Monday, 10 April 2017

ILaiyaraaja - The Aesthetically Imaginative Musician

While praying to Kamadeva to unite her with the Lord, the great poetess AandaaL does something beautiful, which can be called as poetic creativity at its best. In fact, all her 143 verses in ‘Naachiyaar Thirumozhi’ and the 30Thirpuppavais’, brim with beauty and  exude creativity, and are without a trace of doubt, ‘poems with excellence’.  In the past, I have quoted her poems in this thread and the verse I am referring to now, is just a sample.

வெள்ளைநுண் மணற்கொண்டு தெருவணிந்து
வெள்வரைப்பதன்முன்னம் துறைபடிந்து
முள்ளுமில்லாச் சுள்ளி எரிமடுத்து
முயன்றுன்னை நோற்கின்றேன் காமதேவா
கள்ளவிழ் பூங்கணை தொடுத்துக்கொண்டு
கடல்வண்ணன் என்பதோர் பேரெழுதி
புள்ளினை வாய்பிளந்தானென்பதோர் இலக்கினில்
புகவென்னை ய்கிற்றியே.

Oh Kamadeva! Ardently do I penance and beseech you,
Bathing in water courses in early dawn,
Decorate beautifully the streets with fine sand-white,
And also offer twigs-sans thorns, in the kindling fire,
Oh Cupid! Throw me unto Him
By your flowery arrows with odorous pollens
With nectarine driblets, inscribing Lord’s name,
Who in hue like bluish sea
Tore the beak of ‘Baka’ the demon!
What I find the most beautiful in this poem is the fact the she is considering herself as an arrow to be ‘thrown’ along with the Manmada’s usual flowery arrows.

Ingenious innovation or artistry?
Probably both!

Needless to say all geniuses share such traits. I have been discussing and analysing nuances and intricacies in ILaiyaraaja’s compositions to show as to how enterprising and ingenious he is. No two compositions are alike and even in cases where the tune remains the same, there would be some subtle changes or variations. Most importantly, he thinks out of the box and comes up with unique designs.

Now, take ‘Poo Pookkum Maasam Thai Maasam’ from ‘Varusham 16’(1989). It is a romantic setting with the girl accepting the proposal of her lover. To start with, the composer set it in Keeravani, a deep classical raga. In a way, there is nothing surprising about this, given the fact that this raga as a scale is the harmonic minor in western classical music and therefore is widely used in film music. ILaiyaraaja himself has used this raga ubiquitously.

But as I have said before, it is the usage that matters more than the raga. All said and done, KeeravaNi has the shadja, chatushruti rishabha, saadharaNa gandhara, suddha madhyama, panchama, suddha dhaivata and kaakali nishadha –as per Indian Classical or C, D, D#, F, G, G# and B - as per Western Classical- and anybody with some background in either of these forms can combine the notes and compose (nowadays, one doesn’t need even this as there are gadgets which will take care of everything).

How does he play with these 7 notes?

Let us see that. We shall also see as to how innovatively he has used the taaLa/percussion in keeping with the situation.

Probably, we shall see the second one first. The composition is set to chatushra eka taaLa- the 4-beat cycle. He breaks this into 16 micro-beats per cycle as
ta ki ta/ ta ki ta/ ta ka (twice).

The composition starts without an instrumental prelude. In fact, it has the vocals. Suseela renders ‘Pongalu Pongalu Vaikka..’ and the chorus follows suit.

Now, ‘Pongalu Pongalu Vaikka’ is one ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ta ka. Same is the case with ‘ManjaLu ManjaLu Edu’ and ‘Thangachchi Thangachchi Thangachchi’. We feel the deep seated rhythmic impulses as the resonant percussion sounds only the first syllable and the last two syllables, backing the vocals. As the first line ends, the percussion rounds off playing in mel kaalam(faster mode).

The following line also follows the same pattern in terms of the micro- beats(ta ki ta/ ta ki ta/ta ka) but there is a difference in terms of the percussion. The percussion instruments play all the syllables. As an additional bonus, the bass guitar too joins the party.

Creatively innovative!

The Pallavi in ‘anaagata eduppu’ -starting after the ½  beat- also has a surprise in store with some unusual prayogas. It starts with ‘pa ri ga’ and touches the lower octave ‘ni’. Most importantly, it totally skips ‘ma’ and yet gives the colour of Keeravani.

The flute and the strings which appear as an interjection between the lines is as mesmeric as ever.

If this is just the introduction, how will the main piece be?

Of course with more ingenuity and artistry- says the first interlude.
With power-packed vitality, three different sets of strings play different melodies vivifying the various shades of the raga. After 2 cycles, a single violin takes over and plays with unobtrusive continuity. The group of violins join this now and then subtly and majestically. It is tantalisingly beautiful.

What follows after 6 cycles is yet another magic. The sitar along with the tabla tarang, sounds

 ta ka ta  ki  ta/ta ka ta  ki  ta/ ta ta ta ta ta ta (5/5/6) .

To a discerning ear, it sounds like a veda mantra.

The sitar and the flute are then involved in a dialogue and this musical dialogue shows the grandeur of Keeravani.

The tenderly structured CharaNams have a plenitude of graceful movements and here too, the very sparing use of ‘ma’ cannot be missed. In fact, it is almost like a pentatonic raga with even the ‘ni’ making a rare appearance. Yet, it has the KeeravaNi flavour.

The bewitchingly beautiful flute in the second interlude plays the raga with repose, beautifully aided by the tabla. It is gentle; it is delicate; it sways. The chorus renders the humming with sedateness and the strings play the minor scale like a flash with élan.

Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvellous’, said somebody.

Here, music pierces us with flowery arrows with the nectar dribbling as droplets.

Isn’t this what is called as Artistic Excellence?

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