Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Raga Shree: Supplicant, spooky, or belligerent?

Shree is amongst the oldest raga-s in the Hindustani art music pantheon. But, it is not clear whether the melodic entity currently identified by this name is, indeed, the one that claims considerable antiquity. Quite irrespective of its evolutionary path, the contemporary Shree also commands immense stature amongst raga-s because of its profundity, and its association with a powerful archetypal entity in Hindu mythology.

Shree: The archetype
The "Shree" syllable is one of the two most powerful sounds in the psycho-phonetics of the Vedic tradition, the other being "Om". While "Om" represents man's relationship with the spiritual world, "Shree" represents the material man. Together, they represent the totality of man's aspirations.

In mythology, the "Om" phonetic, because of its abstract nature, remains a calligraphic deity. But, "Shree", the phonetic-calligraphic archetype, is also personified as the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, the giver of wealth and prosperity, and the consort of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe.

Amongst the major female deities in the Hindu pantheon, Lakshmi occupies a pride of place, ahead of the ferocious Durga, the destroyer of evil, and the gentle Saraswati, the giver of knowledge and accomplishments in the fine arts. Interestingly, Durga and Saraswati also have Ragas dedicated to them, although, neither of these two enjoy the status of Shree either in the popular mind, or in the world of music.

The Shree Suktam (Hymn to the goddess Lakshmi) from Rig Veda, considered the most powerful Mantra for invoking the blessings of Lakshmi, describes her as the Great Facilitator of all the material tasks of the world, and thus, the symbol of ultimate effectiveness. In this hymn, the supplicant prays for protection from hunger and poverty, and for the boon of fame and prosperity.

Interestingly, the Shree Suktam is totally silent on the legitimacy of the means by which man may acquire wealth, as also on the ends to which wealth might be deployed. In a sense, thus, mythology treats the blessings of Lakshmi as being desired, or desirable, for their own sake.

Whether oppressed by the fear of poverty, or fired by the lust for wealth, man has the choice between turning supplicant before the goddess, and setting out to conquer the world. But, quite irrespective of the stance he adopts, and perhaps precisely because he has a choice, man cannot escape oppressive anxiety as a permanent feature of dealing with his material self.

In comparison, the other two major goddesses do not give man any options. Militancy or even anxiety are totally inconsistent with Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and the fine arts, who represents the highest level of culture. And, the ferocious Durga is the one whose help man seeks in order to destroy his enemies. In either case, supplication is the only route to divine grace.

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur (Sangeetanjali Vol. VI) provides a different perspective on the mythology and Rasa values of this raga. Of the six primary raga-s of the Hindustani tradition, five are said to have emanated from the five mouths of Lord Shiva, while the sixth is said to have emanated from the mouth of Parvati. Having emanated from "Shree-mukha", it was named Shree. He carries forward this association into describing the mood of the raga.

He suggests that Shree is a raga of the "Bhayanaka Rasa" (the sentiment of fear). To him, the prescribed time for performing this raga (around sunset) is the time when nature and humans are at peace, but the disembodied spirits (of whom Shiva is the Lord) become active, and aid the black magic of Tantriks. To him, the atmopshere created by the raga suggests activity in the netherworld -- spooky, and eerie in a manner that makes ordinary mortals fearful.

Even if the genesis of the association of the archetypal Shree with the Raga is no longer traceable, the metaphor is not out of place.

Shree: The melodic entity
"Shree" belongs to the Purvi Parent Scale, one of the ten modal structures which form the foundation of the Hindustani Raga system. Like other members of this Scale, it is prescribed for performance around sunset.

Swara material:
Ascent: S r M^ P N/ Descent: S N d P M^ G r
Re and Dh are Komal (flat), Ma is Tivra (sharp)

The primary dominant Swara is Re, and the secondary dominant is Pa. All other Swaras are of normal emphasis. Dh can be, occasionally, used subliminally in a Ni-Pa melodic descent. In Shree, unlike most other Ragas, Sa (the tonic) is not considered a raga-neutral resting point or melodic centre because of its proximity to the Komal Re, which has to be kept in sharp focus.

Orthodox musicians believe that post-sunset Purvi scale raga-s ought to be centred in the upper tetrachord. In accordance with this belief, they frequently take advantage of the ascent-oriented character of the Raga, and perform compositions which have the Sam (first accentuated beat of the rhythmic cycle) falling at the "Re" in the higher octave. Such orthodoxy accentuates the ascent in the treatment of the Raga, and imparts to it a distinctly strident quality.

The Raga, as currently performed, is identified by two catch-phrases: Sa-Ni-Re and Re-Re-Pa. These phrases define the two faces of Shree. Sa-Ni-Re has an abbrasive quality while Re-Re-Pa imparts a supplicant character.

Some musicians believe that, in order to fully express the emotional content of Shree, the Komal (flat) Re and Dh ought to be distanced from their neighbours, Sa and Pa, by the use of fractionally sharper microtones of Komal Re and Dh. But, there is also the opposite view, which reccommends suppressed microtones of Re and Dh. Authorities also acknowledge non-standard intonations of Ga, Ni, and tivra Ma in this raga. Shree is thus amongst those ragas, where the aesthetics of intonation play a far greater role in the communication of musical ideas than its melodic grammar.

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur (Sangeetanjali Vol.VI) observes that Shree is considered a difficult raga to perform as much because of its requirement of non-standard intonation, as of its restless, spooky, eerie phraseology.

Phraseology: Re and Dh are Komal (flat), Ma is Tivra (sharp)
S N. r/ N G r/ r M^/M^ G r / r M^ P/P M^ G r OR r r P/P M^ G r/r M^ P d/M^ G r/ r M^ P N S'/ P N S' N r' OR P S' N r'/r' N d M^ d OR r' N d P / d M^ G r OR M^ P d M^ G r/r d M^ G r OR M^ N M^ G r/G r S N. r/S N. r/ G r S

Note: In an increasingly rare version of the raga, the ascent into the uttaranga goes r-M^-d-N-S rather than r-M^-P-N-S indicated above.

In the lower tetrachord, and in the descent, a mis-handling of the melodic phraseology of this Raga exposes the Raga to the risk of confusion with Puriya, or its Puriya Dhanashree variant.

Shree: The experience
Although Shree is amongst the Raga-s popular with audiences, its performances are rare. Commercial recordings of Shree, and recordings in private collections establish that this Raga demands musicianship of a high order.

Amongst vocalists, Pandit. DV Paluskar (HMV-8TCS-048-3836) and Ustad Ameer Khan (unpublished) have treated Shree as a deeply devotional, though anxiety-laden Raga, while softening its aggressive stance. To achieve this, they adopted a variety of devices.

They sang poetry which is explicitly devotional in content, and biased their Raga development towards the lower tetrachord. In the melodic treatment, they made generous use of the Sa-Pa movement, in addition to the comparatively restless Re-Pa movement. They de-emphasised the strident Sa-Ni-Re catch-phrase and replaced it often with the less disturbing Re-Re-Re. The structure of their Tan-s is dominated by the characteristic phraseology of the raga, and avoids geometric or kaleidoscopic melodic devices.

Ashwini Despande's Shree (recorded in 2000 for India Archive Music, New York), is broadly in the Paluskar-Ameer Khan territory of Rasa values. Her ati-komal Re and ati-tivra Ma intonations assure for her rendition the anxiety-laden quality that characterises the raga. But, in her rendition, it is possible discern a yearning for peace and tranquility -- a drift towards Shanta Rasa.

Flautist Pannalal Ghosh (HMV-6TC-O4B-7182) appears to see this Raga as primarily disturbing and unsettling in character, with a touch of stridency. His treatment is ascent oriented and upper tetrachord dominated. He accepts the Re-Re-Pa movement as the primary identity of the Raga. The other catch-phrase Sa-Ni-Re comes into focus in the higher octave. His fast-paced composition has its "Sam" on the Upper-Re. His Tans predominantly use the phraseology of the Raga. The leaps between tonal clusters are less prominent than in Paluskar or Ameer Khan. The juxtaposition of tonal pairs is absent.

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, who has articulated the eerie, spooky facet of the raga's personality, would have been the ideal musician to demonstrate it. Though his recordings of the raga are not available, we do have wothwhile specimens in renditions by Kumar Gandharva (concert 2/2/1975) and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (concert undated). In addition to being masters of intonation, these two musicians have deployed unorthodox phrasing and acoustic effects like variations of volume and timbre with stunning effect for shaping the atmospherics of the raga. The two recordings I cite here will probably remain amongst the most interesting and original recordings of Shree for this reason.

A drift towards aggressiveness is evident the Shree recording of Sitarist Pt. Ravi Shankar and Sarodist Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (Duet:HMV-EALP-1296). The raga form appears to support Pannalal Ghosh' interpretation. But, because of the plucked character of their instruments, they tilt towards a strident expression. Their melodic focus remains in the lower tetrachord. But, the use of Jhaptal with irregular cadences (10 beats in 2-3-2-3 subdivision) for the medium-paced composition makes it mildly menacing. Their melodic approach utilises the raga's phraseology, as well as geometric and kaleidoscopic devices. The powerful strokes of Ali Akbar Khan, supporting the kaleidoscopic patterns of tonal pairs, impart an eerie virility to the under-current of tension in the Raga.

Shree: The Vilayat Khan interpretation
Ustad Vilayat Khan sees Shree clearly as a Raga of the warrior. His Shree rendition at the Thirakwa Memorial concert at the Bhulabhai Desai Institute, Bombay (1976, unpublished), and his later recording of the raga for India Archive Music, New York, both testify to this. The Ustad is able to express this hitherto underplayed facet of the Raga by merely re-defining the scale, and supporting his melodic interpretation with power-packed execution.

Superficially, his interpretation of the Raga form only appears to add a belligerent emphasis on the "Dh" Swara, to supplement the already strident "Re" in the lower tetrachord, which is the melodic focus of the Raga. The accent on "Dh" dilutes the status of the adjacent Pa, which is the Secondary Dominant Swara of Shree. A weaker Pa also neutralises the supplicant mood of the Re-Re-Pa phrase, one of the two keys to the Raga's melodic character.

In the Vilayat Khan interpretation, Re and Dh become isolated, but corresponding Swaras of equal weightage, almost like two Dominant Swaras. But, this apparently minor nuance, perfectly consistent with the easily recognisable Raga form, is actually quite fundamental.

Ustad Vilayat Khan has shifted the notional focus of the Raga from the Sa-to-Sa octave to the Ni-to-Ni octave. In the Sa-to-Sa octave, the two tetrachords are assymetrical . The lower tetrachord has a sharper ascendency, while the upper tetrachord has a weaker and uneven ascendency. The ascendancy of the first step in both the tetrachords is hesitant, and becomes aggressive only later. By notionally adopting a Ni-to-Ni scale, the Vilayat Khan interpretation makes the two tetrachords perfectly symetrical in their tonal geometry. This shift creates a qualitatively different melodic canvas for the treatment of the raga -- essentially more amenable to symmetric and geometric phrasing.

Vilayat Khan's militancy appeared to require a dominant Swara in the upper tetrachord, to be utilised as a corresponding power centre to the Re in the lower tertrachord. The Dh Swara, in first-fifth correspondence with Re, was the ideal choice. The impact of this correspondence is enhanced by the formation of symmetrical tetrachords, to the base Ni (lower octave) and Tivra Ma (middle octave). This shift of focus delivers distant swara clusters between which he can move swiftly without hindrance and launch sudden offensives on any part of the melodic battlefield to any other part. This focus shift gives him an original, more expansive, phraseological frame for developing the Raga, in a manner which is totally consistent with its accepted grammar.

Amongst the performing arts, dance and theatre, rather than music, have often been considered the appropriate platforms for the depiction of valour, because depicting the application of physical force requires the manipulation of the human body. Vilayat Khan's interpretation of Shree is, therefore, a significant aesthetic achievement.

Ustad Vilayat Khan’s Shree is so radical compared to Shree, as commonly encountered, that a knowledgeable reviewer of his recording was obliged to suggest that the Ustad should have called it by a different name. This proposition is debatable because it is not the first time, nor the last, that a great musician has revealed a hitherto unexplored facet of a raga; and the event can hardly be considered a good enough reason to give it a new name.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York
The finest recordings of Raga Shree have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Raga Megh Malhar

This essay is now published in my fourth book:

Removing it from here was considered proper, though not contractually obligatory, in order to protect the investment of my publisher in the book. 


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Music is not just about music

“The knowledge of music becomes an effective means of attaining one-ness with Lord Shiva; for by the knowledge of music, one attains to a state of absorption and it is by attaining such a state that one-ness with Shiva could be obtained… One ought not to indulge, out of delusion, in worldly songs…”
Skanda Purana, Suta Samhita.

“To the yogin whose spirit attains a unified state in the uniform bliss engendered by delectation of objects like music, there occurs an absorption and anchoring of the mind in that bliss. Where there is a continuous and long flow of sounds from stringed instruments, one becomes freed of other objects of cognition and becomes merged in that ultimate and verily of the form of that Supreme Being.”
Vijnanabhairava Tantra

“We adore the Supreme Being of the form of sound (Nada Bramha) which is the one bliss without a second, and the light of consciousness in all beings that has manifested itself in the form of the universe. By the adoration of sound (Nada) are also adored God Bramha, Vishnu, and Maheshwara, for they are the embodiment of sound.”
Sharangadeva in Sangeet Ratnakara, 1.3.1-2

“One attains the Supreme Being by practicing continuously the chanting of the Samans (the sacred Vedic mantras set to music) in the prescribed manner and with mental concentration. The singing of the songs Aparanta, Ullopya etc… the songs composed by Daksha and Bramha, constitutes indeed liberation. One who knows the correct playing of the lute, has mastered the subtle semitones, and understands the rhythms, attains the path of liberation without any strain.”
Yajnavalkya Smriti, 3.4.112-15

“O Mind! The knowledge of the science and art of music bestows on a person the bliss of oneness with the Supreme Being. Music such as is accompanied by the blissful oceanlike stories of the Lord which are the essence of love and all the other sentiments blesses a person with oneness with the Lord. Music such as that cultivated by the discerning Thyagaraja bestows on a person affection (for fellow beings), devotion (to God), attachment to good men, the Lord’s Grace, austere life, mental concentration, fame, and wealth.”
Sangitajnanamu in raga Salagabhairavi by Thyagaraja

“O Mind! Drink and revel in the ambrosia of melody; it gives one the fruit of sacrifices and contemplation, renunciation, as well as enjoyment; Thyagaraja knows that they who are proficient in sound, the mysic syllable OM, and the music notes – which are all of the form of the Lord Himself – are liberated souls.”.
Ragasudharasa in raga Andolika by Thyagaraja

“Two Bramhana lutists are singing to the lute; this thing, the lute, is verily the embodiment of beauty and prosperity; and these musicians of the lute do verily endow him (the patron) with prosperity.”
Taittiriya Bramhana, 3.9.14

“These that sing to the lute indeed sing of Him (the Supreme Being) only; hence it is that they attain riches.”
Chandogya Upanishad 1.7.6.

“Whatever poetic utterances there are, and the songs in all their entirety, are aspects of Lord Vishnu, in his sonant form.”
Vishnu Purana. 1.22.84

Translations from: Sources of the Indian Tradition, Vol. I, Wm.Theodore de Barry Ed. 2nd edition, 1966. Columbia University Press, New York & London.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Buddhadev Dasgupta -- “But for the radio, I would have died unknown”

Dasgupta spoke to
Deepak Raja
on October 27, 1997 and December 3, 1998.

I was born in 1933 at Bhagalpur in Bihar. My father was a government servant on transferable duty. Being a music enthusiast, he made it a point to establish contact with local musicians wherever we moved, and quickly became a part of the local music circle.

As a child, I showed no particular inclination towards music. My parents' early attempts at getting me interested were most disheartening. The turning point came when I was nine years old. We moved to Rajshahi (in present-day Bangla Desh), where the local Zamindar (feudal chieftain), and also the region's most distinguished musician, was an exceptionally handsome man called Radhika Mohan Maitra.

For all his wealth and social status, Radhu Babu, as he was affectionately called, was an unassuming man. At my father's invitation, he agreed to give a performance at our house. I cannot recall if his music made much of an impression on me. But, the visual image of this attractive man, playing his tantalizing instrument, captivated my imagination. It was pure, and simple, hero-worship.

I desperately wanted to be like him, and to learn from him. My father vetoed the idea on the grounds that the transferable nature of his job would deny continuity to my training. When this domestic dispute was revealed to Radhu Babu, he pleaded my case with my parents.

My father was candid with him. He argued that I was not an heir to ancestral lands, and would have to qualify myself professionally to make a decent living. Radhu Babu assured my father that if, at any stage, my music interfered with my education, he would suspend my training in music. On this condition, I was allowed to study with Radhu Babu. In less than a year thereafter, my family moved to Khulna (also in present-day Bangla Desh). Radhu Babu, by now a close friend of the family, continued to visit us from Rajshahi -- for a few days each time -- and to teach me.

Then came independence, and the partition (1947). My father was transferred to Calcutta, the provincial head quarters of undivided Bengal, which remained in India. Radhu Babu lost all his ancestral properties in East Bengal, and also moved to Calcutta to make a living as a professional musician. I was fifteen then. From then onwards, right upto my Guru's demise in 1981, I had permanent access to him.

In Calcutta, Radhu Babu visited us twice or thrice a week, at any time on any day. There were days when he would spend hours socializing with my parents; and others when he would land up an at an unearthly time and grill me for hours. During semester breaks at my college, I lived with him to learn. It was a Guru-Shishya relationship in the traditional mold.

Guru, a tough task-master
My Guru was a strict disciplinarian. The slightest sign of insubordination provoked a reprimand far more hurtful than the physical violence, with which Ustad Alauddin Khan is reported to have disciplined his students. Throughout my years in formal education, my Guru remained my father's staunch ally in demanding academic excellence from me as the price for the freedom to pursue my passion for music.

Academic and musical pursuits coexisted comfortably until I reached the fourth year of my degree course at the Bengal Engineering College. At that stage, the conflict between my passion and my vocational direction became crushing. I had been brainwashed into believing that getting anything less than a first class amounted to failure. For the first time, I feared the such a possibility, and considered quitting engineering studies in favour of a career in music.

My father was reassuring, but blunt. He offered a deal. I had his permission to get a second class, if that was inevitable; but I had to continue. In his opinion, I had the makings of a fine musician; but I just did not have what it takes to be another Ali Akbar Khan. Ali Akbars are not made; they are born , he said. I yielded; but I think that was a mistake.

Contrary to everyone's fears, I got a first class mechanical engineering degree in 1954, and started my career with the Calcutta Electric Supply Company, which I served until retirement at the age of fifty-five in 1988.

On call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day
An engineering career with a power supply utility cannot be a five-day-week, nine-to-five job with casual and privilege leave benefits. Even over Weekends, I was never sure of being able to travel for concerts. Going abroad for concert tours of two or three months was inconceivable. For almost ten of these thirty-five years in service, I had to live on the premises of the generating station, and be on-call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Except in and around Calcutta, I had virtually no presence on the concert platform. My primary access to audiences at large was through my broadcasts over All India Radio's local (medium wave) station. But, in those days, Calcutta radio was received avidly, even if faintly, by serious music lovers from all over the country. Were it not for All India Radio, I would have died unknown.

I had started performing over the radio in 1949, at the age of sixteen. In 1961, when I was twenty-eight, I got my first booking for the National Programme of Music broadcast live from Delhi, on Saturday nights, and relayed nationally over all stations. In a year, a maximum of twenty-six Hindustani musicians, including the dead, get this honor.

This momentous opportunity almost eluded me. I was, at that time, in charge of shift operations. On the eve of my departure for Delhi, there was a breakdown at the power station. An absence of twenty-four hours even over a weekend could not be permitted. My colleagues explained to my English boss my caliber as a musician and the magnitude of the opportunity and the honor. I made it to the airport just in time.

Walking the tight rope
My entire musical journey has been a story of walking the tight rope between my profession and my passion. Only after 55 am I giving to music what it has always deserved. The economic security of my profession has enabled me to remain faithful to my musical heritage, and to resist pandering to the popular taste. But, in the process, my music has been deprived of something -- I wish I knew what.

(c) Deepak S. Raja, 2000
The finest recordings of Buddhadev Dasgupta have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd.New York.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Raga Madhuvanti: Multani's cousin

Madhuvanti is a popular pre-sunset raga. Though it is possibly a raga of considerable antiquityl, its present nomenclature could be of recent origin. The raga is audava (pentatonic) in the ascent and sampoorna (heptatonic) in the descent. Although the raga is not encountered in the Thumree genre, it has a lyrical and poignant mood, which has given it limited entry into other romanticist and even popular genres.

Ascent: N. S g M^ P N S’/ Descent: S’ N D P M^ g R S.

The raga is allied to Multani, which has an identical ascent, but differs in the descent. Multani uses komal (flat) Dh and Re in the descent instead of the shuddha (natural) Re/ Dh used in Madhuvanti. In addition to using different pitches of Re and Dh, Multani intones them subliminally, while Madhuvanti deploys them explicitly, and often even emphatically. Despite this, authorities acknowledge that Madhuvanti does possess a “Multani facet”. This facet surfaces in the descent when the two discriminants are either underplayed or skipped altogether. Their occasional omission or suppression is, evidently, considered legitimate. To this extent, the raga suffers no damage by the sporadic use of ambivalent phrasing.

Authorities consider Ma^ and Sa to be the vadi-samvadi pair (primary and secondary dominants) of the raga. Being pivotal, the vadi deserves greater attention. Though the vadi concept has never been satisfactorily defined from an empirical-analytical standpoint, Tivra Ma is a rare swara in the role.. A vadi swara is understood to represent the melodic personality of the raga. It is normally the swara on which the raga’s crucial phrases culminate most frequently and/or most emphatically. Mukhda-s of bandish-es in the raga also tend often to culminate on the vadi swara. In this sense, Tivra (sharp) Ma is an unlikely vadi for any raga because of its uniquely anxiety-laden psycho-acoustics, and rare usage as a terminal point for phrasing.

It can, however, qualify as a vadi in a probabilistic sense of being the most frequently intoned swara of a rendition. This condition would be met if the raga is rendered with its center of gravity in the madhyanga (mid-octave region). This alternative interpretation of the vadi is tricky because such a vadi could have to compete with another “vadi”, which gets defined as the most frequent and emphatic terminal point of phrasing. The vadi status of tivra Ma in Madhuvanti is precarious because it cannot leap out of the rendition as a vadi is expected to do, and might thus get subdued by some other swara which may do so.

Madhuvanti recordings of Shivkumar Sharma, Jasraj, Bismillah Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Ravi Shankar, Rashid Khan, LK Pandit, and Hafeez Ahmed Khan, were reviewed for clarity on this issue.

Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, and LK Pandit allow Re to perform an important role in the rendition. However, they make a special effort to emphasise the probable vadi status of tivra Ma, and also maintain the raga’s center of gravity in the mid-octave region. In fact, all of them also invest considerable melodic effort in using Tivra Ma as a terminal point for phrasing, exploiting its heart-rending character. In the renditions of these three, one also notices a highlighting of Dh, the second important discriminator between Multani and Madhuvanti. Hafeez Ahmed glosses over the importance of tivra Ma, but is equally emphatic about Dh. Bismillah Khan’s Jhaptal bandish (accompanied by Bageshwari Qamar), opening with the sam on tivra (sharp) Ma suggests the special status of this swara. A painstaking, deliberate, effort at the melodic exploitation of tivra Ma is, however, not evident in Bismillah’s recording.

In Shivkumar Sharma’s recording, Re and (komal) Ga are given considerable importance, without any obvious effort to emphasise Ma as the probable vadi. The Jasraj rendering is a liberal, romanticist, interpretation of the raga, underplays the two discriminants between Multani and Madhuvanti (Re and Dh) rather generously, and even allows shades of Piloo to drift and out of Madhuvanti. In his interpretation, the documented vadi swara of the raga (Ma^) does not emerge even as a probable vadi. Rashid Khan’s Madhuvanti underplays Re as well as tivra Ma, but appears to highlight Ni. Despite these features of a rendition romanticist in its demeanour, his rendition preserves the melodic identity of Madhuvanti well within its recognizable boundaries.

From this evidence, it appears that musicians of the senior (70 +) generation pay considerable attention to the importance of Tivra Ma, while the younger generations do not consistently to do so. For the majority of musicians, Re is a favoured and emphatic terminal point of phrasing probably because it is an unequivocal discriminator between Madhuvanti and Multani, and because, unlike tivra Ma, it delivers a release of aesthetic tension. The discriminator role of Re becomes even more critical considering that Multani and Madhuvanti share a bias towards Tivra Ma. These factors have affixed the melodic focus of the raga in the poorvanga, and made Re and Tivra Ma partners in establishing the melodic personality of the raga.

Interestingly, Girija Devi described Madhuvanti as an “orphan” raga which had no parents (vadi-samvadi), and whose soul lay in its Tivra Ma (conversation with your commentator February 24, 2004). With a debatable vadi and an unidentifiable samvadi, Madhuvanti may be a case of raga-ness being sustained by its phraseology, relying substantially on looped phrases.

Chalan: (Skeletal phraseology): S N. S/ M^ g R S R S/ M^ g P M/ g M^ g P or M^ g M^ P/ P M^ D D P/ g M^ P N/ N S’/ P N S’ g’ R’ S”/ R’ N S’ D P/ D M^ P g/ M^ P g R S R/ N. S

This phraseology redefines the scale of the raga as a pattern of descending pairs of swara-s in the ascent and ascending pairs of swara-s in the descent. Placed in sequence, the ascent and the descent acquire a hopping character. This approach is apparent in the manner in which Bhimsen Joshi, Ravi Shankar, and even Girija Devi have treated the raga. Based on their treatment, a redefined scale for Madhuvanti, would read as follows:

Ascent: S N. G S M^ g P M^ D P N D S N R’ S/ Descent: N S’ D N P D M^ P g M^ S R N. S.

Interestingly, this approach could have the effect of focusing the rendition of Madhuvanti in the mid-octave region, and sharpening the psycho-acoustic impact of tivra Ma, the theoretical vadi of the raga.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd., New York
The finest recordings of raga Mahuvanti have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Ashwini Bhide Deshpande – “I am happy with being just a good musician”

Ashwini spoke to Deepak Raja on September 9, 2000, and August 13, 2001

In my family, we studied music just as we studied mathematics, grammar, science, history and geography. Only the schools were different. Ever since I can recall, Narayanrao Datar, a vocalist of the Vishnu Digambar [Gwalior] tradition came home three times a week. My grandmother would take the first lesson from him; thereafter, my mother would take hers, and I would sit last. That was the routine. Over and above this, all family members, my parents included, were enrolled at the Maharashtra Music School where we attended classes thrice a week.

With this training, I passed the Sangeet Visharad when I was 16. At that stage, I had no idea about the depth of our music, or what “gharanedar music” [music as performed by vocalists of the established stylistic lineages] was, or about the journey upon which I had embarked. Had the world of music not encouraged me as generously as it did in later years, I might never have become a professional musician.

Around that time, we also shifted to a different part of Bombay. Datar’s home tuitions ceased, and my mother, Manik Bhide, started guiding me. By that time, she had been a disciple of Kishori Amonkar for over a decade, and had pursued intensive training with her, with several hours of training every day of the year.

After I completed my high school at the age of 16, I was encouraged to enter the All India Radio Competition. A few months before the contest, I had a serious illness, and feared not being able to compete. At that stage, my mother took charge of the situation. For the next two months, she hammered my music, and my confidence, into shape for the competition. I topped the competition; but in retrospect, that was a minor pay-off. Those two months transformed me totally – as a person and as a musician. For the first time, I sensed the majesty of stylised vocalism, and realised that what I knew was not even a tip of the iceberg. From then onwards, music became an important direction.

Until my marriage, my mother trained me with ruthless discipline. Along with this, I was pursuing my academic career, going through postgraduate studies in Microbiology, and working towards my doctorate at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. After marriage, I have continued to train with my mother, albeit with a declining frequency as my family and career have begun to claim an increasing proportion of my time.

In 1995, my mother wanted me to deepen my understanding of ragas as performed in our gharana. She persuaded Ratnakar Pai, a senior musician of the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, to guide me. Pai Buwa [a term of respect for the elderly] is an exceptional musical mind, with amazing clarity about the melodic contours of ragas and the subtle distinctions between them. Being advanced in years, he cannot provide intensive training. He therefore teaches me compositions in different ragas, and I imbibe their melodic subtleties through them.

The use of pre-composed material as the main teaching device is well established [in Hindustani music]. It is especially important in our gharana because it is Dhrupad-based. Its musical wisdom is built into our compositions. But, as I found out after beginning training with Pai Buwa, our view of the composition as a repository of the raga form goes well beyond the Dhrupad notion. The Dhrupad view is that a composition is a comprehensive melodic map of the raga form, and of the literary content. In the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition, each composition is treated almost like a raga. Conceptually, we do not perform a raga; we perform a composition. The pre-composed shell of each composition emphasises a particular facet of the raga. That facet must also dominate the improvisations undertaken in its presentation. This is why different Khayals of our gharana in the same raga, when performed, can create the illusion of being in different ragas.

This approach to transmitting the tradition also has another advantage. Khayal permits us certain freedoms, which are inconceivable in Dhrupad. And, Alladiya Khan utilised these freedoms to make the transition from Dagarvani Dhrupad to our style of Khayal singing. According to Pai Buwa, our Khayals are not intended, specifically, for performance in any particular tala or even at a particular tempo. They can be sung in any tala, and at any tempo. Mastering the Khayals in their excruciating detail is sufficient training for us to adapt them to different rhythmic formats.

Considering the present stage in my life, and his, Pai Buwa’s training does occasionally throw up unresolved aesthetic conflicts. There are, indeed, several ragas on which Pai Buwa and my mother differ. This is natural because Pai Buwa and my mother were taught by different Gurus, though from the same gharana. On account of such differences, I have dropped certain ragas from my repertoire. I will let my aesthetic convictions decide when, if ever, I should start performing them again.

Other influences on my music have been Pandit Ravi Shankar and Kumar Gandharva. As a young girl, I was involved with a couple of projects of Panditji. During that period, his approach to music, with its explicit rhythmicality, made a deep impact on me. Amongst vocalists, Kumarji was a hot favourite in my father’s home. Every recording of his was actively discussed by the family. From this influence, I probably acquired a special feel for the poetry as a musical element, and the variations of timbre, which discerning listeners have observed in my singing.

The overwhelming influence on my singing has undoubtedly been my mother. Contrary to popular belief, I have never studied directly with Kishori Tai [term of respect, meaning elder sister]. I have always been my mother’s disciple, and have acquired Kishori Amonkar’s training through her. The most important value I have acquired from it is the insight into the systematic unfolding of the raga, of revealing every single strand in the warp and weft of its fabric. This, I believe, is Kishori Tai’s most significant contribution.

It does not bother me if my music is compared to Kishori Tai’s in minor respects too. For one, I am proud to belong to this distinguished lineage. Secondly, neither originality, nor gharana purity, can possibly have the same meaning today as they did half a century ago. We no longer live in a world where we can insulate ourselves totally from the dominant influences of our times emanating outside our gharana. It is no longer possible to be either your Guru’s replica, or a totally original musician. We start with something we inherit, keep absorbing other influences, and shape our individuality as we go along. What matters ultimately is how we put it all together.

I don’t know if I am the most successful, or the finest, vocalist of my generation. Success is like the morning dew. It lasts only as long as it lasts. You realise this even more acutely when you are a woman. A woman goes through so many physical and emotional changes through her life, that she can never really take her grip over her voice and her music for granted. Life for us is a constant struggle against these changes. But, there’s no reliable method for controlling their impact, and also no way of predicting how each transition will affect our performing capability.

As a professional musician, you cannot get attached to success in any case. Competition is a reality, and good for us. At least four or five of us [female vocalists in the plus/minus forty age-group] have a reasonable following; we are all working hard at our music; and none of us is complacent. In today’s environment, there is, of course, much more to being a successful musician than just being an excellent musician. But, I am not too concerned about what that “much more” might be, because I don’t need success that desperately. I am happy with being just a good musician.

© Deepak S. Raja. 2001
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change" . The finest recordings of Ashwini Bhide Deshpande have been produced by
India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Karlheinz Stockhausen on music

Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was a genius who redefined music . He is regarded as the most daringly original (Western music) composer to have emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. He has written an astonishing variety of music, leading the way to the exploration of electronic music, intuitive music, and the synthesis of a wide range of musical cultures. I present below a few excerpts from his book: “Towards a cosmic music”, a selection of conversations and interviews, which reveals the philosophy that underlies his growth as a composer, performer, and musical innovator.

“I have found that what I am trying to do in my music, has been better expressed than I could express it myself, in the books by the Indian Maharishi Aurobindo. His work will shape the whole new Age of Aquarius.”

“Pop musicians try to respond to the desire for kicks that every generation wants to have in its own way. And, then, naturally they are not aware of what all these new sound combinations and discoveries are for; so they fall back on very banal militaristic music. Yes, militaristic – because it is based on this periodic beat, which makes people march without knowing. And, so they become uniform. I am very sensitive to this because that was exactly the way the Nazis tuned in the population with marching music on the radio…”

“When a musician walks on stage, he should give that fabulous impression of a person who is doing a sacred service. In India, in Bali, when a group of musicians are performing, you don’t feel they do it to entertain you. They do it as holy service. They feel a need to make sounds, and these sounds are waves on which you ride to the eternal.”

“If they (musicians) bring an atmosphere of peaceful spiritual work to a society that is under so much strain from being controlled by technical and commercial forces – that is their social function. They would bring this sacred atmosphere that people can no longer find in their daily work. That is their function, rather than being entertainers, and killing time for people who want to escape from their problems. Musicians should bring them to the essential, and more than anyone else, musicians can do that, because they are the only artistes who can create in front of other people. Poets don’t do it. Painters don’t do it. They work at home.”

Reproduced from: Stockhausen, Karlheinz. “Towards a cosmic music”, Element Books Ltd., Shaftsbury, Dorset, UK, 1989.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Yashwant Buwa Joshi – “The basic requirement of music is a magical quality called “Rang”

Yashwant Buwa spoke to Deepak Raja on June 5, 2003

I was born and brought up in Pune. My father operated a couple of cabs in the city. He was untrained in music, but had a lovely voice and sang devotional songs very well. That is all I can claim by way of a family background in music. It was my uncle, Govardhan Buwa Naik, who was responsible for pushing me in this direction. He was an alumnus of the first batch (1901) of Vishnu Digambar’s Gandharva Mahavidyalaya (Music College) in Lahore under a nine-year apprenticeship in music. The only explanation for his having gone there was that lodging, boarding, and training were free. That was my grandfather’s way of ensuring that his family could survive on his income. Govardhan Buwa could not sing, but became a competent player on the Harmonium, Tabla and Dilruba (a short-necked, fretted, lute of the bowed variety). So, after graduating, he started a music school in Bombay. Because he had no children, he was keen that I should train as a musician and take over its management after him.

At my sacred thread ceremony, which took place when I was nine, my uncle invited the famous vocalist, Mirashi Buwa (Yashwant Sadashiv Mirashi). My uncle’s Guru, Vishnu Digambar, and Mirashi Buwa had studied together under Balkrishna Buwa Ichalkaranjikar. My uncle and Mirashi Buwa thus belonged to a close-knit gharana fraternity. Mirashi Buwa had just moved to Pune from Nashik, after serving a leading theatre company for 24 years. Over lunch, my uncle requested the stalwart to teach me, and he agreed. This is how it started. Every single day, after returning from school, I would go to Mirashi Buwa’s house and learn music. As luck would have it, my uncle died within a year of my starting music lessons. There was no longer a ready business awaiting me. But, I continued studying music.

The relationship was in the traditional mould, the only difference being that I continued to live with my parents. I paid no fees, and spent all my time – other than school – with my Guru. Initially, the teaching was by the “direct method” – reproducing what the Guru sings. No questions were to be asked. No logic was to be understood. Despite this, within five years, I found myself so intoxicated with music that I could no longer concentrate on my studies. So, four years short of graduation, I quit school in favour of music.

Making a living
My training with Mirashi Buwa continued for 12 years. By this time, I was 21, and had to start making a living. Music was all I knew. Those were difficult days for musicians, particularly in Pune. I spent a whole year contemplating my course of action. My childhood friend, and neighbour from Pune, Ram Marathe, was by now in Bombay, making some headway as a professional singer. So, in 1950, I decided to take on the world with his helping hand. Though I had no experience, the only path open to me was teaching music. Fees were poor in those days. Each student would pay Rs. 10 or 15 per month. With great difficulty, I earned about Rs. 50 a month. But, living was cheap – my monthly food bill was Rs. 30 -- I managed. Though I did not ultimately inherit a music school, teaching was evidently my destiny anyway. For over 50 years now, I have been teaching. I must have, by now, taught over 125 students. Several have become successful vocalists. Some are just making a living as music teachers. Some pursue other professions and enjoy music as a hobby. And, many have merged into the faceless audience of Hindustani music.

Moving to Bombay widened my horizons. Soon after I moved, Jagannath Buwa Purohit moved into our locality. I was greatly attracted to his style. So, I studied with him for about six years. In the same spirit, I studied with KG Ginde, SCR Bhat, Nivrutti Buwa Sarnaik, Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar, Mallikarjun Mansoor, and the Natyasangeet singer, Chhota Gandharva. In my childhood, I had heard Ramkrishna Buwa Vaze, and his style had made a deep impact on me. So, in my singing, you will find the glimpses of each of these stalwarts.

The philosophy of music
I am conservative, but not orthodox. I have a strong foundation laid in the Gwalior style. But, I was never a prisoner of the gharana. I sought out every musician whose style attracted me, and learnt from him what I could. Jagannath Buwa often told me that the basic requirement of music is that magical quality called “Rang” (literally: colour). As a quality in music, “Rang” transcends considerations of voice quality, grammar and communication of rasa (emotional content). Public appeal is not my yardstick for validating my music. I will not sacrifice the dignity of my art to charm audiences. I will not, for instance, make a Thumree out of a Khayal, or start singing with my body. But, an artist cannot be a mere scientist. If he wants to command an audience and also command respect, he has to strike the tricky balance between the sanctity of art and the listening pleasure of audiences. If he cannot do this, he can remain a teacher.

My recordings have been in the market for several years. I have been performing on the radio since 1946, and also broadcast two National Programmes over All India Radio. And, for a long time, nobody noticed. In the last ten years, people suddenly realised that Yashwant Buwa can also sing. Today, I have admirers not only in our home state of Maharashtra, but also in Calcutta, Delhi and a few other cities. Several institutions have bestowed honours on me for my services as a teacher and performer. At 75, I can still hold an audience for two hours. I have no regrets. But, had recognition come when I was younger, people would have heard better music from me.

The pursuit of music – then and now
Our times were tough. The status of musicians in society was low. There was no support for music either from government or from private benefactors or institutions. There was no ‘career’ in music, except for the greatest. Audiences were small. The Guru was the only source of musical inputs for students. There was radio, and there was the gramophone; but not many people could afford either. There were concerts; but mainly for invited audiences.

To begin with, finding a Guru was tough. We did not pay fees, but rendered all manner of services in lieu of training. The relationship was totally one-sided, and often oppressive. He taught the way he wanted to, and there was no appeal against it. There was no notation, no possibility of recording training sessions, no grammar, no logic. You could encounter musicians who could sing a raga very well, but go blank if you asked them the scale of the raga. Learning was primarily by reproducing what the Guru sang. From studying music, to making a career, it was struggle, struggle, and struggle. The positive aspect of this was that, because of the price they had paid for their success, the survivors conducted themselves, and practiced their art, with dignity. They treated that passage between the stage and the audiences as sacred.

The situation today is exactly the reverse. Anyone can learn music if he can afford it. Good Gurus are, of course, more scarce than they were in our times, and locating them can take a lot of trial and error. Recorded music is so accessible that it is possible to become a reasonable vocalist even without a Guru. The relationship between the Guru and his disciple is now a commercial one. A student can demand an explanation of the logic and get it. He can record training sessions for revision. Career opportunities are plenty, and the money is good for the successful. Society, government, and institutions encourage music.

Most important is the emergence of a market, with audiences willing to pay for music. For creating a substantial class of connoisseurs, we have to thank the educational efforts of the two giants, Bhatkhande and Vishnu Digambar, and their followers. Glamour and money have now made music a rat race that everyone with half a chance wants to join. The journey is still tough. But, it is a struggle, which takes the dignity of the art as its first casualty. It makes art cross the frontier between the musician and the audience to plunge into pockets. And, yes, many bright kids now get money and fame ahead of maturity, get bloated heads, stagnate, and fall by the wayside. The demands of success are changing, as they inevitably will. Despite these anxieties, I am optimistic about Hindustani music for several reasons – today’s kids are intelligent and talented, studying music is no longer difficult, and there are ample opportunities for building a career in it.

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2003

Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change".
The finest recordings of Yashwant Buwa Joshi have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York. IndiaArcMu@aol.com

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lyle Wachovsky's introduction to "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change"

Deepak Raja's second book is a comprehensive study of khayal vocalism through the stylistic analysis of nineteen contemporary vocalists. It is informed by the concept of "continuity within change", an approach which embraces "style" as the confluence of traditional gharana stylistics, contemporary non-gharana based stylistics and each artist's individual stylistic contribution.

"Continuity within change" is thus seen as an essential underpinning and strength of all Hindustani classical music, not just vocal music, and to a great extent responsible for its vitality and continued enjoyment by successive generations. The expansiveness and thoroughness of Mr. Raja's investigations are immediately apparent as he lays out the parameters of khayal vocalism drawing on notable scholarly sources to further document his analysis and make the case for his view of the elements that constitute khayal vocal style. With similar attention to detail, Mr. Raja provides an overview of the stylistics of each gharana intimately tied in with the crystalization of each gharana's style by the music of the seminal artist of each gharana, before delving into the analysis of individual contemporary artists.

Seriousness of intent and comprehensiveness are to be expected, and as noted above, Mr. Raja has more than fulfilled expectations. But, the presentation of an incisive method of analysis coupled with clarity of vision in its use, is rare. Mr. Raja has always had a special interest in the presentation structure of khayal vocalism. He has developed and expounds a critical approach based on the metaphor of architecture and uses it to great effect in his analyses, first identifying and delineating the basic khayal structures in use and then, after distinguishing sculpture (the shape of a phrase) from its ornamentation, goes on to make a critical assessment of their usage.

Writing on vocalists from both unique and varied stylistic backgrounds, Mr. Raja shows his method to be a valuable analytical tool applicable to all of them as a means of identification and comparison. This is a concise, well-considered methodology of comparative analysis, the brilliance of which is that its simplicity of application generates extensive results.

Equally valuable and fascinating, are Mr. Raja's interviews with the artists: he has a facility for extracting from each artist an intimate and revealing portrait in words. These interviews together with the stylistic/structural analyses provide an unparalleled and integrated overview of each artist's life and musical life as a khayal vocalist, and of the state of contemporary khayal.

It is personally gratifying to me that I was in the position to nurture the development of Mr. Raja's thoughts on the various aspects of khayal music into a cohesive and integrated critical assessment of khayal vocalism and khayal vocalists. I am particulalry pleased that Mr. Raja has been able the extrapolate so much from the diverse group of vocalists that I have chosen to record, a group that does not include many of the most famous names, but does include a fair share of less-known and virtually unknown artists.

Artistry of a high order and thoughtful individuality mark both the artists examined and the resulting examination.There is nothing quite like this wonderful book in my experience of Indian classical music analysis.

Lyle Wachovsky
India Archive Music Ltd. New York
August 7, 2008

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sampoorna Malkuns: the concept and its manifestations

Though there are, indeed, raga-s by this name, Sampoorna Malkauns cannot be considered the name of a specific raga with well-defined melodic contours. It is a concept of tonally enhancing the pentatonic Malkauns into a heptatonic derivative in which the aural experience of Malkauns retains a significant, if not dominant, presence. Sampoorna (lit: complete scale/ comprehensive) Malkauns is, theoretically, an acceptable name for any heptatonic Malkauns derivative

As a raga-enhancement concept, Sampoorna Malkauns permits a variety of substantially dissimilar melodic entities with the same name, or even qualifying entities bearing different names. Also, by definition, each musician can create his own Sampoorna Malkauns, and submit it to the music community for acceptance.

When the tonal material of any raga is enhanced, the base-raga automatically acquires access to an enlarged inventory of phrases. This enlarged phrase inventory is pregnant with suggestions of other ragas. The composer-performer can decide how explicitly these "alien" melodic elements should be deployed in shaping the enlarged melodic entity. Two extreme levels can be defined, while acknowledging several intermediate possibilities.

1. Raga-enhancement: At this basic level, the musician enhances the tonal inventory of Malkauns, without allowing the “alien” swaras (essentially, Re and Pa) to define phrases distinctly attributable to other mature ragas. As a musical experience, this approach is intended to give you a heptatonic (Sampoorna) version of Malkauns, nothing more, nothing less.

2. Raga dovetailing: At a more categorical level of raga-enhancement, the enlarged melodic entity incorporates, formally and explicitly, some or all of the raga connotations of the enlarged phrase inventory, and allows them to participate in shaping a compound raga, using a systematic joinery device.

Amongst the various manifestations of the Sampoorna Malkauns concept, the most celebrated is that of Kesarbai Kerkar, the legendary recent vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana.

The Kesarbai version of Sampoorna Malkauns uses nine swaras (S R g G M P d D n) instead of the minimum seven. Its inventory of phrases is drawn explicitly for Malkauns, Bageshri and Kafi. The melodic features of the three ragas are woven intricately into an enlarged melodic entity in which Malkauns is one of three participants. The resulting melodic entity has all the qualifying features of a Sampoorna Malkauns. However, for this raga, Sampoorna Malkauns does not appear to be the most appropriate name, and the naming conventions for compound ragas might have been more appropriate.

Although trained in the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, Mogubai Kurdikar, a contemporary of Kesarbai's, took a different route to Sampoorna Malkauns. She used only seven swaras (S R g M P d n ), basically following the ascent/descent separation between the pentatonic and heptatonic facets of the raga. The Bageshri facet of Kesarbai's version was found entirely missing from the Mogubai interpretation. Her version remains close to the raga-enhancement end of possibilities.

Another fairly common compound raga, which goes by the name of Kaunsi Kanada, is also, conceptually, a “Sampoorna Malkauns” because it dovetails the pentatonic Malkauns with a member of the heptatonic Kanada family – in most cases, Darbari Kanada. Of course, being a compound raga, amenable to different approaches to dovetailing of its component raga-s, Kausi Kanada is also not a sharply defined melodic entity. Conceptually, raga Bageshri Kauns, performed in some gharanas, can also qualify as a Sampoorna Malkauns, though it may be named as a compound raga.

Yet another “Sampoorna Maulkauns” – though little known, and rarely heard -- is the Chandrakauns of the Agra gharana. This raga is not to be confused with the more popular Chandrakauns (S g M d N), which merely substitues the flat Ni of Malkauns with a natural Ni. On a recording I possess of Ustad Yunus Hussain Khan, the Agra Chandrakauns is presented with seven swaras (S r g M P d n ). However, the raga is also known to have been performed with only the shuddha (natural) Ni swara, and occasionally, both the Ni swaras. The Agra Chandrakauns comes through as a Malkauns, with an influence of Asavari/Bhairavi.

As is to be expected in a “concept raga” like Sampoorna Malkauns, the musician has immense freedom in interpreting the concept. And, greater the lapse of time since the raga was in reasonable circulation, the greater the emperimentalism that will be evident in the interpretation of the raga concept. I came across such an interpretation of Sampoorna Malkauns by the young sitarist, Shujaat Khan on a recording for India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Shujaat Khan's Sampoorna Malkauns
Shujaat's Sampoorna Malkauns is a tight interpretation of the qualifying condition, with no attempt at shaping a compound raga. It uses the minimum seven swaras (S R g M P d n), and could have been inspired either by Moghubai's Sampoorna Malkauns or the Agra Chandrakauns. His interpretation differs from the Agra Chandrakauns in that it uses the natural (shuddha) Re, more appropriate for a late evening raga, than the flat (komal) Re of the Agra Chandrakauns, which is more appropriate for “Sandhi Prakash” ragas.

In his presentation, Shujaat appears to be following two different rules for structuring the raga. One evident pattern suggests Malkauns in the ascent (S g M d n S'), and its heptatonic expansion (S' n d P M g R S), suggesting Jaunpuri or Bhairavi in the descent. The other suggests Malkauns in the upper tetrachord, and Bhimpalas in the lower. These are merely tendencies. Neither of these two rules, whether in isolation or together, explain the melodic structure of Shujaat's Sampoorna Malkauns. This is as it should be for a raga that is not intended to explicitly dovetail distinct ragas, and therefore not obliged to use any systematic joinery convention.

In Sampoorna Malkauns, the Jaipur Atrauli gharana treats the mid-octave region as the prime melodic territory of the raga, and uses Pa as the focal point for distancing Sampoorna Malkauns from Malkauns. Its slow-tempo khayal, "Baraj Rahi" - the only one heard in recent years -- revolves categorically around Pa in the mid-octave region. The Agra Chandrakauns adopts a dual approach by including compositions, which emphasize the pentatonic Malkauns facet with Ma as the melodic focus, as well as those, which highlight the heptatonic facet with Pa as the melodic focus.

Shujaat follows the ambivalence of the Agra Chandrakauns. In the alap-jod-jhala phase, Shujaat retains the ascent oriented and upper-tetrachord dominance characteristic of Malkauns. The composition, however, is Bhimpalas oriented, and has a strong emphasis on Pa. Shujaat attempts to weaken the Pa, and its Bhimpalas suggestion, by deflecting the emphasis towards Ma, but not very successfully.

Although the resulting melodic entity has acquired a perceptible fragrance of Bhimpalas and a whiff of Bhairavi, it comes nowhere near being an explicit dovetailing of phrases from these ragas onto the base raga, Malkauns. Shujaat resorts consistently to broad-span and bi-directional phrasing to ensure that Malkauns never recedes from the listener's experience of the raga.

All melodic enhancements of mature ragas are driven by the desire to shape a novel melodic experience without abandoning its reference point in a familiar melodic entity. The greatest challenge in such efforts is to create an aesthetically coherent melodic entity while pushing the familiar deliberately into unfamiliar melodic territory. This is why compound raga-s in general, and “concept ragas” like Sampoorna Malkauns in particular, are found to have been attempted only by musicians of some stature.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York. Shujaat Khan's recording of Sampoorna Malkauns has been produced by India Archive Music IndiaArcMu@aol.com.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bahadur Khan -- Undeserved Oblivion

Bahadur Khan (1931-1989) was an outstanding, though inadequately recognised, sarodist, trained by his uncle, the legendary Ustad Alauddin Khan (Baba). By kinship, as well as tutelage, Bahadur Khan was a product of the Maihar-Seniya lineage, a trail-blazer in modern Hindustani instrumental music. Interest in his musicianship has received a fillip in recent years, because of his disciple Tejendra Majumdar’s emergence as a front-ranking sarod player.

Bahadur Khan was the son of Ayet Ali Khan, younger brother of Ustad Allauddin Khan. Ayet Ali was an exponent of the surbahar (a large-sized bass sitar). Being a man of withdrawn inclination, he evaded a performing career and devoted his life to teaching and the manufacture of instruments. Ayet Ali Khan is, incidentally, credited with re-engineering the Maihar design Sarod into the sophisticated acoustic machine it is today.

Bahadur Khan started training with his father at the age of five, and was sent off to Maihar, at the age of eight, for grooming under Baba, alongside cousin Ali Akbar. Baba put him through rigorous training in Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal, Tarana, and the semi-classical genres, in their vocal as well as instrumental manifestations. According to Tejendra Majumdar, his disciple, Bahadur Khan also trained briefly at Jodhpur with his cousin, Ali Akbar Khan.

In 1953, at the age of twenty-two, Bahadur Khan was appointed music director of the Little Ballet Theatre in Bombay, where he composed and conducted the score for some memorable productions. Simultaneously, he launched his career on the concert platform as a sarod soloist. His struggles on the concert circuit were subsidized by a presence in Bombay's film music industry. As a classical soloist, he had concert tours of the USSR, China, Europe, UK, the US and the Middle East. But, the concert platform at home remained largely unenthusiastic about him.

In 1965, he migrated to Calcutta, which treated him more kindly, but mainly as a composer and conductor of film scores. His score for the Bengali feature film, Suvarnarekha (The Golden Line. 1965) by the celebrated director, Ritwik Ghatak, won him accolades. His music for the Hindi film, Garam Hava (Hot Winds.1970), by the avant-garde director M.S Sathyu, was again generously awarded. He did scores for several less distinguished feature and documentary films.

Once settled in Calcutta, Bahadur Khan acquired promising disciples -- in Calcutta as well as Dacca (Bangladesh). He had active links with East Pakistan (present-day Bangaldesh) as some part of his family had continued to live there after partition. Towards the end of his life, in the 1980's, he was honoured with the "Tantra Vilas" title by the Bombay-based Sur Singar cultural organisation for his achievements as a sarod player. But, this was too little, and too late to salvage his career as a soloist.

Cruelty of the market
Bahadur Khan is a lamentable figure in modern Hindustani music. Opinions can vary about his musicianship; and they do. But, there is no doubt that the timing of his arrival was not helpful. The 1950's were a cruel period for budding careers in instrumental music. Vocal music enjoyed the lion’s share of the market, with a host of towering vocalists enjoying immense prestige and popularity. Though growing fast, the market for instrumental music was small, and did not permit more than one performer on each instrument to achieve a comfortable degree of success.

Amongst the string instruments, the sitar had an advantage over the sarod, by virtue of being a more mature instrument in terms of acoustic design and idiom, and of providing a larger reservoir of musicianship. Bahadur Khan was entering a “winner-take-all” market. In such a market, the winner could only be his cousin, Ali Akbar Khan.

Towards the end of his life, he recorded two long-playing discs for HMV/EMI, neither of which is currently available. Around the same time, his American disciple, Chezz Rook, also recorded a couple of his concerts. By this time, Bahadur Khan was in failing health, and well past his peak as a performer. The release of Chez Rook’s recordings by India Archive Music, New York, could give the music community an opportunity of reassessing Bahadur Khan as a sarod player.

Lyle Wachovsky on Bahadur Khan
Lyle Wachovsky is the Managing Director of India Archive Music Ltd., New York, the most influential producer of Hindustani music outside India.

“In my estimation, Bahadur Khan is one of India's greatest unknown musicians. While there is no denying the greatness of Ali Akbar Khan, I have developed a special fondness for his cousin, Bahadur Khan's brilliance in the traditional format.

“The structure of Bahadur Khan's presentation is – to me -- crystalline. His tone is beautiful; but he manipulates its character much as Vilayat Khan does. He had an intuitive and marvelous grasp of what each raga was all about -- a psycho-acoustic and possible visual conception -- which he translated into a complex emotional communication.

“I find his Darbari the only one I have heard which matches Vilayat Khan for a clear, if different, interpretation of a raga. In fact, I find Bahadur Khan to be a lot like Vilayat Khan. He was a serious virtuoso, who used all the strings and the rest of the instrument as well. He continuously varied the technique to make more-or-less the same basic phrases which continued to evolve into something new and different each time he repeated them.

“Chazz Rook, an American disciple of Bahadur's, described his Ustad as "the sarod player with a naked heart". He held nothing back in his presentation of the emotional content and the richness of each raga.

All the recordings of Bahadur Khan available for possible release were done in the last few years of his life, by which time, he was a mental and physical wreck. He died, virtually unknown and unremembered, in 1989.”

© India Archive Music Ltd., New York
The finest recordings of Bahadur Khan have been published by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shujaat Khan – “Most duets are a farce”

Shujaat spoke to Deepak Raja on September 18, 2002

Surprising as it might seem, I am not a great enthusiast of the duet in Hindustani music. In most cases, it is a gimmick – especially when it is arranged between people who are ill-matched. In 90% of the cases, it turns out to be a farce. The quality of music turns out to be far inferior to what each of the musicians can turn out in a solo concert. This happens because there is neither a musical compatibility between them, nor a personal rapport. Each goes off into an ego trip trying to dominate the music. He ceases to be himself, and makes a mess of the music.

For myself, I find that there are very few musicians I can play with. One of the considerations is this notion of seniority. My seniors will not play with me because I am their junior, and I will not play with my juniors because I am their senior. There are very few contemporaries – plus or minus five years in age – whom I can possibly combine with; but not all of them wish to play with me.

I played with Ashish Khan once. A very good musician. Excellent concert. But, he had problems with my singing. He felt this was disturbing the flow of our music. A similar problem emerged recently with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. I would personally be quite happy to jettison my singing if it was only an ego trip for me. In truth, I have neither the desire, nor competence to be a vocalist. But, if the audiences like it, and demand that I sing, I am not going to shut that out. After all, I am a professional musician, making a living. Singing is a small part of my presentation; if it makes people happy, I will oblige.

A duet succeeds only when the two musicians don’t have to carry a massive burden of baggage on their backs, can play together without nuts-and-bolts planning, and with gay abandon. In this sense, Tejendra Majumdar and I are getting our act together very well. We have done only one concert together so far, but have done four recordings. The other person with whom I have a great partnership is the Iranian Khemancheh player, Kayhan Kalhor. I have done at least fifteen concerts with Kayhan, and a coule of CDs. And, of course, I have been able to accompany my father Vilayat Khansaheb effectively. But, that is hardly something to talk about.

Right from the first recording I did with Tejendra we have had no problems. That first Charukeshi we recorded together was a miracle considering that these two guys, trying to make music together, did not know each other at all until then. Tejendra is a wonderful human being, and an outstanding musician. We respect each other as musicians, and like each other personally. We have never had to do any detailed planning for our duets. The only thing we discuss and plan is the format of the performance, and the bandish-es. If anything like a method has emerged in our duets, it is intuitive. And, because it is intuitive, it will keep changing.

There is, indeed, a difference in our approach to music. In his gharana, they tend to open up the raga across the melodic canvas faster than we do. Our style adopts a step-by-step approach to melodic progression up and down the melodic canvas. So, sometimes, I find that he is racing ahead of me. But, the moment he realizes this, he comes back. In the duet, this occasional mismatch of progression approaches is not as disturbing as it might be in a solo, because in any case, we are often responding to each other’s efforts in a different region of the melodic canvas. The totality is, therefore, scattered anyway. So, it is not something that worries either of us.

As far as I can see, the only thing that has stabilized formally between us is that he allows me to lead the transitions – the shifts from one movement to another, and the stepping up of the tempo. He gets too deeply involved in his music to lead the way, and I like taking responsibility.

Tejendra and I have not done much more of stage concerts together because of problems of coordinating dates and schedules, and also because of the money. From the point of view of the concert hosts, the cost of the engagement doubles. So, our duet appearances have been limited to those who can recover the expense, and hopefully make a profit on it.

The collaboration with Kayhan Kalhor, the Iranian Khamencheh player, is an entirely different kettle of fish, and we have a lot of setting up to do. The Iranian Maqam system is broadly like our raga system. But, their intonations are different, and their phraseology is rather limited. But, there is some very deep musical thought in their system, just as there is in ours.

Kayhan and I might share some common scales, like Darbari or Yaman; but Hindustani musicians tend to do much more with it through improvisation than the Iranians would do. I cannot work on the scale as Kayhan does, because that would make the music very repetitive. And, he cannot do what I do with the scale because of his musical background.

There is a difference in our handling of the rhythm also. They think mainly in a rhythmic cycle of four beats, while we have innumerable talas, with their individual cadence patterns. So, sometimes, it can happen that if we are working on an 8-beat cycle, I will always come back on the first beat, but Kayhan might come back on the fifth, because he thinks in 4-beat patterns.

With Kayhan, therefore, there is a need for strategy. We simplify the melody and the rhythm to a great extent, so that each of us can handle the music in our own respective ways, while working together. Our third partner, the percussionist Sandeep in our ensemble, has now mastered the stylized rendition of the “theka” in a way that works for my duets with Kayhan. He simplify even the “theka” to as little as two or three beats to make sure that Kayhan is not strained by having to count the beats. To help Kayhan handle the rhythmic cycle – we work primarily in 8-beat cycles -- I give him frequent cues for his return from a round of improvisations back into the composition. And, for the “sawal-jawab” type of interaction with the tabla, to which I am averse, I leave that part entirely between Kayhan and Sandeep.

Even though there is some “setting up” required with Kayhan, we have worked well together because we like each other immensely. He is much younger to me; but hardly matters. We are good friends. I also admire the mind-blowing music he is able to create with his small, and relatively crude, instrument. He is an outstanding musician, who gets deeply involved in his music. We come from different traditions; so we have no scope for problems of one-upmanship. And, personally, I would like more and more people to appreciate the little-heard music of Iran, and the even more obscure instrument Kayhan plays – the Khemancheh.

This is why I was very happy when an Indian organization came up recently and asked for a duet concert between Kayhan and me in Bombay. Yes, the fees are nowhere near what we get paid in the US. But, we are both treating it as a picnic, and an opportunity to promote Iranian music, the Khemancheh, Kayhan, and of course, our partnership. And, the audiences will get excellent music. I know that our classical music crowd will be disappointed in the absence of thoroughbred Hindustani music. But, this is a different kind of music – possibly for a different kind of audience. If some people feel cheated, I cannot help it. You cannot please everyone.

If my partnership with Tejendra and Kayhan can produce equally good results, it just proves that the essence of a successful duet is a high level of individual musicianship, and the personal chemistry between the artists. Nothing else really matters.

©Deepak S. Raja
The finest duets of Shujaat Khan with Tejendra Majumdar have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd. New York.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Raga Desh – classicist as well as romanticist

Peter Manuel, an authority on the thumree and allied genres, has listed Desh amongst “thumree ragas” – ragas of the Khamaj parent scale, frequently encountered in the semi-classical genres. (Manuel, Peter. Thumri: in historical and stylistic perspectives. 1st edition. 1989, Motilal Banarasidass, New Delhi). As Manuel acknowledges, Desh is also performed in classical music. In classicist treatment, it adheres strictly to raga grammar, while in semi-classical (romanticist) treatment, the raga’s melodic boundaries are allowed to overlap with those of allied ragas. Desh bears a close resemblance to raga Kedaragaula of the Carnatic (South Indian) tradition. However, in recent years, the Hindustani Desh itself has gained acceptance in Carnatic music.

An important melodic feature of the raga is its use of two Ni (7th) swaras, the shuddha (natural) in the ascent, and the komal (flat) in the descent. The raga omits Ga (3rd) and Dh (6th) in the ascent, and takes a loop in the descent towards the bottom of the scale. Some authorities permit the use of komal [flat] Ni in the ascent too, though only through a descending phrase embedded in the ascent.

Ascent: S R M P N S’ or S R M P/ n D P/ M P N S’
Descent: S’ n D P/ M G R/ G S

The dominant swaras of the raga are Re (2nd) and Pa (5th). Authorities are willing to accept either of the two as the vadi swara (primary dominant), with the other being the samvadi (the secondary dominant). Manikbuwa Thakurdas, a Gwalior gharana scholar-musician, considers the raga to be descent-dominant, and having its centre of melodic gravity in the uttaranga (upper tetrachord). However, poorvanga (lower tetrachord) dominant and even Madhyanga (mid-octave region) dominant treatments are prevalent, thus reflecting the divergence of opinion relating to the relative importance of the two dominant swaras, and the consequent anchoring of the raga on the melodic canvas.

Chalan: (Skeletal phraseology)

N. S R M G R
R M P n D P
M P N N S’
N S’ R’
R’ G’ N S’ or R’ g’ R’ S’
R’ n D P
R G N. S

Pakad (identifying phrases): R R M P/ n D P/ R M G R

Although grammar permits the use of only shuddha (natural) Ga in this raga, the chalan permits a judicious touch of the illicit komal Ga in the Taar Saptak (higher octave). Bhatkhande describes this as an acceptable breach of grammar and attributes it to the raga’s probable search for tonal (1st/ 4th) correspondence with komal Ni. He also observes that this feature is found and accepted in several raga-s of the Khamaj parent scale.

Bhatkhande has described Desh as a raga of the Sorath Anga (facet /group) under the Khamaj parent scale. In this group, he includes three other ragas – Sorath, Jaijaiwanti, and Tilak Kamod. Amongst the cousins, Jaijaiwanti and Tilak Kamod most frequently expose the musician to the danger of confused raga-identities.

Ascent: D n D P R/ R g R S/ R G M P/ M P N S’
Descent: S’ n D P/ D M G R/ R g R S
Vadi: Re, Samvadi: Pa

Tilak Kamod:
Ascent: P. N. S. R G S/ R M P N S’
Descent: S’ N/ P D M G/ R G S or S’ P/ D M G/ R G S
Vadi-Samvadi: Sa and Pa or Re and Pa

Documentation of Desh, Jaijaiwanti and Tilak Kamod scales as per Raga Nidhi (Subbarao V. Raga Nidhi, 4th edition, 1996, Music Academy, Madras).

The available documentation of Tilak Kamod with respect to dominant tones does not conform to predominant practice over the last half a century. Probably with the intention of differentiating categorically between Desh and Tilak Kamod, recent practice of Tilak Kamod has come to accord pivotal roles to Ga and Ni. Bhatkhande recognises this, without according to them the roles of vadi-samvadi (dominants). He points out that phrases culminating at the lower octave Ni strongly suggest Tilak Kamod as distinct from Desh. His identification of the melodic signature of Tilak Kamod also recognises the roles of Ga and Ni (GRG/ SNPNSRG/ S/ RPMG/SRG/SN). This outline is fully supported by the structure of the most popular bandish-es in the raga. An empirical-analytical view would therefore support the identification of Ni-Ga as the vadi-samvadi pair, thus also differentiating Tilak Kamod from Desh more sharply. By this criterion, a prominent use of Ga or Ni as terminal points of phrasing would tend to push Desh into Tilak Kamod.

From the point of view of raga differentiation, Manikbuwa Thakurdas provides important insights. He points out that Tilak Kamod is a compound of two ragas – Tilak and Kamod. The Kamod facet of Tilak Kamod is represented by the phrases: RRP/ MRP/ DP/ and RPMGRGS. These phrases emphasise the Re-Pa transition, especially in the form of RPM or RPMG, which may be acceptable in Tilak Kamod, and contra-indicated in Desh. Incidentally, the Re-Pa transition, especially in certain kinds of treatment, also pushes Desh towards Malhar, and therefore, into the shadow of Desh-Malhar, a compound of Desh and Malhar.

While the Re-Pa transition is treacherous from the Tilak Kamod end, the ascending Pa-Re transition is dangerous at the Jaijaiwanti end. The risk is even greater in the Taar Saptak, if it is invited in conjunction with the touch of komal Ga as tolerated, though not encouraged, in Desh. Phrases like “nDPR” and “RGMGRgNS” identify Jaijaiwanti too categorically to escape the discerning listener’s disapproval.

Another confusion can surface in the deployment of the two Ni swara-s – the shuddha and the komal. The rule for twin-swara deployment mandates that one of them shall be used in the ascent and the other in the descent. If this rule is breached in the rendition of Desh, the rendition slips into the “Malhar effect”, and acquires shades of raga Desh-Malhar. Though the twin-Ni usage rule also applies to Malhar, its occasional breach has come to be accepted by the music community. The extension of this liberty into Desh is, however, contra-indicated.

The tricky aspects of raga integrity in Desh do not necessarily make it difficult to render. They merely demand that the musician choose between a classicist (Dhrupad/ Khayal) and a romanticist (Thumree) stance in his rendition.

Desh in 20th century music

The consensus on the raga-form is based on a survey of nine recordings of Desh in classicist presentation by some leading recent and contemporary Hindustani musicians: Ustad Faiyyaz Khan (EMI/HMV: STC:04B:7176), Nikhil Bannerjee Milestones: DX-430348 and T Series: SICC:028), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (T Series: SVCC:019), Roshanara Beghum(EMI:STC:04B:7703), Mallikarjun Mansoor (Unublished concert), Hariprasad Chaurasia (EMI-HMV: STCS: 04B:5171), Ulhas Kashalkar (EMI-HMV: STCS:850620), and Rashid Khan (Navras: NRCC:0015).

In the recordings of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Roshanara Beghum, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, and Ulhas Kashalkar, the raga form is orthodox and immaculate. The same is true of the recordings of Nikhil Bannerjee, and Mallikarjun Manur, except that Mansur’s recording and one of the two recordings of Nikhil Bannerjee reveal an undocumented and rare facet of the raga, giving prominence to Ma. In both the recordings, the bandish-es have their sam at the middle-octave Ma in ascending melodic construction (SRM), en route to Pa, rather than the more familiar descending usage (MGR) or the looped usage (RMGR). None of these eight recordings has any trace of Malhar, Tilak Kamod, Kamod, Sorath, or Jaijaiwanti.

This leaves us with the youngest musician in the sample, Rashid Khan (born;1966), and his recording of a concert at Wolverhampton (England) in March 1993. The rendition consists of a Madhya laya khayal, followed by a Tarana, both in Teental. In this 50-minute rendering, consecutive twin-Ni usage, suggesting Malhar, occurs six times, the use of komal (flat) Ga suggesting Jaijaiwanti (MGRgRSNS) occurs once in the poorvanga, while the Sorath pattern (DPMR) omitting Ga in the descent appears three times. Before we judge these deviations from the raga form, we must also note that although the bandish forms are of the classicist genres, the manner of rendition make this a predominantly romanticist, thumree style, treatment. This is evident from the laxity of architecture and absence of the aloofness characteristic of the Khayal genre. In this rendition, we therefore observe a blurring of the dividing line between the Khayal and Thumree genres, reflecting the advanced stage of romanticism in Hindustani music.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York

Monday, May 11, 2009

Raga Vachaspati in Hindustani music

Vachaspati is a Carnatic raga, representing the Vachaspati parent-scale (64th Melakarta). In its Hindustani adaptation, it has the tone material of raga Yaman with a flat (komal) Ni replacing the natural (shuddha).

Ascent: S R G M^ P D n S' Descent: S' n D P M^ G R S

By Hindustani raga grammar, this has been interpreted as the Kalyan parent-scale in the lower tetrachord and the Kafi parent-scale in the upper tetrachord. For Hindustani musicians, Yaman is the most logical reference point for Vachaspati because, strictly in scalar terms, replacing the Shuddha NI of Yaman with a Komal Ni delivers the Vachaspati scale. But, the issue is a little more complicated.

The most important aspect of the Yaman-to-Vachaspati transformation is the disappearance of the Ga-Ni axis in first-fifth correspondence. Without the Shuddha Ni, the new raga has to find an alternative axis to revolve around. The treatment of the raga by Hindustani musicians tends to explore several alternatives [Re-Pa, Ga-Dh and Ma^-ni], without being able to settle down with any of them. Such experimental uncertainty is  evident in the Vachaspati renderings of musicians of even great stature, as it reflects the current stage of evolution of the raga in the Hindustani system.

From readily available references, it appears that Pandit Ravi Shankar's interpretation of Vachaspati is academic, precisely according to its scale. He does not omit Re and Dh in the ascent, as some Hindustani musicians have tended to do. As a result, the lower tetrachord remains close to the Yaman, and the upper tetrachord avoids proximity to the Gawoti/ Kalavati flavour. The melodic centre of gravity remains in the mid-octave region, where the two scales coalesce. Interestingly, and probably to accommodate a suggestion of the Carnatic style intonation, Panditji occasionally uses a subliminal touch of flat (komal) Ga along with the natural (shuddha) Ga and natural (shuddha) Ni along with Sa.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor.EMI/HMV: STCS:04B:7375) omits the Re tone in the ascent and frequently omits the sharp (tivra) Ma from the descent. (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-D-n-S' Descent: S'-n-D-P-M^-G-R-S or S'-n-D-P-G-R-S). Vocalist, Jagdish Prasad (unpublished) omits Re as well as Dh from the ascent (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-n-S' Descent: S'-n-D-P-M^-G-R-S.

The legendary Ustad Ameer Khan, who too had a penchant for Carnatic ragas (e.g. Hansadhwani, Charukeshi, Basant Mukhari/ Vakulabharanam), recorded an untitled and self-composed raga (INRECO:LP: 2411-0001,1982), which appears to be his interpretation of Vachaspati. Why he left it untitled is a mystery. In this raga, he omits Re and Dh from the ascent, and Dh from the descent. (Ascent: S-G-M^-P-n-S' Descent: S-n-P-M^-G-R-S). Ustad Ameer Khan's treatment of the Re tone in the descent is fleeting or summary.

Amarnath Mishra, a Benares based sitarist, trained by a leading Sarangi exponent, (published by India Archive Music, New York) conforms to the version which omits Re in the ascent. In addition, Mishra uses melodic features of Saraswati, an allied raga which includes Re, but omits Ga in the ascent and descent (Tone material: S R M^ P D n). Mishra's inclusion of phrases such as S-R-M^-R and S-R-M^-P, along with the characteristic M^-P-M^-R, incorporates the Saraswati identity. (For Saraswati: textual reference: Subba Rao B, Raga Nidhi, Vol. IV. 4th impression.1996 Music Academy, Madras. Pg.68.)

Vachaspati is increasingly becoming familiar to Hindustani audiences by its chalan (distinctive phraseology). This chalan itself is fluid because of the recency of the raga's introduction into Hindustani music and the handful of musicians of stature who have worked on shaping its distinctive melodic identity. The variance extends to the predominant mood of the raga, with renditions ranging from the profound to the vivacious and, of course, some which oscillate in between.

The transformation of Carnatic ragas into Hindustani melodic entities has been an uneven process. While some ragas like Abhogi, Hamsadhwani, and Kirwani have acquired a stable Hindustani identity reasonably fast, several others are unstable several decades after their introduction. Under such conditions, every musician playing these ragas risks confusion in the audience mind by calling his interpretation by the same Carnatic name. In addition, he also risks the disapproval of those Carnatic-oriented audiences, who might find themselves uncomfortable with all Hindustani treatments in general.

Chandni Kalyan -- an alternative name

This assessment of the risks probably persuaded Ustad Vilayat Khan, in the 1970s, to coin a new name “Chandni Kalyan” for Vachaspati. The word “Kalyan” establishes the raga’s anchoring in the Kalyan parent scale, and its affinity to Yaman, the main raga of the Kalyan scale. The prefix “Chandni” alludes to the precedent of Chandni Kedar which comes into being by replacing the Shuddha Ni of Kedar with a Komal Ni. Yaman Kalyan undergoes an identical transformation in Chandni Kalyan. The prefix was, therefore, considered appropriate.

Though Vachaspati is known to a large number of music lovers, familiarity with the Chandni Kalyan coinage is still restricted to Ustad Vilayat Khan’s audiences. Its logic could, however, assure wider usage for the name, if the raga itself becomes more popular.

Musicologists have often argued that Hindustani music tends to adopt merely the scales of Carnatic ragas, without concerning itself with the totality of their raga-ness. The musical approaches of the two traditions are so distinct that a cross-cultural transformation acceptable to both traditions may be impossible. The Hindustani tradition does, however, attempt to achieve a stable melodic personality for each adopted raga which may, or may not, appear satisfactory to aficionados of Carnatic music. The maturation of these personalities requires several musicians of great stature to devote their musical energies to the process. Until this happens, Hindustani as well as Carnatic audiences will perceive these transformations as awkward in their raga-ness.

Chandni Kalyan/ Vachaspati might still be at this half-baked stage of raga-ness in the Hindustani tradition. Its  authoritative grammar will be written only after its literature has matured. Until then, each musician’s interpretation of it must be accepted on its own terms, and judged only on its distinctiveness and aesthetic coherence.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York