Bhairavi is one of the most popular ragas in the Hindustani melodic pantheon. In its pure form, its scale represents one of the ten parent scales under which other ragas are classified. But, its concert manifestation is highly malleable, and accommodates a variety of tonal deviations, without losing its essential Bhairavi-ness.
The shuddha (pure) Bhairavi is heard only rarely. On the concert platform, one encounters melodic patterns derived from one or more of the Bhairavi variants. These variants were probably influenced by folk melodies, as suggested by their names referring to the different regions: Sindh (now in Pakistan), Punjab (in northern India, and partly in Pakistan), Purab (Eastern part of the Northern Provinces), and Delhi.
These variants are not very much more than shades or flavors added, in varying degrees, to the distinctive base of the near-pure Bhairavi. As a result, a contemporary Bhairavi rendition is generally an amalgam of melodic features drawn from two or more of the principal variants.
Bhairavi, which started two centuries ago as a heptatonic raga, is today often performed using 11 or even 12 tones in the Hindustani scale. It is no longer necessary for a musician to announce which variant of Bhairavi he is presenting. It is assumed that, unless announced otherwise, he will present his own version of a mishra (mixed) Bhairavi. In fact, he occasionally exercises the freedom, within a concert, to take short melodic detours into other identifiable ragas, not necessarily of the Bhairavi parent scale, thus permitting Bhairavi to become the nucleus of a Raga-mala.
The immense tenacity of this raga has also shaped its role on the concert platform.
In accordance with the time-theory of raga-s, Bhairavi is classified as an early-morning, post-sunrise, raga. In the days when concerts normally commenced late in the night and went on till the early hours of the morning, Bhairavi became popular as the tail-piece raga. Aided by the progressive relaxation of its melodic grammar, Bhairavi established itself as a tail-piece raga, independent of the time consideration. Interestingly, nothing of this sort has happened to other ragas, such as Jogia, prescribed for performance around dawn.
In the 1940's, Bhatkhande observed (Bhatkhande Sangeet Shastra, Vol. IV, Ed. LN Garg. Sangeet Karyalaya, 2nd edition, 1970 Pg. 610), that Bhairavi possesses insufficient profundity to support the more formal formats of raga presentation. As evidence, he cites the fact that, although compositions of Bhairavi are found in all other genres of Hindustani music, it is difficult to find slow-tempo khayals in this raga.
This observation is perhaps more valid today because Bhairavi has, by now, become a light raga comparable to Piloo or Khamaj, especially in vocal music. In instrumental music, however, the raga still delivers a richer diversity in raga interpretations and presentation formats, than Bhatkhande probably encountered.
The Melodic Form
In its pure form, rarely heard now, Bhairavi is a heptatonic raga using flat tones for Re, Ga, Dh and Ni. It corresponds to the Hanumatodi Mela in the Carnatic (South Indian) tradition.
Bhairavi is one of the several names of Parvati, the divine consort of Bhairav (Lord Shiva), the destroyer of the universe. The mythological associations of Bhairav and Bhairavi are inseparably linked. Likewise, in musicological literature, Bhairavi is described as a ragini (female counterpart) of raga Bhairav (Bhatkhande Sangeet Shastra, Vol. IV, Ed.LN Garg. Sangeet Karyalaya, Hathras, 2nd edition, 1970 Pg. 608).
The gender polarity of the two divinities extends into their respective tonal structures. The contemporary raga Bhairavi comes into being by the replacement of the shuddha (natural) Ga and Ni tones of Bhairav, by their respective komal (flat) manifestations. The masculine profundity of raga Bhairav finds a compatible feminine expression in the seductive grace of raga Bhairavi.
The present tonal structure of Bhairavi is about two centuries old. At the time of Damodara (ca. 1625), the Bhairavi nomenclature corresponded to the contemporary Kafi parent scale (S R g M P D n). Apparently, the shuddha (natural) Dh was replaced by the komal (flat) Dh during the second half of the 17th century, and the komal (flat) Re replaced the shuddha (natural) Re a century later.
Bhairavi shares its tone material, and even some admissible phrases, with Shuddha Todi (Miya-ki-Todi), Bilaskhani Todi, and Asavari. But, unlike Bhairavi, none of these ragas gives the musician the freedom to introduce alien tone material or phraseologies.
The basic deviation the contemporary Bhairavi makes from the pure Bhairavi is the addition of the shuddha (natural) Re tone to the native komal (flat) Re of the raga. The natural Re is used primarily in the ascent, and the flat Re in the descent. This near-pure melodic form is currently heard in Dhrupad-Dhamar renditions (Example: Nasir Ameenuddin and Nasir Moinuddin Dagar. UNESCO. Anthology of the Orient Vol II, 1964).
At the other end of the vocal music spectrum, thumree renditions in Bhairavi, unfettered by raga grammar, might also add the natural Dh, the natural Ni, and the sharp Ma tones. The Bhairavi performed on instruments goes further, and frequently uses all the 12 tones of the Hindustani scale. However, the shuddha (natural) Ga, when used at all, is used very sparingly.
The distinctive melodic identities of the different Bhairavi variants have, by now, been blurred by generations of liberal blending. For the establishment of the identity of Bhairavi, what remains is a central core of phraseology.
n. S n. r S
d. n. S R g
g M P d P
g M d n S'
n r' S' d P
d P M P g M r S or g M P M g M r S
This phraseology belongs to the near-pure Bhairavi with twin-Re usage. These phrases remain the identifying phraseology of Bhairavi. Beyond this, there are conventions for taking liberties, which sustain the Bhairavi-ness of the raga.
The shuddha (natural) Dh tone, when used, is in first-fifth correspondnce to the shuddha Re. Therefore, its treatment is identical to the shuddha Re treatment -- only in the ascent, and never in the descent.(g-M-P-D-n-d-P corresponding to d-n-S-R-g-r-S).
The tivra (sharp) Ma, when used, is always deployed in the descent, and in conjunction with the shuddha (natural) Ma tone. In such treatment, it either replaces the Pa tone, or is used in conjunction with the Pa tone (n-d-P-M^-M-g-M-r-S or S-g-M-M^-M-g-M-r-S).
There is also a special use of the tivra Ma, in the ascent, as a flourish below the Pa (n-D-n-d-P-d-M^-P), which corresponds to (g-R-g-r-S-r-n-S) a similar special use of the natutal Ni tone. In this formation, the two Re tones, and the two Ni tones are used to embellish the Sa and Pa tones respectively.
The more prominent use of the shuddha Ni tone is seen in the Sindh Bhairavi, which explicitly ascends like raga Chandrakauns (S-g-M-d-N-S'). A little less prominent use is also made, as a variation of the Bhairavi ascent (P-d-N-S' instead of the regular g-M-d-n-S').
The last remaining tone of the scale, the shuddha Ga, is used very sparingly, because it is too strongly suggestive of the profound Bhairav. It is generally used in the ascent, mostly in the middle octave, and turned around very quickly (r-G-M-g-R-g-S-r-S) so as not to disturb the essential feminity of Bhairavi.
Rarely, and only for the element of surprise, you do find musicians running through all the 12 notes in the octave is a flat-out motion (S-N-n-D-d-P-M^-M-G-g-R-r-S). In all the Bhairavi I have heard from Vilayat Khan, he has done this only once, as the finale of a private concert in February 1998.
Due to its melodic versatility, Bhairavi can deliver a wide variety of emotional statements. The near-pure form performed by the Dagars is intensely devotional. Once we leave the devotional territory, we encounter varying combinations of pathos and romance inherent in the melodic character of the raga -- the pain of separation.
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