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‘Vetti Veru Vaasam…’

February 25, 2015

the scent of VettiVer

A very sensitive haunting melody, folk beauty from IlayaRaja for ‘Mudhal Mariyaadhai’ (meaning: First respects) starring thespian of Tamil film industry Shivaji Ganesan:

The picture is about an ageing village head and a lower-caste girl who arrives as an outsider in the village. A very unusual friendship blossoms between the much married man and the girl who become silent companions something which their rural background may never approve of. The song is like a balm to the heart of the man whose word is the last word in his village Panchayat. He is well regarded for his impartial justice.

The film was released in my school days. Director: Bharati Raja

Despite its unusual, taboo and heavy subject, the film was a grand success at the box office. Now its exactly 30 years since the picture is released, unbelievable. The lingering melody holds my heart ever since.

‘Vetti veru vaasam – Vettiver (ver means root in tamil) is actually a fragrant herbal root (or may be a kind of grass native to these parts) you find commonly in Tamil Nad and Kerala. We drop the dried root in a clay pot of water so the pot water gets extreme cool in peak summers. The browned root emits a fragrance only when immersed in the water, not otherwise.

In the Shiva temple in my street, we actually have garlanded Shiva Lingam permanently with a Vettiver mala (a garland of dried vetti ver). Because we want to keep our Lord coolest in summers! Its such a gesture – our temple priest did it with such a love… and over the Lingam hangs a small copper urn shaped like a funnel dripping water in droplets in perpetuity onto the garland… to keep the fragrance in the air all 24 hours …

I do have a ‘Vetti Ver’ Ganesha in my place, but its not fragrant. A mere show-piece. But I love this ‘ver’ so much that I wanted it at home as a permanent fixture.

So ‘Vetti ver’ is a special aromatic root – it gets a life with water. The water in which the vetti ver is immersed is heavenly when it makes its way through your parched throat on a hot sunny day… What is fridge/ice water for…

The Vetti ver water also has cooling properties. Herbal/medical effects.

In this picture, the man and the girl become like vetti ver and the water. The vetti ver’s vaasam (scent) – rarest and one of a kind – this is what their strange acquaintance, mature friendship is like, that the world does not know about.  Neither do the man and the girl want to figure out what it is. They let things stay the way they are…

One more thing, Vetti ver is not green – which means it is not fresh. It is dried, aged, coarse, before its immersed in the water that absorbs its inner fragrance and in the process develops a curious pleasant taste with a special aroma. The roots, we keep dipped in the pot for months. There’s no need to change/rinse the pot. Water is topped up. The longer the water stays with roots, the stronger is the essence. The ver also cleanses the water.

I have a packet of Vetti Ver even now at home ready for the summers. I shall click pictures and post here later on.

In the song, vetti ver thus refers succintly to the age factor of the hero who is a little past his prime. To begin with, the village head is like the dry vettiver – aloof and unemotional. The village roars to his spontaneous wits and quick retorts. The man is arrogant, sarcastic and downright rude but inside him is this tenderest heart. Marvelous lyrics penned by national award winning poet Vairamuthu.

The Vetti Ver and the water … how they enrich each other is what the first line mentions. Without the vettiver, the water is plain. Vettiver is still vettiver without water (emotion) no doubt, but water can still reach to its core. It is understandable only if you have a Tamil background. In which case, you need no explanation.

The song is sung by Malaysia Vasudevan, a great singer who is no more. A Malaysian Indian-Tamil, he migrated to Tamil Nadu for playback singing in Tamil pictures. He was at the peak of his career with this film, a competition for S P Balasubramaniam who has always ruled the roost in Tamil filmy music scene. Malaysia Vasudevan’s husky throaty voice goes well with rural subjects/older heroes. Janaki’s high pitch start is another highlight. Most of us cannot conquer this pitch – or try….! This song is unique to me because its not even hummable easy!

A beautiful village story. A natural.

Vetti veru vaasam – the fragrance of the vetti ver

Vedalakulla nesam – friendship/love amid hostility/animosity/spat

Poovukku vaasam undu – flowers have fragrance

Bhoomikkum vaasam undu – the earth also has fragrance

Verrukku vaasam vandhadundo, maane! – has the root ever got the fragrance (my) dear!

One of my all time favourites. The more I age, the more and more I love this song laden with such a wealth of meaning.

In the’pallavi/anu pallavi’ comes the verse:

”Paasamulla dharmam – the world/court of love

idha paavamunu solladhu – won’t declare this as sin

Kuruvi vaazhum koottukkulla – in the nest of the sparrows

gundu vekka koodadhu – (you) should not drop a bomb

‘The last 2 lines in ‘saranam’ (last stanza) are killer:

‘Buddhi ketta desam – the senseless country

Podi vechu pesum – will gossip (heartlessly)

Jaadhi madha bedham ellam – the differences in caste, faith and all are

Munnavanga senja mosam – the injustice (folly) committed by our forefathers…

In 1985, this was a revolution in a way. May be even today.  Look at the laidback lifestyle in interior Tamil village of the mid ’80s. Something you may not find in 2015, a good 30 years since 1985 when the picture was released. Whether we should be happy about that or be wary, I am not sure.  Because I definitely mourn the loss of innocence in anything.

This is Vintage.

  1. Raviteja permalink

    Thank you for sharing English translation. I saw this movie in telugu. I saw some other translations…but they are just translation. Your detailed explanation and relating to life insidences made me to appreciate this song lyrics and Tamil culture even more. I have small request. Share your translation and opinions of Tamil songs with good lyrical value. At least this one. Kodiyile malliga pool…

  2. I shall try to. Kodiyile Malligappoo is also my personal favourite. This song was entirely pictured in ‘Muttam’ – a seaside fishing hamlet in Kanyakumari district. This picture ‘Kadalora Kavidhaigal’ (tales from seaside) also was directed by Bharathi Raja, director of ‘Mudhal Mariyadhai’ (first respect). Same music director Ilayaraja. Thanks for your kind comment.

  3. Agm permalink

    Beautifully explained…!!
    Thank you very much sir.

  4. Azeez permalink

    well done ,sir,,,I am from Kerala, and my father, was a great fan of this song.he Knows, Tamil, and I dont know, it..he died, 25 years ago..this, songwas in his lips.. I was searching, the meaning of… Thank you very much..for your wonderful english..
    I am Abdul Azees
    9495931864..if you have time, call me
    shiyaazeez @gmail. Com

  5. ian permalink

    Thank you very much for explaining. Please, if possible could you also explain ‘Oh nenje needhan’ song from ‘Darling darling darling’ movie with Bhagyaraj and Purnima? It is another of my favourites and I only know a few words of Tamil but get a sense of the feeling of the songs. – Ian

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