The festival logo this year is a visual representation of the musical phrase “Ma-re-pa” that is the characteristic signature of the Malhaar group of ragas. Hence, our opening playlist, celebrates the grandeur of the Malhaar.
The Malhar family of Ragas traces its genesis back to the pentatonic Shuddha Malhar, which is not very popular in performance today, but is considered the paternal raga of this vast family of Ragas connected inextricably with the monsoonal delight that Indian aesthetic experience celebrates to the hilt. Not unexpectedly, Spotify does not feature any rendition of Shudha Malhar, but you may check these links out for more on the source Raga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZG356XHYng and https://www.parrikar.org/music/malhar/ginde_shuddhamalhar.mp3
In this playlist, we start our monsoon forays with Raga Megh, the oldest of the monsoon Ragas. We then explore the most popular and melancholic Miyan-ki-Malhar, attributed to Tansen. Following this we explore two other variants of Malhar: Gaud Malhar with its sweet overtones; and the playful Nat Malhar. Closing the Malhar exposition, are two rarer Malhars: Meera Malhar and Dhulia Malhar.
This playlist primarily features Hindustani music, with a strong focus on vocal music, but does include some instrumental renditions as well. To spice up the Malhar-Malika, we have added other genres that use the tonal material of the Malhar lexicon in varying ways: from devotional music, to Bengali kirtan, film music and some experimental Jazz.
The first exposition: Raga Megh by Vidushi Shubha Mudgal
Raga Megh, a melodic mode of considerable antiquity, is one of the six principal Ragas of the Hindustani music canon; and hence also the oldest of the seasonal Ragas connected with the monsoon. The pentatonic scale is deep, sombre, brooding, majestic and full of gravitas; and yet fleeting like the clouds after which it is named.
This verse written by the 16th century Vaishnava poet Surdas describes the majestic onset of the monsoon; painting a landscape of the lush monsoon in a very imaginative way, imagining the season to be a bridegroom, who has descended on the earth to spread joy.
देखो माई सावन दूल्हे आयो
चार मास के लग्न लिखायो
बदरन अंबर छायो
Mother! See: the Monsoon-Bridegroom arriveth!
The betrothal continues for four months,
Clouds fill up the sky majestically…
बिजरी चमके बगला बराती
कोयल सब्द सुनायो
दादुर मोर पपैया बोले
इंद्र निसान बजायो
Celebratory Lightning strikes, Cranes rejoice in the marriage procession;
The Koyal sings!
The frog croaks in joy, as does the Peacock and Cuckoo;
Indra sounds his weather drum…
The opening rendition, introspective and quiet, is now contrasted by Ustad Rashid Khan's more robust and playful rendering of a traditional composition by Sadarang in the same raga.
After that intense tour de force, we sit still, and slow down yet again, with a rendition of the iconic Miyaan-ki-Malhaar by the Dagar Brothers. If it is true that by listening to the gradual unfurling of the Malhaar, we can actually sense the rain, soak in it, and even reach a state of lofty cloudiness; it is equally true that in no other form can this be better achieved than in Dhrupad, with its slow progression of Alaap (unaccompanied improvisation of the Raga).
Meet Miyaan Tansen, (Mister Tansen) after which this grand Raga is called Miyaan-ki-Malhaar : he was indeed Monsieur Malhaar, because today, when we say "Malhaar" it is probably this Raga that is most people are referring to; such is the charm and magnetism of this variant that it overshadows all other, even older forms of Malhaar, very often. Tansen's modal intervention has the sombreness of the Malhar branch, that we see in its cousins like Megh; and is additionally imbued with a melancholy which so well captures the Uddipan bhaav of dark clouds hovering over the mind.
From the Dhrupad, we move to a composition by Tansen himself, rendered by Arati Anklikar and Devaki Pandit, in an attempt to recreate the Tana-Riri myth, connected with Maharaj Tansen.
As a departure from the vocal music renditions that this playlist focuses on, we have the maestro Ravi Shankar take us on a breezy walk through the Malhar domain. The virtuoso opens the composition with such effortless ease, taking us into the fold of rain-ecstasy from the first note.
The same is true of Vidushi Kishori Amonkar's rendition of a madhya-laya bandish (medium tempo composition) in Miyaan ki Malhaar: her taans flow like water; and the crescendo of the raga experience on the higher notes is impeccable!
To change the mood, we tune into "Bol re Papihara", a film song from Guddi (1971); which uses a traditional composition in Miyaan ki Malhaar but adapts it to fit the structure of a film song. To compare notes, listen to Pandit Kumar Gandharva singing the Khayal composition with his characteristic individualism and spirit of experimentation.
We close the Miyaan ki Malhaar chapter with a devotional rendition from Jayadeva's Gita Govinda, interestingly, not by a Hindustani but a Carnatic vocalist, Sikkil Gurucharan.
We now turn our attention to Gaud Malhar, another very popular Malhaar variant; with many versions and sub-types of its own. Emotively, Gaud Malhaar brings in a sweetness to the Malhaar gamut, with its Shruti-madhur (sweet tonal quality) temperament.
Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar takes us on a leisurely journey with a popular Vilambit khayal : Kahe Ho; followed by a Tarana, a composition that uses abstract syllables. Follow up with a rendition by the stalwart Yashwantbua Joshi, who was one of the last singers that typified robust old-school Gayaki (Gwalior and Agra Gharanas).
We then delve into Nat Malhar, a playful and pleasant amalgam of the kernels of Nat and Malhaar. Tana-Riri make a comeback with yet another Tansen composition that starts with talk of how the rain entices sensual awakenings and longing, moving on to thoughts of channelising this energy towards self-actualisation.
Gyanendra Prasad Goswami, of the Bishnupur gharana, used the playful aspect of this raga to etch a rendition of the charismatic dance of Krishna, in a beautiful Bengali composition.
The Malhar story can go on indefinitely, with a large variety of sub-Ragas that form an expansive family tree. Some of these are very intricate, complex and possibly hence, not so much in circulation. From this branch of the tree, we present renditions of Meera Malhaar by Vidushi Kishori Amonkar; and Dhuliya Malhaar by Pandit Jasraj.
And finally, our beloved Malhaar goes international: with John Mayer's Indo Jazz Fusion. John Mayer was known primarily for his fusions of jazz with Indian music in his British-based group.