Friday, February 18, 2011

Bilaskhani Todi: a requiem for Miya Tansen

The creation of Bilaskhani Todi, is attributed to Bilas Khan, one of the four sons  of Mian  Tansen  (1491-1583), the legendary musician  who served  the  Mughal Emperor  Akbar (Reign: 1542-1605), and composed many Ragas, including Mian Ki Todi. Since the present Todi variant is currently the only Raga explicitly attributed to Bilas Khan, it is often referred to as, simply, Bilaskhani.

Legend  has  it  that Tansen thought poorly of Bilas Khan's  talent  as  a musician and had virtually disowned him. It was  at Tansen's funeral, that the grieving Bilas Khan  composed  this version of Todi, which became popular later as Bilaskhani Todi. According to another legend, Mian Tansen indicated, before his death, that the  next "Khalifa" (heir to the Tansen legacy) would be that son  of  his who  could  sing Todi, using the swara material of Bhairavi.  It  is  this challenge that inspired the Bilaskhani Todi.  Interestingly, the  Bhairavi of  the Hindustani tradition is, to this day, called Todi in the  Carnatic (South Indian) tradition.

Thus, according   to  legend,  by  the  evidence   of   inter-changeable nomenclatures,  and  by  the  identity of swara  material, Bhairavi  and Bilaskhani  Todi  are  siblings. However, their  phraseologies  and  their dominant  emotional content are as distinct from each other as cheese  is from soap. Bilaskhani is  a raga of pain, poignancy and pathos. On the  other  hand, Bhairavi,  in  its  various manifestations, can  range  from  the  deeply devotional in fervour to the romantic.

Bilaskhani Todi Scale: 
Ascent:   S r g P d S'/ Descent:  r’ n d M g r / g r n. d. S

The skeletal phraseology of this raga is made interesting by the rules of inclusion and omission. Ma and Ni swaras are omitted in the ascent, but are included in the descent. Ga and Pa swaras are present in ascent, but either missing or subliminally intoned in the descent. The observation of these rules results in the creation of a zigzag phraseology typical of Bilaskhani Todi.

Skeletal phraseology: 
r n. S r g/ r g P [or] r g d P/ g P d S’/ r’ n d M g r/ g P d M g r/ r g M g r/ g r n. d. S

The distinctive phraseology of Bilaskhani is so critical to the differentiation of this raga from Bhairavi, that almost any phrase, if ineptly handled, can blur the distinction. This is one of the reasons why, in vocal as well instrumental music, the raga is generally found to have been performed by mature musicians. The key to Bilaskhani, however, lies in its pain and pathos. Truly great renditions of this raga are, therefore, few. Amongst the many recordings I have heard of this raga, those of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Ameer Khan (all published) qualify as text-book renditions for their grammatical as well as aesthetic values.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York, 
Producers of the finest recordings of modern and contemporary Hindustani classical music. 

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