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.

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