Thursday, 11 December 2014

ILaiyaraaja- The Erudite Scholar

When knowledge is shared, happiness doubles. True scholars not only share their knowledge but also keep learning more so that it benefits the society as a whole. 

That is why, ThiruvaLLuvar sang,
தாமின்  புறுவது  உலகின்  புறக்கண்டு
காமுறுவர்  கற்றறிந்தார்.

SubramaNiyan started writing amazing poetry at the age of 7. When he was 11, he mesmerised  a galaxy of scholars and poets in the court of the King of Ettayapuram  and earned the sobriquet Bharati (meaning Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning as per Hindu mythology). This child prodigy did not stop there. He went to VaraNasi, joined the Banaras Hindu University and learned more languages and other subjects and broadened his horizon. The rest is history.

In the next 2 decades, he wrote poems and essays like no one else has done. Not a single topic did he leave uncovered. Most importantly he wrote these in a language understandable even by a common man. The style was simple but not the substance.

If only he had stopped learning after the world declared him as an avatar of Saraswati, would we have got such great works like Paanchali Sabatam, Kuyil Paattu, KaNNan Paattu and poems on a host of subjects ranging from the Freedom movement to Philosophy. One can write reams and reams of pages about this Mahakavi but even then it will not do full justification to his scholarliness and genius.

As a sample, look at this extract from one his poems:

எங்கிருந்து வருகுவதோ? ஒலி யாவர் செய்குவதோ அடி தோழி!
காட்டினின்றும் வருகுவதோ-நிலாக் காற்றைக் கொண்டு தருகுவதோ?வெளி
நாட்டினின்றும் இத்தென்றல் கொணர்வதோ?நாதமிஃது என் உயிரை உருக்குதே!
கண்ணன் ஊதிடும் வேய்ங்குழல் தான் அடி!காதிலே அமுது உள்ளத்தில் நஞ்சு,
பண்ணன்றாமடி பாவையர் வாடப் பாடி எய்திடும் அம்படி தோழி!

Singing about the divine sound which emanates from the flute of Krishna, he says,

 ‘ Where is this coming from? Who is producing this sound? Is it from the forest?Or directly from the moon? Is the breeze bringing it from an alien land? This sound melts my soul.

Oh.It is the Flute of Krishna! My ears are filled with nectar and my heart is full of poison. The tune is an arrow to make women like us long and cry!’

Forget all the philosophy that is hidden deep inside the poem. Just look at the contrast- Nectar and Poison- and how beautiful it is..

Scholar by name SubramaNiya Bharati!!

We have another scholar/genius living amidst us now, who is naturally talented. Like Bharati, what is great about this scholar whose name is ILaiyaraaja, is his proclivity and propensity to learn more and more. Even after attaining the status of a star, he did not stop with that. He continued learning under his guru and practiced for hours together to hone his skills. His learning continues after 38 years and 1000+ albums.

Because of this positive attitude, we the connoisseurs of music have been treated with some immortal melodies which not only sound great but also make us learn.

Before taking up the song of the day, let me say a few words about the Raga. Saranga TharangiNi is a raga popularized by the great Carnatic legend Shri.G.N.Balasubramaniam. I would refrain from saying ‘invented’ because it is a very plain Shadava raga with 6 swaras in the ascending and descending.  Two very popular ragas are closely related to this raga. One is Hamsanaadam and the other, Kalyani. If one adds the swara ‘dha2’ to Hamsanaadam, or eschew ‘ga’ from Kalyani, we get Saranga TharangiNi.  But strangely enough, not many carnatic musicians found this raga interesting despite its sounding so beautiful.

ILaiyaraaja has used this raga wonderfully in some of his compositions- ‘ThendRal Vandhu Ennai Thodum’ from ThendRale Ennai Thodu (1985) being a classic example.  The way the essence of the raga is brought out shows how the composer has understood and enjoyed the raga.

The composition starts with the Keys sounding like the Bells infusing subtlety and softness. After 2 aavartanaas in Chatushra ekam, the Guitar plays like a Veena with delicate fluency. We now have two sets of different melodies with the keys repeating the same beginning notes and the Guitar drawing a curve. Like the soft waves of a beautiful sea, the Strings move with concise loveliness and draw us to the Pallavi.

The Pallavi in the mellifluous voices of Yesudass and Janaki, is a shiny mosaic. Starting with the madhyama swara(ma), the lines gives a marvellous sketch of the raga touching the mandra(lower octave) ni  and also the taara(higher octave) Ri. In between, there are some small sangatis too in ‘Pagale’, ‘Paai’ and ‘Nilave’ drenching us with melody.

The Strings take some liquid glides with the soft Guitar replying very quietly in the first segment of the first interlude. The comely Veena exudes the gracious and bewitching fragrance of the raga in the following segment. The Flute shines with an incredible radiance even as the Bass Guitar backs it in its unique way.

The first line in the CharaNam starts on the 2nd beat of the TaaLa cycle while the last line ends in samam. The  lines in the CharaNam touch the mandra swaras ‘dha’ and ‘ni’ in the first two lines while the following lines have beautiful sangatis after ‘piRagu’ (ni dha ni dha pa) making it an enchanting experience. The last line touches even the taara madhayamam showing us the musicality of the composer yet again.

The backing of the instruments in all the lines has an excellent aural effect!

The first half of the second interlude is very different as we see the western contours of Saranga TarangiNi . First it is the Flute which moves with a sprightly pace imparting emotional richness in the process. Then we have a perfect harmony with the female voice singing ‘ta ra ra ta ra ra ta ra raa’ in higher octave and the male voice singing the same in lower octave simultaneously. The Guitar and another melodic instrument back this and act as the percussion. After this mesmerising piece, the Strings play in the original tempo but in higher octave with aesthetic solicitude. Parallely, the Guitar plays a supple melody giving an exotic touch.

Doesn’t the composition melt our soul?