Omana Thingal Kidavo...
The Life & Times of Irayimman Thampi - Part I
by Dr. P. P. Narayanaswami

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[Editor's Note: This article uses transliteration to reflect correct pronunciation of names and lyrics. Click here for the standard transliteration scheme]

There is hardly any home in Kerala, where the newborn baby is not put to sleep by the soothing melody of the ever-popular lullaby,

Omanatti”nkaL kiTAvO nalla

This is the famous tArATTu pATTu” (cradle song) hummed by mothers in Kerala for generations. This song was composed by the court poet and musician, irayimman tampi, for the sake of the ruling Queen RANi gaurI lAkSmI bAi, to put to sleep none other that the newborn svAti tirunAL mahArAja.  Well, that was indeed a fitting introduction to music for the new born king! Originally set in kura~nci rAgam, Adi tAlam, this song has been sung by people in  navarOj, or nIlAmbari, or even as a rAgamAlika, and using rUpaka tALam, or even in tishra gati.  Whatever be the choice of rAgam/tALam, it certainly has a mesmerizing effect on every listener. The lyric of this song is so beautiful that it is a lullaby not only for the king, but for the entire human generation. In this song, using appropriate phrases in sweet and chaste malayALam, the baby (king) is compared to the most beautiful things in the world that one can describe.  It is to be noted that there is no mention of the word “sleep” anywhere in this lullaby.

The western musicologist, A. H. Fox Strangways, in his work “The Music of Hindoostan” (Oxford, The Clarendon Press 1914, pages 62-63) gives the first two lines of this lullaby in western staff notation, and renders a free style meaning of the complete song.  He mentions that he got the song from “an enlightened women” in Trivandrum, with which His Highness the (present) mahArAja of Travancore is said to have been put to sleep, as a child. He further adds a footnote, stating that the singer wanted to accompany herself on the inevitable harmonium, but he pointed out that this additional sound might prevent the baby from going to sleep.

The intense anxiety associated with the birth of svAti tirunAl against the political conditions of the time, and the immediate relief it was to provide are truly reflected in this song. The British had already decided to take administrative control of those kingdoms, where there was no male ruler. The arrival of this new baby --- “Ishvaran tanna nidhiyO”  (the treasure gifted by God) or “bhAgya drumattin phalamO” (the fruits of the tree of fortune) -- as irayimman tampi puts it in this lullaby --- was a welcome relief to the queen, as well as for everyone!  The feeling of joy that prevailed in the kingdom is beautifully portrayed in this song.


Irayimman tampi’s life history

Photo Courtesy:

There was a famous household (taRavADu) by name “kAramana ANDiyiRakkattu amma vIDu” in Trivandrum.  Irayimman was born in this family in the 1782 AD, that corresponds to the malayalam year (kolla varSam) 958, and his birth star was pUruTTAti (pUra bhAdrapada). His father was  kEraLa varma (kELaru)  tampAn of shErttalai palace,  and his mother was pArvati piLLa ta”ngacci of putumana amma vIDu.. As it was the prevailing custom to name the eldest son by the grandfather’s name, tampi’s real name was ravi varman, which later became iravi varman, and finally irayimman, as he was affectionately called. Tampi was brought up by his parents at their residence, kizhakkE maDam near the viRakupurakOTTa, the house given to kELaru tampAn by the illustrious king dharmarAja, shrI. kArttika tirunAL. The father himself gave tampi the basic education. Later mUttATTu sha”nkaran iLayatu gave him higher learning in various branches of knowledge like grammar, linguistics and sanskrit literature. Even as a young boy, tampi’s aptitude towards music and poetry was very deep and, under the royal patronage, he could develop his various talents. He did not have any formal “guru” for  music, and his abilities were mostly self-cultivated. At the age of fourteen, he wrote a poem and dedicated it to the mahArAja kArttika tirunAl. The king was immensely pleased, and rewarded him appropriately.  Tampi has already become an important personality in the court, long before mahArAja svAti tirunAl was born.  He continued to enjoy this enviable position even after svAti tirunAL’s demise. Tampi was married to kALipiLLa ta”nkacci, and a female child was born to that couple in the year 1820. This child, kuTTiku~nju ta”ngacci by name, later became the successor to the artistic tradition of her father. She was a versatile composer and poetess, whose contributions to classical music and malayALam literature are substantial.

MaharAja svAti tirunAL was born when tampi was already 31 years old.  As we mentioned earlier, tampi wrote the lullaby “Omanatti”nkaL kiTAVo” for this royal baby. Tampi lived at Trivandrum throughout his life and he had the privilege of enjoying the liberal patronage under four kings and two queens --  dharmarAja kArttika tirunAL, bAalarAma varma, svAti tirunAL, utRam tirunAL, RANi gauri pArvati bAi, and RANi gauri lakSmi bAi. During this long period, tampi was able to witness many events in the royal life, which later became themes for some of his compositions. The rulers, who always held him in high esteem, decorated his hands with  “vIra sh.r”nkhala” (golden chain for bravery), acknowledging his poetical talents and musical scholarship. He was often known among the rulers as ‘kavi’ (poet). svAti tirunAL used to refer to him as tampi mAman (uncle tampi). Tampi died in the year 1862 at the age of 80.

The Compositions of Irayimman tampi

According to T. Lakshmanan Pillai, irayimman tampi has to his credit more that 500 compositions. But, only few of those compositions have survived, which include 39 kIrttanams, 5 varNams, 23 padams and a few ATTAkkatha songs. Of the 39 kIrttanams, 29 are in sanskrit, and the remaining in malayALam.  In the work, “kEraLa sa”ngItam”, the author V. Madhavan Nair has listed  60 compositions attributed to  tampi (which include 33 k.rtis among which 28 are in sanskrit).

Tampi has composed songs on several gods/goddesses of nearby temples, namely  Lord padmAnabha of Tiruvanantapuram, shrI k.rSNa (of guruvAyUr temple, ambalapuzha temple, and neyyAttinkara), shiva, dEvi (ARRi”ngal tiruvARaTTu bhagavati, paLLiyaRa bhAgavati, and kollattu cuRRumala shri pArvati).  He has also sung in praise of the queens, va~ncIshvari RANi gaurI pArvati bAi, and  RANi rukmiNi bAi (sister of svAti tirunAL). Some of these compositions have been made available to us from a rare manuscript of the famous malayALam poet, uLLUr paramEshvara iyer. Among the compositions of tampi, the k.rti “karuNa ceyvAn entu sAhasam k.rSNA” on Lord  guruvAyUrappan is very popular and frequently heard in concerts.  Though composed originally in “shrI rAgam”, the musician Cembai vaidyanAtha bhAgavathr used to sing it in yadukula kAmbhOji, and it is equally pleasing. Among the many pada varNams tampi composed, one in punnAgavarALi (“hAsAlOkE dhanya jAtA”) is a rare treasure, but unfortunately, it is not available in complete form due to the absence of ciTTa svarams and svara sAhityams.

Some popular compositions  of tampi are :


Omanatti”nkaLkkiTAvO - kuRa~nci, Adi  (tArATTu – the lullaby)  

shrImadantapurattil vAzhum - kummi (follk  dance tune)

karuNa ceyvAnentu tAmasam k.rSNa  - shrI, cempaTa  (on guruvAyUr k.rSNan)

aTimalariNa tanne k.rSNa  - mukhAri (on guruvAyUr k.rSNan)

pArthasArathE -  mA~nji, Ekam  (on ambalapuzha k.rSNan)

nIlavaRNNa pAhi mAm – suraTTi, cempaTa  (on neyyAttinkara k.rSNan)  

japata japata harinAma -  tODi, cempaTa  (on viSNu)

candrakalAdhara sAMba – punnAgavarALi, cApu (on shiva)

paradEvatE nin pAdabhajanam – tODi, cempaTa (on ATTingal tiruvAARATTukAvil bhagavati)

kAtyAyani dEvi sadA -  sha”nkarAbharaNam, cempaTa (on ATTingal paLLiyaRa bhagavati)

pAhi mAM giritanayE – sAvEri, cempaTa (on kollattu cuRRumala shrIpArvati)

pAriTa”n”naLile”n”numi”n”nane -  kAmOdari, cempaTa (on va~ncIshvari RANi gauri pArvati bAI)

manasA karutunnatampoTu – saurASTram, cempaTa (on va~ncIshvari RAni gauri pArvati bAI)

kulashEkhara n.rpasOdari - sha”nkarAbharaNam, cempaTa (on RANi rukmiNi bAi)

pada varNam

manasi mE paritapam -  sha”nkarAbharaNam, Adi (malayalam)

amba gaurI girikanyE – Arabhi, tripuTa     (stava varNam) (malayALam)      

sAyaM kiM mE nikEtamAga – nIlAmbari, Adi (sanskrit)                           

tava sAbhimatA kAminI – bhairavi, Adi (sanskrit)              

hAsAlOkyE dhanya jAtA  - punnAgavarAli, Adi (sanskrit) - incomplete

In addition, there are many padams, shlOkams, and a few ATTakkatha compositions to his credit.

Click below for the lyrics of 20 popular compositions of Irayimman Tampi:

Tampi’s k.ris contain numerous and lengthy caraNam lines.  Perhaps, he meant these songs not only to be sung in concert platforms, but as scholarly poems too, to be enjoyed by the readers. He has employed rakti rAgams like kAmbhOji, kalyANi, husEni, dhanyAshi, sAvEri, rItigauLa, mOhanam, bhairavi, madhyamAvati etc, as well as some rare rAgams like mA~nji, ji”ngaLa, kakubha, indIsha.  The last two are very rare.  The song “surabAsha hara” by tampi is in kakubha, perhaps a janyam of mAyamAlavagauLa (??). The padam “ArODu colvan azhaluLLatellAm” is in indIsha rAgam, which was once a populart rAgam for the tuLLal songs of ku~ncan nambiaAr.

Tampi’s compositions convey  various rasams (emotions). His padams abound in “vipralamba sh.r”ngAram” (separation), and “sambhOga sh.r”ngAram” (consummation). Though he excelled in bhakti and sh.r”ngAra rasams, he has portrayed other emotions through many of his musical works. The lullaby portrays motherly affection, the guruvAyur k.rtis generate intense devotion (bhakti), and the various padams, for instance, “prANanAthanenikku nalkiya” are filled with erotic feelings of a love-lorn lady.  The structure of the k.rti, “japata japata harinAma nanuja” on mahA viSNu reminds us of the advaita para k.rtis of sadAshiva brahmEndra.

We find the usage of dvitIyAkSara prAsam (rhyming in the second letter of each line) in most of tampi’s musical and poetical works. This practice is a “must” for poems in malayALam, as the following shlOkam reminds us:

vAsantI madhuvARnna vAkkinu dvitiyAKSara -

prAsam cERppatu kairaLImahiLa tan mA”ngalyamANORkkaNam

(usage of dvitIyAkSara prAsam is an auspicious ornament to the sweet, nectar-like malayAlam, the Lady of kEraLa)

In addition, sprinkled throughout his works,  we find tantalizing alliterations (sound effects), which add further beauty. Here is a typical illustration from the first caraNam of his tODi kIrttanam on ARRi”n”ngal tiruvARATTukAvil bhagavati.

collARrnna nANmukhanum mallAri dEvan tANum

mallIsha vairiyumellAnEravum dEvi !

cillIlatAgramonnu mellE nIyiLakkITTu

collum vElakaL ceytu kalyANi vANITunnu

allal vividhamuLLati”n”nu viravoTu

talli nIkki nallataruLuvAN tava

tellupOlumilla paNi bhavad pada-

pallava”n”ngalullasikka h.rdi mama

 The following shlOkam, invoking the blessings of gaNapati, gives a flavor of tampi’s poetical competence in using rhymes and alliterations.

madasurabhilagaNDam maulishObhIndukhaNDam

vihitavimatadaNDam vighnavicchEdashauNDam |

varadamurupicaNDam vyAyatApINashuNDam

natasuramuniSaNDAm naumi vEtaNdatuNDam ||

Tampi  used the mudrapadmanabha” in his compositions. This caused some confusion regarding the authorship of some of his k.rtis!  This  song “bhOgIndra shAyinam”  is often attributed to svATi tirunAL due to the presence of the mudra “padmanAbha”, but it was found in a hand-written manuscript of tampi.  The rAgam was dhanyAsi. In his work, “kErala sa”ngItam”, the author V. Madhavan Nair attributes it to tampi. The kalyANi k.rti, “sEvE syanandUrEsha” by tampi is often credited to svAti tirunAL.

The website contains MP3 audio clipping of some of irayimman tampi’s compositions.

Go to Part II >>


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