Friday, 31 October 2014

ILaiyaraaja - The Rasika

What makes poets and artistes unique?
Is it just the creativity?
Let us first look at this poem, a description of a scene in the Kingdom of Kosalam by Kamban:
சேலுண்ட ஒண்கணாரில் திரிகின்ற செங்காலன்னம்

மாலுண்ட நளினப் பள்ளி வளர்த்திய மழலைப் பிள்ளை

காலுண்ட சேற்று மேதி கன்று உள்ளிக் கனைப்பச் சோர்ந்த

பாலுண்டு துஇலப் பச்சைத் தேரை தாலாட்டும் பண்ணை.
Amidst the huge paddy fields, the swans lay their cygnets (the little ones) on the lotus flowers. Seeing this, the Buffaloes get reminded of their calves and grunt. Instantly, milk starts oozing out of their udders and the little swans drink this. Finally, the tadpoles sing lullabies to put the little swans to sleep’.
What do we see here? Great imagination? Wonderful description? Beautiful Tamizh?
Beyond all these, it is the poet’s appreciation of finer things in life which makes this unique.
An artiste/poet sees; feels; experiences; perceives.
They observe, comprehend and assimilate..
But finally, it has to reflect in their works.
In the aforementioned poem, Kamaban’s mindscape must have visualised a beautiful scene from what he would have seen in a paddy field. I am sure buffaloes feeding swans and frogs singing lullabies are next to impossible. However, the field with swans, buffaloes and frogs must have captured his imagination and inspired him to make his own beautiful poetic story.
Kamban- The Rasika of Nature.
A great Artiste/Poet is always a great Rasika.
Many of us know that ILaiyaraaja is a great photographer. His love for Nature and appreciation of finer elements get reflected in his compositions and make him a composer par excellence.
Now, imagine this. He is given the task of composing a song which will run as the Titles roll on the screen. Though I am not sure what the Director would have briefed him, I am sure the Director would not have suggested the raga, tala . At the most, he would have told him about a typical scene in a village and that the dhobis wash their clothes in a river.
The Nature Lover’s imagination runs riot after this. He first chooses a Hindustani Raag Jog which has the ability to give abstract images and give one a mélange of emotions.. He plays with the TaaL in the prelude. He starts the first CharaNam with a long akaara(long by film songs’ standard) and the second CharaNam with a short akaara. In the first interlude, he uses the  Naaththu nadal’-planting  of seedling  - song without deviating from the raag and in the second interlude he keeps the sound of the washing of clothes as the rhythm!
The effect?
A terrific and immortal composition!
Koththamalli Poove’ from ‘KallukkuL Eeram’(1980) starts with a very subtle Jalatarangam and sonorous Tabla Tarang sounding 24 beats in the ‘mel kaalam’.
The Jalatarangam and the Tabla Tarang together sound 6 beats- ta ka dhi mi ta ka- and the Pakhawaj responds with 6 beats. This happens twice. By this time the sketch of Raag is clearly drawn.
The Jalatarangam then plays 22 beats (5+5+7+5) and also not only clearly sketching the Raag but also showing us the different colours of the Raag.
The percussion now responds, first with the Pakhawaj playing 7 beats followed by the Dolak which plays 5 beats. This happens twice. So, it is (7+5) x2 twice which is 24.Now, there is an extra 1 2 after this. The previous Jalatarangam section played 22 beats only while it had to be 24 to complete the cycle. The Mathematician adds that 2 here to make it 24 ( remember Tisram is a 3-beat cycle and therefore the maatras must be in multiples of 3).
It is the turn of Tabla Tarang and Jalatarangam but this time separately with the former in combination with the ankle bells sounding 1 2 3 4 three times and the latter combining with the Dolak to sound 1 2 3 four times. That is 3 Chatushrams and 4 Tisrams. This too happens twice making it 24x2.
Finally, all the three -Tabla Tarang, Jalatarangam and the ankle bells- join together to play the Chatushram in ‘mel kaalam’ 12 times to make it 48.
Jog, Tisram and different ‘Tarangams’-Glowing edifice of creative expression!
The brief Pallavi (with just 4 short lines) is soft and spirited in the voice of Janaki. The ‘yekaaram’ that follows ‘Poove..’ which lasts for 4 Tisram cycles is like the soft breeze blowing from the North- called as ‘vaadai’(வாடை) in Tamizh. ‘vaadai’ is used as a symbol for Viraha.
The first interlude straightaway transports us to the paddy fields (not of Kosalam but of PaNNaippuram) with the நாற்று நடுதல் (transplantation of seedling) song purely in Jog and following the Tisram though it is only the water which acts as the percussion. After 24 cycles of Tisram, the Flute gives a feather touch and goes on a circular motion. It then takes a glittering flight playing the ‘aaroh’ in the process. The magical bass guitar backs it. It should be noted that this is the only piece played by the bass guitar in the entire composition.
The charming Shehnai takes over with brief interjections by the Jalatarangam. The percussion in the first interlude starts only now (after 35 Tisram cycles). It is folksy flavour again with Malaysia Vasudevan singing ‘thandhaanane thandhanaane thannenaa’.
The first CharaNam rather unusually starts with the long ‘akaaram’ that lasts for 16 Tisram cycles. Janaki sings it with a unique elegance. The ‘akaaram’ gives the sublimated essence of the raag. Immersing itself in this beauty, the Tabla moves in keezh kaalam making us all sway. The other lines show variegated patterns with the sound of Santoor interspersed. The CharaNam ends with a charming sangati that goes in the ‘avaroh’.
We are now transported to a ‘dhobi ghat’. One never knew that even ‘dhobi ghats’ could be so musical. The clothes hit the stone for a count of 4 Tisrams. They then back the vocals (Malaysia Vasudevan) for the next 4 Tisrams, play alone for 2 cycles. This 4 and 2 is repeated again after which the vocals sing for 8 cycles. The clothes-stone finally sound for 4 Tisrams.
Rhythmic washing!
What follows is a cogent melodic progression. First the Santoor and the Jalatarangam play a short melodic piece. The chorus repeats it and adds one more bit. The Shehnai and Flute repeat the added bit. The chorus expands the melody adding one more bit which is again repeated by Shehnai-Flute. The chorus completes the melody adding a new ‘thandhaanaa..
Exotic and conspicuously thrilling!
…like the white swans on lotus flowers drinking milk.

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