The creation of Bilaskhani Todi, is attributed to Bilas Khan, one of the four sons of Mian Tansen (1491-1583), the legendary musician who served the Mughal Emperor Akbar (Reign: 1542-1605), and composed many Ragas, including Mian Ki Todi. Since the present Todi variant is currently the only Raga explicitly attributed to Bilas Khan, it is often referred to as, simply, Bilaskhani.
Legend has it that Tansen thought poorly of Bilas Khan's talent as a musician and had virtually disowned him. It was at Tansen's funeral, that the grieving Bilas Khan composed this version of Todi, which became popular later as Bilaskhani Todi. According to another legend, Mian Tansen indicated, before his death, that the next "Khalifa" (heir to the Tansen legacy) would be that son of his who could sing Todi, using the swara material of Bhairavi. It is this challenge that inspired the Bilaskhani Todi. Interestingly, the Bhairavi of the Hindustani tradition is, to this day, called Todi in the Carnatic (South Indian) tradition.
Thus, according to legend, by the evidence of inter-changeable nomenclatures, and by the identity of swara material, Bhairavi and Bilaskhani Todi are siblings. However, their phraseologies and their dominant emotional content are as distinct from each other as cheese is from soap. Bilaskhani is a raga of pain, poignancy and pathos. On the other hand, Bhairavi, in its various manifestations, can range from the deeply devotional in fervour to the romantic.
Bilaskhani Todi Scale:
Ascent: S r g P d S'/ Descent: r’ n d M g r / g r n. d. S
The skeletal phraseology of this raga is made interesting by the rules of inclusion and omission. Ma and Ni swaras are omitted in the ascent, but are included in the descent. Ga and Pa swaras are present in ascent, but either missing or subliminally intoned in the descent. The observation of these rules results in the creation of a zigzag phraseology typical of Bilaskhani Todi.
r n. S r g/ r g P [or] r g d P/ g P d S’/ r’ n d M g r/ g P d M g r/ r g M g r/ g r n. d. S
The distinctive phraseology of Bilaskhani is so critical to the differentiation of this raga from Bhairavi, that almost any phrase, if ineptly handled, can blur the distinction. This is one of the reasons why, in vocal as well instrumental music, the raga is generally found to have been performed by mature musicians. The key to Bilaskhani, however, lies in its pain and pathos. Truly great renditions of this raga are, therefore, few. Amongst the many recordings I have heard of this raga, those of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Ameer Khan (all published) qualify as text-book renditions for their grammatical as well as aesthetic values.
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