Monday, 13 October 2014

ILaiyaraaja - The Revolutionary Musician

 If I say Subramaniya Bharati was a poet par excellence, it is like saying ‘Rose is beautiful’ or ‘Jasmine gives fragrance’. 

At the same time, certain things even when repeated infinite times do not lose their value. On the other hand, the more we repeat, the more the value goes up.

Why was  Bharati considered a revolutionary poet?

He simplified Tamizh poetry by using simple words so that it reached the common man.

At a time when the Tamizh society was soaked in casteism and oppression of women, he had the audacity to not only question these in his poems but also did his best for these evils to be eradicated from the society.

His poems on India and the freedom movement spread like forest fire igniting the minds of the people.

Though all his works were special, I consider ‘Paanchaali Sabatam’ as very special. The reason is simple. He wanted to write something very powerful against the British rule and wanted it to be symbolic. Taking just one very important episode from the Mahabharat, he expanded it. Bharat Maata was symbolised as Paanchaali (Draupadi). Needless to say that the Britishers were Kauravas and the people were PaaNdavas. At least to my knowledge, no poet in the world has taken one episode from any epic and used it as a symbol. It gives me Goosebumps even as I write this.

In ‘Paanchali Sabatam’, the angry Bharati dominates the aesthetic Bharati. So much so that in a work which has 559 stanzas, only 5 stanzas describe  nature’s beauty. And the placement is perfect. PaaNdavas travel to Hastinapuram to play the game of dice and on the way, Arjuna- who for all practical reasons is considered to be a connoisseur- describes the beauty of the sky during dusk to Draupadi:

பாரடியோ! வானத்திற் புதுமை எல்லாம்,

பண்மொழி!கணந்தோறும் மாறி மாறி

ஓரடி மற்றோரடியோடு ஒத்தலன்றி

உவகையுற நவநவமாத் தோன்றும் காட்சி,

யாரடி இங்கு இவை போலப் புவியின் மீதே

எண்ணரிய பொருள் கொடுத்தும் இயற்ற வல்லார்!

சீரடியால் பழவேத முனிவர் போற்றும்

செழும் சோதி வனப்பையெலாம் சேரக்காண்பாய்.

‘Oh the one whose speech is as melodious as music! Look at the sky and see how the colours change-each one so different from the other. How much one may have to spend if such a spectacle is organised on the Earth. The beauty of the sun-who is praised by all Vedas- is in full glory!’

(I have tried my best to translate this wonderful verse. But it is always better to read the original in Tamizh!).

Like Bharati, we have another revolutionary living in the current era. If the former revolutionised Tamizh Poetry, the latter revolutionised film music. Since a lot has been said about this, I would prefer to move on to the main topic.

When Bharati wanted to write about getting India free from the foreign rule, he used symbolism. When ILaiyaraaja wanted to compose a song in a particular raga, he used a technique. He wanted to compose a song in Sarasangi (by mistake, he mentions this as Latangi even as his hands play the swaras of Sarasangi. Just a slip which happens to all human beings and nothing needs to be read into this. I have heard some people say ‘he does not even know the name of the raga’. Absurd!).  

He goes on and explains what he did. He took the gandhara (the swara ga) of Sarasangi as the aadhara(base) sa and composed a song. This concept is called as the Graha Bedam and I have already explained about this concept in many posts in the Orkut community.

This graha bedam on ‘ga’ in Sarasangi is something very special and I am not sure even if any classical musician has ever tried this. Please note that graha bedam is guided by some rules. Though one can try graha bedam on all 6 swaras, it may not yield a valid raga. One can at the most get 2 or 3 ragas (the exceptions being Shankarabharanam, Kalyani, Hanumatodi, Kharaharapriya, Harikambhoji, Natabhairavi. I have already explained about this in my post on ‘Vaidehi Raman’).

Sarasangi is in the Graha bedam group of Dharmavati and Chakravagam. If the ‘ma’ of Sarasangi is taken as the base, it becomes Dharmavati and if ‘pa’ is taken as the base, it is Chakravagam. This being the case, what was the Maestro talking about?

If the ‘ga’ is taken as ‘sa’, we get ‘sa ri1 ga2 g3 pa dha1 ni2 Sa’ which is not a valid raga. This is where the genius comes to the fore.

Sindhu Bhairavi is one raga which strictly does not go by and structure and the bhava of the raga can be shown by experts in just one or two swaras. Almost all the swaras can be used in the raga and the raga sketch is shown not by arohana/avarohana but by the way the swaras are used. The Maestro who is well adept with all these nuances makes the ‘new raga’ sound like Sindhu Bhairavi. I think saying ‘like’ is wrong. It is Sindhu Bhairavi by all means.

So, what kind of thinking is this? Let psychiatrists say that -that is if they know music or at least can appreciate music- and we shall focus on the composition.

A subtle Guitar sound is followed by a zealous humming by Uma RamaNan. With a shapely finesse, the Bass Guitar responds to the humming and the Lead Guitar taps on the shoulder of its cousin-the Bass Guitar- with a monarchic dignity. Impeccable and Instinctive!

The Pallavi starts like a luminous halo and is amazingly ruminative with the Guitar and the Flute taking turns to back the vocals. The special ‘train like sound’ is worth mentioning. It sounds ‘ta ka dhi mi/ ta - - - in the ‘mel kaalam’- the ‘-‘ denoting silence. This happens only when Uma RamaNan sings with the percussion appearing when SPB renders the lines in the Pallavi.

Do not miss the predominant ‘Arabic flavour’ in the prelude and in the Pallavi. In fact, it runs as the undercurrent throughout the song.

The beginning of the first interlude is another master act. The Piano appears from nowhere rather unexpectedly. The sensitive eloquence with which it is sounded is amazing. It sounds for 10 maatras , there is silence for 2 maatras and the  guitar plays the balance 4. The guitar then continues its journey energetically with the Piano intricately following it. After showing us some beautiful shades of the Dusk, the two give way to the delectable strings. There are two different sets of strings as often playing the counter melody with the Piano too peeping in now and then. The melody is full of vigour and is yet sublime.

The lines in the CharaNams have some cosy patterns appearing sequentially. The lines are interspersed with Guitar playing different sets of notes each time. It varies from being resonant to being subtle teaching us lessons in music as well as in life.

The second interlude is a concoction of combinations. Backed by the Guitar, the Flute plays in higher octave. The Guitar plays some fluid phrases on its own. What follows is stupendous with the rhythm Guitar and the Drums playing ‘Ta ka dhi mi’ sketching a unique melody in the process and the Strings showing a kaleidoscope of melody. The Brass Flute plays with great solicitude.

We are frozen in the Transcendental.

He defies logic… and yet is logical.

He innovates…and yet is traditional.

He breaks rules…and yet follows rules.

……Just like the Sindhu Bhairavi ragam!

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