For the Hindustani music enthusiast, no monsoon can be enjoyed enough without experiencing the Malhars, a group of raags prescribed for this season. This column has featured an article on the Malhars earlier. But today, we focus on Mia ki Malhar, the most popular among all Malhars, and its interpretation by Amir Khan (1912-1974) one of the most significant vocalists in the second half of the 20th century and a pioneer in creating what has come to be known as the Indore gharana.
Amir Khan’s presentation of Mia ki Malhar, a raag considered to have been created by the 16th-century vocalist and composer Mia Tansen, has always been considered by musicians and aficionados as one of the most iconic interpretations of the raag. The recording featured here was made for the All India Radio National Programme of Music in 1958, but it continues to haunt listeners to this day.
The maestro begins with a traditional composition that forms a part of almost every gharana’s repertoire. A creation of the 18th-century composer Feroze Khan “Adarang”, the composition is an acknowledgement of the grace of the Almighty, a plea for the removal of all sorrow and poverty and a supplication for happiness to all. This composition has been sung in various taals by different vocalists, but Amir Khan chooses to sing it in an ati-vilambit or very slow-paced Jhumra, a cycle of 14 matras or time-units.
In fact, the pace and the choice of taal seem to be personal favourites with him for most slow compositions as is evident in most of his recordings. Using this expansive rhythmic canvas, he constructs a magnificent aural edifice for which adjectives such as brooding, meditative, contemplative, or any others, seem to stop short of representing fully the extent of his artistic creation.
Using very gradual meends or glides between notes and oscillating slowly between the flat and sharp seventh in the lower octave, Amir Khan brings to the fore the gravity of the raag and the composition. His unhurried exploration of this melodic region and the resolution on the tonic creates a hypnotic effect, completely soaking the listener in the mood of the raag.
He reaches up to the Pancham or the fifth of the middle octave only to slide back to the komal gandhara or the flat third and oscillate it on it slowly. He introduces taans or swift oscillating melodic passages sung in aakaar or using the vowel “aa” or at times even using the words of the song-text.
He concludes the recital with a drut or fast-paced composition in the 16-matra Teentaal.