What is Divinity? How do we feel it?
Are Heaven and Hell real?
We all ask questions like this now and then.
Life gets more exciting with questions. Or does it?
Have we ever got answers for these questions?
Yes and No..
Let us forget questions for the time being and have a look at this poem:
தேனினும் இனியர் பால் அன நீற்றர் தீங்கரும்பனையர் தம் திருவடி தொழுவார்
ஊன் நயந்துருக உவகைகள் தருவார் உச்சி மேலுறைபவர் ஒன்றலாது ஊரார்
வானகம் இறந்து வையகம் வணங்க வயங்கொள நிற்பதோர் வடிவினை உடையார்
ஆனையின் உரிவை போர்த்த எம் அடிகள் அச்சிறுபாக்கம் அது ஆட்சி கொண்டாரே.
Sweeter than the honey; He is like the sugarcane.
He smears his body with the ash which resembles the milk.
Resides on top of our head; He is Omnipresent.
Wears the elephant skin.
He is The One who rules Achchirupakkam.
Feel Him and fall at His feet.
He will melt you and give you eternal bliss.
Written by the great Tamizh poet Thirugnanasambhandar, this poem has profound meaning.
Honey, Milk and Sugarcane are all sweet. These denote the Bhakti at a superficial level. But to realise Him, one does not have to go anywhere for He resides on top of our head in the sahasra chakra as per the Kundalini Shaastra. Elephant is an animal with wisdom and knowledge. It also breaks all the obstacles which come in its way. Here, elephant skin is used as a symbol for wisdom and for clearing all obstacles. It may be noted that as per PuraNa, the axle of Shiva’s chariot broke while He was passing through a village to burn the ‘tripuram’, and only then did He realise that He did not pray to Ganesha before leaving. That village then attained the name ‘Acchiruppakkam’. It does not matter if this really happened. What matter are the symbolism and the poet’s brilliance.
This poem has some beautiful contrasting elements too- Feet/Head, One place/Everywhere, Space/Earth etc.,
The poet, who is believed to have been fed with Divine milk, is known for wielding a magic wand and without a doubt casts a spell with his words and word play.
The crux of this verse is- Realise yourself and feel the bliss. That is Divinity.
Let us see yet another Tamizh verse:
கருங்கண் தோகை மயில் பீலி அணிந்து கட்டி நன்கு உடுத்த பீதக ஆடை
அருங்கல உருவின் ஆயர் பெருமான் அவன் ஒருவன் குழல் ஊதின போது,
மரங்கள் நின்று மது தாரைகள் பாயும்;மலர்கள் வீழும்;வளர் கொம்புகள் தாழும்,
இரங்கும், கூம்பும்;திருமால் நின்ற நின்ற பக்கம் நோக்கி அவை செய்யும் குணமே.
Adorned with the peacock feather on the head, with the silk cloth on the waist and with the jewellery on the body, the cowherd boy plays the flute. The trees stop swaying, stand still and shower the honey. The flowers fall down with ecstasy. The branches melt, bow down and keep moving in His direction.
Oh! What a sight!!
This was written by Periyaazhwar, one of the 12 Vasihnavite saints.
If the one who is believed to have tasted the Divine milk, saw and felt the Divine first as the One with a Form and then as the One who is formless, the devotee of Krishna saw Divinity in His music.
Such an experience is possible not just for theists or believers but also for agnostics and atheists. When one watches a huge snow capped mountain, when one smells the petrichor and watches the rain, when one sees the waterfalls, or watches a bird take a flight.. the experience is indescribable.
The theist and the atheist forget themselves and get into a state of trance while listening to good music. Though music is nothing but the different permutations and combinations of the seven basic notes, it is an undeniable fact that certain kind of music gives a very special feeling and unbounded joy. This music mesmerises people without an exposure to the technical details of music, people who have some knowledge of music, small children who do not know anything, animals or even beings like the trees.
The music of ILaiyaraaja falls in this category. The reason for magnetism could be because he sees the Divine in music.
Among thousands of glistening pearls from the treasure trove, let us take out one beautiful pearl on this special day.
There are many special features in the pearl called ‘Thenaruviyil Nanaindhidum Malaro’ from the film ‘Aagaya Gangai’(1982). Let us see some of these.
The composition is based on a Hindustani raag called Bhimpalasi. But some of the lines have the note‘re’ in the aroh which is generally not permitted in Bhimpalas. Moreover, the last lines in the CharaNams have the Shuddh nishad which is an alien note.
Generally in a film music composition, it is not uncommon to use alien notes which are also called as accidental notes. However, compositions with a classical touch usually do not have any alien note. ILaiyaraaja in particular, avoids using such notes in his classical compositions. But a closer look at the composition suggests that there is a pattern in the ‘re’ usage and that it occurs as ‘rimaga’.
In the Hindustani system, any raag with alien note or notes, is accompanied by a prefix ‘Mishra’. So, this can be called as ‘Mishra Bhimpalasi’. But I would also prefer this to be called as ‘Raaja Bhimpalasi’ for reasons not unknown.
By the way, did I say this entire composition is based on one raag? I must correct myself. The raag changes in the second interlude not once but twice and the second charaNam is based on the third raga. Let us see these ragas later on.
Though he is always ‘ILaya’, time and again he has shown that he is ‘ee laya Raaja’. In this composition too, this Laya Raaja makes an appearance in the very beginning. And what an appearance it is!
The Mridangam and the Tabla indulge in a Tisram play. It starts with the Mridangam first which plays one tisram. The tabla responds. The mridangam plays.The tabla responds again. This playful game lasts for 12 tisrams with each tisram in a different pattern. The Mridangam then plays for 4 tisrams continuously. The tabla responds by doing the same. In between- that is before the tabla-, the flute shows its face and disappears. It appears again after the tabla, does a bird call and again disappears.
The two percussion instruments again play alternately after one tisram respectively, with a couple of melodic instruments appearing in the gap. Gaps are meant to be decorated, aren’t they?
Throughout the percussion exercise, two things stand out. One, both the percussion instruments are backed by the ankle bells. Two, each pattern is different.
Is he not Laya Natana Raaja?
We now get introduced to the Pallavi. I am saying ‘introduction’ because it is just the ‘dheem’ and ‘dhiranana’ . Ah, there is one more which is Janaki’s humming. SPB sings ‘dheem’ and Janaki responds in makaaram. SPB sings ‘dhiranana’ and Janaki hums for both the phrases. More about Janaki’s role later.. But before that, we must see the musicality of nothingness.
It is a well known fact that silence is musical. No other composer has used the language of silence more effectively than ILaiyaraaja. Here too, there is pin drop silence after Janaki’s makaaram. Lasting exactly for a count of two tisrams, this silence conveys many things which a musical note cannot convey.
The Pallavi now starts with Janaki rendering ‘Dheem dhiranana’ and expands it with SPB singing the wordings in the same tune and the pattern continues. In the entire song, Janaki renders only the syllables except in the end when she renders the wordings of the Pallavi.
In a couple of my posts in the Blog, I have mentioned that ILaiyaraaja is the only composer who has used Janaki’s voice in lieu of instruments. This song is just an example. She renders the makaaram and the akaaram in the Pallavi and CharaNams with consummate ease in this song and this itself gives a special complexion to this composition.
What makes this more attractive are the statuesque korvais. But this does not take away any credit from the melodic instruments used though these are few in number.
The long flute plays the haunting strains in the beginning of the first interlude without percussion backing. The tabla tarang and the jalatarangam join together and respond giving ripples of melody. The ripples turn into some subtle patterns as the rhythm guitar takes the place of the two. The harmony and balance of the long flute are incredible as ever. Etched with lucidity and moving with fluidity, the veeNa swings with musical impulses.
The small flute gives some variegated nuggets of the raag. The mridangam changes the nadai to chatushram. How charming it is to see a change in gait! Mesmerised by this, the veeNa plays with a rounded mellowness.
The CharaNam is delightfully structured with the ‘makaaram’ and the ‘akaaram’ of Janaki taking us to empyrean heights. If the dominance of the higher octave notes in the first three lines makes it exciting, the ‘rimaga’ prayoga makes it cheekily beautiful. The impromptu entry of the kaakali nishada in the last line completes the subtle improvisation.
One has the darshan of the Laya Raaja yet again in the entire charaNam in the different patterns of mridangam for each line.
As the first CharaNam ends and the Pallavi is sung again, the raga change is perceptible. What makes the raga change in his compositions brilliant is the seamlessness. The raga change in this composition is no exception. The deluge of swaras by the chorus suggests Kaapi and even before one realises it, the raga changes to Bageshri.
The second charaNam starts with the akaaram of Janaki in Bageshri. This raga which is known for serenity gives us peace and calmness here with the use of some lower octave notes in the first line and the higher octave notes in the second and the third line. The percussion too plays a role in the change of mood with the mridangam giving way to the tabla. Bageshri is sketched with dexterity with the vaadi and samvaadi swars- ma and the upper Sa- and without even using the note ‘pa’.
As the second charaNam ends, the Pallavi is sung again and the mridangam sounds ‘ta’ ‘ta’ ‘ta’ ‘ta’ ’ta’ ‘ta’ ‘ta’ with resonance.
Is it saying ‘This is what is Divinity’ and ‘This is what is Heaven’?
PS: This post was read out to a group of like-minded friends on the 27th of August 2017 as part of 'Geetanjali', an annual Event dedicated to ILaiyaraaja and his music!