Sunday, April 24, 2011

Raga Miya-ki Todi.... reluctant differentiation

Miya-ki Todi, also known as, Todi, Darbari Todi, and sometimes Shuddha Todi, is amongst the more popular morning ragas of Hindustani music. The raga also represents the Todi parent scale of Hindustani music, corresponding to the Shubhapantuvarali Mela of the Carnatic (South Indian) system. The raga derives its name from its association with the legendary musician, Miya Tansen (16th century)

It is a raga of considerable antiquity, documented in textual sources by the name of Varali, Varati, or occasionally, Varati-Todi. The prescribed time for the raga is the first three-hour slot after sunrise. Its character is profound, and its essential mood is somber. Despite this, the raga has attained a decent presence in the classicist as well as romanticist genres of Hindustani music.

Bhatkhande (died: 1937), the earliest modern commentator on the raga, documents the raga as heptatonic in the ascent (S-r-g-M^-P-d-N-S’) as well the descent (S’-N-d-P-M^-g-r-S). Reflecting the practice of his times, he reports several interpretations of the raga with respect to the dominant tones. He pronounces (komal) Dh as vadi (primary dominant); but acknowledges, with disapproval, the fact that some musicians accord this status to (komal) Ga. According to him, (komal) Ga, along with (komal) Re are candidates for the status of samvadi (secondary dominant). By this logic, the raga’s centre of gravity will fall in the upper tetrachord.

Bhatkhande (Bhatkhande Sangeet Shastra, Vol. IV, 2nd Edition. 1970. Sangeet Karyalaya, Hathras) distinguishes Miya-ki Todi from its closest sibling, Gujri Todi by a very simple discriminant. The removal of Pa from Miy-ki Todi makes it Gujri Todi. He acknowledges the attempt to differentiate the two ragas also by their respective centers of melodic gravity, with Gujri being anchored in the Purvanga (lower tetrachord); but he does not see this distinction being practiced by his contemporaries. Implicitly, and even explicitly, Bhatkhande allows for considerable latitude in phrasing, with no threat to the distinctive melodic character of the raga.

About half a century later, Subbarao (Raga Nidhi, Vol. IV, 4th Edition, 1996, 1st edition: 1965. Music Academy, Madras) acknowledges two variants of the raga. One is hexatonic in the ascent (S-r-g-M^-d-N-S’), and heptatonic in the descent.  The other is similar to Bhatkhande’s description, heptatonic in both directions. In both variants, Subbarao prescribes a very sparing use of Pa, and only in the descent, almost suggesting one phrase (M^-d-P) as the only permissible usage.

Subbarao regards (komal) Re, (komal) Ga and (komal) Dh as important melodic centers of the raga, but is non-committal about the vadi-samvadi pair. He reverses Bhatkhande’s notions regarding the respective centres of gravity of the two sibling ragas – Miya-ki Todi, according to him is anchored in the Purvanga, while Gujri Todi is centred in the Uttaranga. Consistent with this, he attributes to Gujri Todi the vadi-samvadi pair (Dh and Ga/Re) that Bhatkhande had ascribed to Miya-ki Todi.

Writing another quarter of a century later, Manikbuwa Thakurdas (Raga Darshan, Vol I, 1st edition. 1987. Krishna Brothers, Ajmer) agrees with Bhatkhande on the tone material – heptatonic in both directions – and with Subbarao on the sparing use of Pa, mainly in the descent. His identification of the vadi-samvadi pair does not, however, entirely resolve the problem of raga differentiation with respect to Gujri Todi. He pronounces (komal) Ga and (komal) Dh as vadi-samvadi of Miya-ki Todi, while permitting Gujri Todi to be performed with the same set of dominants. He does, of course, admit that Gujri Todi is also acceptable with the roles reversed -- (komal) Dh as vadi and (komal) Ga as samvadi.

An important feature of Miya-ki Todi, acknowledged by all authorities is the special emphasis on (komal) Re and (komal) Ga in the raga. Their documentation formalizes the use of suppressed frequencies of these two swaras.

There is, indeed, an evolutionary trend in these writings, as they appear to seek a sharper progressive differentiation between Miya-ki Todi, and Gujri Todi. The diversity in practice, however, militates against a categorical differentiation.  This has obliged authorities to unanimously acknowledge the robustness of the raga, and differentiate it from Gujri Todi almost entirely by the sparing deployment of the Pa swara.

The only other risk of confusion worthy of mention, despite being insignificant, is with respect to Multani, which deploys identical tone material. Multani has a distinct scale with a hexatonic ascent (SgM^PNS’), has three jumps and loops in the descent (S’N/ PdP /gM^g /SrS), and deploys two pivotal swaras of Miya-ki Todi and Gujri Todi – (komal) Re and  (komal) Dh – only subliminally.

The robust melodic character of Miya-ki Todi would explain why it has become immensely popular across genres of music in the North as well the South. This also explains why the Todi family has proliferated, with its distinctive melodic features being modified to shape several variants – such as Lachari Todi, Bahaduri Todi, Bilaskhani Todi, Phirozekhani Todi, Ahiri Todi, Hussaini Todi, Laxmi Todi.

The skeletal phraseology of the raga may best be documented conforming to the Bhatkhande prescription, because it is the most liberal, and legitimizes the diversity of contemporary practice. It will be noticed that the prescription permits deployment of the Pa swara in both directions, while also allowing its total omission in either.

Chalan (Skeletal phraseology).
N. N. S r g / r g r / r g M^ P or r g M^ g P/ g M^ d P / M^ g M^ d / N d P / d d  N S’ [or] M^ d N S’/ N S’ r’ g’ r’/ d N S’ r’ g’ / r’ g’ r’ S’/ N r’ N d P / M^ P d M^ g [or] N d M^ g / r g r S

Though the reluctant differentiation between Gujri Todi and Miya-ki Todi may be more widely practiced today, we need to accept that the categorical and the reluctant have both been in practice for at least a century.

Deepak S. Raja
(c) India Archive Music, New York. Producers of the finest recordings of Raga Miya-ki-Todi.

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