Guest article by Subodh Agrawal
(SoY readers are familiar with Subodh’s elegant writing on songs based on classical ragas. He surpasses himself with this outstanding article on one of the most popular and accessible ragas – Malkauns – which he describes as the greatest of pentatonic ragas. Subodh carries his scholarship lightly with an easy and fluent style of writing. – AK)
I began this series with ten iconic film songs in different ragas – songs that are good enough to be used by students of classical music to get an intuitive feel for the raga. I deliberately left out the greatest iconic song of all – Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj in Malkauns, because I hoped to do a separate post on this raga. Finally, I am here to share my love for this great raga with the SoY family.
There are many beautiful ragas that use only five of the seven notes in both ascent and descent. In the Hindustani music terminology they are called audav-audav. Bhopali, Durga, Bhinna Shadj,
and Kaushik-Dhwani Hamsadhwani, Hindol are some examples. All of them are beautiful and Hindol also has a certain gravity. Still, Malkauns (also known as Malkosh and Malkans) stands tall in this group for the depth, solemnity and gravity that characterise it.
The Carnatic counterpart of Malkauns is Hindolam. There is an interesting relationship between the notes of Malkauns, the Carnatic Hindolam and the Hindustani Hindol and Hindoli as the following table shows. All these ragas omit the second note ‘re’ and the fifth note ‘pa’. The fundamental note ‘sa’ is always invariant. Of the remaining four notes ‘ga’, ‘dha’ and ‘ni’ can be either shuddha or komal, while ‘ma’ can be shuddha or teevra. I am using the north Indian terminology here:
Malkauns guards its territory jealously. With most ragas it is not enough to get the notes right, one has to be careful about the movement as well, or one risks straying into the territory of a different raga. The same notes used differently can produce a completely different raga. Puriya-Marwa-Sohani, Bhopali-Deshkar, Darbari-Adana-Asavari are some examples. With Malkauns one is safe. Once you get the notes right, there is little you can do wrong. Feed the five notes of Malkauns into a computer programme that plays them purely at random and the sound one hears will bear the unmistakable stamp of the raga. Very rarely there can be an overlap with Bageshri in the use of sa, ga and ma, but the confusion doesn’t last more than a few seconds.
Let me present a wonderful introduction to this raga by Pt Ramashrya Jha ‘Ramrang’ from the site www.parrikar.org. (Playing this audio may require you to copy and paste the url in the browser’s address bar): http://www.parrikar.org/music/malkauns/jha_kaunsspeak.mp3. For those who have difficulty playing it, or have trouble understanding Panditji’s shudh Hindi I summarize the main points:
The greatness of Malkauns lies in the fact that each of the five notes is a point of nyasa or rest. Secondly, all notes are clearly related to one another. It is a favourite raga of the novice and the master alike – the novice finds it easy to master the basic structure – enough to turn in a reasonably good performance, while the master may spend a lifetime and still not feel that all possibilities of this great raga have been exhausted. These strengths set it apart and make it a maha-raga in spite of having only five notes.
Like Yaman the predominant mood of Malkauns is tranquility. However, unlike Yaman – whose tranquility has a joyous quality – Malkauns’s tranquility is laced with gravity and solemnity. It evokes the awe one feels in a magnificent temple or cathedral, of being in the presence of something much greater than oneself. It is an ideal raga for invocation of the supreme spirit.
Now I begin the presentation of songs based on Malkauns with – surprise, surprise – Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj:
1. Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj by Mohammad Rafi from Baiju Bawra (1952), lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Naushad
This is the song that defines Malkauns for a lot of people. As film songs on this raga go, this is way ahead of the others. Personally if I rate it 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, no other song on this list – with the possible exception of no. 2 – would merit even 9.
2. Hari base sakal sansara by unknown singer from Achhut Kanya (1936), lyrics JS Kashap ‘Natwan’, music Saraswati Devi
I thank AK for sending me the link to this song. Sung in the style of Dhrupad, it has purity that many other songs in this list lack. The yearning of the singer for God finds a ready resonance in the listener’s heart. Pity it is so short.
Does any reader know the name of the singer?
3. Mat bhool are insaan by Mohammad Rafi from Mastana (1954), lyrics Rajendra Krishna, music Madan Mohan
Reminding oneself that the one up there is watching is a favourite theme of bhajans. This song from Mastana is a good example. Everything about the setting of this song is standard film fare – the lady with the child in her arms diffidently approaching the steps of a temple, repeated close-up shots of the idol and the sadhu singing to himself but addressing the lady’s inner turmoil. The music of Madan Mohan and the greatness of Malkauns, however, give a touch of something special to this scene.
4. Ankhiyan sang ankhiyan laagi aaj by Mohammad Rafi from Bada Aadmi (1961), lyics Prem Dhawan, music Chitragupta
This foot-tapping rhythmic number stays true to the raga despite its lighter mood. The setting of the song, particularly the competition between the singer and the dancer towards the end of the video, reminds of Laga chunari mein daag from Dil hi to hai. I haven’t seen Bada Aadmi but I won’t be surprised if here too the singer is the hero in disguise!
5. Pag ghungroo bole chhananan chhan by Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosle from Dev Kanya (1963), lyrics BD Mishra, music SN Tripathi
All four songs so far have been by Mohammad Rafi. Let’s now move on to his clone – Mahendra Kapoor, complemented beautifully by Asha Bhosle. The instrumental prelude, particularly the percussion, establishes the mood of the song well before the vocals start.
6. Aadha hai chandrama raat aadhi by Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosle from Navrang (1959), lyrics Bharat Vyas, music C Ramachandra
Another famous duet by Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosle. Navrang followed the success of Jhanak jhanak payal baaje by the same team, with the replacement of Gopi Krishna by Mahipal. Music by C Ramachandra was the strong point of both the films, as was the dancing prowess of Sandhya. C Ramachandra used Malkauns for two famous songs of this film, the other being Tu chhupi hai kahaan. Between the two, I prefer this one.
7. Mujhe na bula, chhup chhup chhaliya re by Lata Mangeshkar from Suvarna Sundari (1958), lyrics Bharat Vyas, music Adi Narayana Rao
My post on songs based on raga Pahadi, the third in this series, was dominated by female voices. Pahadi does seem to suit the female voice better. In contrast Malkauns is better suited to the male voice – although it used to be a favourite raga of female classical singers in the seventies when I had started learning the basics of classical music. A concert by an up and coming lady artiste would usually begin with Maru Bihag followed by a thumri before the break. After the break she would present Malkauns and then continue with light compositions as long as the audience wanted. This song composed by Adi Narayana Rao makes full use of the range and flexibility of Lata’s voice to create an evocative mood. It also saves me from the cardinal sin of doing a post on raga based songs without including a song by her.
8. Jaane bahar husn tera be-misaal hai by Mohammad Rafi from Pyar kiya to darna kya (1963), lyrics Shakeel Badayuni, music Ravi
We return to Mohammad Rafi with this ghazal. Malkauns is not a raga normally associated with this genre of music, but Ravi has done a great job of using the range of this raga to create the romantic mood typical of a ghazal. Rafi’s singing, as always, is impeccable. He seems to have a great fondness for Malkauns.
9. Saamaja vara gamana by S Janaki and S P Balasubrahmaniam from Shankarabharanam (1980), music K V Mahadevan
Frankly speaking, it is not Malkauns but Hindolam. But there is practically no difference between the two; at least I can’t discern any with my limited understanding of music. I saw this movie thrice for the music alone. The video evokes the simplicity that we take as the hallmark of Indian culture – the South has preserved it a lot better than the North. Rajya Lakshmi, the actress who plays the maestro’s young daughter, was known as Shankarabharanam Rajya Lakshmi after this film; although she went on to do many other significant roles.
10. Darbar mein upar wale ke andher nahin par deri hai by Kishore Kumar and Mahendra Kapoor from Hera Pheri (1976) music Kalyanji Anandji
The most effective jokes are told with a straight face. Malkauns is the musical equivalent of a straight face with its aura of majesty, solemnity and gravity. Kalyanji Anandji have used it very effectively in this humorous setting from the film Hera Pheri starring Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna. Despite a few liberties here and there the song remains fairly true to the raga. Amitabh and Vinod are good Samaritans whose noble mission is to separate people from their worldly goods, which are the source of all pain and suffering as the sages never tire of telling us. As humorous songs in Malkauns go there is also ‘Meri bhains ko danda kyun mara’ from ‘Pagla Kahin Ka’ but I prefer this one.
With this we come to the end of the list of film songs. I must confess here that I am a little disappointed. Films songs in Malkauns, with a couple of exceptions like Man tarpat, don’t quite do justice to the immense potential of this raga. When we come to the classical pieces, however, we have a veritable treasure awaiting us. I begin with a piece by Ustad Bismillah Khan that has become a part of musical folklore. Even those who have no interest in classical music will recognise its refrain. It has become as popular as Beethoven’s Für Elise and pops up in all sorts of places – filler tunes, caller tunes and what not.
The next classical piece ‘Kangna’ by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad from Coke Studio Pakistan season 4 is a truly amazing example of fusion music. It starts with the purest and possibly the least accessible form of classical music for lay audiences – the ‘nom tom’ alaap of Dhrupad ang – and combines it with western instruments to create something that charms even those who have no knowledge of classical music. It achieves this while remaining true to the raga. Those who like this piece would also like Khabaram rasida in Bageshri by the same duo.
Song number 9 from Shankarabharanam is a traditional composition by Thyagaraja. Here is Yesudas presenting it in its regular classical form.
Malkauns is a raga for the voice, not so much for the instrument. However, among the instrumental pieces this one by Nikhil Banerjee has carved a niche for itself in the pantheon of Malkauns.
I now come to the three greatest performances in Malkauns. Music lovers may differ on their relative ordering. I present them in reverse order of my preference, with the best coming last. The first is Pir na jani re by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, considered by many to be the greatest exponent of this raga.
For the next two I reproduce the comments from my favourite reference on classical music on the net www.parrikar.org. This is what it says – “When God created Malkauns, only two mortals were allowed the privilege of peeking over His shoulder while He was at work. Bhimsen Joshi and Amir Khan both owe their elevation to ‘Tansenhood’ to their extraordinary sway over Malkauns. To hear Bhimsen’s paga lagana de on a good day is to come away an ennobled being.” Here is the piece by Bhimsen Joshi.
This is what Parrikar says further about Amir Khan’s Malkauns – “Amir Khan‘s recording, on the other hand, is manna for the soul. The vilambit composition, jinke mana Rama biraaje, places its sam on the mandra komal nishad. To hear him enter the final ti-ra-ki-Ta orbit leading up to the sam is to experience moksha here and now. I will never forget the kaleidoscopic display of expressions and emotions that would envelope my father’s visage every time this LP perched on our turntable.”
Song number 10 was an example of the ‘straight face’ of Malkauns being used to tell a joke. That, however, is nothing compared to this recent masterpiece from Hyderabad Complaints Choir. The heritage setting, the dresses and mannerisms of the singer and the accompanists; and above all the purity of the raga have the gravity and solemnity one associates with it. I suspect that someone who knows Hindolam well but does not understand a word of Hindi – assuming that such a person exists – would take it as a serious classical performance. The humour and satire are entirely in the words.
Chinese music is pentatonic – it uses a scale of only five notes as opposed to seven in the Indian or Western music (see this Wikipedia link) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_musicology . I was one day searching for Chinese music on Youtube, hoping to find pieces that may correspond to pentatonic ragas of India like Bhopali, Durga, Malkauns etc. I was lucky with Malkauns. It also illustrates the point I made above that once you get the notes of Malkauns right, you can do anything with them and the output will sound like Malkauns. This lady artiste from China has perhaps never heard of Malkauns, but what she does can pass off as a fairly decent performance of this raga on santoor. Is there an opportunity here for the Indian Council for Cultural Relations? Is MEA listening?