Raagmala or a "garland of raags", also known as raagsagar or "sea of raags", is a form that has been popular in Hindustani instrumental renditions.  Unlike its vocal counterpart, the instrumental raagmala is more fluid as it is not restricted by a poetic text.

As discussed in this column last week , raagmalas that are sung have a series of raags that are strung together with the names of each raag appearing in the text to signify the melodic changes.  Since such a text is absent in instrumental recitals, it is left to the performer’s discretion to choose a raag as a theme or a refrain for the raagmala and also choose other raags that can be strung together not necessarily in a particular order.

Notably, though, the success of an instrumental rendition of a raagmala  hinges not on the number of raags that a performer knows and can arrange sequentially, but on the fact that the choice is made on an aesthetic basis and to provide a judicious balance of melodic and tonal tension and resolution.

Sultan Khan

Well-known sarangi player Sultan Khan plays a raagmala using raag Khamaj as the fulcrum.  He sings the sthayi or first line of the bandish ki thumri set to Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time units.   Instead of maintaining a continuous narrative through the raagmala, Sultan Khan introduces every raag as a new chapter and sings the sthayi of popular khayal compositions in each of the raags.  The raag medley begins with raag Yaman at 5.20’ after which he introduces raag Shankara at 10.55’ and raag Shahana at 15.08’.  Raag Basant begins at 18.12’, raag Darbari Kanada at 22.12’, raag Bihag at 25.29’, and raag Khamaj returns at 28.56.

Amir Khan and Bismillah Khan

The raagmala concept has also been borrowed by Hindi cinema.  Here is a track from Goonj Uthi Shehnai that is a medley of raags to portray the passage of time in the film's narrative.  Eminent vocalist Amir Khan sings, with shehnai virtuoso Bismillah Khan providing melodic interludes.

Ghulam Mustafa Khan

A similar treatment is lent in the next track from the film Umrao Jaan.  Doyen of the Sahaswan-Rampur gharana Ghulam Mustafa Khan introduces popular compositions in each raag chosen for this raagmala.