Wednesday, 21 October 2015

ILaiyaraaja- The Subtle Musician

There is something intriguing about things which are invisible.

Take our feelings and emotions for example. Pain, Sadness, Hurt, Angry..Pleasure, Happiness, Ecstasy, Calmness..Has anybody even seen all these? Is there any shape or structure to each of these emotions/feelings? And yet, how these impact us in so many ways. This ‘unseen’ factor exists not just in the abstract but also in things that exist in this world. And the way it affects us depends on various factors.

One thing which readily comes to my mind is the wind. It is ‘hot’, it is ‘cold’, it is constructive, it is destructive. It also acquires different names and characters depending on the direction from which it blows. If it blows from the north, it is called as vaadai (வாடை) in Tamizh and if it blows from the south, it is thendRal (தென்றல்). The former evokes nostalgia and also a feeling of ‘missing somebody’ while the latter gives pleasure. Contrasts!

This list of ‘the invisibles’ is long and therefore for the sake of simplicity and relevance, I have divided this into three categories. We have already seen two. The third one is more refined and artistic.

The beauty hidden in poetry and music can only be felt and without any doubt, is subjective and open to interpretations. If a work of poetry or music has more than one interpretation, it shows the greatness of the work and also the greatness of the people who wrote/composed. A poem or a musical piece should make us think(yet another ‘unseen’ element!) apart from making us appreciate. The more we think, the more we appreciate.

In the following poem, the man sees the beautiful girl-his beloved- guarding the millet field. She uses an instrument to chase away the birds. But do the birds stay away? Why is she crying then?

Read the poem first:

சுடு புன மருங்கில் கலித்த ஏனல்
படு கிளி கடியும் கொடிச்சி கைக் குளிரே
இசையின் இசையா இன்பாணித்தே
கிளி அவள் விளியென எழல் ஓல்லாவே
அது புலந்து அழுத கண்ணே சாரல்
குண்டு நீர்ப் பைஞ்சுனைப் பூத்த குவளை
வண்டு பயில் பல் இதழ் கலைஇத்
தண் துளிக்கு ஏற்ற மலர் போன்றனவே.

Thinking that the instrument in her hand (called as ‘kuLir) is being used to keep rhythm for her melodic voice, the parrots that flew into her flourishing millet field to eat the millets refused to fly away despite her best efforts. Upset with this, she started crying with her eyes looking like the rain water filled petals of blue waterlilies -that bloom in springs- and are disturbed and beset by the buzzing bees.

On the face of it, this just seems like a simple poem which describes a happening in a typical setting of a ‘kuRinji’ field. But read it again and again to understand and appreciate the inner beauty.

The girl has an instrument normally used to scare the birds. But by saying that the birds decided not to move away from the field, the poet conveys that even an ordinary instrument turns musical in the hands of an artiste. What is also implicit is that the girl has a beautiful voice. Another way of looking at this is that even ‘enemies’ start admiring us if only we are musical.

Look at the description of her eyes. The beauty element is obvious but apart from this, the connection between this-the second half- and the first half is given so subtly. The bees go to drink the honey from the flower but get more attracted to the beautiful petals of the Blue Lilly that they forget everything and decide to sit on the petals. Doesn’t this remind you of the parrots?

This poem is from KuRunthogai which is part of the 2500 year old Tamizh sangam poetry and was written by Kapilar, a versatile poet. In fact, there are more interpretations to this and you all can come out with your own too. To give a hint, this poem is sung by a man to his friend while describing his lady love.

As said earlier, like poetry, music too has that invisible element which can not only be appreciated but also be interpreted in many ways. Here is a composition of the Maestro’s with my own interpretation.

Neethaane enthan pon vasantam’ from Ninaivellam Nithya(1982) is a classic not the least because it is based on a classical ragam called Madhyamavati. If one looks at the story (of the movie), it is about two young lovers who want to prove their true love to the world by establishing themselves in life. Their future is uncertain and yet they are optimistic. The hero describes his love to her in the process reassuring that  after all, ‘things will be fine’.

Let me make my own interpretations.

First, the raga. Madhyamavati is considered to be very auspicious and is said to ward of all evils. It also spreads positivity and joy.

Next is the rhythm. The lines in the CharaNams follow three different gaits (will be explained later). This shows the ups and downs in their lives.

Third is the change in raga-though briefly- in the second interlude. It depicts the twists and turns awaiting them.

Fourth is the orchestration in which the instruments move like a fast flowing river. This shows the exuberance of youth.

Overall, a tune that brims with beauty symbolising the love of the man towards the lady.

Let us now look at the composition from the beginning.

It starts with the first two lines of the Pallavi being rendered without any percussion though it does follow the chatushram pattern. Of course, there is that occasional strumming of the guitar which itself gives that romantic shade. After 4 chatushram cycles, the lilting flute plays pure Madhyamavati as the bass guitar and a couple of more bass instruments back it. The Pallavi is sung again-like in the beginning- after 7 chatushrams.

The percussion joins only after this but even now it is camouflaged by the rhythm guitar and the bass guitar. It becomes more perceptible only from the third line as new sets of percussion join and play ‘ta ka dhi mi’ with the drums sounding at the end of 4ta ka dhi mi’ s.

The mandra stayee swaras(lower octave notes) pa. and ni. in the third and fourth lines make the Pallavi more luminescent.

Joie de vivre- This is how one can describe the first interlude. It starts with the higher octave violins playing for 5 beats( from samam of one cycle to the samam of next cycle). The soft but resonant guitar sounds for 3 beats. The twin-violin plays the next cycle solicitously. As if waiting for this cue, the solo violin takes over and flows like waterfalls drenching us with melody. The rain does not stop here as the strings continue in higher octave intercepted now and then by the special sounding keys. The engagingly luring flute and the guitars drench us with the honey called Madhyamavati and spread a unique fragrance. The guitar finally decides to lead us to the first CharaNam playing 4 tisrams and 1 chatushram.

In the interestingly structured CharaNam, the percussion in the first four lines go in ‘madhyama kaalam’(medium tempo), the following two lines go in ‘mel kaalam’(faster mode) and the last 3 lines go in ‘keezh kaalam’(slower tempo). Melodically speaking, madhyamavati is in full flow with prayogas like ‘ri pa ma ni pa’ and ‘pa ni pa ma pa pa pa’ with the ‘sa ma ri ma’ in the end shining like the jewel in the crown.

The second interlude gives us some marvellous images.

The twin-violin calls out enticingly leaving a gap of 3 beats in between. This calling followed by the silence reminds us of the bird call. After a while, the guitar responds and the guitar vamping that follows sounds like the music from the branches of the trees flocked by the colourful birds. Even as the little birds move in ‘ta ka dhi mi’, the bigger ones decide to take a different kind of a flight and the raga changes to ‘Chala naattai’. The strings move along blissful ways and the flute flies with a majestic grace. We see the parrots perched on the trees amidst the millet fields. We see the blue water lilies surrounded by the bees..

Sublime and Serene..
The first line of the Pallavi says it all!

Check this out on Chirbit

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