Many of us who had our mornings ushered in with music broadcasts on the All India Radio began the day with the radiant strains of shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan’s rendition of morning raags. But for those who were not as fortunate, here is a track featuring Bismillah Khan’s presentation of the morning raag Bhairav in the sixth episode of our series on the raag.
Khan plays a medium tempo composition set to Teentaal, a cycle of sixteen time units or matras. After exploring the raag through free-flowing melodic passages, he moves to more rhythmic patterns. Members of the shehnai ensemble provide a constant and unswerving tonic as he navigates through the performance. Some of the melodic patterns resemble formulaic sequences, but he does not allow for any monotony to set in. At other times, he changes the tempo and adds variety by playing simple passages followed by intricate filigree work.
Khan’s presentations are always marked by their close resemblance to vocal music. Not only does he incorporate ornamentations that are integral to vocal renditions, but he also dwells greatly on the pukaar or the literal and figurative calling out or yearning best represented by great vocalists. He demonstrates this aspect in a small clip where he likens the performance of raag music to a prayer to the divine. Here, he moves from the azaan or the Islamic call for prayer to the sthayi or first part of a traditional composition in raag Bhairav that is set to the ten-matra Jhaptaal.
This composition is a good example of the interconnections that exist between raag music repertoire and the qawwali tradition. Here is a qawwali interpretation of the composition performed by Farid Ayaaz and Abu Mohammad, prominent qawwals of Pakistan. As is conventional in qawwali renditions, the elaboration incorporates diverse poetic texts other than the original composition and melodic and rhythmic devices that are also found in khayal recitals.