Monday, 2 June 2014

ILaiyaraaja's Music and Emotions- IX- Shantam

Recently when I went to a place known for its spiritual contours and divinity, I meditated. I meditated whenever I felt like it and this was surely not the usual 20 minute meditation I do at home everyday though the method was the same. I felt the vibrations, I saw a glowing light and I felt calm.

I feel the same calmness when I read poems/verses of great geniuses who of course must have always been in this state of calmness which can also be called as a Blissful state.

Look at the following verse written by the child prodigy Thirugnanasambandar:

தேனினும் இனியர் பால் அன நீற்றர்

        தீங்கரும்பனையர் தம் திருவடி தொழுவார்

ஊன் நயந்துருக உவகைகள் தருவார்

        உச்சி மேலுறைபவர் ஒன்றலாது ஊரார்

வானகம் இறந்து வையகம் வணங்க

        வயங்கொள நிற்பதோர் வடிவினை உடையார்

ஆனையின் உரிவை போர்த்த எம் அடிகள்

        அச்சிறு பாக்கம் அது ஆட்சி கொண்டாரே.

Smeared with the milk-like ashes on his forehead, He is sweeter than the Honey, and is as tasty as the sugar cane. Covered by the skin of the elephant, His all encompassing figure that covers the Earth from the Heaven makes us melt, gives us bliss’.

This simple description of the Almighty, gives me calmness and peace not least because of the beautiful, apt tamizh words, similes and the way I visualise the description ( I am not getting into the inner meanings of the poem now).

‘What exactly is this calmness? Is it the Mind at peace? But can mind ever be at peace?’

I know these are the questions in your mind. The only answer from me would be

Can you define and explain hunger, thirst or even pain?  Likewise, Calmness must be felt and can never be explained’.

In a way, it is subjective too because what gives me peace and calmness may not have the same effect on you. Everything in this world is subjective and this includes my posts since I share what I feel about his music. But I am objective too because I back up the posts with sound reasoning, by giving the structure of ragas and taaLas and explain as to how wonderfully he uses the techniques to bring out the essence of classical music in film songs.

The debate of subjectivity and objectivity will continue forever like the debate regarding the existence of God and surely my aim is not to get into any debate here.

In my previous eight posts in this series-ILaiyaraaja’s Music and Emotions-, I took up songs which according to me give a particular feeling or emotion. I also consciously avoided the traditional Navarasas. This series comes to an end today. I am aware that many more emotions could have also been covered but I have the feeling of fullness now. I prefer to call this fullness as calmness and peace.

Moreover, today is a very special day and is there a better way to celebrate the day than with a composition which makes our mind very calm and peaceful?

Though there are many compositions, I am taking up ‘Mandiram idhu mandiram’ from Aavaram poo (1992) because of some reasons.

1. It is based on a very rare raga not used by any classical musician so far.

2. The way the raga is used.

3. The percussive patterns especially in the second interlude.

4. The very simple but very melodious orchestration and arrangement.

5. The dynamic voice of Yesudass.

Carnataka Khamas is a shaadava raga-with 6 swaras in the ascending and descending. It is a very interesting raga too because it is very close to a very popular and traditional raga and shares a part of its name too. Khamas is a name many of you must be familiar with and it has a devious structure in the ascending with the ‘sa ma ga ma’ phrase while the avarohana has all the 7 swaras. Carnataka Khamas on the other hand is plain dropping the ‘ri’ totally. In terms of the structure, it is closer to yet another popular raga Bahudari, which in fact as the same arohaNa(ascending) but drops the ‘dha’ while going down.

Moreover, if one does the graham bedam on this raga, it gives rise to three more ragas- one very popular, one somewhat popular but more in films and one very rare raga. The very popular raga is Sriranjani which is of course obtained by taking the ‘pa’ of this raga as the aadhaara ‘sa’. The somewhat popular raga is Saaranga TarangiNi (‘ni’ as ‘sa’) and the very rare raga is Vilaasini(‘ma’ as ‘sa’).

Because of its closeness with popular ragas, many people wrongly attribute songs composed in Carnataka Khamas to Khamas, Bahudari and Sriranjani. This is where very close listening and familiarity with the structure and real bhava of carnatic ragas help. One of the most popular songs in this raga composed by the Maestro is Koottathila kovil puRa (Idaya Kovil).

Mandiram does have a couple of accidental notes in some phrases and also gives the flavour of some other ragas in just one or two places, but I feel these were done intentionally in keeping with the mood of the sequence. On the whole, it follows Carnataka Khamas not just as a scale but as a raga.

The composition does not have a prelude and comes to us straight like a free flowing Cauvery. The subtle sound of Jaalra at each ‘thattu’ in the 8-beat adi taaLa is exhilarating. So is the akaaram of Yesudass in a pure classical style for one and half avartanaas at the end of the Pallavi.

Rhythm and melody alternate with each other in the first part of the first interlude. This sprightly session makes us realise yet again as to how creativity and innovativeness if used properly and appropriately can bring immense joy.

The percussion sounds ‘Dhin thaam - - - ta ka dhi mi ta ka ’ twice- 32(16x2) maatras in one avartanaa. Blending the mellifluous with the dexterous, the strings and the keys show the glowing edifices of expression. The percussion is totally absent in this imaginative exploration that lasts for two aavartanaas. The percussion joins the Veena now which shows a beautiful musical imagery. It is then the turn of the flute to play with melodic subtlety and also incisiveness. Finally, the chorus sings with great sobriety and takes to the CharaNam.

The CharaNam has some simple and fascinating passages. The two ‘akaarams’ –one in the middle after ‘saayalil mayile’ and the other one at the end - are beguilingly musical. The first one even gives some shades of Desh. The second charaNam has two different sets of ‘akaaram’ The humming of the chorus as the lines are rendered and the two different patterns of Chatushram played by the percussion at the end of each line-sounding ta ka dhi mi/ta - - - are refreshing.

The second interlude is an apotheosis of rhythm. It is in fact an exercise too.

The Tabla sounds Dhin ta a a a - - - ta ta aa ta ta aa( 3+4+3+3+3)-played 4 times in two aavartanaas-totally 64 maatraas, 32(16x2) in each aavartanaa..The gentle sitar along with the very subtle flute peep in now and then heightening the experience

The strings now weave wafts of gentle breeze. What follows now is more intriguing. The strings and percussion alternate with each other.

After 19 maatraas in ‘mel kaalam’-played by the strings without percussion, the Tabla sounds

 ta – dhi- ta ka ta ki ta ta ka dhi mi

The strings play again, this time with a slightly different set of swaras and the same pattern is repeated by the Tabla.

Strings with a new set now and after 13 maatraas, the percussion sounds

ta ki ta ta – dhi – ta ki ta ta ka ta ki ta ta ka dhi mi (3+4+3+5+4=19).

And this happens twice. Therefore it is 13(strings) plus 19 twice which is 64 maatraas again in one aavartanaa.

Note that in the previous pattern, 19 are played by the strings and 13 by the percussion and this is reversed in the one that follows this.

The strings now play for 7 maatraas and the percussion sounds

 ta ka dhi mi ta ka ta ki ta

The strings-yet again with a new set of swaras- play for 7 maatraas and it is

ta ka dhi mi ta ka ta ki ta


The 9 maatraas( ta ka dhi mi/ta ka ta ki ta) pattern is a classic sankeerNam pattern.

Energetically felicitous!

Laya is a state of mental quietude. It is stillness.

Carnataka Khamas and intricate Laya.

A mantra which gives Shantam..

Om shanti shanti shantihi.  

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