Wednesday, 1 January 2014

ILaiyaraaja's Music and Emotions- Part I- Soft

Certain things, or for that matter many things in this world cannot be defined nor can it be quantified. Take softness for example. We say ‘He/she/this/that is very soft’. What that ‘very’ means is up to the other person to guess.  Is this too not subjective?

At the same time, that which gives us a pleasing feeling is considered to be soft. Have a look at this poem:

‘You are my Moon, I am your Sea;

You are my ‘shruti’, I am the sweet tune;

You my eyeball, my nectar;

You are the fragrance, I am the flower;

You are the words, I am the language

Oh, my dear, your beauty can never be described.’ 
வெண்ணிலவு நீ எனக்கு, மேவு கடல் நான் உனக்கு;
பண்ணுசுதி நீ எனக்கு, பாட்டினிமை நான் உனக்கு;
வீசுகமழ் நீ எனக்கு, விரியும் மலர் நான் உனக்கு;
பேசுபொருள் நீ எனக்கு, பேணுமொழி நான் உனக்கு;
எண்ணி எண்ணிப் பார்த்திடிலோர் எண்ணமில்லை நின்சுவைக்கே;
ண்ணின் ணி போன்றளே!கட்டி அமுதே!ண்ணம்மா!’
Written by the Mahakavi, this poem undoubtedly should be considered to be one of the best love poems in world literature.  The words and the meanings these convey, would make even a stone turn soft.

But are all poems soft? The same poet wrote ‘ My heart bleeds when tears flow down from your eyes’. Another dimension to love!  It is so intense that it melts our hearts but it surely does not give a soft feeling.

One is like a gentle breeze that kisses our cheeks and massages our hearts while the other pierces our hearts and make us weep.

Music too is multi dimensional like poetry. There is no feeling in this world which music does not encompass. Starting today, let us have a new series for emotions/feeling in ILaiyaraaja’s music. In this short series, I shall try and cover a range of emotions in his music though it must be understood that it is next to impossible to cover the entire gamut of emotions just like how difficult it is to cover all the nuances in his music. Let it also be not misconstrued that the series will cover all the ‘defined emotions’, say like the navarasa.

 ‘Aaaro paadunna’ from the Malayalam film ‘Katha Parayunnu(2009) based on the raag MaaNd,  is the first song in the series. .  

Raag MaaNd is essentially a Hindustani raga  and has been adapted into the carnatic system since the last century or so. It is said that the raag has its origins from the Rajasthani folk music. Listening to the raag and considering the kind of emotions it evokes, this must be true. Like ‘Pahaadi’ which has its roots in the Hilly region, MaaNd too becomes more beautiful when alien notes are added to it. And of course like the Hilly raag, it is very difficult to define its aro/avaroh structure and confine it. However, as per the Hindustani raag texts, its aroh/avaroh is:

  sa ga3 ma1 pa dha2 ni3 Sa/Sa Sa ni3 dha2 pa dha2 pa ni3 dha2 pa ga3 ma1 ga3 ri2 sa.

We get the flavour of the raag in phrases like ga3 ma1 pa dha2 ni3 Sa/pa ni3 dha2 pa ga3/ga3 ma1 ga3 ri2 sa.

Somehow, the raag gives the carnatic Vasanta feel at times though it has the ‘pa’. Yet another allied raag is the Hindustani ‘Binna shadj’.

As already mentioned, the raag gives a variety of emotions and yet is very soft.

‘Aaro paadunna..’  has a smooth and melodic start with  a very brief humming by the female voice(Chitra) followed by the rendering of the first line without percussion by the male voice(Hariharan). The echo effect is not to be missed. The female humming continues but this time the mellow keys join as well. It is an ethereal experience even as the guitar strums and the synth violins make some gentle movements. The keys pierce our hearts softly.

The composition follows the chatushra eka taLa (4-beat cycle) with the Pallavi in ‘ateeta eduppu’ with samam on ‘ro’. The percussion which is absent in the entire prelude makes its appearance only at the end of the first line. Until then it is the bass guitar and a few subtle melodic instruments that act as percussion. These melodic instruments continue even after the percussion instrument with the guitar soundin ‘ta ki ta ta ki ta ta ka’ and the percussion and subtle bells sounding ta ka dhi mi ta ka dhi mi completing the 16 maatraas.

The ‘ro’ in the first line and the ‘ill’ in the second line are extended for one complete cycle respectively giving a very unique feeling. So does the end of the pallavi where Chitra renders the first line without percussion. Atmosphere of tranquility!

With unbridled enthusiasm, the electric guitar-which follows the pleasant execution of the synth instruments- goes around in the first interlude.  The interlude is further embellished by the different sounding synth instrument with the  resplendent piano keys making the experience more fascinating. The synth violins in the end are soft and powerful.

The first line in the CharaNam is backed only by the subtle bells and the bass guitar. The second part touches the higher octave notes and is musically elegant with the slick and graceful strings echoing this for one full avartanam. The next part is verdant while the final part is a reposeful depiction of the beauty of the raag.

The Piano holds sway in the second interlude. It smiles, it glides. It dances, it romances. It jumps, it dazzles. It also plays subtly towards the end supporting the strings which takes us deep into a valley of emotions. The entire interlude which gives  lessons in WCM is felicitously mellifluous.

In fact, the rendezvous with Piano and WCM continues in the postlude first with the playing of a very popular rhyme followed by a free flowing melody which flows gently embracing the body, the heart and the soul.

Soft song of the soul!!

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