Since my previous article, we have definitely had a good monsoon. Indeed, the sound of Malhar was pleasing! For those of you who are just catching up, Malhar is one of Indian classical music’s all-time favourite raags. It is a musical homage to Mother Nature and her miracles — a raag that truly exemplifies the beauty of the monsoons. I had promised you that I would elucidate the raag of Hindustani Classical Music. Well, this is my humble attempt to keep it interesting and yet simplify a topic that is dynamic, detailed and the most pivotal concept of Indian Classical Music (ICM).
To understand a phenomenon like a raag, you need to first be introduced to the swar. I have already written about the creation of a swar — the swar forms the basis of a raag, just like alphabets help create a word to be made into a sentence, in an earlier issue.
Music and nature have a deep connection. There is music in every element of nature — the chirping birds, the gurgling river, the lapping sea waves, the rustling leaves. Man has been influenced by these sounds in various forms. It is believed that the Seven Shudh (pure) notes have been conceived from the sounds of nature. To elaborate; Sa, the actual name of which is Shadj, was created from the euphoric cry of the peacock before the onset of the rains. Re, which stands for Rishabh, draws its source from the bellowing of a cow. Ga from Gandhar reflects the bleating of a goat. Ma from Madhyam is the call of a heron. Pa from Pancham is the call of a cuckoo in the summer. Dha from Dhaivat is derived from the neighing of a horse, and last but not the least, Ni from Nishad is inspired by the trumpeting of the elephant. Without getting too technical, I must specify that the swars Re, Ga, Dha, Ni and Ma have variations in the form of flat (komal) and sharp (teevra) notes, thus giving us 12 swars at our disposal to create various raags. And so, a raag is nothing but different permutations and combinations of these swars. Pushing your imagination a little, assume that the 12 swars are beautiful gem stones. Pick and choose any of these gems to make a striking necklace. You should have a minimum of 5 gems; you can repeat the same gem colour if you like or a variation of it but don’t place them in succession; keep a basic theme running throughout the pattern. The necklace needs to have 2 strings — one ascending and one descending, with some unique designs in it, primary and secondary colour gems. What I have put across to you are the basic rules of a raag.
There are endless possibilities of creating a raag with these swars. However, one must follow the rules. The raag is such a vast subject going beyond technically-stated definitions and has to be experienced and felt by the singer and the listener to appreciate its true power and effect.
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.