Archive for January, 2017

Illaiyaraja and Manikkavacagar’s ‘porchuNNam’

The Tamil month of Margazhi celebrates the work of the Saint Poet Manikkavacagar.  Reflecting on the legacy of the poet, with Tiruvadirai (the full moon night in the darkest month of the year) just coming up, I youtubed Manikkavacakar on my iphone and immediately ran into ‘Tiruvacakam in Symphony’ recorded  in 2005 by Illaiyaraja.

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What is Tiruvaacakam?

Tiruvaacakam (Sacred Sayings) – or Tiruvasagam  is a collection of poems packed with devotion and alliteration written by the Saint Poet Manikkavaacagar expressing his bhakti to Shiva, several hundred years ago.

The tiruvaacakam consists of several thematic chapters such as Tiruvempavai, Tiru-Ammaanai, Achho patikam, porchunnam, Tirupponnoosal etc.

The chapter porchunnam’ contains 20 verses. Roughly translated ‘porchunnam’ means ‘songs sung to accompany the joyous ritual of preparing (pounding) incensed powder for the Lord’.

porchunnam’ is featured in the 5th Track in the album.

porchunnam’ is referred to as ‘aananda manOlayam’ i.e. transforming into a state of oneness through a joyous state of being. Illaiyarajas’ arrangement of these verses does reflect this state of joy.

From the standpoint of Tamil rules that govern classical poetry, the verse form is classified as an ‘aru seer kazhi nedil adi aasiriya viruttam’. Ignore the term if it fails to ring a bell from your 11th standard Tamil grammar lessons. Just remember the number 6.

The orchestral arrangement projects a brisk waltz like character for these verses (3+3). vocalizing the sense of joy seen in the poetry, based entirely on the scale of the Karnataka raga sarasangi.

What is sarasangi? It is a raga with a scale that differs from that of sankarabharanam by just one note, the dha. Illaiyaraja has dealt with this scale (with some minor variations) before in songs such as ‘meenamma meenamma’, ‘muthu muthu medai pottu’  (mostly sarasangi!) etc. some eighteen years ago.

The strophic hymns of Tiruvaacakam are usually sung in the mohana ragam. Typical musical arrangements would involve the repetition of the same melody for each of the verses. Illaiyaraja’s arrangement however brings out porchunnam with a difference.

Violins, violas, celli, basses, woodwinds, brass and various percussion instruments bring this track to life along with a western chorus and an Indian chorus singing characteristically tamil phrases such as ‘tandananna’. On top of all this, there is a galaxy of singers such as Unnikrishnan and Vijay Yesudoss.

Once the spirit of the scale of sarasangi falls in place (a minute or so into the track), the entire track sticks to it. There are several ‘charanams’, each in a different tune within the confines of the same scale. Even the background music leads to these charanams is different; one of them even gives a glimpse of the scale of hamsadhwani with a careful withholding of just two notes ma and dha for a few cycles. While it is cased in a symphonic setup there are moments where something tugs at your heart very much like the Illaiyaraja melodies of the yesteryears.

Apart from the refrain ‘Aada porchunnam idittum naame’ there is no repetition in melody anywhere. The first charanamsundara neer’ starts on ‘pa’, the second one ‘vaal tadam’ on ni. ‘muttani’ and ‘mai ani’ start further higher up. The next two charanamsvatta malar’ and ‘vedamum’ start much lower down. (Only 7 out of the 20 verses written are featured in this rendition)

The words in the last stanza stand out.

vEdamum vELviyum AyinArkku – meimaiyum poimaiyum AyinArkku
sOdiyumAi iruL AyinArkku – tunbamumAi inbam AyinArkku
pAdiyumAi muRRum AyinArkku- bandamumAi vIDum AyinArkku
Adiyum antamum AyinArkku – Ada porchuNNam idittum name

“The One who is both the knowledge and the yajna – one who is both the wholesome truth and the illusion – the one who is the light and the dark at the same time – the one who is an embodiment of both pain and pleasure – the one who is ‘part and the whole’, the one who is bondage as well as liberation – the one who is both the beginning and the end – Shiva – enshrined in Tiruvaiyaru – for him we pound the incensed powder with much joy”.

Porchunnam is to be enjoyed at many levels; one is just by reading the lyrics and appreciating the alliteration; the next is just getting the purport and the meaning of the verse; the third is to actually sing it and feel the words sing ink into you, leaving you in awe of the centuries over which these words have survived; in awe of the classicism inherent in Tamil – a language that you take for granted as your mother tongue.

Illaiyaraja’s version of porchunnam, transports you to a different world. The words are cloaked with so many layers of ‘happenings’. Groupings of instruments such as woodwinds, brass, strings and percussion, voices weave layer after layer around the words; the scale of sarasangi is unleashed as a pravaha of notes in an 8 minute deluge as it gushes forth into finale with a ‘tandananna’ chorus and a strong punctuation by the timpani.

One of Illaiyaraja’s best creations ever.

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January 10, 2017 at 10:33 pm Leave a comment


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