MALHAR UTSAV Showcases Monsoon Ragas

  • Malhar Utsav celebrates the Monsoon season with seasonal Ragas of Indian Classical Music.

Malhar connotes to the cleansing power of the rains which washes away all the dirt and impurities of the mother earth, while rejuvenates our environment, body and mind, sowing new seeds of a healthy life crop. 


Since ancient times poets, musicians and painters have portrayed the rain, thunder, clouds and lightning in the most beautiful way through exotic poetry, paintings and many soulful musical compositions, in a range of Ragas belonging to the Malhar Gamut (Malhar ke Prakaar) in Indian classical Music. The Malhar variants have become synonymous to celebrate the spirit of sweet scented pure land, the call of the cuckoo bird, which brings a feeling of bliss, surging love, devotion, surrender, gestation and fruition, with every rendition.


'Malhar Utsav' organised by the Department of Music, Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, Delhi University was indeed a celebration of the spirit of Malhar in a two-day soul-stirring affair, which brought to its audiences some of the most delectable Malhar melodies. Although, the festival this year was in a sombre mood, while it paid tribute to the great maestros of the Indian classical music, Sitar Maestro Padma Vibhushan Pandit Debu Chaudhary and his son Pandit Prateek Chaudhary, who unfortunately succumbed to Covid 19 this year.


The festival saw performances by renowned artists Pandit Shubhendra Rao, Ustad Rafiuddin Sabri, and two acclaimed young musicians Shri Abhiram Unni and Shri Sameehan Kashalkar. The occasion was graced by the esteemed presence of Dr Vikas Gupta, Honorable Registrar Delhi University as the Chief Guest, while all were welcomed by Prof Deepti Omcherry Bhalla, Dean and Head of Department, Department of Music, Faculty of Music and Fine arts, Delhi University. 


The festival began with a Carnatic Music ensemble by the students of the Department of Music in Raga 'Amrit Varshini'.The raga as the name suggests is derived from two words 'Amrita' meaning Nector and 'Varshini' meaning the one which causes the rain. Thus, the raga is associated with the rains and is significantly similar to the Malhars in Hindustani Music. It is interesting to know that due to its strong connection to the rains, Raga Amrit Varshini has become an indispensable part of the Malhar Utsav tradition, being performed for many years by the Department of Music, Faculty of Music and Fine Arts, Delhi University.  


The presentation in Raga Amrita Varshini began with a Virutham composition Sarva vigna haram Devam, Vandeham Gana nayakam set in Adi Taal, which was indeed a beautiful invocation of Lord Ganesha to mark the opening of the festival. The next piece was a Kriti Bhuloka kumari which began with a brief Tanam (Taan in Hindustani music) in lightening speed. Written in Sanskrit by Subramania Bharati, the Kriti' was originally written in Tamil. Composed and arranged by Dr Prasanth G. Pai Assistant Professor, Carnatic Music, Department of Music, the Kriti had beautiful interludes by G Ragavendra Prasath on violin and Mridangam by Kannan V.M. The presentation was concluded by a beautiful Swara Kalpana, which showcased the expertise of both the composer and its rendition by the students, who harmoniously presented the flawless Sargams and layakari in their coordinated tuned voices. 


Raga Amrita Varshini was created by the Carnatic composer Muthuswami Dikshitar and is believed to have brought the rain, while he sang his composition Aanandaamrutakarshini amrutavarshini at Ettayapuram in Tamil Nadu. The Raga is Audava-Audava in jati and omits Rishabha and Dhaivata, The notes used in this scale are Shadja, Antara Gandhara, Prati Madhyama, Panchama and Kakali Nishad. While the chalan of the Raga goes (S G₃ M₂ P N₃ Ṡ) in Aroha and (Ṡ N₃ P M₂ G₃ S) in Avaroha.

To see video of day one of Malhar Utsav (1 hour 39 minutes)


After the scintillating choir performance, the program took the audiences straight to God's Own Country, Kerala to witness a Carnatic recital by Shri Abhiram Unni, who's a promising youngster with a rich vibrant voice. Unni has been nurtured into Carnatic music since an early age by eminent gurus namely Dr N Priyadarshini, Sangeetaji Kalacharya Sri Mangar Nathan. He is presently getting trained under Vidushi Dr Pantula Rama, a leading Carnatic music exponent.


Abhiram began his concert in Raga Dhanyasi with the composition of saint Thyagaraja’s Ramabhirama set in Aadi taal, followed by Saattileni Uruguay a composition of Tanjore Ponniah Pillai in Raga Poorvikalyani in Mishrachappu Taal. Unni concluded his recital with a Padam (Kanthanodu) a composition of Swathi Thirunal in Raga Neelambari in Roopaka tala.


The compositions ideally represented the Bhakti Rasa, which presented with the clarity of the lyrics, with perfect embellishments while it gradually progressed to the climax. Overall a neat presentation that was indeed a treat to the ears. Unni was accompanied on violin by Sri Sanoj Poongad and Sh. Gokul Alankode on Mridangam.


If we look at the Raga Neelambari, it means the Blue-skies, while the raga is soothing to the ears and appears to be like a lullaby. Its seamless gamaks blend subtly, bestowing peace and relaxation which seems like clearing of all the slumber from the mind. Maybe that makes it a chosen Raga to create rain songs in the films. It is interesting to know that in the ancient Tamizh pann system, (mode used by the Tamil musicians in ancient India, where pann denoted a Raga) the Megaraga Kurinji is the equivalent of Neelambari. Although the Hindustani version of Raga Neelambari has no resemblance to the Carnatic Neelambari which has the Aroha - Avaroha as SRGMPDNS -SNPMGRGS with gamaks (oscillation) imparted on the Madhyama note, ‘SNDNSNP' being it's a characteristic phrase.


The next presentation saw the intricacies of the Gayaki Ang, depicting the romance of the Monsoons through the strings by the Sitar Maestro Pandit Shubhendra Rao. (Disciple of Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravishankarji of Maihar Gharana). Rao presented an interesting amalgamation of Malhar melodies beginning his presentation with Alap Jod Jhala in Raga Miyan Malhar. Rao made a mark with every stroke, while his finer glides and note by note elaboration of the Raga created the very mood and the ambience of the melodious monsoon melody, reflecting his in-depth Talim and rigorous riyaaz. 


The presentation was followed by Vilambit and Drut Teentaal in Raga Desh. His presentation was indeed a monsoon treat, while he played three pieces in Ragas Megh Malhar, Gaur Malhar and Nat Malhar all in Teentaal, while he was befittingly accompanied by Pandit Ashish Sengupta on Tabla.


If we look at the Malhar gamut of Ragas, they differ from each other with minute phrases. Like the Raga Miyan Malhar which was created by Miyan Tansen is endowed with two Nishads, which are sung one after the other creating a distinct oscillation (gamaka) in a particular way (S, N’ n’ D’ N’, N’ S and M’ P’ n’ D’ N’ S), while the Ragangas of Malhar ( M (M)R (M)R P) and Kanada (n P M P (M) g (M)g M R, S) make it’s signature phrases.


The Raga Nat Malhar comes out distinctly with (m, G - R - R - G - G-m-R-S), which is a fruitful union of the Nat and Malhar ragas. In Gaud Malhar we see an interesting blend of Gaud (S S R G M, M G M G R G S, R G M, PM), Shuddha Malhar (M P (S”) D S”, S”, D PM) and Bilawal (P P N D N S”). Raga Megh Malhar is sung as an invitation to the rains, and this soul-stirring melody differs from the rest of the Malhars, with the use of the Sarang Ang (SR m R; m P n P m R).


The second day of the festival began with an ensemble of the Malhar melodies Raga Megh, Raga Gaud Malhar and Raga Miyan Malhar which was indeed a spectacular presentation by the Sargam Choir of the Department of Music, Directed and Composed by Dr Vineet Goswami. The ensemble was indeed a garland of traditional bandishes Garje ghata Ghana in Raga Megha Malhar, Bijuriya chamakat lagi in Raga Gaur Malhar, Kajri Gheri ayire sawan ki badaria and Bolere papihara in Miyan Malhar. Interwoven with intricate Sargams and scintillating taans the ensemble culminated with a fast Drut Laya Tarana Ta nom derena deem ta in seven beats, which was aptly supported by  Gulshan Sharma on Tabla and Rishab Sharma on Harmonium.


The virtual concert next, took the viewers to Pune for a Hindustani classical vocal recital by Shri Sameehan Kashalkar, who has mastered Khyal Gayaki under the expert guidance of his father and guru the renowned Hindustani Classical vocalist Pt Ulhas Kashalkar of Gwalior Gharana and semi-classical forms under the able tutelage of Smt. Girija Deviji (Benaras Gharana). Kashalkar presented Vilambit and Drut Khyal in Raga Miyan Malhar and a seasonal Kajri Gheri ayi hai kari badaria in Mishra Pilu. His recital was indeed a musical treat for the connoisseurs of both classical music and benaras folk.


The two-day festival concluded by a powerful tabla recital by Ustad Rafiuddin Sabri which acted as an icing on the cake in the monsoon Utsav. Sabri began his Tabla solo with Teentala. Displaying his virtuosity and command, which he had mastered under the tabla maestros Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Saheb and later under his uncle Late Ustad Nazir Ahmed Khan Saheb. Sabir gradually moved to Peshkar, Kayadas, Relas, Tukras Laggi and Laddi, enthralling the audiences with his robust performance.


To see video of day two of Malhar Utsav (1 hour 36 minutes)


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4. Hindustani Classical Music – Its evolution and emotional synthesis  

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