Friday, 17 April 2015

ILaiyaraaja- Musician with a Purpose

Everything in this world is meaningful. If we cannot find the meaning, there is surely something wrong somewhere. No, I am not talking about difficult words and dictionaries. It is about each and every happening in the world and concomitantly in our life. The link between a happening and why it is happening is hidden most of the times resulting in our cursing everything and everybody-mainly things and people we don’t like.

But Nature’s Law is such that any effect is because of a cause. I don’t want to list out things here and just quote one example from Nature and move on.

In fact, in my post on ‘Aa KaNulalo’  (ILaiyaraaja-The Perspicacious Musician posted on the 3rd of March ), I had said about the formation of clouds and subsequently quoted a Thiruppaavai.

Now, let me go to the next step in the process and ask ‘why does it rain?

Even a school boy or girl will be able to say the answer: ‘Warm air turns the water from rivers, lakes, and oceans into water vapour that rises into the air forming clouds. As these clouds rise higher, the air gets colder, the water vapour in the clouds becomes very heavy  and therefore falls back to the earth as rain.’

This is of course basic science but can one miss the philosophy in this?

Water from the Earth comes back to the Earth after undergoing a process.

Now, for a moment let us see what happens if the law/rule is flouted (isn’t this common in our country anyway?) and the clouds decide to hold back the water?

The great poet ThiruvaLLuvar thought about this 2000 years back and said ‘ If only this happened, even the mighty ocean would lose its value’

நெடுங்கடலும் தன்நீர்மை குன்றும் தடிந்து எழிலி

தான் நல்காது ஆகி விடின்.

Though it appears to be a verse on the rain in general, there is more to it than meets the eye. Consider the Ocean as the Universe, the water vapour as great virtues and the clouds as people who have these virtues. 

If people who have, fail to share it with the ones who need it, the Universe begins to lose its riches and value. Then why blame the Nature for the calamities when the fault lies with us.

Here too, doesn’t one see the Cause and Effect?

People like ThiruvaLLuvar were however like the natural cloud which never fails to give back. ThiruvaLLuvar had talent in abundance. He channelised his talent and energy and composed 1330 verses solely in the interest of mankind. Since it was done with a determination and with a disciplined focus, the verses are still alive and are being quoted by people across the globe.

Though he did keep the verses short, he never compromised on the poetic beauty. He was flamboyant too and occasionally indulged in word play. But here too, he did it meaningfully with the result that not only was the verse meaningful but also it was beautiful.  The verseதுப்பார்க்கு துப்பாய துப்பாக்கித் துப்பார்க்குத் துப்பாய தூஉமழை’ is an example. Since I had already explained this verse in one of my old My Journey posts in the previous community, I am not getting into this now. All I can say is that whatever he did, he did it with a basis and for a cause.

Same is the case with ILaiyaraaja. With his abundant knowledge and natural talent, he has been consistently giving us some extra ordinary compositions and taking us to greater heights. At the same time, he has experimented with some new ragas- ragas not used by any musician- and has mesmerised us too. What is great about this is that he has done this with sound reasoning and with an objective.

For example, take the case of ‘Thogai ILamayil aadi varugudhu’ from ‘PayaNangaL Mudivathillai’ (1982). Most of you know the sequence in the movie. The lead character, a person with a great voice but without any recognition at last gets an opportunity to showcase his talent. Now, how should the tune be? In a raga considered to be auspicious? That is what ILaiyaraaja does. The prelude and the Pallavi are in Hamsadhwani. But hang on. What is that alien swaradha1’ in the last line of the Pallavi? Is it an accidental note? Doesn’t it appear in the interludes and in the CharaNams as well? Then how can it be a case of the rather usual ‘alien note creeping in in a film song’?

What ILaiyaraaja has done here is something unique. The raga which has ‘sa ri2 ga3 pa dha1 ni3’ is a raga called TharaLam and is a janya of Sarasangi. There are no known classical compositions in this raga. The Master wanted to welcome the singer with the traditional Hamsadhwani first. He found his story to be unique (in a way reminiscent of his own). ‘So, why not use an unknown raga’, he must have thought and must have added the ‘dha1’. This in effect gives a mystic feel to the composition as a whole. He does not stop with this alone. He conceals some swaras in a piece in the first interlude and in a segment in the CharaNams to make it sound like another raga, a morning raga at that. After all, is it not a new dawn for the singer?

Let us look at all these now one by one .

The soft, sedate and the subtle Flute sounds like a cuckoo. The Guitar and the Bass Guitar move with pulsating weight giving a short pause for two beats in between before leading to the Pallavi.

The Pallavi is finely etched with the mandra sthayi(lower octave) ni3. and ‘pa.’ mingling beautifully with madhyama sthayi(mid-octave) swaras of Hamsadhwani. The Guitar piece appearing for just one beat at the end of the first and the second lines, sounds refreshingly beautiful. The change in the Chatushram pattern in the third line with the percussion sounding only the ‘ta ka’ gives it a different shade while the introduction of ‘dha1’ in the last line (kalyaaNam) changes the complexion totally.

The first interlude sees a melodic progression. The specially sounding Guitar sounds with precision. The percussion sounds ‘ta ka dhi mi’ in mel kaalam. Yet another Guitar sounds sustained notes with panache. And this rather funny sound appears four times-first as response to the powerful phrasings of Electric Guitar and later as a reply to the melodic Keys. The Keys then go on a trip with intuitive impulses.

A kind of magic awaits us then. The Flute plays the swaras ‘pa dha1 pa’ and have the contours of Bowli, the morning raga. The intense Bass Guitar welcomes this new dawn and then combines with the Guitar to guide us to the first CharaNam.

The CharaNams are inundated with rich, imaginative and innovative ideas.

The first and the third lines have the swaras of Hamsadhwani only while the second and the fourth lines go to TharaLam after the Hamsadhwani trademark ‘pnSGR’ appearing in the beginning..The first four lines are adorned with the stately Sitar. The fifth line is rather long but what follows then is magical again.

The following line has mainly the ‘pa dha1 pa’ ‘ga pa dha pa’ and ‘ga pa’ giving it the Bowli flavour yet again. The laya pattern is interesting too (as ever) with the Chatushram going in mel kaalam as

4 - - 4  6  4  4  4  4’ with the ‘-‘ indicating a gap.

The last line has 4ta ka dhi mi’ s in keezh kaalam with the swaras going as janta(two) in the first twota ka dhi mi’ s and as three in the following twota ka dhi mi’s.

The rhythmic mobility continues in the second interlude as well with the percussion alternating between mel kaalam and keezh kaalam first and then alternating between playing  and keeping quiet even as the rapturous Sitar plays some intricate phrases. The percussion maintains a stoic silence again when the Strings dazzle in Western Classical mode and shows up when the Sitar is back with the Strings playing just for one beat. It is mel kaala chatushram in full flow for 2 cycles. It suddenly changes to Tisram first in keezh kaalam (4 Tisrams-one per each beat) and then in keezh kaalam (8 Tisrams-two per beats). The Flute plays some leisurely oscillations to provide a contrast.

Cause and Effect- Is it melodic or philosophical?

It is for you to decide…

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Saturday, 4 April 2015

ILaiyaraaja- The Savant

The very mention of the word Intellectual conjures up many images. We generally perceive an intellectual to be learned and at the same time in a totally different plane. We also call anything beyond our comprehension as something intellectual. Is it difficult to understand anything which is intellectual? If so, is there any purpose of that intellect at all?

In my previous post here on Devatai oru Devetai , I explained as to how important ‘expressing’ is for any creative person. All creative people in general are learned (some way or the other) but not all learned people are creative.

There is one more factor, the sense of aesthetics.

So, there are three aspects here. Expressive, Creative and Sense of Aesthetics..

In my opinion, a true learned person is one who has all these three apart from Knowledge. But being expressive does not necessarily mean that one will be able to comprehend whatever they say. For that to happen, one must spend time in thinking and interpreting their works. And there lies the beauty.

I have already spoken about Thirugnansambhandar in some of my previous posts. He was a child prodigy and a scholar . Though each of his verses in Tevaram is beautiful, one needs to read them again and again to understand the full import..Only then does one get to know more and more about the hidden beauties.

Look at this verse:

புற்றரவு பற்றிய கை நெற்றியது

            மற்றொருகண் ஒற்றை விடையன்

செற்றதெயில் உற்றதுமை அற்றவர்கள்

            நற்றுணைவன் உற்றநகர்தான்

சுற்றுமணி பெற்றதொளி செற்றமொடு

            குற்றமிலது எற்றென வினாய்க்

கற்றவர்கள் சொற்றொகையின் முற்றுமொளி

            பெற்ற கயிலாயமலையே.      

putRaravu patRiyakai netRiyathu

            matRorukaN otRai vidaiyan

setRatheyil utRathumai atRavarkaL

            natRuNaivan utRanagarthAn

sutRumaNi petRathoLi setRamoDu

            kutRamilathu etRena vinAyk

ktRavarkaL sotRokaiyin mutRumoLi

            petRa kayilAyamalaiye.

Sounds so lovely with the rhyming words! (I have given the transcript in English for people who cannot read Tamizh so that you all can appreciate the rhyme even if all words sound alien!)

But can we stop with that? Don’t we have to make an effort to understand what the poet has said?

So, as a first step let us split the words:

புற்று அரவு பற்றிய கை, நெற்றி அது

            மற்றொரு கண், ஒற்றை விடையன்,

செற்றது எயில், உற்றது உமை, அற்றவர்கள்

            நல் துணைவன், உற்றநகர்தான்

சுற்றும் அணி, பெற்றது ஒளி செற்றமொடு

            'குற்றம் இலது எற்று' எனவினாய்க்

கற்றவர்கள் சொல் தொகையின் முற்றும் ஒளி

            பெற்ற கயிலாயமலையே.

Sounds better now?

Second step is to understand the meanings of the words. To make it simpler, let me give the meaning of the entire verse:

One hand holds the snake, the other hand embraces Paarvati. The one-eye on the forehead burnt the three corners. He has one Nandi as his Vaahana. He is the Guide for people who have renounced the world. ‘How is that that His abode shimmers with the gems and is without any blemish’, ask the learned people about Mount Kailash’.

Is the mystery unraveled now? To a certain extent perhaps. I shall stop here and not go to the esoteric meanings.

Isn’t it a great scholarly work? If the rhyme words make us sit up and enjoy, the meanings make us appreciate it more and even make us think.

ILaiyaraaja’s works have this quality. Irrespective of whether one understands the intricacies or not, one is able to enjoy his songs. But once the hidden beauties are revealed, one is able to enjoy it more.

Let us take the songVandadhe Kungumum’ from ‘Kizhakku Vaasal’ (1990).

 Very pleasing to the ears’ – This is what we say when we listen to it. How would we react if we delve deep into the composition and have a closer look?

Shall we do that now?

It is based on Mohanam, a very classical and genuinely beautiful raga and is set in the Aadi TaaLam in Tisra gati- 8-beat cycle with 1 2 3 in each beat. What else does it have?

Let us start from the beginning.

The Bell sounds and the synchronized chorus sings the akaaram in pure Mohanam. There is a pattern here. The Bell sounds for every odd beat in the cycle. After the half-aavartana(4 beats), yet another bell sounds continuously. What a felicitous start!

The chorus gradually goes on the ascent in the next aavartana and just at the end of this aavratana-7th beat to be precise- the Strings take over. They break into enthusiastic bursts and play with sheen. The percussion joins now. There are three sets-two Mridangams and one very subtle percussion instrument. The first mridangam goes as ta ka dhi mi ta ka while the second one plays only the ‘dhi’ and ‘ta’ (3rd and 5th) for every alternate ta ka dhi mi ta ka making a heavy thundering sound!

The Strings move for one full aavartana drawing the beautiful sketch of Mohanam. They continue till the third beat of the next aavartana when the Flute appears and embroiders the sketch. The Bell completes the aavaratana.

The Pallavi which starts with the swara ‘ga’ is gamaka-laden and shows how the composer has handled the classical raga as a raga and not as a scale. The ‘Ri Sa’ phrase (O..O..) and the ‘dha Sa Ga Ri Ga Sa Ri’(Vaan megam)  and the chorus singing the akaaram in ‘Kungumum’ and ‘Sangamam’ are just samples to show how he gave vent to his propensities of giving a genuine classical piece.

A very spirited and flawless rendering by Chitra makes it even more beautiful.

The Laya Pattern is the same as the one in the second part of the prelude except that the mridangam plays three ‘ta ka dhi mi’ in mel kaalam  towards the end (nee paada) with the thunderous second mridangam sounding in the ‘ta’ and ‘dhi’ in the third ‘ta ka dhi mi’.

The Flute plays with a silken smoothness in the beginning of the second interlude with a second Flute replying with a flirtatious shyness. This engagement without percussion is on for a full aavartana after which the chorus appears backed by the racing Strings and the Mridangam(s). The Strings then move in higher octave giving exotic touches to the undiluted Mohanam intercepted melodically by the Bells.

The CharaNams are replete with enjoyable phrases and variegated patterns.

The Guitar sounds in the beginning of the first two lines after which it sounds before each phrase in the following two lines. The Tabla also plays playfully in the first two lines. The pause in the vocals for one beat makes us realise the value of silence.

There are tensile sangatis too after the two phrases in the first two lines- dha pa ga ri ga pa dha and pa dha pa dha pa dha ga. The last sangati is a marvel starting with the upper Sa, Ri and Ga and then giving the avarohaNam with just one more ‘ga’ appearing after ‘sadhapagari’ and before the ‘sa’ in the end. Uninhibited creativity!

The first segment of the second interlude sees the western classical shades of Mohanam with the Strings playing with a sedate dignity. The chorus sings the ‘mkaaram’ with the suave Flute repeating it. The musical dialogues sans percussion continue for some time before the Guitar goes on a melodic spree. The Strings follow suit with emotional richness. The bewitching Flute twists and turns and we sink gently into a plane of profundity.

Intellectually challenging or Emotionally appealing?

Aren’t these mutually inclusive?

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