Tuesday, 26 February 2013

ILaiyaraaja-The Phenomenon!

Before writing the great epic Ramayana, Kamban dreams about the kingdom of Kosala. And what a poetic dream it turns out to be..  While it will take pages to describe the different verses from this chapter called ‘Naattu Padalam’, let me just give one sample.
The women of Kosalam-as seen through the eyes of the poet- it seems were well read, well educated, rich, and most importantly independent. They welcome all their guests and feed them with sumptuous food. Therefore, is there any doubt that their progeny was great too?
பெருந்தடங்கண் பிறைநுதலார்க்கெலாம்
பொருந்து செல்வமும் கல்வியும் பூத்தலால்
வருந்தி வந்தவர்க்கு ஈதலும் வைகலும்
விருந்தும் அன்றி விளைவன யாவையே?
I find two words to be very interesting.
பெருந்தடங்கண்’ may mean ‘beautiful eyes’, ‘blissful eyes’, ‘eyes that reflect intelligence’ ‘eyes full of compassion’.. The very use of this word gives us a picture of women with pure heart, for is it not true that the eyes reflect the heart?
Look at his use of the word ‘ஈதலும்’- which means to give. On the face of it, it refers to the magnanimity of the women of Kosalam. But in the last line-which is the clincher-he says cryptically ‘what else will grow’. That ‘ஈதலும்’ now means to give birth to.
This brevity, poetic beauty and intelligence make Kamban the phenomenon.
While listening to many compositions of ILaiyaraaja, I am awestruck with his sensible use of ragas, brilliant orchestration and intelligent arrangement. Needless to say that he, like Kamban is a phenomenon.
Now, take this song, ‘Shreedevi en vaazhvil’ from ‘ILamaikolam’(1980). Based on that beautiful  raga called Hindolam, the composition is just one example of what makes ILaiyaraaja one of the greatest composers. Hindolam, a pentatonic raga which uses sa ga2 ma1 dha1 ni2 is a romantic raga but is also full of Bhakti. Contradicting?
In Indian tradition and poems, Bhakti and romance go hand in hand. Considering God as their lovers, the poets have written reams and reams of poems.
As per the situation of ‘Shree devi..’ the character tries to woo a lady by singing a classical devotional song(Godess Lakshmi is known by the name Shree devi). The Emperor of film music chooses HindoLam to compose this(he might not have ‘chosen’ in the literal sense since he is very spontaneous and has said time and again that he never breaks his head on the raga aspect and composes whatever strikes him at that very moment. But, as I have already reiterated in some of my earlier posts, the fact remains that he thinks at the speed of the light and the tune flows at the speed of the sound. Therefore, it is highly likely that the thought of this ragam crossed his mind at a lightning speed.

As regards the orchestration and arrangement, Traditional Indian instruments are used as a base but western instruments-including new instruments hitherto not used in Indian Film Music- peep in suddenly and say hello with a romantic smile. The composition is rounded off with a short and precise rhythmic calculation (called as ‘theermanam’ in Carnatic music parlance).
The composition starts with a short aalaap in the hypnotic voice of Yesudass. It is organic, linear, curved, virtuous and curvilinear .
Form and spirit of HindoLam evoked beautifully.
The Pallavi has an unusual start with the swara ‘ni’ which goes and joins the upper ‘sa’.It is a gracious exposition of the raga with the last line that has the ‘podi sangatis’(‘malar’) in the beginning, is rounded off with the arohaNam(sa ga ma dha ni).
With a touch of finesse, the Bass Flute moves with poise in the first interlude.It gives a mellow and pleasant lilt and smiles at Veena with a request to join.The Veena obliges and gives two very short repartees. The Veena in fact repeats the notes of the vivacious violins too, which join after the flute.
The first two CharaNams have the same structure, with each of the four lines being different.The first line with a profusion of ‘ma’ is clearly etched, while the second line with the elongated notes is lucid. The third line has a surprise with the sudden appearance of ‘ni3’ that adds a new colour to the composition. The higher octave notes(Sa Ga Ma) dominate the fourth line. The last phrase with the akaaram post-‘ponguma’ is melodically opulent.
In the second interlude, we see the introduction of the new instrument and the guitar. This instrument that gives a shrill sound somewhat like the chirping of the birds, follows the energetic violins.The guitar that comes rushing in is distinctively beautiful apart from beimg dazzling. The Veena and Guitar alternate with the former playing the end notes of that of the guitar’s. Finally, the Veena guides us to the second charaNam.
The third interlude and the third charaNam are played in the ‘mel kaalam’ and we see the Laya Raaja here.
The Violins follow the Veena that follows ‘ta ka dhi mi/ta ka dh mi/ ta ka dhi mi/ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta ki ta’[(3x4)+ (4x3)]. This happens twice with subtle change in the sets of notes. It gathers momentum with the violins then being set to ‘ta ka dhi mi ta ka’ and the veena echoing notes in ‘ta ka ta ka ta ka’- again twice- and then the Veena going in ‘ta ka’ 36 times.
The third CharaNam brims with musical intensity with the melody rhythm romancing each other.
The repetitions of the lower ‘sa’ in the first half, the ‘ma’ in the second half of the first line and juxtaposition of Veena/ankle bells in between the first two lines lend a poetic intensity. The mid-‘ma’ combines with the upper ‘Ga’ in the ‘Ragam’ phrase in the third line making it a soothing experience(such an usage is called ‘Daattu prayogam’).
The mridangam plays 4 ‘ta ki ta’ after this, enticing us and preparing us to view a mini Laya spectacle.

The penultimate line that has the higher octave Sa, Ga, and Ma prominently is divided into small ‘maatras’ of 4,4,4/3,3,3,3 and the last line is divided as 6,6/4,4,4.

Melodically exuberant and Mathematically Mellifluent!
Music that blesses us!
நமக்கு அருள் வழங்கும் இசை !


Suresh S said...

Lovely writeup. And ofcourse reading Kamban is always a joy.

The tune ofcourse is fantastic and Jesudas at his prime. What more could you ask?

Raj said...

Thanks Suresh!
One of my all time favourites-esp.the second interlude.

In fact, I wrote this post last night but am yet to get out of the song :).