Raga Sangamam

The last few weeks have had me rediscovering Sangamam. With A.R.Rahman stating that Maargazhi thingal is one of his favorite compositions, I was short of words to pen my thoughts on it. I asked a fellow tweep Venkateswaran Ganesan to write on it, and here it is. –Viju


Sangamam, in my humble opinion, is A.R.Rahman’s most underrated album. I would personally rate it as his finest effort ever. And I’m here to romanticize on it. You’re welcome!

The film, a middling effort and a loose remake of Thillana Mohanambal, was intended to be a tribute to the older film. My view is ARR also intended the film’s album to be a homage to the masters of yesteryear Tamil music. This is evident right from the way he kick starts the album with MSV singing Aalala Kanda. The mild beats in the background come to the fore more prominently with drums in Mazhai ThuLi. The bottled up passion that the film carried all along bursts at us with the same prominence in this song, a wonderfully studied extension of Aalala Kanda. The moment where MSV goes inbam koduppaan induces gooseflesh. Even now. He deserved a national award for singing just those two words. A song worthy of the great musician.

What however makes this album one of the best ever in Tamil films is the way ARR studies ragas as dexterously as some of the geniuses of yore did so. Indeed, this album is a throwback to the old-world charm in Tamil film music. Heroine asks the hero Sowkkiyama? in Maand, the same raga KV Mahadevan used to ask Oru naal podhuma? The tune motors over the Mridangam, Kanjira and Thavil, akin to the river bouncing over rocks with great beauty. The veena strumming inside the left ear alone followed by the right ear at around 4 minutes into the song is stuff of genius. The final sax by Kadri is the cherry on the cake, if I could use a much maligned cliché to describe this song, where ARR seems to be having a lot of fun using instruments.


(Collage by Viju. Part image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lalitjain/2903350777/)

Margazhi ThingaL allava comes wrapped in Sindhu Bhairavi. The situation holds parallels to Nalamthana, with the heroine going through an emotional upheaval. ARR, without imitating KV Mahadevan, outdoes himself. Dichotomy of Fame is another brilliant Sindhu Bhiaravi that comes to mind when I think of Margazhi ThingaL. But this song is on its own trip. Starting with the prelude from ThiruppAvai, with Aandal’s yearning for Kannan, melancholic beauty is the phrase that comes close to describing this song.

ARR once remarked in an interview that Dama Dam Mast Kalandar is one of his most favorite Sufi songs. Based on Yaman, the song has a mystic charm. But for a composer to take a Punjabi Sufi tune, make it his own, infuse Tamil folk after removing traces of the original and present it as Varaha Nadhikkarai Oram requires the genius of ARR. Sufi, Carnatic, Western and Tamil folk styles meet at his studio to say howdy in this song which can only be described as a fascinating blend of class and class. No! No typos here.

Mudhal Murai KiLLi Paarthen is the song of the album in my book. The lyrics deservedly got a national award. The tune is beyond any award, discussion or analysis. Like the smile on a child’s face. Like Tendulkar’s straight drive. Like mother’s food. It just exists. For us to be thankful it exists and savor it.

I am ending romanticizing about what I wish was an album without an end by sharing an item from my bucket list. To spend a midsummer’s night in an uninhabited island and have the Sangamam album playing on an infinite loop.


9 thoughts on “Raga Sangamam

  1. Gayathri Natarajan

    Perfect take on sangamam!! Mudhal murai killi paarthen..every time i listen to this…i feel that the chemistry between srinivas and sujatha is always mind-blowing..like kamal-sridevi!!

  2. E. V. Iyer

    Wonderful ! Very nice bridge between Thillana Mohanambal and Sangamam. Never realized that very subtle connection between the two movies, and the correlation b/w Nalamdhana and Margazhi Thingal Allava is already inducing gooseflesh, to quote you. Learnt many interesting delicate points from this article, particularly the morphing of a Sufi based rudiment into a completely exhilarating Tamil folk song, very much enhanced by Shankar Mahadevan. Very nice article, recognizing many of the not so widely discussed fine points and also providing a humble tribute to the great classically dense album.

  3. Anonymous

    I love the parallel you drew between Dama dam and Varaha Nadhi karai oram. Sowkkiyama is my favourite in the album. Margazhi Thingal too.. I especially love Unni Krishnan’s entry in the song.Great write up! 🙂

  4. Srividya

    Wonderfully written and the mention of ‘beyond any award, discussion or analysis….to savor it’! Kudos to your thoughts and analogy! Very very informative to every word. Thank you so much for the post!

  5. Siva

    WOW, it’s like you wrote what my heart earns but my brain lags behind it as doesn’t have the vocabulary. Well written!


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