If there were one Hindustani raga that could be considered an all-time favourite with a cross-section of musicians and listeners, it would probably be Bhairavi.  Back in the days when concerts ended at dawn, Bhairavi, a morning raga, was often performed as the concluding piece.

This convention and the raga's popularity has led it to becoming the grand finale of most concerts, even if they end by 10 pm.  In fact, many people request the musician to sing or play Bhairavi as an encore piece.

Bhairavi uses all twelve notes of the scale, and therefore, lends itself to several kinds of expression through melodic improvisation. That it has the potential to produce a variety of shades and colours is evident from the fact that the thumri-dadra light classical genres also have numerous compositions that are based on this raga. Many of the these have influenced instrumentalists to either reproduce them through their chosen medium or to compose new pieces that highlight instrumental technique and virtuosity.

To explore raga Bhairavi in all its splendour, below are seven videos featuring renowned sitar players.

We begin with a piece by Mushtaq Ali Khan, a respected scholar-musician of the Senia gharana of sitar playing, recorded in the early 1970s. The artiste is accompanied by his disciples Debu Chaudhari and Nirmal Guha Thakurta.  It features an aalaap, the improvisation without rhythmic accompaniment that opens the presentation of a raga.

Mushtaq Ali Khan’s exposition in Bhairavi continues in the second video with a gat or instrumental composition in the sixteen count teentala.  Tabla accompaniment is provided by Anand Gopal Bandopadhyaya and Zameer Ahmed.

The next clip begins with a brief discussion between the internationally acclaimed Ravi Shankar and flamenco virtuoso Paco de Lucia, which mentions Bhairavi in passing.  But a major part of the recording has a climactic jhala, a fast-paced improvisatory form, accompanied on the tabla by maestro Alla Rakha.

The lyrical Bhairavi presentation in this recording is the result of a farmaish, or request, made by the tabla player, Kishan Maharaj, one of the foremost exponents of the Banaras gharana of tabla playing, to sitar wizard Vilayat Khan. Vilayat Khan’s trendsetting style, which took the instrumental Etawah baaj, or style of playing, of Imdad Khan and Inayat Khan closer to vocal music is evident in this recording.

Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan, a major innovator at a time when Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan were known as the foremost sitar players, displays his virtuosic Jafferkhani baaj. Here, Khan is accompanied on the tabla by Sadashiv Pawar.

This live concert recording features Maihar-Senia gharana exponent Nikhil Bannerjee.

Rais Khan uses Sindhi Bhairavi as a base, but deviates from it to explore chromatic passages and weave a ragamala, or a garland of ragas.