JK (my brother) called (video call) in the morning to show the temple he was visiting in Coimbatore. I could listen to Thirupaavai playing in the background. The Thirupavai rendition was from M L Vasathakumari or MLV as she was affectionately called.
Thirupaavai is collection of thirty stanzas (பாசுரம் – pasurams) sung by Aandal on Lord Vishnu (or Perumal in Tamil). She had composed it probably in the eighth or ninth century. Aandal was the only female in the twelve azvars and the Thirupaavai is part of Divya Prabandham – an important literature in Tamil. It’s sung in the month of Margazhi (the month falls mostly between December 15th and January 14th).
The month of Margazhi is very pious and spent in prayers. All the Vishnu temples in Tamil Nadu have elaborate celebrations which start in the mornings and continue with Bhajans and procession of Lord in the nights. Even the most famous temple in the world, Tirupathi temple plays Thirupaavai in the mornings during the month of Margazhi instead of Vishu Sahasarnamam.
We grew up close to one such temple (Azhagiya Ramar Temple) in Kaveripakkam, a village about 100 Kilometers north of Chennai. We used to wake up early in mornings and put Kolam (rangoli) on the streets. The rangoli or kolam is in white with a red border and a pumpkin flower placed on a blob of cow dung in the center. Some of the neighbours used to put huge kolams which would cover the entire street and used to be a heavenly sight. Even in Tamil Nadu, where you have only two season of climate, hotter and hottest, the mornings in the month of Marghazhi, had a chillness about it.
Azhagiya Ramar Temple Kaveripakkam and Kolam with Pumpkin Flower.
Then we used to rush to the temple to listen to Thirupaavai (which was played on a LP Player) or more importantly for the prasadam. The prasadam used to be Pongal (a rice and dal preparation) made with lot of ghee. On the 27th day of the month, called Koodaravalli, the prasadam used to be sakkarai pongal (sweetened rice) and you get the best of pongal and sakkarai pongal in Perumal (Lord Vishnu) temples.
In the sixties and seventies, you could listen to Vishnu Sahasarnamam sung by M S Subbalakshmi being played on a LP (Long Playing Record) in most of the homes in Tamil Nadu. The technology changed from LP to Cassette Player to CD but the voice was always MS. Now it’s probably from iPhone or MP3 player but it’s still MS in her most melodious voice making your mornings fresh and beautiful.
Just as MS is to Vishnu Sahasarnamam, MLV is for Thirupaavai. We are listening to Thirupaavai sung by MLV since the seventies, so she probably released this album somewhere in the sixties. After more than five decades, it’s MLV’s recording which is played everywhere. The other day my sister mentioned,” though there are many recordings of Thirupaavai available now, you don’t feel like listening to Thirupaavai unless it’s from MLV.” I couldn’t agree more with her. Sanjay Subramanian has released couple of pasurams of Thirupaavai, sung in an elaborate way which would make your heart melt. Sudha Ragunathan, the most famous disciple of MLV has sung it which comes close to her guru’s version. But we all feel the best is from MLV. Though the Thirupaavai is written in Tamil, it’s played in Vishnu Temples in Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka and the recording is always by MLV.
MLV and Thirupaavai.
You can listen to the pasurams with lyrics here: MLV Thirupaavai.
Aandal has attained immortality by writing the 30 stanzas on Lord Vishnu which is sung during month of Margazhi even after many centuries. Similarly MLV will be remembered for decades to come for her rendition of Thirupaavai. The cold mornings of Margazhi, the kolams, the bhajans, the prasadam at Perumal Temples and MLV’s Thirupaavai is forever etched in our memories.