Saturday, 14 February 2015

ILaiyaraaja - Musician with a Poise

What makes a work of art immortal?

It should be attractive, catchy, beautiful, graceful, elegant and have a sense of balance and purpose. It should give us an aesthetic experience. It should pierce our heart and touch the soul.

Let us look at this Poem:

குவளை நாறும் குவை இரும் கூந்தல்
ஆம்பல் நாறும் தேம் பொதி துவர் வாய்க்
குண்டு நீர்த் தாமரைக் கொங்கின் அன்ன
நுண் பல் தித்தி மாஅயோயே
நீயே அஞ்சல் என்ற என் சொல் அஞ்சலையே
யானே குறுங்கால் அன்னம் குவவு மணல் சேக்கும்
கடல் சூழ் மண்டிலம் பெறினும்
விடல் சூழல் நான் நின்னுடை நட்பே.

This is addressed by a man to his beloved. Sensing her fear that he might desert her, he says,
Oh dear, do not fear!

But how does he say this?

He first starts with describing her beauty- ‘Oh the dark girl whose hair smells of blue water lily blossoms, whose honey filled mouth has the fragrance of white water lilies and whose face has some beautiful tiny spots like the pollens of lotus flowers which grows in deep ponds!’

Next, ‘Even when I say don’t fear, you are scared’.

Finally he assures her,. ‘Even if this land which is surrounded by the big ponds and the ocean on whose shores the short-legged swans live, is offered to me, I will not abandon you’.

Note that there are three parts in the poem.

Describing and praising the woman for her beauty (isn’t this what men do to impress a woman first?).

Lest she feels he is flattering her just to escape from the situation, he makes the next statement.

But still this can be considered to be a false promise and perhaps not too convincing. So he says, ‘Let the world be offered to me. I won’t leave you’.

Psychology at its best!

The similes are used with a purpose. A swan is supposed to possess the quality of separating milk from water. Lotus is a flower with a sense of balance.
By using these two, the poet conveys that the Lover (man) is genuine.

Isn’t it a beautiful poem about true love?

This poem-written by a poet called ‘SiRaikkudu Aandhiyaar’ is taken from ‘KuRunthogai’, which is part of the 2500 year old Sangam Literature. If we quote and discuss about this after so many centuries it is because of the inherent grace, elegance and a sense of balance.

I am sure the works of ILaiyaraaja will continue to be discussed like this for the same reason.

The song of the day is special.

The fascination of his compositions is contained not so much in the way he sheds light on its beauty as on how aesthetic beauty evolves in his hands. This fact is fully evident in this song.

Muththamizh Kaviye Varuga’ from ‘Dharmaththin Thalaivan’(1988) in my opinion is one of the greatest love duets in Tamizh Film Music. It is soft and yet goes deep into our system kindling all subtle emotions hidden inside us. This composition is also an example of how he strikes a balance between classical and light and how he improvises his deep knowledge of the ragas/taaLas.

For starters, this composition is based on Gowrimanohari and is set to Chatushra Eka taaLam.

The Maestro touches some of the niceties of the ragam, and adds an alien note very sparingly to give it a different complexion. But two things make the composition unique and beautiful:

1. Chatushram beats used as the leitmotif
2. Silence.   
Please recall that in ‘Solaippovil maalai thendRal’(incidentally based on the same raga), a pattern where the taaLa was divided into 16-maatras appeared as the leitmotif. Let us see what happens in ‘Muththamizh Kaviye’.

The composition starts with the stringed instrument playing with a unique suppleness for two Aavartanaas(cycles) of chatushram sans percussion. The Chorus starts the humming in Gowrimanohari with the percussion playing ‘ta – dhi -/ta ka dhi mi’- stress on the first and the third syllables the first time and all the four syllables the next time. It is sedate and classy.

This continues for four cycles after which the Chorus sings only for one beat during the samam (beginning of the taaLa) sounding ‘ta- dhi –‘ in melodic form. The keys respond for the next 3 beats of the TaaLam. This happens for four full cycles.

This pattern is the leitmotif and in fact defines the entire composition.

To start with, the first two lines in the Pallavi- in the beautiful voice of Chitra- go plain without any backing of percussion with the drums sounding only at the beginning of the cycle. After 2 cycles, the TaaLa pattern appears and backs the vocals till the last line of the Pallavi.

The Pallavi starts with the ‘sa’, touches the mandara ni’and goes on the ascending in the first two lines. The alien swara ‘ni2’ peeps in very briefly in the following two lines. The second part of the last line goes descending (Sa ni dha pa ma) and ends with a beautiful podi sangati (maga marisa). Yesudass’ voice is as soft as ever.

The Composition starts in samam. The first two lines have the vocals only in the first 3 beats of the TaaLa with the last beat being played only by the percussion. While the gap is for 4 maatras before the second line, it is for 6 maatras before the third line as the line ‘Kaadalenum’ starts after the samam. Isn’t silence beautiful?

The first interlude is replete with reposeful ingredients. Yesudass’ voice from the Pallavi merges with the flute in the beginning. The Flute-backed by the folksy string- goes on its own trip. It is joyous; it is tantalizing; it is magical. The entire piece which runs for 8 cycles, becomes more meaningful with the absence of the percussion. The drums sound once at the end of odd cycle and twice at the end of even cycle.

The wondrous piece ends, the leitmotif appears for two cycles and guides to the CharaNam. Here again, the third rendering merges with the beginning of the CharaNam.

The CharaNams reveal the musical sensitivity and the sensibility of the composer. If the  recurring ‘ma pa pa’ phrase is exquisite, the use of upper ‘Sa’ and ‘Ri’ in the following lines are emotive.

The penultimate line and the last line are classically brilliant. The penultimate line goes on the descending first and then cheekily adds the alien swara ‘ni2’ while the last line has the ‘podi’ sangatis and finally the akaaram that first ascends (ri ga ma pa dha ni Sa Ri), then sandwiches ‘ni’ between the two upper ‘Sa’s and finally descends (pa ga ri).

The second interlude has a stupendous appeal. Peppered by the stringed instrument, the Flute which plays with an unmatched passion is interlaced with two more flutes playing in different octaves. The leitmotif appears again for the next six cycles.

Elegant..Graceful..Balanced.. the Lotus Flower and the Swan!

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