Today begins an ongoing series called ragmala (garland of ragas) in which various ragas of north Indian classical music are presented in all their glory. After an introduction to the concept of the raga and a thimble-size history of the origins of modern Indian classical music, a bit of information on the particular raga is presented (with links to further in-depth reading). This is followed by a selection of the raga as interpreted by different musicians in different styles.
We start the series with Raga Bhairav and Raga Bhairavi.
The Sanskrit word rāga is defined as ‘the act of colouring or dyeing’ (the mind and mood/emotions in this context) and therefore, metaphorically means ‘any feeling or passion, especially love, affection, sympathy, desire, interest, motivation, joy, or delight.’ Therefore, the word is used in the literal sense of ‘the act of dyeing,’ and also ‘color, hue, tint,’ especially the color red in the Sanskrit epics, as well as in the figurative sense of ‘something that colors one’s emotions.’
The term raga has no counterpart in Western musical theory. The concept of raga is based on the idea that certain characteristic patterns of notes evoke a heightened state of emotion. These patterns of notes are a fusion of scalar and melodic elements, and each raga can be described in terms of its ascending and descending lines (which may involve ‘turns’) as well as its characteristic melodic figures in which certain intervals are emphasized and attention is focussed on particular notes. More than 200 ragas are extant and each is a melodic basis for composition and improvisation. Most of the ragas have been in existence for several centuries and have evolved in their present form as a result of successive interpretations by generations of musicians.
The performance of a raga usually begins with an alap, a kind of improvised prelude in free time in which melodic characteristics of the raga being performed are clearly established and developed. It is rendered on a melody instrument or by the voice, and is usually accompanied by a drone. The vocal alap may also be accompanied by a secondary melody instrument. The instrumental alap tradition is very prominent today and the alap consists of a number of sections, some of which, like jor and jhala, are played against a pulse or beat but without fixed metre. At the conclusion of the alap a composed piece set in a particular tal (time measure) is introduced.
Modern north Indian classical music has its roots in ancient Indian music, but appears to have acquired it present form after the 14th or 15th century A.D. Indian musical theory is expounded in considerable detail in the Natyasastra, probably the earliest extant treatise on dramatic arts, among which music is included. This work, attributed to the sage Bharata, has been dated variously from the 3rd century B.C. to the 5th century A.D. Some of the technical terms in present-day musical theory and practice derive from this ancient source. Nevertheless, internal evidence shows that the musical system of ancient India as described in the Natyasastra differed considerably from that of today.
Raga, which is the present basis of melody in Indian music, was not yet a technical term in the Natyasastra. It was apparently evolved during the centuries following for it is first discussed in Matanga’s Brihaddesi (c. 9th century AD) and later expanded in Sarngadeva’s Sangitaratankara (13th century AD).
The conquering Muslims encountered in India a musical system which was highly developed and probably quite similar to their own. Their reaction to it was clearly favorable. The poet Amir Khusrau, who was an expert in both Indian and Persian music at the court of Ala’ al-din Khilji, Sultan of Delhi (1296-1316), is unsparing in his praise of Indian music and his attitude is one which probably prevailed in the Islamic world, for both al-Djahiz in the 9th century and al-Masudi in the 10th century comment favorably on it.
Music flourished in Islamic India in spite of the puritan faction, supported by the Muslim legal schools, which believed that music was unlawful in Islam. However, the gathering momentum of the Sufi movement with its unorthodox doctrines based on the practices of ascetic and mystic groups, who found in music a means to the realization of God, more than compensated for the restrictions imposed by orthodox Islam.
The patronage of music reached its peak under the Mughal Emperors, Akbar (1555-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shahjahan (1628-1658). Akbar maintained a magnificent court at which literature, philosophy and the arts occupied a prominent place. Music was presented on a lavish scale, and Akbar himself is said to have been a prolific composer.
The most famous musician of this period was undoubtedly Mian Tansen, around whom so many legends have grown that it is now difficult to separate fact from fiction. He was unquestionably a great musician as well as composer. Several ragas still bear his name, Miya Malhar for example, and many of his songs are still sung today.
The dhrupad style of singing was pre-eminent in Akbar’s time and the majority of vocalists came from Gwalior, presumably following the tradition initiated by Raja Man Singh, and it is in this city that Tansen is buried. Many of the instrumentalists, however, were foreigners who came from as far as Mashad and Tabriz in Iran and from Heart in modern Afghanistan.
By the second half of the 17th century we can be sure that the ancient musical system as conveyed in the Natyasastra was no longer in existence, and that the prevailing system was very similar to that which pertains in the present time.
Shahjahan’s reign was followed by that of Aurangzeb (1658-1707). The latter was fond of music and skilled in its theory, but he chose a life of asceticism in keeping with the tenets of Islam, relinquished all pleasure and withdrew his patronage of the arts. Musicians were obliged to leave the Mughal court and seek their livelihoods at the lesser provincial courts. It was only with the later Mughals, Bahadur Shah (1707-1712), and Muhammad Shah (1719-1748), that music regained some of its former glory. Although the reign of Muhammad Shah was beset with troubles and the Mughal Empire was rapidly declining, he was keenly interested in music and was an accomplished singer and composer. Largely, as a result of Muhammad Shah’s own endeavours and the compositions of his two leading musicians, Sadarang and Adarang, khyal, a new form of singing with greater scope for improvisation and virtuosity, came to the fore. A large proportion of the modern repertoire stems from this source. (fr. The Ragas of North Indian Music: Their Structure and Evolution by N.A. Jairazbhoy)
Raga Bhairav is a morning raga in Hindustani classical music that was for centuries considered to be the most important raga. Its modern form is, however, very different from that described in the old texts. Bhairav has its name from Bhairava, an incarnation of Shiva, and was historically associated with glory and awe, but became identified with peace and devotion. Raga Bhairav is sometimes linked to raga Bhairavi via Bhairavi’s association with the consort of Bhairav (as aspect of Shiva) of the same name; Hijaz Bhairav is an example of this. There are several allied ragas such as Ahir Bhairav, Bairagi, Gunkali, Hijaz Bhairav, Nat Bhairav, Ramkali, Jogiya and Kalingda.
In old treatises Bhairav is referred to as the adi-raga (original raga) and comes attached with a wealth of lore. Bhairav is so fundamental to Indian tradition that its impaction on the nation’s musical soul can never be overstated. Even the unlettered in the land is familiar with its germ in some form or the other. The overlay of Bhairav strains on a quiet, bucolic Indian morning can be a purifying experience. Verily, it falls to the lot of the noblest of ragas, deserving of renewal and reflection every single day. (For further detailed information on Raga Bhairav click here).
It’s name is taken from an aspect of Shiva known as Bhairava who in anger severed one of the head’s of Lord Brahma after he ordered Vishnu to fall at his feet and worship him.
Raga Bhairavi is another ancient raga, which in modern times, at least in Khyal Gayaki, is usually performed as the concluding (finale) piece in concerts. So fanatically loved and widely embraced is Raga Bhairavi that its elemental imprint is firmly fixed in the mind of even the untutored Indian rasika. Bhairavi is also one of the ten fundamental Hindustani thats proposed by the great sangeetaggya Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. Although Bhairavi is a major league raga, it stands apart from other ragas of like stature in one important aspect: its use of all 12 swaras, a signal feature of the Bhairavi praxis. The five vivadi swaras that are not members of the original set are implemented judiciously, without injury to the raga-dharma. In this latter form the melody instantiated is often termed “Mishra Bhairavi.” (For more detailed information on raga Bhairavi click here).
The raga is named after Bhairavi a fierce and terrifying aspect of the Devi (Mother Goddess) virtually indistinguishable from Kali, except for her particular identification as the consort of Bhairava. Bhairavi is seen mainly as the Chandi in the Durga Saptashati version of slaying Shumbha and Nishumbha. However, she kills and drinks the blood of Chanda and Munda the Chieftains of asuras, so the Goddess Parvati gives her a boon that she would be called Chamundeshwari. In other forms, she is also identified with Parvati or Durga. When furious, she is found sitting on a faithful donkey, with her mouth full of demons’ blood, her body covered with a tiger skin and skeleton. She also presents the abhaya mudra and vara mudhra, and she is shown holding weapons such as a trident, axe, and thunderbolt.
01 Raga Bhairav [Nasir Aminuddin Dagar] vocal
02 Ahir Bhairav_Nat Bhairav [Shivkumar Sharma, Brijbhushan Kabra, Hariprasad Chaurasia] instrumental
03 Bhairavi [Khamisu Khan] folk tune on alghoza
04 Thumri Bhairavi (Baju Band Khul Khul Jaye) [Faiyaz Khan] vocal
05 Bhairavi [Lal Mani Mishra] instrumental
06 Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya [K.L. Saigal] film song
07 Prem Ke Phande Men – Bhairav Thumri [Bade Ghulam Ali Khan] vocal