[Fsf-friends] Songs of Liberation from Thiruvasagam

Ramanraj K ramanraj.k@gmail.com
Tue Jul 12 07:50:49 IST 2005

"The East and the West have influenced one another in a very real and 
not yet thoroughly understood way from the earliest times": thus wrote 
Rev. Dr. G.U. Pope in his introduction to the translation of Thirukkural 
in 1886.  The symphonic oratorio "Thiruvasagam" by Ilaiyaraaja with the 
Budapest Symphony Orchestra, conducted by László Kovacs, released on 6th 
July, 2005 at Chennai, brings out the confluence of the East and West 
Pope deeply felt,  through a rich classical musical cross-over,  in ways 
words can never describe.  Hats off to Ilaiyaraaja, László Kovacs, 
Richard King, Stephen Schwarts, Budapest Symphony Orchestra and all the 
other musicians for their brilliant work.

This delightful masterpiece cost more than Rs. one crore to produce. 
Tamil Maiyam founded by Fr. Jegath Gaspar Raj, its producer, is looking 
forward to income from album sales and donations, but it would be a 
blessing, if many orgs and govs could join together, pay the outstanding 
debts of Tamil Maiyam reported to be around Rs. 75 lakhs,  and have the 
work released under a suitable creative commons license. There are about 
51 chapters in the Thiruvasagam, and the album is a fine selection of 
only choice verses presented as six songs.  A cc license should help 
many musicians to join the project, and soon set entire work 
Thiruvasagam of Thiru Manickavasagar in symphony.  A brief intro to the 

Song #1
The album begins with the verse "poovar senni mannan..." which is about 
the "last journey" towards "ultimate liberation", and it is also 
believed to be the last composition by Manickavasagar, on the last day 
of his life on earth.  The score for this song is quite naturally set to 
a score that reminds of "poom poom dan dans" - the sound which anyone in 
this part of the world can instantly  recognize as a pointer to a death 
in its vicinity, and that the last rites and rituals are in progress.  
It seems, when the recording started at Budapest with this song, the 
score sounded funny to some in the orchestra, who tried to hide their 
laughter. Illayaraja observed this, and immediately sung the verse 
explaining it, and the orchetra understood and briskly started with the 
business of bringing Manickavasagar back to life again. 

Song #2
The entire album is sweet as honey, but at about the 5th minute of this 
song, the first stanza of Thiruvasagam, "Namasivaya vazhga, nathan thal 
vazhga.." comes, and this is very easily the best part of the album, a 
little more sweet than the rest. Illyaraja has freely arranged the 
various verses, to convey meaning even through the topography and 
arrangement of verses.  Ilaiyaraaj and Roy Harcourt sing mixing Tamil 
and English verses creating a very deep and stunning effect.  A brief 
snapshot from the lyrics, translated by Stephen Schwarts:

I'm just a man
imperfect lowly,
how can I reach for something holy? ...

So many forms I must wear!
So many lives I must bear!
Grass and shrub and stone and tree!
Worm and bird and beast and demon
heaven the sky and turn the earth
how long till I'm fin'ly worthy?...

Hail! Hail! ...

I am beginning
         to be free...

The symphonical oratorio is a rich tribute especially to Rev. Dr. G.U. 
Pope who translated the entire work of Thiru Manickavasagar. (Available 
online at http://siddhanta.shaivam.org/thivacha.html ) We could be 
certain that Manickavasagar would have composed his verses with our 
traditional music in mind, but for sure, Pope had only a western 
symphony in mind as he worked on the translations.  The frequent "Hail" 
we come across succintly summarises the essence of "Namasivaya Vazhga" 
and other praises, and sets the work in symphony with great effect.

Song #3
pooerukonum Purantharanum is yet another sweet composition picturising a 
king bee singing praises. 

Song #4

Song #5
Manickavasagar paints a picture of women pulverising gold and perals to 
dust with ural and ulakkai (pestle and mortar), singing Muthu Natramam 
in praise of their lord.  At the inauguration, this song was enacted on 
stage by a classical troupe, and at the same time a pair danced swift 
ballet moves sharing the stage with them.

Song #6
This is like a "hello world" introduction to setting Thiruvasagam into 
symphony.  Ilaiyaraaja takes a simple score, searches for suitable 
verses and finally finds that the verse beginning "putril vazh  aravum  
anjen.."  fits the score rather well, and finishes the album with great 
grace.  He makes the whole exercise appear very easy and simple, but 
none other than the mastero could have undertaken the task of setting 
the fairly difficult classical tamil verse of Thiru Manickavasagam, that 
is more than 2000 years old, into symphony. 

More stories and resources at:

Enjoy :)

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