Friday, 2 June 2017

ILaiyaraaja – The Alchemist

What determines the process of transformation?

When something or somebody undergoes a transformation, does that thing or that person realise that ‘yes, the transformation is in progress’?
Like many questions, this one is not that easy to answer. For that to happen, we need to transform ourselves.

Let us look at this very interesting episode. Thirumangaiyaazhwar, one of the 12 Vaishnavaite saints, goes to a temple in ThiruindaLur, a place near Nagappattanam and looks at the Lord. Words start oozing out from his mouth. Words which are not ordinary;  words which are poetic.

’Once upon a time you were white in colour- as white as the milk. Then you assumed the dark colour(of the clouds).  You were golden in colour and you also had the hues of blue. So, tell me now- What is your real colour? I want to see it here.’’

முன்னை வண்ணம் பாலின் வண்ணம் முழுதும் நிலை நின்ற
பின்னை வண்ணம் கொண்டல் வண்ணம் வண்ணம் எண்ணும் கால்
பொன்னின் வண்ணம் மணியின் வண்ணம் புரையும் திருமேனி
இன்ன வண்ணம் என்று காட்டீர் இந்தளூரீரே.

Generally (or traditionally), Lord VishNu is identified with Blue or Black(AaNdaaL calls him ‘Aazhi mazhai kaNNa’ and ‘KaNNan enum karuntheivam’). Occasionally, poets have associated Him with gold and this had to do more with the heart and less with his ‘complexion’.

But, here is one poet who calls him ‘white’. Is it just to sound different or is there any other meaning?

White is supposed to be pure (no, I am not talking about complexion or the colour of the skin of mortals). White colour is also associated with innocence and goodness. Golden colour is associated with compassion, courage and wisdom while Blue symbolises confidence, intelligence and truth. What is Black then? It symbolises fear and ignorance.

Now, read the poem again. White, Black, Gold and Blue. Note that he asks finally as to what colour is His true colour.

Does the Divine transform Himself? Or do we –mortals- transform ourselves? How does this ‘so called’ Transformation happen?

Yes, I have gone back to the question I asked in the beginning and yet I don’t have an answer. But I do feel that certain things happen within me when I read such poems. It could be because of the beautiful rhyming words of Tamizh. It could be the vibrations which these words give. It could be because of the emotional upheaval. It could be because of the thirst to know the inner meanings. It could be because of the questions raised by the poet. Or it could just be because of the poetic beauty.

Whatever it is, I get transformed.

If great poets like Thirumangaiiyaazhwar had the power to create magic with simple words, some great music composers had (and have) the power to transform us with some simple music.

Needless to say ILaiyaraaja is a living example.

Now, let me clarify on that ‘simple’ part. By ‘simple’, I don’t mean ‘easy’. Nor do I undermine the intricate complexities inherent in his music.

Composing music for film songs is not as easy as it is perceived to be. But what distinguishes a genius from others is the ability to create compositions which sound simple and yet have hidden complexities.

The song I have taken up on this special day is an example.

Suvvi Suvvi’ from ‘Swati Mutyam’(1986) is a song which is very pleasing to listen to. If you take out the beginning, it sounds simple. There are certain other features of the interludes too and I shall touch upon these soon.

But is it simple?

The composition is based on Madhyamavati, a classical raga. This raga is supposed to be a very auspicious raga which is capable of driving away all evils. I am not going to get into the details of the sequence in the movie and how aptly the Maestro chose this raga for this situation. My objective here is different.

The tune which sounds very classical in the beginning, changes colours and sounds folksy in the interludes and then it is a mix of classical and folk in the charaNams.
How does this transformation happen?

Let us first look at the beginning.

It starts with SPB humming something. That ‘something’ finally turns out to be Madhyamavati. He first goes to the taara Shadja (upper ‘Sa’), has difficulty in touching the mandra shadja (lower ‘.sa’) and finally is able to touch that with the help of the person who is a music teacher.

What a musical transformation!

What happens during this process is that we are exposed to different facets of Madhyamavati. But it does not stop just with this. He attempts to climb up again. This successful attempt covers the entire gamut of the raga. It is an exponential curve which finally culminates in a pure classical rendition of the raga by the teacher (Janaki touches new heights here!). The jiva swaras of the raga- ‘ri’ and ‘ni’- form the undercurrent of this exposition in which brigas flow like a cascade and where the melody pulls us like the gravitational force.

The first line of the Pallavi is reminiscent of a telugu folk song.But the same line when rendered the second time, glistens with classical hues with some added sangatis. The mesmeric flute and the translucent bells appear in between and make it more attractive. Towards the end, we literally hear the ripples.. ripples of music.
The ripples continue in the first interlude as well.

That the Maestro is adept in using natural sounds is a well known fact. And yet what he does here is unusual and unthinkable. He starts the interlude with the  strings which play with a passionate charm. Then he sounds Madhyamavati with water and the kudam(vessel used for carrying water). Is a raga possible with water and a vessel? Yes, if it a jalatarangam. But here, he does tarangam with jal without the help of any proper musical instrument.

Raaga Raaja joins hands with Laya Raaja with the ‘water’ and the ‘kudam’ sounding in tisram. He gives the ‘kaarvai’ too.

The water first sounds  ta – dhi – ta (3 broken down to 6 with the 2nd,4th and the  6th being silent) and the vessel responds in the same pattern.

The pattern then changes to ‘ta ka dhi - - -‘.

It is ‘ta ka dhi mi ta –‘ then and finally ‘ta ka dhi - - -‘.

That is the Maayajaal of Raaja Jala Tarangam!

The interlude is then inundated with a flood of melodious phrases. The humming of SPB to the backing of the strings is sublime and sumptuous while the sitar/keys/flute melody is sensitive. The three instruments sound different combination of swaras in their unique way. The sound from the keys is dainty, the one from the sitar is imperious while the raga from the flute is classical, showing the beauteous niches of Madhyamavati.

The lines in the CharaNams have an intense emotional base. But these also abound with rich musical sentiment illuminating the raga in the process. The mid octave notes dominate the lines with the jiva swaras playing no small role yet again. The taara shadja (upper ‘Sa’) appears in the second and third line with the taara rishabham(upper ‘Ri) appearing only twice in the fourth line. This indicates the poise and also is in keeping with the sequence.

Another point to be noted here is the absence of any melodic instrument backing the vocals-which is again not usual in his CharaNams. The bass guitar alone backs the vocals in a very subtle tone. The flute appears towards the latter half of the CharaNams, between the 5th and the 6th lines.

Percussion plays the Tisram in madhyama kaalam in the first 6 lines while it plays in the mel kaalam(faster mode) in the 7th line. However, here again there is a contrast with the tempo of the vocals slowing down when the line is rendered the second time . This time the percussion instrument is totally absent and the rhythm guitar alone backs the vocals.

The Nature Lover does it again in the second interlude. It starts with the subtle fading away of the flute sound. Almost simultaneously, the sound of the bells(the ones tied around the neck of the cow) follows in Madhyamavati. A special soft and malleable sound from a stringed instrument follows. We are enveloped by the melody from the flute which makes swirling sancharas in Madhyamavati. In fact, all these three sound together-sans percussion- taking us to empyrean heights.

The sitar takes over and sounds with expressional elegance. No, it is not the sitar alone. There is the sound from the strings too which play in higher octave with musical sensitivity. The sitar falls silent after two tisrams and the strings and a single stringed instrument caress us like feathers. This happens twice. The strings then aquiver with pleasure, bringing out the dignity and grace of Madhyamavati and Tisram in the process. After two  ‘ta ka dhi mi/ ta ka’ s played literally by the group of strings, the sharp percussion plays ‘ta ka dhi mi/ ta ka’ twice.

Transformation at its best!

What determines the Transformation?

I am sure this cannot be answered even by Thirumangaiyaazwaar and ILaiyaraaja..
..because the answer lies in their works!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

ILaiyaraaja - The Intrepid Musician

Being fearless is an art.

It may be one of the traits or qualities of some people but the fact remains that it is an art for the simple reason that when people show no fear, there is that aesthetic element which is hidden and unseen..

However, this element is so obviously seen if the fearless person happens to be an artiste or a poet. Let me hasten to add that I am talking about the positive fearlessness and not about the negative fearlessness which leads to all kinds of crimes.
So, what happens when an artiste or a poet is fearless? Put in simple words, their works become immortal.

Take AruNagirinaathar for example. After having indulged in many acts (not necessarily positive), he became a completely transformed man when his attempt to commit suicide was thwarted by the Divine Force. He chose to chart a new path in composing verses. ‘Chandam’(loosely translated as the rhythm and rhyme) formed the fulcrum of his verses and rather than using the taaLaas in vogue as per the classical texts, he used his own taaLaas which had some unusual number of syllables.

The Thiruppugazh thus attained a form of its own- Eight lines, different chanda taaLaas, liberal use of words, adapting and incorporating many Sanskrit words..
The eight lines did not have any standard length (unlike the Ashtapadis) and varied from Thiruppugazh to Thiruppugazh. There are long Thiruppugazhs and short Thiruppugazhs though the eight-line standard was stuck to. The ‘liberal use of words’ described in detail about even things which not many Bhakti poets dared to talk about(‘Naaliyara Divya Prabhandam’ too has the erotic element but that is totally different. Probably, I shall explain the difference in one of the forthcoming posts).

Apart from the ‘Thiruppugazh’, AruNagiri composed many other works like ‘Kandar Anubhooti’, ‘Kandar Alankaaram’, ‘Kandar Andhadhi’(I have quoted verses from each one of these in my posts), but my favourite remains the ‘Mayil Viruththam’ which describes the aggression of peacock in a unique way. Here, words dance literally to the rhythm of the song and I enjoy reading these verses aloud because not only is it aesthetically and musically beautiful, but it also drives away one’s fear.

See this verse:

தீரப் பயோததி திக்கும் ஆகாயமும்
செகதலமும் நின்று சுழலத்

திகழ்கின்ற முடி மவுலி சிதறி விழ வெம் சிகைத்
தீக்கொப்புளிக்க வெருளும்

பாரப் பணாமுடி அநந்தன் முதல் அரவெலாம்
பதைபதைத்தே நடுங்கப்

படர் சக்ரவாளகிரி துகள் பட வையாளி வரு
பச்சை ப்ரவாள மயிலாம்

ஆர ப்ரதாப புளகித மதன பாடீர
அமிர்த கலசக் கொங்கையாள்

ஆடு மயில் நிகர் வல்லி அபிராம வல்லி பர
மாநந்த வல்லி சிறுவன்

கோர த்ரிசூல த்ரியம்பக ஜடாதார
குரு தரு திருத்தணி கைவேள்

கொடிய நிசிசரர் உதரம் எரி புகுத விபுதர் பதி
குடி புகுத நடவு மயிலே.

Ironically enough, this verse describes as to how the entire Universe trembles with fear when the peacock (vaahana of Lord Muruga) dances:

Seas and Oceans, Eight directions (Dishas), the sky, and the earth (bhoo loka) rotate with force; Thousand locks fall from the heavy, fire-spewing hot hoods of the fear stuck Adisesha and the other serpents as they tremble with fear; The huge ChakravaaLa mountain breaks into pieces; All these happen when the peacock-with the green and coral hued feathers- takes its beautiful flight and dances.

Only poets who are fearless can even imagine composing such verses.

Like AruNagiri, ILaiyaraaja is fearless. That he broke new grounds in orchestration and arrangement with courage of conviction, is known to many and does not need more elaboration at least now. But what I find more interesting and intriguing is the way he has used the ragas.

In film music, one has the liberty of breaking the rules of grammar, as mentioned by me time and again. All great composers in Indian Film Music have done this time and again. However, it is one thing to break the rules just to make it sound ‘light’; it is quite another to do it as an experiment to enhance the quality of the song. Most importantly, here classicism does not take a back seat. On the other hand, it sounds more classical.

Let me explain. The uniqueness of the Indian classical system is its ragas. As some of you know, each raga has a set of ascending and descending notes which when rendered correctly, gives the shade(s) of the respective raga(s). The raga changes its colour even if one note is changed.

It is not uncommon to add alien notes in a film music composition(this is done in some of the classical forms too, tumri in Hindustani music being a classic example). ILaiyaraaja has done this too. But changing the variant of one particular note in the midst of a composition, requires a lot of guts, gumption and most importantly, knowledge.

The song I am taking up today is one such composition.

The beautiful aspect in ‘Maanin iru kaNgaL koNda maane maane’  from ‘MaappiLai’ (1989) is not that it is based on a classical raga called MayamalavagowLa but in the way a variant of one of the swaras is changed to give a different raga. But the most beautiful aspect is that unless people listen with utmost concentration, the transition cannot be made out.

MayamalavagowLa is a unique raga and the basic lessons in carnatic music are taught in this raga. The swaras used in this raga are the shuddha rishabham(ri1),  antara gandharam(ga3), shuddha madhyamam(ma1), shuddha dhaivatam(dha1) and kaakali nishadam(ni3) apart from the shadjam(sa) and the panchamam(pa). Now, if one changes one of the variants of any swara, it leads to a different raga. This is what happens in ‘Maanin iru kaNgaL’. The variant of ‘ri’ is changed from ‘shuddha’(ri1) to ‘chatushruti’(ri2) in the CharaNams and it transforms to Sarasangi.

Let us see the composition fully to understand this better.

The song starts with a flourish with the higher octave violins moving with a sense of purpose rather ebulliently. A closer observation suggests that these play the chatushram syllables-ta ka dhi mi- in mel kaalam 16 times in the first cycle with the drums sounding just a couple of times. After having reached a crescendo, these give way to the bass guitar, which again sounds the chatushram beats in mel kaalam with the drums backing it. The chorus starts the different humming with a touch of tenderness even as the bass guitar and the drums continue to play. The strings and the flute appear briefly and alternately adding to the momentum. There are at least 3 sets of percussion and this makes the prelude robust.

There is serenity too when the chorus and the instruments pause three times. Isn’t silence very beautiful when observed at the right time?

The Pallavi has the Raaja Muththirai with the first line being rendered almost without percussion. The structure is innovative with the upper Sa being sandwiched between the mid octave swaras and the swaras descending towards the end. If this is the structure in the first and the second line, the lines that follow have some interesting prayogas like ‘dha ma ma dha’ and ‘ma ma ma ri ri ma ga’.

The voices of SPB and Janaki  add to the special aroma. So does the keys sound which appears towards the end of the Pallavi.

The enticing bass guitar sounds resonantly in the beginning of the first interlude to signal what is in store. An instrument sounding like the clarinet (or is it clarinet itself?) gives the resplendent shades of MayamalagowLa with the chorus humming different sets of notes simultaneously. How can harmony be complete without the flute? The flute appears now and then and plays with unique limpidness.

The harmony continues in the next segment with two sets of strings playing different sets of notes simultaneously- with one set playing the melody played by the clarinet in the previous segment and the other set playing the humming notes of the chorus.
Dynamically aesthetic!

The dynamism continues with the bass guitar entering briefly and leading to the first CharaNam.

That the CharaNams have attractive phrases is not the only highlight here. For most part of the first line, only two swaras ‘ni’ and ‘Sa’ are used. Just towards the end of the line, the O’Henry Raaja gives us a twist. As already mentioned before, the swaraRi2(chatushruti rishabham) appears just once and the raga transforms to Sarasangi.
The swara appears again just once in the second line, which too has just two swaras –pa and dha- for most part with the ni  and Sa appearing later. The CharaNam continues in Sarasangi till the 6th line. The following line does not have the rishabham and yet one starts feeling MayamalavagowLa here. The last line has the shuddha rishabham(ri1) just once.

 This is what is called as the Composer’s Brilliance and this proves yet again that it is not the swara alone which determines the raga.

The second interlude-as usual- sounds different and is marked by the percussion underpinnings. The percussion sounds ‘ta - dhi - /- - dhi mi’ giving kaarvai. The chorus hums in a folksy style without deviating from the raga and one does not fail to see the Arabic shades of the raga here. The strings swirl with elan and then go on to romance with the keys which sound with sweet exuberance. It is intense and at the same time sedate.
Isn’t fearlessness an art?
Let us ask the peacock of AruNagirinathar!

Check this out on Chirbit


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?

Saturday, 26 November 2016

ILaiyaraaja - The Enterprising Musician

He sees the peacocks dance. He thinks of her.

He sees the deer. He thinks of her eyes.

He sees and smells the Mullai flowers. He thinks of her forehead.

He sees the rain clouds. He decides to beat them.

He rushes faster than the rain clouds-to see her!

This beautiful description is from a poem which is part of AinkuRunooRu, which in turn is part of the 2,500 year old Sangam poetry.

நின்னே போலும் மஞ்ஞை ஆல நின்
நன்னுதல் நாறும் முல்லை மலர
நின்னே போல மா மருண்டு நோக்க
நின்னே உள்ளி வந்தனென்
நன்னுதல் அரிவை காரினும் விரைந்தே.

Written by a poet called Peyanaar, this poem-like many other Tamizh Sangam poems- is special in many ways, but what I love the most is the last line where the Hero describes her forehead as ‘most beautiful’(note that he says this   for the second time) and the way he says that he came rushing faster than the rain clouds.

Is it humanly possible to race with the clouds? Though we know it is not, we can’t stop appreciating the poetic imagination. Yes, fantasising is interesting and poetic too.

The second line is interesting as well. It can be interpreted as ‘the mullai flowers blossomed because of the beauty of her forehead’ or ‘the forehead became more beautiful expecting her beloved’ or ‘the forehead shined with beauty after seeing him’.

Comparisons with peacocks and deer may not be new in literature but the way this poem is conceived speaks volumes of the aesthetic imagination of the poet. People familiar with Tamizh language will enjoy reading this poem aloud (provided of course that their diction is good).

Being imaginative and inventive are the virtues of artistes and poets but these have to be aesthetic and beautiful. Otherwise, it loses its charm and the value too.
This applies to music as well. I have seen and heard some musicians indulge in something novel and ‘unique’ but not many have succeeded in giving that aesthetic feeling. This is because the entire exercise is done more to showcase their intellectual prowess. By saying this, I am not denying the existence of some genuine musicians whose novel ideas have sounded aesthetic and beautiful. In any case, my intention here is not to denigrate the works of the geniuses but only to share my thoughts on some ‘intellectual exercises’ without life.

In film music, no other music composer has experimented with music with great success than ILaiyaraaja. I have quoted many examples in this Group and especially in this thread to prove this fact. Treading new and uncharted paths, he has shown us some beautiful trees, flowers and fruits. What is most amazing is that he has done this in mainstream cinema and I am sure none of the film crew involved in making the film(s) is aware of the experimentation.

Vaathiyaar Veettu PiLLai’ was a film released in the year 1989 and I am not getting into the main theme of the publicity materials and advertisements as it is beyond the scope of this discussion. But I must surely talk about the most important aspect of the movie and the reason for its being special. As many of you must have guessed it, I am talking about music. But why do I call it special (his music is special in almost all the movies, anyway)?

It is because for the first time, a raga-which was hitherto not used in films- was used in a song. Coming to think of it, there is nothing unusual about this because he is known for using rare ragas. Yet, I feel using a raga like this in films-especially sentimentally masala movies- requires audacity, gumption, the courage of conviction and a firm grip on classical music. But most importantly, it needs a lot of imagination and inventiveness.

Gamanashrama is the 53rd meLa raga in Carnatic Music and though at least two very popular ragas-Hamsanandi and Poorvi KalyaNi- are derived from this meLa, it is not a very popular raga in the carnatic concert circuit with just about 2 or 3 compositions. Not only did ILaiyaraaja use it(for the first time in the history of film music) but also made it sound beautiful.
Hey Oru Poonjolai’ is a composition par excellence and the rhythmic patterns and the way the percussion is used, play no smaller role in this.

The flute and the strings play counter melody in the beginning weaving a graceful succulent web. This continues for 2 taaLa cycles without percussion. The chorus starts the akaaram and as if waiting for this opportunity, the percussion sounds with resonance. There are at least two sets of percussion instruments here, with one set sounding with a unique sharpness. The 3-beat tisram is broken into 6 maatras as ta ka dhi mi ta ka with the sharp percussion sounding ta – dhi mi and the other one sounding ta -.

The stage is set for a raga-taaLa bhaava with the shehnai accompanying the chorus and giving the raga imagery with the flute simpering first and finally swirling to guide us to the Pallavi.

Starting with the taara(upper) shadja(Sa), the first line goes descending (in the avarohana pattern). What is to be noted here is the absence of the panchamam(pa) giving the Hamsanandi shade. The panchamam makes its appearance in the subsequent lines to prove that it is after all the mother raga and that the daughter was shown just to play around!

The ‘now and then’ appearance of the flute, the backing of the keys and the rhythm guitar to the vocals(SPB and Chitra) show the combination of tenderness and melody while the sound of Jaalra in the second beat of every alternate tisram shows the inventive Laya Raaja.

With great solicitude, the strings move sans the percussion, in the beginning of the first interlude. The chorus repeats the melody in akaaram with the percussion backing it. The twin-flute follow, playing a rich and smooth melody with the strings repeating that melody.. An invigorating blend of delicacy and dexterity! The twin-flute continue the melody with crispness. The strings peep in at the end and the guitar smiles at them imparting a lyrical mode of expression.

The lines in the CharaNams are chisel- phrased giving the resplendent shades of the raga. The first two phrases of the first two lines have the higher octave notes while the following two phrases have the mid octave notes. The third line has the higher octave notes predominantly, while the fourth line goes descending. The last line moves with a combination of 3 swaras(higher octave) initially and finally with 2 swara-combination. If all these show the Raaga Raaja in full flow, the change in percussion pattern(note that the sharp percussion is totally absent in the charaNams), show the versatility of Laya Raaja.

 The pleasant intrusion of the flute in between the lines adds to the momentum and melody.

The second interlude has his stylised punches with a touch of flamboyance. The ‘claps’ in tisram alternate between the bass guitar and this changes the complexion of the composition to a certain extent. The mesmeric flute enters even as the chorus sings a kind of lullaby. The surprise element is the bass guitar that follows-playing like a lead guitar- and the flute which responds to it. The ending of the second interlude has a touch of poignancy as well. So is the postlude which has the chorus and the flute.

Fantasy at its best.. the peacocks, the deer and the racing of the rain clouds!

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