Monday, 18 October 2010

ILaiyaraaja-The Uncanny Musician..

‘Out of the world experience..’ ‘I got transported to another world..’ ‘He/She did Mayajaal..’

How many times have we used/heard others use these phrases.

Generally, we say this after listening or watching something extraordinary. At times, while reading some great works of poetry too..

Why do we feel the experience itself is a different world? Aren’t we aware that we exist and continue to exist in the same world?

What is this ‘out of the world experience’ or ‘Maya’ all about?

The concept of Maya is very intriguing.
Maya literally means ‘not that’.
It is an illusion though it seems to be a reality.

I do not want to get too much into philosophy and shall try and put it in simple terms.

As per Indian philosophy, Maya is the illusion a veiling of the true. Since it seems to be a reality, it is both true and untrue. It is true but when compared to the Absolute Truth (one call it as ‘Sathyam’) , it is untrue. Maya is said to be created by the Almighty to help us see the Ultimate or Absolute Truth.

Coming to think of it, literature, music, dance also take us to a world of illusion.
True or Untrue?

Yes.. At the same time, great literature and divine music while taking us to an illusory world make us see the absolute truth.

Great composers/writers/artistes have an uncanny knack of making us see the Truth through their esoteric works.

Look at these two verses of Kamban:

வரம்பு எலாம் முத்தம்;தத்தும் மடை எலாம் படிலம்;மாநீர்க்
குரம்பு எலாம் செம்பொன்;மேதிக் குழி எலாம் கழுநீர்க் கொள்ளை;
பரம்பு எலாம் பவள‌ம்;சாலிப் பரப்பு எலாம் அன்னம்;பாங்கர்க்
கரும்பு எலாம் செந்தேன்;சந்தக் கா எலாம் களி வண்டு ஈட்டம்.

ஆலைவாய்க் கரும்பின் தேனும்,அரி தலைப் பாளைத் தேனும்,
சோலைவீழ் கனியின் தேனும்,தொடை இழி இறாலின் தேனும்,
மாலைவாய் உகுத்த தேனும்,வரம்பு இகந்து ஓடி,வங்க‌
வேலைவாய் மடுப்ப‍ உண்டு,மீன் எலாம் களிக்கும் மாதோ

Pearls shimmer on paddy fields. Gold glitter on the banks of the lakes. Rubies shine on the valleys. Conches glow on the sluices. The white swans swim with glow. Tasteful honey oozes out from sugar canes. Singing bees in the groves.

Honey from sugar cane, Honey from the petals (of flowers), Honey from the fruits, Honey directly from the Honey comb, Honey from the garlands.. flow to the sea , fill the sea making the fish swallow these varieties of honey.

The salt sea becomes the Honey Sea!

These are just 2 samples from the 60 verses in ‘Naattu Padalam’ in Bala Kandam where Kamban describes the beauty and richness of the Kingdom of Kosalam ruled by Dasaratha.

Now, a logical question: What would happen if honey were to flow directly into the sea? What would happen if one sees gold and gems on the paddy fields and by the lakeside? First of all, is this possible in reality?

The obvious answer is No.

At the same time, let us realise that the character of Rama symbolises Absolute Truth. Kamban, the philosopher helps us see the ultimate truth through Kamban, the poet. By exaggerating –albeit poetically - he takes us through a wonderful world, makes us experience the beauty and finally making us realise the Absolute Truth!

One finds this uncanny ability- of showing us a Maya world and using it as a veil to make us realise the Truth- in some people even now. These are the people whose works are extraordinary, beyond compare and beyond even logical reasoning.

A classic living example is ILaiyaraaja.

I am sure most of us undergo a totally different experience while listening to many of his songs. We do get transported to a new world. But after the song is over, aren’t our minds left with a feeling which is impossible to explain or put in words?

This is what is the absolute truth!

And ILaiyaraaja is one of the few people to have this uncanny ability!!

(At this point, let me also tell you that there are also great artistes/musicians who take us to the world of Maya through. But the difference is that while one experiences pleasure in their works, it seems to be transient without any permanent value).

Today, let us see yet another composition of his where we go to the Maya world and finally experience what I have tried to describe.

The composition is ‘Yenidu Yenidu Maya Maya..’ from the Kannada film Nannavanu(2009).
The composition is based on a Raag called Brindavana Saranga.

Brindavana Saranga has been adopted into Carnatic music from the Hindustani system.
There is still a lot of confusion about the structure of this Raag.

Some say it is a pentatonic raga with ‘ga’ and ‘dha’ being absent and that it uses both the ‘ni’.

Some say there is only one variant of ‘ni’ and that ‘ga’ is sparingly used in the avarohanam.

After discussing with some great musicologists, my personal opinion is it has 5 swaras in the arohanam and 6 swaras in the avarohanam- with a very minimum use of ‘ga’.

Its structure is: sa ri2 ma1 pa ni2 Sa/Sa ni2 pa ma1 ri1 (ga2)sa.

The ‘ri’ and ‘ni’ are considered to be the Jeevaswaras (notes that give life to this raga).

Let us see the composition now.

We see the glowing delicate filaments that prepare us for the mystical experience. The vivid flow of violins with the bass guitar running as the undercurrent shows us the mystical stream. The Flute has a meditative impact.

The gentle flavour of the Raga is felt in the Pallavi as Sriram Parthasarathy renders the lines. The second line is sharp while the third line shows the facets of the raga rippled colours. The fourth line is aglow with bhava-rich gamakas. The female voice of Bela Shinde now joins caressing niceties. The Flute interspersed between the lines makes our hearts jump with excitement.

The first interlude is a plethora of melodic and rhythmic threads that spell virtuosity.

It starts innocuously with the electronic instruments giving a joyful smile that welcomes the violins and the Laya Raaja. The composition is basically set in the 3-beat cycle Tisram while the Bass Guitar now play in Chatusram as 8 beats followed by a gap of 4 counts. This is repeated 4 times. The number of beats is 48 - which is divisible by 4 as well as 3.

One Maya already revealed!

The nectar-filled flute and the cadences in violin at the end and take us further into the esoteric world.

The subtly layered CharaNam is another marvel and shows us one more Maya.
The first two lines are supple and glow with inner light.

The Laya Raaja enters again in the next line. As the vocals follow the Tisram pattern, the violins in the background follow the chatusram pattern and goes as ta Ka dhi mi (4) 9 times. The Tisram and Chatusram merge ecstatically at the end of the CharaNam as if to show that there is only one absolute truth!

The second interlude starts with symmetrical motifs. We then see the subdued and refined Violins, and Flute moving with splendour and showing us the variegated hues of the world. There is a sudden unexpected touch as we hear the humming in akaaram that takes exhilarating flights across octaves.

Makes us see the Absolute Truth!

An uncanny experience!!

Maya Maya.. Sathya..Sathya..


Suresh S said...


A lovely song that I listen to often. This is definitely a very underrated album. I also love 'mudhalane bari'. Wonderful rendition by SPB and Bela. Nice to see you write about the song. A song just drips honey. So your honey reference of Kambar is perfectly apt :)

dagalti said...

Nice post.

Got here thanks to a link from Suresh

I am not equal to understand the nuances you've explained here and I envy those of you who have such a heightened level of appreciation.

I have no werewhithal to understand why I like what I like about his songs. In that regard
I relate to a Kambar line nearabout the passages you have quoted that ends

உண்கள்வார் கடைவாய் மள்ளர் களைகிலாது உலாவி நிற்பர்/ பெண்கள் பால் வைத்த நேயம் பிழைப்பரோ சிறியோர் பெற்றால்.

Raj said...

Thanks Suresh!
Yes I too love 'Mudalane baari'- a marvel in Keeravani.

But 'Maya' is very special..

Raj said...

Hi Dagalti,
Thanks for visiting my blog and thanks for your comments.

I always say that to appreciate music, two ears are enough.Actually, I envy people who do not know about the technical details because their appreciation will be pure and without any strings attached..

Aakarsh said...

"The first interlude is a plethora of melodic and rhythmic threads that spell virtuosity." - Nailed right. Also, the first interlude is enough to prove that the ilaiyaraaja of 80s, which many admire is very much alive and is only presenting himself in new robes. same ideas. Just that the rhythm backdrop is little different, to suit the contemporary scheme of things.

I like this song a lot. Probably the choice of female singer could have been better (may be shreya is more honeyed than Bela.. but then Bela did an awesome job in "Kooda Variviya from Valmiki). The female singer seems to be more nervous and concentrating on being technically right, with less focus on 'emoting'.(is it only me, that i find the voice little deadpan? Or am i too used to Shreya Ghoshal?) The male singer, on the other hand, does it with decent confidence.

But a Wonderful song. The string section in this song was brilliant. Only Ilaiyaraja can weave such beautiful counter-melodies. I love both the interludes - truly transporting.

As such 2009 was a great year for raaja fans, because he has composed many films and most of them had some wonderful songs. Good to see you writing about a new song.

Raj said...


I feel Bela has done a wonderful job.As a matter of fact,I feel she has done a better job than what Shreya would have done..But again..opinions differ!

Yes..I do write about new songs too..Just last year, I wrote about 'Oru Kaatril'(Naan KadavuL).

Though I tend to focus on his early works,I see to it that I take up the lesser known works/ the lesser known aspects in his 'popular'compositions.

'Innum ennai seiyya pogiRai', 'Kaadhalin Deepam ondru' are some of the examples of the 'popular' category.

'Yenidu..' is a great composition in terms of the raga as well as the (cross) rhythm.

Thanks for following my Blog and thanks for the nice and elaborate comments!

Aakarsh said...


Bela did a good job no doubt. My point was about the way her voice sounded, not the way she sang. Usually i dont see any singer going technically wrong under the baton of raaja.

Naan Kadavul song is a landmark composition and it still forms as one of my reference points to identify Rasikapriya.

Please continue to write more about his lesser known songs. You always have an audience, a curious audience infact.

Raj said...

'Oru kaatril..' can be used as a reference point not just for Rasikapriya but also for Gruha bedam.

In the CharaNam, he shifts the Shruti and hides one swara(pa) to make it sound like Lalita-instead of Mayamalavagowla which is what we should logically get!).

Is there any word in the dictionary that can aptly define this gentleman?