Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Laya Raaja - 4

This question crops up to me time and again.

What makes somebody a genius?

Is it their ability to do something very complex- so complex that you and I scratch the heads to simplify that and unravel the mystery?’

Why should somebody do something so complex? To show off their intellectual prowess? To announce to the world that ‘See, I have done this. I am capable of more too. Can you even try doing this?’

If this is true, then is there not a shade of arrogance in their act itself?

Like many questions in this world, these are tough to answer. Looking at it in a positive way, it could just be that they want to show the finer elements and beauties in life.

Look at the following poem in tamizh:

தத்தித்தா தூதுதி தாதூதித் தத்துதி
துத்தித் துதைதி துதைதத்தா தாதுதி
தித்தித்த தித்தித்த தாதெது தித்தித்த
தெத்தாதோ தித்தித்த தாது?

‘Thathithaa thoothuthi thaathoothi thaththuthi

Thuththi thuthaithi thuthaithaththaa thaathuthi

Thiththiththa thithiththa thaathethu thithiththa

Theththaatho thiththiththa thaathu?’

Does it make any sense?

Now, let us try splitting the words. 

தத்தித் தாது ஊதுதி தாது ஊதித் தத்துதி

துத்தித் துதைதி துதைது அத்தா ஊதி

தித்தித்த தித்தித்த தாது எது

எத்தாதோ தித்தித்த தாது? 

Does it look better now?

‘Oh  Bee! You blow off the pollens and drink the honey hidden inside the pollen. You jump and fly again and go to yet another flower humming making a beautiful sound in the process. You drink the honey from that flower too. Which flower was sweeter? Honey from which flower was sweeter? Which petal was more beautiful? Will you please tell me?’

This poem was written by Kavi KaaLamegam who lived in the 15th Century and was known for composing poems with more than one meaning. In this poem too, the word  thaadhu’ (தாது) has been used to denote the honey, the flower and the petals.

The poet does magic using just the single letter  tha’(தா) and its variants. It sounds musical while reciting, it kindles our curiosity, and it is very meaningful too raising some interesting questions.

Does this poem reflect the arrogance of the poet?

Far from it.

I feel it is a tribute to the language called Tamizh and shows us how beautiful the language can be if it is in the proper hands and if it is used the way it has to be used.

The song of the day falls in the same category. When one listens to it superficially, it sounds melodically beautiful, which of course is true even when one gets into an analytical mode. The mode is because a trained ear senses something hidden in terms of the taaLa structure and the raga usage. But if one dwells deeper, it leads to untying so many knots making one discover more and more hidden beauties. This leaves one wondering ‘what is his brain made of and how is it wired’.

Sollaadha raagangaL ennenna pollaadha taaLangaL ennanna’ from Mahanadi(1994), must be rated as one of the most complex compositions in film music. I am dividing the post into two parts now- Laya, and Raaga for easier understanding and appreciation.


As mentioned in my previous post on ‘Maanjolai kiLaithaano’, the foundation for a structure of the song is the TaaLa and more minutely the syllables.

Sollaadha’ has a rather unusual start with words first being rendered in a free flowing way albeit with different variations by SPB and Janaki.

The Pallavi starts and it is clear that it follows the 4-beat chatushra eka taaLam.

The first line- Sollaadha raagangaL ennenna is in one aavartanam and the 4 beats are subdivided into 16 maatraas- 4 (Sollaadha), 4(RaagangaL), 8(Ennenna).

The following lines follow the same pattern-

4(Pollaadha) 4(TaaLangaL) 8(Ennenna)

4(ThuNindhu) 4(Sonnaal) 8 (Enna….)

The percussion plays the next aavartanam which is again 16- with stress on 1, 3, 6, 9, 11, the last 4 being left as blank.

The three lines are repeated by Janaki.

SPB’s lines ‘Nillaadha eNNangaL munsella’ ‘ThaLLaadha en nenjam pinsella’, ‘Thodarndhu vandhaal enna’ follow the same pattern..

 ‘Ezhunda sandham ondru’( 4, 4, 8) and ‘Kalandha sondham indRu(4, 4, 8) have one aavartanam each.

But what follows is the ‘crowning glory’.

INaindha Santharppam’  is 10,  and ‘iZhandha pon sorgam is 10.

Thirumbumo pudhuyugam arumbumo….. is divided as 6, 6, 6, 2, 4, 4 - the last ‘4’ being the drums.

From ‘Ezhunda’, we have 5 aavartanams-a total of 20 counts which is subdivided as 80 maatraas!

In the first interlude, the drums alternate between the chorus in the first part playing    1 2 3 4 / 1 - 3 - / 1 - 3  - / 1 - 3 - /

The lines in the CharaNam follow the 4, 4, 8 pattern until the last line (INaindha santharppam) which follows 10, 10, 6, 6, 2, 4, 4.

The drums draw different patterns of Chatushram in the second interlude leaving gaps now and then.


The free-flowing part in the beginning has the Harikambhoji swaras.

The Pallavi has almost the same swaras except that those are used differently to give us Pahaadi.

The chorus continues in Harikambhoji until the strings take over. The ‘ma’ of Harikambhoji is taken as the base (graha bedam) and the raga changes to ShankarabharaNam. It goes back to Harikambhoji in the chorus part.

In the CharaNam, the ‘ma1’ is substituted with the ‘ma2’ and the raga becomes Vaachaspati. At the end of the second line, the ‘ri2’ of Vaachaspati becomes the base ‘sa’ and we get Charukesi- from the line ‘KooNdil’. The violins in the background too continue in Charukesi.

It is back to Vaachaspati in ‘Jeevan’ while the last phrase ‘INanidha’ is in Pahaadi.

Here is yet another twist. The CharaNam ends with ‘ma1’ and the next interlude starts with the joyful flute taking this as the base. Graha bedam again and it is Kalyani now. Does it end here?

No.. The strings and then the flute play Hamir Kalyani, a janya raga of Kalyani!!

Seamless change of ragas-with and without Graha bedam.

Very differently structured Pallavi/CharaNams with divisions and sub divisions of TaaLa.

Untold mysteries…

What makes somebody a genius’?

It is for you all to say now…

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Laya Raaja - 3

Who is that great soul, who with well set and tuned mridangam, who with words as pure as the Upanishads and the Vedas,  who with pure Swaras sings  and enthrals you Oh Rama!’

Sogasuga mridanga taaLamu jata korchi ninnu sokka jeyu dheerudevvaro,

Nigama sirorthamu kalgina nija vakkulato Swara suddhamuto…

Thus sang the incomparable and inimitable Tyagaraja.   Despite its richness,  English language cannot convey the emotions carried by some (at times many) of the words of our Indian languages. Take the word ‘sogasuga’. What is this ‘sogasu’?

Comfort? Ease? Luxury?

Isn’t it much more than all these?

Let us forget the language aspect and focus on the musicality and what Tyagaraja has conveyed.

Whenever I listen to these lines, I feel divine and serene. I visualise  Tyagaraja himself playing the mridangam and singing with his pure words and music. What attracts me the most in this kriti is the first line. Without any doubt Tyagaraja considers the TaaLa as the most important aspect in music. Otherwise, would he not have started the kriti with ‘Swara Sudhdham to’. Of course, this is not to say that swara sudhdham is not important, but the fact is that it is the Laya that stands out first in the Saint’s mind. And not without any reason.

The basic structure of a poem or a song is determined by the rhythm first. One can have a song without any melody or a raga. But is it possible to have a song without the ‘sandham’? Yes, we have the viruththams but even these follow a particular pattern and that pattern is governed by TaaLa only.

In my previous two posts, I wrote about the syllables and their different patterns.

 ta ka’ ‘ta ki  ta’ ‘ta ka dhi mi’ are the commonly used syllables.

I had also said that a song follows a particular taLa cycle –which could be 8 beats, 7 beats,6 beats, 5 beats etc.,

We saw that a song can also have two different patterns parallely( Aagaya veNNilaave) or can have alternating patterns( Vanakkuyile).

The syllables form the backbone of any song. So, though a song maybe composed following a particular taaLa, the syllables are split say as 2,4,2 or 2,4 or 5,3….and in multiples of these numbers. Say a song is set in the 4-beat Chatushra ekam. Then the sub-divisions(called as ‘Maatras’) must be in multiples of 4 like 8,16,20,24…….Same is the case with all taaLas.

One sees the splitting of syllables in different groups mainly during the swara singing segment in a classical concert. But it follows the same TaLa cycle as the song.

One of the compositions of the Maestro demonstrates this aspect- of splitting though following the same taaLa- wonderfully.

Maanjolai kiLi dhaano from Kizhakke Pogum Rail (1978) follows the Chatushra eka taaLam throughout but the Chatushram patterns are split brilliantly. As far as I know, this composition is unique in the history of Indian Film Music.

The prelude is a precursor to the magic in store for us.

The ankle bell dances and the Tabla starts. After 2 aavartanams, the pakhawaj joins and it is a kind of ‘sawal jawaab’ between the two. After 4 aavartanams, the patterns-of course in chatushram change- and exactly after 5 aavartanams, the Tabla sounds typical Kathak  syllables(ta tai tai ta) that lasts for 2 aavartanams. Finally, we have two aavartanams in Tabla and Dolak followed by the subtle bells again for two aavartanams.

If one wants to study Chatushram patterns, he/she can as well listen to this prelude and write a thesis.

The Pallavi starts like a viruththam first.

The Pallavi with the percussion follows in Chatushra ekam. There are totally 8 aavartanams-a count of 32. This 32 is subdivided into 64 maatras and this is how it is split:

Maanjolai/kiLithaano/maanthaano  /

3           /     3                   /        3                  /
veppam/ thoppokuyilum / neethaano /    
2        /              5                 /           6            /

ivaL/aavaram/poothaano/nadai/thaerthaano /

   2  /       3        /         3       /    2      /          8               /    


        4          /      2    /  2 /       8         /     8                   /


 As I said, I cannot think of any Pallavi as complex as this in Film music!

He plays with the percussion instrument(s) in the interlude. The mridangam sounds ’ta’ for every 3 beats.

In the first aavartanam, the ‘ta’ is sounded in samam; it is in the third beat then;in the second beat of the second aavartanam; first beat in the third  aavartanam. It sounds in all the beats now. After 2 aavartanams, the same pattern is repeated.

This is surely an apt exercise for people who want to practise keeping taaLam. Keep counting 4 and put the TaaLam.  It will be a learning-cum-enchanting experience.

The first CharaNam goes in plain chatushram until the 10th aavartanam.
Idaiyil puraLum sadaiyil mayakkum malarkodi  goes like:

Idaiyil /      puraLum / sadaiyil    /mayakkum /

  3      /            3                /    3                 /     3                  /
malarkodi  /    
     4                /

Two aavartanams-8 beats divided into 16 and follows the above pattern.

The second interlude now goes in the ‘mael  kaalam’(faster speed) and goes in group of 4.

Just towards the end-in the violins/flute piece-, Laya Raaja divides it again as 3,3,3,3,2,2,2,2,4- a total of 24.

The second charaNam continues in the maelkaalam and it is the 4,4 pattern till ‘azhago devathaiyo’.

The following lines are divided into 128 maatras thus:

Angam oru   /thanga kudam/azhaginil/mangai oru/

       6          /       6                   /     4                   /     6                  /
gangai nadhi  /ulaginil/
       6                /      4             /

thuLLum idhazh thaenthan/

             12                                       /   

aLLum karam naanthaan  /

             12                                     /   
manjam adhil/ Vanjikodi/
              6       /            6            /
 varuvaaL/sukhame    /
  6             /      6                /

varuvaaL  /sukhame  /tharuvaaL/

  4               /       4        /         4                /

Magizhven/KaNN kaaviyam/

        4      /              6                      /  
pan paadidum/ peNNoviyam/
             6          /              6             /   


          6         /     8      /

It goes back to the ‘keezh kaalam’ from melaadi maangani.

At the end, ‘ILamai enum thanimai neruppai aNaikkum paruva mazhai mugil’ goes as 3,3,3,3,4 (16 maatras) like the end in the first charaNam.

Let us now look at the melody part.

The Pallavi, first interlude, first charaNam and the second part of the second charaNam(from melaadi maangani) are based on Suddha Dhanyasi, the pentatonic raga which has sa ga2 ma1 pa ni2 Sa.

The second interlude and the first part of the second charaNam are based on Kharaharapriya.

In the beginning, we hear the call of the bird before veppamthoppu kuyilum.

The supple Veena smiles even as the mridangam(remember the ‘ta’ every third beat) jumps aesthetically. In between we see the flute, violins and jalatharangam sing with verve and vigour. This continues until the solo flute plays with a stylized elegance.The Veena joins and hands the melody over to the violins-flute-jalatharangam group which in turn leads us to the first charaNam.

We see the pleasant Kharaharapriya in the second interlude. The soft Veena and the colourful violins-flute-jalatharangam play with exactitude exploring the avenues of beauty.

TaaLam with ‘sogasu’,

Suddha Swarams,

Words and Music as pure as our scriptures.

Aren’t these enough to enthrall us?


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Laya Raaja - 2

‘The vaaLai fish jump and the ladies bathe. This is the great ‘Thirkkolakka’ where the Lord whose matted hair is adorned by the crescent moon, and the ashes- smeared body is covered by the loin cloth resides. Oh! What a form!!’

This verse was composed by the child prodigy Thirugnasambhandar at the age of 3.

 It is said that even as he was singing this verse, he kept the taaLam with his tender hands and his father who like all affectionate fathers, worried about the soft hands getting hurt and immediately gave him the cymbals.

It is a very interesting verse in terms of the beats.

Each line follows the 1 2 3 4 pattern and therefore one can call it as a verse following Chatushra ekam.

But let is try keeping 3 beats for each phrase.

Madaiyil- 1 2 3

vaaLai- 1 2 3

Paaya- 1 2 3

Maadaraar-1 2 3

Similarly for the other three lines too.

See how the entire complexion changes when you recite it this way. Which one do you feel conveys the meaning better and gives the essence?

Do this exercise and you will know the subtle and huge differences between the different patterns (in this case Chatushram and Tisram).

In my previous post which was the first one in this ‘Laya’ series, we saw a brief introduction to the taaLa system,  about the jaatis, the no .of syllables for each jaati, difference between aksharaas and maatraas, three different kaalams and what is an aavartanam.

Today, let us see yet another concept- Eduppu.

In simple terms, Eduppu means the start.

Generally, a song starts along with the taaLa cycle. This is called as starting in Samam. However, a song can also start before the taaLa cycle or after the taaLa cycle. In a Carnatic concert, this generally happens during the ‘Ragam Taanam Pallavi’ segment where a Pallavi starts either before or after the cycle. If the song starts before the TaaLa cycle, it is called as the ‘ateeta eduppu’ and if it starts after the beginning of the cycle, it is called as the ‘anaagata eduppu’.

In my previous post, we also saw how the same song followed two different patterns simultaneously. Today, let us see a composition where the song alternates between two patterns. One gets to see this kind of alternating patterns mainly in a Carnatic Music Concert where a percussionist changes the ‘nadai’. But this hardly happens in a film song of course with the exception of one composer’s compositions.

Vanak kuile’ from Priyanka starts in the Chatushram pattern with the last two syllables ‘dhi mi’ being sounded by rhythm guitar. There are 15 Chatushrams in the prelude and the Pallavi starts just as the 15th one ends (in the fourth beat of the 15th one to be precise). Ateeta eduppu with the samam on ‘ku’of kuyil.

The percussive support is yet again by the rhythm guitar along with a subtle cymbal.

The chatushram pattern is beautifully divided as  4, 3, 5, 4  with the first 4 being left blank ( - - - - ta ki ta ta ka ta ki ta ta ka dhi mi ) in the first interlude with the percussion giving a tribal feel. There is no percussion in the last flute bit though the Chatushram pattern is maintained.

We notice the change as the CharaNam starts. The vocals now follow the 3-beat pattern Tisram with the rhythm guitar sounding one tisram, leaving blank for the next tisram and playing the next two tisrams ( ta ki ta - - -  ta ki  ta ki ta  )       while the cymbal  sounds for each 1 ½ beats of Tisram. After 16 Tisrams, the vocals revert to Chatushrams. There are 12 chatushrams in this second half.

16x3= 48

12x4= 48.

Note that in this second half, the ‘ta ka dhi mi’ s are played by the tribal percussion.

The second interlude is free flowing without any percussion. However, it follows Chatushram and has 22 Chatushrams before the Tisram starts in the next CharaNam.

The composition is based on Lalita, a raga derived from Mayamalavagowla. It is a 6 swara raga without the swara ‘pa’.

The Maestro has taken liberty to use ga2- a non-existent note in this raga-in the CharaNams. The raga also deviates, albeit beautifully in the free flowing second interlude.

The composition starts with the the evergreen flute which plays with vitality, zeal and with a distinctive grace. The neat and nuanced but subtle bass guitar backs it in its unique way.

This backing continues in the Pallavi as well.The voice of SPB is sweet as ever and the nimble keys (in the phrase ‘malarilum’) give an outline of the raga wonderfully.

The beginning of the second interlude sees the sprightly scalar sketch of Lalita. The chorus carries us to a tribal region. The flute in a playful mood plays with comely elegance showing us the greenery while the robust strings nod their heads.

The second interlude is an experience by itself.

We first hear the female voice which gives a poignant feel. The Brass flute then plays with solicitude. The voice continues to haunt us even as the mid octave strings join. The strings then play in higher octave. The keys paint a vivid picture and the flute shines with beauty.

It is dexterous, politely pleasing and haunting.

Who wouldn’t want to get lost in such a forest?