Bihag is a popular late evening raga in Hindustani classical music, but not too common in the semi-classical genres. In classical music, however, it is regarded as a raga of Shringara rasa (romantic sentiment), and early romanticist Khayal singers such as Bade Gulam Ali Khan (Lat uljhi suljha jaa balam) are known to have interpreted the raga liberally in Thumree style renditions, albeit presented as Chhota (drut) Khayals. It is also significant that Bihag has given rise to variants – Savani, Bihagda and Maru Bihag amongst others – thus suggesting its malleability. To this extent, Bihag may be considered to fall on the borderline of classical and semi-classical raga.
Interestingly, the Carnatic (South Indian) tradition has a raga called Behag or Byag, which bears a close resemblance to Bihag of Hindustani music, and is considered a light, romantic, raga suitable for Javali-s, the Carnatic parallel of the Thumree in Hindustani music.
In terms of its melodic structure and grammar, Bihag is a non-controversial raga. It recognises two versions – the traditional-austere, and the modern-liberal. The only difference between the two is the permissibility of Tivra (sharp/raised) Ma in the descent.
Ascent: N S G M P N S’
Descent: S’ N D P /G M P M G/ R S.
Ascent: N S G M P N S’
Descent: S’ N D P/ P M^ G M G/ R S.
Contemporary chalan (skeletal phraseology):
N. S M G/ S M G P/ G M P N S’/ S G’ RS’/ N DP/ P M^ P G M G/ P M G/ G RS
Tivra Ma entered the raga as an accidental, a subliminal presence in ornate phrases constructed in the madhyanga (mid-octave) region. Its presence has become more pronounced over the years. As a result, the austere-traditional form is now heard only in the Dhrupad genre, while Khayal and instrumental music have adopted the modern-liberal form.
The raga’s vadi-samvadi (primary and secondary dominants) are Ga and Ni, thus placing the raga’s centre of melodic gravity in the poorvanga (lower tetrachord). In contemporary music, however, Ni is frequently accorded the primary dominance, with the raga’s centre of gravity shifting into the uttaranga (upper tetrachord). This tendency is more pronounced in Thumree-style treatment. This transformation also tends to bias the melodic personality of the raga towards descending, rather than ascending, phrases.
Significant issues of intonation in Bihag pertain to Dh and Re in the descent. In classical treatment, the explicit intonation of these swara-s is contra-indicated. In semi-classical treatment, these rules are not considered binding. In fact, in Thumree style renditions, Dh, which is forbidden in the ascent, is often intoned with varying degrees of explicitness.
Deepak S. Raja
(c) India Archive Music, New York, producers of the finest recordings of Raga Bihag.