Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Linear and Sinuous

What makes the Sea look so beautiful?

Is it that azure blue colour?

Or is it that grey and green shade?

Or is it that reflection of the sun rays during the day and reflection of the moon in the night?

Is it that sunrise or is it that sunset?

Is it that boat/catamaran/ship floating at a distance?

Yes, all these are beautiful and no doubt embellish the sea but in my opinion, there are two more things which combine to make the sea an eternal beauty.

One is the Horizon and the other is the Wave.

The former is considered to be an imaginary line but whenever I see the sea, I am flummoxed and astounded by the straightness of this line. Whoever has drawn it is the best artistic engineer ever. How can somebody be so perfect?

Talking about the waves, these are formed as a result of the wind blowing over the surface. This is what science says and I would like to be less of a scientist (anyway I know very little of science) and more of an artist(this too, I know I am not but who can stop me from imagining?). When I look at the waves, I look at the zig zag pattern and the way these approach the land, fade away and then come again. What an amount of energy these have! Don’t these tire at all?

When I look at the sea, I don’t look at the horizon first and the waves next(or the other way around) but look at both together. And whenever I do this-looking at the sea from a distance and then looking at the horizon and the waves at the same time- I can’t help marveling at the beauty of this sight. This is a perfect example of contrast. At a far distance, there is that perfect straight line and closer to us is this zig zag curve. Isn’t this poetic and musical?

People familiar with my posts know how much I love the contrasts in poetry and in life. If poetry and life combine together, don’t we get that ‘M’ word without which I cannot breathe?

Contrast in music is a very wide topic and it would serve little purpose if I were to take up that topic- which is full of technical details- here. However, this C word is also so simple that all it need are the ears, a little observation and focus.

What adds beauty to Raaja sir’s music is this C (oh, doesn’t it rhyme with ‘sea’?). People who attended Geetanjali-2014 , I am sure remember my presentation on ‘Contrasts in his music’.

On this World Music Day, I thought it would be very appropriate if I took up a song which is full of contrasting elements. In my opinion, ‘Kaalaipaniyil aadum malargaL’ from Gayathri(1977) should rank as one of the best compositions in the world.

Let me first mention what all I find to be unique in this composition and then move on to describe some of these. I say ‘some of these’ because certain things don’t need descriptions and this applies as much to music as to life.

First is the tune. Generally, an Indian film song follows a particular raga(not talking about exceptions-which are in fact too many now- which have only ‘rogaa’) or a scale. This topic too is huge and beyond the scope of this post. However, let me say that a composer composes the song in a particular scale which has a repetition of some particular notes while ascending and descending. This particular pattern can be said to follow a raga, but most of the composers take liberty with this and add alien notes.

Raaja sir is known for using some beautiful known, rare and unknown ragas in his compositions with or without alien notes (for more details on this, check out my posts in my other blog http://rajamanjari.blogspot.in/). At the same time, he has also composed tunes which cannot be termed as falling under the classification of any raga. ‘Sendhoorappoove’ and ‘ILamai enum poongaatRu’ are just some examples of this. ‘Kaalaipaniyil’ too falls in this category.

The Pallavi has notes of Kharaharapriya while the CharaNams have the other ‘ga’(ga3) and also the other dha(dha1). What is amazing is the fact that in some phrases, both the ‘ga’ s and both the ‘dha’ s appear one after the other giving that chromatic effect. For example, in ‘kalaigaL aayiram’(first charaNam), the ‘dha’ s appear one after the other and in the third and in the sixth phrases of the humming at the end of the CharaNam, we see both the ‘ga’ s.

There is also change in the shruti in the first segment of the second interlude.

But what is more wondrous is the ‘usi’ in the humming at the end of each CharaNam. The concept of ‘usi’ in a taaLa has been explained by me in some of the posts here and also during Geetanjali-2015. Wait for more detailed explanation in this year’s Geetanjali.

Usi’ is a speciality of Carnatic Music and we see the pattern is in usi when the stress is on the even count(2,4,6..). ‘Kaalaipaniyil’ is set in the 3-beat cycle tisram or one can even say in the 6-beat rupakam depending on the way we look at it. I know I am getting too technical but certain things surely need explanation so that the brilliance of the composition (and therefore of the composer) can be appreciated more. The pattern changes to the 4-beat cycle chatushram during the humming part towards the end of each CharaNam. Not only does 3 change to 4, but also the stress (percussion) is on the even beats.

Usi at its uchcham (best).

Now, count the contrasting elements-

1. two variants of two swaras occurring one after the other

2.tisram to chatushram
4.change of shruti in the beginning of the second interlude.

There is one more (the fifth one) about which I shall explain soon.

So, does it mean that the composition has only the contrasts?


It has a beautiful straight line called as ‘melody’.

One feels the evanescence of the morning mist while listening to the song.
The initial bell sound reminds one of the dew drops falling off the petals of the flowers while the humming of Sujatha(her second Tamizh song after ‘Kaadal oviyam’ from ‘Kavikkuyil’) is like the morning breeze. The santoor depicts the swaying of the branches.

The Pallavi is a blend of intuition and expression with the sangati after ‘maayam’ shining with a special radiance.

I mentioned about a ‘fifth contrast’ while listing out the C, didn’t I?

This occurs at the beginning of the first interlude. The sitar follows tisram while the rhythm guitar which backs it follows the chatushram.


Crossing others’ path is not good manners generally but if the rhythm crosses like this, isn’t it lovable?

The violins and santoor-to the backing of the tabla in tisram - guide us to the first CharaNam.
This Laya Raaja can never rest. Or at least he will not let us rest. He loves to play with the TaaLa and he does it in the CharaNams too. The tisram  which goes as ‘1 2 3’ on the tabla in the first part of the first line(paarvaiyodu paarvai seRum ) changes as ‘1 2 3 4/1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4’ in the next half(bhavam mudhalil and siRu naaNam manadhil).

And ah yes..that wonderful humming where the notes go in pairs with the percussion in usi.

The second interlude is more powerful than the first with the santoor sounding like a bird in the beginning and the violins moving ardently. But the piece I love is the one by the violins after the sitar- which sounds with sobriety. There is a very brief classical touch in that piece of violins which always touches a chord in my heart. The brief rendezvous between the sitar and the keys in the end, is musically romantic.

In fact, everything in this world is romantic- sky, sea, horizon, waves, music.. and.. ..contrasts.

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