The Sparrow Song

When we talk about birds, we cannot but talk about sparrows. The sparrow has been used as a metaphor for freedom. In one of his songs, Bharathiyar has written “be unbound and free, as this sparrow is”. The sparrow is a bird that would nest in our houses and people often do not disturb it. They would protect and maintain it till the time, the eggs are hatched, and the sparrow flies away with its chicks. It is our belief that the nesting of a sparrow in our house foretells joyous tidings.

In this song, I have used the notion of the sparrow to express my inner self and have also attempted to maintain the stress on the second syllable throughout this song. This is my “sparrow song”.

— Perumal Murugan


The sparrow takes off into the space
Sails into the expansive skies


Kicks offs and soars
Its silken torso in orbit


Away from the nest, it built with care
It grazes and grazes the soft white clouds
It grazes and grazes

Cuts off all the ties and
It kisses and kisses the blue sky
It kisses and kisses

Round and round, in all directions
It traverses and traverses, with all grace
It traverses and traverses

The Crow Song

When I was able to learn about birds, I collated a book on birds. As I had spent my youth on farmland, I was aware of many birds but until then, I hadn’t observed any of them with care. This book project gave me an opportunity to learn about them in detail.

A bird I studied then was the crow. Not a day passes without us encountering a crow. It is omnipresent and very approachable. But in general, people do not have a good opinion about them. It is a bird that has learnt to co-exist with humans and helps us a lot too. Like the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”, we do not care much for crows and they are taken for granted due to their proximity.

When I was at Singapore, I had looked around for crows. There were many birds, but I couldn’t find a crow. I was surprised that there was a place that did not have crows! When I enquired, I was told that crows would be shot dead if seen. I was surprised to see a country that did not have crows and was reminded of a line from Kannadasan’s “Kaakkai Illa Cheemaiyile” (A place abroad, with no crows). I wrote this song with my memory from Singapore in mind. Earlier, I had written a song for children earlier about the crow. This song is an enhanced version of that.

— Perumal Murugan


Have you seen, Have you seen
A bird like the crow
Have you seen, Have you seen


So approachable and so friendly
Soars all around with no worry


It comes down to the places where we live
It comes down to those places
Displays closeness, it demonstrates friendship – with us
Displays closeness, it demonstrates friendship
Inky blackness are its wings

Slender neck, to see us, it swings
Caws and caws, it caws and caws – with the graceful
Song of the crow, the world, it calls

A “Kaigal” on manual scavenging

In 2015, I had an opportunity to meet Bezwada Wilson for the first time. Since then, I have met him many times and have even conducted an in-depth interview with him, which will be published as a book soon. It is only after meeting him that I was able to understand the life of manual scavengers. We may think that the days of manual scavenging are in the past, but that is not true. Wilson, as a person involved in this cause, provided us statistics of where and how many people are still involved in this practice. It was shocking to me, and I have been thinking about these people since then.

Later, when I met TM Krishna, he suggested that I write a song about manual scavengers. While I had many ideas, it was difficult for me to express those in words. I pondered over it for over a year, wondering what should make the central theme of the song. I wanted the song to talk about the lives of the manual scavengers and raise many questions. These people were scavenging with their hands. So, I wanted to make their hands central to the song. It has has been performed many times by TM Krishna and is well known today.

— Perumal Murugan


Should fetid faeces (shit) be picked by hands?
Should fetid faeces be picked by human hands?
What eternal suffering! Do we care?
Is this civil? Is this fair?
This society, is this civil? Is this fair?
Are we even human beings?


These are hands that are meant to plough
To eat the food, that they produce and grow
By hugging, mercy, they will show
Hands are gifts from God, we pray and bow


To lose one’s life in putrid cesspools
To live in sewers, cleaning stools
To pick up all the refuse and litter
To clean everything and make it better
Do we need a human hand?
Why would that be the right stand?

Also ReadPerumal Murugan’s “Koel Song”

Would we not be spat at?
Spat at by the entire world.
Spat at, spat at, spat at, spat at
Spat at by the graceful world

TM Krishna’s The Edict Project: Ashoka and the quest…

TM Krishna‘s (@tmkrishna) Edict Project, in collaboration with Ashoka University was released on 14th October, the day Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism.

After the violent annexing of Kalinga, King Ashoka (268 BCE to 232 BCE) underwent a transformation and dharma became the pivot of his royal policy and personal belief. He disseminated these ideas through a novel medium: a series of inscriptions incised on natural rock-faces and on pillars cut: The Edicts of Ashoka. This project renders for the first time in musical form, these simple, brief, personal, and yet profound, abiding and universal Edicts of Ashoka. Sung in the original Prakrit, in a garland of raga-s drawn from the Karnatik Tradition, with English subtitles, they carry the philosopher-emperor’s vision of a humane society into the realm of the arts.

Aparna (@aparnamahiyaria) from the ICF team spoke to the artiste regarding his vision for this project, the process and challenges of undertaking this task, and what message it brings to our own turbulent times.


Aparna: Two of the nation’s iconic symbols, the chakra and the emblem, come from the most famous of Ashoka’s edicts, the pillar at Sarnath. These were used to represent tolerance, truth and non-violence — principles which seem to be long forgotten under the present regime. Can remembering Ashoka through his edicts, be seen as an act of protest, a reminder of why these symbols were chosen to define the nation?

TM Krishna (TMK): We live in turbulent times when hate and violence are dominating our physical and emotional spheres of living.  Rediscovering the edicts is no doubt a critique of the present and an act of questioning today’s socio-politics. But it also gives us an opportunity to come in contact with an ethical truth. And I do hope that this moves us enough to realise what we have become.

Aparna: These edicts are in text form and in archaic languages and scripts. Moreover, as you say, they are being rendered musically for the first time. Is there anything about them that lends itself readily for adaptation to the Karnatic music tradition? What were the challenges? Can you speak a bit about the process?

TMK: Philosophically and politically many edicts are in harmony with my own thoughts on personal and public life. But that alone is not enough to enable a musical interpretation. Prakrit is a language I did not know semantically and tonally. Therefore, I had to learn to pronounce and enunciate the text. Buddhist Monk Shravasti Dhammika and linguistic scholar Dr Naresh Keerthi helped me through this entire process of learning and understanding. Since the edicts have been written with variations in different places, Dr Keerthi helped edit them. It is also important that the lyrics must flow in music, so it took me about two months to create this musical interpretation for four edicts. I have composed them in ragas, but I do feel that they can be sung in many other musical styles.

Also see | TM Krishna sings Dama Dam Mast Qalandar

Aparna: While Ashoka turned to Buddhism as a ruler overcome by remorse, Ambedkar’s turn to Buddhism was quite different — it was an act of rejection of oppression by a Dalit, a move towards emancipation. You are bringing these two together by releasing the project on 14th October, the day Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. What connects these two for you?

TMK: Ashoka and Ambedkar are not only separated by time and place. They belonged to contrasting social contexts and had very different political directions. Yet, both sought a society where compassion, justice, equality and ethics are an everyday reality. And hence for me bringing them together through this project was natural.

Aparna: Can you share more about how you have arranged these edicts into distinct sets for release? Is there a thematic choice involved that goes into making the first and subsequent sets? What are the forthcoming sets going to be about? 

TMK: I am very glad that Ashoka University has agreed to collaborate on this project. The first release contains four edicts around the theme of justice/dharma. I do hope that through a period of time, we will be able to bring out most of the edicts, especially the ones that have profound social and political resonance. On what textual or musical form the rest of the edicts will take, I would like to remain flexible. The themes or structures that bring edicts together can be their similarity or contrast. This depends on the meaning and lyrical form of each edict.

Aparna: Thank you for talking to us about this very fascinating project. We look forward to any future releases.