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Creating monsoon music with ancient rain-maker

Over the weekend, heavy rain drenched the parched capital after nearly two months of scorching summer to coincide with the three-day Malhar Festival which opened Sunday at the Kamani Auditorium. It poured even on Monday in a strange repeat of 2011, when rain in the capital timed with the festival.


Representational picture

"Rains are a seasonal event. When the earth is parched and dry, the rains come. But I think classical music has psychic link with seasons... They reflect the mood of the season," Karan Singh, the president of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), told IANS.

Singh, a scholar of classical music, said the rhythm and melody of the raga malhar - the theme of the festival - had worked on the atmosphere to soothe the intense heat and invoke rain.

Historians point to an interesting 500-year-old Muslim legend. Mughal emperor Akbar once asked his court musician Tansen in Fatehpur Sikri to sing raga 'deepak' - the raga of light (lamp). The power of the music was such that the lamps in the courtyard lit by themselves and Tansen's body burned with heat.

He had to dip in a nearby river to cool himself.

The river began to boil and Tansen realised that he had to find someone to sing raga malhar to him. He reached Vadnagar in Gujarat, where he found two sibling musicians, Tana and Riri, whom he asked for help. When they sang the raga malhar, the rain came down in torrents, cooling Tansen's body.

Raga Malhar has been popular in Hindi movies too and K.L. Saighal sang "Diya Jalao" in Raga Deepak for the 1943 movie "Tansen" after which he sang "Baagh Laga Doon Sajni" in Malhar.

Naushad used the raga in "Mother India" to herald the rain in "Dukh bhare din beete re bhaiya ab sukh aayo re".

"Legends come from reality, ragas affect cycle of seasons. The most beautiful thing about the Indian ragas are their time boundedness. We have ragas which are related to seasons like 'malhar' for the monsoon and 'basant' during spring," vocalist Meeta Pandit told IANS at the festival.

She rendered Soordasi Malhaar - a variation of Malhar. "Malhar has several variations with slight technical differences," she said. Some of these variations of Malhar include, Suddha Malhaar, Megh Malhaar, Gaud Malhaar, Miyan Malhaar, Ramdasi Malhaar, Nat Malhaar, Mirabai ka Malhaar, Dhulia Malhaar, Charju ki Malhaar, Des Malhaar and many more.

Bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan says dance has an effect on the cosmic cycle because of the vibrations it generates.

"Dances set to compositions in rain-invoking ragas can bring changes in the atmosphere," Vaidyanathan told IANS.

The dancer said she chose three equivalents of the Malhar raga in Carnatic music: Amrutha Varshini or a rain-invoking raga, Varunapriya like Miya ki Malhaar and Madhyamavati, corresponding to Megh Malhaar for her performance.

"Legend says more 100 years ago, Carnatic vocalists could bring rain in the dry seaon by rendering these ragas with all their intensity, complexities of melodies and rhythms," the dancer said.

Over the years, musicians have lost the power (memory) to sing the ragas in their purest form because traditional knowledge of music in India has been oral, she said.

According to mythology, the Carnatic versions of the rain-invoking malhar raga date back to the 'thretayug' - the ancient era of the Ramayana. It is said when Hanuman set fire to Lanka with his burning tail, the demon king Ravana played the Amrutha Varshini raga on his veena and brought rain to douse the blaze.

As a viewer remarked at the end of the recital Sunday, "The spirit of Akbar must be watching over us for Malhar to bring rain".

The three-day festival, presented by ICCR, featured Uma Garg (vocal), Shubhada Varadkar (Odissi), Madhumita Ray (vocal) and Vidha Lal (Kathak) who themed their renditions on the raga Malhar.

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