The sound of Malhar!

Rain falling on a leaf

The fragrance of wet earth … The sound of the rain … The cool breeze blowing in … The greenery that sprouts everywhere even in a concrete jungle like Mumbai … How can anyone not feel good in such an atmosphere! Add to that my favourite songs playing in the background…and I am in heaven. It’s an evening made beautiful with one of those rare showers as I write my story and my mind runs into an imaginative mode, wondering if the skies finally answered our pleas as we boiled in the heat. I fantasized about having musical magic powers to compel the clouds to pour and bless us with salvation.

Ghanan Ghanana from the movie Lagaan
Remember Ghanan Ghanana from the movie Lagaan?

Rain and the beautiful monsoon season has always been the heart of Indian art and culture — music, dance, paintings or sculptures. The beauty of this particular natural occurrence has been a favourite theme. And for a good reason, too! India has always been dependent on the monsoons and more importantly on its timely arrival. It is the epicentre of a number of lives. In terms of creatively expressing the importance, we have a number of folk songs to call upon, welcome and celebrate the first showers. Remember Ghanan Ghanana from the movie Lagaan?

At a time when India was at its glorious best in the medieval era with prosperity and riches, when kings and dynasties patronised the arts, especially classical music, and when a number of musicologists and artists created musical masterpieces — Indian Classical Music (ICM) flourished. This was an era of discovery and innovation, experiments and miracles.

Though rain has inspired dances and music all over the world, India has a unique heritage of Monsoon Ragas which were composed and sung by legendary masters like Miya Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Surat Sen, Meera Bai, etc. Tansen was one of the nine jewels in the court of Emperor Akbar. There are a number of legends associated with him and his various melodic creations.

I am going to share one such story about Tansen and his legendary abilities. There isn’t a doubt that he was an extraordinary and powerful singer with complete devotion to his music. His concentration was such that if left undisturbed, he would continue singing endlessly.

The well-known legend about Tansen was when Emperor Akbar asked him to perform Raag Deepak — the raag of fire. Tansen was said to have astounding abilities and talents with immense control and proficiency over the swars of raags and could achieve astonishing feats by singing them. As the story goes, the day of the performance arrived. The court was decorated with innumerous oil lamps to be lit by Tansen’s prowess over the swars of Raag Deepak that would lead to this unimaginable phenomenon. Tansen began his performance. Soon the Emperor, courtiers and the audience started to feel the temperature rise. The water in the pools and fountains began to evaporate. The flowers in full bloom began to wilt. And all of a sudden, the countless numbers of lamps in the court lit up!

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Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath
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Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath

Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath is the eleventh generation of her family to be dedicated to the ancient art form of Indian classical music. She has performed in India and abroad, has music albums to her credit and successfully runs her classical music academy all over Mumbai.