Friday, 10 April 2009

ILaiyaraaja's Music is Universal!

‘Nadaloludai Brahmananda Mandave Manasa..’

‘Sangeetha Sastra Gnaanamu Saaroopya Sowkyathame Manasa’

These are the first lines of two Krithis(in Kalyanavasantham and Mukhari Ragams respectively) of Saint Thyagaraja.

The greatness of a composer is shown by the way he presents his compositions.Thygaraja Krithis are considered unique not just because of the Bhakti Bhava but also because of the Structure of the Krithis, the Versatility, his use of Ragas and most importantly his approach to Music.

So steeped was he in the Ocean called Music that whatever he gave us are all gems precious enough to last nearly two centuries(and I am sure centuries to come).He also had the audacity to compose in very rare ragas like Gurjari, Rasaali, Veera Vasantham,Sudhha Bangala, Navaroj-just to name a few-apart from the heavy and popular Ragas.

In many of his Krithis, one can find his musings about Music and what Music means to him.The Krithis mentioned above are just two examples.He says ‘We achieve the Blissful state by the Resonance of Music and by having Deep Knowledge of Music’ .

I can find lot of similarities between Saint Thyagaraja and ILaiyaraaja.

Raaja’s Music is also unique because of the way he presents them.He is also very versatile and is known for giving very different structures in terms of the Swaras, Ragas and Talas.He has also composed in very rare ragas-Ragas which none of his predecessors dared to try in Films.

Most important- his compositions have also stood the time and I am sure would last generations to come!

The objective of this thread is to bring out the classical elements in Raja's music as already mentioned in the beginning.

But some of you might be wondering if all Film songs are based on Ragas..

And if so what is the difference between a Film song and a typical Classical song(sung in concerts)..

What is it that separates a pure classical song from a film song..

I shall confine my discussions to Raaja's compositions alone.

I have framed some questions and have tried to handle them one by one:

1.How do we confirm that a song is in a particular Raga and as per the Raga Lakshanam?

2.Are songs like ‘Kaatril Enthan Geetham’ and ‘Mandram Vantha’ based on Western Scale Harmonic Minor, or are they based on the Carnatic Ragam Keeravani?

3.Songs like ‘Vaidehi Raman’and ‘VanthaaL Mahalakshmiye’ sound very pure but a song like ‘Gangaikkarai Mannanadi’ does not give that effect.Why?

4.What makes him (Raaja) choose a Raga for a composition?

5.At times he gives a heavy classical dose-for example the Swaras in ‘Indraikku Enintha ‘ and at times he dilutes the classical elements.One version of ‘Chinnakannan Azhaikkiran’ sounds very classical while the female version has dominant use of Western style Orchestration giving us a feel of fusion.

Let us take the questions one by one.

1.Carnatic Music is unique in having the concept of Gamaka.What is a Gamaka?It can be defined as a smooth and a unique way of moving from one note to the other.In simple words, it is a kind of oscillation of a note (or notes).One can see rich Gamakas(depending of course on the Musician) in a Carnatic Music Concert.

But the difference is that while a Carnatic Music Concert lasts a minimum of one hour , a film song lasts a maximum of 5 – 6 min.Within this stipulated time, the composer has to first fulfill the requirement of the situation(in the movie), think whether the Tune and the Music would be accepted by the audience, and convince the Directors/Producers/Distributors/Heroes .

Not an easy task at that!

Given these constraints, Raja has successfully given Classical Ragas, has experimented with Talams and has also used complex concepts like Shruthi Bedam.

He has given many Ragas in their pure form.However, there have also been occasions where the song would not follow the structure of the Raga..

If the composition more or less follows a pattern, then it can be classified under the particular Raga with the same pattern.

2.’Kaatril Enthan Geetham’ is based on pure Keeravani.

I do not see any reason for this being classified under the Western Harmonic Minor Scale just because both use the same notes.One of the major differences between a Scale and a Raga is the Gamaka aspect.

The notes in a Western Scale would sound plain while each note has a meaning and life in Carnatic Music.(By saying this I am in no way trying to make one system superior to the other since I love Western Classical as well).

How can a song that starts with a beautiful Aaalap be classified as a Western Scale?In fact, there is no usage of any alien Swara throughout the composition.

Similarly, the song ‘Keeravani’(Paadum ParavaigaL) has a lot of Gamaka phrases and cannot be classified as Harmonic Minor.The Orchestration is of course Westernised but this aspect is part and parcel of a Raja composition.

'Mandram Vantha Thendralukku'(Mouna Ragam) 'Malargalile Aradhanai’(Karumbu Vil),’Thangachangili’(Thooral Ninnu Pochu) are some of the other examples of pure Keeravani which have Western Orchestration .

But it is also a fact that since the notes of Natabhairavi, Keeravani, and Gowrimanohari make Melodic Minor Descending, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor Ascending respectively, Raja has used these in a lot of his compositions.

The basic reason is that Raja understands the World Music very well and is striving to give us -ordinary mortals- the taste of Great Music without any boundaries .Let us see some examples of compositions that can be classified under ‘Western Scale’- though not very strictly ..

’Raja Raja Sozhan’ does follow the pattern of Harmonic Minor and in the Charanam, we find the use the other Ni and the other Dha.This is purely a Western concept of modulation.But a close observation and listening would suggest that the song follows the Indian concept of Raga(Keeravani) as well until this point.

‘Uravenum Puthiya Paathai’ based on Natabhairavi (Melodic Minor) is another excellent composition which sounds a lot like Western but again there are Carnatic concepts like ‘Kaarvai’s as well.

The notes of Shankhrabharanam form the Western Major Scale.So can we say that ‘Poove Ilaya Poove’(Kozhi Koovuthu) or ‘Erikkarai Poongatre’ follow the Major scale?


But ‘Kanavil Mithakkum’(EeravizhiKaviyangal) is very close to being called a Western composition.I would say this is one of his masterpieces somehow gone unnoticed.The modulation in the Pallavi during phrases ‘Ennathin Inbangale’.. is something out of the world.

‘Naane Naana’(Azhage Unnai Aarathikkiren) is another different composition.It is indeed a pleasant surprise that this is based on Harikambodi, a very classical Raga(Melakartha no.28).

However, this is a composition with pure Western orchestration.The Western style of rendering make it unique.But still, the phrase ‘Mella Mella’ in the Pallavi does use ‘Sangathi’.Yes, a ‘purist’ may not accept this as Harikhambodi since the Gamakas are absent.

This different composition without any scale change-except in two phrases in the Charanam where the other Dha is used – can be called as a different Harikambodi!

I am also reminded of my alltime favourite ‘Engengo Sellum’ where the tune more or less is based on Sudhha Dhanyasi but the Orchestration is purely Western Classical.

3.’Gangai Karai Mannan Adi’ may not give the effect of ‘Thaaye Yesodha’ simply because a Todi cannot be sung in such a fast pace in a Carnatic Concert.However, it was composed this way in keeping with the situation in the movie.

That of course brings us to (4).

4.What makes him choose a particular Raga is a question I think even he might find difficult to answer.

People who have worked with him say that as soon as the situation is explained to him, he starts writing the notes and it flows like a river.

I am not sure if it will be possible for a scientist to record as to what happens in his brain when he writes the notes.

What can one say about this genius?

5.Abhogi in ‘Indraikku En Intha Anandame ‘ sounds pure and the ‘Kalpana Swaras’ have also been used .This could be because the Director was convinced about it .

And ‘Kaalai Nera Poonguyil’ in the same Abhogi sounds so different because the situation would have demanded it.

ReethiGowlai in ‘Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiran’ is pure not just because it was Dr.Balamuralikrishna who rendered it.. It is because of the reason that the ReethiGowlai pattern with the necessary Gamakas and the Prayogas were used.

Janaki version-especially the Orchestration-is different because it is a pathos song.In fact, until 1977, nobody had even tried out this kind of an Orchestration in pure Western Classical style.

I also find that the Carnatic Reethigowlai that sounded so pure in ‘Chinna Kannan’, ‘Thalayai Kuniyum’ and ‘Raman Kathai KeLungaL’ sounds somewhat western in ‘Meetatha Oru Veenai’ despite being set to the five beat Khanta Chapu Talam.

Again is because of the various constraints which we have already seen.

The fact of the matter is ILaiyaraaja is giving us the various facets of World Music in each of his compositions stretching the Boundaries but never crossing the Border(of aesthetics!).

‘ Avar Madai Thiranthu Thaavum Nadhi Alai
Manam Thiranthu Koovum Isaikuyil’

He is like the River in Full Flow ..
His Music is the natural music of the cuckoo..