For the love of Raaja

Here are four reasons I should not be writing a post about the music of Ilayaraaja.

1)      It is utterly stupid to try and write something about the music of a man, most of whose music I am yet to discover. I am slowly going album by album, spurred on by two friends, both of whom have obviously listened to and internalized waaay more of Raaja than I have. I have a looooong way to go.

2)      Better and more worthy listeners and writers than I, have paid handsome tributes to Raaja. Readers have hung on to every word of theirs, and nodded here and Ah!ed there. I am most definitely not a worthy successor.

3)      I am not a long time connoisseur of Tamizh film music. This means that I cannot compare Raaja’s songs with anyone else’s and draw clever, insightful parallels. I cannot with a flourish say, “And in 1982, XYZ composed ABC which one may indeed say is comparable to Raaja’s PQR!” Readers love such things, especially the erudite variety. They can vociferously agree or disagree, in turn quoting six other songs as a support framework.
(Besides, I wasn’t born yet in 1982. Just saying. Not that the year of birth should have much influence on someone’s knowledge of anything.  Unless it happens after their lifetime. But I digress.)

4)      I am technically unsound. For the longest time, for instance, I did not realize that interludes were called as such. Everything sans the actual vocals falls under the broad umbrella of ‘BGM’ for me. BGMs 1, 2 and 3 describe: the intro to the song, the interlude preceding Charanam 1 and the interlude preceding Charanam 2, respectively. I don’t know my ‘parts of a Tamizh film song’ at ALL. Purists look at me pitying and with scorn. Muttered insults abound.

Okay, so now you know what not to expect from this piece. For those of you who are lawyers and like your disclaimers in black and white: Don’t Expect Any kind of Intelligent Analysis, Deep Insights Of Any Nature, or Any Value Add To Your Knowledge Of Raaja.

And yet, none of these factors though true is sufficient to dissuade me from writing about the pleasure his music gives me.

For those of us lucky enough to experience it once in a lifetime, true love takes us by surprise, shaking the foundations of our orderly existence and splashing our hitherto dull lives with hues to match the rainbow: the glorious red of passion, the dark green of jealousy, the sea blue of contentment.

Imagine falling in love afresh every day… plunging to the depths of bottomless sorrow, rising to the heights of ecstatic joy, and experiencing everything in between: querulousness, pleasant surprise, gentle flirtation, overpowering anger, dismay, bitter betrayal, light mischief.

No day is like another, and yet every last one glorious.

Welcome to the music of Ilayaraaja.

I have seldom taken to anything as freely as I did to Raaja’s music. I am normally as anti-newness as it is possible for a person to be. Very few songs catch my fancy at first listen. And then there is the ready censure. Somewhere, in a song that the whole universe adores, I must spot a small part where the shruti does not align. Or where the voice wavers. The concept of looking at a song as a whole and not dissecting it, was simply not introduced to me. I am slowly picking it up, and not sure if even should.

One of the first Raaja songs I heard was Ninnukori Varnam. For a long time as a child, I was confused about whether this was an alternate Carnatic take on the popular varnam. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and the ‘interludes’ were fabulous! I remember trying to master it on the Casio keyboard while in primary school.

Raaja’s intelligence at composition blew my mind. As a small child, I was absorbed with what little I heard of his music from time to time.

When I first heard Aagaya Vennilave (Arangetra Velai) at seven or eight years of age, I was puzzled. The song seemed to follow the meter of ‘rupaka taalam’ which I was somewhat familiar with. This is why. I have tried in my novice way to draw the meter of the pallavi of the song.

1     2     3   4   5   6    1      2       3       4     5      6

aahaaya veNilaave  tharai meedhu vantha thEnO?

1     2     3   4   5   6    1      2       3       4     5      6

azhahaana aadai soodi arangerum veLai thAnO?

So far, so good. But then!

1          2      3      4      5      1           2   3   4    5   6    7
malar soodum koonthale   mazhai kaala mEgamai kooda
uravAdum vizhihale iru veLLi meengaLai aada

The lines “malar soodum koonthale mazhai kaala mEgamai kooda  /uravAdum vizhihale iru veLLi meengaLai aada” followed a 5-7 split metre.  This could not be rupakam because it did not come in cycles of 6 and 6! The world had ended. I grimly looped the song and told myself my taalam was bad. What was the point of music classes! My mother did not seem to care one way or the other. She was happy to just listen. This further irritated me.

I remember being confused for a few full hours  before I realized that it was indeed rupakam and that the sum of 12 can be split both ways: 6 + 6 and 5+7! Simple maths can sometimes seem way more confusing in musical form and add to this the fact that I am no genius. To add further to all this confusion, the interludes were in an entirely different taalam all together: Aadi talam! Once I had the song ‘figured out’ to a reasonable extent, I strutted about, chest puffed out with pride. It seemed then, the ultimate achievement.

But what the mind cannot fully analyze to perfection, the heart can still enjoy. Aagaya Vennilave was and continues to be one of my favourite songs, rendered to easy perfection by a vibrant Jesudass and the splendid Uma Ramanan.

Another song that fascinated me when I first watched it / listened to it, was ‘Oru Poongavanam’ (Agni Natchatiram) – as much for the music as for the cinematography. The beginning of the song was so inventive; if a person who had never heard the song overheard the first two lines, they would be inclined to think they had caught the ending of the song, because of the way it tapers off.

Oru poongaavanam pudhumanam…

Adhil roamaanjanam dhinamdhinam…

Think about it, wouldn’t they make fitting ending lines, the way the tune has been composed? And they form a natural ending for the song too.

And in line with the soft, sensuous nature of the video, the music swathes Nirosha, undressing and dressing her in the imagination of thousands; caressing her every movement, capturing her every mood. Small wonder Karthik is captivated! With music like that in the air, I could fall in love with pretty much any man. There is a dreamy quality to the song that I loved at first listen and still continue to lose myself in, every now and then, as if Raaja had composed it especially for me to listen and revel in.

A favourite that I had heard before, but paid attention to (and therefore truly discovered) only recently is ‘Aaathadi Paavada Kaathada’ (Poo Vilangu). Raaja’s earthy rendition coupled with the terrific catchy tune makes it a must-listen. This song is to me a shining example of Raaja’s intuitiveness while making music. The song is apt for the accompanying video, that of a young lad who catches his love bathing and mercilessly teases the shy girl, alternately flirting and pleading – and yet, it is so much more than a light hearted number; every time I listen to it, I can hear also the woman’s heartfelt, if shy, response – perhaps why each charanam ends slightly more seriously than the rest of the song.

(Bear with my imagination – after all, half the beauty of music lies in what mood and meaning the listener invests it with, at that listen.)

I am now compelled to describe my love of the most enchanting BGM in Punnagai Mannan, a brilliant Raaja musical. We know it only too well, that slightly-over-two-minutes portion of the movie where an overwrought Kamal, tormented by conflicting emotions of love and frustration, commands Revathi to “Clap!” and the proceeds to dance his heart out, initially by himself and then as if drawn inevitably to her, clasping hands with her in tandem. As the couple moves on the dance floor: hands clasped,  eyes locking, bodies swaying, Raaja’s criminally beautiful background score takes the celebrated scene to a whole new level. It is breezy enough for the couple to dance, but heavily invested with a meaning that sends shivers down my spine. Closing my eyes, I can feel my pulse dancing in answer.

This is Raaja adding a layer that did not exist before the music.

Above all the maestro’s perfection takes my breath away. Not one note is out of place. On the fifteenth, and thirtieth listens, each song of his gives me the same sheer, perfect listening pleasure that it gave me the first time I pressed the play button.

Take ‘Unna Nenachen’ (Aboorva Sagothargal). Or ‘Vaana Mazhai Pole’ (Idhu Namma Boomi), recently introduced to me by a friend. Perfection is Raaja is perfection.

To remedy my deficient knowledge of Raaja, I am dedicating a week this year to him. This week, I propose to do a Raaja marathon, only it will be a learning marathon for me. Seven days of sheer Raaja, starting today. I started with the apt Puttham Pudhu Kaalai (Alaigal Oivadhillai). Macchana Paatheegala (Annakili), Raaja’s first number followed, succeeded by Andhi Mazhai Pozhigirathu (Raajaparvai) and Enna Satham Indha Neram (Punnagai Mannan).

I am welcoming the new year with Raaja’s music ringing in my ears. If there is a better way to usher the new year in, I genuinely don’t want to know yet.

Thank you for coming past the disclaimers to read so far. Please do tell me which Raaja songs or albums I should not miss over the coming week. And share your unique love of the Master of Music in the comments section.

Happy New Year in advance.


22 thoughts on “For the love of Raaja

  1. ‘Vaa vaa anbe’ and ‘Thoongatha vizhigal’ from ‘Agni Natchathram’ are my recent Raaja finds. As you said, I have heard them before but paid attention to only recently.

    Aathadi Paavadai is one all time favorite as well. It used to be sort of a family anthems among our cousins (obvious Raaja fans) :0). Also, I cannot but mention one wonderful bike ride with a friend (you know who) discussing and singing Raaja songs.

    Thanks for rekindling these memories. My drive back home tonight will have it’s share of Raaja for sure!

    🙂 Agni Natchatiram is a key album! Rojapoo Aadivandhadhu is another brilliant number.
    Happy Raaja looping tonight!
    – Ramaa

    • Agree with Skanda about the bike ride 🙂 Lovely day, lovely ride, super bike, and great friend! Agree about the movie – it had excellent BGM throughout. Ninnukori’s interludes are damn good!

  2. All the best with the leaning week!
    It’s virtually impossible to write and ‘explain’ this man.
    Perfect is the word.

    //Rojapoo Aadivandhadhu is another brilliant number//
    I attempted a blogpost about this song and it was such a struggle.

    //Please do tell me which Raaja songs or albums I should not miss over the coming week.//

    Easier said than done.

    nEththu orutharai orutharu pArthOm
    punnagaiyil minsAram
    oru sandhana kAttukkuLLE
    thenRal vandhu theeNdumbOdhu
    yEi kiLi irukku (short song from mudhal mariyAdhai)

    All are songs sung by the man in my phone right now.
    I don’t think it is possible to pick from a broader definition 🙂

    Hello 🙂
    Yes, quite tough as I just realized! I should read your post on Eojapoo Aadivandhadhu. Haven’t heard a few of the suggestions, will surely convey. Re. picking from a broader definition, completely agree. 🙂
    – Ramaa

  3. Hi Mr. Ramesh,

    I write to you on behalf of The Viewspaper ( which is India’s largest youth paper and the 5th largest media company on Facebook.

    We are organizing the World’s Largest Tweet-A-Thon! and would like to invite you as a panelist for the same.

    From American political journalists in the 1950s, to The Economist magazine not so long ago; speculation has run rife about India and whether we will survive as a nation.

    Poverty. Corruption. Terrorism. Disease. Currency woes. We’ve got it all, and more. We’ve been written off, doomsdayed, delegitimized – but we keep coming back! What is the root of this appetite for adversity, this solid resilience?

    It is our nation’s optimism. No matter how much you bring her down, India feels up!

    A first of its kind initiative, the #IFeelUp Tweetathon is a 3-day virtual conference, which delights in the irrepressible state of the nation, in spite of its laundry list of issues. Over 72 hours, we’ll be bringing in 400 panelists for non-stop discussion, and that’s where you come in.

    We would like to invite you as a panelist for a 30 minute session wherein you can participate from any part of the world.

    If you’re interested, kindly email us your contact information so that we could provide you with more details about the event.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Hi Garvita

    I’m Ms Ramesh. 🙂 Thanks for the invite. Sounds good, I’ll email you.
    – Ramaa

  4. Mella Thirandhadhu Kanavu is superlative, Thambikku Endha Ooru is his versatility shown blatantly. Another classic is Unnal Mudiyum Thambi- ” idhazhil kadhai ezhudum neram idhu.. ”, ” Punjai undu Nanjai undu..” , ” Samaithu Kaatuvom..” And of course, Mouna Raagam.

    Agree with all of these, Ashwath. Idhazhil Kadhai Ezhudum is brilliant! Punjai Undu is out of this world 🙂
    Mouna Ragam – Well. of. course.
    – Ramaa

  5. How many songs..? what to tell and what to leave….

    Here are some of my all time favorites….

    1. Nizalgal album
    2. En Kanmani Or aairam – Chitukuruvi
    3. Kanmaniye Kaadhal enbadhu
    4. Ilamai ennum poongatru (Pagalil oru iravu)
    5. Pagal Nilavu (Poomalaye tol serava)

    Will add few songs daily……

    Thanks Arvind! Appreciate it.
    – Ramaa

  6. The Aagaya Vennilave example was fantastic in the sense that it captured what Raaja’s music is essentially about – a very elegant display of musical imagination. Partha Vizhi from Guna, Poongaatru Pudhiraanadhu from Moondram Pirai and Nee Partha Paarvai Oru Nandri from Hey Ram are some of my favorites. Wasn’t around for his older stuff, which is good in ways because I’m always discovering little bits of magic. But I digress.

    Lovely post. And happy new year to you as well :).

    Thank you, Sriram. I can connect with the ‘always discovering little bits of magic’ bit. I got temporarily tired of it, though, and hence the learning week. 🙂
    – Ramaa

  7. superly written da… you can be proud that you have an Anna who loves Raja sir and also worked with him! 😀

    I know, I am super proud of you!! ❤ So lucky!
    – Ramaa

  8. This is such a fun post! You’ve made me want to stream all of these, only after an hour or two I will be desperately homesick 🙂 Thanks Ramaa!

    Also, how many lawyers do you know?! 😀

    Poi kaelu di! Worth the nostalgia. Then call amma. 🙂
    Also I know very few lawyers 😀
    – Ramaa

  9. Lovely post 🙂

    Too many fav’s and recommendations. In no particular order: (don’t know much tamizh, so please excuse spelling mistakes 🙂 )
    andi mazhai
    idu oru ponmaalai
    pani vizhum malarvanam
    ilaya nila
    adi aathaadi
    chinna mani kuyile

    special mention – sangathil paadatha kavithai. Raaja has so many versions of this song in different languages and it mind boggling how each version is different from the other and equally brilliant.

    Telugu reco’s ok?

    Thanks, Naveen. All lovely numbers! Telugu reco’s welcome, though I don’t know Telugu as such.
    – Ramaa

  10. I was born in 1982 and so have gotten soaked in my formative years in his amazing music. My all time favorite is Anjali, anjali, anjali and nayagan’s each and every song. I sang Ilaiyanilaa pozhigirathu once in my school and loved it so much afterward. Although partly nostalgic that is one song that brings sheer joy that even Metallica can’t. You got to listen to Anjali’s every song and a lesser popular film Marubadiyum’s Nalam vaazha, its a depressing number at first but it has the spark that shows depth in human emotions.

    Enjoy the maestro’s music.

  11. Also if you like to dwell into the science of music and its relationship with intellect and maths, be sure to check out Gödel, Escher, Bach . I just bought and completed 1 chapter. Its mind boggling. Huge book.

  12. Pick up songs from movies featuring some of the worst actors you can think of, and you’ll have some amazing songs / compositions (“Mike” Mohan, “Graama” Rajan, etc. are some of the usual culprits). is just an example (it’s in pUrvi kalyANi, kind of).

    A random, off-the-cuff selection:
    chinnaththAi avaL (thaLapathi)
    mINdum mINdum vA (vikram)
    adiyE kiLiyE
    all songs from jAni (I suppose it should be Johnny, but that’s how it was written in தமிழ் ;-))
    endhappUvilum vAsam uNdu (murattukkALai)
    enna samayalO (unnAl mudiyum thambi)
    all songs from nizhalgaL

  13. Jani as someone said.. katril entham geetham -briliant music and awesome picturization. I am a gestaltian (dont know if this expression exists ) who believes the whole is more than the sum of its parts therefore analysis of any form of art IMHO makes me feel that the beauty gets somewhat reduced

  14. Thanks to ICARUS Prakash for sharing this post in FB. I enjoyed reading your posts (whatever I could read today – including the one on Vidya Balan- nice one too). //I am not a long time connoisseur of Tamizh film music// I am a fan of Kv.Mahadevan. I enjoy listening to IR(who is not whether you are a fan or not!). You did a Antony in Julius Ceaser. A very good way of expressing yourself. I like the song based on “Suba Patuvarali”, the Arangetra velai song(Kalyani?),another one is in Kamal’s movie Kalignan(?) Enthan Nenjil Neengaatha Thendral Neethanaain Nalinakanthi. ok enough. Otherwise it will become another post. Thaks anyway.

  15. Wow! I could add several more wows. No, ’tis not about Raaja (or Raajaa), but about the way you write – I’ve simply fallen in love.

    Visiting here first time; hope to read more.

    Cheers and Happy New Year. 🙂

  16. Interesting writeup. For me IR is next to God and I adore his music. Oh not a day goes by without listening to his music. It is very difficult to select the best of his works. My favorites – Putham Pudhu & Kathal oviyam from Alaigal Oivathilai, En vaanile from Jhonny, Anjali from Anjali, Ilamai ennum, Nee Partha from Hey Ram, Oru Kathal from chinna thambi periya thambi (this song alone was done by IR and it has rich instrumentation) And my all time fav is Ennulle from Valli one of his great numbers but sadly not in the top of his popular charts. And what about his BGMs…no words to describe

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