A tribute to Ilaiyaraaja’s timeless masterpiece on the occasion of the maestro’s 73rd birthday…

by Mani Prabhu

We strongly recommend that you play ‘Ilayanila Pozhigirathae’ in the background, while reading this.

The track starts off rather daintily with SP Balasubramanyam doing a kind of teasing sound check with light stringing of the lead guitar. The mood is brilliantly set for the magic to unfold.

Just as we settle down into the mellow mood, SPB steps us the game a few notches higher, this time going for the jugular in the consecutive repetition of the pallavi. The vibrancy in his voice almost matches the metaphoric celebration of the moonlit night and the joy that it evokes in the heart of the wordsmith.

Raja unleashes the acoustic guitar simultaneously in all its glory, giving the rendition a whole new dimension. What started as a light mellifluous piece suddenly turns relentlessly effervescent. The bass guitar subsequently joins the bewitching party. The exhilaration is almost contagious, rubbing on us effortlessly. You, subconsciously, give in to the spell.

இளைய நிலா பொழிகிறதே
இதயம் வரை நனைகிறதே
உலாப் போகும் மேகம் கனாக் காணுமே
விழாக் காணுமே வானமே!

Just as you soak in the intoxication, the magical first interlude kicks in. The lead guitar gets a freaking mind of its own, and in the process, blows your brains away. Raja gives such an rousing, indigenous twist to the flamenco genre – a style of Spanish folk music – that our fingers instinctively start stringing in the air. The classical guitar chips in to ace the moment. The atmosphere is discernibly ecstatic.

As the guitar softens and sustains, Raja infuses the heavenly flute. And as it makes an amazing appearance, it beautifully blends with the bass guitar and a subtle electronic synth in the background, giving a feeling of flying amidst the clouds. Phenomenal stuff!

SPB returns now with his spirited rendering of the first charanam, pulling at your heartstrings. It’s no longer just an aural affair. The soul has been dragged in. With all the guitar and the percussions, the atmosphere of poetic enchantment is readily palpable. The similes are almost outrageous, but you don’t question their credibility. It’s the case of the musician and the singer taking you on a dope trip. You have no other option than to let go, immerse yourself and experience the high.

வரும் வழியில் பனி மழையில்
பருவ நிலா தினம் நனையும்
முகிலெடுத்து முகம் துடைத்து
விடியும் வரை நடை பழகும்!

வானவீதியில் மேக ஊர்வலம்
காணும் போதிலே ஆறுதல் தரும்!
பருவ மகள் விழிகளிலே கனவு வரும்

Ilayanila Pozhigirathae...Into the synaesthetic world of Raja!

The second musical interlude begins with another astounding celebration of the lead guitar. The cascading strings get the frenzied mood bang on. The craziness of it all hits you hard. And then, intuition takes over. You can’t help but yet again string the imaginary guitar in your hand. It pulls you in and makes you merge with it. If you are wondering about this mystic feel that is plaguing your self, it’s Raja toying with your senses.

SPB once again takes over the reins and this time, he is more delectable than never before. The night-time semiotics start getting all the more convincing, as he breathes the context in every word and every pause. The goosebumps that you get when he goes “Azhudhidumo Adhu Mazhaiyo’ with that hint of a amusing chuckle is probably why music was actually invented.

முகிலினங்கள் அலைகிறதே
முகவரிகள் தொலைந்தனவோ
முகவரிகள் தவறியதால்
அழுதிடுமோ அது மழையோ!

நீலவானிலே வெள்ளி ஓடைகள்
போடுகின்றதே என்ன ஜாடைகள்
விண்வெளியில் விதைத்தது யார் நவமணிகள்!

And as the lyrics beautifully fade out, Raja unleashes on us a stunner of a breath-taking epilogue, which could very well be one of the best ever pieces played on the lead guitar. Try resisting the craziness! The sprightly bass all the while keeps going in the background. And together, they transport you to a whole new world. You can now see the strings being played. Every quivering flashes before your eyes. You could feel the strings being pulled. You can even smell the scent of the guitar. Yes, it’s the world of synaesthesia, created by a master musician.

To put it differently, it’s Raja playing God.