శశి వదనే – Sasi Vadane

I strongly believe that knowing the meaning of the lyrics of a song adds to its melody and also many of them are linguistic and cultural treasures owing to the prodigious skills of the lyricist. One such legend is Veturi Sundararama Murthy whose four decade career will be hard to replicate for any person.

This blog will ‘recover from translation’, meaning it will try to decipher the exquisitely written lyrics by translating to English, so that a wider audience can be exposed to these gems and also, unfortunately, many of my Telugu speaking peers can at last fathom the depth of each skillfully crafted verse, which is becoming increasingly difficult in a generation of India where one finds it hard to carry conversations solely using the regional language.

I’ll start with one of my favourites ‘Sasi Vadane’ (wrote it in English so that it pops up in Google) from the 1997 classic – Iruvar (Released as ‘Iddaru’ in Telugu). It commences right after the protagonists consummate their marriages and hence, this song carries a strong tone of intimacy. The video, I presume, alludes to Mohanlal’s character playing a ‘knight in shining armor’ in one of the roles he might have donned some time in the past not explicitly part of the story and is being told to Aishwarya Rai as part of their courtship.

శశివదనే శశివదనే స్వరనీలాంబరి నీవా

శశి = moon
వదనము = face
నీలాంబరి = a melodious raga which forms the foundation of the commonly sung lullabies.

‘One whose face resembles the moon (not this), are you the one with a voice as melodious the నీలాంబరి Raga’

సందెల వన్నెల వైఖరితో నీ మది తెలుపగ రావా

Veturi really enjoys playing with వికృతి. In several of his works, one can find these ‘distorted forms’, which in fact are essential for maintaining the tempo while conveying the same meaning when there is a constraint on the number of syllables.

సందె = సంధ్య = twilight
వన్నెల = వన్నియములు = hues
వైఖరి = mannerism

‘In the way of the shades of twilight, come to me to convey your thoughts’

అచ్చొచ్చేటి వెన్నెలలో విచ్చందాలు నవ్వగనే
గుచ్చెత్తేటి కులుకు సిరి నీదా

In this line, Veturi really starts playing with సంధి.And although he isn’t as much a conformist as Vishwanatha Satyanarayana (వెయ్యిపడగలు, although I still haven’t finished it), he sticks to ‘Prasa’ in this situation, ensuring the second character repeats in both lines.

I don’t want to bore you with the classification of సంధి (Bookmark this cheat sheet. Gosh! They should have allowed this in school)

అచ్చొచ్చేటి = అచ్చివచ్చు = fall into place, suitable
విచ్చందాలు = విచ్చు + అందాలు = heartfelt laughter, not ROFL!
గుచ్చెత్తేటి = గుచ్చి + ఎత్తేటి = piercing
కులుకు = grace
సిరి = used to refer to Goddess Lakshmi or any beautiful lady. Serves as a synonym for wealth too.

‘Does the piercing grace of heartfelt laughter under pleasing moonlight belong to you?’

నవమదనా నవమదనా కలపకు కన్నుల మాట

మదనము = Purple Datura = a synonym for something intoxicating

‘O youthful intoxicant, no more eye contact!’ [Trying to be romantic, my apologies if it sounds lame]

శ్వేతాశ్వమ్ముల వాహనుడా విడువకు మురిసిన బాట

శ్వేత + అశ్వము = white horse

‘Rider of the white horse, please don’t leave this blossomed path’

అచ్చొచ్చేటి వెన్నెలలో గుచ్చందాలు నవ్వగనే
గిచ్చే మోజు మోహనమే నీదా

మోహనము = Cupid’s arrow

‘Does the piercing laughter under pleasing moonlight which hits like Cupid’s arrow belong to you?’

మదన మోహిని చూపులోన మాండు రాగమేల

మాండు = an extremely beautiful Raga which the Internet says can be performed anytime of the day

‘The glance of an intoxicating damsel is no less than the మాండు Raga’

పడుచు వాడిని కన్న వీక్షణ పంచదార కాదా

పడుచు వాడు = youth (male)

‘Isn’t the sight of a handsome man as sweet as sugar’

కలా ఇలా మేఘమాసం క్షణానికో తోడిరాగం
చందనం కలిసిన ఊపిరిలో
కరిగే మేఖల కట్టే నే ఇల్లే

This is hands down, my favourite line of the song. Kudos to Mani Ratnam for juxtaposing this recital with the mist from the waterfall in the background [maybe the lyrics mean the same in Tamil. In that case, Veturi deserves a standing ovation for having written something so melodic despite it being a translation]

చందనం = sandalwood
మేఖల  = వడ్డాణం  = a metaphor for a woman (synecdoche for the purists)

‘Is this a dream, the season of clouds?. Every moment seems to be accompanied by a Raga. The air is filled with the fragrance of sandalwood and my melted soul has made this its home’

నెయ్యం వియ్యం ఎదేదైన తనువు నిలువదేలా
నేను నీవు ఎవ్వరికెవరం వలపు చిలికెనేలా
ఒకే ఒక చైత్రవీణ పురే విడి పూతలాయే

There is a sudden contrast in the mood of the song as will be evident in the lyrics. Mani Ratnam also does an excellent job shifting the backdrop to a more foggy, elevated landscape which carries with it a shroud of mystery. Mohanlal artfully delivers a subtle, puzzled look when Madhoo questions him in the first line – a sign of a great actor.

నెయ్యం =  స్నేహము (వికృతి)
వియ్యం = marriage alliance (also the root for  వియ్యంకుడు)
తనువు = body

‘How can the body withstand all that which happens to the alliances of friendship and marriage?’

వలపు  = affection

‘You and me will stir desire for each other (in a reassuring tone)

చైత్ర్రవీణ = a fretless version of the Veena and the only one I ever held (aka Gottuvadhyam)
పురె = twine
పూత = sandalwood

‘When just one string breaks on a Veena, it turns into mere wood. The same holds true for a marriage’

అమృతం కురిసిన రాతిరివో
జాబిలి హృదయం జత చేరే

జాబిలి = moon

‘On this day when it rained the nectar of Gods, the moon and my heart consummated’ – alluding to the metaphorical description of his wife with the moon.

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13 thoughts on “శశి వదనే – Sasi Vadane

  1. Thank thank you so much for this! You have done a lovely job of translating. Having been brought up in America with however the basic knowledge of reading Telugu and speaking the language in its colloquialness, this was exactly the filler I needed to understand this song. Thank you once again. God bless you!

  2. I started reading the post and still do enjoy what I can but I’m from Chennai and not a Telugu speaker. However I love music n love the sound n language of Telugu lyrics. But I’m not a linguist and cannot read/write/speak Telugu. It’s from classical music, Sanskrit and old tamil that a basic instinctive understanding or appreciation is possible of Telugu lyrics. However there are limited resources a non Telugu reader is able to reflect or learn the beauty of Telugu lyrics. I would hv really enjoyed the article(s) fully if instead of only Telugu script there was a roman transliteration as well… Cheers

  3. I loved reading how you hv written about the lyrics. Roughly the meanings are similar (in context) in both tamil and Telugu esp the lines that you mentioned with respect to the waterfalls… This is basically a depiction of Mohanlal and Madhu enacting Shakunthala/Dushyanta’s meeting as a film he is shooting parallel to him being newlywed with Aishwarya.

    But I love how the lyricist has not just taken the same basic premise n limitations to use the same meter as the tamil but come up with his own uniquely exquisite lines that sound so beautiful… Telugu is so evocative that way.

  4. Arey, a small observation! If you would like to explain this to a wider audience in English, why not have the lyrics in English also. 😛

  5. Great sir .. hats off . Felt absolutely thrilled to know about the depth of mr Veturi Garu work .
    Please do chandaname pachadaname from sakhi

  6. Thanks you so much. Though I’m a Telugu speaking girl. I always use to sing lyrics inappropriate way.. Today I got to know the exact lyrics of this song. What a lyrics.. Mind blowing words by Veturi Garu.. Kudos Sir.

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