Classical Ilayaraja 6

This is the 6th 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.

In carnatic music, while we have three kinds of rishabham, gandharam, daivatham, and nishadham each, the madhyamams are only two kind. They are the suddha and prathi madhyamam. If only the madhyamams had life, they are certain to demand reservation for the reason that the other more populous swarams like the rishabhams are dominating the music scene, not giving enough space for the madhyamams to come up in life! However, any species that is less in population become precious in due course. That is the general law of the nature. That is true for the madhyamams too. They are wonderful precious swarams.

The prathi madhyamam is the second madhyamam. In the perceptual scale the distance between any two adjacent notes in the harmonium is the same, irrespective of whether the notes are in the manthra sthayi, madhyama sthayi or the thara sthayi. (This is in contrast to the physical scale, where the frequency difference between any two adjacent notes in the harmonium keeps on increasing as you go to the right). In other words, the perceived tonal difference between any two swarams is the same. Thus the transition between Sa and Ri1, Ri1 and Ri2, Ri2 and Ri3, Ri3 and Ga3, Ga3 and Ma1, Ma1 and Ma2, Ma2 and Pa, Pa and Da1, Da1 and Da2, Da2 and Da3, Da3 and Ni3, and Ni3 and Sa will all be perceived as the same by our mind. However when you sing with the Sa-Pa-Sa shruthi vibrating from the thamboora, the ‘aadhara’ swarams for the shruthi, ie., the shadjam and the panchamam will have a pulling effect on their immediate adjacent swarams. It is this phenomenon that gives the beauty to the prathi madhyamam. It is for the same reason that the gap between Ri2 and Ga2 appears wide while that between Ma2 and Pa appears so narrow, giving an illusion that these notes are extremely close to each other.

The beauty of the prathi madhyamam can be well appreciated in raagas like Hamsanadham. There has been quite a good discussion about this raagam for a while in (rmic). It will become hackneyed to recapitulate it once again. Just to present the gist of the material: Originally a Neethimathi janyam and hence using Sa Ri2 Ma2 Pa Da3 Ni3 Sa (and the converse as avarohanam), it later became reduced to a pentatonic raagam when singers practically preferred to eschew the usage of shatsruthi daivatham (Da3). Thus, the Hamsanadham that we hear nowadays seem to be a janyam of Kalyani, instead of the 60th melakartha Neethimathi.

Ilayaraja was the only music director who tried Hamsanadham in cinema. His first Hamsanadham came in Sridhar’s ‘Harry Met Sally’ kind of movie, Thenrale Ennai Thodu. It was a typical ‘Mills and Boons’ plot, the heroine first fighting with the hero and later developing love, while the hero first develops love and later fighting with the heroine. ‘Moadhal/oodal/kaadhal’ sequence finally culminating in love signal from both the sides! Ah Ha! This type of plots seem to be like a never ending amudhasurabhi, giving the cinema directors innumerable situations, song sequences, and help them make lot of money. Rarely, such plots give us songs like thenRal vandhu ennai thodum in superb Hamsanadham. Sridhar who was almost dead at that time could make a comeback in the cinema world, because of the richness of the songs in that movie. Also, he introduced Veenai S.Balachandar’s sister’s grand-daughter Jayashree (who is also a cousin of the actress Sukanya) as the heroine in that movie.

Ilayaraja starts his first Hamsanadham like Ma Pa Ma Pa Ri Ma Ri Ni Sa…. An excellant start! An ingenious start considering from the scientific aspect of music, because this is the first and the last song that I have heard with a start in prathi madhyamam. When you are bred in a society wherein there are certain established styles, you would automatically imbibe them and then start manifesting them. Saint Thyagaraja starts the pallavi of his ‘pantu reethi kolu’ (Hamsanadham) in panchamam. In this raagam, anybody would be tempted to make a start in Pa or Sa. If somebody started in Ma2, then it is an abnormal behaviour. If he doesn’t deviate from the classical style even a teeny-weeny bit, and is able to sell it to the public and make a mega hit song, then it only means that he is brilliant! Ilayaraja did it! He has shown this kind of non-traditional start of his songs (from the point of view of the trinity’s approach to raagas) in many songs. Another example would be the kakali nishadha start in jananI jananI‘ and ammaavenRazhaikkaatha in Kalyani.

The background rhythm in thenRal vanthu is a fantastic monotonous tabla beat, not exhibiting change for every line in the song. This is in sharp contrast to the newer Rahman style, wherein there is lot of high tech scientific manipulations of the rhythm, with a change for each line of the song. As usual, our cinema kavigner (Vaali?), has made lot of ‘paethals’ in lyrics in such a wonderful raaga based song.

Thendral vandhu ennai thodum
aaha saththam inri mutham idum
pagalae poi vidu; iravae pai kodu
nilavae, panneerai thoovi oaivedu!

Look at the audacity of the poet, asking the ‘night’ to give a mat, moon to sprinkle scented water, so that the hero and heroine could indulge in carnal love! Literally, he is trying to drive the ‘daytime’ away so that night time could come!

The second Hamsanadham that Ilayaraja gave was Om namahaa in Maniratnam’s Geetanjali. It was a good one too. The third number came in his brother Gangai Amaran’s Ooru Vittu Ooru Vanthu. The song was sorgamE enRaalum. Our village hero ‘touser payyan’ Ramarajan and Gowthami go to some foreign country and become nostalgic about Tamizhnadu and then sing that song. That song was one first-class example of how to popularize carnatic music. From the pallavi ‘hei thanthana thanthana thantha’ to the very end of the song, it is absolutely classical. In such a short piece, he has brought out the full essence of Hamsanadham. Of course there are few slips, like the usage of Da2 when he sings ‘namnaadu poalaguma’, and the use of Ma1 when he sings ‘paaka oru vazhi illayae’ in charanam. He could have avoided these, and rendered a ultra pure Hamsanadham. But, what to say, cinema music directors seem to have all the right in the world to do anthing to any raagam!

He has daringly ventured to test his vocal skills in that song with S.Janaki. There are real fast sancharas covering one entire octave in such short span of time. Somehow he has done a good job! Perhaps, he thought that Ramarajan does not deserve any better voice than his! The lyrics of that song is also funny. I think he himself (or Gangai Amaran) has written that song. It goes on to narrate how village life in Tamizhnadu is much superior to that in other foreign countries.

Maadugalai meika, adhu maeyuradha paarka
mandhaiveli angu illayae hei!

In the short story collection of Fredrick Forsyth’s ‘No come backs’ the hero happens to go to Tamizhnadu. He takes note with disgust, how people urinate in public places, defecate in streets, in Tamizhnadu. Ilayaraja could have written that in his song.

Avasarama onnuku vandha sattunu
oru oarama onnuku adikka
nalla roadu illayae….

If the DMK succeeded in getting a seperate country ‘Thamizhnadu’, as they demanded the centre in early 1960s (beleive me, they had the arrogance and foolishness to do that, while Thamizhnadu didn’t even have basic necessities like water of its own!), it would definitely make this song as the national anthem! Perhaps, LTTE Prabhakaran has already made a note of this song as the national anthem for his Thamizh Eazham!

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

  1. Arch says:

    The songs that u have stated are lovely. To jus quote some bloody songs , “Loose penne” and “chumma oru thali kattu da” in the recent times, i feel Illayaraja should have given a thot bot suiicide ..Whadya say!!

  2. ragu says:

    mani ratnam film is right,, but that om namaha song is from the movie idhayathai thirudathey,.

  3. Ananth says:

    Vidyasagar has used Hamsanadam too in Anbe Sivam, in the song – Poovasam.