Tuesday, 2 June 2015

ILaiyaraaja- The Altruist

I did penance in my seven births. I am the only one to have done that. I sang verses in beautiful Tamizh for You. I am the only one. I am the greatest!!’

யானே தவம் செய்தேன், ஏழ்பிறப்பும், எப்பொழுதும்,
யானே தவம் உடையேன்; எம்பெருமான்! - யானே
இருந்தமிழ் நன் மாலை இணையடிக்கே சொன்னேன்,
பெருந்தமிழன் நல்லேன், பெரிது..

Thus sang Bhothath Aazhwar, one of the 12 vaishnavite saints.

Was he an egoist? Was he self-centred? How can somebody who calls himself as His devotee say like this? Isn’t it unbecoming of a saint?

All these questions are justified if one just takes a cursory look at the poem; if one does not know anything about Bhoothath aazhwar; if one has not read his works.

Let us now look at one more verse of his:

அருள்புரிந்த சிந்தை அடியார்மேல் வைத்து,
பொருள்தெரிந்து காண்குற்ற அப்போது, - இருள் திரிந்து
நோக்கினேன், நோக்கி, நினைத்தேன ஒண்கமலம்,
ஓக்கினேன் என்னையும் அங்கு ஓர்ந்து..

I was ignorant. He dispelled the darkness with His compassion and I looked at His magnificent figure, held His lotus-like feet and surrendered my soul completely. After all, do I have any other place to go?’

So, there he is- the one who realised the Supreme by surrendering himself.  He feels there is nothing more in that state which is beyond ecstasy. Totally content.  And isn’t that realisation because of the power of his penance? Read the first verse quoted, again (and again) and you will begin to see new meanings and finally the true meaning.

Bhoothath Aazhwar(7th Century) who renounced the material world at a very early age composed 100 thiruvandadis which are part of the Naalayira Divya Prabandham(4000 verses composed by 12 aazhwars). Andadi is a form in which the ending word/syllable of a verse is the beginning word/syllable of the following verse. His hundredth verse ended with the word ‘anbu’ which is the beginning word of his first verse.

A brilliant scholar and a true saint!

How silly and foolish it would have been if he were to be judged based solely on the first verse quoted, without understanding his background, his works, his poetic sensibilities ,his skills, his devotion.

Aren’t we all reminded of something here?

How often do we see people without any knowledge about ILaiyaraaja’s works and the background, ridicule, sneer, scoff at, deride and badger him! Do they all know the value and significance of his music? Do they know that this kind of music is possible only by people who are truly blessed?

Geniuses are geniuses and if we cannot understand or comprehend what they say or what they do, the fault lies with us and not with them.

With these words, let us celebrate music with an exquisite composition of his on this special day.

Music aficionados know his proclivity to use classical ragas. What sets him apart is not just the usage but also the way he handles the ragas. It surely is not a difficult task to play a tune sticking to the same ascending/descending notes and anybody with a harmonium or a key board (or that ubiquitous thing called computer) can do this. But how far that tune is melodious or captivating is questionable. That is where the wheat is distinguished from the chaff.

For example, many composers have used the raga KeeravaNi. It has the same sa ri2 ga2 ma1 pa dha1 ni3 irrespective of whoever uses it. But how is it that the same chatushruti rishabham, sadhaaraNa gandharam, panchamam, shuddha dhaivatam and kaakali nishadam sound so beautiful when handled by him? Most importantly, how is it that each one of  his KeeravaNis (there are hundreds) is unique? It is the magic of music, yes, but it is the magic of the composer too.

If you have any doubt, listen to the song of the day and then the other KeervaNis.
What makes ‘Munnam Seidha Tavam’ from ‘Vanaja Girija’(1994) unique is the use of some unusual vakra prayogas and some beautiful ‘panchama varjya’( skipping the swara ‘pa’) phrases. As usual, his special laya pattern adds to the uniqueness. Let us look at some of the other aspects as well.

Breaking the 4 into 16 has been explained by me in some of the posts here. Chatushra ekam, a taaLa with 4-beat cycle is broken into 16 maatraas to be played by the percussion. Repeatedly, he has shown different patterns of playing this 16.

In ‘Munnam Seidha..’, it is played as

Ta ka dhi mi/ta ka dhi mi/ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta ka
(4             /4                /3       /3        /2).

He improvises by giving more stress on the first syllables in the third and the fourth part( ‘ta’ in ‘ta ki ta/ta ki ta’). This pattern remains the same throughout - except for some phrases in the prelude and in the second interlude where there is no percussion.

A special bell sound appears in the prelude, first interlude and the second interlude and if one listens only to these continuously, one can make out a tune or a melody. In a way, it is like the leitmotif.

The chorus too plays a major role in the entire composition appearing subtly even in the Pallavi and in the CharaNams backing the main vocals. In fact, the prelude itself has a rendition by the chorus, a kind of mini-pallavi and the composition ends with the same words rendered again just like the one in the prelude.

Having seen some of the highlights, let us look at the composition as a whole from the beginning.

It starts with the16- beat percussion and this is played twice. The special bells sound appears after this percussive delight and lasts for 2 cycles. With the strings backing subtly, the chorus hums in lower octave and continues to hum for the next 8 cycles. This humming with subdued refinement has an elevating appeal. The bells sound and this humming give a divine ambience almost sounding like the ‘omkaara’.

The percussion stops briefly and the chorus renders the ‘pre-pallavi’.

The Pallavi glistens in the voices of Janaki and SPB.  When the latter renders the second half, it has an unusually calming effect. The chorus too backs the vocals now and then adding to the experience.

The feeling of calmness continues in the first interlude as the chorus hums with felicitous fluidity for 4 cycles. The flute joins during the fourth cycle and plays with a tonal subtlety.. This happens twice and the special bells sound joins and moves on with vigour and vibrancy. Exactly after 4 and half cycles, the well chiselled and intense strings join and play in higher octave showing the western contours of the raga in its own way. This process happens twice again and leads to the first charaNam.

The first part of the CharaNam is a façade of tranquillity. One also sees the brilliance of the composer when special sounds are given after ‘poovin meedhu thendRal vandhu modhuthe’ in the first charaNam. The second part-3rd and the 4th lines- is the passionate espousal of the beauties of the raga as we see the clear classical touches. The 4th line has a brief sangati too. The following lines bring out some deep seated emotions with a couple of unusual prayogas.

 The humming of the chorus for one cycle after the first and the second lines and their backing the vocals in the 5th and the 6th lines are graceful. So is the backing of the strings.

The first line is rendered as ‘akaaram’ by Janaki before the second interlude with the brass flute blowing like a conch, making the experience more delightful.

The melodic instruments express themselves freely for 5 cycles in the second interlude as the percussion stops playing to watch this spectacle. The guitar plays with sobriety first. The flute then revels with some beautiful patterns with the ‘dhom tho dhom thom’ of the chorus and the folk- stringed instrument backing it. The strings go like a lightning and the western instrument repeats the notes of the flute. The bells sound takes over along with the percussion, relishingly nourishing the interlude.

Towards the end, there is another innovation. When the Pallavi is rendered finally, there is no percussion for the first two lines with the vocals being backed by the guitar and the bass guitar.

The ‘pre-pallavi’ is rendered by the chorus again, suggesting there is no end..

So, whose penance is it?

His penance in the previous births to give such divine music or is it also our penance to be immersed in it?

Think about it and keep thinking about it…

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