Friday, 16 July 2010

Natana Raaja- Part II

How do we define beauty?
Anything that is pleasing??

But again, is it also not true that ‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ and therefore is ‘beauty’ not subjective?
What looks or sounds beautiful to me, need not look/sound beautiful to you.

At the same time, there are some unwritten codes and norms that make us jump with joy and say ’this is beautiful!’.

Though it is very difficult to say what these codes or norms are, one can say that these are directly linked to their upbringing, knowledge, familiarity and open mindedness.

I am not a sociologist or a social scientist and am not qualified enough to understand the traits of people. Nor am I a psychologist to do any psycho analysis. I am making these observations solely out of my experience of meeting interacting with different kinds of people.

First of all, environment plays a very big role in appreciating beauty. By environment, I mean the place we grow up. It could be the home, place of study, work place, and peer group. When any or all the people in these sets say something is beautiful, we too start appreciating it.

Then comes knowledge. Things that we did not like earlier, start sounding or looking beautiful the moment we start understanding them.
Familiarity with a subject also makes us appreciate beauty.

I shall come to the aforementioned factors a little later.

For appreciating anything, what we need is the ability to keep the mind open -shorn of any prejudice. This makes us more objective and also gives us the power to appreciate genuine beauty.

Therefore, what do I conclude?

Is beauty subjective as it is claimed to be?

Before I answer this, let me go to the two aspects-knowledge and familiarity.

Generally, fine arts like classical music, classical dance, and poetry are said to be appreciated only by some sets of people. Others either say ‘it is boring’ or (when probed further) say they ‘don’t understand it ‘.

Does this then not mean that if only they had the knowledge about these arts, they would start understanding? And if they are familiar with these forms (having listened/seen/read frequently), would they not say ‘yes.. these are really beautiful’? And once they become more familiar, would they not have the ability to separate the chaff from the grain?

Am I then saying that beauty has to do more with the head than with the heart?

Well…Not really!
Beauty is a thing that has to be savoured, enjoyed and cherished.

Confucius said ‘Everything in this world has its beauty, but not everyone sees it’ while Helen Keller said ‘The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart’.

But how do we see the unseen? How do we feel what cannot be seen or touched?

Aren’t those four factors-Environment, Knowledge, Familiarity, and Open mindedness- responsible at least subconsciously?

When we see/hear/read something beautiful, there comes a moment when we totally immerse ourselves and begin to forget ourselves.

A moment when everything seems to stand still.
A moment when we feel nothing else exists in the world.

That is the defining moment when the Head and the Heart meet in an act of perfect coordination.

And there lies the beauty!

Now, have a look at this poem:

யாமாமாநீ யாமாமா யாழீகாமா காணாகா
காணாகாமா காழீயா மாமாயாநீ மாமாயா

‘yaamaamaa nee yaamaamaa yaazhee kaamaa kaaNaagaa
kaaNaakaamaa kaazeeyaa maamaayaa nee maamaayaa’.

The poem from either side-beginning or the end- reads the same letter to letter. Though it is best appreciated by people who can read Tamizh, I am sure others too can appreciate this by understanding the concept.

It is a palindrome.

This was composed by the great saint poet Thirugnaanasambandar-who is considered to be a child prodigy- and this is part of Thevaram, the collection of Holy Hymns on Lord Shiva.

The words are not just empty words without any meaning.

It means, ‘We are Pasus(animals) and you are the Pasupati (one who herds us).Oh Lord-The one who plays the beautiful Yaazh (a musical instrument), the one who wears the snake, the one who is liked by all, the one who made Kaama (God of Love) invisible, you who does the act of concealment! Please dispel and shatter the Maaya surrounding us!’

It does sound beautiful when we recite it but does it not sound more beautiful when we understand the meaning as well? And once we have the meanings in place, don’t we appreciate the beauty more?

Precisely for this reason, have I been trying in this thread to analyse the intricacies of the Maestro’s compositions-of course with my little knowledge- so that others can appreciate it more.

And precisely for this reason, have I started this new series on Dance where I touch upon some basic aspects of the beautiful art.

In my previous post, I gave an introduction to the various classical dance forms of India. I also covered some basic aspects of Bharatanatyam.

Let me now briefly take up some of the other aspects.

Bharatanatyam was earlier known as ‘Sadir’ and was generally performed by people from a particular community called ‘Devadasis’ in the Temples and in the courts of Zamindars and Kings. Learning or performing this art by people belonging to the other communities was considered an anathema and even sacrilegious.

Smt.Rukmini Devi Arundale dispelled all the myth surrounding this great classical art form and strived hard to make the art more respectable. The so called Devadasis-who were until then confined to the courts and the temples- were encouraged to give stage performances and this emboldened people from other communities to learn this art form. Accordingly, the nomenclature of ‘Bharatanatyam’ was given and officially accepted by The Music Academy in the mid ‘30s.

In the previous post, we saw that the basic aspects of Bharatanatyam are Nritta,, Nritya and the Natya.

In Bharatanatyam, even standing, sitting (half and full), walking and moving the hands follow certain unique patterns and this is what makes it more beautiful.

The combination of all these is called as an ‘adavu’.There are basically 10 different adavus and each adavu has a rhythmic pattern with a syllable.

For example, the syllables for ‘Tattadavu’ is ‘tai ya tai hi’ and this adavu is always done in the half-sitting posture.

Similarly, for ‘Tattimetti’ adavu, the syllables are ‘takadhimi takajhanu’ (depending on the jaati)…

Adavus form the foundation of ‘Nritta’.

Bharatanatyam(for that matter all dance forms) uses the body as a means of communication in a beautiful way.

People who have watched any performance must have noticed hand movements and gestures by the dancers. These hand movements are called as Hastas and each Hasta depicts an object or objects.

For example, a Simhamukha symbolizes a ‘Animal face’ and is used to denote not only the face of the lion, but all animals and even a ‘Homam’.And a ‘Mukula hasta’ is used to depict a bud or a flower and cupid with arrows.

As per the Abhinayadarpana, there are in all 28 single- hand hastas and 23 double-hand hastas.

What does a typical performance comprise of?

We shall see this in the forthcoming posts along with some more basics.

ILaiyaraaja being the Laya Raja that he is, has done wonders in his Dance compositions.
Today’s song is also one such composition.

It is ‘Aadum Padam thozha’ from ‘Ponmekalai’(2003).

The speciality of this song sung by Sudha Raghunathan is the dominant presence of the percussion instruments. Except for the subtle violin, there is no other melodic instrument(similar to ‘Aa Vedana’ discussed in the previous post).

The composition is based on Latangi.

Latangi is a very unique Raga and as per the Melakarta system, it is just two melas before Kalayani and only the variant of ‘dha’ separates the two.However, Latangi has its own identity. In fact, it also sounds very different from its Sudhdha Madhyama counterpart Sarasangi!

In Classical music, Saint Thyagaraja and Patnam Subramaniya Iyer have composed songs in this Raga. Muththuswami Dikshithar called this raga Geetapriya.

ILaiyaraaja has given us some beautiful Latangis and ‘Aadum padam..’ is one of the gems.

The composition starts with a melodic majesty and gives us a glimpse of wonderful vistas that are to follow.

When the pallavi is rendered the second time, the sangatis at ‘kooththaadum’ and the one at the end of ‘arum poruLe..’are vivacious and are pregnant with classicism.

The anupallavi is intricately detailed with the sangatis(called as ‘palukkal’) after ‘layangaLil..’ being rendered for one complete avarthanam (rhythmic cycle).The composer’s brilliance is shown when the same line is rendered the second time absolutely without any sangati. In ‘vasanthangaL koNdaada..’ we see the gleaming phrases integrated with the laya.

The CharaNam is built on a panoramic edifice. We see the raga, , bhava ,rasa ,tala and the Natya clasping their hands together and giving us an extraordinary and exceptional feeling.

The first line is softly textured and we hear the syllables ‘ta tit ta ri ki ta tham’.
The next line is sensitive and perceptive and it is followed by a wonderful array of ‘jatis’.

The sparkling phrases have Tisram, Chatusram and the Khandam.

The following line gives gentle and powerful touches of Latangi. The syllables that follow are unexceptionable and are a treat even for people who do not follow classical dance.

The next line moves with vim and vigour and as the swaras are rendered, we feel the melodic beauty of Latangi. The first set is woven around the ‘sa’ while the next set shimmers with the ‘pa’. In the end, when the ‘pa’ is skipped(ni ri ga ma dha ni ri sa), it gives a spectacular feeling. This brilliant interplay of the swaras in just a matter of minutes shows us as to why he is called the ‘Isaignani’.

The mirudangam now repeats the two sets of syllables rendered earlier.

The next two lines-followed by the swaras- have the beautiful arithmetic of rhythmic permutations giving us a pleasant breezy feel.

The varied jati patterns now follow and we see a vibrant cluster of powerful motifs.
So immersed we are in the beauty that when we hear ‘you are missing the beat’ (as per the situation in the movie) we feel people who do not listen to such compositions ‘miss something’!

The myriad cascading ‘sollukattus’ that follow are delightfully layered with Laya being the diadem.

Beautiful, Pleasing!

We feel the meeting of the Head and the Heart!!

உயிர் தொடும் ஸ்வரங்களில், மனம் தொடும் லயங்களில், ஆடும் பதம் தொழ ஆனந்த கூத்தாடும் அரும் பொருளே..


SS said...

Glad to see this series of yours.
This song is such a respite from today's cacophony. Thanks for sharing!

Raj said...

Thanks Sangeeta!
Yes..a great song indeed!!

Suresh S said...

Thanks for bringing to light this song. As you say, a lovely Latangi. Adheres very much to the standard Latangi. In this song Raja does lot of work on the rhythmic aspects as well. Very well sung by Sudha Raghunathan.

Thanks for enlightening us on the dance aspects. Honestly I have no clue on dance as such and I find details you have give informative and interesting.

Raj said...

Thanks for your comments Suresh!

The idea behind starting this series is to make people at least understand the basics of Classical Dance so that they can start appreciating it more.

Let me see how far I succeed.

I also happened to read a comment in the TFM page(you had given the link there as usual!) on my previous post that said 'it is too complex'.That is why, I have tried to simplify it further this time.
Only you all can say as to how far I have succeeded in this.

'Aadum padam' is another gem not known to many.Hope it reaches more people!

Suresh S said...


I think you should go ahead and give the knowledge as you perceive it should be. I am sure some will find it complex but there will be enough people who will like it because there are people who do want to know more technical details. I am definitely enjoying this. Both for the Tamil lit and for the dance insights.

Praveen said...

Brilliant post Raj! truly helps...keep it going...

Raj said...

Thank you Suresh and Chandra!

I shall surely write more and more with this kind of encouragement from knowledgeable people like you..

Raj said...

loved all your posts, but just want to point out one thing.

the song 'innum yennai' from singaravelan as I recall was penned by R.V.Udayakumar, the director himself and not Vaali as you mentioned !


Raj said...

Thanks a lot..
Are you sure about Udayakumar?