Saturday, 10 November 2012

ILaiyaraaja- The Adventurous Musician-I

The young poet smiled to himself. The reason for his amusement had more to do with the serene and sylvan surroundings than about the comments around him.

Being a child prodigy who composed verses in a jiffy, he was extremely popular across the Tamizh land.

But this place was slightly different. Though everyone liked him and his poems, they were also commenting that his poems became very popular mainly because of one gentleman who accompanied him on the ‘Yaazh’, a traditional musical instrument. ‘If not for NilakaNta YaazhppaNar’s music on the Yaazh, this small boy’s verses would sound mediocre’, they averred. The reason was obvious. In that beautiful place called Dharmapuram lived a lot of friends and relatives of YaazhppaNar.

But YaazhppaNar, could not take all the adulation since he was a great admirer of the ‘small boy’.

The small boy then started singing:

மாதர் மடப்பிடியும் மட வன்னமும் அன்னதோர்

நடையுடைம் மலைமகள் துணையென மகிழ்வர்

பூதவினப்படை நின்றிசை பாடவும் ஆடுவர்

அவர் படர் சடை நெடு முடியதொர் புனலர்

வேதமொடேழிசை பாடுவர் ஆழ்கடல் வெண்டிரை

இரைந் நுரை கரை பொருது விம்மி நின்றயலே

தாதவிழ் புன்னை தயங்கு மலர்ச்சிறை வண்டறை

எழில் பொழில் குயில் பயில் தருமபுரம்பதியே.

The foamy waves dance, touch the shore and retreat. Arrested by the nectarine Punnai flowers, the bees buzz musically. The cuckoos learn and practise their singing in the beautiful garden. This is Dharmapuram,the abode of the Lord, who sings and recites the Vedas, who dances to the music of his Bhoota army, who carries the River on his matted hair and whose consort’s gait is as majestic as an elephant’s and as graceful as a swan’s.’

The musician was stunned as he could not play this song on the yaazh. Heart broken, he wanted to break the yaazh itself. But the small boy stopped him, and explained that the composition itself was beyond the scope of the instrument. The people then realised their folly and realised the real value of the ‘small boy’ whose name was Thirugnanasambandar.

It must be understood that ego played little role here and the point the young prodigy wanted to prove was that everyone is equal in front of the Supreme. This is obvious even if one looks at the meaning of the poem at a deeper level. Note his mention of the Lord as a singer and dancer and his mention about the ‘arrested bees’ and the cuckoos ‘learning and practising singing’. One can interpret that however great you are in music and dance, you are nothing in front of the greatest musician. Please also note the ‘big river’ residing on his head and the gait of his consort being compared with that of an elephant (a huge creature) and that of a swan (a small creature).

Most importantly, we also see the adventure of a young poet who, when challenged, chose an uncharted path, hitherto not covered by anybody.

Now, let us take a more recent example. ILaiyaraaja was asked to compose a song for a situation which involved a lot of sensuality. Though unlike Gnanasambandar, this Gnanadesikan was not challenged by anybody, he decided to challenge himself. ‘Why compose a fast beat sensuous song’ thought he. For quite sometime, he had been wanting to compose in a particular raga- sa ri2 ga3 pa dha1 Sa. This is not a very rare raga and I shall come to the nomenclature soon.

He went a step ahead and added a vivadi note ni1. He did not stop with that. He completely omitted the upper ‘Sa’(called as Taara Shadjam). But the story is not over yet.

He formulated a structure skipping the ‘pa’ in the ascent and adding a devious ‘ni dha ni’ phrase in the descent.

This is how the structure looked now:

sa ri2 ga3 dha1 ni/ ni1 dha1 ni1 pa ga3 ri2 sa.

There are a lot of very interesting facts and points and let me try and explain one by one:

1.The structure sa ri2 ga3 pa dha1 Sa is defined as a raga called Vaasanti. Though this is obtained by changing the ‘dha’ variant of Mohanam, the feel of this raga is totally different as it gives a sense of poignancy.

2. I mentioned that ‘ni1’ is a vivadi note.I had already explained the concept of vivadi in some of my posts here. ‘Vivadi’ itself means dissonance.

3.There are very few ragas in the carnatic system that omits the upper ‘Sa’. A classic example is ‘Chitta Ranjani’. But I cannot think of any film song that has totally avoided this note.

4. The structure of this raga is not given in any raga text. Going by the swaras used, one can say that it is a janya of the 25th melakarta Maararanjani or the 61st melakarta KantamaNi(since there is no ‘ma’).

Now, let us collate these details- Poignancy, Dissonance, Lower/middle octave notes, a newly defined structure.

Go back to what he was asked for by the Director- A song rendered by the female character dressed in a swim suit with the male character watching clandestinely from a distance.

Tell me if any other composer would have conceived a tune that has the 4 factors listed.

Having a sense of adventure with a proclivity for innovation is fine. But here is a composer who also has the courage of conviction. To top it all, it is an outstanding tune backed by excellent orchestration and arrangement.

‘Oru Poongaavanam’ from ‘Agni Nakshatram’(1988) starts rather symbolically with a sweet tweet. To me, the chirping of birds suggests that music after all, is in the nature and we mortals try to arrest it by giving different forms and structure to it. The birds then flap the wings giving way to the drums, which almost imitates the action of the birds. The strings and the keys meld together to give beguilingly facile movements.

The Pallavi with the ‘Ateeta eduppu’ is sung with melodic finesse by Janaki. Intriguingly, the first 2 lines have only the three notes-sa ri2 ga3- giving an illusory Mohanam. The following lines go in the descent-‘ni1dha1ni1 pa ga’. The repetition of ‘dha ni’ phrase thrice in the second half of the third and the fourth lines gives a soft and silken touch.

The water splashes in the beginning of the first interlude as if there was a pre-destined rendezvous. The brass flute plays the vivadi note with a palpable lilt.The keys just amble across even as the strings float on the vivadi and samvadi notes.
The CharaNams have melodically sequenced phrases. The first 4 lines have the same 3 notes-sa rig a- as that of the pallavi, but sound differently from the Pallavi because of the permutations and combinations. In the following 2 lines, we see the other 2 notes-including the vivadi note- peeping in with flamboyance and fidelity. The second half of the Pallavi is repeated but it does not sound redundant at all, maybe because of the structure and combination of the notes.

The second interlude is a gracious exposition. The strings move placidly leaving a pause for 1 and half cycles of Tisram in between. It then arches beautifully with the drums playing 3 Tisrams, ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta - - .The keys and the strings then give caressing touch with harmony with the former moving with nonchalance and the latter dancing like the waves. The short piece of strings towards the end with repartee by the birds says it all.

This new musical forest gives us eternal Goosebumps.

இது ஒரு புது இசைவனம்.இதில் ரோமாஞ்சனம் தினம் தினம்.

PS:Adventurous Musician..

This is a new series and plan to take up compositions in some 'undefined' ragas..

Watch this space!


Suresh S said...

Thanks Raj for the explanation of the raga. Was this song about which he spoke during NEPV launch? One of my friends had written a long post of the sensuousness inherent in this song in tfmpage once. This is like a once in a million song. What a flow !! The way he gets the emotion pat is amazing. And ofcourse, great singing from Janaki.

Raj said...

Yes..He spoke about this song only.Wonder as to why he stopped with a very brief explanation leaving many things -like not touching the upper 'Sa' and the fact that this scale does not follow any defined raga- untouched.

In fact, I had been planning to write about this song for quite a while(even before that Event).

If possible, pl. mail me the write-up of your friend.