Vinata Suta Ra Ra
On Garuda, Thyagaraja and the Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam
The only Carnatic song I know on Garuda is Vinata Suta Ra Ra in the raga Huseini. The song is part of Thyagaraja’s ‘opera’ Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam.
Hiranyakashipu has bound his son in snakes (or in a ‘serpent spell’) and thrown him into the ocean. The Lord of the Sea asks Garuda (enemy of snakes) to come and free him. This is the song through which the Lord of the Sea appeals to Garuda to come and save Prahlada.
You can listen to S. Ramanathan’s rendition here:
Thyagaraja of course references Garuda in several other songs, usually in reference to Vishnu (e.g. as garuda gamana). I have been struck by his penchant to describe deities in terms of compound relationships. For example, referring to Parvati as Rama-pati-sodhari (sister of the husband of Sita) and Ganesha as Giriraja-suta-tanaya (scion of the offspring of the king of the mountains — or Hima’s grandson). A favorite example is Vishnu described as Vinata-suta-vaahana (one whose vehicle is the son of Vinata, i.e. Garuda). But this is the only song I know of by him or any other composer on Garuda. [Please let me know if you know of another!]
There is a fantastic production of Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam from AIR Vijayawada in 1959, under the helm of Balamuralikrishna. It has himself, AP Komala, Voleti Venkateswarulu, Srirangam Gopalarathnam and MV Ramana Murthy among others, and a full orchestra. In just about 75 minutes, they cover 20 songs, many sung in energetic but never frenetic chorus. Voleti is superb as sutradhar stringing snippets of ragamalika in between the songs. Do listen in:
Two things strike me about Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam. First, Thyagaraja is unafraid of repeating ragas. There is a lot of Kalyani and a closely allied Yamuna Kalyani, as well as a lot of Saurashtra. His other famous opera Nauka Charitam also shows a lot of repetition — of Punnagavarali and Saurashtra, in that instance. He clearly had his reasons, presumably to do with the specific context of the song, and the over-riding rasa or emotion of the opera. What he was clearly not doing was trying to impress anyone. If he wished to do so, he could very well have a new raga for each composition, let alone using a different raga for each.
Second, despite Narasimha preceding Rama as an avatara and this being an opera with Prahlada as protagonist, most of the songs sung by Prahlada end up with Thyagaraja addressing Rama, as is his wont! It is as though once he started singing, he simply could not help himself — Rama enters the frame, and Prahlada becomes Thyagaraja. It is as though he simply could not care less about such minor details.
Which brings me back to Garuda. Maybe because of my name, I have always had a strong affinity for Garuda and what he stood for. He is clearly strong, clearly loyal, clearly capable and clearly smart. But above all the overwhelming vibe you get from him, is that he couldn’t give a damn what anyone thought of him. He did exactly what was right by him, and by the situation. Much like Thyagaraja in composing the songs of Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam.
I have always found it perplexing that Garuda is not a more popular name, and not celebrated more.