Of Vested Divinity – Hymn No. 22

In Lawrence School , Lovedale where I studied, unlike most other public schools, we had hymns of all sorts in various languages to be sung at assembly – English, Hindi, Bengali (with its share of Rabindra Sangeet) and yes, even one in Tamil. Many of my Bengali friends are most impressed when they find out that I was taught Alo Amar Alo Ogo, Dhanno Dhane Pushpe Bhara and even Tumi Bandhu Tumi Nath Nishi Din Tumi Amar. They now believe I am actually quite cultured!

Hymn no. 22 was the one in Tamil – Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va Va Va. All I remember of it is that practically every line ended with Va Va Va. Apparently, it is an extremely well-known Tamil song. In all my 9 years at school (1977 – 1986), not once do I recall us ever being taught this particular hymn or being asked to sing it and one always wondered what the hell was this Va Va Va song? I must add no help was forthcoming from the Tamils here. Of course, once out of school, out of mind. Even at Old Lawrencian dos, as we got out the old hymn book and sang the hymns of our school days, we never brought up hymn no. 22 – neither the senior batches to mine nor the junior ones. And so gradually one totally forgot about hymn no. 22.

Thanks to my involvement as co-founder and content-in-charge of Upperstall, I see a lot of Indian cinema. And recently, I have been catching up on commercial Tamil cinema of the last few years. I have been quite impressed. Tamil cinema of recent years is doing some extremely innovative work within the mainstream format. Fresher ideas (Kaakha Kaakha, Chennai 600028, Paruthiveeran, Mozhi, Anjaathey, Vaaranam Aayiram, Abhiyum Naanum) are handled with great technical polish and retain their cultural identity unlike the so called pan Indian nature of Hindi cinema that often finds itself in no man’s land. And as part of discovering Tamil cinema, I often watch a channel called Isai Aruvi that specialises in showcasing Tamil film songs of the last few years.

So, 23 years after passing out of school, one day as I am watching Isai Aruvi, I go to the kitchen during a commercial break to fix myself a mug of coffee when I hear a jingle going Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va Va Va! I immediately dropped everything I was doing and came to see what was on the TV. Would you believe it, it was a Banyan (Vest) commercial?! I wasn’t sure I had heard right. I dug out my old hymn book that I have preserved from school and opened the page where hymn no. 22 was and waited for the next commercial break to go over the words. Sure enough, the ad came again in the next break and what do you know – the words were indeed Oli Padaith…

Ok, so I heard the tune of the song finally – I’m presuming what they’ve used in the TVC is the original tune. But can any enlightened Tamilian or any other wise soul explain to me the connection between the hymn and vests? If it helps here’s how the first two lines of the hymn goes:

Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va Va Va
Urudhi Kond Nenjinaay Va Va Va

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  1. You know Akash,
    Your decoding actually makes sense in a corny sort of way! Trust an advertising guy to somehow find the connection. You sure you haven’t written the commercial??? 🙂

  2. Most vest adverts that I remember would have macho men doing macho things…Dara Singh ripping apart inferior quality vests….Sunny Deol doing some dishum-dishum and then some woman running her hand over his manboobs….etcetc…..

    But strangely, as kid, i have distinct memories of only the ‘good boys’ wearing baniyaans and the ‘bindaas’ kids always skipping it, often keeping the first two buttons of the shirt open…..mighty inspired by Amitabh Bachchan in Dewaar…. Interestingly….in Amar Akbar Anthony….the cop Vinod Khanna wears a regular spotless white baniyaan…while the tapori Anthony wears coloured singlets….hmmm)

    In school we had different names for names for different baniyaans. There was this ‘shandow’ baniyaan…which was like a T shirt ( my pa- in -aw is wearing one right now and sitting in front of me and doing kapaalbhati)….it was also called Sunday Monday baniyaan…..as with use, the arm length would get loose, out of shape, and stick out of the short shirt sleeve…. this occurrence was called ‘Sunday longer than Monday!’ ( With the girls it was if the slip showed under the skirt)…..Then there was the ‘muslim’ baniyaan or the ‘bhendi bazaar baniyaan’….the stereotypical netted singlet….often in bright colors…..again made immensely popular by ‘Akbar ilhabadi’ from Amar Akbar Anthony…..there was the ‘hollywood’ baniyaan which was tighter on the neck and would be visible above the top button….

    Then there was a term ‘ganji pehelwaan’ ( vest wearing wrestler)…hehe..really don’t remember clearly what was the meaning of that term…..but i think it was with reference to guys who didn’t like to strip totally during a wrestling bout…

    And then one day blue eyed Lisa Ray posed in a ganjee on the magazine of Gladrags…sigh!

  3. The only connection i find is that the first line is about brightness – and the vest is probably white and bright! :p
    Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va Va Va

    and the second line is about a strong heart / chest – talking about the strong man who will wear the vest!!
    Urudhi Kond Nenjinaay Va Va Va

    Disclaimer: All comments are observations and i assume no responsibility for decoding original ideas. :p

  4. Nice piece … very intrigued by the ‘connection’ between vests and the spiritual… Also very impressed by your deep “Bong’ roots … now I know why you are so much into Uttam-Suchitra and Bengali films of the ’50s and 60s… 🙂 ‘Dhanno Dhane Pushpe Bhara’ is however a patriotic song composed by DL Roy…

  5. Charu,
    Lisa Ray in a ganjee – Forget Va Va Va – all I can say is Va Va Voom! 🙂

    Thanks Monish, highly intrigued myself. I know Dhanno Dhane Pushpe Bhara is a patriotic song. We had Vande Mataram, Jai Bharat Jai, Sare Jahan Se Achha and others as well in the hymn book.

  6. I thought it would be interesting and useful to readers to post this email that a classmate of mine from school, A Palaniappan sent on response to this post…Thanks Palani!

    Your post on Hymn no. 22 on your blog was very interesting. You are absolutely right that no one in School ever bothered much about this particular hymn. Don’t know why though. Perhaps Tamil could be hard for most other kids to pronounce. Anyway, I would like to add my bit and clear this long pending issue:

    The song was written by Poet Subramani Bharathiar during the Freedom struggle. He was a very patriotic poet who inspired people to openly revolt against British rule. His name was Subramani and he changed it to “Bharati” to imply devotion to the country. “ar” is a added to a name (usually a title) for respect. He was banished from British territory for his works and he went to French Pondicherry and started a newspaper. He wrote other classical poems as well. He died very young – around 40 yrs I guess.

    “Va” in Tamil means come. Repetition of Va in each line is to encourage people to come forward (and join the independence movement).

    Oli Padaith Kanninaay Va, Va, Va – Come with clarity in your eyes (vision)
    Uruthi Konda Nenchinai Va, Va, Va – Come with determination in your heart

    The other lines are similar, for eg. come after shunning pettiness etc.

    Interestingly, Barathiar does not explicitly mention what he is drawing the people towards, probably because it would have gotten him into trouble with the then British govt.

    It is a simple but a very forceful song. I suppose it ought to be taught to children.

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