Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Patadeepak: Can it be called a raga?

Patadeepak is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. On the only recording available, Sharafat Hussain Khan of Agra gharana introduces it as an “old” raga. However, it remains undocumented by any recent authority, starting from Bhatkhande in the first quarter of the 20th century, upto Manikbuwa Thakurdas in the 1990’s. I have checked with some of the biggest archivists, and find that no other recordings of the raga – published or otherwise -- are known to exist. Circumstantially, however, it would appear that two of Sharafat’s seniors from the lineage, Vilayat Hussain Khan and Jagannath Buwa Purohit, may have performed the bandish recorded by Sharafat, even if only rarely. The raga has not been heard in recent years from any musician of the Agra lineage.

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

The skeletal phraseology (chalan) of the raga is documented on the basis of the Sharafat recording, the only one available.

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

For connoisseurs of Hindustani music, this raga represents an intriguing blend of familiarity and novelty. In its phrasing strategy, the raga appears to tread a precarious line between members of the Bihag and Bilawal families. According to Purnima Sen, Sharafat’s disciple, Patadeepak is a combination of five ragas, with Deepak of the Bilawal scale being the main component. The other elements, according to her, include Hameer, Bangaal (also a rare raga), Savani, and Chhaya (rarely performed in its pure form).

The major parameters of raga grammar are difficult to pin down on available evidence. However, the phrase string P-M-P-G/ S R S would appear to constitute the raga’s melodic signature. The identification of the vadi (primary dominant) would favour Ga, with the samvadi (secondary dominant) remaining indeterminate. The centre of gravity of the raga is in the purvanga, with considerable importance to melodic action in the madhyanga (mid-octave region).
 In the Sharafat recording I studied, the Madhya laya Ektal bandish is the hero of the Patadeepak rendition.

The lyrics express a fundamental idea in Indian culture – the sanctity of a disciple’s relationship with his Guru – and does so in simple and transparently sincere verse. It also incorporates the poetic signatures of three Agra stalwarts -- Prem Piya (Faiyyaz Khan), Pran Piya (Vilayat Hussain) and Gunidas (Jagannath Buwa Purohit)-- and has a melodic-rhythmic structure entirely devoid of cleverness, though not without grace. This combination of features could have been designed to keep the raga in circulation, at least amongst the followers of the Agra lineage. Sharafat’s rendering of it, with a reverential spoken introduction to this bandish, validates this intention of the composer.

The entire rendition revolves around the melodic contours of the bandish, in most cases also following the sequencing of phrases. To this extent, this would seem to be a classic example of traditional Agra vocalism, which uses the bandish as the primary vehicle of raga presentation. The issue is, however, slightly more complex than this. Ragas acquire their "raga-ness" as a result of a progressive exploration of melodic potential through wide circulation, and over several generations. Until this process has attained reasonable maturity, the "raga" cannot provide an abstract  framework for regulating the improvisatory process.

This would appear to be the case with Patadeepak. Despite its claimed antiquity, it conveys the impression of being not much more than a song. Because of this, the safest route to presenting it is to remain within the boundaries defined by the bandish. Sharafat recognises this reality, and introduces his rendition as that of a bandish (and not a raga), making only a casual reference to the raga being “old”, without even naming it. Considering the obscurity of the raga, he may have assumed that the name would not have meant anything even to the connoisseurs in his audience.

(c) India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

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