mahal, is still locked in from the world. And in many ways, many of us in society are unknowingly closed in the four walls of our own type of mahal, comfortable with the status quo, but not realizing that we are caged in due to some societal standard. 

This song, in specific, was so interestingly composed with an acapella aspect to it - the male voice is harmonized with koel sounds made by the female voice which makes for a beautiful end result.

Malaiyoram Mayile - Oruvar Vaazhum Aalayam (1988) film

    • By: Kaushi
    • Language: Tamil
    • Composer: Ilaiyaraaja
    • Singer: Malaysia Vasudevan, K. S. Chithra
    • Lyricist: Ponnadiyan பொன்னடியான்

The song name, Malaiyoram Mayile, means “Mountainside Peacock” and the movie Oruvar Vaazhum Aalayam, means, “The temple where only one lives”.

For at least one of the songs, I wanted it to be about Mayil, or Peacock, which is the National Bird of India. And I feel that every song we've chosen for today, references a different aspect of birds, whether as an inspiration for the music, love, or life beliefs, and I feel that there’s something to take away from each one.

This song begins with:

    • மலையோரம் மயிலே, விளையாடும் குயிலே
    • விளையாட்ட சொல்லித் தந்ததாரு
    • Which means “Mountainside peacock, the playful cuckoo”
    • “They taught me how to play”

I liked how the lyricist Ponnadiyan chooses to reference the nature or characteristics of the birds, rather than just the sounds they make, which is what most of the songs I’ve seen are like. And he takes it past referencing them, he, or the main characters in the song, are inspired by them and learn from them how to be carefree and enjoy life. It’s beautiful, really, and the rest of song is much the same.

And when it comes to the music, you really can’t beat Illaiyaraaja’s composition and his inclusion of classical and nature elements.

Chakori - Saahasam Swasaga Saagipo (2017)

    • By: Vaish
    • Language: Telugu
    • Singers: Shashaa Tirupati, Sathya Prakash
    • Composer: AR Rahman
    • Lyricist: Anantha Sreeram

Chakori is a bird in Hindu texts which is believed to feed on the beams of the moon (Chandra). Chakori sometimes symbolizes intense, and often unrequited, love. It can be called as “Chandra Chakori” and is said to be in love with the moon and to gaze at it constantly.  

"She is in so much love with the moon that she keeps a fast for the entire while, and breaks her fast only by drinking the water of rains that happens when the moon transits Swati Nakshatra, when the sky is laden with the love of moonlight."

This means that the bird only drinks the water of rains when the moonlight is heaviest in the sky, therefore feeding on the "beams of the moon."

This song comes at a point in the film where the female and male protagonists are starting to like each other, but cannot confess their love to each other yet. They go on a road trip together, hence the first line which says “Let’s go, spreading our wings.” 

And Since they are at a point where either person is finding it still hard to confess their feelings, the chorus lines say

      • Chakori, in this competition, let’s see if I’m first or you’re first
      • Whoever is the first one who can say those words
      • Whoever is the first one who can reveal this love
      • Whoever is the first one who can break these silences
      • When we’ll stand in front of each other and open up our hearts
      • I wonder when that time, that moment will come  

You can see how they used the Chakori, a bird that can be a symbol of intense unrequited love, as symbolism in this song, where both characters are having a silent competition on how long they can go keeping their love quiet. They are both liking each other on their own.

Apart from the symbolism, the entire song is such a beautiful composition.  In the middle there are some lines from a Carnatic song “Ninnu Kori”, to which the lyrics roughly translate to “I am desiring you. This is the moment to rule over/take me.”   

Kozhi Vandhatha - Aahaa (1997) film

    • By: Kaushi
    • Language: Tamil
    • Composer: Deva
    • Singer: Sujatha, Yugendran, Anuradha Sriram, Malaysia Vasudevan (again)
    • Lyricist: Vaasan

The song name, Kozhi Vandhatha, means “Did the chicken come?”, and the movie title, Aahaa, means just that, “Wow”. This song mentioned another bird: chicken.

There’s an astonishing number of songs about chickens in Tamil, and even more so on chicken curry which I thought was really funny. However, this song is not really silly or funny but it’s still lighthearted just the same.

The song begins with:

    • கோழி வந்ததா, முதலில் முட்டை வந்ததா, சொல்லு கொக்கர கொக்கோ
    • Which means, “Did the chicken come first? Or did the egg come first? Say kokkarakko!”
  • Another verse goes:
    • வானம் வந்ததா, முதலில் நீலம் வந்ததா, சொல்லு கொக்கர கொக்கோ
    • Which means, “Did the sky come first? Or did the color blue come first? Say kokkarakko!”
  • And you can see from just these 2 verses that this song is about wondering where things in nature come from and how they exist. The lyricist Vaasan doesn’t only reference the sound of birds, rooster specifically in this song, he references them in terms of common age-old expressions and debate that everyone is familiar with: “Did the chicken or egg come first? Did this or that come first? Etc.” And aren’t we all curious about the existence of nature, Earth, and us humans ourselves!!!

Komma Meeda Kokilamma - Kokilamma (1983)

    • By: Vaish
    • Language: Telugu
    • Singer: P. Susheela
    • Composer: M.S. Vishwanathan
    • Lyricist: Acharya Athreya

From the 1983 movie Kokilamma which won multiple awards for its screenplay and the main actress, Saritha's, action. 

The director, K. Balachandar, was known for his unique screenplay that would use complex interpersonal relationships to explore hard-hitting social topics. He had a lot of films with women as protagonists, portrayed them as headstrong, intelligent and independent people. His films were very well known for their portrayal of women as bold personalities and central characters. Honestly, the disappointing fact is that many of the topics he explored then can still be quite socially relevant to this day. 

However, this movie’s director is not the only brilliant part of this film. The music director MS Vishwanathan garu made such a hard-hitting soundtrack that moves the audience’s emotions. This song in particular is so beautifully made, many of the comments under this song’s video talk about how this song makes them cry during the movie. 

With lyrics written by Aacharya Athreya, and vocals by the great P. Susheela garu, I hope you can appreciate this song about the “koel on the branch” as much as I did.