Wednesday, 14 May 2014

ILaiyaraaja's Music and Emotions- VII- Humour II

The great Tamizh poet Avvaiyyar was once challenged by a passerby to identify the grass hidden inside his closed palm with intent to make fun of her.
The clever poet, who saw through it, sang thus:

எட்டேகால் லட்சணமே, எமனேறும் பரியே,
மட்டில் பெரியம்மை வாகனமே, - முட்டமேல்
கூரையில்லா வீடே, குலராமன் தூதுவனே,
ஆரையடா சொன்னாயடா!
In Tamizh, the number 8 is denoted as the first alphabet ’ (a) and quarter is denoted as ‘’ (va).So, the first part of the first line means ‘you ugly’. The vaahana of Yama is supposed to be a buffalo and that of ‘Jeshta devi’ also called as ‘Moodevi’ is donkey. After making him realise that he is after all like a buffalo and a donkey, the brilliant poet goes on to say that he is after all a small wall (kutti chuvar in Tamizh). After this she adds on to the list of animals and calls him as Monkey rather diplomatically this time (Rama’s messenger). The last line has many meanings. ‘aarai’ means the kind of ‘grass’ he was referring to. ’aaraiyada sonnaiyaada’ also means ‘whom are you talking to’ or in other words ‘how dare you tell me’. The last part of ‘sonnaai’ means a dog. .
Let us look at how this poem sounds:

You ugly, you Buffalo, you Donkey, you Monkey, are you challenging me?’

Poetic humour at its best! It also shows how assertive women were in Tamizh land during that time.
Sense of humour is an art by itself. Though we all are born with it, some of us (or should I say many of us?) lose it over a period of time. Rather we believe that it is lost. Nevertheless, unless there is a problem with our lower frontal lobes, all of us do have it though it is hidden somewhere deep inside in some of us and even a Google search may not be of any help. What will surely be of help is laughing out loud not just when situation demands but also when we are not upto it. How can Thiruvalluvar be wrong when he said  இடுக்கண் வருங்கால் நகுக’ (smile during crisis).
Laughter activates our brain. Laughter gives us happiness. Laughter gives us peace.
Coming to think of it, music too has the same effect.
So, why don’t we look at a composition which while making us laugh also teaches a lesson or two about music itself?
I am saying ‘teaches’ because it is based on a pure classical ragam and listening to this, one wonders if this ragam can also be used in such a situation?
 Yadukulakambhoji is indeed an interesting ragam. The trinity of Carnatic Music-Saint Tyagaraja, Muththuswamy Dikshithar and Shyama Sastri- have all composed in this raga. In fact, Tyagaraja alone has composed 8 kritis while Dikshithar has composed the famous Navagraha kriti on Saturn in this raga.
Though it is considered to be a very classical raga, if one traces the routes, one will be amazed to know some facts. The raga is not very ancient as per the classical texts since it does not find a place in texts like Sangeeta Ratnakara. Musicologists consider that this raga must have originated around the 16th Century. It is believed that a tribe by name ‘erugala’ sang Kambhoji with some variations and therefore it was called as ‘Erugala Kambhoji’ which finally became ‘Yadukula Kambhoji’. The raga following the same scale known as ‘Sevvazhi’ has also been there in Tamizhisai since time immemorial. All these historical facts go to show that the raga is of course old though it was adapted into the classical system much later. Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarshini, considered to be the Bible by present day musicians and musicologists calls this raga as ‘erugala kambhoji’only.
The raga, a janya of Harikambhoji is audava-sampoorNa having 5 swaras in the arohaNa-dropping ‘ga’ and ‘ni’- and all the 7 in the avarohaNa. But this is a raga which can never be confined to a structure and goes by the prayogas. The swara ‘ma’ is multi-splendoured and it ranges from being very soft to being very sharp depending on the sanchaaraas.
This raga has been wonderfully used by the Maestro in a composition where humour runs as the undercurrent. ‘Oththaiyile ninnathenna’ from ‘Vanaja Girija’(1994) is a song which would never fail to bring   a smile on our faces whenever we listen to it. Rendered with consummate ease by Chitra, the composition shows the creativity and innovativeness of the composer yet again. I must add here that this is not the classical Yadukula Kambhoji-especially in the charaNams as it has more folksy touches. The composition also shows how the erugala tribe would have perceived Kambhoji to conceive Erugula Kambhoji.
The song starts with a kind of spontaneity so typical of a folk song. The first two lines are rendered without any percussion which in fact appears only after two avartanams. It is also an interesting combination with the guitar strumming the first two syllables ‘ta ka’ along with the folk rhythmic instrument. The third syllable is not played while the fourth syllable is played by the folk instrument alone. The folk instrument plays the next part but this time leaving the gap in the second syllable. That is the 8-beat adi taaLa is split into 16 maatras with 4 ‘ta ka dhi mi’s. The ‘dhi’ in the first ‘ta ka dhi mi’ and the ‘ka’ in the second one are left blank. This pattern which repeats itself adds to the folksy flavour of the tune.
It is Laya Raaja again towards the end of the Pallavi where he splits the 16 as 4 tisrams and 1 Chatushram.
The first interlude is alluring with a host of folk instruments and western instruments. A composer’s brilliance is shown not just in the choice of the instruments but also in the way these are handled and used. One can discern at least two different horn like instruments. While the first ones play with zeal and zest like a karma yogi, the second set plays with a flourish expanding further. In the second part, there are three different instruments-one a western electronic instrument, the second one a stringed folk instrument and the third one, a stringed western instrument sounding like a viola. As the first one plays a melody with depth and delicacy, the folk instrument interjects in the second half of the avartanam with the supple Viola-like instrument going on a trip of its own.
The lines in the CharaNams with beauteous shades of folk music glow with a radiance. The first two lines with a couple of higher octave notes are charming while the third and the fourth lines give a wonderful mix of folk and classical with subtle sangatis. The following two lines are reposeful. Note that the percussion plays all the syllables without any gap.
Melody flows like a steady stream in the second interlude. First we have the snappy folk piped instrument. The synthesizer which almost mimics a human voice responds with vitality. We feel the air of serenity even as the folk instruments shine with iridescence.
In the end, as the Pallavi is rendered again, the 4 tisrams  in ‘Vaai thuNaikku pecchu tharava’ add lustre.
It is a journey with élan and abandon with a dash of innocence.
After all, is this not what life all about?

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