Wednesday, 3 August 2016

ILaiyaraaja- The Playful Musician

Of all the senses humans have (and this includes the perceived sixth sense), the most significant and effective sense is Sense of Humour.

People can wriggle out of a tough situation just because of this sense. A very tense situation can be made to look very simple using this sense. This sense not only makes us laugh at ourselves without any inhibitions but also makes others laugh (at themselves/at the situation). Humour acts at the physical, mental and emotional level and therefore at the spiritual level too. If this statement sounds funny, think. What is spirituality without the body, mind and emotions being in coordination? Most importantly, what is spirituality without positive feelings? In fact, one who is not positive can never be spiritual and one who is spiritual is always positive. What better way to get positive feeling than that sense of humour? So, next time you come across a person who calls himself/herself as spiritual, check if that person has this sense.

Unlike popularly believed, poets and artistes too have sense of humour, though the degree and the way they express this, varies. For some, it pours out as sarcasm. For example, Mahakavi used sarcasm in some of his poems, especially the ones where he derided the British rule. For example - Oi thilkare namma jaathikku adukkumo- in the same style as ‘Oi nandanaare namma jaathikkadukkumo’..

 In my earlier posts here 2 years back, I covered Humour as an emotion in two different posts and quoted two poems –one by Avvaiyar and the other by Kavi KALamegam. It is one more poem of the latter that I am quoting now. He was called as ‘sledai kavi’(சிலேடை ) because of his natural ability to compose poems  with words which give two or more meanings(all poems can be interpreted in more than two ways but this is different).

Look at this poem:

காக்கைக்கா காகூகை கூகைக்கா காகாக்கை
கோக்குக்கூ காக்கைக்குக் கொக்கொக்க - கைக்கைக்குக்
காக்கைக்குக் கைக்கைக்கா கா.

For the benefit of people who cannot read Tamizh, I am giving it in English:

Kaakkaikaa Kaakoogai Koogaikka Kaakaakkai
Kokkukkoo Kaakkaikku Kokkokka-KaiKaikku
Kaakkaikku Kaikkaaikkaa Kaa.

I can already sense the smile on your faces. So, is this some kind of a blabber written just for fun?

Let us see the meaning:

Kaakkai’ means Crow and ‘Koogai’ means Owl. The crow cannot defeat the owl nor can the owl defeat the crow. This is because a crow cannot see in the night while an owl’s vision is zero during the day. Likewise, a smart king should be like the crane (kokku) which relentlessly and patiently waits for the fish. Otherwise, even if he is strong, he cannot save his kingdom.

This verse shows the sense of humour of the poet, but it also shows his brilliance. Note that he has used only variants of the letter ‘க‌ ‘(ka).

Just an example of a genius with a great sense of humour..

That the musical genius ILaiyaraaja is also endowed with a great sense of humour is not known to many-especially people who criticize him at the drop of a hat. As mentioned earlier, I discussed two different songs in the year 2014 , though there are many more.

Isn’t it time then to take up yet another song which has one in splits even if he/she does not understand Tamizh?

There are many reasons for ‘Kaadal Kasakkudaiah’ from ‘AaN Paavam’(1985) sounding humorous. The wordings seem to have a dig at what is called as ‘Love’ but in reality it only praises Love after marriage. The way the entire song is rendered by the Master himself and the way he has done the arrangement and orchestration speak volumes of his humourous sense. But what the most striking aspect the raga on which the tune  is based.

In Carnatic Music, though all ragas are classical, some are more classical. If I sound Orwellian, it maybe because of the reason that I like Animal Farm, but this is immaterial and irrelevant now. .What is relevant however is the fact that Shanmukhapriya is one such raga which falls under the ‘more classical’ category. Somehow, the Maestro has always been very fascinated by this raga. Yes, many ragas fascinate him but the reason for my saying this is because he has composed many ‘kiNdal’ songs in this raga.  ‘PoNNu Paarkka’(AvaL Oru pachchikuzhandai), ‘Vengaaya Saambarum’(Panneer PushpangaL), ‘Ammaadi chinnapaappa’(IndRu Poi NaaLai Vaa), ‘Vettu Vedippom’(ANNe ANNe), ‘Ooru Vittu Ooru Vandhu’(Karakattakkaran) are some examples of this. But what is more amazing is the fact that the classicism of the raga was never compromised.

Kaadal kasakkudiah’ is probably doubly special because it was he who rendered it.

The prelude is a collage of rhythm. In fact, it has only the different percussion instruments playing variegated patterns in chatushram. The mridangam with its unique resonance plays the 16 micro beats for one cycle with kaarvai in the beginning. The unique sound of mugarsing(or morsing as it is popularly known) follows in the next cycle. The kanjira breaks the 4 into 16 as ta ki ta/ ta ki ta/ta ka/ta ki ta/ta ki ta/ ta ka(3, 3, 2/3, 3, 2).

The following cycle sees the wondrous combination of the synth sound and the drums with the former striking only the first syllable and the latter playing the chatushram in mel kaalam. The mridangam and tabla play all the syllables in the next cycle. But what follows is interesting again. These play as ta ka ta ki ta/ta ka ta ki ta/ta ka dhi mi/ta- 5/5/4/2. Two khandams, one chatushram and one two.. After all, this is what one expects from ‘L’ Raaja(if you think ‘L’ is for love, you are thoroughly mistaken).

So, with the rhythm setting the right tone, the Pallavi bubbles with energy..

The gliding gracefulness cannot be missed. It starts with the upper ‘Ga’ and goes down like ‘Ga Ri Sa ni dha pa dha ma’. A beautiful innovation indeed!

The swaras-pa dha ni- give the signature of the raga, and the sangati in the last line and the descent/ascent in the last phrase show the beautiful facets of the raga. The raga’s name itself suggests it is multifaceted and if it is handled by a multi faceted musician, do we need to say that the experience will be exhilarating?
Another wonderful aspect of the Pallavi is the use of jaalra and a subtle violin backing the vocals. It is ‘L’ Raaja again when the percussion thunders with the third syllable of chatushram in every cycle.

The shehnai plays with ecstasy in the first interlude weaving tassels of swaras of Shanmukhapriya in the process. In between, the guitar responds briefly. It takes over after the shehnai-which by now has drawn a lovely sketch of the raga- and moves with an impish giggle. The shrill flute like sound guides us to the first CharaNam.

The lines in the first CharaNam move with humourous gait albeit classically. The most classical lines are the ones which start with ‘Theatreile..’ and the last two lines. In fact, the last line is like a typical classical swaraprastaram.

Contrast this with the way ‘Kaadal Kasakkudaiah’ is rendered after this and before the second interlude. Marvellously humourous!

The second interlude sees some nice exchanges between the various instruments. First the guitar along with the bass guitar chortles. It does this 4 times and each time, a different set gives repartee. To start with, it is the mridangam. Next is the synth percussion. And finally it is the flute twice, playing different sets of swaras each time. Yet another guitar titters now. It is then the turn of the shehnai. This very classical instrument simpers with the guitar and the flute sniggering and guffawing.

The momentum is maintained in the second CharaNam whose structure is different from that of the first one. Each line(starting with the 5th line) parodies an old song mentioning the respective name of the hero each time. The genius shows his class here too by using the same swaras of the originals songs(‘Manmada leelaiyai’, ‘Nadaiya’,’Hello Hello Sugama’) though each one is based on a different raga. After all, music is universal.

Music is lighter too…
..or is it?

Check this out on Chirbit                                                                                                

Thursday, 2 June 2016

ILaiyaraaja- The Perceptive Musician

That young and beautiful girl sees that man from the balcony and instantly falls for him. That man along with his brother and a sage, looks at her too and disappears Somewhere deep inside she feels she knows him for eons.. She rushes back inside and falls on her bed. Tormented by the thoughts of the man, she is unable to move, unable to talk, unable to sleep. She sweats. Looking at her condition, her friends start fanning her.

Let me stop here for a minute, introduce the girl, the man and most importantly, the poet and then continue.

The girl’s name is Sita, the man- Rama and the poet, Kamban.

This sequence is of course very familiar to many but what may not be familiar(or known) is the fact that in Valmiki’s Ramayana, Sita sees Rama for the first time only during the swayamvara when Rama breaks the Bow. But the great innovator that he is, Kamban adds a lot of imagination to the sequence in Bala KANdam to make it more romantic. Not only is it romantic but is aesthetic too and is a treat for all lovers of poetry in general. In fact, much later, AruNaachala Kaviraayar followed the footsteps of Kamban and incorporated the same sequences in his Rama Nataka kritis. Who can forget the most popular ‘Yaaro ivar yaaro’ in Bhairavi?

Going back to Kamban and his verse, let us see how he describes Sita now.

She is burning inside. Her friends ‘fan’ her to make her cool. Now, the fan rather than cooling her down, spreads the fire (recall what happens in a Hindu ceremony where a agni kuNda is kept and the pundits fan the smoking wood to make it burn intensely!). Her garland burns. Her ornaments burn. And she melts. It seemed as though a golden statue was melting.

அருகில் நின்று அசைக்கின்ற ஆல வட்டக்கால்
எரியினை மிகுத்திட, இழையும் மாலையும்
கரிகுவ, தீகுவ, கனல்வ காட்டலால்,
உருகு பொற்பாவையும் ஒத்துத் தோன்றினாள்.

We feel the smoldering heat in the first 3 lines. The last line is like a snow fall- a sudden one at that. This is one of those poems where the contrast appears only in the last line and that alone is enough to make it shine with beauty.

But apart from the decorative poetic words, where Kamban excels is in the art of understanding his characters. A poet (or for that matter any writer) of course understands his characters well. After all it is he/she who creates the characters. But geniuses like Kamban make the readers ‘feel’ the character and situation as if it happens to them. This is because such geniuses get into the skin of the character as they say! The result ? Ecstasy for connoisseurs!!

The same logic applies to ILaiyaraaja. The reason for his songs sounding so beautiful is because he understands the situation (at times even better than the director. That is why, the picturisation doesn’t match the quality of the songs) so well, assimilates everything and then gives the tune and writes the notes for orchestra.

On this special day, let us see a composition which is very different and even be called as outlandish. Generally, we the listeners expect a duet song to be peppy. We love the beats. We love the steps. In a kind of fantasy mood, we even tend to substitute the hero/heroine with us. Imaginations are always wild you see..

For geniuses too, imaginations are wild but the difference is that while our imaginations are mish-mash, that of the geniuses are beautiful. We saw Kamban’s imagination which was running wild in the first three lines and suddenly changed track. In a similar vein, the song we are seeing today has a very different beginning. It does change track soon, but what makes it a composition par excellence is something else.

Viraha runs as an undercurrent throughout ‘Unnai Edhirpaarththen’ from ‘Vanaja Girija(1994). Such songs can be peppy too. But the composer chose to make it as sober as possible with the result that it leaves us in a state of calmness. We feel the calmness not just while listening to the song but long after it stops playing.

The choice of the raga is interesting too. Madhukauns is a simple audav(pentatonic) raga in Hindustani Music. Surprisingly enough, despite it being the pratimadhyama counterpart of Suddha Dhanyasi-which is a popular raga in Carnatic Music- this raga has been more widely used in Hindustani Music than in Carnatic Music. It goes by the name Sumanesa Ranjani in Carnatic Music and there are very few compositions, these too composed in the latter half of the 20th Century. In film music, only Raaja sir has used it more prolifically.

Yet another different feature of ‘Unnai Edhirpaarththen’ is that the male voice (SPB) appears only in the second CharaNam and continues till the end.. The female voice (Swarnalatha)sings the Pallavi and the first CharaNam and does not appear at all again. Unique indeed! Probably we can call it as two solos in one song!! But again, the ubiquitous chorus which is superimposed on both the male and the female voices stop us from saying so. Without a doubt, a new genre.

If one listens to the first part of the prelude, he/she can be excused for believing that it is an eerie song, probably sung by a ghost. We hear the sound of the breeze first and this is followed by a sustained sound of the keys and a humming. The latter is backed by the rhythm guitar but still the thought of the ghost lingers in our minds. It is the stringed instrument- which sounds like a cross between a mandolin and a guitar- which brings us to the mortal world. The fading effect before the Pallavi is exciting and enticing too.

The Pallavi is sensitive and elegant and has a mesmeric quality. While the suppleness is not a thing which can be easily missed, what should not be missed is the rhythmic pattern. There are two sets of-one giving a very subtle sound and the other, a soft ‘whip like’ sound. The 4- beat chatushram cycle is divided as

Ta ka dhi mi/ ta ka dhi mi/ ta ki ta/ ta ki ta/ ta ka
(4                 /4                  /3          /3           /2)

But the percussion plays only the first syllable in the first part, the first and the third in the second part, leaves the entire third part blank, plays the first and second syllable in the fourth part and leaves the last one blank.

This ‘kaarvai’ has the desired effect in the composition and our heart beats too are in sync with these beats.

This pattern is maintained throughout except in some phases and we shall see that soon.

Another aspect of the composition is the chorus which backs the vocals humming different sets of notes. Of course, the instruments too back the vocals almost throughout the composition. All these take us to a dreamy world.

That this composer has an instinct to stratify different melodies is a known fact. In this composition, this is done so beautifully that it is like a façade of tranquility and peace. Musical architecture!

With felicitous fluidity, the strings move along with the other special stringed instrument in the first interlude. The keys give a smiling repartee. The chorus takes over and the ever-romantic recorder joins now playing in its usual shrill tone. The bass guitar and the rhythm guitar too show up now and then. A musical treat to be savoured gently without any interruption.

The lines in the CharaNams are etched with musical motifs and at the same time, are contemplative. These too create some special moments of solitude. Technically speaking, the prati madhyma(ma2) is used as a metaphor for viraha and this shows the brilliance of the composer(yet again).

The second interlude is a blend of delicacy and dexterity. The strings sound with regality. After a brief pause, the second set of strings replies gracefully. The tabla tarang enters now and sounds ‘ta ki ta/ ta ki ta/ ta ka’. Note that the percussion which has been there consistently from the Pallavi playing the pattern described earlier, is silent here. The interplay between the two sets of strings and the tabla tarang continues for 2 cycles.  The strings then repeat the same melody and this time the original two sets of percussion return with their pattern. The recorder plays a different melody even as the strings move. The chorus hums in lower octave with the stringed instrument playing the same melody played by the strings. It bubbles with emotional ripples.

Are we already melting like the Golden Sita?

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.

Friday, 15 April 2016

ILaiyaraaja- The Tender-Hearted Musician

Quite often we come across terms like- ‘it touched my heart’ ‘oh, it was a moving rendition’, ‘melting..’, ‘heartwarming’, ‘soul stirring’..

What makes one say all these? Is it because of their emotional quotient? Is it because of their sensibility? Is it because of their aesthetic sense? Or is it simply because of their predisposition to certain things?

Before I go further, let me tell you that the fact that we human beings are guided by our emotions cannot be refuted or denied. What makes us more emotional and what makes us less emotional or even what makes us emotionless (!) depend on various factors. At times, it is ingrained in our DNA. At times, our environment and our upbringing influence this. At times, what we read, what we see and what we listen to and what we have experienced so far have an impact on this. Many a times, it is a combination of all these.

That is why, what appeals to one may not appeal to somebody else. After all, didn’t the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius say ‘what is food for one man may be bitter poison to others’ as early as 1st Century BC? Is it then true that everything in this world is relative and subjective? If yes, is there nothing like ‘refined tastes’ and ‘sophistication’ in this world?

Any great work of art has the capacity to ‘move’ us. But again, if we do not find anything great in a work considered to be great by many, is it the problem with us or is it with the work? Or worse still, is it the problem with the majority?

Point to ponder..

In my view (and this itself sounds subjective!), if a work touches our heart, makes us emotional in a genuine way and also makes us explain as to why we are moved by it, then it is a great work.

Rather than elaborating this, let me quote a poem from the Sangam literature:

 நின்ற சொல்லர் நீடு தோறு இனியர்
என்றும் என் தோள் பிரிபு அறியலரே;
தாமரைத் தண் தாது ஊதி, மீமிசைச்
சாந்தில் தொடுத்த தீம் தேன் போல,
புரைய மன்ற, புரையோர் கேண்மை;
நீர் இன்று அமையா உலகம் போலத்
தம் இன்று அமையா நம் நயந்தருளி
நறு நுதல் பசத்தல் அஞ்சிச்
சிறுமை உறுபவோ? செய்பு அறியலரே!

Here is a girl who talks about her man to her friend who says he might go away very soon.

Says she,

Sweet in nature, he keeps his words always. Never does he leave my shoulders. His Love is as great as the honey from the cool pollen of the lotus kept on top of the sandal tree. The world cannot exist without water. I cannot exist without him. Can he even think of afflicting my fragrant forehead with green sickness? No, he can’t even imagine doing this!

This of course is a loose translation and I have tried my best to give the essence. The poem is replete with symbolism, allegories and similes. Take the one related to the lotus pollen for example. Lotus flower as such is known for balance, calmness and for its sense of duty. By specifically mentioning lotus and not just saying any flower in general, the poet emphasises the character of the man (of course as seen through the eyes of the girl). The pollen is symbolic of his heart, the sandal wood indicates the girl’s heart and the honey is their love. The symbolism of water and the world is of course too obvious to be explained (in fact, later on, ThiruvaLLuvar adapted the line in one of his kuRaLs).

But what defines the poem and moves me or touches my heart is the last line where the girl says ‘can he think of doing this to me?No, he doesn’t even know how to do it’. One sees the love of the girl, her unshakable trust in him and most importantly her innocence in these four words, making one even wonder as to what happened after that.

Did he go away? Did she cry? Did he come back?  

This is what a great work can do to us. Not only does it make us appreciate the beauty but it also melts our hearts. Of course, it makes us raise some questions which remain unanswered.

That poem was written by Kabilar more than 2500 years ago and is part of ‘NatRiNai’, one of the works during the sangam era.

It is not that only poetic works and that too composed two millenniums ago, move my heart. Many contemporary works -and not necessarily poems- too melt my heart. The musical composition I am taking up today is one such work.

In fact, there are many reasons for me to be moved by ‘Yenaadu vidiponi mudivesene’ from ‘Sri Kanakamahalakshmi Dance Troupe’(1987).  First of all, it is based on Ahir Bhairav. Next, it is set to the 5-beat Khandam. Then, it is the magnificent (should I say soul-stirring?) rendering by Janaki and SPB(see for yourself as to how different the latter sounds). Of course, how can I leave out the brilliant, thoughtful and spontaneous orchestration?

Let me first say a few words about the raag. As the name suggests, Ahir Bhairav is a Hindustani raag. Though some (or even many) call it as the counterpart of the Carnatic raga ChakravAgam, the fact is that the two raagas differ in the way of rendering. There are some prayogas in Ahir Bhairavi which give it a distinction. For example, the ‘ga ma ri sa’ and ‘ga ma pa ma ri ri sa’ are used frequently in this raag. Moreover, the vaadi swar(the strongest note) is ‘ma’ and the samvaadi(strong though not the strongest) is ‘sa’. The rishabh(‘re’ or ‘ri’) is made to oscillate while the ‘dhaivat’ (dha) is plain.

This grammar is followed in most of the places in ‘Yenaadu..’

I mentioned about the taaLa and that the composition is set to khandam. Generally, khandam is used in dance for aggression especially in mel kaalam. But this taaLa when used in the keezh kAlam gives an amazing feel and I cannot think of any film music composer other than ILaiyaraaja for effectively using this taaLa like this.

Can we now look at the other aspects too of the composition?

The composition starts rather very differently with the sound of the breeze and the chirping of the birds.  A brief humming of Janaki to the backing of a subtle violin and the bass guitar leads us to the Pallavi. No, there is something before that. The humming itself follows khandam (4 cycles) though there is no percussion. The humming stops and the percussion sounds now with a unique sharpness.  In fact, there are two sets- bell sound and the tabla, with the former sounding all the 5 syllables ta ka/ ta ki ta and the latter sounding the first, third, fourth and the fifth in the first cycle and only the last three in the next cycle. Coming to think of it, the prelude itself underlines the emotional base of the composition.

The Pallavi is captivating and brims with beauty. The emotional overtones in the second and the third lines cannot be missed. Generally in his compositions, the instruments in the Pallavi or in the CharaNams either play after each line (at times after each phrase or after a couple of phrases) or along with the vocals( bass guitar for example). But these bits will play different sets of notes. In ‘Yenaadu..’, the violin which backs the vocals, plays the same notes as that of the vocals. This is somewhat unique.

The first interlude is different too. The swaras rendered at a leisurely pace give perceptive insights into the raag. The sustenance at the shadjam for two cycles is meditative while the swaras that follow-with the flute and the guitar nodding their heads- heighten the experience. So tranquil is the atmosphere that even the percussion decides to remain silent. The profoundly pleasant sitar follows now with the percussion entering slowly and the flute and the guitar nodding again. Janaki now renders swaras again-this time to the backing of percussion- and the sarod repeats the swaras with passion. But what happens after this is stupendous. The bass flute glows with iridescence and after a while it is silence for one cycle followed by the guitar which plays the descending notes.  Isn’t this mesmerising?

His classical compositions are enchanting not so much in the way he sheds light on its beauty as on how that aesthetic beauty evolves in his hands. This composition is a classic example. If he gives the sketch of the raag in the Pallavi and an insight into the raag in the first interlude, he expands the raag in the CharaNams with emotions being the bedrock.  All the three parts of the CharaNams are evocative and provoke the deep seated emotions hidden somewhere inside the heart. Musically too it is elevating with the sympathetic strings appearing after the first, second, third and the fourth lines. The backing of the tabla and the way it plays khandam gives a ghazal feel.

We see the percussive flashes and the playful Laya Raaja in the second interlude. The mridangam sounds ‘ta ka’ and a very different instrument sounding like a moving bell replies ‘ta ki ta ta ka/ta ki ta. 2 cycles of khandam shown very differently and this happens 4 times. A unique bass sound now emanates (probably from a bamboo flute) and plays a kind of infatuated melody with the jaalra alone backing it. The latter in fact plays only the third syllable(ta) leaving others blank. Now, even as this bass sound continues charting a melodic path, there is a call and response between the sitar and the guitar first and between the flute and the guitar next. Finally, the sitar plays a slithering coruscating melody with the resonant bass guitar backing it. The guitar replies. The sitar plays again and then they join together.

Moving.. Stirring..Heartwarming..

Is it or is it not? Or is it just my perception and feeling?
You tell me..