Song-texts for khayal generally have themes such as nature, love, the status of the guru, prayers to different deities and eulogies to kings, or those with a religious or spiritual import. Of these song-texts, not all are of a high literary order, nor do they always convey a profound meaning.
One reason for this could be the varying significance given to the song-texts of khayals across gharanas. Also, the song-text in khayal performance is not always used to represent a specific image, and is instead, or in addition, used for its phonetic value. In other words, the vowels and consonants merge with the melody and rhythm to conjure sound patterns that are far removed from the literary content.
At times, this causes some consternation among uninitiated listeners, as they are left wondering why a certain word is manipulated beyond recognition or repeated endlessly. But a closer listen and further exposure to this form of music reveals the infinite possibilities of elaboration.
But there are times when song-texts can be quite mundane in the choice of words as well as the imagery. In such moments, it is left to the vocalist to negotiate them skillfully to bring to the fore the beauty of the raag and create a suitable mood.
Indeed, some would stay clear of such compositions, but others would perhaps accept them as a challenge.
The eighth part of the series on raag Yaman begins with one such composition presented by Jasraj, doyen of the Mewati gharana. Set to teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time-units, the sthayi, or first part, of the composition is a straightforward statement about a paagal manavaa (a crazed mind) that is left to fend for itself, in the absence of any concern from others. The antara, or second part of the composition tells us that this state of mind is the result of unrequited love brought about by an unfaithful partner. Such a line could potentially pose a problem to the vocalist, as any efforts at elaborating upon the word paagal placed significantly on the sam/sum – or the point of resolution – on the first matra, could border on the comical. But the vocalist deftly moves away from this word and builds manavaa instead.
Using taans delivered in aakaar with the vowel “aa” and with sargam or solfège, he focuses on the melodic content of the raag. Listeners will note the use of murkis, or grace notes as an important embellishment.
The second track features a devotional piece based on raag Yaman dedicated to Lord Krishna. This verse written by the saint-poet Surdas, belongs to the Vaishnav temple tradition, and is conventionally sung in the Haveli Sangeet form. Here, the literary content takes precedence and cannot be used merely as a vehicle to project the vocalist’s technical skill. The Mewati maestro, known to render Vaishnav verses in several common and uncommon raags, remains faithful to these requirements as he moves through the verse enunciating each word with care and without any flourishes of taans and other technical devices.
Set to a cycle that is commonly referred to as bhajani theka, an eight- matra cycle, the climax is brought about with the percussionists changing to double tempo towards the end as the vocalist creates an ecstatic mood by continuing a free-flowing refrain of the word Gopal, another name for Krishna, that floats over the rhythmic canvas.