Musical Marghazhi

It’s 4:30 am, and a drift of Carnatic music wakes me up, “Nee iranga yenil Pugal Yedhu…” (Rough translation – If you do not descend to my help, who else will?)

In my household, the month of December meant that Jaya T.V. would start to blare even before the crack of dawn.

I pretend to be asleep, but the compelling sound of the music draws me to the living room, and I join my mom, who would already be foaming up her tea by transferring it back and forth in the davara tumbler. “What Ragam?”, she quizzes me. No “Good morning” or “Hi” or “Sorry, I know you were up late last night, studying”, nothing. I grab my own davara tumbler, “Mom please. I am not in first grade. Athana. What did I miss?” “You missed a very good song. Tell me which Ragam”, she quizzes me again and proceeds to sing over the already blaring T.V., “Kanjadalayatakshi…” “Kamala Manohari“, I intercepted before she completed the line. I got a nod of approval much to my relief.

To be honest, I didn’t really know this Ragam, but had heard it enough times to memorize the name of the Ragam, and besides, the second word in the song itself is the name of the Ragam. I hoped she wouldn’t catch up on my trick.

Marghazhi, as this month is called in Tamil,  is the month of music, devotion and God. It is better known as the Chennai Music Season. Musicians/Dancers and artists of all kinds from all over the world conglomerate and perform all over the city. Most concerts are free and open to all. If you are to visit Chennai, December is the time! Mumbai is also a great city to be at this time of the year and boasts of many popular artists.

Because we lived in Pune, my mom would make up for it either by having the T.V. on all day or making me sing, whichever her mood deemed fit that day.


“Identify the Ragam” is my mother’s favorite game to play. For those of you who are completely lost and have no clue what I am talking about, please read this first. (TLDR; Different variations of notes leads to more than one combination of a musical scale or Ragam, for example, the C# Major scale – CDEFGABC is the Ragam DheeraShankarabharanam in Carnatic Classical Music)

No matter where in the house I was, or what I was doing at that given moment, my mom would randomly sing a song and yell out, “Aishu, what Ragam is this?” If I did not reply instantaneously, she would downright threaten to disown me. Well, not really, but as punishment she would make me repeat the Arohanam and Avarohanam 10 times. (Arohanam is the set of notes that goes up the scale and Avarohanam is the set of notes that goes down the scale in a Ragam, like in the example above, CDEFGABC is the Arohanam and CBAGFEDC is the Avaronaham for DheeraShankarabharanam).

My dance teacher (a professionally trained singer herself) is also fond this very game, except I was seldom allowed to participate in it because I almost always knew the answer, unless it was a very rare Ragam. “How do you do it?”, my peers would ask me. At that time, I would only shrug my shoulders and say, “I dunno man, it comes automatically!”. Thanks to my mother, my brain has developed a Neural Network that can identify (most) Ragams! Did you know, the brain is a pattern recognition machine and that it is churning constantly? It is our very essence and the reason for our existence. Had the brain not been able to identify patterns, we would have been long extinct! For this very reason, I believe that there is nothing such as ‘tone deaf’ or ‘no musical ear’. ALL of us have the ability to identify Ragams. It is just the matter of developing that neural network 🙂

On that note, I wish you all a very happy and musical Marghazhi!




Fun links –

To give you an idea of what I used to wake up to at 4:30 am every December :


Nee Irangayenil Pugal Yedhu:

Identify the Ragam and tell me you find a resemblance 🙂



Golu time madness



It would begin exactly a week before Navaratri. Amma would be the one to start it first always,until the rest of the house caught on too. The amount of cleaning done before Golu is actually more than the rest of the year put together! It was my job to bring down the boxes we stored the Golu Bommais in, and sift through them. This is the easiest, and the most fun part, until you realise that you shouldn’t have been lazy while wrapping the dolls up last year, and that you should have labelled them to begin with. picture1

We had lovely sets that my mother had collected over time. Our collection also contained dolls that were passed on to my mother by her mother and grandmother! I, for a fact know that the Mara-Pachi’s are older than Amma! We had the standard Chettiars.The paati in our set has a mortar-pestel in her hand and the thatha has a visari. I once saw this modern set, in which the paati had a mobile phone and the thatha had a laptop! A very interesting and ‘modern’ set we own, is a cricket set, and each of the players is Lord Ganesha himself! So, it’s Ganesha bowling to Ganesha with another Ganesha doing the wicket-keeping and so on! (The Umpire Ganesha has a noticeable paunch for some reason.) This set is a recurring favourite and I always used to get confused placing it properly. Another favourite of mine is a copper Kitchen set, Amma got custom made for the Kalyanam set. ‘Golu kutti podum’, My mother would say every time she bought a new set. Now that I come to think of it, I think we are Golu hoarders. Every time we go out traveling, we buy souvenirs because, “Golu la vekkalam!”

We were the only Tamilians in our lane and which is why this event would be very popular.


*Translation – Random mami : Sing a song, child!”*

Amma would even invite a Marathi Bhajan group who would sing Devi songs in Marathi and Hindi! We would of course have the Tamil Mamis come over and there would be at least one Mami who would sing the typical Mamavathu. Which is why, Amma made it a point to learn unique Devi songs every year to avoid repetition. “Adhe adhe same same, bore aghurdhu!”, she would say. I, obviously, wasn’t spared. Amma would begin this quest for “new” songs approximately 2 weeks beforehand and I had to help her with the research.

I enjoyed Saraswathi Pooja day as a kid, because that meant that my Harmonium, Salangai (and especially my Math text book) were to be kept dysfunctional. As Akka and I grew older, Amma insisted that we keep our Laptops too. Considering both of us are CS Engineers, it got inconvenient. (All the kumkumam on the screen didn’t help either.)

Vijayadashami day is actually the busiest, because that is the only day in the year that my moped would get a wash and also, that day meant, that I would learn something new at Dance Class! After I got back home, Amma would also teach me a new song. In the evening, after the Arti, she would move the Kalasham slightly and put the dolls to sleep (I am sorry, I did not find a better translation for “padukka veppa). This would be followed by a few days of an upset tummy, because I would literally only eat Sundal through the entirety of the ten days.

This Navaratri, I am very far away from home and hope to continue the ‘madness’ that Amma passed on to me, when I have a house of my own.

Being a Marathi TamBrahm

doodle1As weird as that sounds, I am exactly that, a Marathi TamBrahm. I was born in Pune, but raised the TamBrahm way. I speak fluent Marathi and Tamil and also know Hindi, of course. It’s amazing to be a pakka Puneri mulgi who speaks Tamil and mavali Hindi all together, at the same time!

Being raised the TamBrahm way, my mornings started with “Kaushalya Supraja Rama poorva sandhya pravarthathe“, minus the filter coffee, because both Amma and I are chai-persons, so our davra-tumblers were filled with tea instead! I was enrolled into Bharatanatyam classes at the age of 4. Amma and Thatha taught me Carnatic Music and have trained me to identify raagas within the first 10 seconds of the song. My Akka and I  were made to  by-heart a ton of Shlokams that are deemed necessary for survival. (Imagine having the Vishnu Sahasranamam committed to memory?)

But we were assal Marathi people, we used “shengdanecha kooth” instead of coconut in our Bhaji. (Yes, not Subji, not curry, Bhaji! Deal with it! ). Chapati-Bhaji was our staple diet, but what good is a Tamil house-hold if its refrigerator is devoid of dosa-maavu? 

Festivals were all celebrated the Tamil way, hands down. There would be a padi-kolam out our doorstep even on gudi-padwa. Heck, Amma even drapes a Madi-saar that day! Ganpati was celebrated for 1 1/2 days instead of the 10 day Maharashtrian way. Puran Poli used to be Neivedhyam majority of the time. We always have a grand Golu during Navaratri. Of course there would be a lot of mami’s coming over and me going all around our theru collecting Sundal( and consciously trying not to repeat the same Devi song as last year at the same mami’s house ) but every year, Amma called Mrs. Gulawne’s Bhajan Party, who would sing beautiful Abhangs, Powadas and Gondhals. Such fun!

Someone asked me what I called myself when I casually said something in Marathi once, “You are SO Marathi, accent and everything!“, they said, “But you also speak Tamil and Hindi. I don’t get it!” I couldn’t help but laugh. It is confusing for the others, yes, but I am really proud and glad that Amma brought me up this way, she instilled in me the best of what both these cultures have to offer. Now that I am so far away from home, I find that this is all I have with me. These Marathi-TamBrahm Values are what make me, me!

Jay Maharashtra and nandri for reading this all the way through!