Sunday, 25 May 2014

ILaiyaraaja's Music and Emotions-VIII-Erotic

 It may sound odd, but the fact is eroticism was a part of life those days. By ‘those days’, I mean until 5 or 6 centuries ago. To be precise, before the entry of the Britishers.

The Victorian morality brought in by the English changed the entire contours of our thinking and psyche so much so that it has now resulted in moral policing by vested interests. I know some of you or even many of you may disagree with me. While agreeing or disagreeing is one’s choice and is part of any democracy, I feel there is a moral obligation on my part to explain as to why I am making such sweeping statements.

Literature is the mirror of any society. Therefore, let me quote examples from literature to show how open the society and people were during those days. In fact, I had touched upon this subject in one of my posts in my other blog last year (

Now, look at this poem from ‘KuRunthogai’ which is part of the 2500 year old Sangam literature.

‘Herds of deer attack over ripe pods
of uLunthu plants, whose red
stems look like legs of quails.

The dew is harsh this winter and there is no other
medicinal cure other than his chest that embraces me’.

பூழ்க்கால் அன்ன செங்கால் உழுந்தின்
ஊழ்ப்படு முது காய் உழை இனம் கவரும்
அரும்பனி அற்சிரம் தீர்க்கும்
மருந்து பிறிதில்லை அவர் மணந்த மார்பே.

This poem was written Alloor Nanmullaiyaar, a woman poet. The intention behind mentioning the gender is surely not sexist. I just want to highlight the fact that eroticism was not the preserve of the male species alone those days. The poet herself was very prolific and wrote 9 poems in KuRunthogai and one each in AkanaanuRu and PuRanaanuRu.

The poem has two parts and though each part appears to be independent of the other, in reality they are not. The ‘attack’ of deer and the description of the ‘uLunthu’ plants (red stems) have a lot of inner meanings and I leave it to the imagination of the readers. The second part where she longs for the embrace of her Hero is described beautifully as well though it is more direct here.

Such erotic underpinnings were not restricted to the Sangam age alone. Bhakti literature is no exception. The poems of Thirumangaiyaazhwar, Nammazhvar ooze with eroticism. AandaL, who was a very small girl of about 10 or 12 when she wrote the Thiruppavai and Naachiyaar Thirumozhi pines for the Lord and one sees some beautiful love poetry there.

Some centuries later-say in the 13th Century- Jayadeva composed Geeta Govinda and the Ashtapatis are considered to be some of the best love poems of the world. The 6th Ashtapati describes almost everything about the act itelf in a matter of fact manner.

I shall quote such great poems in Tamizh and Sanskrit in my future posts. The point I am trying to make is that there is a thin line between eroticism and vulgarity and this line belongs to the writer/poet. At the same time, what is ‘aesthetically erotic’ may sound obscene or vulgar to you depending on the upbringing, culture, background and taste. So, I leave it to you to debate and decide. Other point of view is always welcome.

In any case, to continue the argument the logical question is ‘What do you think of Film songs-are these aesthetic or do they sound vulgar?’ Let me clarify now that the objective of this post is not to discuss about vulgarity or perceived vulgarity. As you all know, I am doing a series on emotions/feelings in his music and I thought eroticism cannot be and should not be left out. Therefore, let me focus on the song of the day which according to me is aesthetically erotic. Coming as it does from a gentleman known for his spiritual leanings, such compositions acquire more significant and important.

As I have written earlier in a couple of my posts, one of the many things that amazes me about him is his ability to get into the skin of the character while composing. I know there have been some criticisms against him for composing erotic songs. All I can say is these people miss the wood for the tree. I, as a music fan look at the musicality in such compositions. People who feel otherwise can skip listening to such songs. The control is in their hands. But finally, whose loss is it?

Without further ado, let me take up the composition.

En degam’ from Oru odai nadhiyagiRathu is a composition which is permeated with erotic contours and speaks volumes of the composer and the singer (Janaki). Based on Sindhu Bhairavi, the composition is backed by a dynamic laya pattern in Tisram played on the Tabla, just a few melodic instruments and the Bass guitar that is different from a majority of his compositions. How the last mentioned is different will be explained shortly.

The choice of the raga itself reveals the composer’s admirable level of his insight into its entrancing identity. Sindhu Bhairvi, as mentioned in my earlier posts here, is a raga which goes mainly by the bhava and it is sacrilegious to confine the raga in a particular structure. Having said that, I have hardly come across a composition as erotic as this one in this raga.

The composition starts with the horn which moves with a zestful vigour. After being alone for 7 tisram beats, its companions-the Tabla and the Jaalra- join and we see a gait full of potency. Bolstered by the presence of the two, the horn dances with glee and titillates us with a sangati and handing it over to the guitar just before the Pallavi blossoms in the ateeta eduppu.

The inimitable Janaki steals the show with an eloquent rich tone soaked in viraha. Two things to be noted here. The vibrant Tabla weaving different patterns in Tisram(note how it goes in ‘d..e..g..a..m) and the subtle bass guitar. The latter’s role is of course redefined in the CharaNams.

The first interlude has a tracery of melodic sounds. First we have the dynamic guitar. Is it one guitar? No, don’t we hear two different sounds? These two guitars are followed by the flute that charts its own course with radiance. The energetic guitar now takes us into the deeper layers with the flute peeping in yet again towards the end for a very short spell. Note the total absence of the percussion from the time the guitar takes over in the second part.

The CharaNams are full of voluptuously felicitous expressions. One sees the sparkle of the raga as well as the beauty of eroticism in all the lines. But what is of particular interest to the musically inclined and people who follow his compositions closely is his use of bass guitar here. Generally, he uses bass guitar subtly and the bass lines have a melody of their own in variance with the scale and the basic melody of the song. At times, the bass guitar is made to sound more dynamic too and also used as rhythm or in lieu of rhythm. But in ‘En Degam’, it echoes the notes of the vocals especially in the last two lines of the CharaNams. This pattern is unique and adds not only to the musicality but also to the feeling per se.

The Bass guitar literally empathises with the heroine here as the voice reaches a crescendo.

The horn enters again in the second interlude -though briefly-with a melodic charm. The calm demeanor of the flute makes us tranquil while the interjection of the guitar makes us energetic. Janaki’s voice that follows does the rest.

Delicate and Serene.

Is anybody flinching?

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