Friday, 9 October 2015

ILaiyaraaja- The Cosmic Musician..

It is without a form; and yet many forms are part of it. It does not move; and yet a lot of movements happen on it. There is nothing in it; and yet everything is on it.

What is that?

Well, before we find an answer, let us look at this Tamizh verse:

வாளவரி கோளபுலி கீளதுரி
               தாளின் மிசை நாளும் மகிழ்வர்
ஆளுமவர் வேள் அநகர் போள் அயில
               கோள களிறாளி வர வில்
தோளமரர் தாள மதர் கூளி எழ
               மீளி மிளிர்தூளி வளர்பொன்
காளமுகில் மூளுமிருள் கீள விரி
            தாள கயிலாய மலையே.

How does this poem sound to you? What are the things that strike you the most?
Rhythm? Metre? Sweetness? Tamizh? Beauty?

Beyond all these, there is something else also. But let us first see the meaning of this verse:
The one who wears the skin of the tiger which has bright lines; The one who is always blissful; The one who blesses people; The one who is blemish less; The one who killed the elephant which had huge tusks; The one who carries a powerful bow on his shoulders; The one who dances to the rhythm of the Bhootas; the one who smears His body with the shining white ash; the one who resides on the Mountain whose white golden rays dispel the darkness caused by the clouds.’

Sounding rather simple now. Or does it?

Look at the contrasts. ‘Tiger’ and ‘Elephant’; ‘One who blesses’ and ‘One who killed’; ‘Darkness and ‘Shining light’(note that the words indicating ‘shining’ appear thrice in the poem).

Apart from these contrasts, what should not be and cannot be missed is the fact that the Dance of Shiva is mentioned in the middle part-that is the 4th line- of the poem.
This verse was written by one of the greatest Tamizh poets Thirugnansambandhar.
Now, let us go back to the riddle asked in the beginning. The answer is ‘the cosmos’. The verse also indicates the same.


It is a well-known fact that the cosmos comprises of atoms. Electrons, Neutrons and Protons revolve around the nucleus which is at the centre of an atom. The Dance of Shiva indicates this only. I must mention a couple of things here. Shiva and the concept of Nataraja go beyond any religion. These are symbols and my effort here is to try and explain the symbolism and place the scientific facts. There is absolutely no religion involved here. Atheists, agnostics and people practising different faiths can look at this from the science angle.

So what does the Nataraja symbol tell us?

The circular flame surrounding the icon represents the Universe, the consciousness and the cycle of birth and death. The four arms represent the 4 directions. The ‘damaru’ on the upper right hand symbolises the sound from Creation and also Time. The agni on the upper left hand is symbolic of Destruction. The lower right hand showing the ‘abhaya mudra’ indicates blessing. The lower left hand is held across the chest like a trunk of an elephant and this symbolises liberation from ignorance. Snakes that uncoil from his head, arms and legs are symbolic of the Ego while the snake which is tied to his waist indicates the KuNdalini Shakti. The dwarf under his right foot represents the confusion, forgetfulness and the ignorance. Note that it is bound to the Earth. While the right foot represents the victory over ignorance, the raised left leg represents the grace and the upliftment of the soul. The icon rests on a lotus pedestal which is the symbol of the creative forces of the Universe. Inner peace-that is the lotus- countered by aggression-which is the Vigorous dance.

This is what this dance-which is also called as the cosmic dance- signifies.

Now read the verse, think of the atoms, the Universe and then look at the Nataraja icon. You can correlate the three.

Each and every particle in the cosmos is interconnected as they are made of atoms. This is the reason for something called Telepathy. This happens when two souls are in the same frequency.

Music is also a group of atoms. In some of my previous special posts, I had mentioned that it is music which makes even agnostics and atheists realise the divine. Music is omnipresent in the Universe. However, only some humans are able to get and give the right combination of atoms. When this happens, melody multiplies. Others tuned to this frequency get attracted to it; make them forget themselves. One such human who does this spontaneously is ILaiyaraaja. That is why, his music makes many happy. We laugh, cry, dance and sing.

The special song of the day too is one such composition.

Nataraazu nayanaala jeevinsaga’ from the film Aalapana (1986) is yet another special composition which unravels the mystique of raga and taaLa. The Maestro has brilliantly tuned it in Dharmavati, a raga known for its spiritual powers.

Let us now try and look at the hidden beauties of the composition.

It is a stately setting with the drone of the tanpoora surrounding us for 6 seconds. These 6 meditative seconds prepare us for the divine shower which follows.

The prelude is interesting and is different too. It starts with a viruththam rendered by SPB in a voice laden with devotion. It talks about the all pervasiveness of the divine force and finally about the Naatya.We see the contours of Dharmavati in the last phrase ‘Naatyaatma’. As if taking a cue from that word, natya jatis start flowing now.

These jatis are not only classical but also symbolise something.

The first half of the first two aavartanaas is in ‘keezh kaalam’, the next half and the third aavartanaa are in the next kaalam and the last one is in the third kaalam. Doesn’t this signify the ‘Tri kaalam’ and also the ‘Three eyes’?

Let us now see as to how the Laya Natana Raaja has divided the syllables.

In the first two aavartanaas, 16 is divided as 3, 3, 3,1, 2, 2, 2(the second half is taken as keezh kaalam and therefore the total maatras of that part is divided by 2).
In the third one, it is divided as 4, 3, 5, 4 for one half (note that in literal terms it is in vilomam  and has one misram and one sankeerNam). The total count in this kaalam is 32.
The last one goes as 3, 3, 3, 4/ 3, 3, 3, 4 but as it goes in the highest speed, the total is 64.

The raga now starts dancing with the repetitive jatis- ‘ta dhi ta ri ki ta thom ki ta nam ki ta’ as the jatis are superimposed on the akaaram. After a while, swaras ascend in groups of three and finally descend even as the jatis continue .In fact it is an ascent to heaven.

It ends with ‘taaam-‘ in the last half avartanaa and the Pallavi starts.

The short Pallavi glimmers with beauty showing the graces of the raga. The sound of the bell at the end of each line makes the experience more divine.

The jatis appear again with the violins responding briefly to each group of syllables. In the first avartanaa, the jatis appear for 8 micro- beats followed by the violins. This happens twice. In the second avartanaa, the jatis go as 6 micro-beats and the violin is played for 2 micro-beats. This happens thrice and then the last jati has 8 micro-beats. The violins take over playing some melodic phrases. A touch of poignancy is added with another group of violins joining and showing some very different dimensions of the raga.

 The twin- veena joins to the backing of tabla tarang and shows illuminating facets of Dharmavati.The violin group which appears very briefly  at the end of each avartanaa, plays ‘ta ri ki ta taam’ melodically at the end of the interlude and leads us to the first CharaNam.

The CharaNam has sequentially interesting phrases. The first part has depth and sensitivity while the second part which starts with ‘gada seema’ picks up pace. The akaaram for half avartanaa is beauty personified. The last part moves with a sense of purpose finally culminating in ‘tadheengiNathom’.

The first half of the second interlude sees the dialogue between the violins and a host of percussion instruments. It also shows the versatility of the composer. The violins sound for 2 beats and the percussion group replies in the next 2 beats..This pattern repeats in the next half avartanaa. The violins then sound for one beat, a group of percussion for two beats and yet another percussion for one beat. After one avartanaa, the violins and the percussion alternate for each beat. The two finally merge. 
It is the merger of creativity and expertise.

The solo violin then gives slices of silkneness with the flute repeating the nuances caressingly. The two join together giving classically delicious music. It is then the turn of the tarangams with the jalatarangam and tabla tarang glimmering with beauty.

A unique pattern follows then. The jatis are rendered and each line is followed by description of Nataraja. Feelingly expressed by SPB , this entire segment resonates and takes us to spiritual heights. The composition takes a breezy complexion with the violins and the percussion moving with ferocity. After 2 avartanaas, the jatis take over again but this time these are ‘magaNa jham’ ‘ragaNa jham’, which are classical jatis mentioned in the ancient texts. The patterns ooze with passion, are stoic and sturdy and are regal.

At the end of the jatis, the gait changes to khandam with the higher octave violins and the resonant percussion dancing with intensity. SPB continues in khandam but this time the invocation is on Durga as if to indicate ardhanareeswara. The violins then continue the dance with percussion underpinnings and we reach empyrean heights.

Logical transcendence which defies logic..
Yes, that is what is cosmic dance all about!

PS: This post and the previous post in Tamizh were read out to an invited audience on the 9th of August 2015 as part of an Event dedicated to ILaiyaraaja. Incidentally, this post happens to be the 150th post in this blog!

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