Classical Ilayaraja 10

This is the 10th of 15 articles titled Classical Ilayaraja appeared on Usenet in the 90s.
I’ve added links to the songs, so you can listen as you read.
You could also try my Tamil song search.

The mind is a wondrous subset of the terrific biological entity, the brain. Literally, the heart is often alluded to as the site of thinking. In old Thamizh cinemas, the heroine would invariably say to the villain at some point (like the inevitable rape scene!) “naasakkaara, unakku idhaiyamE illaiyaa?” while the unmindful villain would be busy disrobing her with a terrible “ha ha ha” laughter! Why does the heroine have to say this kind of a scientifically preposterous statement, while it was the villain’s brain that decided to rape her, and not the poor “heart”! Does the evil mind of the villain exist in his brain? If so, where is it in the brain? Or, is the mind just the product of the functioning of the brain? A disease process affecting the frontal lobe of the brain might make an individual loose all his social inhibition and pee in the public, or to go to Bourbon street in New Orleans, or to Mardigraz in Galveston! Damaging the visual cortex of a villain might make him blind, but he might still try to follow the heroine with the help of her bangle noise! Damaging his temporal lobe might render him hearing impaired, but he might still try to get to the heroine with the help of “koondal” scent cues (refer: Thiruvilayadal!). As a last effort you may want to damage his parietal lobe, but then he would still see the heroine, even though he might not know what to do to the heroine! So, where the heaven is the so called MIND?!

The intellectual power of the mind is amazing. More than 2000 years ago, Eratosthenes sits in his ill-built mud house and thinks in the deepest crevice of his neural network “what will be the circumference of the earth”. He does a simple calculation and concludes “about 22,000 miles”! Somewhere amidst the tangle of their neural network the Indians think abstractly about the non-existant numeral and make their magnum opus contribution of “nothing” to the field of mathematics! Just give Einstein a pencil and a paper and a chair and a table. He will fire a couple of neurons in his brain and say a radical theory that the matter and energy are one and the same and that they are interchangeable. As though he was the incarnation of the God himself, he would start theorizing the rules and regulations that govern the movement and functioning of various celestial bodies that are millions of light years away from his chair in New Jersey! His brain might be now floating in a jar of formaldehyde in Missouri city, but where the heaven was his MIND?!

Orchestral music is one of the greatest contribution of the minds of the westerners. Indian classical music, be it carnatic or hindustani, has always encouraged the imagination of the mind to pour out extempore, like a spontaneous volcanoic eruption on the stage. This is evidenced by the weightage that has been given to originality and spontaneous creativity on stage during alapanai (raagam elaboration), sangadhis (singing the same line in different tunes), niraval (singing the critical line of a krithi in different tunes, with lot of emotional appeal), kalapana swaram and lastly in thani avardhanam for the percussionists. On the other hand the orchestral music of the westernists is a well planned one. There might be hundreds of musicians in the orchestra. Each of them play the notes that is given to them. Unlike the Indian classical music, it needs a lot of rehersal and they have several practice sessions before going on the stage. There is creativity involved in western music too, but it is not spontaneous. The composer creates the tune sitting in a serene atmosphere, and it is brought to the public by the orchestra, with a complete suppression of any effort for individual creativity.

One of the greatest achievement of Ilayaraja is that he appropriately used the best of the western and eastern classicism. To wield a huge orchestra is no joke. In many of his carnatic songs he has shown an uncanny skill in organising the orchestral music with a classical splendour.

Vasantha is a fantastic raagam. It is a popular janyam of the unpopular melam Suryakaantham (17th). Its arohanam and avarohanam are Sa Ma1 Ga3 Ma1 Da2 Ni3 Sa; Sa Ni3 Da2 Ma1 Ga3 Ri1 Sa. While traditionally it is believed that Boopalam is the raagam suitable for the dawn, Vasantha is the raagam suitable for the dusk. So, no wonder Ilayaraja used this raagam for a duet which talks about the rain pouring during the dusk! andhi mazhai pozhigiradhu is a great song in the movie Rajapaarvai. Kamalhasan sings this song with Madhavi. It is one of those early songs that showed the full fervency of Ilayaraja’s mind for creativity. The classical orchestral grandeur of this song was unbelievable at that time. I distinctly remember hearing this song for the first time in “Oliyum Oliyum” in Madras Doordarshan. Those days we were living in the Telephone quarters in Kilpauk, Madras. Since we did not have a TV, we used to go to our neighbour’s house. They had a merciless “hundiyal” right at the door, which demanded 25 paise for each program! Well, getting to see songs like andhi mazhai for just 25 paise was definitely worth the money!

Ilayaraja starts the song with a prelude of “pop pop pop poboppo” by the chorus. The sudhdha madhyamam in Vasantha has served as the starting point for many classical krithis. Ilayaraja too starts his “pop pop” in the madyamam like “Ma Ma Ma Ma Ga Ma Da”. Classically, the transition from Ma to Da is not a straight one. There is a subtle Ni in between. That is, when the musicians say Da they go all the way to Ni and then drop down to the daivatham. Ilayaraja starts the pallavi “andhi mazhai” like Ma Ma Ma, Ga Ma Da Ma Ga, Ga Ma Da Ma Ga Ma Ga Ri, Ma Ga Ga Ri Ri Sa. It is a beautiful start. All the hidden melody in the swaras of Vasantha are extracted in the pallavi itself. Even in the charanam his mind seems to be bent upon extracting all the melody in the Ga Ma Da transition. He starts the charanam like Ga Ma Da Ma, Ga Ma Da Ma, and the tune lingers there for a while!

This song also marked the early classics of Vairamuthu. His lyrics became a controversy too, in this song. He writes:

andhi mazhai pozhigiradhu
ovvoru thuLiyilum un mugam therigiradhu
indhiran thOttathu mundhiriyE
manmadha naattukku mandhiriyE

Look, the hero who sings this song is a blind man in the movie! How can he see the heroine’s face in each of those beautiful rain drops?! Perhaps that is what defines a poet’s world. Physical defects get nullified in their world of fantasy! But, surely Vairamuthu got into trouble when he called the heroine as “the cashew nut of Lord Indira’s garden”! Basically he means to say that the heroine is like a kind of sex bomb to the hero! She is the bible that the hero reads in the night! That is understandable. But what does this cashewnut stuff mean? Lord Indira is not known for romantic deeds like Manmadhan! Just for matching the alliteration of the words he made a senseless statement. (Recently Vaali got into trouble when he said inji iduppazhagaa in Thevar Magan. Sure that ginger has got all degrees of sharp bends in its structure, but what has it got to do with the hero’s hip!) In Demolition Man, Sandra Bullock may feel very much disgusted about what she calls as “biological transfer of fluids”. But look how Vairamuthu characterises the feelings love creates during the youthful period of fantasy. He says “dreams torture”, “eyelids weigh heavily”, “it is like suturing a thorn inside the eye” and so on…

Ilayaraja made T.V.Gopalakrishnan sing in the second interlude of this song. A short piece of Vasantha. (Earlier he had made him sing a short piece of Keeravani in idhu oru nilaa kaalam in Tick Tick Tick). There are few classical people who have tried the orchestral expedition of carnatic music. I remember the recordings of Y.M.Kamasastri often played in the radio long time ago. Invariably he would pick up a rare vivadhi raagam for his exploration and have his orchestra play it. Albeit high technical quality, those recordings were not very much enjoyable. I would dare say that Ilayaraja was the first guy who could appropriately use the orchestral music in a very “enjoyable” way. Later he got so much used to composing a tune for his orchestra that he started doing everything in his mind. That is an unbeleivable state of knowledge. When the song goes like Ma Ma Ma Ga Ma Da Ma Ga, the background violin may be going like Da Ni Sa Ga Ri Sa in the upper octave. The chorus might be traversing in the Da Ni of the lower octave. The guitar chords might be vibrating in the F major area! If you could figure out that all these individual musical events would unify in a perfect harmony to give a superb Vasantha melody, just by imagining in your mind, then is it not a great task?! Where the heaven is this enigmatic MIND?

Ilayaraja has given three more Vasantha songs. maan kaNdEn maan kaNdEn in Rajarishi is a equally classical song . It has been sung by K.J. Yesudoss and Vani Jayaram. The song goes like Sa Sa Ni Sa Ni Da Ni, Sa Sa Ni Sa Ni Da Ni, Sa Sa Ni Ri…Sa. The second interlude is especially good. Pulamaipuththan has written this song. In the charanam he writes “kaatrukum ull moochu vaangum”! That is, when the thalaivan and thalaivi embrace each other during love, they would do it so tightly that even the wind that got caught between their bodies would feel breathless! This kind of personifying the pancha boothams and writing poetry like “fire itself would feel very hot” “wind itself would feel breathless” was started by Thiruvaalar Vairamuthu! Pulaimaipiththan too, seems to have changed his style to suit the modern trend. There is a short piece of Vasantha in the raagamalika song in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi. enna samaiyalO starts with Mohanam. Then it is followed by Vasantha (raagam vasantha, naan rusithu parka rasam thaaa..), Kalyani and lastly Madhyamavathi (ilayai podadi). Recently he has tried Vasantha in a half boiled way in Paatu Paadava. The song starts like nil nil nil. It is a very different tune. But unfortunately, these good songs seem to have got lost before the incredible power of Rahman, like the local “super 501 bar” soap in Thamizhnadu got lost to the “national” washing powder Nirma!

Hamsanandhi is one of the popular janyams of the unpopular 53rd melam Gamanachramam (the prathimadhyamam of Suryakaantham). The other popular janyam of Gamanachramam is Poorvi Kalyani. I don’t know if there are any cinema songs in Poorvi Kalyani. But there are a lot of songs in Hamsanandhi. Ilayaraja has used this raagam both for happy and sad occasions. Probably his first song in this raagam came in Rajni’s Thanga Magan. raaththiriyil pooththirukkum is a great song. The orchestral music is lilting. The song has been sung by the evergreen pair S.P.B and Janaki. Look at the classic “briha” (rapid vocal journey between multiple swaras in a split second) involving Ni Sa Ri Sa Ri when they sing “rathiriyil”! Pulamaipiththan has written this song too. One of his imagination in this song is ultimate! He says in the pallavi “pagalum urangidum rathiriyil..” Is it not a great idea to qualify the night as the time in which “even the day sleeps”! There is one superb Hamsanandhi in Salangai Oli. vEdham aNuvilum oru naadham is the last song in (the climax) of the movie. It is a crucial song because Kamal dies during this song. The recording scale seems to be very high, S.P.B starting in the thara sthayi gandaram. The other Hamsanandhi songs are vaanam niram maarum (Dhaavani Kanavugal), Eraadha maiyil mElE (Mudhal Mariyadhai), Or poo maalai (Iniya Uravu Poothadhu), raaga dheebam Etrum nEram (Payanangal Mudivadhilai). Needless to say there is a great masterpiece by an earlier music director (kaalaiyum neeyE by A.M.Raja).

Hamsanandi is the panchama varjaya raagam of Gamanachramam (ie., having all the swaras except Pa). Cinema music directors tend to use a lot of Ma1 in Hamsanandhi. The introduction of sudden Ma1 gives a great change to the tune. In kaalayum neeyE, A.M.Raja introduces a beautiful Ma1 when he sings ‘katrum neeyE’. Ilayaraja does the same treatment to the raagam when the charanam goes like “vazhai ilai neerthelithu” in raaththiriyil. This kind of use of double madhyamam makes a great change to the tune! Recently he has also given a song in Gamanachramam. That song comes in the movie Vadhiyar Veetu Pillai (Sathyaraj). The song is hEy oru poonjOlai. It is a great song. One raagam before the order of Gamanachramam in the melakartha scale (ie., 52nd) is the raagam Ramapriya. Ilayaraja has given a marvelous Ramapriya in the movie Moga Mull. The song is kamalam paadha kamalam, sung by K.J.Yesudoss. It is like a mini-katcheri in cinema! No wonder he gave such a pure Ramapriya because the hero is a carnatic vocalist in the movie. It is so unfortunate that such kind of “gems” go unnoticed because of the failure of the movie.

Now they say that Ilayaraja makes a tune in just a matter of few minutes. He writes the tune not only for the song, but for the entire orchestra in just a matter of few minutes! He doesn’t seem to follow the primitive way of playing his tunes in the harmonium and seeing how it sounds. He seems to hear the tune in his “mind”. It is amazing how these minds in the creative industry could be used in such an intelligent and time efficient manner. The creation of good tunes by Ilayaraja’s mind could have been only a secondary act to fulfill its primary intent of aggrandizement by demanding 6 lakhs for each movie. Poor Ramanujam’s mind might not have even got a penny for all those giant leaps in mathematics that it made. The reality is that it is the benefaction by these great minds in the intellectual and scientific fronts that keep the society functioning between yugas.

Coming back to the age old question “where the heaven is this MIND”? There are some people who believe that the mind doesn’t exist in the brain. Maybe it is an extracranial entity. May be it surrounds the head like an electro magnetic field surrounding a magnet. Perhaps the “once upon a time” unrealistic halo around the head of Lord Buddha in my state board history book only referred to his mind! Then, P.V.Narasimha Rao, T.N.Seshan, Cho. Ramaswamy and their other (bald) kind would have a bigger halo, as more mind is likely radiate through their unprotected head!

Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan,
Internal Medicine Department,
Brackenridge Hospital,
Austin, Tx 78701.

  1. jyothimahesh says:

    Its fantastic t oview this article I want to know the concept of phrasing thats helps to make fine tune for a telugu song.

  2. ks narayanan says:

    Exceelent write up , which I wish to appreciate very much.But some nasty interludes could ve been avoided like ref to truck drivers misdemeanours.
    I ve not been able to access ur write up,if any , On Ilayaraja’s usage of the enchanting Raagas Keeravani, Charukesi,Abher, Varali. Pl forward to my ID, if possible.

  3. Kannan Krishnan says:

    “the cashew nut of Lord Indira’s garden”! Mundhiri means grapes….otherwise “Kodi mundhiri” to be specific. Cashew nut also mundhiri…but “Mundhiri kottai”. You are a grape of Indiran’s garden! You are so sweet like grapes that is created by Indiaran.

  4. Sudha says:

    Am thrilled to read such a insightful comments and comparison of carnatic raagas with movies. I simply loved the way the metaphor for mind ! halo is given. Great show!…

  5. Very Interesting and informative blog. I can literally listen to the songs in my mind while reading through. Great Work!

  6. doyoureallycare says:

    Nice read.
    For starters originality is overrated. If anythin any great artist should be happy that his creation finally manages to transcend the boundaries of language class etc. LDVinci is not going to turn in his grave because some 21st century artist ripped his work off or drew inspiration from it. A large part of the world would never have known about Monalisa if not for the millions of tarnished reproductions. Art should transcend boundaries of class, language heck even the artist himself.
    An artist wanting his creation to stay the way it is , is similar to a parent looking at a new born and saying I wont feed this child of mine, for I would prefer that the child stay pure and the way it is right now for ever.
    Drawing parallels, if an artist so desires that his patrons be made purely out of a classy/all-knowing crowd , he should display it to a set of handpicked patrons and then destroy it instead of letting some lackey keep records…..

  7. chnadrasekhar says:

    a very nice article on our maestro ilayaraja sir.
    would you please forward about the songs composed by ilayaraja sir , in KEERAVANI raga in both tamil and telugu , and also please mention about the orchestraisation of these songs. if possible please forward those to my ID.
    thank you