Its been quite a while since I blogged on a Carnatic classical theme. The last posts were perhaps Desadi and before that the Rajakesi. Since then actually I have been longing to come back to this domain. But somehow the topics of my posts of late have been centered on Western Classical. Those have been inspired by some spontaneous moments and hence I couldn't help but blog about them. Its merely co-incidental. So perhaps it has taken another spontaneous spark to thrust me back into what I always consider to be my home turf.

Recently I stumbled upon a song of Illaiyaraaja from the movie Aalapana. The movie itself is a milestone in Maestro's Telugu works. Directed by one of his favorites, Its a classical Dance oriented movie. Going by the high standards that he set for himself in similar classical dance based Sagara Sangamam, one need not even dare think about the quality of songs in this movie. All of them are as classically and critically acclaimed as reaching to the masses. Apparently there are more surprises left in this movie. The song on which this post is based - "Madhana Lathika Hare" is supposedly from the movie Aalapana and it has left me flabbergasted from the moment I listened to it.

Once my first listening completed, I was left thinking "This sounds like "Dhenuka" but do I miss the panchamam here?". Having listened to that song for 'n' times since, I am feeling a little dazed on the magnitude of this find.

The song is indeed the Pa varja janya of Dhenuka and It has the following grammer:
Arohanam : Sa Ri1 Ga2 Ma1 Dha1 Ni3 Sa
Avarohanam: Sa Ni3 Dha1 Ma1 Ga2 Ri1 Sa

A Perfect Shadava Shadava Ragam, this one is also one of many such Anonymous Shadava beauties privy to Raaja (Planning a series on Raaja's Shadava stable of ragas is on my cards for a long time. Hopefully it will materialize soon)

I feel this song is special not just because of its rare raaga, but in the way the melody and the interludes are constructed as well. It starts at Dhaivatham, a relatively unusual swara to anchor your melody upon. The way how both the Pallavi and the Charanam ends are in a real unorthodox descent of the Raaga going as: "Ga Sa Ni Dha Ma Ga Ri" is teasing big time as it descends all the way signaling a landing on the foundation Sadjamam (which is the norm) but instead jumping back to the unique Dha start.

The real hero of this song though is SP Balasubramaniam. I think this song should be a watershed moment in his illustrious career. You would agree with me that, this is a rather uncharted scale to sing. But I am sure he relished the challenge as it shows how effortlessly he pulls it off. The accomplishment is even significant given that the composer has gone to some extraordinary length to bring out the essence of this scale. This is clear as both the interludes are a SPB show with elaborate aalapanas. This arrangement is unusual of Raaja too. Because generally in classical based songs he might pack the interludes with kalpana swaras (Indraikki Enindha etc.,) but leaving the interludes open for singer's aalapana is unprecedented.

The Charanam has some interesting variations in each line as they are repeated at least twice fully scaling the length of this Raaga (I didn't dare use the word "breadth" or "depth" here although for a song that lasts less than the time of a "Thukkada" in a classical concert, the engineering of Raaga is quite phenomenal here);

1. Charanam's first line "Nadha Seema Lone" is sung with some beautiful craftmanship of swaras effortlessly jumping an octave for each swara sung (like sa Sa, ri Ri, ga Ga); And this line anchors on Sadjamam

2. The second line "Palakarinche Andhe" anchors at Rishabam in the end, after displaying some fine nuances such as "Nilichi Choose Sandhe" = daaTu gamakams of sa ri, ni sa, dha ni, ma dha - ga ma dha ni sa)

3. The third line "Korukkunna Aagamyam" stresses the Ghandharam The song is ondra kattai shruti..i.e., C#; Since there is no panchamam you cannot say its either minor or major although because of chinna Ri,Ga and Dha this song gives a quintessential minor feel. So the prime chords available for Raaja are F#minor (more or less the root chord) and A Major. Of all the lines in the song, This line emphasizes the A major so beautifully.

4. And the final push of "Aaa Aaa" in the charanam = sa ri ga Ma and anchors on Madhyamam before talking the mystic descent as explained above already.

Where else can you see such a gradual built up of melody .. eh ?

And don't forget to take notice how SPB efforlessly scales the Mel Sthaayi Dhaivatham in this song. (This happens in the Kaarvai following the first line "Theega meeta kunte" in the 2nd charanam) Its not usual in cine songs that the upper limit of vocals goes beyond melsthaayi Panchamam (At least in the last 40 years). So I think this is a rarity and again SPB at his effortless best.. No false voice.. just plain bold committed singing. Out and out the complete song is a testimony to SPB's Technical prowess, Shruthi precision and Voice control.

As a kid "Tirunelveli Vanoli Nilayam" (Tirunelveli Radio station) was my only source of carnatic music and I never missed their 1 hour program of pure classical concerts between 10 to 11 PM every day (I even remember the station violinist's name who used to play regularly in those programs - Thiruvallur.V.Parthasaarathy); Once a blue moon, they will air some quality instrumental music. One of the popular combination of instrumental music that I always look forward to is the "Veena-Venu-Violin" trio performance. For a change not listening to heavy vocals and just listening to this heavenly combination of 3 instruments in a dark room with open windows thats funneling the cool breeze from western ghats together with the sound of rumblings leaves that resonate with the music waves emerging out an antique mono Philips radio.. Wow.. what a sublime experience...

The prelude of this song is indeed the combination of Veena-Venu-Violin. As illustrated, Its a real joy when Raaja chooses a classical base and retains the same ragam and arrangement through out. (Eg: Poo malai vaangi vanthal, Vedam Nee etc.,); Because when he does that he is at his traditional best. This song is no exception. After CR Subburaman when was the last time anyone cared for such traditional arrangements in cine songs?

Many of Raaja's Songs are a double jeopardy. For one many of his songs never comes out because either they are recorded but not used in the movie or picturized but censored. And secondly, on some of these songs he would have opted for some mind boggling experiment. And sadly we would never come to know it. I personally know 3 or 4 more songs that fall in this category (like the Hieroglyphics post). Needless to say, they will be blogged in future. But what about ALL of those songs that are still lurking around in the oblivion :-(

Finally, if you are wondering about the title of the post:
Dhenuka as such seems not that frequented a ragam in Carnatic classical although Raaja has used quite a few of them. The fact that you feel the song "Udhaya Geetham Paaduven" when you hear the above song is because "Udhaya geetham" is loosely based on Dhenuka (Although I would say its an insult to call it a Dhenuka. Because Udhaya Geetham has some out of the box usage of Ri2 and Ni2 which accentuates the complex nature of the song. But nevertheless..); When I look up in the internet, I found a a janya of Dhenuka called "VasanthaThodi" which has the same arohanam of the one we are discussing here but a depleted avarohanam of just "sa ni dha ma ri sa" (i.e., without Ga in the avarohanam as compared to this Raaga.)

So the only way I am currently able to define this Raaga is through some fun maths. As you know of the ubiquitous y = f(x) equation, 'x' is the input and independent. Based on the function 'f' that you apply on 'x', you get the output of 'y' which is the dependent variable. Here In my case, I know the input and the function.. i.e.,
x = Dhenuka
f = remove Pa
But I don't know what to call the 'y' :-(

So what's the name of my 'y' ..? Anyone ..? please help..

I will close this post by sharing my excitement of discovering something new...

Recently, my other idol Stephen Hawking made a candid statement when he stepped down from the prestigious academic title of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (the text version is here). He has followed the space and the universe all his life and keeps discovering things. Therefore he is able to crystallize his abstract feeling albeit through a somewhat controversial comparison ;-)

I would just restrict myself by saying, following Illaiyaraaja is similar to following something as gargantuan .. Just like how you look up the space and gaze all those stars all night and discover new galaxies and constellations, exploring Raaja's creations yield similar rewarding experiences..

With Love

Update: 2nd Nov

Thanks to Nagaraj and to Sathya_Vrathan from Rasika.org forum (where I had raised the same question) we have finally cracked 'y'. The Ragam is called as "Vatsa" and indeed a janya of Dhenuka. Thank you to both of them. And as far as I know, there are no carnatic classical Keerthanais or Varnams or Swarajathis or other type of compositions. That leaves me to think, Maestro is the first person to use this Ragam (although with my limited knowledge I could well be wrong). Yet another silent revolution.

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