Sunday, 3 April 2016

ILaiyaraaja- The Music Messiah

The villagers were distraught.  

Once upon a time, the place was full of lush green fields.  Happiness danced on the face of each and every villager. Rivers of milk and honey flowed in the place and happiness danced on the face of each and every villager.
But now the same place had turned arid. There was no water to drink and hardly any food to eat. Cattle were disappearing. So was the membership count in the households.

Prayers were offered and special poojas done. But nothing would change. They had only one option left- to invite that child prodigy to their village and ask him to sing. This child prodigy started composing hymns from the age of 3 after a divine intervention. This village-ThirunanippaLLi- also happened to be the native village of his mother.

So off he went sitting on the shoulders of his father. The clairvoyant that he was, the moment he landed there he could sense the curse of the land. This ‘curse’ a.k.a. karma is a huge topic and it is better left untouched here in this post.
The genius then sang:

கடல்வரை ஓதம் மல்கு கழி கானல் பானல்
               கமழ்காழி என்று கருதப்
படுபொருள் ஆறு நாலும் உளதாக வைத்த
               பதியான ஞானமுனிவன்
இடுபறையொன்ற அத்தர் பியன் மேலிருந்து இன்
               இசையால் உரைத்த பனுவல்
நடுவிருளாடும் எந்தை நனிபள்ளி உள்க
               வினைகெடுதல் ஆணை நமதே

This melodious song with the beautiful rhythm, sung with full devotion meditating on that Dancing God, by the child -who has mastered the 4 vedas and the 6 Aagamaas and who hails from the rich Sirgazhi which is surrounded by the backwaters and is full of fragrance emanating from the kuvaLai flowers- from the shoulders of his father, will surely destroy the evil and wash away the sins of ‘ThirunanipaLLi’.  This is my order.

The song is esoteric and has a lot of inner meanings but what is to be noted mainly is the description of his place of birth Sirgazhi. The rich description is contrasted by the phrase ‘naduviruLaadum’. The one who dances in the middle of the night-which is full of darkness - dispels the darkness!

That is why Thirugnansambandhar is still considered a genius par excellence. Needless to say that the powerful words turned the arid land to a fertile land and that the village regained its lost glory. Without a doubt, he was a saviour.

In more than one way, ILaiyaraaja too is a saviour. When film music as a whole was losing its charm, he with the right and beautiful blending of all major forms, injected and infused fresh blood, in the process showing us various dimensions of music-some known and many unknown. Words too acquired new meanings in his tunes making us listen to his songs again and again.

Today’s song, ‘Hey Paadal OndRu’ from ‘Priya’(1978) is one of the many thousands of his compositions which shine not only with beauty but also is rich with classical elements. Based on that exquisite raaga called Kaapi, the composition is yet another example of his propensity for classicism and aesthetic values. Most importantly, the songs of ‘Priya’ were recorded in stereophonic sound- the first ever Indian film songs to be recorded thus. This was a precursor to many new sound technologies that one comes across now in the 21st Century!

It starts with the rhythm guitar sounding in tisram for two Aavartanas of chatushra ekam. Though many of you who are following the group must be familiar by now with the terms like tisram, chatushram and Aavartanam, let me explain once again for the benefit of all. ‘Tisram’ is a 3-beat cycle while ‘Chatushram’ is a 4-beat cycle. One Aavaratana is one TaaLa cycle. A composition can be in ‘tisra nadai’(nadai-gait) and yet can follow a 4-beat or an 8-beat cycle.

What makes the Prelude of ‘Hey paadal ondRu’ very captivating is the use of vocals. Janaki sings the akaaram for 6 cycles with Yesudass continuing for the next 4 cycles. Note that he takes over from where she left and expands the raaga and that we see the beautiful and complete sketch of Kaapi in this akaaram itself. The jalatarangam imparts a rare musical quality with delicate but powerful touches and the violins respond briefly with gusto. A rhapsodical portrait of the raaga indeed! The violins then play the panchamam(pa) and takes us to the Pallavi.

The Pallavi is structured beautifully and brilliantly with the raaga chaaya swaras embellishing the words. The swaraga3’ is one of the alien notes used in Kaapi and this along with the swara ‘ma’ gives the raaga a special fragrance (note that it is ‘gama gama’ literally!). Then there is this ‘gamanipagari’ usage which gives Kaapi its authenticity. The Master uses the ga3ma1 phrase in the second line and comes up with ‘’ in the last line!

The tisram sounding so sharp on the percussion-only in the Pallavi- is another speciality the composer is known for.

The Royal Kaapi- or rather the Raaja Kaapi- continues its journey like a prince and a princess in the interludes.

For a change, the Prince and the Princess sport a classical western outfit and doesn’t it look charming!

The strings glide smoothly with a stunning precision playing the same sets of notes repeatedly and the flute interjects with melodic splendour. The P&P decide to wear the Hindustani costume now and the sitar sounds the swaras with majesticity.

The lines in the CharaNams ooze with Kaapi with prayogas like ‘pani2pa’ ‘ma1ga3 ma1pa ma1pa’, ‘ga3ma1pani2ni2pa’ in the first line, and touching the higher octave in the last phrase of the second line- ‘ni3SaRi2Ga2Ri2Sa’. Note that the last line of the Pallavi and that of the CharaNams sound similar but don’t seem repetitive at all because of the way the chaaya swaras are used.

The second interlude surely reminds one of a wedding. To start with, it is Hindustani what with the Shehnai sounding contemplative sounding some telling phrases and the jalatarangam replying with sobriety. The Shehnai then continues its trip before the Sitar takes over again playing some soft notes with the strings responding religiously. The jalatarangam then repeats the notes of the Sitar in its unique style and the strings welcome this too with a smiling face. Finally, the Sitar and the Strings join hands to complete the wedding.

Western Classical and Hindustani vie with one another to greet the bride and the bridegroom in the third interlude. Two sets of strings sound polyphonic with expressive phrasings. It is then the turn of the Sitar to show some melodic intricacies in the raag with one more Sitar appearing suddenly as if to acknowledge its sister. The Strings follow and move like a cascade with a tracery of spiraling passages.  With calmness personified, the Sitar plays a set of meditative notes with the other Sitar nodding its head blissfully.

Rivers of honey and milk and lush green fields.. Don’t we want to see such a sight again and again and again..


Varalakshmi's blog said...

What an indepth analysis of the song the genius of the composer and the mythology behind it. And in such fine language too. Fantastic!

Raj said...

Thank you so much Varalakshmi :).