Interesting facts from Maestro Ilaiyaraaja

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I recently read two books of Maestro Ilaiyaraaja. Having grown-up listening to his film music, I was all the more interested in his writings when I saw these books at the recent Chennai Book Fair.

The first book, “Ilaiyaraajavai Kelungal” (“Ask Ilaiyaraaja”), is a compilation of questions that were asked to him by readers of the Tamil weekly magazine, Kumudam. The second book, “Paal Nila Paathai” (“Milk Moon Path”), is another compilation of articles by him that were originally published in Kumudam. These articles are about his childhood, family, music career, and numerous interactions with various personalities in the world music and Indian film industry.

 

Two books of Ilaiyaraaja

Two books of Ilaiyaraaja

 

Interesting Facts from the Books

The two books contained some interesting facts. I am sharing few of those here along with related stamps from my personal collection.

Deadly Curse

One of the readers asked about Siddhar Karuvurar. Ilaiyaraaja mentions that the great king Raja Raja Cholan constructed the Big Temple at Tanjavur based on the guidelines from Siddhar Karuvurar. However, the king did not completely follow the instructions given for the temple’s consecration (kumbhabhishekam).  To satisfy his ministers and palace astrologers, the king followed only half of the Karuvurar’s instructions. This angered Karuvurar so much that he decided to give away his life immediately. He dig a burial hole near the temple, sat in it, and gave his life. Before passing away, he seemed to have cursed the king that whoever visits this temple will lose their jobs.

A month later, unable to cope with Karuvurar’s curse, the king went to the top of the temple and jumped to his death. Ilaiyaraaja mentions that there is proof of this information in the Chennai Connemara Library. He also mentions that lot of government officers and well known people who have visited the temple have lost their jobs. For a long time, no darshans were performed in the temple after the king’s death. He wondered what remedy was done for this as darshans are held these days in the temple. I was shocked after reading this. I never thought that such a great king who ruled south Asia would have had such a tragic end.

Raja Raja Cholan stamp

Raja Raja Cholan stamp

 

Singers with Unique Voice

To a question about which singers have unique voice, he mentions that there are many categories of voices. Some people have beautiful voice that whatever they sing becomes beautiful. He says the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Mehdi Hassan are the top most in this category. Some people have average voice, but with their talent and skills make the song beautiful to hear. He says, S.Janaki’s voice belongs to this category. He mentions Asha Bhosle’s voice is another category. However, he mentions the following people are the ones with unique voices and no one else has similar voice:

Bhanumathi stamp

Bhanumathi stamp

 

Musical Geniuses

To a question about who is the most talented among the world musicians, Ilaiyaraaja says that in general all famous musical geniuses are different. However, he says there is no one like Mozart. He mentions the incident that happened when Mozart was 11. Mozart goes to Paris with his father to play before a pope. He gets a prize from the pope for his musical skills. However, another amazing thing happened. There was a music being played at the church at that time and Mozart mentally took note of it. On the same night, Mozart, who heard that music only once at the church, was able to write the complete score for that music. He visits the church next day to make any corrections in his score for that music, if any. It seems that Mozart’s father almost cried after seeing his musical score. Ilaiyaraaja says that writing a musical score including all the parts after listening to it just once is almost impossible.

To a different question, he says about a research, which indicates that among the world musicians, it is only Mozart’s music that activates the human brain cells more. In a school in Australia, they play Mozart music for the students before teaching. Since, it was found that the music helps to increase the children’s memory, they play Mozart’s music on a daily basis.

Mozart stamp

Mozart stamp

 

On a similar note, he mentions about Sri Tyagarajar. Tyagarajar visits Tirupati along with his devotees to workship Lord Venkateswara. When he goes near the sanctum sanctorum, the temple priests pull the curtain, which hides the view of the Lord. Tyagarajar is so disappointed that after so many hurdles in climbing the mountain to visit the temple, he could not see the Lord. He immediately sings a kirthi (devotional song) on the spot. In the song, he asks the Lord to remove the curtain in his heart that is blocking his view. As if the Lord has heard his song, the curtain falls off immediately. Ilaiyaraaja says that only Tyagarajar can give that level of purity in the music. Ilaiyaraaja says that being Mozart or Tyagarajar is the highest level of spirituality.

Tyagarajar stamp

Tyagarajar stamp

 

17 Years to Cross a Platform

Of all the conversations Ilaiyaraaga had with the great musician, Naushad, he says the narration of his early years in Mumbai are the most unforgettable. When Naushadji was 17 years and new to Mumbai, he seemed to have spent most of his time on a cement bench in a park that was opposite a movie theatre. After so many hurdles, he some how got a job of piano tuner in a film studio. With the acquaintance of other musicians, he learnt to play the piano, became their assistants. Finally, after so many years of hard work, he became an independent music composer. All his film songs are great hits.

Years later, a function was organised to celebrate the silver jubilee of a movie for which Naushadji had scored the music. The venue is the movie theatre opposite to the park where Naushadji spent his early days in Mumbai. After the function, when Naushadji came out of the venue, he was surrounded by press reporters. He kept silent to all the questions posed by the reporters, but kept staring at the opposite side. The reporters spent looking at Naushadji and the direction in which he was looking at.

After few minutes of silence, one reporter asked him what he was looking at. Naushadji seemed to have said that he was looking at the bench on the opposite park where he spent his early days. From that platform to this side is not too far, but it has taken me 17 years to cross it! He seemed to have said this as a Urdu poem itself. Ilaiyaraaja, who was eating while listening to Naushadji, said he stopped eating for sometime after hearing this.

Naushad stamp

Naushad stamp

 

A Poet’s Word Power

A reader asks him about poet Kannadasan’s  word power. Ilaiyaraaja says that poet’s word power is legendary in the Tamil film industry. He mentions an incident where the poet and a studio had a problem. The poet seemed to have become very sad and angry. He is said to have told that just like how his stomach is burning that studio will also burn. When he reaches his house, he gets the news about a fire accident in a set in the said studio. The poet seemed to have felt very sad about this fire incident.

Kannadasan stamp

Kannadasan stamp

 

Masters and Peers

Long before becoming an independent music composer, Ilaiyaraaja used to be a member of Salil Chowdhury’s orchestra. Whenever, Salilji had any recordings in Chennai studios, he always visited Ilaiyaraaja at his studio without fail. Though Salilji was once a master to him, Ilaiyaraaja says that Salilji always treated him with great respect.

Salil Chowdhury stamp

Salil Chowdhury stamp

 

Once when R.D.Burman had a recording in a Chennai studio, he visited Ilaiyaraaja, who was at that time recording music for a tamil film. Burman who was silently listening to the song, suddently became joyful, and danced to the Ilaiyaraaja’s music. After the recording was complete, Burman clapped and whole-heartedly congratulated him, and said, “Ilaiyaa, you are giving 10 years advance music”!

R D Burman stamp

R D Burman stamp

Which is good?

A reader questions him that though he visits holy hill at Tiruvanamalai regularly, why does he not visit Kailash mountain. Ilaiyaraaja crisply replies that Kailash mountain is Lord Shiva’s residence, but Tiruvanamalai is Lord Shiva himself. He asks the reader whether visiting Lord’s residence is good or visiting the Lord itself is good. 🙂

Ramana Maharishi stamp with Tiruvannamalai in the background

Ramana Maharishi stamp with Tiruvannamalai in the background

Glory of Songs

To a question about the similarities between old and new songs and their glory, he mentions about a incident that happened in the 8th century. A crocodile swallows a child, whose mother keeps crying near the lake for four days. Sundara Perumal comes there, hears the story from the mother. He sings a powerful hymn. On hearing it, the crocodile comes out and spits the child that it swallowed. The child comes alive with flesh and blood.

Similarly, in a Tamil Nadu village in Udumalpet, near the Kerala border, a herd of elephants visits a touring talkies at a particular time. This seemed to have happened daily when a particular movie was shown in that theatre. The herd of elephants crosses a river to reach the theatre, stays outside till they here a particular song, and then leaves quietly without any fuss. That song is the melodious, “Rasathi Unna” from the Tamil movie, “Vaithegi Kaathirunthaal”, that was composed by him! He asks how man can determine the glory of such songs. Here, apart from humans, these song have touched and attracted other living things. He says a song’s glory is timeless.

I hope this post was interesting. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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