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Ilayaraaja composes a song. We discuss what raga it is set in out of academic interest. But wait. Did he compose that song with the raga in mind or did the song take up a raga as the composition came about? I have seen videos where Raaja claims to reflect a mood and if it happens to be in Kalyani ragam, so be it. I have also seen videos where he says he took up a particular raga (man has discovered a couple of ragas as a matter of fact) and composed a particular song. So I guess it depends on the milieu. With respect to films, when a musician primarily does justice to a situation/lyric and satisfies a director’s vision (in most cases, despite the lack of a vision), raga in my opinion is secondary. It is nevertheless fun or informative to look at a song through the prism of its raga.

In this vein, there was a playlist made out of Raaja’s Kalyani songs (happens to be my favorite raga from my favorite musician and so gives me a reason to indulge) by  Raaga_Suresh. I saw that the list had 30 songs and offered to create a parallel list in the same raga by Raaja. He has more than 50 songs in only Kalyani and in my opinion; he has never gone wrong when he has taken it up. He also has a sizable number of non-film songs/tracks in this raga which may not be very popular outside the hardcore fan circle. So this led me to add all the non-film and filmy songs not in the first list and comparing the 2 and adding from one list to the other and vice versa, Suresh and I decided to re-create this as 2 playlists; one with film songs which were light on the ears, the other with film and non-film tracks which were devotional/semi classical. There is an overlap zone which can be best explained by a Venn’s diagram but I have used my discretion here and I intend to share the lists and discuss a few songs. So if you aren’t yawning yet and are willing to indulge with me, come along.

Disclaimer: There are many songs that could have a brief Kalyani and have another raga (not included here) and there are songs here that could have other ragas too with Kalyani being the base. What I have added are mostly songs which predominantly are set in Kalyani.

Devotional/Semi-Classical playlist:

The list contains 27 songs from films and private albums (at your leisure yougaiz; ranges from films to devotional to parallel attempts) so I will say what I feel about 7 songs very briefly and move on to the light/filmy list.

  1. Maa Ganga/Paramporul Thaane: The former is a Hindi bhajan composed as the title song of Naan Kadavul. The film begins in Varanasi and the tune, until I confirmed when I heard it at first, I thought was out of a North Indian bhajan. It fits the bhajan construct of North India to a T.

But this is not all. The same tune was reused in a Tamil devotional in a parallel album on Ramana Maharishi as Paramporul Thaane Arunachalam. Incredibly, it sounds in sync with the Tamil sensibilities here. How? Maybe the voice in each song. Kunal Ganjawala in Naan Kadavul and Sriram Parthasarathy here add their individual essences. But IR carnaticizes the Tamil song with brighas while the Naan Kadavul song is mostly plain. The result is starkly different. But it is essentially the same tune! QED.

2. Arul Thavazhum: This is a Carnatic keerthanai written and composed by IR on Ramana Maharishi. This goes all the way to the rigors of South Indian classicism. Unni Krishnan does a fine job but the composition’s grandeur is where it reaches the upper octaves and climaxes in an awesome peak at “amarar peru RamaNar uRai aNNAmalai” with the Mridangam giving superb support. Beautifully done.

3. Sarvamum Nee: This song introduces the album and has about a minute’s discourse from IR on his intent in producing such a devotional album. But if you do get past that, there is genius lying in wait. Thiruvalluvar famously said அகர முதல எழுத்தெல்லாம் ஆதி பகவன் முதற்றே உலகு and underlined that like the language of Tamil has agaram to begin it, there is a Primordial Lord responsible for this world. Raaja takes that idea and incorporates it to music. How he does explains his genius. He begins the song with Sa Pa Sa in lower and higher octaves, that fundamental lesson in Carnatic music and expands Sa with superlatives on the Goddess. He proceeds to அகம் புறம், ஆனந்தம் and goes on to ஈஸ்வரம், உளம் உள்ளும், ஊன் உள்ளும், என்னிலும் ஏகமும், ஐம்பெரும் பூதமும் நீ. Essentially, he has made use of every “uyir ezhuthu” in Tamil from agaram (அ) to ஐ and expanded each vowel with a superlative on the Goddess. What he did was take the fundamentals of music and then of our language and marry it in a song dedicated to one primordial Goddess. Thiruvalluvar for scholars. Ilayaraaja for me.

4. You Cannot Be Free: (Even if you don’t read my rant, just listen to this score. You won’t regret it if it’s a first timer). This was apparently written (literally, for he writes his background scores for songs and BGMs) in half an hour during a random lunch. The entire album is a crossover look at how Thyagaraja and Bach would sound together. That’s Indian and Western Classical music (WCM). What he says is they are the same (click here).  Here, when he looks at a beautiful Kalyani true to its Carnatic roots in Western Classical arrangement, in one stanza repeated twice separated by a second stanza, it sounds both here and there. He maybe says we can’t be free and will be tied to the music when we listen to this.  When the Mridangam natters in the charanam, I feel it too. The beauty of the Carnatic Kalyani overtakes us there and I can’t be free from magic such as this when it’s played. What did he name this album? “How To Name It (HTNI)”. For, how do you name this?

5. Mozart I Love You: Legend has it that Hariprasad Chaurasia wished to collaborate with IR upon hearing his exploits with the flute in “Idhu Oru Pon Maalai Pozhudhu”. That eventually happened in Nothing But Wind, another lyricless album of instrumental tracks that bridge Indian and Western Classical styles (like one Ravi Natarajan in a forum once said, genres are merely inputs into his music, not outputs for you cannot categorize the output) with the flute. For music with the flute or music in its primordial state in unison with nature is nothing but wind!

In HTNI, he paid his ode to Bach with the violin. Here, he pays his dues to Mozart with the flute. It starts with a passage inspired by Mozart’s Allegra but quickly gets into Indian roots with the flute echoing a Kalyani that is less classical than what we heard in HTNI but as this ‘Kalyani lite’ peaks with the violin in a counterpoint (two different melodies in WCM sounded together is a counterpoint and IR’s music is riddled with 100s of counterpoints harmonizing Indian classical elements), it’s like being lifted on a joy ride without the effects of gravity in a plane. Slowly, violins ease into a night of quiet and sure, the flute breaks into a dawn that brings in pure Indian folk and counterpoints it with the WC elements with the violin. Simply breathtaking.

6. Kalaivaaniye: The climax song of Sindhu Bhairavi. A popular one. But as you listen to the interludes (this was in 1985 and HTNI was in 1986), we can notice similarities and I for one feel he was experimenting with such a sound (harmonizing WCM with Carnatic CM). The concept in this song we all know. It has no descending notes (Sa Ni Dha Pa…) and only ascending notes (Sa Ri Ga Ma…). Every line goes on ascent and stops in the ascent. Every line is a mini climax. The finale of course is breathtaking with KJY in top form with Kalyani breathing Carnatic fire. The content is that the life of the musician will now be only in ascent. The stuff that Raaja brings to the table for a storyteller is stuff of dreams.

7. Malayoram Mayile: This is an example of overlap zone. Hero is a village simpleton. Heroine is a sophisticated lady. How does a duet underline the difference? Hero’s lines are plain. Heroine’s lines are punctuated with classical brighas. Same tune, different output. It continues in the charanam as well. The interlude has the hero with a folk “than dha na tha” and heroine with a Carnatic “tha ka dhi mi tha ka janu”. The character lines are defined subtly through an unassuming melody where Kalyani the raga is merely used to service the characters and harks to the first category I spoke of at the beginning where the raga itself is secondary. Also, there are elements of folk and carnatic in a film song and I placed it in the classical list just to show it is futile to rigorously classify his songs because I can place it with the classical songs and get away with it 😉

Light/Cinematic playlist:

There are 36 songs for your listening pleasure here (bringing it to a total of 63 songs in Kalyani that I know of). I shall leave you to discern through this list and speak of 4 songs and 1 BGM.

  1. Kottaara Kettile: For the Malayalam original of the Tamil film Friends. A shortie. Less than 2 minutes long. But just give a listen to how he beautifully traverses the range of Kalyani for a light song in such a short duration. Brilliant.

2. Ee Naade Edo Ayyindi: For the Telugu film Prema. I share this simply because this was lifted lock, stock and barrel for the Hindi remake by Anand-Milind and that is more popular across India (Bollywood, duh!) than this. One for Raaja. One for regional cinema. Of course, one for this beautiful number.

3. Marangal Tharum: A relatively rare Tamil number. Hero finds out that a blind primary school’s food is poisoned. Children invoke God in a song before they eat. As they begin their meal, the hero saves the kids, fights and kills the villain and goes to jail. All this under 3 minutes without a structure and the tune as the kids sing is peaceful without any instruments. As the hero’s heroism and sacrifice is apparent, it is supposed to be an emotional high for the viewer and that precisely happens through the ears as violins and trumpets collide in a counterpoint offering an outstanding contrast in such a short number.

4. Sundari Kannaal Oru Sedhi: One of the most iconic songs in Tamil Film History. The song has multiple parts. Hero weds heroine, hero goes to war, hero and heroine are united in thought and separated physically, war rages, and hero wins and reunites with the heroine. Orchestration is exquisite in the prelude. Kalyani is exquisiter as marriage is solemnized. But as the hero goes to war, raga changes to Kosalam. The change in the 2 ragas is only 1 note but the change conveyed in the mood is stark. In the charanam, as the lyrics and visuals denote, there is separation (physical) and unison (platonic), Kalyani and Kosalam both appear to underline this in a brilliantly constructed passage. As they unite physically in their dreams in the pallavi, Kalyani reappears. War continues with Kosalam, the unison-separation continues with Kalyani-Kosalam and as the final unison happens, it is back to Kalyani. Ragas are used as devices for conveying emotions here. The 2 contrasting emotions find vent under Ilayaraaja’s spontaneous genius.

5. Baba Mar Gaya: Film is Nayagan. Hero kills a corrupt/abusive police officer, discovers he has a family with a challenged kid. The situation calls for pity or like our elders would say, kAruNyam. What follows is a BGM score in Sarangi that underlines 2 things. A sorrow for the kid’s plight and the pity from the hero. 2 emotions. 1 tune. Listen!

To conclude, Indian to Western classical and all that that lies in between from folk to rock to rap (give Iniya Gaanam a listen, for that has rock, rap, qawwali and Carnatic in one song!) in one raga has been touched by IR through his music. Heck, only Kalyani would be enough to show that there is hardly any genre left untouched by him and I’ve only discussed 12 tracks here. To people familiar with the blog, some of the post can be a case of ‘thirumba thirumba pesara nee’ but then, this is a glimpse of a genius which is not tiresome for me and tomorrow is the man’s birthday in any case so I guess you would understand this post 🙂 Like I like to say, whenever Raaja takes up Kalyani, it seems as though Kalyani thanks Raaja for taking her up. Well, not for the first time and certainly not the last, take a bow Ilayaraaja.

Appendix for your curiosity:

The song list for devotional/classical:

Song Film/Private Album (F, PA)
1 Maa Ganga Naan Kadavul (F)
2 Arul Thavazhum Guru Ramana Geetham (PA)
3 Saranam Bhava Baba Pugazh Maalai (PA)
4 Paramporul Thaane Ramana Saranam (PA)
5 Enakkoru Annai Geethanjali (PA)
6 Sarvamum Nee Geethanjali (PA)
7 You Can’t Be Free How To Name It (PA)
8 Suramodamu Aditya 369 (F)
9 Vizhigal Meeno Raagangal Maaruvadhillai (F)
10 Enakkul Iruppadhu Amma Paamaalai (PA)
11 Sharanam Bhava Sethu (F)
12 Mozart I Love You Nothing But Wind (PA)
13 Enadhu Udalum Ramanamaalai (PA)
14/15 Honnina Therinali/Annaiye Ambigaye Honnina Therinali/Geetha Vazhipaadu (PA)
16 Janani Janani Thaai Mookambikai (F)
17 Amma Endrazhaikkaadha Mannan (F)
18 Vandhaal Mahalakshmiye Uyarndha Ullam (F)
19 Ennai Oruvan Kumbakkarai Thangaiah (F)
20 Kaatril Varum Geethame Oru Naal Oru Kanavu (F)
21 Yamunai Aatrile Thalapathi (F)
22 Nirpadhuve Nadappadhuve Bharathi (F)
23 Kalaivaaniye Sindhu Bhairavi (F)
24 Malaiyoram Mayile Oruvar Vazhum Alayam (F)
25 Nadhiyil Aadum Poovanam Kaadhal Oviyam (F)
26 Naan Paada Varuvaai Udhiri Pookkal (F)
27 Vaidehi Raman Pagal Nilavu


The songs for cinematic/light:

Songs Film
1/2 Vellai Pura Ondru (Happy/Sad) Pudhu Kavidhai
3 Naan Enbadhu Nee Allavo Soorasamharam
4 Panchami Thingal Friends (Malayalam)
5 Kottaara Kettile Friends (Malayalam)
6 Oru Koottula Paandi Naattu Thangam
7 Ee Naade Edo Ayyindi Prema (Telugu)
8 Aadi Thiradhannil Bhagyadevatha (Malayalam)
9 Konjam Sangeetham Veettula Viseshanga
10 Kannaale Kaadhal Kavidhai Aathma
11 Sundari Kannaal Oru Sedhi Thalapathi
12 Vaanathu Thaaragayo Poonthottam
13 Nanna Jeeva Nenu Geetha (Kannada)
14 Poovaadikaiyil Alayum Vyamoham (Malayalam)
15 Aaraaro Aaraaro Anand
16 Manjal Veyyil Nandu
17 Marangal Tharum Dhuruva Natchathiram
18 Adhisaya Nadamidum Siraiyil Pootha Chinna Malar
19 Poonkaatinodam Poomukhapadiyil Ninneyum Kaathu (Malayalam)
20 Mizhiyil Meen Pidanju Sandhyakku Virinja Poovu (Malayalam)
21 Vaanam Vaazhthida Chinna Maappilai
22 Mandhaara Poo Mooli Vinodhayathra (Malayalam)
23 Radha Azhaikkiraal Therkathi Kallan
24 Paarthen Pon Manam Agni Paarvai
25/26 Unnai Naan Paarkkaiyil (SPB-Asha/KJY) Kannukkoru Vanna Kili
27 Vaa Kaathirukka Kaathirukka Neramillai
28 Vaana Enge Nenjil Aadum Poo Ondru
29 Iniya Gaanam Paatu Paadava
30 Maalai Chandiran Unnai Vaazhthi Paadugiren
31 Tholi Choopu Rajkumar (Telugu)
32 Amruthamaay Abhamaay Snehaveedu (Malayalam)
33 Akkuthikku Kaliyoonjal (Malayalam)
34 Mudhal Mutham Pudhir
35 Baba Mar Gaya (BGM) Nayagan
36 Title Track BGM Suryan (Malayalam)