Hindolam – A Path of Energy

The Raga Series Mar 2, 2020
(Read Kalyani – Kindness, the previous article in The Raga Series)

(Catch our exclusively curated playlist for Hindolam on Spotify and YouTube for an exquisite listening experience!)

This write-up will hold a very significant place in my heart for two reasons: 

  1. Bharatnatyam was the medium through which I was introduced to Hindolam and
  2. It is, by far, my dearest and most beloved raga

In fact, the former has everyone to do with why the latter transpired. If you do not perceive why this sounds more like a diary entry and less like a disquisition, here is why.   

In 2014, I was in my final year of a three-year diploma course in Bharatanatyam. We were to present our ‘Arangetram’ in a few months, and with school, exams, dance classes, and rehearsals every day, my schedule was quite tight, to say the least. Every evening, when I returned home, I’d feel drained of energy, unable to do anything more. This was my routine.   

On one such evening in dance class, our guru started teaching us a Thillana, the concluding musical piece of the repertoire (‘Margam’). It was set to the raga Hindolam and it was my first time listening to the raga. We learnt a very small portion of the Thillana, for about half an hour and then our guru made us sit down and understand the intricacies of the song. We followed her and sang along, closing our eyes and listening to the music of it. I was no conditioned singer, but as I listened to Hindolam and sang, I had a vivid image in mind – a waterfall, one that seems to originate from a point source far above, flows out and keeps expanding, rippling. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but the water, its flow and fall, stuck to my head throughout. Somehow, when I returned home after class that day, I didn’t feel the usual energy drain. I only felt lighter, I was at peace. As I listened to Hindolam endlessly, it grew on me and I kept going back to it for reasons I couldn’t discern. All I knew was that listening to the raga made me feel real.  

I talked to my guru about it later and strangely, she told me that she had envisioned a similar sketch, one of the water flowing and cascading. I had listened only to a layman’s version of the Hindolam Thillana and the intense thought that went into inferring its essence was gripping. Besides, in general, the lyrics or sahithyam of a melody could be chalked up to be the source of any rasa that it evokes, while a Thillana barely has any worded lyric. Thillana is primarily jathi syllables threaded together and in case of Hindolam, the music in this jathi sufficed to let me float and sweep through the movements, like water. I remember tearing up by the climax of my rehearsal for my Arangetram, in the course of and after the Thillana. For a long time, I wondered what this meant.  

Upon having several further conversations and some much needed introspection, I gained the clarity I sought. To me, Hindolam suggests energy flow as ‘Shrotavagam’ (how water seems to flow from a point fount), a metaphor of life in itself. An ocean or a river, or any water body, is a paradigm of several entities. These entities make, obstruct, or aid to the fervour of the water’s flow.

Hindolam depicts this flow in life, be it a wave, a gush, a fall or simply a mellow movement.

Hindolam says, life, like the water, will flow on and reach different destinations, regardless of the kind of path it takes. And that is a medicine of hope.   

The word ‘Hindolam’ means ‘swing’, conveying the power of wielding emotions alternately. Hindolam is a child (janya raga) of the 20th Melakartha raga, Natabhairavi. It is called an Audava Raga, owing to its difference of two swaras (rishabam and panchamam) from its parent Natabhairavi. Hindolam is a fairly popular raga for aalapanas in concerts, given its palliative and amiable tuning nature. This could also be attributed to the prevalence of several paragon compositions in the raga, ones that often evoke a sense of recognition, acknowledgement and enjoyment from the audience. Owing to this, Carnatic musicians include Hindolam in their itinerary of performance frequently.  

Famous music composers like ARR and Ilayaraja have credibly used the raga in their productions. ‘Innisai Alavediye’ from the movie Varalaru, ‘Naan thedum sevvanthi’ from Dharma, ‘Margazhi Poove’ from May Maadham use Hindolam quite transparently. ‘Om Namashivaya’ from Salangai Oli is a beautiful instance of how extensible Hindolam is, even for cinematic compositions. Further, ‘Pothi vecha malliga mottu’ from Mann Vasanai, ‘Ek ladki thi’ from Love you Hamesha, ‘Darisanam Kidaikatha’ from Alaigal Oivathillai are classics in Hindolam. ‘Oh Janani’ from Pudhiya ragam, ‘Yakkai thiri’ from Aayudha ezhuthu are interesting explorations of Hindolam in Tamil cinema. Evergreen Malayalam numbers like ‘Oh Anupama’ from Aayilyam Naalil, ‘Allikalil’ from Praja, ‘Saandra Sandhye’ from Vacation, ‘Ragasagarame’ from Sathyavaan Saavithri are delightful Hindolam frameworks.   

Carnatic compositions like ‘Samajavaragamana’ by Thyagarajar, ‘Sama gana lolane’ by GN Balasubramanian, ‘Govardhana Girisham’ by Muthuswami Dikshitar, ‘Nambi kettavar’ by Papanasam Sivan are glorious fortunes in the world of Hindolam. ‘Maa mavathu shree’ by Vasudevacharya, ‘Padmanabha Pahi’ by Swathi Thirunal are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful musical experiences Hindolam offers.  

Hindolam is a cruise to every listener, with its share of torn feelings. While one may experience a journey from suffering to bliss, another may encounter a journey from absurdity to clarity. Every listener makes his distinct trail with Hindolam, and only he can see light in the kind of energy that the raga deluges.   

The beauty of Hindolam is thus, not in its flow, but its directions. 

P.S: To those wanting to listen to Hindolam for the first time, I highly recommend starting with instrumental music (flute, in particular).  

The Raga Series intends to elucidate on the Raga-Rasa relationship to make your listening experience more enjoyable. The series is based on the author’s views and is purely subjective. Music tracks are shared for your quick reference and their rights belong to their respective owners.


Sandhya Ramesh

If you want to know where to find her, try the best chaat or ice cream place in town.