Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Natana Raaja-Part IV

Poetry in motion..

This is how one can describe an infant on the cradle.

The way it kicks its legs..
The way it moves its hands..
The way it cries..
The way it grumbles..

What is this if not poetry?

Periyaazhwar, the 9th Century Tamizh poet who composed 473 verses- out of which 210 verses are on the ‘growing-up’ of Child Krishna where he imagines himself to be Yasodha - says,

‘When I put him on the cradle, he kicks it and breaks it.
When I keep him on my waist, he breaks my ribcage.
When I feed him, he dances and kicks my stomach.
Oh..No! I am unable to bear his mischief!!’

கிடக்கில் தொட்டில் கிழிய உதைத்திடும்
எடுத்துக் கொள்ளில் மருங்கை யிறுத்திடும்
ஒடுக்கிப் புல்கில் உதரத்தே பாய்ந்திடும்
மிடுக்கிலாமையால் நான் மெலிந்தேன் நங்காய்!

Though the mother sounds very tired, one can easily see the appreciation and the adoration for her child.

Does one not feel poetry, hear music, and see dance in this?

A child is as beautiful as the Poetry, as mesmerizing as Music and as graceful as Dance.

In this thread, we have been seeing about poetry and music.In the last three posts, we have also been seeing albeit briefly about the various classical dance forms of India.

Today, let us see the two beautiful but somewhat contrasting forms from Kerala-KathakaLi and Mohiniaattam.

KathakaLi-meaning ‘Story play’- originated from Ramanaattam and Krishnanaattam, the earlier Dance drama forms of Kerala. Known for its unique make-up and costumes, beautiful body movements in synchronization with the vocal and the percussion music and detailed gestures, KathakaLi is not an easy dance form to perform (though an easy form to understand).A typical KathakaLi artiste is also well versed with KaLaripayattu, the martial art of Kerala that improves the concentration, stamina and co-ordination.
There are essentially 5 features in KathakaLi-Facial expressions with special emphasis on the eye-movements, Hand gestures (Mudras), rhythmic movements of hands, legs and the body as a whole(Nrittam), Vocal music(the musician also narrates the story from time to time and recites the dialogues of the different characters) and the percussion music(cymbals and 3 different types of native drums each producing a unique sound of its own).

This highly stylized classical performance involves a lot of co-ordination and is a team work. Generally, stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are performed and it is said that some of the legendary dancers would literally transform themselves on the stage making the audience feel as though they were watching the real characters live in action.

Mohiniaattam, the other classical dance form of Kerala means the ‘Dance of the beautiful woman’.Though ‘Mohini’ means a beautiful woman, here it is referred to Lord Vishnu who is believed to have taken the form of a very beautiful woman twice- during the churning of the Ocean -for the nectar- to distract the Rakshasas(the Demons) and then to kill a Demon called Basmaasura.

This dance form has slow graceful movements. The sensuous movements, the subtle footwork, the unique costume in white and golden colour, jasmine flowers woven around the tied hair and the classical style of music make Mohiniaattam a very beautiful dance form.

Devotion to the God forms the fulcrum of Mohinaattam. The Hero is generally Krishna and a typical performance has a jatiswaram, a varnam, a padam, and a Tillana very similar to a Bhartanatyam recital though the ‘adavus’(basic dance steps) are different from that of the latter.

Let us now look at the Natana Raaja composition of today that reminds one of both these forms.

The speciality of the composition is the interspersing of some lines from two Ashtapathis- that were composed by Jayadeva in the 12th century are one of the most beautiful Love poems that also gives the essence of the Jeevatma-Paramatma philosophy-and the poetic cry of a child.

The composition is ‘Aalolam peelikaavadi theril..’ from the Malayalam film Aalolam(1982).It is based on Malayamarutam.

Malayamarutam is a janya of the 16th melakarta Chakravaagam and its structure is
Sa ri1 ga3 pa dha2 ni2 Sa/Sa ni2 dha2 pa ga3 ri1 sa.

The composition starts with the alluring flute which is couched in melody. It is sublime music as the santoor joins the flute as the Tabla nods its head in appreciation.

The song in the dainty voice of Yesudass is a document of delicacy.
One sees the aesthetic instincts of the composer as the Pallavi glows like a bright Kerala Lamp even as the rhythm undulates back and forth making us all sway.

The ebb and flow of the percussion in the beginning of the first interlude is scintillating and it conjures up images of a mischievous child playing hide and seek with us. The synthetic blend of the western and the eastern instruments is another beauty. The synthesizer and the Bass Guitar are ingeniously integrated while the lilting flute is laced with the charming Guitar and Malayamarutam smiles with a burnished shimmer.

The first two lines of the first CharaNam are fluently phrased. The third line has the poise and the fourth line has the pace.

It is mesmerizing ravishment.

As the CharaNam ends, we hear the special tone of the native Kerala drum followed by the first line of the 6th Ashtapati in which Radha complains about Krishna to her friend saying ‘why can’t he reform his ways and meet me?’.

This line alone is set in Kambodi ragam.

The innocent cry of the child at the end of this line gives a very special feeling.

The second charaNam is different from that of the first.

We see the clear stream of the Yamuna river..

We see the cross currents..

We see the graceful dance of the Gopikas and Krishna..

We see the kaleidoscope of colours..

We see the Nature’s regeneration..

We see the interplay of the human and the divine..


The 19th Ashtapati of Jayadeva , ‘Priye Charusheele’ in Mukhari ragam, a rakti ragam known for its pristine beauty appears in the end with a pearly shine. The lines rendered with fervour take us to the realm of serenity.

‘Thwamasi mama bhooshanam..thwamasi mama jeevanam..thwamasi mama bhavajalati ratnam..’

You are my ornament..You are my breath..You are my jewel in the endless sea of life..


Aakarsh said...

Such a nice coincidence! I was listening to this beautiful composition just 30mins ago and now i bump into this post! As always, wonderful write up.I always have a special affinity towards Ilaiyaraaja's Malayalam works.Ilaiyaraaja's music is a strange paradox.His simple pieces (like a flute with guitar) are beautiful. And so are his complex pieces too. It is difficult to judge or categorically say which one is greatest? Making simple music? or Complex Music?This man is adept at both!
wonderful writing as usual!

I would like to suggest something.I thoroughly enjoy your posts.But I observe that most of the posts are about songs that have strong classical music current in them.Quite commendable,but it would be even more good if you can showcase his skills in non-classical songs as well.I know that his base is classical music, be it Indian or Western.But there are also some songs that have a classical raaga only as a periphery and the song proceeds more like a simple light music song or film song.For example: Poonkaattinodu (poomukhapadiyil ninneyum kathu) or the recent Aaro Paadum.Songs that dont sound too classical.
Covering all type of songs only showcases variety!

Raj said...

Thanks for your nice comments.
Please note that I discuss the classical elements in his compositions-not necessarily pure classical- while my other Blog discusses his very rare songs (where I don't get technical at all).

If you see all the posts in this Blog carefully, you will know that I have taken up a lot of songs that can be termed as 'semi-classical'.
Some of the examples:
Engengo sellum
Kaattu vazhi
Panivizhum malarvanam
Kaadhalin deepam ondru
Das Das
Engum Niraintha
Sundari kannal
Oru Kanam
Ee Dega..

Of course this Natana series will have pure classical stuff only for obvious reasons.Once this series is over, I shall write on semi classical compositions like before.

Thanks anyway for your suggestion.

SS said...

Enjoyable composition.How beautifully the ragas blend without looking like patch work!!

By the way I am thinking if Vadivelu of Tanjore Quartet's role in structuring Mohiniattam at the behest of ST could have probably resulted in a performance format very similar to that of a Bhartanatyam recital.

Suresh S said...


One of my favourite song. One feature that distinguishes Raja from other composers is his ability to get to the crux of a particular culture / language and tune accordingly. All this without losing his individuality. His Telugu songs will sound like someone who knows only Telugu music has tuned them and the same applies to his Malayalam output. The song you have written about and a song like 'poovai virinju' or 'ambilikili' from Adharvam, prove this. This is something which has always been a mystery to me. As to how this man can modify his tune to suit another culture and nowhere do you lose track of the fact that it is a Raja song. Listen to 'melleonnu' from 'Manasinakkare'. It cannot be anything but a Malayalam song and at the same time it is a Raja song!! Genius doesn't seem sufficient when discussing this aspect of Raja.

Raj said...

Thanks for your comments Sangeetha!

Not sure about the Vadivelu/ Swati TirunaL influence.Maybe somebody more familiar with the history of Mohiniaattam will be able to clarify this.

Raj said...

Thanks Suresh..

Yes, quite often I have wondered too at his ability to bring out the flavour of the respective region.

Just goes to show how deeply involved he is in his profession..