Guest article by Subodh Agrawal
(Subodh returns, after some gap, with an outstanding article on Desh and its close variant, Tilak Kamod. Some of the most iconic songs, such as ‘Dukh ke ab din beetat nahi’, ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Baje sargam har taraf se goonj bankar Desh Raga’ are in Desh. He also includes the concluding portion of Tagore’s dance drama ‘Shyama’, which is one of the most poignant and beautiful compositions in Desh you can find anywhere. The classical pieces he has included are recognised landmarks in these Ragas. He combines his great taste in music with a precision in writing he has acquired from his training in Physics and Mathematics in IIT. – AK)
For my sixth article in this series I have opted for one of the most pleasing of the ragas – Desh. Along with it I also include its closely related cousin – Tilak Kamod, because Tilak Kamod would perhaps not merit a separate post by itself, and the two go together quite well. Both these ragas have strong roots in folk melodies. Because of this they are often dismissed as minor ragas, which – in my opinion – is grossly unfair.
Desh is classified as audav-sampoorna. It means that it uses only five notes – sa, re, ma, pa and ni – in the ascent, while all the seven are used in the descent. All notes except ni are shuddha. Niis shuddha in ascent, but komal in descent. Let me illustrate the characteristic ascent and descent of Desh with the help of one of the most well known compositions – the original version of Vande Mataram. I believe it was composed by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur.
The first ‘Vande Mataram’ takes us from sa to pa, and the second from ma to the upper sa. The entire octave is thus covered in this short movement. In contrast ‘Sujala-a-a-m’ takes a slow descent from komal ni via dha to pa; while ‘Suphala-a-a-m’ takes us down from ma to re via ga. Rapid ascent and leisurely descent are the chief characteristics of this raga and make it very easy to identify, even for beginners. Playing with differing emphasis on the ascent and descent allows the composers to use this raga to express a wide range of emotions from agonizingly sombre to playfully romantic, as the selection of songs below illustrates. I have arranged the songs according to the mood – from the saddest to the most joyous. In the process I have had to zigzag through the timeline.
1. Dukh ke ab din beetat naahin by K L Saigal from Devdas (1935), lyrics Kidar Sharma, music by Timir Baran
This is the iconic song of Desh. The composer has used the slow descent of Desh to express the agony of separation from one’s beloved in a manner that touches the listener’s heart. Saigal has used Desh again in the opening part of ‘Jeevan been madhur na baje’ but that song departs from the raga after the initial slow movement.
2. Aayee ritu sawan ki by Kumari Faiyaz and Bhupendra from Alaap (1977), lyrics Dr Rahi Masoom Raza, music by Jaidev
Bhupendra has been among the most underrated singers of the Industry. His voice can really haunt, as it does in this song. He is wonderfully complemented by Kumari Faiyaz. Internet search has unearthed a few more songs by this intriguingly named singer, but hasn’t thrown up much information on her background, training etc. I would love to know more.
3. Kadam chale aage by K L Saigal from Bhakta Surdas (1942), lyrics DN Madhok, music by Gyan Dutt
We return to Saigal and the 1940s with a change of mood. It is no longer sad but reflective. One would like to forget the past and get on with one’s life, but the mind defies control and keeps harking back. There is a tinge of regret, but with a philosophical attitude towards it.
4. Phir kahin koi phool khila by Manna Dey from Anubhav (1971), lyrics Kapil Kumar, music by Kanu Roy
Anubhav is a film I remember for several reasons. It was the first ‘mature’ film that made sense to people of my generation. After this film I felt confident enough to leave my teens behind and count myself among adults. I would never forget Tanuja in what was perhaps her best role. The music director Kanu Roy will always have my gratitude for bringing my favourite singer Geeta Dutt back from oblivion; sadly she passed away soon after.
This song by Manna Dey has a quiet introspective mood and the composer has used the slower descending movements of Desh very effectively to bring this out.
5. Sakhi ri chitchor nahin aaye by Geeta Dutt from Jogan (1950), Pt. Indra, music by Bulo C Rani
The mood gets playful now. The words suggest separation, but the tempo of the song and Geeta Dutt’s voice create the ambience of light-hearted romance. The mood is enhanced by Nargis’s impish smile and fluttering eyelids. She has rarely looked as good as this. This film had several Meera Bhajans sung by Geeta Dutt. The composer Bulo C Rani would be remembered for this movie even if he had done nothing else in his career.
6. Milne ka din aa gaya by K L Saigal and Suraiya from Tadbir (1945), lyrcs Swami Ramanand, music by Lal Mohammad
The playful mood gets stronger, with some good natured banter between Saigal and Suraiya. This song was a discovery for me while researching raga Desh. The composer has kept the descending movements short for creating the required mood.
7. Gori tore nain kajar bin kare kare by Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle from Main Suhagan Hoon (1964), lyrics Kaifi Azmi, music by Lachhiram
We now have a full-blooded classical song with all the alaaps, taans and accompanying instruments that one associates with a classical performance. The mood is joyous and culminates in a dance. Both Rafi and Asha display their classical virtuosity, though one must admit that Asha has an edge over Rafi in this song. Would the actors in the song be Kewal Kumar and Nishi? They are definitely not Ajit and Mala Sinha – the lead pair of the movie.
8. Saiyan jao jao by Lata Mangeshkar from Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955), lyrics Hasrat Jaipuri, music by Vasant Desai
I end the list of film songs in Desh with the most playful and happy song that I know in this raga. The opening parts of the stanzas depart considerably from the raga, but the song keeps returning to it. Overall the impression is very much of Desh.
There is something intriguing about the picturisation of this song. Sandhya is apparently upset with Gopi Krishna. She is telling him to go away and not to talk to her or bother her. However, all this while she continues to pamper him. In the interest of ‘man’kind I would wish all women would learn this important lesson and behave with us like this when they are upset!
I now move to Tilak Kamod. Like Gorakh Kalyan, which has nothing at all to do with Kalyan, this raga too has no relationship whatever with Kamod – one of the ragas I had covered in the fourth article of this series. I remember a simple recipe for playing this raga given by a music teacher – play Desh, but keep breaking its rules of ascent and descent. In a sense it gives greater freedom to the artist as compared to Desh. Surprisingly this greater freedom does not result in a greater expressive range. We have seen the range of moods Desh can express. Tilak Kamod, on the other hand, has a narrow range, falling somewhere in the middle of Desh – it is neither very sad, nor as joyous as Desh can be. Within its narrow range, however, it can be incredibly beautiful – as the four songs below illustrate.
9. Thandi thandi sawan ki phuhar by Asha Bhosle from Jagte Raho (1956), lyrics Shailendra, music by Salil Chowdhary
This song is my personal bonus for writing this article. I had seen Jagte Raho years back but didn’t remember this song. I guess the setting in the movie, with an inebriated Motilal forcing his abused wife to sing, is not in keeping with the sensuous and romantic mood of the song. I re-discovered it while researching this article and it charmed me completely. I am sure it would have found a place in AK’s post on songs of Asha Bhosle, if it had not been lost to popular memory.
10. Hiya jarat rahat din rain by Mukesh from Godaan (1963), lyrics Anjaan, music by Pandit Ravi Shankar
Mukesh was the master of folk, and Pandit Ravi Shankar excelled in composing Tilak Kamod. The combination has produced one of the most haunting folk based film songs. The words of the song talk of pain, but the mood of the video is one of rural idyll – something that goes very well with this raga.
11. Yeh neer kahan se barse hai by Lata Mangeshkar from Prem Parbat (1973), lyrics Padma Sachdev, music by Jaidev
If I remember the film Prem Parbat at all, it is because of two songs – ‘Yeh dil aur unki nigahon ke saaye’ which was covered in my post on raga Pahadi, and this one in Tilak Kamod. Jaidev has excelled in creating the soft romantic mood that fits Tilak Kamod perfectly.
12. Neer bharan kaise jaaoon by Ahmad Jahanzeb from Khuda Kay Liye (Pakistan 2007), music by Ahmad Jahanzeb, Kami Jee and Mark Berlin
This one is from across the border and way out of the range of SoY. However, it deserves inclusion here as it is the purest example of Tilak Kamod in film music in the subcontinent. The hero of our movie has gone to Chicago for higher study in music. In the introductory class each student is asked to play or sing a piece by way of introduction. As he sings the other students also join with their instruments. The movie itself was an eye-opener. The very fact that such a movie was made and did well on the box office makes one question several negative assumptions about our neighbour.
Just like the singer Kumari Faiyaz, I have also failed to unearth any substantive information on the composer Mark Berlin. I would look forward to help from learned readers of SoY.
I will now present a few classical pieces. I begin with Tilak Kamod. This piece by Pandit D V Paluskar is short, but explores the complete range of the raga. It could be called the iconic composition in this raga:
Tilak Kamod was one of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s favourites. We have heard his composition from Godan above. We now hear him present this raga in its full classical glory. This piece is long and you would need free time to enjoy it at leisure. Those who are pressed for time may skip to the 29 minute mark, where the alaap, jod and jhala ends and the ‘gat’ or the rhythmic composition starts.
I now come to raga Desh. I begin with a semi-classical composition from Tagore’s dance drama Shyama. Bajrasen and Shyama are in love. Bajrasen gets into serious trouble with the King’s men over a supposed theft. Uttiyo, who also loves Shyama, comes forward to confess to the crime to save his beloved’s lover, and suffers the death penalty. Bajrasen is horrified to discover that Shyama allowed an innocent man to die to save him and disowns her. Later, however, he is overtaken with remorse at his inability to be generous to her. Here in the final piece of the long dance-drama he seeks forgiveness of the lord. Tagore has used Desh masterfully to bring out the agony of Bajrasen in a poignant manner. ‘Khomibe na, khomibe na, aamaro khomaheenota, paapi jan sharan probhu.’ Thou shalt not forgive me for my lack of forgiveness.
Because of its name and easy popular appeal Desh is a favourite for patriotic compositions. We have already heard Vande mataram in this raga. Desh has been used in the background theme in the recently released movie ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Deepa Shahi. We keep hearing it – mostly on sarod and flute – throughout the movie. It has been used by the music director to symbolize the spirit of India – something that is as important a part of the movie’s theme as the lives of its principal characters.
I recall this very popular medley in Desh by a galaxy of classical artists from all over India.
The most popular bhajan in Desh is Kabir’s Chadariya jheeni re jheeni. The most well known recording is by Anup Jalota. I am, however, not using it here because I could not locate any video of his in which he confines himself to singing and does not stray into preaching. Instead, I present a very simple but beautiful rendering by an unknown artist:
Pandit Jasraj is as good in his bhajans as in classical performances. This bhajan in Desh, in two parts, by him gives the listener a devotional experience that can only be described as ‘immersive’. One feels immersed in spirituality as his mellifluous voice explores the full range of the raga:
I now present my personal favourite in Desh. This is an audio by Ali Akbar Khan in Des Malhar. The alaap is in Des Malhar, which is mostly Desh with just a little touch of Malhar. At nine minutes into the recording a gat in Desh starts with a magical lilt. The mood is best captured by the Hindi word jhoomna. The accompanist on the tabla adds to the mood by sort of caressing the tabla, instead of simply striking it, to make it talk. To fully enjoy the recording you may need to turn up the speakers as the recording is at a low volume. It will make your heart dance, even if you manage to keep your feet still.
I close with a mention of Sorath, the older raga from which Desh is derived. The two are very similar. The major difference is that in Sorath the descent from ma to re is taken as a single glide or meend without explicitly showing the intervening note ga, while Desh uses ga explicitly. According to Pandit Ramshreya Jha Ramrang on www.parrikar.org the explicit use of ga made Desh very sweet and appealing as compared to Sorath and it rapidly overtook the older raga in popularity.
Here is a piece in Sorath by Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur: