Saturday, May 7, 2011

Raga Kedar: abandoning the austere form

Kedar is amongst the most popular post-sunset ragas. The raga belongs to the Kalyan thaat, and within it, to the sub-group that permits twin-Ma usage - shuddh and tivra (sharp). Other popular ragas in this sub-group are Hameer, Chhayanat, Kamod, Nand and Behag. Although the contemporary raga is relatively non-controversial, it has an interesting history which impinges upon its contemporary performance.

Scholarly literature suggests that, not long ago, the raga was probably pentatonic (S R M P D) in the Bilawal that (parent scale). Subsequent melodic enhancements have made the raga hyper-heptatonic (S R G M M^ P D n N S’) in the Kalyan thaat.

Chalan (Contemporary):
S R S / S M / M G P / M^ P D P M / M^ P S' (or) DD P S' (or) M^ P D N S' / N S' D N D P (or) S' DD P / D M^ P M / M S R S (or) G M R S (or) M R R S 

The raga revolves around the Sa-Ma axis. A mature musician can bring Kedar to life, with just three sweeping intonations: S-M, M-P, P-S'. I have heard the late Sarangi maestro, Abdul Lateef Khan do this with stunning impact.

Writing in the first quarter of the 20th century, Bhatkhande provides detailed guidelines for the skilful handling of the swara enhancements that Kedar has "recently" accepted. The purpose of these guidelines would appear to be to subject the austere (probably pentatonic) image of the traditional raga form to as small a compromise as possible. The Bhatkande guidelines suggest that the recent enhancements have probably regularised the involuntary intonations that crept into the rendition of the raga in the process of seeking the convenience of easier rendition. As in the case of many other ragas, these conveniences relate to eliminating the repetitions of some swaras, and narrowing the intervals between adjacent swaras as represented in the traditional, austere, form.

Thus, at the lower end of the ascent, S-M-M-P, became S-M-G-P; and PP-D-P-M gave way to M^-P-D-P-M. The traditional antara ascent P-P-S' was replaced by M^-P-S' or M^-P-D-N-S'. In the descent, S'-D-D-P yielded to S'-D-N-D-P, and M-S-R-S was replaced by M-G-M-R-S or M-R-S.

By its very name, raga Kedar is associated with Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, a formidable deity of ascetic temperament. As such, the raga is considered to be amongst the more profound ragas of the Hindustani system. In order to preserve its profundity, the musician is required to present it with a certain reverence and deliberateness. This prescription is confirmed by the raga's complex vakra [zigzag] phraseology, which would suffer a degree of "flattening out" at higher levels of swara-density.

The contemporary Kedar would be unconvincing as a representation of the daunting Lord Shiva. Apparently, the melodic enhancements have progressively diluted the raga's austere aural image, and allowed it to drift towards prodnounced Lalitya --a romantic/sensual experience.

Deepak S. Raja 
(c) India Archive Music, New York, producers of the finest recordings of Raga Kedar.