Saturday, June 12, 2004

Ilayaraja - 12 ( Birth of Ragas, Thodi, Suddha Dhanyasi)

By Lakshminarayanan.

Thamizh film actress Kushboo has been deified to the status of a Goddess and a temple has been built for her in Trichi! Often I hear news like the deification of Jayalalitha, M.G.R., and other related "chota" news like a man in rural Thamizhnadu seeing God M.G.R in his cow's eye! These are all instances that narrate the conspicuous births of Gods, or rather, the conspicuous deification of ordinary human folks. Given the evidence that these farcical news items do happen in the gullible Thamizhnadu, one has the right to make conjectures that Jesus Christ could have been a very very ordinary man, just like Kushboo. He could have had good human qualities and could have helped his neighbours to buy kerosene from ration shop and old ladies to cross busy roads like Bhagyaraj in "inru poi nalai vaa"! His unfortunate, pathetic death at an young age at the hands of local villains could have created a sympathy wave. And now, in this 21st century it will be castigated as an outright act of profanity, if someone dares to question the divinity status of the messiah.

In any religion, Gods seem to make their genesis in a very subtle way. Particularly, in Hinduism, the births of Gods and the appearance of temples in a region are so insidiuous. The onset invariably starts with a small stone or a rock under a neem tree turning holy (it is heaven's secret, how these stones are selected!). Sandal paste and "kunkum" appear on the stone shortly and a group of people start worshipping the stone. A cascade of events follow and a figurine appears there to replace the stone. The figurine might take any shape in the world, a huge "Phallus" like Lord Shiva, an elephant headed form like Lord Ganesha, a cow headed form like "Thumburu", a fierce looking lady like "Mariatha"... Soon, a nomenclature comes into vogue to denote this newly born "God". It could be anything, a highly calloquial one like "vedi uppu Beerangisami" or a beautiful Sanskrit word imported from the Indus valley! As an appendage to the name, a story too, comes into vogue, to denote the relationship of this new "God" to the older Gods, like "Lord Shiva's uncle's son". Look at this place after 100 years...! No kidding, a grand temple has come into being there! Loud speakers are in eternal function, broadcasting divine songs by Seergazhi Govindarajan, L.R.Easwari, Veeramani! You may find some of our imbecile brotheren doing "anga pradarshanam" with their tongue bloody and impaled with a holy needle! Oh, mother Nature! When is this alarming increase in the population of Hindu gods going to stop (small "g" intentional)!

Carnatic ragas are like Hindu Gods. Their birth in this world is so subtle. A tune can be born from the harmonium of Ilaiyaraaja just in a matter of few minutes. But, ragas? Ragas encompass all the tunes in the world. A tune could be created by Ilaiyaraaja. But, ragas? Do ragas have creators? Ragas creep into "being" from amidst the masses. No single person creates a raga. Can any person in this world raise his hand and claim patency to the creation of Lord Shiva or Vishnu? The creation of gods is the result of a community effort! Similarly ragas are the unintentional creative result of the musical community. The creation of a raga is not bound by any time frame. It might take ages for the ragas to take form. The form of a ragam is not static. It keeps on changing with ages, like the present day Lord Ganesha sitting before the computer screen with sunglasses and dirty jeans! Remember seeing this form in your neighbour's kolu during Dasara festival? Really?!

Thodi is one of the greatest of the ragas. It is the 8th melakartha ragam. We know that there are 72 melaragas in carnatic music. These 72 melakartha ragas are divided into groups of six, according to the numerical order. Each of this group is called as a chakram. Thus we have a total of 12 chakrams. The first 6 chakrams (comprising 36 ragas) use suddha madhyamam and the later 6 chakrams (comprising 36 ragas) use the prathi madhyamam. Within each of the chakrams, all the 6 ragas will have the same poorvaanga swaras (ie., Sa Ri Ga Ma). The difference is only in the utharaanaga swaras (ie., Pa Da Ni Sa). Each chakram has a got a name to denote it. The 2nd chakram is called as the Nethra chakram. Thodi is the 2nd ragam in the Nethra chakram.

Has Ilaiyaraaja ever tried his hands on this great ragam? Yes! Just in one song alone so far. Was he successful? Perhaps not! The challenge that Lakshmi Parvathi poses to Chandra Babu Naidu is nothing when compared to the challenge that Thodi poses to the cinema music directors. If Ilaiyaraaja tuned a song in the Thodi scale (Sa Ri1 Ga2 Ma1 Pa Da1 Ni2 Sa), then it will sound like Sindhu Bhairavi! Because, just playing the notes of Thodi in the harmonium will only manifest the ragalakshanam of Sindhu Bhairavi (even though Sindhu Bhairavi has Ri2 in its arohanam, using Ri1 plainly without gamakam in the arohanam will be perfectly Sindhu Bhairavish). Thodi and Sindhu Bhairavi are so closely related to each other, yet so different. The drastic difference is because of gamakam. But for Sa and Pa, all the other swaras of Thodi have aesthetically beautiful, terrific gamakam. So, to get Thodi ragam out of Thodi scale, you've got to shake those swaras (Ri,Ga,Ma,Da,Ni), like the way a Richter 8.0 earth quake shakes California once in a while! California residents may stay at home despite such shakes, but the cinema rasikas would simply leave the theatre at once, to "drink" beedi or cigarette, if the swaras started shaking in a cinema song!

Ilaiyaraaja's attempt came in the movie varusham padhinaaru. The song is "gangai karai mannanadi". It is pure Thodi. Within the constraints of tuning a cinema song, he has tried his best to give a proper Thodi, with all the gamakams. K.J.Jesudoss has sung that song. In the pallavi and charanam the "heavy" Thodi identity is quite clear. But, in the interlude music, the raga degenerates to a "lighter" status, Sindhu Bhairavi. In his Saramathi ragam song, padariyaen padippariyaen (sindhu bhairavi movie), when Chitra sings "sonnadhu thappa thappa" he has introduced an unwarranted Thodi sangathi there. Why did he do that? Also, he had erroneously used Da Pa Ma (like Marga Hindolam), in Saramathi. When the movie was released, Ananda Vikatan made a big issue about these gramatical mistakes in that song, and even interviewed vocalist Dr.S.Ramanathan regarding this matter! One of my friends said that he heard Ceylon Radio identifying the ragam of "akkam pakkam parada" (unnal mudiyum thambi), as Thodi! What a joke! Sindhu Bhairavi ragam is like potato curry. My wife can cook it, your wife can cook it, all wives can cook it! Ilaiyaraaja has cooked it many times, from mani osai kaetu (payanangal mudivadhillai) to maniyae manikuyilae (nadodi thendral). Akkam pakkam is one such Sindhu Bhairavi cooking! Let us not praise our wife as excellent for this potato curry, which doesn't need any skill to cook!

Thodi is unique among the 6 Nethra chakra ragas. Even though these ragas share the same Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa, look at the way the gamakam of Ri,Ga,Ma has evolved so specially for Thodi! Denuka is the immediate next ragam to Thodi (the 9th melam). In his Denuka krithi "theliyaledu rama", Thyagaraja swamy has preferred to use these swaras plainly without much gamakam, like in Sindhu Bhairavi ragam! How did these adjacent ragas evolve so differently from each other? Can we question the Ganesh getting an elephant face, and the Kumeresh getting a beautiful human face, in the differential evolution of the sibling gods?! I know of a song in which Ilaiyaraaja has used the Denuka scale. The song is aen soga kadhaya kaelu (thooral ninnu poachu). He predominantly uses Ni3 in this song (like in Denuka) and occasionally Ni2 (like in Thodi). The next raga to Denuka (the 10th ragam) is natakapriya. Recently I happened to listen to one superb Natakapriya song tuned by Ilaiyaraaja! It came as a pleasant surprise in the movie moga mull. The song is "nenja gurunadhanin"! It is a lovely song! The situation is similar to the one in sindhu bhairavi, where distraught hero Shivakumar, begs for alcohol and sings the song "thanni thotti thedi".

In moga mull, the hero Rajam is a music student. He gets a chance to perform in the house occasion of a local big shot. He refuses that chance. Later, his guru (Nedumudi Venu) falls sick and needs lot of money for hospitalisation. So, the hero becomes a victim of circumstance and is forced to go to that big shot for monitary help. The villain makes the hero sing in his house when there is no occasion. All his friends form a crowd and sit before the hero. While he sings, the insensitive audience talks aloud, giggles, and humiliates the hero in all possible ways. The song is "nenjae guru nadhanin" in the ragam Natakapriya. Arun mozhi has sung this song. Fantastic job! I have heard a classic krithi "geetha vadhya" in this ragam. If I remember correct, the Ri,Ga,Ma had been handled like in Thodi (with gamakam) in that krithi. Ilaiyaraaja has used plain swaras in this song. But, even then it is very classical and the raga identity is quite clear. Oh, what a pathetic situation it is, to be in a financially needy state, and to unwillingly sell one's music skill to a shameless crowd that is absolutely deaf to music! That scene only reminded me of the nowadays very popular marriage reception katcheris! Amidst the total chaotic environment of maamis (talking about their jewelry), maamas (talking about their gas trouble) and kids (playing with water gun), the musician has to sing! Often the musicians eyes will be tightly shut up, feigning full engrossment in his music! If not for the eye closure, who will come to save the musician from seeing the terrible audience!

To get the prathi madhyama ragam of any sudhdha madhyama ragam, just add 36 to the order of the ragam! The prathi madhyamam of Thodi (8th) is the 44th melakartha ragam. It is Bhavapriya. Ilaiyaraaja has tuned a song in this scale too. That is kandhu pudichaen (guru sishyan) song. The upper half of this ragam will be like Shanmukhapriya, and the lower half like Subhapanthuvarali. Reportedly, some big shot (Sudha Raghunathan or some- body) told about this song in the TV (Doordarshan). It seems that they wondered how Ilaiyaraaja could use this ragam (normally implying sad mood) to suit a situation in which Prabhu humours Rajni about his new, clandestine love affair with Gowthami! Can we dare call this song as set in the ragam Bhavapriya? I don't know. But, it is definitely an appreciable thing to notice him venturing into unchartered areas in scale selection, say like Bhavapriya.

Those mothers living in squalor in the Nungambakam railway station might not have any idea about "naalanaavuku moonu samacharam" and might populate the station with their innumerable underweight kids! That is bad for India! As a mother, even Thodi doesn't seem to have any idea about family planning! But, that has turned out to be good to the musical heritage of India! Oh boy, how many kids (janya ragas) has it given birth to! Most of the janya ragas of Thodi are hardcore classic ragas. The trinity seem to have enjoyed very much, composing in Thodi and its janya ragas. One of its prime janyam is Dhanyasi. Sa Ga Ma Pa Ni Sa; Sa Ni Da Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa. Probably these ragas can never be made light and presented to the common rasika! Ilaiyaraaja used one of the Thyagaraja krithi in Dhanyasi in the movie moga mull. Again, the situation is similar to sindhu bhairavi, where Shivakumar goes to a katcheri and takes over the singing of the musician on the dais. Ilaiyaraaja used the Thyagaraja krithi "lochana" In the ragam Dharbar to indicate the kind of musical talent that Shivakumar has (despite loosing his sobriety). In moga mull, a drunken musician gets on the stage and sings with a lot of abhaswaram. The hero gets on the stage and then sings "sangeetha gnanamu bhakthi vina" in Dhanyasi. K.J.Jesudoss has sung that song in the movie. In that situation there is a strong lecture by the hero's guru that many present day musicians take alcohol etc! Does not a musician (or any public figure) has every right to do whatever he wants in his personal life? Let him drink McDonalds, smoke 555, and have a couple of women in bikini (as cinema villains often do) around him! As long as his hedonistic pursuits do not affect his public performance, why should we care? Lest, alcohol companies might sue us for causing a drastic decline in their sales!

Sudha Dhanyasi is another janyam of Thodi ragam. Sa Ga Ma Pa Ni Sa; Sa Ni Pa Ma Ga Sa. You can also (more appropriately) call it as a janyam of Nadabhairavi. Ilaiyaraaja has been very generous in using this scale. MSV made an indelible mark in this ragam earlier by presenting "neeyae unaku enrum nigaraanavan" in balae pandiya. That is really fantastic! He has wonderfully used the Ga and Ni with gamakam in the song. Ilaiyaraaja's first Sudha Dhanyasi is perhaps siru ponmani in kallukul eeram. Later he gave ragavanae (illamai kaalangal), pudhiya poovidhu (thendralae ennai thodu) poojaikaetha poovidhu (?movie), vizhiyil vizhundhu (alaigal oivadhillai), theem thanana (?enakkul oruvan), manasu mayangum (sippikul muthu), masi maasam (dharmadurai), nanjai undu punjai (unnal mudiyum thambi), kotti kidakudhu (theertha karaiyinilae), kadal vanilae (rasayya), unnai edhir parthaen (vanaja girija). In many of these songs he uses other swaras like Ri2 etc., and hence cannot be called as pure form. In nanjai undu, he has not used any foreign notes. Then is it classical ragam? No! K.Balachandar (a boot licker to Ilaiyaraaja at that time, so that he could sell the movie by publicizing Ilaiyaraaja's name), made a big arguement in the movie that even "nanjai undu punjai" was a pure Sudha Dhanyasi. Dear sir, to call something as classical, you should present it in a real classical form! Just going up and down the scale wouldn't make the raga form appear in that tune! Use the gamakam, use the nuances of the ragam, then even Semmangudi will call it as Sudha Dhanyasi!

If one changed the kaisiki nishadham (Ni2) of Sudha Dhanyasi to kaakali nishadham (Ni3), then is there any ragam like that? If so, what is it called as? Ilaiyaraaja has given a couple of songs in this type of scale. One of them came in the movie poonthotta kavalkaran. Radhika gets pregnant and then the song goes in the background! I have read in my school biology class (with lot of curiosity!) that a sperm and an ovum "join" to form a baby! Look at the way the poet says about this scientific phenomenon in his poetic language.... Sindhiya vennmani sippiyil muthaachu!! What a nice euphemistic way of saying a vulgur thing! Gangei Amaran proved himself as a poet in that song! Ilaiyaraaja's tune is so wonderful in that song. It is so melodious. Vijayakanth specifically said about this song in one of his TV interviews! Another song that I know in this scale is "o vasantha raja" in neengal kaetavai. Since Ilaiyaraaja changed the Ni2 of Sudha Dhanyasi to Ni3 and made a new ragam out of it, can he proclaim himself as the creator of this new ragam?

Perhaps Balamurali Krishna was very much pleased with his wife's filter coffee early in the morning every day. He has created a ragam called as Abhayambika! Perhaps Kunnakudi expected Jayalalitha to give medical college admission to his last son (like MGR did for his older son). He has proudly joined the sycophant family of ministers and created a ragam called as Jayalalitha. If these conceited musicians called themselves as the creators of those ragas, then Ilaiyaraaja too, could...!