A hugely popular song in the early 1990's, Ilaiyaraaja tuned Maasi Maasam to the raaga suddha dhanyasi, a Janya raaga from Thodi.
The film the song was written for, Dharma Durai, was guaranteed success due to Rajinikanth's lead role as the hero, yet Ilaiyaraaja's songs took it to another level.
The lyrics of the song are typically poetic and euphemistic and have certain romantically playful elements to it.
The song was rendered by the late Swarnalatha (singer of 'Porale Ponnu Thaaye' from Karuthamma, 'Evano Oruvan' from Alaipayuthe and 'Maalayil Yaaro' from Chathriyan) and K.J. Yesudas, whose voices blend amazingly well.
'Maasi Maasam' has an instantly recognizable, distinct drum base, a sound that is very difficult to reproduce on stage.
The string pieces and chorus hummings lend the song the unique Raaja flavour.
Watch and listen to the original song below:
Other Raaja songs in this suddha dhanyasi raaga that immediately spring to mind are 'Manasu Mayangum' (Sippikkul Muththu), 'Raagavane Ramana' (Ilamai Kaalangal) and the wonderful 'Vizhiyil Vizhunthu' (Alaigal Oivathillai).
In carnatic music, the song 'Narayana Ninna' in Suddha Dhanyasi is a personal favourite - Bombay Jayshree's version is by far the best! Listen to her sing 'Narayana Ninna' below:
Also known as Dhani in Hindustani music, it contains only 5 swaras which therefore makes it an audava-audava raagam – the notes ri and dha are missing.
Madhu Balakrishnan, a Malayala singer whose voice is similar to K.J. Yesudas' voice, and Manjari performed 'Maasi Maasam' at Ilaiyaraaja's concert in 2008. Listen to them below:
The song was even remixed by a popular music director not too long ago – the outcome of this remix is however rather questionable and once again reinforces the point that songs such as these should be left untouched and untainted.