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.
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!
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