Saturday, 14 May 2016

ILaiyaraaja - The Phenomenon

Of the 12 Vaishnavaite saints-known better by the name Azhwaars- Nammaazhwaar is considered to be a poet/saint nonpareil and not without any reason. He composed 1296 paasurams(verses) –the maximum by one Azhwaar-under four different categories-Thiruvassiriyam Thiruviruththam, Peiya Thiruvandadi and Thiruvaaimozhi, which in fact form the essence of Yajur, Rig, Atharva and Saama Vedas respectively. He is also the only Azhwaar on whom verses have been composed by another Azhwaar. In fact, these 11 verses sung by Madurakavi Azhwaar- are part of ‘Naalayira Divya Prabhandam’. Note that the other 3989 verses in the collection sung by the 12 Azhwaars (out of which 1296 are by Nammaazhwaar as mentioned earlier) are in praise of the Lord.

Apart from this unique distinction, Nammaazhwaar has many other distinctions too. ‘Dravida Vedopanishath Sangati’ and ‘Vedopanishath Thaathparyarath Naavali’ are the two books in Sanskrit talk about the greatness of Thiruvaaimozhi. Parimelazhagar, who is better known for his commentary on ThirukkuRal, has taken verses from Thiruvaaimozhi and used those. MaNavaaLa maamunigaL wrote a book called ‘Thiruvaaimozhi NootRandadi’ comprising of 100 verses with each verse starting with the first word from the first verse in the first pathigam(each pathigam has 10 verses) of Thiruvaaimozhi and ending with the first word of the first verse of the following pathigam. These 100 verses give the essence of Thiruvaaimozhi. Kavi Chakravarthi Kamban, one of the greatest Tamizh poets ever, has also authored Satakoparandadi , a collection of verses on Nammaazhwaar.

It is also said that Nammaazhwaar always resides on the feet of the Lord and that is why the ‘Sataari’ is kept on the heads of the devotees in VishNu temples with the Sataari being Satagopan, the original name of Nammaazhwaar.

But it is not for these reasons alone that he is considered as ‘Nam’ (our) Azhwaar. His poems are marked by beautiful use of the Tamizh language, and cover different dimensions of Bhakti. But what I find astounding in his poems are two major things- his conversations with the mind and the philosophical contours. In these two aspects, I am reminded of Saint Tyagaraaja.

As an example, let us see just one verse from his Thiruvaaimozhi:

உணர்ந்து உணர்ந்து இழிந்து அகன்று உயர்ந்து உரு  வியந்த இந் நிலைமை
உணர்ந்து உணர்ந்து உணரிலும் இறைநிலை  உணர்வு அரிது உயிர்காள்
உணர்ந்து உணர்ந்து உரைத்து உரைத்து அரி அயன் அரன் என்னும் இவரை
உணர்ந்து உணர்ந்து உரைத்து உரைத்து இறைஞ்சுமின் மனப்பட்டது ஒன்றே.

People who are familiar with the language of Tamizh can recite this aloud to understand how beautiful and musical it sounds. But there are other aspects too apart from this which makes it great.

He says, ‘Feel the inner soul –which is as small as the atom and which pervades the Universe in 10 different directions and yet resides in the mortal body- by feeling with the mind, with meditation and by studying. But even then it is not easy to understand that. So, feel, feel, constantly feel, study, study and constantly study. Finally, you will feel the Divine’.

In my opinion, this puts the concept of spirituality in a nutshell. And incontrovertibly, applies to all religions. I feel it applies to agnostics and atheists too.
In a matter of just 4 lines, Nammaazhwaar has succinctly given us the essence of Divinity in poetic Tamizh. This is what makes him peerless and inimitable. Though comparisons are odious, I find a lot of parallels between Nammaazhwaar and ILaiyaraaja. As I have written so many things about the latter, I do not want to say more now lest I fall into the category of repetitiveness.  His achievements, his talent and most importantly his works have been discussed at length and therefore the best way to pay tribute to him on this day as he completes 40 years as a  film music composer today(for people who do not know this fact, let me tell you that ‘AnnakkiLi’, his first film as a music composer was released on the 14th of May 1976), is to take up his works one by one and share the nuances, intricacies and the techniques used, which itself is proof enough to show what kind of genius he is.

I have said this many times. His greatness lies not so much in the raagas used as in the way these have been used. Almost all Indian music composers and Music Directors have used raagas from our classical system without any exception. But what distinguishes the Maestro from the others are the choice of the raagas and the way he has used/been using the classical raagas.

Take Khamas for example. It is a raaga considered to be extremely pleasing and also the one which gives us mental calmness. In a way, it is not that easy to use this raaga in film music and I do not want to delve into the reason now. At the same time, I am sure I wouldn’t be wrong or sound biased if I said that no other film music composer has used this raga as beautifully and magnificently as ILaiyaraaja has done. People who want to dispute this statement are advised to listen to ‘Maargazhi maadam mun pani veLaiyile’ from ‘Panchami’(1980) and if possible read my post on this
   (this in fact was the special post of Geetanjali-2009).

His next Khamas took about 8 years and it is different. I am convinced that ‘Pallaviye SaraNam’(Oruvar Vaazhum Aalayam) cannot and should not be compared with ‘Maargazhi maadam’. Each one has its unique beauty.

Pallaviye SaraNam’ has exhilarating akaaram and charming sangatis. The Master’s creativity and his proclivity to always be different come to the fore in the CharaNams with each one being structured differently.

The composition starts with a mesmerising akaaram by Janaki which gives a silhouette of Khamas with the drone of the tanpura adding to the divine experience.

The Pallavi is in anaagata eduppu starting after ½ ‘idam’. The core of the Pallavi is its simplicity.  Yet it is so powerful. It in fact typifies the raaga Khamas which sounds simple but gives powerful vibrations. The akaaram which lasts for one beat-rendered with consummate ease by both Janaki and SPB-  and the sangati after ‘geetam’ ooze with classicism and virtuosity.

The flute plays with clear musical perception in the beginning of the first interlude reminding one of the natural sound of a cuckoo. The backing of the guitar and the absence of the percussion enhance the beauty here. The violins take over after 2 aavartanaas with astonishing vigour. What makes this part more enticing is the appearance of other instruments like guitar, sitar and the keys which not only back the melody but also indulge in some brief conversations.

The first CharaNam is expressively shaped with the akaaram for one aavartanam after the first line showing the solid graces of the Khamas. The second and the third lines are innovative with Janaki rendering the words and SPB singing the swaras. The flute and sitar lend dignity and grace with their brief impromptu appearances. The lines that follow carry the Laya Raaja stamp with the line being structured as ta ka dhi mi/ ta ka ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta ka dhi mi ( iru udal iNaindhapodhu inbam vandhu) and ta ka dhi mi/ta ka dhi mi/ta ka dhi mi/ta ka dhi mi(manamadhu magizhindhida kanavadhu malarndhadhu). In the first part, 16 is broken as 4/5/3/4 and in the second part it is equally divided as 4 sets.

The one who doesn’t like to repeat the same pattern and would always love to innovate changes the structure in the second part(manamadhu) when both SPB and Janaki render it together and makes it –

 ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta ki ta.

Chatushram changes to Tisram. This is called as Gati bedam and that is how 16 is 12 here.
Not content with this, he also makes the Pallavi sound slightly different now silencing the percussion and using only the sitar and the sympathetic strings. This lasts for 2 aavartanaas after which the percussion joins and we hear the Pallavi in its original form. Small things make a huge difference and subtle nuances speak volumes of a genius. Any proof needed?

The second interlude starts with the flute playing with tranquility and poise to the backing of the guitars (yes, no percussion again) for 2 aavartanaas. The composer then decides to go on a freewheeling trip with the violins twisting and turning and moving with an enticing spirit. The overall vividness is arresting indeed. After 2 and ½ aavartanaas, the sitar combines with keys, sparkles very briefly and leads us to the second CharaNam.

The first part of the second CharaNam(which is different from that of the first CharaNam) has sensitively visualised phrasings and gives the resplendent shades of Khamas-even touching the mandara stayi- in the honey-soaked voice of SPB. In the second half, the composer uses the classical dance jatis in lieu of the swaras and this itself is enough to change the complexion. The playing of mridangam in ati-mel kaalam when the Pallavi is rendered towards the end, conveys a lot about the musicality inherent in this genius.

It is for us to feel, study, study, feel and finally realise it.