Sunday, June 27, 2010

Raga Basant Mukhari – A Carnatic raga seeking a Hindustani identity


The raga, Basant Mukhari, is widely acknowledged as the Hindustani adaptation of the Carnatic raga, Vakulabharanam, associated with the eclectic initiatives of the scholar-musician, Acharya SN Ratanjankar [picture on the left]. Notionally, the raga fuses the Bhairav scale in the lower tetrachord with the Bhairavi scale in the upper. Some of the greatest musical minds of the country have, since then, worked on giving the raga a Hindustani personality. Despite this, the raga remains, to this day, subject to a considerable diversity in treatment.

The import of Vakulabharanam from the Carnatic tradition was, in fact, more like a second coming for this melodic entity. The first is a mature raga called Hijaz, apparently a melody of Persian origin, documented by VN Bhatkhande in the 1930s. We do not know how long ago it was that Hijaz entered Hindustani music.

The basic grammar of Basant Mukhari is near identical to Hijaz . Even their "Chalan" [skeletal phraseology], as documented by authorities, differs only in minor detail. Unless the musician himself tells you whether he was taught Hijaz or Basant Mukhari, you really have no indication about its possible source. There are very few musicians today who have been taught Hijaz. Hijaz was almost extinct when, in the mid-1950's, Basant Mukhari gained currency. What is heard most commonly today is Basant Mukhari, the Hindustani (North Indian) adaptation of the Carnatic Raga (Bhairav ke Prakar: Jaisukhlal Shah: 1991)

Although Ratanjankar, a great scholar and a disciple of Bhatkhande, certainly knew the Hijaz connection, he gave it a new name -- Basant Mukhari. This nomenclature suggests a melodic affinity to the raga Basant, or Shuddha Basant/ Adi Basant or Malti Basant, the other ragas with similar names. None of these suggestions has much support in the melodic personality of the raga.

The tonal structure of Basant Mukhari comes into being by replacing the Shuddha (Natural) Ni swara of Raga Bhairav with a Komal (flat) Ni. Another way of looking at the same scale is that it replaces the Komal (flat) Ga swara of Raga Bhairavi with a Shuddha (Natural) Ga.

Because of the lower tetrachord dominance of Bhairav, and the mid-octave region dominance of Bhairavi, the Bhairav character tends to dominate Basant Mukhari, thus qualifying it as a variety of Bhairav. A common departure from the Bhairav dominant character of this Raga is a tilt towards Raga Jogia, also a member of the Bhairav family. Some musicians try to emphasise the Bhairavi facet of Basant Mukhari by focusing more of their melodic development in the upper tetrachord.

Survey of recordings
The recent and contemporary practice of Basant Mukhari suggests frequent, and qualitatively divergent, departures from the Raga's description in the authoritative texts.

Vocalist, Ustad Ameer Khan (Bada Khayal.1969) treats Basant Mukhari squarely as a variety of Bhairav, virtually ignoring the Bhairavi facet in the upper tetrachord. He appears to adopt an Ahir Bhairav bias in the treatment of the raga in the lower tetrachord, and allows Malkauns to influence his treatment of the upper tetrachord, thus imparting an almost melancholy quality to the Raga.

Pt. Ravi Shankar has been performing Basant Mukhari since the late 1950's, and has consistently favoured the Bhairav oriented approach to this Raga. In a recent recording, his interpretation (BRI,1991) is predominantly Ahir Bhairav oriented, with a touch of Jogia. The Raga form is well integrated, with no overt effort at isolating the Bhairavi facet of the Raga for special attention.

Basant Mukhari is also a long-time favourite with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. In his most recent recording (Chhanda Dhara: SNCD:3386), the Ustad has presented this Raga explicitly as a Jogia variant. Because of the strong Jogia orientation of the recording, the Bhairavi facet is almost missing. The sombre quality of the Bhairav facet is replaced by the "Viraha rasa" character of Jogia.

In one of his published concerts, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasiya (EMI: STC: 851041) has opted for a treatment which is more light than classical, ignoring the explicit influence of both, Bhairav, and Bhairavi. One can see shades of Raga Jogia and Raga Jaunpuri/Asavari in the phrasing. But, the kaleidoscopic melodic patterns woven around the basic theme, which are appropriate for a semi-classical treatment, prevent any of these aural images from stabilising in the listener's mind.

The earliest record of Ustad Vilayat Khan performance of Basant Mukhari is a concert of 1963 (unpublished). The recording reflects a serious, and balanced treatment of the Bhairav and Bhairavi facets of this Raga. However, in a later recording of the same raga for India Archive Music (late 1990's), Ustad Vilayat Khan has allowed the raga to tilt towards its Bhairavi facet, especially in the faster movements.

After recording this raga for India Archive Music in 2001, the sarangi maestro, Ustad Abdul Lateef Khan told me that, in his youth, he was taught this raga as Hijaz Bhairav. But, since nobody today knew the raga by its original name, he decided to announce it as Basant Mukhari whenever he performed it. His rendering of it adopts a serious, Bhairav-biased approach to the raga form. The interpretation makes no attempt at the isolation of the Bhairavi and Bhairav elements in the two tetrachords. Basant Mukhari is presented as an independent raga, and comes through as one of the many cousins of Bhairav.

In its totality, Abdul Lateef’s treatment of the raga is close to that of vocalist Ustad Ameer Khan. Interestingly, Abdul Lateef hailed from Bhopal, and Ameer Khan from culturally contiguous Indore. Is it, then, possible that the musical culture of the Central Provinces had somehow kept the old raga, Hijaz Bhairav alive? This would explain not only the similarity of the two interpretations, but also the aesthetic coherence and maturity of their melodic entities, compared to the divergent interpretations of the Carnatic raga.

It appears that the majority view favours a Bhairav family bias in the treatment, with shades of Jogia and Ahir Bhairav being considered permissible. Within this consensus, however, the handling of this raga in the Hindustani tradition exhibits a wide range -- from the very solemn pure Bhairav orientation to a light-classical treatment going well beyond the melodic liberalism of the contemporary Bhairavi. Since the maturity of the Hijaz Bhairav source has been lost, its reinvention as Basant Mukhari appears still to be in search of a stable Hindustani identity.

Basant Mukhari is not unique in this respect. It is true that some Carnatic ragas, like Kalavati, Hansadhwani and Abhogi, have by now acquired a stable melodic character in Hindustani music. But, there are several others -- such as Vachaspati, Saraswati, Salagvarali, Jansammohini, Kirwani and Charukeshi – which can only be considered at an exploratory stage of adaptation by the Hindustani tradition.

An interesting question arises here. What is the yardstick for determining when, and if, the Hindustani interpretation of a Carnatic raga is “satisfactory”? Is it sufficient for the interpretation to acquire a reasonable stability of melodic grammar in the Hindustani tradition? Or is it also important that Carnatic Vidwans should scrutinise and validate the Hindustani effort? The issue is debatable.

Deepak S. Raja
© India Archive Music Ltd., New York. Producers of the finest recordings of Raga Basant Mukhari.
IndiaArcMu@aol.com

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