Wednesday, 16 March 2022

ILaiyaraaja – Musician with a light-hearted spirit

Sense of humour is a virtue.

People with a sense of humour are generally more creative though the reverse may not be true. Any speech or writing peppered with humour, has more chances of being etched in the minds of audience/readers. Examples galore, but I am not getting into that now. Suffice to say that any work which has implicit or explicit humour has more longevity.

There was somebody called Marimutta PiLLai( 18th century), who along with Muttu Thandavar and Arunachala Kavi, is considered as part of the trinity of Tamizh Music. Just for information, the second mentioned (16th Century) is known for composing padams, many of which are still performed by Bharatanatyam artistes now and the last mentioned is known for ‘Rama Nataka kritis’- entire RamayaNa in the form of different kritis- which are performed by Carnatic musicians in the concerts now.

What distinguishes Marimutta PiLLai from the other two, is that aspect which has been mentioned in the beginning. He sang mainly on Nataraja, the presiding deity at Chidambaram, but his songs bordered on sarcasm albeit in a positive way.

In Sanskrit, there is a concept called ‘Ninda stuti’ where the person(mainly God) on whom the song is sung is eulogised though it would seem as if He is being made fun of. Many songs of this composer border on this, but with a difference. While one cannot see the God ‘being pulled down’, one can see ‘the leg pulling’.

Let us look at a song where one sees this ‘leg pulling’ of the Lord who dances lifting one leg:

எந்நேரமும் ஒரு காலைத் தூக்கிக் கொண்டிருக்க வகை ஏதய்யா!

பொன்னாடர் போற்றும் தோலை, நன்னாடர் ஏற்றும் தில்லை பொன்னம்பல வாணரே!!

எக்கிய நெருப்பவிக்க தக்கன் வீட்டில் நடந்ததோ

யமனை உதைத்தபோது எதிர்ச்சுளுக்கேறி நொந்தோ

சிக்கெனவே பிடித்து சந்திரனை நிலத்தினில் தேய்த்த போதினில் உரைந்தோ

உக்ர சாமுண்டியுடன் வாதுக்காடி அசந்தோ

உண்ட நஞ்சு உடம்பெங்கும் உரிக் கால் வழி வந்தோ

தக்க புலி பாம்பு இருவருக்கும் கூத்தாடி ஆடி

சலித்துத்தானோ பொற்பாதம் வலித்துத்தானோ தேவரீர்!


Amused by the single-leg posture, the composer says – Why do you always keep one of your feet lifted?

He then comes up with his own reasons and starts bombarding the Lord with questions.

Is it because you walked on the fire to destroy the yaga of Daksha?

Or is it because when you kicked Yama(to save Markandeya), you sprained your ankle?

Or is it because you took the moon and crushed him under your feet and unable to bear the cold your foot was frozen?

Or is it because of the exhaustion after dancing with KaaLi?

Or is it the effect of the poison (you consumed during the churning of the ocean), with the poison being spread all over Your body affecting your feet in the process?

Or is it your continuous dancing as requested by Vyaghrapada(in the form of a tiger) and Patanjali(in the form of a snake) made you too tired that Your feet started hurting (and you had no other option but to keep one lifted to ease the pain)?


The song is best listened to in the original form to get the import, but I feel people who know mythology can still appreciate the humour even while reading the translation.

Unlike what is popularly believed, ILaiyaraaja is a person with a great sense of humour. One can see and feel his humour while listening to the background score in comedy scenes or even comedy movies. There are also many songs which can be quoted. People who follow my posts will remember the song and the post of ‘Bangalore Geetanjali’.

The song of the day is just one of the examples of his comical sense. As per the sequence, the son wants to teach a lesson to his father who is a Casanova. There is a ‘in-house classical dance performance’ in front of a guest.

So, the factors here are ‘classical dance’ and ‘sarcasm’, the former being staged to entertain a guest and the latter to teach the Casanova a lesson. The Genius that he is, the Master comes up with a composition in a pure traditional classical raga, with sarcasm running as the undercurrent. The lyrics of KaNNadasan do take care of the second mentioned , but the Maestro decides to tune it and orchestrate in such a way that even people who do not watch the movie(that is, the fortunate ones) are also left in splits.

Thus was born ‘MaappiLLaikku Maaman Manasu’(NetrikkaN- 1981). Based purely on Kharaharapriya- which in fact has been in existence right from the Tamizh Sangam period, being one of the ‘Paalais’ from which ‘PaNs’ were born. In Hindustani music, this raga is called ‘Kaafi’. Not surprisingly, this scale is Dorian mode in ancient Greek music and is part of the minor scale in Western Classical Music.

The composition starts with a free flowing akaaram of Suseela. The brief delineation itself is enough to firmly establish the raga. In fact, it gives the sketch of the raga in no time. The percussion which joins after 5 seconds sounds not in Indian classical style and not without any reason.

The Indian percussion starts now and it is a fusillade of sorts. The mandolin plays in Kharaharapriya, ably followed by the VeeNa and VeNu which repeat the same melody but in their own style. The percussion backs the melody with glee.

The Pallavi in the voice of Suseela is finely etched. But what brings a smile on our faces is the accompaniment of the western percussion throughout. The guitar repeats the second line making us simper. Technically speaking, the song starts with the descending notes- Sa ni da pa- not a regular occurrence. But it is the last line where one cannot but appreciate the brilliance of the composer. It goes like -pa ni dha/ma dha pa/ ga pa ma/ri ma ga- just a transposition of notes from their normal position and more than anything else, doesn’t this give us a different feeling?

The guitar in the beginning of the first interlude is powerful and yet soft. There is even a trace of nonchalance in the way it goes around. The Indian and Western percussion back the following melody from the bass guitar which even sounds as if it is tittering. The VeeNa enters with a sense of calm and plays a classic Kharaharapriya with panache.

Contrasts make a poem or a musical composition more beautiful. Here we see how contrasts make us giggle. This is because of the melody from the keys which responds to the VeeNa. Undeterred, the VeeNa plays yet again but a different melody this time with the keys following again.

It is a classical laugh riot!

The first part of the CharaNam moves smoothly and sedately in the voice of Suseela with the higher-octave notes peeping in now and then. The entry of Malaysia Vasudevan changes the complexion with the akaaram which touches the nooks and crannies of Kharaharapriya in a flash. The last line, yet again shows the Classical Raaja at his best with the swaras climbing up- rigama/ gamapa/mapadha/padhani/padhaniRi. The subtle synth in the background towards the end, does make one chuckle.

The synth in fact, plays a major role in the second interlude where the jatis are rendered. Though the fact that the way the jatis are constructed and rendered itself, makes one smile, the synth that follows the jatis, make one chortle, guffaw and cackle.

After all, sense of humour is a virtue. Sense of humour is musical. Sense of humour is rhythmic.

If you have any doubt, ask the one who dances with one foot lifted..


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Saturday, 29 January 2022

ILaiyaraaja- The Adorable Musican


What makes certain people or certain things likable?

And what role does subjectivity play in this?

Let me park these questions for a while and take you all through something.

A young girl decorates the streets with fine white sand. She then lights a fire- literally and figuratively from a bundle of sticks shorn of thorns and invokes the God of Love- Kaamadeva a.k.a Manmatha and makes a request:

‘’Oh Manmatha. Brace your bow with honey-filled flowers, mentally writing the name ‘the ocean hued one’, and aim at me so that I unite with the One who killed the Demon in the form a bird, by tearing its beak’’.


வெள்ளை நுண்மணற்கொண்டு தெருவணிந்து வெள்வரைப் பதன்முன்னம் துறை படிந்து

முள்ளுமில்லாச் சுள்ளி எரிமடுத்து முயன்றுன்னை நோற்கின்றேன் காமதேவா

கள்ளவிழ் பூங்கணை தொடுத்துக் கொண்டு கடல் வண்ணன் என்பதோர் பேர் எழுதி

புள்ளினை வாய் பிளந்தான் என்பதோர் இலக்கினில் புக என்னை எய்கிற்றியே.

Here is a young girl just around 13, who after having decided that the Lord is her lover and that He will be her husband, invokes the God of Love to help her in her mission. Forgetting the mystical part, look at the way the poem sounds. White stands for purity. So does a thorn less faggot. So does fire. So do flowers. So does the ocean. Using all these in a single verse is called poetic beauty. But there is more too. Even if one has all the positives in a poem, it is the contrast which gives it that sheen. And this appears in the last line- ‘The One who tore the beaks of the Demon who was in the form of a bird’. See the line before that- Honeyed flowers- and you will know what kind of beauty this contrast offers!

This is precisely the reason for AaNdaaL, who incidentally composed 143 verses, is liked by many even after 1300 years!

Is this subjective or objective?

Before one breaks his/her head yet again in finding an answer, let us look at a gentleman who after composing 6000+ songs, is liked by many even after 46 years, which might sound too less compared to 1300 years but will sound huge when one takes into account many other factors, period being the major one.

Why don’t we look at yet another composition of his today and see how it sounds as likable as the poems of ‘Choodi Koduththa ChudaRkodi’?

Meenkodi Theril Manmatha Raajan’ from ‘Karumbu Vil’(1980) shimmers with exquisite beauty not least because of the raga it is based on.

Not many ragas evoke a sense of love and romance just by mentioning the name. In fact, the beauty of Mohanam lies as much in its name as in its sound. That is why, it is found in other forms of music, say, the South East Asian and Western Classical, Jazz and Blues as a scale. The five notes – sa ri2 ga3 pa dha2- give a special colour even when rendered plainly. One can then imagine the kind of feelings and emotions it would give if these notes were oscillated. It is not without any reason that Tyagaraja called Rama Mohana Rama’ and that one of the names of Krishna happens to be ‘Mohanan’.

If I say that ILaiyaraaja has played around in this raga like no other film music composer has done, I will not be exaggerating. So much so that he has never hesitated to take many liberties with this raga by gently and brilliantly introducing some alien notes, enhancing the mood of the composition in the process.

However, in ‘Meenkodi Theril’, he chose not to do it. On the other hand, he used the appropriate swara combinations giving subtle oscillations of swaras wherever required, at the same time not making it sound too classical and most importantly used some beautiful instruments in the orchestration. What one gets to see and hear is Mohanam in its pristine beautiful form.

The song opens with a kind of mystical sound. Even as one is shaken up by this sound, the bass sound from yet another instrument appears like a rapier cut in chatushram and this alone is enough to give that spark. The spark becomes a huge musical fire, a kind of fire which is harmless and is a spectacle to watch.

What happen are many things. One, the chorus voice in pure Mohanam. Two, a kind of ‘kolaattam’ in the background. Three, the two sets of percussion which alternate with each other, with the first one playing only the first syllable-ta- and leaving the other 3 blank and the second one playing ‘ta – dhi mi’ and producing different kinds of sounds. Four, the humble and subtle bass guitar playing with a touch of nonchalance. Five, the sound of ankle bells which appears after every second beat.

As if to show the auspiciousness of the occasion, the Shehnai unfolds with great zeal and gives a sketch of Mohanam in its inimitable style. The santoor pitches in towards the end and guides us to the Pallavi.

The Pallavi starts in the voice of Yesudass. One cannot afford to miss the subtlety here as well. The first line has no percussion when it is rendered the first time, though the time signature remains the same. The percussion appears the moment the first line is rendered again and follows the same pattern as that of the Pallavi. The entire Pallavi gives a soothing touch not least because of the structure of the swaras and the rhythmic pattern. The descending swaras at the end- Sadhapa/dhapaga/pagari/garisa- shows the kind of grip the composer has on this raga.

The vivacity of the guitar in the beginning of the first interlude is striking. It just plays a few notes of Mohanam and that too without any oscillation and yet it makes us sway.  The chorus appears again and we continue to sway with the musical elegance. After a guitar melody which is full of grace, the flute enters with an ebullient swirl and goes around playfully enveloping us with a spiritual fragrance. It is left to the santoor again to complete the task and it does it effectively and efficiently, bespattering the swaras with a grin.

Without a trace of doubt, it is the rhythmic pattern- about which I have already written earlier- which is the leitmotif of this composition. In a way, it even defines this composition.

Now, the CharaNam starts sans percussion in the first line a la Pallavi, though there is that subtle bass guitar. The percussion-which of course follows the same rhythmic pattern- appears after the first few phrases, but it is the santoor which appears between the lines, that steals the show. The litany of swaras played with coherency and fluency, lights up the lines.

We are in for some abundant melodic phrases in the second interlude. The group of Shehnais play an amazing melody in higher-octave which is hauntingly charming. Suddenly and from nowhere appears that long Hindustani flute. Playing with alluring depth and with felicity, it goes deep inside the soul. The chorus takes over and sings in higher-octave showing us a beauteous bride.

A bride on a white sand who is as likable as the musician with the trademark Harmonium!



Saturday, 9 October 2021

ILaiyaraaja – The Raconteur


Story telling is an art. All of us can tell stories. But not many can tell interesting stories; not many can make stories interesting; not many can interestingly narrate an interesting story with the reader or the listener not even aware that a story is being narrated. The story, the narrator and the listener become one.

Let me repeat- Story telling is an art!

Take Kamban. Yes, he did write that magnum opus called Ramayana. But my focus is more into the kind of stories he weaved in just a couple of lines in his verses, which if interpreted would take reams to explain. Let me just quote three examples from the verses I have already quoted in some of my earlier posts.

எடுத்தது கண்டனர். இட்டது கேட்டார்.

மையோ மரகதமோ மழைமுகிலோ ஐயோ இவன் வடிவு.

எழுந்திராய் எழுந்திராய் கறங்கு போல வில் பிடித்த கால தூதர் கையிலே உறங்குவாய் உறங்குவாய் இனிக்கிடந்து உறங்குவாய்.

The first one refers to the swayamvara where he breaks the bow. The audience see him take the bow… And hear the sound.

The second one talks about Rama leaving the Kingdom along with his brother and his wife. Is He the kaajal? Is He the Emerald? Is He the Ocean? Or is He the Rain clouds? Oh, no, leave me now.

The third one is about the effort to wake KumbakarNa up. Wake up now. You are anyway going to sleep forever.

What I have given are just literal translations. But as mentioned earlier, each and every line can be expanded to tell us stories and stories within stories. That ‘aiyyo’ alone is enough to make us all shout with excitement.

Let us now see a complete verse. It is the night before the wedding. Rama and Sita are in their respective chambers. Needless to say, sleep eludes them. And the night never seems to end.

கழியா உயிர் உந்திய காரிகை தன்

விழி போல வளர்ந்தது வீகிலதால்

அழிபோர் இறைவன் பட அஞ்சியவன்

பழி போல வளர்ந்தது பாயிருளே.

Here, he compares the night and the darkness to two totally different things. First, it is like the eyes of that girl who has stirred his soul. At the surface level, it would seem as if the poet is comparing the pupil of the eye with darkness. Delve further and you can see the word vaLarnthathu. The night seems to be never ending and it keeps growing and expanding like her eyes.

In the second half, he talks about war and the ignominy of a king who loses the war. The darkness and therefore the night is like that unfathomable ignominy.

Contrasts? Yes! But delve deeper and you can find that it symbolises RavaNa and his defeat. The entire RamayaNa narrated in a matter of seconds in just four lines.

Not many can interestingly narrate an interesting story with the reader or the listener not even aware that a story is being narrated.

This is Kamban- The Story teller.

Let us now look at a story teller, who weaves eternal stories in a jiffy.

If Kavi Chakravarti told stories in poetic form, Isai Gnaani has been telling stories in musical form.

Any song of his can be interpreted in multiple ways and each time one can see a different story or an expansion of a story depending on the perspective.

Iru Vizhiyin Vazhiye’ from ‘Siva’(1989) is no exception.

Listen to the initial humming of Chitra. What do you feel?

Jubilation? Exultation? Exuberance?

And the subtle sound of the bells? Doesn’t it make you visualise something?

And the flute which lights up short colour glints with keys backing?

And the two sets of percussion in chatushram with the first set sounding only the first syllable like a light thunder and the other one sounding ta ka dhi mi/ ta ka dhi mi like the lightning?

And after a while when the first set gathers momentum and sounds the first and the third syllable yet again like a light thunder?

And when the chorus hums with grace and sensitivity and the higher-octave strings moving with coherence and fluidity?

And when Chitra joins again and continues the humming from where she left?

Don’t we see Hamsadhwani sketch a beautiful portrait and extending beyond that?

Don’t we see the effervescent lightness in the Pallavi which glides in quietly and with unmatchable charm even as SPB joins in?

What does the soft, sedate, subtle and majestic melody of the saxophone in pure Hamsadhwani indicate in the beginning of the first interlude?

And the aura of the melody from the flute which touches the nook and cranny of Hamsadhwani and starts floating in the air?

And the finely etched melody from the strings which moves with pulsating weight on the ground providing a beautiful contrast to the flute which is floating?

And the abundant melody phrases in the CharaNams with the zealous first segment where one also has to listen between the lines to the mellow flute and the ebullient strings for a full aavartana? Isn’t listening between the lines as exciting as reading between the lines?

And the sober second segment which moves gently with the ascending and descending notes moving like breeze?

And the alluring depth of the last segment which touches the higher-octave notes revealing the hidden ecstasy?

Or the fragrance of the humming in the beginning of the second interlude and the musical elegance of the saxophone which shows the unique dimension of a pure classical raga called Hamsadhwani?

Or the caressing and felicitous strings in higher-octave with the chorus humming following like a calm river?

Or the dazzling flute which interjects and plays the ‘Sa ni pa ga ri’ phrase showing us all that sliding is not merely going down but is also going up to reach dizzying heights?

Some stories do not end. And we do not want these to end.

That is why, story telling is an art. It grows, glows and spreads the rays of light dispel darkness.

Ps: This post was exclusively written for the 7th Anniversary celebrations of ‘ILaiyaraaja- The Master’, a Group on Facebook, and was read out to an invited audience on Zoom on the 2nd of October 2021.

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Sunday, 29 August 2021

ILaiyaraaja – The Music Messenger

How do we get connected?

This question might sound doltish, imprudent, witless and even thoughtless in this age of apps and browsers. It just needs a single click to get connected with others irrespective of the distance.

But the ‘connection’ I am referring to does not pertain to the ones we have on social media. A majority of these connections are superficial and the connection stops and ends with the keypads. Most of these are lifeless and exist just for the sake of existing.

However, it can also be not denied that some of these connections are indeed very deep. Going beyond the typical definitions of social media, these connections make us feel as if the person/s is/are known to us since many years even if we have not even seen them or do not get to see them often physically. What makes this possible?

I shall probably answer this in the end.

Now imagine those days when even communicating with each other was next to impossible. By ‘those days’, I mean days when neither ‘tech’ nor ‘logy’ existed in the lexicon of the world; days when even ‘posts’ or ‘offices’ did not exist; days when travel was by foot. Were people not connected those days? If they were not connected, how was it possible for somebody in Kanyakumari to know somebody in the Himalayas? And how was it possible to ‘be in touch’?

Our Literature is rich with poems in which birds acted as a ‘go-between’ and delivered messages. There are also instances of plants/ creepers, clouds and even non-living things like conch being requested to act as a via-media, but these were used more for poetic beauty and less for reality. I shall come to this in a while.

Let us look at a real story before that. This happened during the Sangam era. There was somebody called Kopperunchozhan, who as the name suggests ruled the Chozha kingdom. There was a poet called Pisiraanthaiyaar, not in Chozha naadu, but in PaaNdiya naadu. Those days-just like the present days- rivalry existed between fellow tamizh people despite living the same land and despite speaking the same language. The three major kingdoms – Chera, Chozha and Pandiya- were at loggerheads with each other. The intensity of the rivalry was more between the last two mentioned.

Therefore, it is more than a surprise that Pisiraanthaiyaar composed poems on Kopperunchozhan extolling his virtues and describing the beauty of his kingdom. The king too developed an affinity towards the poet and the reason was not just because the latter sang paeans on him. The two never met!

Things were hunky dory in the Chozha kingdom until the two sons of the Chozha decided to wage a war against their own father to annex the kingdom. Vexed with the developments, Kopperunchozhan decided to indulge in  Vadakkiruththal’, the act of sitting in the northern direction and starving to death  which was common those days.

He did the unthinkable after this. He reserved a spot for his friend -Pisiraanthaiyaar- alongside! 

Pisiraanthaiyaar gets to know the developments (now don’t ask me how) but is helpless. Somehow, he reaches the spot but by then the king is dead. He sits at the same spot and gives up his life.

Here is a poem composed by him, which is part of PuRanaanooRu, which in turn is part of the Sangam literature:


அன்னச் சேவல் அன்னச் சேவல் ஆடுகொள் வென்றி அடுபோர் அண்ணல்

நாடுதலை அளிக்கும் ஒண்முகம் போலக் கோடுகூடு மதியம் முகில் நிலா  விளங்கும்

மையல் மால யாம் கையறுபு இனையக் குமரிஅம் பெருந்துறை அயிரை மாந்தி

வடமலைப் பெயர்குவை ஆயின் இடையது சோழன் நன்னாட்டுப்படினே கோழி

உயர்நிலை மாடத்துக் குறும்பறை அசைஇ வாயில் விடாது கோயில் புக்கு எம்

பெருங்கோக்கிள்ளி கேட்க இரும் பிசிர் ஆந்தை அடியுறை எனினே மாண்ட நின்

இன்புற பேடை அணியத் தன் அன்புறு நன் கலம் நல்குவன் நினக்கே.

Oh, my dear Swan!

Seeming as if two horns join together to make it a circle, the Moon shimmers. It reminds one of the glowing face of a king who emerges as a victor fighting for his land.

On this mesmersising evening when one even loses all his senses, I feel helpless.

If you, my dear swan, after feeding on ayirai fish in that Ocean called Kumari, decide to fly to the Himalayas in the North along with your beloved, and on the way stay at URaiyur and visit the beautiful palace without stopping at the gate and utter the words, ‘ I am Pisiraanthaiyaar’s servant’, the king ‘PerunkoRkiLLi’ will rush towards you and gift you with beautiful jewellery for your beloved to wear’.

(this is just a loose translation by yours truly done with the purpose of making you all understand the import of the poem, without bothering to sound poetic).

For the benefit of all, I have recited the poem and you can find it in the link.

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Though there is no record to show as to when this was composed, the words like ‘I am helpless’ and ‘two horns’ suggest that probably this was written after the poet came to know of the king’s decision. There are many things in this poem which demand a detailed explanation and analysis but I would refrain from doing that for the time being at least as the objective of quoting this poem is to show how people got connected those days and developed unfathomable affection even without seeing each other.

Goes to show that there is something in the Universe which connects people and what that something is, cannot be explained rationally.

Let us look at Music in general and ILaiyaraaja in particular. The latter connects with millions of people with his music. Though he would not have met the people (at least 99% of them) and the people would not have met him in real life, the affinity people have for him and vice versa cannot be measured. The same in fact applies to the connection people have between them with his music being the main reason.

On this day which is very special for me, I am looking at a song which never fails to give vibrations whenever I listen to it. The reasons could be many but let me try and explain the nuances and intricacies and see if these alone are the reasons or if there is something beyond these too.

The song Malligaiye Malligaiye from Periya Veettu PaNNaikkaran (1990) is based on a raga called Sarasaangi. Though the name sounds romantic or at least indicates romance, the raga evokes a mélange of feelings, say a mix of happiness and poignancy with a dose of nostalgia. As per the melakarata system, it is the 27th mela ragam, just before ShankarabharaNam with just the variant of the swara dhaivatam separating the two. Yet, the two sound totally different. In fact, if one changes the variant of each of the swaras, it would lead to some very well- known ragas.

Change the variant of rishabham(ri) and it will give MayamalavagowLa. Change the variant of gaandharam(ga) and it will give KeeravaNi. Change the variant of madhyamam(ma) and it will give Latangi. Change the variant of nishadam(ni) and it will give Charukesi.

Except the last mentioned, the other ragas sound so different from Sarasangi. That indeed is the beauty of Music.

Curiously enough, this raga exists as a scale in Western Classical Music too where it goes by the name Harmonic major.

After that rather elaborate explanation about the raga, let us look at the composition.

The beginning itself is zestful. The frisky strings move as if these are suddenly released from exile. There are two sets with one sounding like a thunder and the other sounding like a murmur. But isn’t it a fact that a murmur too adds value? Here, it adds that musical value. The thunderous set quickly touches the higher-octave and makes us believe that the peak has already been conquered.

However, very soon we realise that it is just the summit. In fact, there lies the magic of the composer. The chorus hums in Sarasangi with the tabla sounding in Tisram and that reticently powerful instrument called Bass Guitar backing both -in Tisram.

The mellow flute sings like a bird with the rhythm pad accompanying it like the rustling leaves.

The Pallavi starts in the voice of Chitra. The beauty of this Pallavi not just lies in the fact that it is soft and supple and is well structured, but also in two more factors. First is the podi sangati in the lines which sounds unique. Next is the rhythmic pattern and the instruments which give it that special status. The reticent bass guitar is more vociferous here and it sounds ta – –  ka dhi mi along with the vocals. The 3-beat tisram is broken down into 6 micro beats- ta ka ta ka dhi mi- and is made to sound only the first, fourth, fifth and sixth leaving the second and third as blank(kaarvai). The fact that this gives the Pallavi a majestic look is as obvious as the fact that the rose is beautiful.

One sees the variegated nuggets of the raga in that western instrument called the guitar in the first half of the first interlude. The diffused glow of the strings which play a parallel melody in the background is not dissimilar to the beauty of the full moon which hides behind the dark clouds sometimes partially and sometimes fully. The moon does come out of the clouds a little later but not before the billow of clouds (guitar) touches the nook and corner of the sky called Sarasangi.

The euphonic flute continues the journey in its own style provoking a response from the strings which give a catena of swaras. This results in our witnessing ornate images of the raga.

The first segment of the CharaNams ( Yesudass in the first one and Chitra in the second one) is full of melodic intricacies. The second segment touches the upper registers while the last segment is plaintive. All these three typify the raga.

The second interlude has some amazing patterns.

First, the sticks(kolaattam) sound gracefully in tisram. The chorus takes over and continues the humming. The ever-smiling flute responds to the humming with pulsating vibrancy. The strings enter elegantly and in a matter of seconds elevate us to a higher plane. The guitar responds with a touch of sobriety.

As if taking a cue from the guitar, the strings move with an evocative grandeur making it a quintessential experience. With a flourish, the flute takes some silky glides connecting the earth with the heaven.

What has made this connection possible?

It can probably be answered by Pisiraanthaiyaar and Kopperunchozhan..

Ps: This is my 200th post in the Blog and I am very happy that this is happening on my special day- 29th of August. What give me energy are Music, His Music, Writing and Literature. Thank you all for the support. I am sure I will continue to write on his music and share whatever little knowledge I have with you all!!

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Friday, 27 August 2021

ILaiyaraaja – The Mathematician

AruNagirinathar, who lived in the 15th century, was a musician par excellence.

Did I say musician? But was he not known for his verses in beautiful Tamizh-verses like Thiruppugazh, Kandar Alankaram, Kandar Anubhuti, Vel Viruththam, Mayil Viruththam etc.,?

Is there any historical record of his performance? Did he tune his verses in ragas or PaNNs? And if so, is there a record or reference to these like say Tyagaraja kritis or Muththuswami Dikshitar kritis?

It is really not known if he tuned his Thiruppugazh or his other works. It is not even known if he learnt classical music. Unfortunately, he had no disciples. Like a vagabond, he travelled across the Tamizh country and composed the verses. In fact, in all likelihood he travelled to Sri Lanka too as there is a Thiruppugazh on KaNdi Kadirgaamar.

Then why do I call him a musician? The reasons go much beyond the fact that his Thiruppugazhs are sung in carnatic concerts(albeit towards the end) in classical ragas. The taaLas he has used in Thiruppugazh make one wonder as to how he could conceive such rhythmic patterns. Though some say he composed in all 108 taaLas, what amazes one are the compositions in taaLas which are not listed in any classical theory books. These have now assumed the name ‘Chandha TaaLas’.

Let us look at a Thiruppugazh(he is said to have composed about 16,000 Thiruppugazhs out of which just around 1,800 are available now).

பாதிமதி நதி போது மணிசடை நாதர் அருளிய குமரேசா

பாகு கனிமொழி மாது குறமகள் பாதம் வருடிய மணவாளா

காதும் ஒரு விழி காகமுற அருள் மாயன் அரி திரு மருகோனே

காலன் எனை அணுகாமல் உனதிரு காலில் வழிபட அருள்வாயே

ஆதி அயனனொடு தேவர் சுரர் உலகாளும் வகையுறு சிறைமீளா

ஆடும் மயிலினில் ஏறி அமரர்கள் சூழ வர வரும் இளையோனே

சூத மிக வளர் சோலை மருவு சுவாமி மலைதனில் உறைவோனே

சூரன் உடல் அற வாரி சுவறிட வேலை விடவல பெருமாளே.

Though the focus now is not as much on the meaning as it is on the rhythmic structure, I feel I must briefly touch upon some aspects of the verse before explaining the taaLa structure.

He starts the verse saying ‘Muruga is the son of the one who has the half crescent moon, the river and the kondRai flower on his head.’ He then moves on to the romance of Muruga(whether many like it or not, the romance of the Gods is part of our literature and one cannot escape from this or be like an Ostrich). In the third line, he tells a mini story from RamayaNa in which Rama first attacks a crow(a raakshasa in the form of crow, in fact it is Indra’s son Jayanthan who assumes that form) and then forgives him after ‘poking’ just one eye. He then requests Muruga to protect him (AruNagiri) from the God of Death and then talks about how he saved the Devas. He ends the verse with a lovely description of ‘Swamimalai’-one of the six abodes of Muruga.

This is just the gist.

What is of particular interest in the way each line is constructed.

In Carnatic Music parlance, the taaLa pattern is :

ta ka/ta ka dh mi/ ta ka/ ta ka dhi mi/ ta ka/ ta ka dhi mi

(1 2 / 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 / 1 2 3 4 / 1 2/ 1 2 3 4 ).

This peculiar pattern, which has 18 aksharaas, is a taaLa by itself.

This is just an example and there are hundreds of examples like this which show the mastery of AruNagirinathar. Though I have not seen AruNagirinathar, I am sure it would have taken just a few minutes for him to compose this(otherwise how would he have composed 16,000 songs plus a host of viruththams in one life time of which at least the first 20 odd years were lost in just ‘wandering around’(an euphemism for ‘womanising’)?

The Genius called ILaiyaraaja’s strength lies not just in melody but in rhythm too, a fact which is being highlighted by ‘yours truly’ in infinite posts.. He has used different patterns, has used cross rhythms, has used ‘usi’, has done ‘gati bhedam’..and has done many more(the list is huge). The composition I am going to focus on today is special in many ways.

Paarththa Vizhi Paarththapadi’ from ‘GuNa’(1991) is a composition which will make a genuine classical composer proud. First, it is based on a raga which in real sense is a rare one. As far as I know, there are only 2 compositions in this raga in carnatic music.

There is an interesting story too. It is said that the hero of the movie requested the composer to give him a song like ‘Kaa Vaa Vaa’ and the composer came up with this song. The song quoted by the actor is based on a beautiful raga called ‘VaraLi’. Any other composer would have instantly obliged and would have composed in VaraLi. But not the gentleman whose brain is wired differently.. He composed it in Paavani.

How is the latter different from the former?

The latter is a melakarta raga while the former is a derived raga and follows a devious structure. However, both are ‘vivadi’ ragas. I have written about the concept of vivadi in some of my posts earlier. Moreover, since this post will focus more on the rhythmic pattern and less on the raga pattern, it will be prudent on my part to revisit ‘vivadi concept’ sometime later.

All I can say now (and this does not pertain to ‘vivadi’) is that on paper it is the variant of ‘dha’ which separates the two ragas, but this too is on paper as VaraLi is a very special raga having some unique oscillations of swaras.

Paavani is the 41st meLakarta and the swara ‘ga’ is the vivadi swara. A raga with a vivadi swara evokes a very different feel and I am sure this kind of a raga was used here keeping the protagonist of the story in mind.

Generally, my posts in this thread would go systematically and the description would follow a pattern, and I would take up the prelude first, go to the Pallavi, then move on to the first interlude, go to the CharaNam and finally describe the second(and third if it exists) interlude. Today, I am straightaway jumping to the interlude and not without a reason. But before that, I must tell you that the composition is different from a normal composition in terms of the structure. There is a prelude, a short Pallavi, an interlude which can also be called as the CharaNam, the Pallavi again but in higher octave and then a postlude.

Let us first see that interlude/charaNam part.

This part has the vocals (chorus) and no melodic instruments. It is in fact a ‘recitation’ of ‘Abhirami Andaadi no.42.

The composition is set to the 5-beat khandam. Now, any other composer would have set the verse too in the same beats and would have moved on. Yes, I am talking about an ‘ordinary composer’. But why talk about something ‘ordinary’ when we have somebody who is ‘extraordinary’?

The group of percussion instruments follows this pattern when the verse is sung. Here too, one set (Jaalra) plays in kizh kaalam while the other set(cheNda) plays in mel kaalam simultaneously. It would not have been difficult at all for the composer to set the verse (which is in Paavani ragam anyway) in khandam. But here, the verse goes ‘freely’. How free it is, let us see.

The entire verse lasts 18 khandams. So, it a total of 90 aksharaas(18x5). The rhythmic pattern of the verse (mind you, decoding this was an herculean task!) roughly follows

                  15  / 10  /33  /32

How he conceived this and executed this (it is not an easy task to make the chorus sing in this pattern when the percussion goes in khandam considering the fact that a majority of chorus singers may not have been well trained in carnatic music) is difficult to fathom!

Let us now look at the composition from the beginning.

It starts with the resonant ‘gong’ like instrument reverberating during the first, third , fifth, seventh and the eighth beats. This piece which lasts for one aavartana of Aadi taaLam(kizh kaalam) sounds like veda mantram and sets the tone-literally and figuratively. The chorus starts rendering ‘Abhirami Andaadi no.50’and this too is set in Aadi taaLam with the ‘gong’ sounding rather subtly now. The resemblance to the veda mantram is too close to be missed.

This ethereally hormonised singing lasts for 4 aavartanaas. The sympathetic strings then play the arohanam of Paavani and right from this point it is khandam. One sees the glowing images as the conch plays extended notes to the backing of the cheNda.

Laced with softness, the Pallavi starts in the voice of Yesudass and it entrancingly portrays the hidden beauties of the raga. Note that the vivadi gandhara(Shuddha gandhara) dominates the first two lines while the last two lines(can be called as ‘anu pallavi’) are dominated by the ‘uttaranga swaras’. The akaaram towards the end shows the subtle and the dynamic shades of Paavani.

Andaadhi no.42 follows(as already described in the beginning) with the shining contrasting texture. It is a kind of cohesive matrix with some variegated patterns.

It segues into the Pallavi which is rendered this time in the higher octave.

The percussion takes over and it is a mélange of sorts with the group going in mel kaalam and if I were to say that it is a divine spiritual experience, it would not be an exaggeration.

The composition has a postlude too with the sitar playing a sensitively crafted classical melody in Paavani and the flute joining towards the end with an emotive heft.

Free flow of music which runs into patterns..

That is how a river flows..And that is how the moon shines..And that is how a flower blossoms..

And that is how AruNagirinathar sings..

And that is how ILaiyaraaja composes..

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