Saturday, 21 June 2014

Laya Raaja- 1

The great poet AruNagirinathar describes the dance of the peacock:

தீரப் பயோததி திக்கும் ஆகாயமும்
செகதலமும் நின்று சுழலத்

திகழ்கின்ற முடி மவுலி சிதறி விழ வெம் சிகைத்
தீக்கொப்புளிக்க வெருளும்

பாரப் பணாமுடி அநந்தன் முதல் அரவெலாம்
பதைபதைத்தே நடுங்கப்

படர் சக்ரவாளகிரி துகள் பட வையாளி வரு
பச்சை ப்ரவாள மயிலாம்.

Seas and Oceans, Eight directions (Dishas), the sky, and the earth (bhoo loka) rotate with force; Thousand locks fall from the heavy, fire-spewing hot hoods of the fear stuck Adisesha and the other serpents as they tremble with fear; The huge ChakravaaLa mountain breaks into pieces; All these happen when the peacock-with the green and coral hued feathers- takes its beautiful flight and dances.’

This verse is part of the Mayil Viruththam composed by the poet where he rhythmically sings the beauty of the peacock dance.

If one recites this-which I feel is the best way to do- one can notice that it follows a pattern of 5-beat cycle.

Even as I write this, I hear a reverse horn of a car which again follows the 5-beat cycle. Now, what are this 3 –beat,4-beat, 5-beat, 7-beat etc.,? You would have noticed these time and again in my posts and also terms like avartanam, khandam, misram, tisram and some letters like ta , ka ki ta, dhi, mi.. And of course the two words ‘Laya Raaja’ repeated ad nauseum..

Though I do explain about these in my posts, I felt the need for a simpler explanation along with examples to unravel the mystery. As far as I know no other film musician has explored the taLaas and the various patterns and one of the basic reasons for his compositions standing out even after so many years is this aspect.

On the World Music Day, it gives me a great pleasure to start this new series where I plan to take up some very special compositions where the taaLa plays a very big role. Though there are hundreds of songs with intricate patterns, I have chosen 8 songs

As usual, it will be one song per post where I shall try and explain the Laya aspect in a simple manner. These posts will be slightly different from my usual posts since the emphasis will be more on the laya aspect and less on the melody aspect with the description of the latter will be brief.

What is Taalam?

Simply put, it is a repetitive  rhythmic phrase with a time interval. In a typical classical scenario, the rhythm is maintained by ‘hitting’ the thigh, counting with fingers and turning the palm. Let us look at a very popular taaLam, the Adi taaLam.

We first hit the thigh with our palm, count 3 with the three fingers, hit the thigh, turn the palm and perform the latter part of hitting the thigh and turning the palm yet again. At the end of this small process, we would have counted 8 beats. These 8 beats are called as aksharaas. Therefore, the ‘Adi taaLam’ has 8 aksharaas.

While the major groups and how each taaLa is derived will be explained gradually in future posts, I shall try and define the 5 different jaatis.

They are-

 Tisram- 3 beats with the beats generally depicted as ‘ta ki ta’

Chatushram-4 beats-ta ka dhi mi

Khandam- 5 beats-ta ka ta ki ta

Misram- 7 beats- ta ki ta ta ka dhi mi

SankeerNam-9 beats- ta ka dhi mi ta ka ta ki  ta.

Now, let us understand that the aforementioned terms are not ‘taaLams’ in the literal sense and are only different ‘jaatis’. These jaatis combine with 7 major taaLams to give different taaLams.

For example, the Adi taaLam is Chatushra jaati triputa taaLam since it combines with ‘Triputa’ and follows the ‘Chatushra jaati’.

More about the classifications in the forthcoming posts.

However, before moving on to the description of the song of the day, let me define three other aspects-kaalam, maatras and aavartanam.

Kaalam is the speed(loosely translated) and if it is in slow speed, it is ‘keezh kaalam’, in moderate speed, ‘madhyama kaalam and in fast speed, ‘mel kaalam’. The number of beats in the ‘mel kaalam’ will be double that of ‘keezh kaalam’.

A maatra is a sub division of the aksharaas. For example, the 8-beat Adi taaLam can be subdivided into 16, 24, 32 and so on..

An avartanam is one taaLa cycle.

The first song in this series is a very popular song and there is a reason behind choosing this song.

Aaagaaya VeNNilave’ from ArangetRa veLai (1990) has a very intricate pattern. Two different taaLas are used simultaneously. The vocals follow a particular TaaLa while the orchestra and the percussion follow a different TaaLa with the two meeting at specific points. This is called as ‘cross rhythms’ and ILaiyaraaja is a master in this concept. I have already discussed this concept in my posts on ‘EndRendRum Aanandame’ (, ILa manadhil ( ), Innum ennai enna seiyya pogiRai ( ). But now with some understanding about the taalams and the beats, I am sure you will be able to appreciate this better.

Though the post is on taaLam, I must make a mention about the raga too..

The composition is based on Darbari Kaanada, a raag adapted from the Hindustani system. While it is difficult to confine the raag to a structure, let me give the text book definition-

ni2 sa ri2 ga2 ri2 sa ma1 pa dha1 ni2 Sa/ Sa dha1 ni2 pa ma1 pa ga2 ma1 ri2 sa.

It is very closely related to the Carnatic Music Kaanada and the basic difference is the use of the variant of the swara ‘dha’. Kaanada has only the ‘dha2’ while Darbari uses both the ‘dha’ s with the ‘dha2’ used sparingly.

Let me first explain the TaaLa part in the composition.

Yesudass renders ‘Aagaaya veNNilaave’ and it follows the Rupaka taaLam- one of the 7 major TaaLams- in chatushra jaati. The total no.of beats is 6/cycle. After 2 cycles, the sympathetic strings sound for one aavartanam. It is the turn of Uma RamaNan to complete the first line which again lasts for 2 aavartanas. The strings from the keyboard play for one avartanaas. So, it is 6 cycles of rupakam in keezh kaalam.Note that there is no percussion until now.

The guitar takes over with the backing of the percussion which plays ta ka - -, that is Chatushram with the dhi and mi left as blank. This goes on for 12 cycles after which we hear the bells. This latter part of bells follows Rupakam.

12x4=48 and during this phase if we put the Rupakam, it lasts for 4 cycles- 6x4=24.

Now, is there a mismatch?

Not really. The Rupakam part is in keezh kaalam while the chatushram beats in percussion is in the mel kaalam. Remember that beats in mel kaalam is equal to twice that of the ones in keezh kaalam.

So, what we have is 3+3+1 cycles of Rupakam in keezh kaalam and 12 cycles of chatushram in mel kaalam which is 6 cycles in keezh kaalam.

Total no. of beats if we assume everything to be in slow speed is 42(7x6)+24 which is equal to 64. In other words 8 cycles of Adi taalam!

The interlude follows chatushram pattern only and the magic starts in the CharaNams.

The vocals follow Rupakam(in keezh kaalam again) while the percussion follows chatushram in mel kaalam.For every cycle of Rupakam, we have 3 cycles of chatushram, the only difference being that the latter is in mel kaalam.

Therefore 3x4=12 divided by 2 and there the equation is balanced J.

The guitar in the prelude is salubriously soft and moves with gaiety.

The ravishing single violin goes on beautiful trip in the first interlude even as the group of strings plays different sets of notes. The group of strings now charts its own territory in lower octave while another group of energetically felicitous strings play in the higher octave. The sharp flute like sound gives a copious musical imagery in staccato while the subtle bass guitar nods its head.

In the second interlude, the tenderly melodic guitar gives a delicate profile and even as it is one, the second guitar takes over making imaginative forays. It is then the two sets of strings again with one set playing in the higher octave and the other one in lower octave lighting up beauteous niches with the final piece unfurling a vista which is alluring and enchanting.

…and we see the shimmering full moon in its glory!

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