Thursday, 24 January 2008

ILaiyaraaja-The Genius!

The great Tamizh poet Thiruvalluvar said

‘People who have studied and discovered different facets of Nature, enlighten fresh truths and codes not known so far’

கற்றீண்டு மெய்ப்பொருள் கண்டார் தலைப்படுவர்
மற்றீண்டு வாரா நெறி.

It is not just enough to acquire and gain knowledge. What matters is how one applies it.

Illaiyaraaja has studied Music in depth. So have many other composers. But what distinguishes Raja from others is his inclination to experiment and his ability to innovate.

‘Graha Bedam’ as a theoretical concept is known to anybody who learns Carnatic Music but it is the one and only Raja who has used it in Films.

In Carnatic Music Concerts, one gets to hear Ragam Thanam Pallavi . Here the Musician chooses a particular Ragam, elaborates it , sings a small Pallavi(usually in a tough Talam) and then goes on to sing the Pallavi in different Ragas.A knowledgeable and talented Musician applies Shruti Bedam here and changes the Ragas.

Before we move further, let me briefly try and explain the Raga system and the concept of Graha Bedam.

Out of the seven Swaras, Ri, Ga, Ma, Dha, Ni have two basic varaiants(though there are 4 variants , I am mentioning only 2 now so that I sound simple!).With various permutations and combinations of these 5 swaras plus the Sa and Pa , we get 32 complete ragas-Ragas that have all the seven notes in Arohanam(ascent) as well as Avarohanam(descent).

Now, let us take the third variant of Ri,Ga,Dha, Ni(Ma is avoided here and I shall explain this in days to come).Now, with the permutation and combination of each variant , we get 40 complete Ragas.These 40 are called as Vivadhi Ragas.

These 72 Ragas(32+40 =72) are called as the Melakartha or the Mother ragas. Rest of the ragas are derived from these.

For example, Shankarabharanam, Natabhairavi, Keeravani etc.,are Mother Ragas. Mohanam, Sudhha Dhanyasi, Sudhha Saveri, Lalitha are all Janya Ragas(derived ragas).

Please recall that I was mentioning about 4 variants of each of the 5 Swaras. Multiply this and we get 20.Add Sa and Pa to this and we get 22.Thus we have 22 Shrutis in Carnatic Music.

Sa is the basic Swara and all ragams start with this (there are some exceptions and let us not focus on them now).

Now, what happens if we keep the 'Ri' of a particular Ragam as the basic note ?The ragam obviously changes to a totally different one.This is what is called as Shruti Bedam since we are change the Shruti Value.

Let us now see one of Raja's masterpieces where he has applied the concept of Graha bedam wonderfully.

It is ‘Vaidehi Raman’ from Pagal Nilavu,

The composition is based on Kalyani-the 65th Melakartha.Being a Melakartha , it has seven notes.

Ri/ Ga/ Pa/ Dha/ Ni of Kalyani(or for that matter any Ragam) can be taken as the basic swara Sa and each time we get a new raga.Thus we get 5 different Ragas here.This is the theory.

But what amazes me is the way Raja has handled Shruti Bedam in this composition!

Logically, if we apply Graha Bedam to any Melakartha Raga, we get another Melakartha –or a complete Raga.

But in ‘Vaidehi Raman’, we get Pentatonic Ragas(Ragas with 5 notes) like Mohanam, Hamsadhwani, Hindolam, Sudhha Dhanyasi.


But before that let us see the composition very briefly.I am saying very briefly, because my objective now is to expand on his handling of Shrutibedam.

The song starts with the bells and one gets to hear the arohana of Kalyani.The brief Mridangam prelude with a wonderful mathematical pattern straightaway gives the ambience of a Classical Dance performance.

The Pallavi is simple and the first interlude with traditional instruments is attractive.

The second interlude is where we must turn our attention to.The Swara singing phrases start here and the Graha bedam takes place here.

Let us now go back to my earlier statement –

‘ But in ‘Vaidehi Raman’, we get Pentatonic Ragas(Ragas with 5 notes) like Mohanam, Hamsadhwani, Hindolam, Sudhha Dhanyasi.


The answer is while changing the Shruthi, the Genius uses only some Swaras(and not all the seven swaras!) from the changed Ragam.

Graha Bedam takes place from Ni Sa Ni Ni Sa Sa. That is, Ni is made to act like Sa and what we get is Todi Ragam,the 8th Melakartha.('Gangai Karai Mannanadi' from Varusham 16 is Todi).

This is just an introduction to the beauty which is to follow.

It is like the entrance to a Temple where we have the beautiful RajaGopuram and the huge Dhwajastambham!

He focuses on just 5 notes of Todi-Sa Ga Ma Dha Ni-to give us Hindolam a pentatonic Raga.

From Ni, he shifts his attention to Dha.

If Dha in Kalyani is made as Sa, it becomes Karaharapriya-the 22nd Melakartha- and this is what one would expect the Vocalist to sing when Graha Bedam takes place.

But with a Genius like Raja, we must always expect the unexpected!

He just uses 5 Swaras of Karaharapriya to make it sound like a Pentatonic Ragam Sudhha Dhanyasi.

Then from Dha, he jumps to Ri(again unexpectedly) and uses the five Swaras of Mohanam. Again, logically it should have been HariKambhodi-the 28th Melakartha- but he uses just 5 swaras of that ragam. Coming to think of it, since Mohanam does not have Ma, we can also say that these are the Swaras of Kalyani!

Before Graha Bedam, he uses Sa Ri Ga Pa Ni in some phrases –swaras of Kalyani- no doubt but at the same time Swaras of Hamsadhwani as well!

Kalyani made to look like Hamsadhwani !

What can one say about this Genius!!

Avar Isaikkum Gaanangal Nammai Engengo Azhaithu Chellum Aarohanam…

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Anonymous said...

very interesting... can you give a link to the song itself so we can listen along as we read your explanation?

Raj said...

Have uploaded the audio..

Sridhar Usha said...

Raj..this is a a great site. Just stumbled upon it when doing research on Ilayaraja and raga. I got it in my bookmarks. Will get to all your postings


Raj said...

Thanjs Sridhar :).
May I know more about th research?Do you blog too?