Thiruvasakam in Symphonic Oratorio - My Thoughts

Thiruvasakam in Symphonic Oratorio

This Indian music project brought together more than 200 musicians from India and Hungary, including Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Laszlo Kovacs, Oscar winning lyricist Mr. Stephen Schwartz and Grammy award winning sound engineer Richard King and our Maestro Ilaiyaraaja. They all joined hands to bring Thiruvasakam, the great Indian sacred text written by Saint Manickavasagar in praise of Lord Siva, into a western classical music form called Oratorio to create a musical masterpiece. The album has totally 6 tracks and the total running time is 68 minutes.

Now about Music

I am just a man
Imperfect Lowly
How can I write about
Something Holy (This Album)

It is not that I am in loss of words to describe this music; instead my mind is overflowing with parallel and distinct thoughts and emotions emerging out like 100 instruments playing in parallel in a Symphony Orchestra. But I will try my best to un-layer each and every word from the symphony of thoughts in my mind. This album is the first of its kind in world music which you all will come to know when you listen to it. I got the album on my hand yesterday (the day on which it is released) and heard it deeply twice. People call it fusion, east meets west, classical cross over etc., but after listening to the album I realized that it is not all that was said instead it is a pure sample of oneness of music or even everything in the Universe. This is a music where not the east meets west but a common man meets a supreme spiritual energy in the Universe which we call as God. The Indian music just takes the form of Western Oratorio and Symphony. It is something like Mozart/Bach’s interpretation of a Thyagaraja Keethana. Just imagine how it would sound if our Carnatic Katcheris are backed by a Symphony instead of Mirudangam, Tanpura, Violin and Ganjira, this album is one such experiment.

Now what I am going to write is just free flowing thoughts and emotions that I got while hearing the album for the first time. For anyone to give a full justified review on the album, it require many more listening and understanding as there is lot of music to be analyzed if we dive deep into it. I felt ashamed for not knowing Thiruvasakam as it would be more delightful to listen to this album if you had known Thiruvasakam, but anyway it is for this purpose that is to bring awareness among the youth that Illayaraja has done this project. Don’t consider this as just another devotional album, all the songs are completely different from each other in its own way and you will be surprised by the shift in the mood. I think Illayaraja intends to say something by this variety which again we will understand only when we have good knowledge in Thiruvasakam.

Except for “Polla Vinayaen” all other songs have a definite format. Each song starts with a short symphony in the prelude and then Illayaraja starts to render the verses and after each set of verses gets over, it breaks into either an out and out western classical Symphony or Choir either playing/singing the main theme of the song or a new theme all together which sounds a perfect lead to the verse to be rendered by the vocal to follow. I feel no one else could have done at par with Illayaraja in singing the verses. He knows how to emote, pronunciate and add the necessary feel to each and every word in the verse and does that to perfection, his unique strain less divine voice adds to the spiritual energy of the songs.

“Poovar Senni Mannan” song has been lingering in mind ever since I saw the video of a press conference of Illayaraja in which he sung this song. Almost for past four months, I have been humming this tune in my mind. I never thought that this tune could make it for such a grand Choir piece with which this song starts. Excellent is the word. The choirs with percussion bangs in regular intervals and with Illayaraja rendering the verses seamlessly, you are taken through a grand spiritual journey. I liked lot of brief symphonic pieces that peeps in here and there which is an elaboration of the main theme.

Next comes “Polla Vinayaen”, the most talked about 20 minute piece in the album. It is truly an out of the world composition, the most complex song that I have ever heard in my life. The song takes diverse paths and there are lot of surprising, shocking sudden twists and turns as Illayaraja moves from one set of verses to the other. The way Illayaraja has combined Tamil verses, Tamil Choir with English choir and Stephen Schwatz English translations as a counter point is beyond anyone’s imagination. You just have to hear the track to believe its beauty and complexity. As the song proceeds your ambience gets filled with a spiritual energy completely and you will be lost in a trance. Go deep into the music of this track, as deep as you can, you will be freed and after a point you will realize that you are melting for this music for which the tears that your eyes will shed without your consciousness is the proof. Believe me, I literally cried when “Namachivayam Vazhgha” part starts with a choir subtly starting with a clue of its tune and when Illayaraja starts to sing it. From then on whenever it appears I will break into tears. So deep is the composition.

“Poerukorun Purantharanum” is more like a romantic ballad. By the way, the love and romance is also a dimension of Spirituality. For this song, Bhavatharini joins with Illayaraja and she is flawless. It is indeed a very pleasant composition with lot of flute and String section taking the lead in the Orchestra. But I take the liberty to compare this song to “Sempoovae” song from “Sirai Salai”. The orchestration and the main tune are almost similar may be both the songs are in same meter. Just listen the way the song ends with “Kothumbi” note, it is almost like “Vazhiyundo” ending in that song. Anyway the interludes are great and grand.

“UmbarKatkarasay” is the slowest song of all, to get the best out of the song, have the lyrics notes with you and follow it along with Illayaraja singing. You will bowl over by the way he had notated the words in the verses and also by his soulful rendition. Don’t worry you won’t miss anything by reading the verse along with the song, there is enough musical pieces in between the verses to cherish.

“Muthu Natramam” is a very joyful number with a rich malayali flavor. This is the only song without Illayaraja’s voice. The song is mostly sung by Chorus with singers Madhu, Unni Krishnan, Manjari and others occasionally rendering few lines. The song unlike others proceeds in a fast pace with a foot tapping rhythm and indian percussions are also used. Often the song breaks into a pure western classical stuff layered with another set of strings playing Indian notes.

“Puttrilla Aravum” is again a surprise musical piece with Illayaraja speaking and wondering the beauty of symphony when it plays a very simple tune. Here Illayaraja replicates a layman wondering the beauty of Symphony. The main tune of the song is so simple, so Indian but yet fits to T in the western classical format. And with this song, the album and the spiritual journey ends peacefully.

I would like to write more and more on this but right now, Go and get the album immediately to get transported to a different world.


Jacky said...

TIS is a monumental effort and IR has definitely achieved in making a crossover album. But Tamils can't ignore the feeling of deja vu while listening to his tunes though some may hate to admit it!
Muthu Natramam - the tune is very similar to an old tamil satire song “Nandavanathil vor aandi avan nal aru mathamai kuyavanai vendi” even the prelude chorus is just the same as in Suttum sudar vizhi parvaiyinal – Sirachalai.
Poovar senni mannan reminded me so much of Adada from Pithamagan sung by Yesudas.
But IR makes it up for these glitches with Polla vinayen which is a real stunner.

Anonymous said...

great post..

2ndReview said...

There is very little i can to what you have posted here and mouthshut....This is the single thing that has brought so much tears in me.But i think Puttrilla aravum is underrated. I was travelling in auto during the peak traffic and it made me numb right in the middle of all the noises.Divine.