As many devout Hindus celebrated the victory of the deity Rama over the demon king Ravana (and some even mourned the death of Raavan) during the Dussera festival on Tuesday, practitioners of Hindustani music followed the convention of worshipping their musical instruments and books on this day. In West Bengal, such worship is seen on Basant Panchami, the festival that heralds spring, on the day when the Saraswati Puja is held. For most of India, however, Dussera is the day for worshipping and celebrating knowledge.
There are several compositions in the Hindustani vocal repertoire that describe events from the Ramayana or are eulogies to the god.
Taking off from where we left off last Saturday, the first episode in our series on Hindustani vocal and instrumental renditions of "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram", here are some more interpretations of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan.
Amjad Ali Khan
Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan is one musician to have made this bhajan, also referred to as Ramdhun or prayer to Ram, and "Vaishnav Jan To", another of Gandhi’s favourite bhajans, integral parts of his concert repertoire.
These, along with a couple of songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore, seem to have captured the maestro’s imagination in recent years, as he uses them as themes for raag-based melodic elaboration.
Here is a track featuring his rendition of "Vaishnav Jan" To followed by "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram".
Beginning with a short aalaap in Mishra Khamaj, he embellishes the melodic line of "Vaishnav Jan To" and plays it as a free-flowing melody unaccompanied by any rhythm. Switching between octaves, he deviates from the main tune to elaborate on Khamaj. The performance with tabla incorporates portions that resemble thumri-dadra presentation as well as the elaboration heard in conventional gat or instrumental composition. He then moves to "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram" and adds flourishes of raag Kafi. The tempo soon increases to bring the recital to a climactic end.
Interestingly, several Hindustani musicians have adapted "Raghupati Raghav Raja Rama" for recordings with acoustic and electronic instruments and for fusion concerts.
The next tracks features flautist Ronu Mazumdar’s interpretation of the bhajan. He begins with a short aalaap in the raag Jaijaivanti. He then embellishes the main melodic line, without overtly deviating to any other raag. The backing track has acoustic and electronic instruments.
The popular and prodigiously talented sitar player Niladri Kumar interprets the "Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram" with his fusion band. He plays the electric sitar that he calls zitar, encouraging the audience to sing along as he plays an embellished version of the main melody and then goes on to play double strokes over the same melodic line.
Jumping over notes in quick succession, he reaches up to the upper octave making conscious efforts at making the listening experience as foot-tapping and exhilarating as possible.
Before I end, I cannot help but include a couple of renditions by famous non-Indian performers. This is a track by American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, who is said to have presented this in Kolkata around 1963.
The last track features the popular band from London, Osibisa, comprising three Ghanaian and three Caribbean musicians, performing in Bengaluru in 2013.