Monday, April 18, 2011

Raga Ahir-Lalit: an evolving melodic entity

The creation of Ahir-Lalit is credited to Pandit Ravi Shankar. It was first recorded by him on a 78 RPM record [STCS-850176], probably in the 1950’s, and again -- this time an elaborate presentation – in 1979 [STC-850064]. The raga has been a part of his concert repertoire for several decades, and has been popularised by several younger musicians of the Maihar-Senia gharana.

The hyper-hexatonic raga [S r G M M^ D n] is, ostensibly, a combination of raga Ahir/ Ahiri, and Lalit, both early morning ragas. However, since Ahiri is heard mainly as a Bhairav variant, Ahir-Bhairav, for most listeners Ahir-Lalit will be unable to escape the shadow of Ahir Bhairav over the Lalit facet of the raga.  In this respect, Ahir-Lalit belongs to a group of compound ragas introducing the Lalit flavour into other ragas, all of which were created around the middle of the twentieth century. During this period, the legendary Kesarbai Kerkar of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana made Lalita-Gauri, a blend of Gauri and Lalit, her trademark. A little later, Yunus Ahmed Khan, an Agra gharana vocalist, reportedly created Lalita-Sohini, a blend of Sohini and Lalit.

In all these cases, the melodic idea was simple – that of adding the unique twin-Ma effect of Lalit to another raga, while keeping the other raga substantially intact as the major presence in the resultant melodic entity. Interestingly, in all these cases, the base-ragas for the introduction of the Lalit effect, happen to be ragas of fragile independent raga-ness. Gauri is treacherously close to Puriya Dhanashree, and difficult to render in its purity. Sohini, which shares its tone material with Puriya and Marwa, is a raga of very limited melodic potential. Likewise, Ahiri too is a raga difficult to sustain as an independent melodic entity. This is also why Ahiri is almost always encountered in its Ahir-Bhairav manifestation. This could also have provided the inspiration for the creation of Ahir-Lalit.

This evidence would suggest that the main purpose of the Lalit- effect has been the enhancement of a base-raga’s melodic potential, and/ or enabling it to shape a more distinctive melodic entity. This logic may not explain why, and how, these Lalit-blended ragas were created. But, it could explain why they caught the imagination of the music community, and acquired legitimacy, and even gained currency.

Ahir-Lalit can be understood by reference to the tone material and the Vadi/ Samvadi swaras [primary and secondary dominants] of three ragas, Ahir/Ahiri, Ahir Bhairav, and Lalit, as documented by Subba Rao [Raga Nidhi, 4th edition, 1996, Music Academy, Madras].

Ahir/Ahiri: S r G M P D n  [Vadi: S, Samvadi: P]
Ahir Bhairav: S r G M P D n [Vadi: M, Samvadi: S]
Lalit: S r G M M^ d N  [Vadi: M, Samvadi: S]
Ahir-Lalit: S r G M M^ D n [Vadi: M, Samvadi: S]

Speaking strictly in terms of tone material, you get Ahir-Lalit by substituting the Pa of Ahiri or Ahir-Bhairav with a tivra [sharp] Ma. Another way of looking at it from the Lalit perspective. Viewed from this angle, Lalit becomes Ahir-Lalit by replacing its komal [flat] Dh with a shuddha [natural] Dh. Ahir Bhairav and Lalit could have an additional basis for compatibility by virtue of sharing the same Vadi/Samvadi [Ma, Sa]. This, however, is controversial because some authorities consider Pa/Sa to be the Vadi/Samvadi of Ahir Bhairav. [Thakurdas, Manikbuwa, Raga Darshan, Vol.IV, 1st edition, Lakshminarayan Trust, Rajpipla].

On the evidence of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s rendering considered here, the melodic centre of gravity of the raga is in the purvanga. It appears that the vadi/samvadi of Ahir-Lalit are intended to be Dh and Ma respectively. A reversal of these roles would push the raga too close to the early 20th century Lalit, which utilised the shuddha Dh, instead of the contemporary komal Dh; and such does not appear to be the composer’s intention.

Beyond these basic issues of raga grammar, the melodic personality of Ahir-Lalit can be documented only by reference to its skeletal phraseology [chalan], as evident from the vilambit alap rendered by its composer, Pandit Ravi Shankar [STC-850064 of 1979].

Chalan: S D. n. D/ D. n. S r/ n. r S/ r G M M^ M/ M^ D/ M D n or M^ D n/ D n r’ S’/ r’ n S’ n D/ M^ D G M M^ M/ r G M G/ G r S n. D./ D. n. r S. 

There are several noteworthy aspects to this chalan. Firstly, Dh is given considerable importance, as it is in Ahir Bhairav. The oscillated and accentuated treatment of [komal] Re, characteristic of Ahir-Bhairav [D-n-r-r], has also been retained. But, the G-M-r-S characteristic of the Bhairav facet in Ahir-Bhairav is missing.  As in Lalit, Ahir-Lalit ascends into the uttaranga either from the shuddha Ma or from the tivra Ma, -- more often from tivra Ma. Again, as in Lalit, Ahir-Lalit uses both, Ga and shuddha Ma as resting points, with shuddha Ma being the more frequent of the two.

It is fair to acknowledge that this chalan, documented from a single recording, may not represent either the entirety of the raga’s image in its creator’s mind, or its evolution over the years. It must also be recognised that even if Pandit Ravi Shankar has performed this raga a hundred times during his long career, he has merely set it on the path of evolution. The raga will continue to evolve for several generations on the concert platform and in the recording studios before it gets established as a member of the raga pantheon. To this extent, any rendition of the raga cannot yet be subjected to an authoritative yardstick of “authenticity”.

Deepak S. Raja
(c) India Archive Music Ltd., New York, producers of the finest recordings of Hindustani music.

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