Thursday, 17 September 2009

ILaiyaraaja-The Awe-inspiring Musician!

‘Her hair, rough-washed in water, on her face
So spread her swollen lower lip is hurt.
She sighs when thinking of us and our sport
When on an instant now those nights revert
To hot tears falling on her sleeping place’.

'Without her ornaments, too heavy grown,
She lies the midway through her bed of pain.
Enfeebled, miserable, consumed by tears:
Assuredly to view her is to drop your rain,
An act to which the tender soul is prone'.

Poets and artistes have a unique way of looking at things in the world.
When we look at some of the major works of great poets and artistes, we are awestruck. We cannot control our amazement and appreciation at their imagination and aesthetic sense.

Look at the aforementioned verses. Can you guess who is addressing whom?The second verse if read carefully gives the hint. is the cloud that is being addressed. And who is talking to the cloud?

A Yaksha (simply put an attendant in the court of Kubera, the Hindu God of wealth) is obsessed with his wife.So smitten and besotted that he even neglects his duties thus earning the wrath of his Master who curses him and banishes him to the Earth for one year.

Even during the exile, the Yaksha thinks about his Lady Love and pines for her. One day, he spots a cloud kissing the mountain and he requests the cloud to carry his message to his beloved.What we then get to see is a set of 100 odd verses that take us out of this world(literally).

This set of poems forms what is called as ‘Megadootam’(the cloud messenger).
Megadootam was written by Kalidasa.

Kalidasa is regarded one of the best poets in that beautiful language called Sanskrit. There are a lot of stories about Kalidasa and historians still find it difficult to record his period with authenticity.He lived during the 3rd, 4th or the 5th century(as per an archeological study conducted during the mid ‘80s, Kalidasa lived between 370 AD and 450 AD).

It is said that he was blessed by Goddess KaLi who rewarded him with an extraordinary wit and knowledge and that is why the name Kalidasa.At the other extreme, we also have many ‘scholars’ who have taken the liberty of dissecting his personal life and have made efforts to ‘prove’ that he was after all an ordinary person.

Ambiguous-this is what one can conclude if one tends to study Kalidasa’s life history.

However, why do we need to dig deeper into the life of a genius whose works speak for themselves. Reading his works (even translated works) give us so much of pleasure and everlasting bliss.

Apart from Megadootam, the other works of Kalidasa include Raghuvamsam-Dynasty of Raghu kings, Kumara sambhavam-the Birth of Muruga or Karthikeya, Ritu Samharam-experience of two lovers in the six seasons, Malavikaagnimitram-story of Malavika and King Agnimitra, Abhijnanasakuntalam-story of Dushyant and Sakuntala and Vikramorvasiyam-King Pururavas and the celestial dancer Urvasi.

Go through the verses again(translation courtesy:John Holcombe).Can you not empathise with the lover?

The beauty of Megadootam lies not just in the concept.The way the Yaksha describes the route to the clouds(there are two parts-poorva mega or the previous cloud and the uttara mega, the subsequent or the next cloud) is so vivid and beautiful that one literally sees and feels each and every place traversed by the cloud(s).The images are fresh and at the same time convey the emotions of the despondent Yaksha simply captivating our hearts.

Is this not what poetry is meant for?

Like such beautiful immortal poetry, Music also gives us feelings and emotions especially if it is composed by geniuses. Geniuses whom we get to see once in a while and who are awe-inspiring.

We are very lucky to have a living legend in film music who portrays human emotions so beautifully that we keep wondering how it is humanly possible.

Like Kalidasa’s poetry, ILaiyaraaja’s music gives us vivid imagery made possible with intricate detailing and exquisite craftsmanship.

Like Kalidasa, ILaiyaraaja also has divine powers (and this is purely a personal opinion) without which it would be impossible to compose such music.

Most importantly, a lot of attempts are being made to dissect the personality and personal life of ILaiyaraaja by people who consider themselves as scholars and bask in the publicity generated by such futile efforts.

For Kalidasa, it was the choice of words, the combination of words and the beautiful description.

For ILaiyaraaja, it is the choice of the Ragas, the combination of swaras and the beautiful arrangement/orchestration/tune.

Today, we are going to see yet another composition of Raaja’s which I consider a gem.
The song is ‘Maalai Nera Kaatre’ from ‘Agal ViLakku’(1980).
It is based on the Hindustani Raag Bilaskhani Todi.

Bilaskhani Todi is a very interesting Raag.It was invented by Bilas Khan, the son of Miya Tansen-who is considered to be one of the greatest composer/musician in Hindustani music.It is said that Bilas Khan composed and sang this Raag immediately after his father died and that Tansen’s hand moved in appreciation.

Bilaskhani Todi is derived from the Bhairavi Thaat(Thaat is the equivalent melakartha of Carnatic) though it has the Todi tag-Todi being another Thaat and is the counterpart of Subhapantuvarali.However, the Todi tag is not there without any reason.

The Raagang(loosely translated as the structure) follows Todi.I shall leave it at that since it is too technical to define and explain this concept and is beyond the scope of this blog.

Bilaskhani Todi is considered to be among the greatest of Raags in Hindustani music and to compose or sing(leave alone master) is not that easy.

The aro/avaroh is:

Sa ri1 ga2 pa dha1 Sa/ri1 ni2 dha1 pa dha1 ni2 dha1 ma1 ga2 ri1 ga2 ri1 sa.

This special raag cannot be confined to the Aroh/Avaroh alone since there are a lot of special prayogas in this Raag.

Let us now look at the composition.

The opening itself is very different and is rich with musical intimacy. It is replete with a stirring articulation that is heart-wrenching. The violins play with languorous grace.It is an interplay of emotions as the guitar suddenly appears and play with a benevolent tenor.

The Pallavi has an aura of sanctity. The crystalline voice of Janaki educes the image of the raga succinctly.The first line exudes brilliant radiance while the second line is solicitously appealing.The third line is impeccably deep and brings out the pangs of separation and dejection wonderfully.

In the first interlude, the raga moves with unimpeded flow with the violins giving a soulful delineation.We see the flashes of musical sublimity as a special modern instrument gives a drizzle of delicate touches. We feel the tenderness of melody as the Dilruba continues.The ending in the higher octave is a masterstroke!

The CharaNam encompasses the dimensions of the raga.The first two lines in the CharaNam lances and pierces our hearts. The third line has pervasive mellowness and the fourth line with subtle pauses in between is poignant.

The long flute pieces interspersed between the lines give feathery touches with their gentle glides.

The second Interlude is maneuvered with expert precision.

The Guitar played with finesse and the Flute with poise combine together to produce an extraordinary piece of music.
It has the deft touches and the delicate shades.
It is then the turn of the Dilruba that plays with the weight of volume and vibrancy giving us subtle and varied emotions.

The entire composition is a study in subtlety.
We internalize it, try to discover it, dwell in it, get soaked and finally get drenched!

It is profound.
It is rich and mellow.
It is redolent with mystique and has a meditative impact.

It is the musical silence of the evening breeze!

மாலைநேர காற்றின் மௌனமும் இசைதான்!

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