Thursday, 2 June 2022

ILaiyaraaja- The Dazzling Musician


What makes a poem beautiful?

Is it the words used? Is it the way these are used? Is it the description? Or is there anything beyond all these?

Here is a poem from Kalitthogai, which is part of the Cangam literature:

ஒரு குழை ஒருவன் போல், இணர் சேர்ந்த மராஅமும்

பருதி அம் செல்வன் போல், நனை ஊழ்த்த செருந்தியும்

மீன் ஏற்றுக் கொடியோன் போல், மிஞிறு ஆர்க்கும் காஞ்சியும்

ஏனோன் போல், நிறம் கிளர்பு கஞலிய ஞாழலும்

தீது தீர் சிறப்பின் ஐவர்கள் நிலை போல

போது அவிழ் மரத்தொடு பொருகரை கவின் பெற

நோ தக வந்தறால், இளவேனில்

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The Kadamba(Oak) tree with clusters of flowers resembles Balarama with a single ear ring, the Cherunthi (Golden blossom) tree with its red buds resembles the Sun, with the bees humming, the Kanchi(Portia) tree resembles the one with the fish flag(Manmatha), the gnaazhal tress resembles Saama, the brother of Manmatha, the ilavam (Silk cotton) resembles the one whose flag has the bull(Shiva). With these 5 trees resembling the faultless 5 Gods, the shore looks beautiful. But alas! The shore is attacked by the waves. Early summer has set in.

The heroine who is filled with love and therefore filled with thoughts about her man, describes the different trees and compares each tree with a God(note that Balarama and even Saama, who is little known and who is supposedly the brother of Kaama, are considered as Gods here!). But unable to bear the separation, she says that the summer has set in just to trouble her.

While the beauty of the trees reminds her of the days when she was with him, the waves and the summer show the reality, that is the separation. Moreover, Manmatha and his brother are soft while the other three are aggressive. Can contrasts get any better than this?

What makes the poem beautiful- words, their usage, the description, the similes or the contrasts?

The answer is - all of the above plus that ‘something’ which cannot be described but which can be felt by the reader.

It is this ‘something’ which makes a work exceptional and matchless.

On this special day, let us look at one such work which though is not a poem, has that remarkable beauty. After all, isn’t great music, poetic and great poem, musical?

Without a trace of doubt, ‘Meenkodi theril Manmatha raajan’ from ‘Karumbu Vil’(1980) is musically poetic. It is a romantic song of course, but the very mention of Kaama’s name gives it a special complexion and must have made the composer tune it in Mohanam, a raga which is happy, romantic and classical. It also has an hidden poignancy which can be felt only by people who are ultra-sensitive.

Mohanam has always attained a very special status in the hands of the Maestro and this song is no exception.

The very beginning of the song is different. It starts with a thunder like sound as if to welcome the Kaamadeva. The bass percussion sounds ‘ta ka dhi’ leaving the last syllable ‘mi’ out. The chorus starts with flourish with an humming which sounds like tribal folk. In fact, this humming itself is the leitmotif of the song. Even as the humming reaches a crescendo with the percussion sounding the pattern seen in the beginning, the shehnai takes over and imperceptibly gives a perceptible auspicious feeling. The percussion now sounds ‘ta – dhi mi’ giving kaarvai between the first and the third syllable. The santoor follows and gives the sketch of Mohanam in a trice.

The Pallavi in the voice of Yesudas sounds alluringly beautiful with only two swaras -ri and ga- appearing in the major part of the first line and the individual swaras repeating themselves- gagagagaga/papapapapa/dhadhadhadha/ giving it a special sheen. The last line shows the brilliance of the composer with three swaras joining together and going in a descent-Sadhapa/dhapaga/pagari/garisa.

The eclectic electric guitar gives some ornate images of Mohanam in the beginning of the first interlude. The chorus follows and sings the tribal humming which covers Mohanam exhaustively with the tapering at the end, making it more enticing.

It is the translucent melody from the flute which gives a kind of tantalising effect, in keeping with the quality of Manmatha. How this has mesmerised even the other instruments is obvious from the way the guitar sounds towards the end.

The lines in the CharaNams are beguilingly beautiful and what gives this quality is the way the swaras are aligned with the higher-octave Ri and Ga making their appearance. Added to this is the bewitching melody from the santoor after the first line. The fact that the first two phrases in the beginning(and this includes the Pallavi as well) go without percussion cannot be missed.

The shehnai is the beginning of the second interlude takes us to empyrean heights and this is not just because it plays in higher-octave but also because of the softness and suppleness in the sound. The long flute which appears for the first time, is coruscating and spreads a divine light. There is that subtle sense of poignancy too which shows the contrast of life.

The chorus continues the journey in higher-octave with the santoor sounding with a sense of aesthetics.

What makes a piece of music beautiful?

Swaras? The way these are used? The instruments? The way these are used? The raga? The way it is used?

Or is there anything beyond all these?

Perhaps the five different trees might give an answer. Perhaps, they may not.

Beauty has to be felt.

When words fail, there is feeling. When words fail, there is Music!

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