Classical Ilayaraja 14

This is the 14th 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 invincible AIDS virus is fast spreading in India. That is news! (Accidentally turned) bigamist Thamizh writer Balakumaran once stated in an interview that women are like masturbating bowl to men in India. Yeah, lorry drivers acknowledge that statement candidly! They will take the “sarakku” from Chennai to Thirunelvelli by their overnight lorry-borne express. In the gloomily lit bus-stations in-between, they will stop not only for “barota kuruma”, but also looking for their in-expensive bowls of masturbation! There… will come the familiar figure of the betel-nut chewing red-mouthed sexy queen! Our driver’s mouth will twist into a lusty leer! The indomitable Freudian force will drive the male instrument to do its procreative job in few minutes. There… will go our night queen, having earned few bucks to support her indigent family of innumerable malnourished children. In the above encounter between the two beings, not only the rapturous joy of sex, and money will have transacted, but possibly, the seemingly indolent “HIV” fellow too!

Ilayaraja writes in his nila adhu vaanathu mElE song,

pasikkudhu pasikkudhu dhinam dhinam thaan
thinnaa pasiyadhu theerndhiduma?

Good question, boss! The hypothalamus in the brain is a “dhammathoondu” structure! You can place it on your nail top and squeeze it, like your grandmother used to squeeze the helpless lice from her hair! But, it is this “thammathoondu” structure that orchestrates the various vital functions of the body. When you have not eaten for a while, and when your blood sugar concentration falls, it is your hypothalamus that feels your hunger and instructs you to eat! When you’ve not drunk water for a while, and when your blood sodium rises (dehydration), it is this hypothalamus that senses it and drives you crazy to drink! But, Ilayaraja tries to equate “hunger for food” to “hunger for sex and pleasure”! It is true that TTC bus driver gets free food at those unhygienic hotels in Thindivanam for bringing lots of customers and business for the hotel. Maybe, that is the reason why he eats three days worth of meal when he stops for those 20 minutes during your trip from Chennai to Srirangam! That is an unusual case. Most of us eat because our hypothalamus commands us to eat after sensing our low blood sugar concentrations! But, why does the lorry driver seek courtship in the shady towns of India during his long distance operation? Nothing decreases in his blood, making the hypothalamus “hungry for sex”. The hypothalamus simply feels like having sex!

Ilayaraja showed an abnormal choice of raagam (Reethigowlai) when he tuned thalayai kuniyum in Sridhar’s Oru Odai Nadhiyagiradhu. He had done that earlier in choosing the same raagam for his chinnakannan azhaikiraan in Kavikkuyil, and then in tuning raamanin kadhai kElungal in Sippikkul Muthu. It is a very easily identifiable, very classical janya raagam that was relished by composers like Thyagaraja. But, none in the cinema arena seems to have used it in the pre-Ilayaraja period. In mid seventies, here comes the uneducated music director from Madhurai jilla….! He tunes a couple of “tappanguthu” that marks his initial success! Within 2 to 3 years after his debut, he calls one of the most memorable geniuses of Carnatic music, Shri Balamurali Krishna to sing one cinema song for him. “Alright thambi” says Balamurali, and goes to the recording theatre…..

Was Balamurali surprised initially when Ilayaraja played the tune for him in his harmonium? If I were him, I would have been! First of all, out of the blue, why Reethigowlai? Why not the hackneyed Hindholam or Mohanam? This absolutely classical raaga selection shows his desire to venture into pure, traditional raagas! It is like A.R.Rahman springing a surprise by tuning purely classical Yadhukula Kamboji interludes in kuluvaliyE (Muthu)!

Reethigowlai is the janyam of Karaharapriya (22nd melam). It is a vakra raagam and hence with a convoluted arohanam and avarohanam. Sa Ga2 Ri2 Ga2 Ma1 Ni2 Da2 Ma1 Ni2 Ni2 Sa; Sa Ni2 Da2 Ma1 Ga2 Ma1 Pa Ma1 Ga2 Ri2 Sa. Its raaga lakshanam is so unique that it gets imprinted in our mind easily. Beginners in carnatic music identify Reethigowlai rather facilely and this gives great encouragement to venture into learning other raagas. The jubilance of identifying a raaga by ourselves initially is unparalled and even a triple 800 score in GRE Pre-Test wouldn’t make you that happy! Oh man, what a joy! In that aspect, Reethgowlai could be compared to a steroid shot to Ben Johnson! In all his three Reethigowlai songs Ilayaraja presents the raagalakshanam excellently in a very concise 4 minute form.

He starts his Kavikkuyil song as Sa Ga Ri Ga (chinnakannanan) Ma Ni Ni Sa (azhaikiraan). He has just used the arohanam of Reethigowlai without any extraneous manipulation of the raagam. In his Sippikul Muthu song he goes like Sa Ga Ri Ga (raamanin) Ma Ma (kadhai) Ni Ni Sa (kElungal). A very small variation to chinnakannan song. He made lakhs of rupees for the former and lakhs for the latter! That is why he often says in interviews “there are only seven notes in music. Musicians have made infinite number of songs only with those seven notes by cheating!”. He is in a way right and in a way wrong. The above two songs are cheating of the first order. He has cheated less in thalayai kuniyum thamarayE where the pallavi goes like Da Ni Sa (thalayai) Ni Da Ma (kuniyum) Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa (thaamarayE).

Music is not just the melodious manipulation of different discrete frequencies of the continuum of “energy” commonly called as the sound. It is much more than that. There is another important variable in good music. That is the TIME! If I sing Sa today and sing Ga tomorrow, and Ri day after tomorrow and so forth sing one by one note of Ilayaraja’s chinnakannan azhaikiraan in whatever period it takes to complete the song, will it still be good music? This tells us the importance of MIND in music! There is NO music out there in the physical world! It is all in our MIND! When different swaras are sung, it is the MIND that intelligently concatenates the swaras and sees it as music. It sees a musical quality that is in actuality nonexistent in the frequencies of sound, and derives pleasure by listening to it! Following the same concept, the MIND derives “sexual pleasure” from the physical intercourse of two bodies, or “eating pleasure” from eating buttered pecan ice cream, when it is set for those appropriate moods. Behaviourly, the MIND seems to be a big pleasure seeker. Philosophically it seems to be the greatest fool in the world, constantly seeking the ephemeral, mundane pleasures that are never-the-less, virtual!

Reethigowlai is in no way related to Gowlai, Mayamalavagowlai, Kedaragowlai or Narayanagowlai. It is indeed closely related to Ananda Bhairavi about which we have discussed in our earlier essays.

Other raagas that beginners start recognizing very easily in their journey through the vast empire of carnatic music are Sahana, Kanada, Atana, Natai, Gowlai, Anandha Bhairavi etc. All the above are vakra raagas. We have two popular songs in Sahana that had a tremendous impact on the common rasika. ParthEn sirithEn (Veera Abhimanyu) and indha veenaiku in Rayil Sneham. The former tuned by K.V.Mahadevan and latter by V.S.Narasimhan. I hear that there is a song rukku rukku in Sahana in Avvai Shanmukhi. BTW, Sahana is a janyam of Harikaambojhi (28th melam) with Sa Ri2 Ga3 Ma1 Pa Ma1 Da2 Ni2 Sa and Sa Ni2 Da2 Pa Ma1 Ga3 Ma1 Ri2 Ga3 Ri2 Sa. Strangely Ilayaraja does not have any Sahana product from his industry! Atana is a janyam of Sankarabharanam (29th melam) with a complex swara sequence. It is a bhashanga raagam as it has a double Nishadham. K.V.Mahadevan gave a superb Atana in yaar tharuvaar indha ariyasanam (Mahakavi Kalidas). In Salangai Oli Ilayaraja used balakanakamaya (Thaayagaiyer’s Atana composition) in the scene when Manjubarghavi dances on the stage and Kamalahasan starts dancing in the kitchen (unable to control his inherent dance flow). Atana is a very brisk and “gambeeramaana raagam”!

Chalanaatai is the last (36th) melam in the suddha madhyama raagas and hence using 3rd Ri, Ga, Da, and Ni. Ilayaraja is the only one who ever chose to use this rare raagam in cinema. The song is panivizhum malarvanam in the movie ninaivellam nithiya. Sridhar directed that movie. Oh boy, Sridhar- Ilayaraja combination has given several marvellous songs to Thamizh music! Vairamuthu’s lyrics reached wonderful heights in that song. Ilayaraja’s use of this vivadhi raagam is very intelligent and guarded, avoiding any un melodious use of the vivadhi swaras. This song proved to be a terrific hit when compared to his use of the last (72nd) melam in the prathimadhyama raagas, which is Rasikapriya. He used that raagam to tune sangeethamE in kovil pura. He starts his Chalanatai like Ga3 Ma1 Pa (unpaarvai) Ma1 Pa Ma1 Ri3 Sa (oru varam). Then he goes Ga3 Ga3 Ga3 Ga3 Ri3 Ri3 Ri3 Ri3 (inivarum munivarum) Sa Sa Ri3 Ri3 Sa Sa Sa Sa (thadumaarum kanimaram). A beautiful interplay of immediately adjacent vavadhi swaras with an unanticipated melody that is much more than you could bargain from using such raagas. In the charanam he starts using Da3 and Ni3. He starts the charanam like Sa Ni Sa Sa Pa (chelai moodum) Da Da Da Pa (illam cholai) Sa Ni Sa Sa (maalai choodum) Ri Ri Ri Sa (malar maalai). The tune development is just excellent!

I was in Srirangam when this movie was released (in early eighties). In the Vadakku uthirai veedhi sandhu, there was a guy called as “paaku cheeni”. He was so crazy with this song that the cassette would be playing all the time in his house. While playing kabadi or cricket in the streets I used to get the benefit of listening to this lilting song for free, not knowing what a rare raagam it was! Look what Vairamuthu writes in that song:

Just being seen by you is a great boon;
even an ascetic to come in future would
loose his hold on celibacy on seeing you;
you are a tree bearing beautiful fruits (breasts)

You are a garden that wears sari
you are a flower that is worn by flowers
twenty moons would shine in your finger nails;
youthful dreams would bud in our eye corners
as our fingers play on each other,
as the distance between us decreases,
the glowing light would dim and our
eyes would close (in the ecstasy of love)

Oh man, what a language he has written! An unbelievable choice of words and thought in describing the beauty of a women. In a recent song (telephone maNipOl in Indian), look how the poet describes the beauty of a women in modern terms incorporating the latest technological advances in his poetry!

Is she the one who laughs like a telephone bell
is she the one who is like a Melbourne flower
did lord Brahma use a computer to sketch her figure
has her voice been made up of digital signals
is she the latest cellular phone

A wonderful movie by Shankar with great songs by A.R.Rahman. I think the above song is by Vairamuthu. It is amazing how these poets get such novel ideas to describe a simple thing. Grandiosity seems to be an essential quality of a poet’s mind.

Naatai is a janyam of Chalanaatai. The arohanam and avarohanam of Naatai are Sa Ri3 Ga3 Ma1 Pa Ni3 Sa and Sa Ni3 Pa Ma1 Ga3 Ma1 Ri3 Sa. Notice the vakram Ga3 Ma1 Ri3 Sa. Often singers sing Natai like Chalanaatai using all the swaras. Ilayaraja used Muthuswamy Dikshidhar’s Naatai krithi mahaganapathim in the movie Sindhubhairavi. Apart from that he has tuned one Natai (peigalai nambadhE – a jolly song in Mahanadhi). Only Kamal can make such daring pictures about sexual abuse of children. In the early part of the movie, “peigalai” song has been used to show what a happy family Kamal leads. It has become a common feature in India for the government to crumble to dust once in two years costing crores of tax-payer’s rupees for re-election! People have gone immune to all these and they just seem to mind their own business (like finishing B Sc and then studying a crash course in C language programming at NIIT to become a “consultant” to come to the USA). Who cares if the government survives or falls! But, a “mahanadhi” viewer is left with tears rolling down the cheek and extreme sympathy for Kamal at the horrendous turn of events in his life (even though it is just a movie). Kudos, to Kamal!

Ilayaraja’s use of Naatai for that song is quite a surprise. He has presented a pure Naatai in that song. Ga Ma Pa (peigalai) Pa Pa Pa (nambadhE) Pa Ni Sa Ni (pinjilE) Pa Pa Pa (vembadhE). The song ends with S.Varalakshmi singing the tail piece. Gambeera Naatai is a pentatonic raagam where there is no vivadhi swaram. So, it is distinctly different from Chalanatai and Naatai. The aarohanam and avarohanam of Gambeera Naatai is Sa Ga3 Ma1 Pa Ni3 Sa and Sa Ni3 Pa Ma1 Ga3 Sa. You could call it as a janyam of Sankarabharanam or Chalanaatai. Ilayaraja’s innum ennai enna seyya pogiraai in Singaravelan has been tuned in Gambeera Naatai. He has used the raagam remarkably. S.P.B and Janaki have done wonders in the charanam where most of the tune is set in thara sthayi! Earlier T.Rajendar scored one song in the same raagam (kaadhal oorvalam ingE in Pookkalai Parikkadheergal). That is also an excellent song.

If we change the 3rd Ni in the avarohanam of Gambeera Naatai to kaisiki Nishadham (2nd Ni) we get Thillang. Ilayaraja has given few Thillangs so far. Probably the first one was kothamallee poovE in Kallukkul Eeram. His other Thillang song is manadhil urudhi vEndum in Sindhu Bhairavi (a fantastic Bharathiyar poem). Look what Bharathiyaar says in that poem: PERIYA Kadavul kaaththal vendum!! Webster’s English dictionary gives the meaning for God as “the one supreme being, the creator and ruler of the universe”. If so, how can we have a “Periya” Kadavul (big God)? I guess Bharathiyaar compares God to human beings and says “Periya Kadavul”. In Kaiveesamma Kaiveesu there is one Thillang (anbE thaan thaay aanadhu). MSV has given a great Thillang nalladhOr veeNai seidhEn. That is in K.Balachandar directed Varumayin Niram Sivappu. Kamal is a big Bharathiyaar fan in that movie. Nalladhor is also a Bharathiyaar song. Ilayaraja has used a raagam that is closely related to Thillang in Kavarimaan (Thyaagaiyer’s Brovabaarama in Bahudhari raagam).

Because of the unique “vakra” phrases, many of the above mentioned vakra raagas are very easily identifiable. Vakra raagas are a boon to beginners as they help to get a start in carnatic music. If there is a vakram in a raagam, and if that is what gives the important raagalakshanam to the raagam, then that is how it has to be sung! You cannot go like Sa Ri2 Ga2 Ma1 in Reethigowlai or sing like Ma1 Ga3 Ri2 Sa in Sahana. These are absolutely not permissible. Why these strict strictures?

I read in a book recently that there was a Chinese sage called as Li Ling. He would usually be naked in his house. When somebody asked about it to him, he said “I consider the whole world as my house and my house as my cloth. So, why the hell are you entering my trousers?”!! Nature made men to intercourse with women to procreate and sustain life on earth. That is a rule. If man tries to enter into another man’s trouser ignoring the ordinance of Nature, AIDS awaits him inside the other man’s trouser! If the lorry driver in India defies the present day societal norms and seek polygamous pleasure, then AIDS awaits him at the gates of pleasure! Regulations and rules make our life go smooth. Rules enriched carnatic music and gave rise to an excellent variety of raagas. Till Nature gives her treatment of gradual evolution to things, what be now, let be in future!

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

  1. Aravindha Chellappa says:

    Hey pal, Your blog/web development pad/website is really good. Only down-side is that it is a wee-bit long. But, all-in-all, its very good. Keep posting. Bliss & Peace, Aravindha.

  2. Liyakath says:

    Not in words for Ilayaraja. He was amazing.

  3. sundar says:

    It’s nice blog post… keeps travelling in various directions…it discusses about AIDS….and about ragas….suddenly about Kamal……but Njoyable

  4. booma says:

    ilayaraja is a amazing music director.no one can compared with him today also.there is no doubt in this sentence

  5. Vijay Krishnan says:

    Hey Meetadha oru veenai from Poonthottam is also ReetiGowlai i suppose
    and How could you forget Ore naal unai naan nilavil paarthadhu, Sahana from Raja Sir.i dint read the entire..but when i saw that no product in sahana by Raja sir, i came down fast to comment…… 🙂

  6. Mahesh says:

    “But, none in the cinema arena seems to have used it in the pre-Ilayaraja period.”

    Telugu legend singer Ghantasala has used this Reetigowla raga in 1960’s ….the movie is Sri venkateswara mahatyam…..
    you can see Ghantasala himself singing in the video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljHA_ugevEA

  7. r.k.seethapathi Naidu says:

    As u stated,the world will diminish,people will perish:But,Music……
    will be in AIR for life time…..