Classical Ilayaraja 9

This is the 9th 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.

There was a great furore in the Indian parliment a couple of years ago. Since the daily scene there is pretty much so, does this furore need any special mention? Yes. This furore was a meaningful one! It happened when the Indian government signed the GATT agreement. No wonder, the stupid “swadeshi” oriented parties like the Bharathiya Janata party opposed the selling of India to the “videshi” through GATT. But as an aftermath, signing the GATT agreement had a terrible effect on the interest of India in certain areas. For example, the medical value of neem oil has been well known in India for centuries. It seems some of the western pharmaceutical companies re-discovered the medical value of neem oil and started proceeding to claim patent for the product! In that case, any Indian company which tries to “manufacture” neem oil and tries to market it has to pay money to these western companies! Is it not funny and outrageous at the same time? Patenting is a powerful tool to protect ownership. It seems that it will be better if we patented both of our meaningful and meaningless traditional techniques to protect our interests. You may not know what will be re-discovered (and patent claimed) in the western hemisphere in days to come! Maybe, some scientist here will discover that giving unboiled rice with its hard covering (husk) to new born babies will result in the immediate death of those babies within few hours and secure patent for this finding! Conisder how this will affect the interest of our Indian mothers in the far south, who have been using this traditional technique to “close the chapter” of their unwelcomed, stigmatic female children! Poor mommas!

Saint Thyagaraja was one poor man who totally did not know anything about patenting or copyrighting one’s invention or literary work! He probably did not even know that his krithis were worth anything! If he had known that his krithis were going to draw international attention in the subsequent centuries, would he have copyrighted his works? Nay! He was such a naive sadhu, the word meaning in its strictest sense. He was a perfect example of a brahman, getting up early in the morning, much before “sandhya poorva pravarthathE”, and doing all the routine daily religious chores like the thrikaala sandhyavandhanam regularly. A brahman is supposed to eat only “moonu kavalam choru” (the amount of metabolic fuel necessary to keep the body and mind functioning), and he should not succumb to the pleasure of eating. I can see that Saint Thyagaraja didn’t, from the way he looks so thin, like a freshly fleeced goat, in his portraits. A brahman should only indulge in priestly and teaching duties. He should have no malice for others. He should only think of “lokha kshemam”. Thyagaraja had all these qualities. He was such a sharp contrast to those brahmin scoundrels like Selvi Jayalalitha, Subramaniam Swamy etc in the political scene now, who are the incarnation of corruption, greed and evil. Thyagaraja obtained his food by doing “unchivrithi” daily, ie., going around the temple, singing bhajans etc and accepting the rice that people had to offer as a matter of voluntary donation. He was a Telugu brought up in Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavoor jilla. He probably knew Thamizh well. But he chose to write his compositions in his mother tongue Telugu. Valmiki, the creator of “Rama” character, would not have anticipated that his fictitious “hero” was going to have such a profound influence on people to be born later in the time window, like Thyagaraja (and of course, BJP, for political reasons!). Thyagaraja was literally in love with Rama, like Meera was with Krishna. He had such a powerful theoritical understanding and practical mastery over carnatic music that he could compose in any raagam. He chose to appeal to his Lord Rama through “bhava” margam, ie., tackling the God, through emotional appeals. This was in sharp contrast to his contemporaries like Muthuswamy Dikshitar, who used “bhakthi” margam. His compositions were never a verbal diarrhoea! Just a few lines, thats all. He never tried to project his knowledge in his krithis. He was so simple and such a wonderful vagheyakara, that nature would take another millenium to ordain such a man be born again in this world!

Thyagabrahmam’s compositions have often been ridiculed in the cinema arena. Nobody has the right to change anything in another persons belongings, even though the person might be dead. Thyagaraja’s compositions are his belongings. He used them to reach heavenly abode. He left his compositions for the world to cherish and enjoy, as they were written and sung by him. Nobody can tamper with his treasure, which are ours now. We have to protect them as he had it! K.V. Mahadevan opened the gateway to the free musical society where anybody could do anything to anbody’s compositions! What kind of arrogance was that, in changing the Thyagaraja form of Dhorakuna in the movie Sankarabaranam without his consent? Having been shown the way of ridiculing Thyarajaja, Ilayaraja too embarked on that task. That was his technically first innovative adventure of presenting a raagam in the light form and then in the classical form. He knowingly insulted the uncopyrighted work of the greatest saint composer the world has ever given birth to.

That song came in the movie Sindhu Bhairavi. The song is paadariyEn padippariyEn. The heroine Suhasini has terrific interest in carnatic music. She is one of those proponants of the so called thamizhisai. She feels that one has to sing krithis in local language so that the local mass also understands the krithis. She busts into one of J.K.B’s (Shivakumar) katcheri and sings this song. She starts the song like an ordinary folk song with a simple rhythm and finally ends the song in a classic Thyagaraja krithi. Throughout the song the grammer of the raagam is maintained, with a light music type of rendition in the beginning and then culminating in carnatic type of ending. She starts the song all alone. Later the accompaniests of J.K.B start admiring the tune and then accompany her.

The raagam of that song is Saramathi. It is a major janyam of the 20th mela raagam, Nadabhairavi. Its arohanam and avarohanam are Sa Ri2 Ga2 Ma1 Pa Da1 Ni2 Sa and Sa Ni2 Da1 Ma1 Ga2 Sa. Saramathi evokes a gloomy mood. There is a fantastic Thyaraja keerthanai in this raagam. That is mOkshamu galadha. Whenever some VIP puts down his head (may I translate ‘mandaya poataan’ like this!) B grade and C grade TV artists appear in the screen and play mOkshamu galadha with a pretentious sad face (feeling very happy inside regarding the unexpected death of the VIP and hence the sudden TV chance)! Ilayaraja’s selection of this raagam for that situation is very appropriate. Because a major proportion of cinema songs are set in Nadabhairavi scale. What you need to do is to avoid Ga Ri Sa and Da Pa Ma prayogam, thats all! When you end the song in a keerthanai, give a little gamaka touch here and there to make it classical (after all, strictly following the swara grammer, using specific prayogams, and appropriate gamaka soaked swaras are the essential ingredients of classicism).

Ilayaraja starts that song like: Ri Ri Ri Ri, Ri Ri Ri Ri, Ri Ga Sa Sa, Ri Ri Ri Ri. Then for EdariyEn EzhuthariyEn Ezhuthuvagai naanariyEn, he goes a little further like: Ri Ri Ri Ri, Ri Ri Ri Ri, Ri Ga Ma Ga, Sa Sa Sa Sa. Thus he starts following the grammer of Saramathi perfectly right from the start, but with a light music like technical approach initially. There is lot of “thamizhisai” preaching by thiruvaalar Vairamuthu in that song. He says

paadariyEn padippariyEn paLLikkoodam dhaanariyEn
EdariyEn ezhuththariyEn Ezhuththuvagai naanariyEn
Ettula Ezhudhavilla Ezhudhi vachchu pazhakkamilla
elakkaNam padikkavilla thalakkanamum ennaku illa

In the charanam he refers to the katcheri rasikas as ignoramus crowd who nodd their heads without understanding anything (thalaya aatum puriyaadha kootam). Then he goes ahead and suggests a remedy to this deplorable state.

chErikum sEra vENum adhukkum paattu padi
enniyE paaru eththanai pEru
thangamE neeyum Thamizh paattum paadu
sonnadhu thappaa thappaa? sonnadhu thappaadhu appa!

Though the obvious matter of controversy in this is the language, there is much more in the issue. Nobody can deny the fact that the enjoyment of music becomes supreme if we can also understand the sahithyam. But is it not also equally true that music and emotional feelings transcend petty barriers like language etc.. When you see a hidden sadness in the portrait of Mona Lisa, it is that sadness that matters. You have to look at that piece of art as it is! You cannot try to find a replacement to that Leonardo Da Vince’s monumental work by having a thamizhan draw an equivalent with a thamizhachchi’s face with a sad look! When Thyagaraja’s reckless brother Jalpesan throws away his pooja idol (Rama vigraham), and when Thyagaraja sings a keerthanai in that situation of utter frustration, mental turmoil and agitation of not finding his favourite idol, what matters there is the emotion that is packed in the sahityam, and not the language of the sahityam!

I heard recently that many people in the Hindi belt above have actually started listening to A. R. Rahman’s original Thamizh version of songs rather than the dubbed Hindi version. Would not Vairamuthu be extremely happy to see his “mukkaala mukkaabula” Thamizh version being such a popular song even in northern India? What would his reaction be if all his songs were translated and in due course the original writer of the songs, ie., he, forgotten by the people. I think that the mature way of dealing with this issue is to agree to learn the translated meaning of a krithi and then continue to sing the krithi in the language the composer made it. In this way we can get involved with the emotional framework of a krithi and enjoy it thoroughly. If the slum dwelling population of Thamizhnadu can understand “choli kE peechE kya hai” and enjoy the untranslated version of the song with a “kick”, then, they can also understand “Thyagaraja’s Telugu krithis kE peechE kya hai”. People only have to come out of their narrow minded caccoon that they have built for themselves.

Ilayaraja had to end this “padariyEn” song in some classical krithi to boost the character of Suhasini in the movie. He could have ended it in Thayagaraja’s “mokshamu galadha” or in some other original Saramathi krithi. But instead, look what he did! He chose Thyagaraja’s marimari ninnE which had been originally composed in Kamboji raagam. He changed the raagam of that krithi to Saramathi and annexed it to his “padariyEn”! Can anyone be more disrespectful to the innocuous, innocent and pious athma of the dead saint? Ilayaraja is a present composer. He should tune his songs to fit the previously written ones. He has no right to tailor the previously written krithis to suit his thalam, and ganam. After shooting the film “Veedu” director Balumahendra used some portion of Ilayaraja’s “How To Name It” as background score to the film (anyway, the music director was Ilayaraja). But, there were reports that Ilayaraja got furious at Balumahendra for not getting his consent for using his music album. When he is so sensitive to the way his musical works are used by his own friends like Balumahendra, how could he ruthlessly lay his hands on the Thyagabrahmam’s krithi? He writes in one of his own songs (idhayam oru kOvil in the movie Idhaya Kovil):

naadha thiyaagaraajarum ooNai urukki
uyiril kalandhu iyatrinaarammaa
avar paadalil jeevan adhuvE avaraanaar
en paadalin jeevan edhuvO adhu neeyE

So he knows about the greatness of Thyagaraja and his compositions. Yet he has commited the disgraceful deed in Sindhu Bhairavi.

Saramathi is technically called as sampoorna oudhava raagam, ie., sampoornam in the arohanam (having all the seven swaras of its parent raagam, Nadabhairavi), and oudhavam in the avarohanam (five swaras). There is a raagam that has the same avarohanam as Saramathi, and the same avarohana swaras in arohanam too. That is Hindholam. Sa Ga2 Ma1 Da1 Ni2 Sa; Sa Ni2 Da1 Ma1 Ga2 Sa. It is a great “light” raagam. Ilayaraja has used it several times in his music. Subu’s raaga based database has a good list of the songs in this raagam. As far as I know his first Hindholam came in the movie Ilamai Kolam. The song is sreedEvi en vaazhvil sung by K.J.Yesudoss. It is a very slow tempo song. One of his another early Hindholam came in Alaigal Oivadhillai. The song is dharisanam kidaikkaadha. He has himself sung that song. Oh, it is terrible! While su-swara rendition of even a simple tune can make the listening experience magical, abha-swara rendition of even a complex tune can give a real harrowing experience! The later has happened in the above song. His unconditioned fledgling vocal cords have worked very hard like a powerful gravitational force pulling his voice down when he desperately tries to reach the upper shadjam in one instance. But the tune is good though. His other songs are Om namachchivaaya (Salangai Oli), naanaaga naan illai (Thoongadhe Thambi Thoongadhe), poththi vachcha malligai mottu (Mann Vasanai), unnaal mudiyum thambi thambi (Unnal Mudiyum Thambi), naan thEdum sevvandhi poovidhu (Dharmapathini), kannaa unai thEdugirEn vaa (Unakkagave Vazhgiren), O janani en suram nee (Pudhiya Raagam), viLakku vaippOm viLakku vaippOm (Athma). naan thEdum sevvandhi poovidhu is a terrific piece with a wonderful rhythm (very novel at that time). It is a good westernised Hindholam. A. R. Rahman has given one very pure classical Hindholam too. The song comes in May Madham (maargazhi poovE maargazhi poovE). It is very good. I was told that it was sung by some Houston based new singer.

If you changed the Ni in Hindholam from Ni2 to Ni3 then we get Chandrakauns raagam. Ilayaraja has got a couple of songs in this raagam too. His first Chandrakauns came in Kaadhal Oviyam (veLLichchalangaigaL). It is a fantastic song. Great job by S. P. B. What a great change does this small alteration in the location of Ni in Hindholam makes to the mood quality! The tail piece of this song is in Sriranjani raagam. His second Chandrakauns came in Thai Mookaambigai (isaiyarasi). My brother tells me that it was called by a different raagam in one TV program in Doordarshan. Anyway it should be very close to Chandrakauns. The best of his Chandrakauns is azhagu malaraada abinayangaL soozha in Vaidehi Kaathirundhaal. Oh, what a song! Vaali has done a great job writing the status of an unconsumated young celibate widow. In his short story “siluvai” master writer Jayakanthan daringly writes about the cruelty of being a celibate just in the last line of the story narrating a nun’s short bus travel. Vaali has written about the same terrible celibacy from a young widow’s point of view. In Varusham Padhinaaru there is another Chandrakauns karaiyaadha manamum undo. Lately we got two more idhunaaL varume in Chembaruthi, and unnai ninachu urugum in Rasaiyya. A. R. Rahman has also tried Chandrakauns in his Bombay. The Hindi version goes like “ruk jao, ruk jao”. I don’t know the Thamizh version.

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

  1. venkat says:


  2. jayendran says:

    darisanam kidaikkadha Om namashivaya ragavane ramana Oru jeevan azhaithathu Naan thedum sevvanthi Sridevi ennai paarthu Kannamma kadhal enum Anandha then katru Velli salangaigal konda Kanna unai theudgiren vaa Oh Janani Vilakku veppom vilakku veppom Pothi vecha malligai mottu Nanaga naan illai Azhagu Malar aada Unnal mudiyum thambi

  3. Narasimhan says:

    L S Ramakrishnan,
    You disrepcted Thyagaraja more than Ilayaraja or anybody could by calling Rama a fictional hero.

  4. Ajit says:

    Thanks for these fascinating write-ups. I was listening to Sreedevi en Vaazhvil. While the song is largely in HindoLam (Malkauns), there are portions where I thought it branches out quite beautifully into Chandrakauns by switching to the Shuddha Nishaad, as opposed to the Komal Nishad. In fact, I think this happens at the end of every stanza. Would you agree?