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Life as I'm learning it

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Location: Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, United States

"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an agèd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Saturday, July 16, 2005

How to review it?

I had actually decided to post a review entitled "Why I don't like Ilaiyaraja's Thiruvasagam?". I had sufficient reasons to support that contention; and given my verbosity, it wouldn't have been tough. Here go the reasons...

Since Monday, I have been unable to concentrate on anything. My productivity levels (which are already pathetic) are hitting new lows daily. I am yet to begin analysis on a new project, and the deadline was yesterday! I've been feeling so inferior, thinking about what a wasteful life I've led and am leading. A book I started last week is still waiting to be thumbed. I had an exam today and I didn't prepare well either. My blog entries have been erratic. (Thankfully, my readers have been spared lotsa diatribe!) Quite a list, isn't it?

Why? What happened to me? Did I find the woman of my life? Have I found a $100K a year job? Out vacationing in the Swiss Alps? No. All of that is because I started listening to Thiruvasagam: A Symphonic Oratorio by Ilaiyaraja on Monday!

When there was so much hype about the upcoming album, I wasn't quite surprised. Surely, Ilaiyaraja has never let his fans down before. But to set the sacred works of Manikka Vasagar (one of the 63 most important followers or saints of Lord Shiva) to western classical tunes would be a tall order for anyone. More than just that, one would have to please not only music lovers but the religious types also. One wrong step, and the entire house comes down on you.

But Ilaiyaraja is no ordinary raja - he is a Maharaja! He is not called Isaignani (a philosopher of music) for nothing. In what is certainly his magnum opus, he has lent a new dimension to what is considered the sweetest of the Tamil religious texts in Shaivism.

I am not going to review the album. I know very little about music. Though I listen to some baroque music on and off, I am not even a novice as regards western classical music. And though I am a Tamilian, I cannot understand classical poetry because it is too high-strung for Madrasi folks - it is almost in another language! And even if I do, I quite sure that a mortal like me is not qualified to pass comments on such a divine work as this one. However, I'll share some thoughts on two songs which moved me to tears.

Thiru Koththumbi:

This song appears as Track 3 in the CD. From an online version of Thiruvasagam (available here), I learnt that this is the last set of verses in the work. The poet-saint composes songs and tells a humming bee (koththumbi) to recite them to Lord Shiva.

The song starts with the first verse rendered immaculately by Bhavatharini (Ilaiyaraja's daughter). I have never heard her -- already a national award winner -- sing so flawlessly. The first verse leads on to the second which Ilaiyaraja picks up with great elan. There is so much divinity, so much love and devotion in his voice that makes it nothing short of contagious. The tune itself is melody personified. It is reminiscent of some of those evergreen romantic songs composed by the maestro for movies, most notably Sirai Chaalai (Kala Paani). With short interludes mostly comprising of simple but fast flute and violin pieces, placed strategically so as to give the listener just enough time of meditate upon the verses.

The song picks up great momentum by about the fifth minute and progresses naturally like a river till about the eighth minute, and then comes back to the first verse sung in unison by father and daughter. It ends on a typical high note which is quite characteristic of Ilaiyaraja.

Putril Vaazh Aravum (Achcha Paththu):

This song (Track 6) has become the favorite of almost every listener and reviewer. In my opinion they should have placed this one first. The song starts with Ilaiyaraja humming some Carnatic tune. He then hears some music played in the background and remarks, "Ah, how nice this music is! Is this what is known as the symphony? How wonderful will it be if we sing the Thiruvasagam in this tune?" Then comes the high point. He tries to sing one song, but is not satisfied because the words don't fit in properly. So he tries another song which blends well with the tune and continues with it.

The song is about what the poet-saint fears and what he doesn't. The first verse roughly translates to I don't fear serpents, nor the half-truths uttered by liars. But those who think of other Gods - I fear their ignorance!

The song has an accompanying background music which is soulful to say the least. At around the 200-second mark, in comes a very pastoral-sounding violin, which has been used to such perfection. It repeats itself with different notes after each ammanaam anjumare. The next four minutes are among the best I've ever heard in my life. That longing in the voice, those melancholic strains, they could not have been feigned. When he sings, "Oh Lord, I don't fear diseases and disabilities; nor am I afraid of life and death", one can visualize Manikka Vasagar writing and singing those lines in front of Lord Shiva.

And that's where Ilaiyaraja triumphs! With a rare but (almost) perfect fusion of eastern mysticism and symphonic music, he has brought Thiruvasagam to the layman. A million thanks are due to him for bringing God closer to us; for delighting us by adding another dimension to the honey-sweet verses of Vasagar. And personally, for disturbing my concentration, pushing down my productivity and making me feel inferior!

In the release function of the album, someone commented that Ilaiyaraja has achieved the purpose of his life by recreating the magic with his musical acumen and unfailing devotion. Couldn't agree more. I'm not just happy, but immensely proud to live in the same period as his!

Listen to Thiruvasagam: A Symphonic Oratorio. It is compelling. It is delectable. It is amongst the very best of world music. Simply put, it is THE MAGNUM OPUS!


Blogger Gokulakrishnan S said...

am rushing to get my CD in Ahmedabad tomm morning. Hope I get one. Kind of feel we are too much disconnected from our literary past. Great effort by the Maestro in getting Tamil classics into the mainstream... hope this tradition continues. You know, this is what Maestros are supposed to do after a lifetime of service to the art: Give a direction for the future.
Good review. Keep them coming :)

7/16/2005 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Karthik said...

cool! Me too hooked to those songs for a day already. only towards the wee hrs of today morning did I switch to his oldies.

7/17/2005 01:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Sriram said...

The magnum opus of the reviews so far

7/17/2005 06:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the review. Should God be realised or enjoyed? There is a distinction between the two. The latter actually distances God from the follower because the enjoyment creates a barrier to realisation.

7/17/2005 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Karthik said...

this anonymous should be an abstinence preacher/hyprocrite/both. as for me, an atheist, music, poetry and all art forms and even, god... exist to satisfy the creative ego of man and i have no qualms abt it.

7/17/2005 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Vijay Krishna said...

I think "Anon" has a valid point here. Devotion definitely gets diluted when enjoyment sets in, as it corrupts the purity of that state.

A colleague chips in with this: We know that even saints and mystics forget themselves and act like freaks in fits of extreme devotion. They relish God in that state, which isn't wrong for it is pure. But if later, they reminisce upon those moments and try reliving the joy, it is considered adulterated.

I'm not exactly sure of all that. However, my response to Anon is this. Ilaiyaraja cannot ensure that all of us reach God. However he does things in his own way to help us meditate on the Supreme. Even though this is art, and it has to be enjoyed, it is a very sAtvIk way of enjoyment.

To choose divinity alone from Raja's work would be extremely difficult (read IMPOSSIBLE). To choose the music alone would be moronic.

7/17/2005 10:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Preeti said...

A review of the first order

7/18/2005 04:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Nero the King said...

One of the USP's of the album is the non intrusive nature of the music- though the music is there always it doesnt cloud the voice i.e the lyrics

but why no words about Pollavinayen? isn't it tbe best of the lot?

7/18/2005 10:53:00 PM  
Blogger gunashekar jayaraman said...

hi.. it s amazing to read the review and gives a good feel too..

i got my copy of cd here in detroit in my brother s place...
simply to say..it s awesome..

my fav tracks are 1 and 6. Though i have read everywhere that track 2 is the best in the album ..somwat i dont feel like going beyond 1 and 6... they have bound me to them...
i feel that track 1 is the best curtain raiser to the album ..the humming and the rendition by none other than illayaraja melts our heart..
abt track 6,,, the violin piece is brilliant..
and the way illayaraja says..ammanam anjum aare... the expression he gives for anjum is rite visible...
i have to explore thru this album to find out the treasure hidden in it.. best ever i have heard...

7/20/2005 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Ramnarain said...

Fabulous review. The album is tour de force

7/21/2005 12:10:00 AM  
Blogger Claudiu Spulber said...

Hi, you have a nice blog. And the review looks very good.

7/21/2005 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Charan said...

The review is very good. There's one question I would like to raise.

In the Putril Vazh song, you've translated a line to read "But those who think of other Gods - I fear their ignorance!" How is it justified? In a pluralist society, how can that be taken as true?

7/23/2005 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger Vijay Krishna said...

I quit. I'm certain about the validity of that question. The only other thing I'm certain about is that I cannot answer it. I'll try but I'll need some time.

To anyone who comes across this, WANTED: HELP!!!

7/23/2005 10:56:00 AM  

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