Guest article by Subodh Agrawal
(Followers of SoY are familiar with Subodh’s elegant writings on songs based on classical ragas. He surpasses himself with this article on one of the most popular and accessible ragas – Malkaus – which he describes as the greatest pentatonic raga. He bears his scholarship lightly with his fluent and easy style of writing. Here is his fifth article in the series – 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, 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:
and Kaushik Dhwani
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 Kashayp ‘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.