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

The Owl Song

This is a song about the owl and is one of the few I have written about birds.

Owl is a companion for those who are awake at night. A nocturnal bird, it would be up and about in the night. There are people who consider the owl to be a bad omen as they think that the hoot of an owl brings bad news. The farmers, however, love the owl and consider it a friend — primarily because the owl’s main diet is rodents and thus helping farmers control its population. The farmers welcome owls near their farms.

The owl’s hoot sounds like a screech, and so there are many who are afraid of it. But if you observe carefully, the hoot can sound differently, depending on whether the owl is looking for its mate, if it is calling its owlets or if it has found food. At times, it would even sound like the laughter of a child.

I like the owl and would be happy if I could get a glimpse of one some night. I have always wanted to write a song about the owl, for when I hear its hoot, it feels as though the darkness of the night is talking to me. I have attempted to bring about this emotion in the following lines.

— Perumal Murugan


It is the sound of darkness
That hoot of the owl
Tune in and heed to it
For it is a many nuanced tongue


Shattering the dense darkness
Smattering the solid silence, it
Speaks to you and allays you


A pair of eyes that bore and stare
They bounce around like two balls
The beak parts open for a moment
To emit a scary raucous hoot
Just listen to it with an open mind
Hear the peals of a child’s glee
See the darkness dissolve away
And a grace that fills your heart

The Artiste | On Kattaikkuttu with P Rajagopal

“The Artiste” is a series by TM Krishna featuring the singer in conversation with various artists about them and their art forms. In this three-part conversation he speaks with Senior Kattaikkuttu Artiste P. Rajagopal.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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

The Koel Song

This is “The Koel Song”. Various poets have sung on the koel. “The Koel Song” of Bharathiyar is one of his three major works. We all love to hear the sound of the koel. It is something familiar to us. There are not many of us, who would have actually seen the koel, because it tends to stay out of sight and is generally a shy bird. It is its nature that it would move to denser foliage and hide itself if it gets an inkling that it is being observed. But our poets have observed even such a shy bird quite carefully and have described it. In Sangam poetry, Poet Avvaiyar uses the beak of a koel to describe the jasmine bud. The male koel has a completely black body but its beak is white. This is what Avvaiyar noted and used in her poem. Here is my “koel song”.

— Perumal Murugan


Yonder coos a Koel
In a sweet voice again and again
Yonder coos a Koel
My soul goes searching there
It beseeches, and it implores
My soul goes searching there


Is it the rhapsody of nature?
Proffering itself thus
Is this its way to enchant?


Tucked away in the foliage of
Tall, high trees, hiding
A bewitching tune that
Fills the airwaves like
It is the Ambrosia,
It is the Panacea
Is it the voice of a Koel, or
Is it the voice of the All Knowing?
One wonders in awe
And with great grace

In solidarity with the farmers

Poet Perumal Murugan and Karnatic musician TM Krishna have come together to create a song in solidarity with the protesting farmers at New Delhi’s borders. The song, simply titled “Dedicated to the Farmers of India”, talks about their pathetic condition in the country and the apathy of the powers that be. Written in the rural Tamil dialect that characterises Murugan’s writings and set in Raga Dhanyasi, the song was released on social media on December 8. Murugan, who has widely written about the plight of the farmers in his region in western Tamil Nadu, wrote these verses around two years ago but they were set to tune now by Krishna, in the light of farmers’ resistance.

The seeds that were sowed did not sprout
And few that did, did not flourish
With no rain, no water, we perish in this drought (drylands)

Is this forever, we worry
Scorched lands are all what we get?
We, poor, beg and beseech
Is this our fate?
When will the rain come, with the scent of the earth? (drylands)

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.

Bezwada Wilson & TM Krishna in conversation with Nilanjana Roy

Bezwada Wilson & TM Krishna in conversation with Nilanjana…

This conversation with Bezwada Wilson and TM Krishna was part of the Indus Conversations series by Tulika Books, 11 December 2016. TM Krishna, a carnatic music vocalist and social commentator, and Bezwada Wilson, National Convenor of the Safai Karamchari Andolan, are recipients of the 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Awards. TM Krishna was honoured for his work toward “social inclusiveness in culture”, and his sustained efforts to bring music and arts to the marginalised sections of society, particularly in the underdeveloped rural areas of Tamil Nadu. Bezwada Wilson has spent his life campaigning against manual scavenging. He founded the community based  Safai Karamchari Andolan (SKA) to fight for the eradication of manual scavenging.
The conversation of the two awardees with writer Nilanjana Roy probes a range of issues from the meaning of liberty and equality, and nationalism and freedom, to the experience of caste based discrimination, and the role of art in changing our perpectives of the world.