Raja-ranjani – The maestro’s experiments in Sivaranjani

For lovers of Indian film music, Sivaranjani/Shivaranjani is associated strongly with Shankar Jaikishan. Especially so for their immortal Mukesh-rendered number Jaane Kahan Gaye Woh Din. O Mere Sanam from Sangam is another brilliant Shivaranjani number. Those of a later generation would also think of Laxmikant Pyarelal’s Tere Mere Beech Mein from Ek Duje Ke Liye. Come to the 90s and Dhak Dhak Karne Laga is a classic Shivaranjani.

It also happens to be ripped off note for note from Ilayaraja’s Abbani Teeyani Debba!

Not one of my own favourite Raja moments but it’s a good gateway into his own experiments with Sivaranjani.

To be clear, some of his most popular Sivaranjani songs are those where he has handled it the conventional way.

O Priya Priya (also copied into Hindi) comes immediately to mind.

Adi Athadi from Kadalora Kavithaigal

Or Kuyil Paatu from En Rasavin Manasule

But I am more interested in two relatively less heralded songs where he goes off the beaten path.

There is another ragam that Raja is fond of – Hamsanandi.

Look at their notes and there is little overlap between Sivaranjani and Hamsanandi.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shivaranjani

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamsanandi

And yet, Raja manages to find ways to blend the two ragams! If I had to guess, this is achieved because when you use notes from a ragam without following the sequence, you can still retain its flavour. And then, you change a note or two and hey presto! The ragam has changed.

The first is a song that is very much in Sivaranjani but its treatment is unconventional and evokes a Hamsanandi flavour in places.

The song is Manjal Poosum Manjal Poosum from Sakkarai Devan.

First, the line “Vaasa Poovin Thene” in the pallavi. It overlaps a little with Raathiriyil Poothirukkum, a timeless Hamsanandi from Thanga Mahan.

Come to the first line of the charanam: “Nee illadha nithirai yedhu” and it evokes “Veenai Yennum Meniyilae”, the first line of the Raathiriyil charanam.

Other than these lines, the song stays in Sivaranjani but the phrase most strongly evocative of the ragam is the first line of the song, “Manjal Poosum Manjal Poosum…”. The leitmotif etches the ragam in your mind, allowing him to proceed to take you a long way away from it.

The other song I am going to take up here is Adhikalai Neram Kanavil from Naan Sonnathey Sattam.

Rendered by SPB and Asha, this is a lost classic. I confess for a long time, I never gave this song a fair shake because the intro put me off and I wrongly assumed it was an overly sentimental pathos number. Had I only stayed till the flute portion in the intro, I would have realised how wrong I was.

The interlude stays with flute and proceeds to beautifully elucidate patterns you expect in Sivaranjani. And THEN, from nowhere comes a santoor part that is in Hamsanandi. Which still somehow resolves such that the charanam gets back to Sivaranjani. As far as I can tell, the vocal portions never drift into Hamsanandi.

But in the second interlude, the maestro again orchestrates the proceedings (pun intended) such that he can pursue these experiments. An expansive string section first opens up the horizon and then proceeds into Hamsanandi territory with the last phrase almost getting into chromaticism. This potential for chromaticism in both Pantuvarali and Hamsanandi is no doubt what fascinated Raja.

The thing that’s special about this song is he doesn’t really get into fusion (Indo-Western) territory. Even when the violins come in, they sound maybe Hindustani at times but rarely Western.

It’s another noteworthy aspect of Raja. The master of harmony, the king of walking basslines could completely shut off harmonic development in songs like these and compose just Indian melody, both for vocals and for instruments. And he could still conjure up the space to innovate in these very conventional, traditional Indian settings.

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