Sunday, 16 November 2014

ILaiyaraaja's Music - Pleasant, Beautiful and Brilliant

Sometime back, I had written in one of the posts that certain words in Indian languages cannot be translated into English. Even if one manages to translate, the charm and the real meaning of that word will be absent.

Take the word ‘manoharam’ for example. Can we translate it as ‘being pleasant’? If so, will it do justice to the original word? ‘Manoharam’ is something pleasant and beautiful. Is there an equivalent word in English?

Works of geniuses always have this manoharam.

In my previous post on ‘Koththamalli Poove’, I quoted a verse from Kamban. Here is a verse on somewhat similar lines but with a more spiritual and mystic content and meaning:

தேமாங்கனி கடுவன் கொள விடு கொம்பொடு தீண்டித்

தூ மாமழை துறுகல் மிசை சிறு நுண் துளி சிதற

மாம் பிணை அணையும் பொழில் அண்ணாமலை அண்ணல்

பூமாங்கழல் புனைசேவடி நினைவார் வினை இலரே.

‘The male monkey plucks the mango from the branch and the droplets of rain water scatter and fall on the rock. Assuming it to be the real rain, the cows run towards the garden to take shelter. People who think of the feet of ANNamalaiyaan-which is decorated with the flower-like anklet, will be free from all karmas. ‘

As I said in the beginning, the English translation may not exactly convey the beauty of the poem which is ‘manoharam’ personified. It has very deep inner meanings too with the male monkey symbolizing our mind full of impurities, the droplets being all our misdeeds, the cows symbolizing good and noble thoughts.

A noble soul can recognise bad karmas and misdeeds and attain divinity by moving away from these’.

I feel this is the crux of the poem. One cannot help feeling very pleasant after reading the poem because of the way the poet has described the scene.

This verse is part of Thevaram written by the child prodigy Thirugnanasambhandar, whose verses I have already quoted in many of my posts in this blog.

The music of ILaiyaraaja has that manoharam because it is beautiful and divine. His compositions also carry the stamp of brilliance because of the way he conceives the ideas-albeit spontaneously- and embellishes the compositions with his innovativeness. This is also because of his deep knowledge of classical music. It is therefore not surprising that each and every composition of his has a uniqueness which is unmatched.

The speciality of the song of the day is that it is based on a raga which incidentally has the word Manoharam. Did I say ‘speciality’? No, it should be ‘specialities’ because the song is special for more than one reason.

The raga is Gowrimanohari, which is the 23rd mela ragam.True to its name, the raga has that pleasantness which is as soft as an evening breeze.

Is it just a coincidence that Solaippoovil maalai thendRal from VeLLai Roja (1983) is based on this raga?

Let us get into that ‘specialities’ I mentioned.

Firstly, it is purely in this raga without any deviation whatsoever.

Secondly, the rhythmic pattern of the percussion.

It is a fact that he lays a lot of stress on Laya and is a Master in this. In this composition, the laya pattern itself is the leitmotif.

Let us see that first.

The composition is based on Chatushra Ekam- 1 2 3 4. As already explained in all my Laya Raaja posts, the beats are subdivided as ‘maatras’ and obviously will have to be the multiples of the base taaLam. Here, the Master first subdivides it into 16. He then gives the syllables as :

Ta ka dhi mi/ ta ka dhi mi/ta ka ta ki ta ta ki ta.

Then he assigns the instruments to play these and how to play these.

The percussion instrument to play the first four syllables, another percussion to play just the third syllable in the second part, a sharp sounding melodic instrument to play only the third and the sixth syllables in the second part. The Bass guitar will of course back it from time and time and the other melodic instruments will be simultaneously played. And of course, there shall also be phrases where I will stop the percussion.

This is how his mind must have worked while composing.

So, how do the syllables look now?

Ta ka dhi mi/- - dhi-/- - ta - - ta - - - - -

As already mentioned, this runs as the leitmotif almost throughout the song giving it a very special colour.

Let us now look at the composition as a whole.

Clothed in mellifluous warmth, the keys -backed by the sympathetic strings, subtle drums and the Bass Guitar- move at a steady pace. After 3 aavartanaas, the strings join and move with a splendour. This goes on for the next 4 aavartanaas after which the magic starts. Here too, the brilliant composer gives variations. The flute and the stringed instrument(santoor?) alternately play during each aavratana of the leit motif. Finally, the stringed instrument plays the aarohaNa of Gowrimanohari leading us to the Pallavi.

We hear only the upper Sa during the first four phrases in the first two lines. In the last line, we see pa and ma, ma and ga, ga and ri pairing together to draw a beautiful sketch of the raga.

The Flute in the beginning of the first interlude plays with an aesthetic solicitude. That the echo and fading effect is not given using any sound technology but is still ‘sound’ shows the genius of the composer yet again. The Bass Guitar in the background and the drums at the end of this Flute- section add to the glory. The leitmotif starts now and the guitar plays with a sense of poignancy. The strings reply rather soberly too. After 6 aavartanaas, the strings take over with exuberance with the Flute giving the ‘jawabs’ to the ‘savaalsposed by them. It is lilting and graceful. The keys produce the bells sound and the strings nod their heads in appreciation.

The first 2 lines of the CharaNams have the avarohaNa swaras only. The following 4 lines too almost have the avarohaNa pattern except for the two phrases in the end of each line. The higher octave notes -Sa Ri Ga - appear in the next two lines even as these lines go on the ascent. The last ‘la la la la’ is a masterstroke with Janaki singing the higher octave notes Ri Ma Ga Ri Sa Ga Ri Sa and SPB completing it with ri ga ma pa dha ni Sa Ri-the beautiful arohaNa of the raga.

The Flute and the strings interspersed between the lines in the CharNams are subtle as well as sumptuous.

The second interlude has varied sequences. First we have the strings playing what in WCM is called as March Music. After three aavartanaas, the prominent solo violin plays with suave even as the set of strings continue their journey. The keys then go with a bewitching fragrance backed by the leitmotif with the special music of the prelude(in the very beginning of the song) appearing at the end of each melodic line. The conspicuously thrilling strings join with other instruments and touch the higher octave.

The ‘pa pa’ in the end when the Pallavi is rendered and the postlude with strings and the bells are mysteriously charming.