Wednesday, 16 March 2022

ILaiyaraaja – Musician with a light-hearted spirit

Sense of humour is a virtue.

People with a sense of humour are generally more creative though the reverse may not be true. Any speech or writing peppered with humour, has more chances of being etched in the minds of audience/readers. Examples galore, but I am not getting into that now. Suffice to say that any work which has implicit or explicit humour has more longevity.

There was somebody called Marimutta PiLLai( 18th century), who along with Muttu Thandavar and Arunachala Kavi, is considered as part of the trinity of Tamizh Music. Just for information, the second mentioned (16th Century) is known for composing padams, many of which are still performed by Bharatanatyam artistes now and the last mentioned is known for ‘Rama Nataka kritis’- entire RamayaNa in the form of different kritis- which are performed by Carnatic musicians in the concerts now.

What distinguishes Marimutta PiLLai from the other two, is that aspect which has been mentioned in the beginning. He sang mainly on Nataraja, the presiding deity at Chidambaram, but his songs bordered on sarcasm albeit in a positive way.

In Sanskrit, there is a concept called ‘Ninda stuti’ where the person(mainly God) on whom the song is sung is eulogised though it would seem as if He is being made fun of. Many songs of this composer border on this, but with a difference. While one cannot see the God ‘being pulled down’, one can see ‘the leg pulling’.

Let us look at a song where one sees this ‘leg pulling’ of the Lord who dances lifting one leg:

எந்நேரமும் ஒரு காலைத் தூக்கிக் கொண்டிருக்க வகை ஏதய்யா!

பொன்னாடர் போற்றும் தோலை, நன்னாடர் ஏற்றும் தில்லை பொன்னம்பல வாணரே!!

எக்கிய நெருப்பவிக்க தக்கன் வீட்டில் நடந்ததோ

யமனை உதைத்தபோது எதிர்ச்சுளுக்கேறி நொந்தோ

சிக்கெனவே பிடித்து சந்திரனை நிலத்தினில் தேய்த்த போதினில் உரைந்தோ

உக்ர சாமுண்டியுடன் வாதுக்காடி அசந்தோ

உண்ட நஞ்சு உடம்பெங்கும் உரிக் கால் வழி வந்தோ

தக்க புலி பாம்பு இருவருக்கும் கூத்தாடி ஆடி

சலித்துத்தானோ பொற்பாதம் வலித்துத்தானோ தேவரீர்!


Amused by the single-leg posture, the composer says – Why do you always keep one of your feet lifted?

He then comes up with his own reasons and starts bombarding the Lord with questions.

Is it because you walked on the fire to destroy the yaga of Daksha?

Or is it because when you kicked Yama(to save Markandeya), you sprained your ankle?

Or is it because you took the moon and crushed him under your feet and unable to bear the cold your foot was frozen?

Or is it because of the exhaustion after dancing with KaaLi?

Or is it the effect of the poison (you consumed during the churning of the ocean), with the poison being spread all over Your body affecting your feet in the process?

Or is it your continuous dancing as requested by Vyaghrapada(in the form of a tiger) and Patanjali(in the form of a snake) made you too tired that Your feet started hurting (and you had no other option but to keep one lifted to ease the pain)?


The song is best listened to in the original form to get the import, but I feel people who know mythology can still appreciate the humour even while reading the translation.

Unlike what is popularly believed, ILaiyaraaja is a person with a great sense of humour. One can see and feel his humour while listening to the background score in comedy scenes or even comedy movies. There are also many songs which can be quoted. People who follow my posts will remember the song and the post of ‘Bangalore Geetanjali’.

The song of the day is just one of the examples of his comical sense. As per the sequence, the son wants to teach a lesson to his father who is a Casanova. There is a ‘in-house classical dance performance’ in front of a guest.

So, the factors here are ‘classical dance’ and ‘sarcasm’, the former being staged to entertain a guest and the latter to teach the Casanova a lesson. The Genius that he is, the Master comes up with a composition in a pure traditional classical raga, with sarcasm running as the undercurrent. The lyrics of KaNNadasan do take care of the second mentioned , but the Maestro decides to tune it and orchestrate in such a way that even people who do not watch the movie(that is, the fortunate ones) are also left in splits.

Thus was born ‘MaappiLLaikku Maaman Manasu’(NetrikkaN- 1981). Based purely on Kharaharapriya- which in fact has been in existence right from the Tamizh Sangam period, being one of the ‘Paalais’ from which ‘PaNs’ were born. In Hindustani music, this raga is called ‘Kaafi’. Not surprisingly, this scale is Dorian mode in ancient Greek music and is part of the minor scale in Western Classical Music.

The composition starts with a free flowing akaaram of Suseela. The brief delineation itself is enough to firmly establish the raga. In fact, it gives the sketch of the raga in no time. The percussion which joins after 5 seconds sounds not in Indian classical style and not without any reason.

The Indian percussion starts now and it is a fusillade of sorts. The mandolin plays in Kharaharapriya, ably followed by the VeeNa and VeNu which repeat the same melody but in their own style. The percussion backs the melody with glee.

The Pallavi in the voice of Suseela is finely etched. But what brings a smile on our faces is the accompaniment of the western percussion throughout. The guitar repeats the second line making us simper. Technically speaking, the song starts with the descending notes- Sa ni da pa- not a regular occurrence. But it is the last line where one cannot but appreciate the brilliance of the composer. It goes like -pa ni dha/ma dha pa/ ga pa ma/ri ma ga- just a transposition of notes from their normal position and more than anything else, doesn’t this give us a different feeling?

The guitar in the beginning of the first interlude is powerful and yet soft. There is even a trace of nonchalance in the way it goes around. The Indian and Western percussion back the following melody from the bass guitar which even sounds as if it is tittering. The VeeNa enters with a sense of calm and plays a classic Kharaharapriya with panache.

Contrasts make a poem or a musical composition more beautiful. Here we see how contrasts make us giggle. This is because of the melody from the keys which responds to the VeeNa. Undeterred, the VeeNa plays yet again but a different melody this time with the keys following again.

It is a classical laugh riot!

The first part of the CharaNam moves smoothly and sedately in the voice of Suseela with the higher-octave notes peeping in now and then. The entry of Malaysia Vasudevan changes the complexion with the akaaram which touches the nooks and crannies of Kharaharapriya in a flash. The last line, yet again shows the Classical Raaja at his best with the swaras climbing up- rigama/ gamapa/mapadha/padhani/padhaniRi. The subtle synth in the background towards the end, does make one chuckle.

The synth in fact, plays a major role in the second interlude where the jatis are rendered. Though the fact that the way the jatis are constructed and rendered itself, makes one smile, the synth that follows the jatis, make one chortle, guffaw and cackle.

After all, sense of humour is a virtue. Sense of humour is musical. Sense of humour is rhythmic.

If you have any doubt, ask the one who dances with one foot lifted..


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