Kaalinga Nartana Thillana
Among the many exciting and glorious feats of Lord Krishna as a lovely child growing up in Brindaavan, one of the most chivalrous and stunning acts was his quelling the great deadly serpent Kaalinga. The wonderful dance of the Lord as a small child, thumping his tender, flower-like feet on the hoods of the serpent, has caught the imagination of many poets and devotees since ancient times.
The first description occurs probably in the great Bhagavata Purana itself, which narrates the story of Lord Krishna. The entire 16th Chapter of the 10th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam describes the act of suppressing and conquering the serpent Kaalinga or Kaaliya by Lord Krishna as a cowherd boy. Bhagavatam, while portraying this extraordinary demonstration of the dancing skill of the Lord in the 26th Verse of this Chapter, describes Krishna as Akhila Kalaa Aadi Guru – i.e., the Original Master of all arts. This Bhagavatam verse explains that Lord Krishna’s lotus feet appeared red like copper because of their contact with the numerous sparkling red jewels upon the heads of Kaalinga. The Lord, with those glowing reddish feet, then began to demonstrate His artistic skill by gracefully dancing on the unsteady, moving surface of the serpent’s hoods.
Oothukkadu Venkata Subbaiyar, popularly known as Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi lived in the early 18th Century in a small hamlet known as Oothukkadu in Thanjavur District of Tamil Nadu and he was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. He is believed to have composed more than 400 Kritis and songs on Krishna, and all of them are known for their effortless flow and unpretentious, candid devotion and humility and at the same time showing the great skill and erudition of the Poet both in handling the language of the lyrics, whether it was Sanskrit or Tamil, and also in the deft using of Music to suit the mood and rhythm he had chosen. All his compositions are weighty masterpieces that bring out his multifaceted musical brilliance.
Most of his songs indicate inspired expression revealing the high state of bliss that he probably experienced almost ceaselessly. He is said to have lived for only 32 years and his compositions show that he had reached great spiritual and philosophical heights. His works also reveal the proximity he felt towards God and show his deep devotion.
Kaalinga Nartana Thillana is one such unique composition of Oothukadu Venkata Kavi describing the dance of Krishna on the hoods of the mighty serpent, Kaalinga. This song brings to life the much loved child-cowherd’s celestial dance. It is believed that the Poet had a vision of the great dance of the Lord when he composed and sang this song.
Thillana is a particular type of Karnatic Music Genre. It contains many rhythmic words and intricate sequences that are fused with repetitive musical notes. It is similar to the Hindustani तराना in which certain words and syllables are used in a medium-paced or fast rendition.
In this Kaalinga Nartana Thillana, Venkata Kavi vividly brings to the imagination and the inner vision of the listener the various rhythmic steps of the lord Krishna. He had even set the singing style in such a way that at one place a particular word is enunciated to resemble the hissing sound of the great serpent. He has liberally used Gati Bhedam, i.e., change of gait – something that very few major composers have done before or since. Jathis and lyrics intermingle rhythmically, thereby giving a dramatic and striking effect of the rapid and cadenced feet movements and adroit swings of the dancing Lord.
This song was first brought to light during the last century by the famous Harikatha exponent Late Brahmashri Needamangalam Krishnamurthi Bhagavathar. Though essentially suitable for classical dance performances and Harikatha, off late many singers of Karnatic Music have also started singing this Kaalinga Nartana Thillana in their concerts, captivated by the charm of the rhythm and style of this Thillana.
Since this song has not yet appeared in any printed material and since unfortunately many are singing without properly knowing and pronouncing the correct words of the lyric, this is a humble attempt to sing this great composition of Oothukadu Venkata Kavi as per the original version of Late Brahmashri Needamangalam Krishnamurthi Bhagavathar (as far as lyric and Jathi are concerned – and not the singing style). I profusely thank Needamangalam Dr.V.Subbaraman, son-in-law of Late Brahmashri Krishnamurthi Bhagavathar and his sister Smt.V.Alamelu, both of them Harikatha artists and disciples of Brahmashri Krishnamurthi Bhagavathar, for giving me the correct version of the Sahitya and the original diction of the Jathis of this wonderful song.
[And dear friends! please pardon me for the sporadic contamination of pitch!]
For lyrics and meaning you can view this song in YouTube: