Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kshem Kalyan (Khem): The "precious" Kalyan

When I first heard Kshem Kalyan, I was totally charmed. I looked for authoritative documentation; but I found none. I acquired the few available recordings of the raga from the market and from collectors for a clearer view of its melodic personality. This, too, was not satisfying. I consulted Purnima Sen, the only living vocalist, whose recording I had. Then, I worked on the raga with my Sitar for a whole week. At the end of this effort, I could not manage more than 5 minutes of alap without repetition. I figured then that this was no ordinary raga. It was not even just another rare raga. It was a special raga, perhaps beyond reach without a Guru. But, I can share with you what I discovered.

Kshem Kalyan (or Khem Kalyan, or simply, Khem) is a post-sunset raga of undocumented history and grammar, whose commercial recordings are also hard to find. Having to retain a distinctive identity within the overcrowded Kalyan family also makes it a raga of limited improvisational potential. This challenge is probably sufficient to explain its rarity. The raga remains in circulation – even if only barely – because some musicians and some audiences value the distinctive musical statement it makes.

Kshem Kalyan is, in my view, Yaman Kalyan with a vivacious twist. Admittedly, there are other Kalyan family ragas, which would also answer to this description. Kshem Kalyan is, then, Yaman Kalyan with a distinctive vivacious twist. A majority of gharanas might dismiss such ragas as “thumree material”, worthy only of 15-minute rendition. But, vocalists in some gharanas treat the raga with a lot of respect, and present them, with aplomb, in Khayal style, over a full 45-minute duration.

For instance, Purnima Sen, the senior Agra gharana vocalist, told me that Kshem Kalyan was one of the favourite ragas of her principal Guru, Ata Hussain Khan (Agra-Atrauli gharana), from whom she learnt it. He used to sing this raga for over an hour without any repetition. Ata Hussain also described Kshem Kalyan as a “precious” raga – akin to an heirloom piece of jewelry, and advised her to perform it selectively, only for knowledgeable audiences.

There is no mention, in the authoritative texts I consulted, of either Kshem Kalyan or even of raga Kshem, thus also ruling out the possibility of Kshem Kalyan being a compound raga. The raga, therefore appears to be an independent melodic entity, conceived probably as a variant of Yaman Kalyan. To the best of my knowledge, the raga has been performed primarily by vocalists of the Agra-Atrauli gharana. To a lesser extent, it gained currency in the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana. In recent years, it has been performed very competently by Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, a mature vocalist of the Kishori Amonkar lineage. The raga is virtually unknown in instrumental music.

I could access only three recordings of this raga – an unpublished concert recording by Sharafat Hussain Khan, a recent recording by Purnima Sen -- both of the Agra-Atrauli tradition -- and a published recording by Nissar Hussain Khan (EMI/ HMV:STC-04B:7407) of the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana. On his concert recording, Sharafat Hussain can be heard challenging the audience to identify the raga. The Nissar Hussain recording, interestingly, does not identify the raga at all, but calls it “Kalyan Ka Prakar” (A Kalyan variant). The rarity of the raga can also be judged from the fact that the three available recordings feature the same vilambit and drut Khayal bandish-es in the raga. Interestingly, the vilambit and drut bandish-es also have identical melodic contours, differing from each other only in lyrics and the tempo of rendition. This suggests that the raga is acknowledged to be of limited melodic potential.

Melodic personality
Predictably for a rare raga, available recordings vary in their treatment of it, without necessarily differing substantially on the identifying features of the raga. With the help of available, recordings, I have attempted to codify its melodic distinctiveness.

Available recordings suggest the following salient features in its melodic personality. The raga has the highest risk of confusion with Yaman Kalyan, because it uses the same tone-material (S-R-G-M-M^-P-D-N). This risk is highest in the madhyanga (mid-octave region) of the middle octave, where Yaman Kalyan exhibits its distinctive personality with the unique pattern of twin-Ma usage. Secondly, Kshem Kalyan is virtually identified by its melodic action in the uttaranga (upper tetrachord) of the lower octave. In the descending motion, if ineptly handled, the melody risks confusion with raga Maluha Kalyan and Hansadhwani. In the ascending motion, it risks confusion with Hansadhwani again, and Hem Kalyan. The raga is therefore codified in a manner that avoids these risks, along with the risks it accepts in the process of so doing.

The raga has a quadratonic ascent of stark tonal geometry (S G P N ), with each swara having equal weightage. The descent is hyper-heptatonic, (S’ N D P M^ M G R), with (tivra/ sharp) Ma^ being deployed subliminally as in raga Shuddha Kalyan, and (shuddha/ natural) Dh deployed subliminally as in raga Bihag. The zigzag phrasing of the raga is so essential to differentiating it from Yaman Kalyan, that it seems unreasonable to classify the raga as either araoha-pradhan (ascent dominant) or avaroha-pradhan (descent dominant). The raga is almost totally resident in the lower half of the melodic canvas, and hence classified as purvanga-pradhan. The raga appears to revolve largely around the middle-octave Re, suggesting it as the vadi swara (Primary dominant). This vadi is also sound as a means of distinguishing the raga from Yaman Kalyan with its vadi at Ga. The signatory phrases of the raga suggest Pa in the lower octave as the probable samvadi (Secondary dominant) of the raga. This would distinguish the raga from Maluha Kalyan with its strong Dh in the lower octave.

(Swaras in parenthesis indicate subliminal usage)

S R S P. / P. N. R S/ N. S G M R G R or N. S G R/ S G P / P S’ S’ or P N S’ or P N (D) N S’/ N S’ G’ M’ R’ S/ R’ N (D) P/ N (D) N (D)P / P (M^) G/ M G R G R or P (M^) R/ N. R S P./ N. S

The pakad (catch phrases) of the raga: S N. R S P/ N S G R

The phraseology outlined above is, admittedly, an inference of the composer’s intent from available recordings, and therefore, a theoretical construct. Even within the small sample of recordings available, there exist deviations which either interpret the zigzag phraseology of the raga liberally, or allow the raga to drift closer to Yaman Kalyan. Both these are “predictable” tendencies in this raga because, as conceived, the raga is a melodic entity of limited improvisational potential, and a tilt towards Yaman Kalyan, its probable inspiration, would be the most “logical” and defensible. An alternative phraseology, incorporating these tendencies, and accepting a less distinctive raga-ness, may be documented thus:

S R S P. or R N. P or R N. D. P / P. N. R S or D. N. R S / N. S G M R G R or N. S G R or D. N. R G R / S G P / P S’ S’ or P N S’ or P N (D) N S’/ N S’ G’ M’ R’ S or D N R’ G’ R’ N R’ S/ R’ N (D) P/ N (D) N (D)P / P (M^) G/ M G R G R or P (M^) R or M^ G M G R/ G ( R ) S / N. R S P./ N. S

Purnima Sen provided her own documentation of the chalan of the raga as it was taught to her by Ata Hussain Khan.

S G M G R/ G S R N. P./ N. S./ S G P M^ G M G R/ G S/ R N. S/ S G P/ (N) DD P D N D P/ M^ G M G R/ S N. R N. P./ N. S/ S G G P/ N D P M^ G M G R/ S G P M^ R S/ P N (D) N S’ or P N S’/ N R’ G’ R’ S’ N D P/ S GG P P (N) DD P D N D P/ M^ G M G R S N/ S G R G S R N. S

Her notes also provided additional insights into the intonation rules. Tivra (sharp) Ma is used subliminally most of the time; but it has a longer duration when the phrase M^-R-S is sung. Likewise, Dh is subliminally deployed most of the time; but is more pronounced in the phrases P (N) DD/PDNDP.

Even a mature musician cannot acquire a good grip on this raga from this documentation, and the study of a the few available recordings. Kshem Kalyan needs to be learnt from a Guru qualified to teach it.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York.

No comments: