Thiruvasakam in Symphonic Oratorio - Ilaiyaraaja
Thiruvasakam in Symphonic Oratorio - Ilaiyaraaja
Thiruvasakam is an ancient tamil scripture written by Manickavasagar. Ilaiyaraaja has set select verses from this scripture to music in a symphonic oratoio. This is one of the greatest works by an Indian artist so far, and its importance as a landmark in Indian art and culture can never be understated. Such a majestic work cannot be reviewed by a layman like me, so these are just my thoughts about this great work. I hope that they will give you an idea about this work and encourage you to listen to it. And if you have alreasy listened to it, I hope this will help you to appreciate it even more.
Before going into the music, let me tell you that "thiruvasakam" is an ancient work written in tamil that I (and most tamalians today I'm sure) don't undestand easily. It is in praise of Lord Shiva. While I'm not a stern believer, I must say it is written exceptionally well (atleast the parts I could understand). And Ilaiyaraaja has set it to such wonderful tune and sung it so beautifully that the emotion is truly portrayed. Goosebumps run all over me throughout the album even after several listens! Now lets go to the music. Performed by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Laszlo Kovacs, English lyrics by Oscar winner Stephen Schwartz, recorded by Richard King (who has recorded many grammy winning albums), there is no shortage of grandeur. But the grandeur of the music itself surpasses all else.
01 - "Poovar Senni Mannan"
This song starts with a grand chorus humming something like vedic chants. I think this is very appropriate, as people start listening with an idea in their mind of hearing ancient verses in praise of god, and are eased into the experiences. Ilaiyaraaja's voice sounds perfect. Then the symphonic interludes slowly envelope you, and before you know it, you are drowned in a majestic composition, with the verses tingling your blood with each beat.
I particularly like a part about 5:25 minutes into the song, where Raaja sings
"Adaivom naam poy chivaburaththul aniyar kadavadaiyame'
(roughly, "we will reach the gates of Siva's city )
The music builds to show the purpose and endeavor, and you feel the energy raise inside you.
The next line is
"pudaipatt'urgi poatruvom puyangan alvan pugazhgalaye'
(roughly, "we will melt in his grace and sing his praise")
which Raaja sings with such emotion that you feel it yourself.
The way the music flows in just these two lines is indicative of the majesty of the work.
02 - "Pollaa Vinayen"
This is without doubt the grandest number in the album, running for 20 minutes. It flows through so many movements, in so many emotions, in so many different rhythmic cycles and so many other things that I can't explain. books can be written about this song alone. This is also the only song that features English lyrics (along with tamil). This is a very emotionally moving piece, and everytime it comes to the lines "Namahshivaya vaazhga, naadamthaazh vaazhga" I'm sure most people will break into tears. The English lyrics are written really well (by Oscar winning writer Stephen Schwartz), and sung really well by the English singer, that beautifully adds to the oveall emotion. While this piece moves us emotionally, it is also technically very complex. The ending takes us to en emotional high that becomes hard to bear, and the ending 'namahshivaya vaazhga' will make anyone tremble.
This composition shows what a professional and genius Ilaiyaraaja is when it comes to arrangement and orchestration. The chorus arrangements and harmonizations are to die for. Its amazing how beautifully the chorus is arranged in one song, in one soft part where Raaja sings a-capella with lovely harmonization, and in another part where the music is so grand and the chorus is just majestic, but both with pure genius. The a capella part is followed by a very devotional and poetic section set in 5 beats, urging you to join in with the singing. This leads to an English section, which builds up to the ending chorus which must be heard to be believed.
To me, Ilaiyaraaja's fusion is real fusion. Most fusion artists try to mix eastern and western music together, but they remain as individual entities. In Ilaiyarajas music everything flows into one that you cannot single out anything. That is truly fusion, which results in a single musical entity that flows without contradictions. Ilaiyaraaja has demonstrated it in "How to name it" and "Nothing but wind". In this piece he perfects it.
03 - "Pooeukanum Purantharunam"
This song addresses the dragon-flies (Kothumbi). Manickavasagar urges the dragon-fly to go to lord Shiva and sing his praises. Listen to this song with this in mind, and feel the flight of these amusing insects in the music.
This is a very joyful sounding composition, starting with a pizzicato string leading to a short melodious intro that sets the mood. Then Bhavatharini sings in a beautiful voice, all set in a beautifully arranged violin background. Raaja hums and joins in with the line; "naan'ar en ullamar nyaanangal'ar, ennai yaar arivar?" (roughly, "Who am i? what are the lesosns in my mind? who knows me?") that the humility and devotion can be clearly seen in his voice. The symphonic interludes are charming.
04 - "Umbarkatkarasaey"
This is a slow song rendered with a lot of emotion by Raaja. The chorus humming is captivating in a haunting way. Another 'goosebumps" song!
05 - "Muthu natamam"
The mood swings back to jolly celebration, with this joyous song featuring several singers (including Unnikrishnan, Bhavatharini etc but not Raaja). It is said that Manickavasagar saw some village damsels pounding gold dust with pestles and singing random songs with it. he was inspired by this and wrote this song in praise of god, sung while pounding the gold dust ("porchunnam idithunnaame'). imagine a joyful village with people pounding gold-dust with pestles and singing in this rhythm. An excellent composition!
It starts with bells and chorus humming a happy tune, and the "pounding' rhythm in the background. As the singing starts, it makes you gently sway with the rhythm. The symphonic interludes provide preludes to the verses to follow, melodiously flowing from verse to verse. This is a great song for dance, and I'm sure it will pretty soon be choreographed in some college compeition or cultural show near you. hmm wish I had one of those big pestles like in the movies...
06 - "Puttril Vazh Aravum Anjen"
This song starts with Ilaiyaraaa talking. He talks as a layman amazed by the beauty of symphonic music, and wonders how it would be if Manickavasagar sang with the symphony orchestra. I personally wish he hadn't talked. The music thus far took me to an emotional and spiritual high, and he brought me back to earth with his layman talk! Listening to it again however made it amusing, and eventually, just natural.
The song itself is another masterpiece, This tune is constantly in my head and I keep singing the song to myself. It starts with a simple and addictive humming, that gently grows into a full symphonic splendour.
Its an excellent song to finish the album, and the last lines keep ringing in the ears long after the CD has stopped playing.
'vaadamor adigal vaazhga, vaazhthumavar adiyar vaazhga'...!
That wraps up the album.
On a parallel note, Ilaiyaraaja was asked if this album was his life's ambition. He replied saying "This is my life's purpose."
Such is the conviction with which he has taken this effort. And the results are there for everyone to see (or hear). This is truly one great album in the history of mankind, and it is music that will live for ages. Ilaiyaraaja is a devout man, and wanted to popularize the ancient tamil text which he believes will purify the soul of one who utters it. His hope is that it will urge some of us to utter the verses, atleast with his music. He has certainly achieved this objective with me. I keep singing parts from this album to myself constantly.
Like most of Raaja's music, you will have to listen to it a few times, over a few days, to really comprehend it and appreciate it. But once it takes over you, you will be drawn into it like into a quicksand, but one you will never want to get out of!
last but not the least, please BUY this album, and do not download it online. Even if you already have the mp3s, please buy the CD. The CD costs only Rs 150, and cassette is only Rs 50. It is difinitely worth it (more than all the 500rs trash CDs). Only legally baught copies are indicative of public interest in such works, and will make more such ventures possible in the future.
Aadalaam Vaa, Paadalaam Vaa, Kondaadalaam Vaa
Engum Endrum Pongidudhe Inbam, Inbam Pozhiyude