Two weeks ago, this column started a series on Gauri, a raag prescribed for the evening. Today, we move to compound raags that use elements of Gauri and another raag. The first of these is called Lalita Gauri, and is particularly popular with vocalists of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana.
Lalita Gauri brings together phrases of Lalit, a raag prescribed for the early hours of the morning, and those of Gauri. It uses the characteristic phrases of Gauri, such as those that highlight the mandra saptak Nishad or lower octave or seventh, and the peculiar twists involved in the avroha or descending movement from the upper tonic or the madhya saptak Pancham or the middle octave fifth back to the middle octave tonic. But the use of the natural and sharp fourth or Madhyam in a sequential manner, as is done in Lalit, lends special character to this raag. The natural fourth has a luminous presence, but is immediately shaded with the sharp fourth.
We feature a detailed exposition of Lalita Gauri presented in a live concert by the inimitable Kesarbai Kerkar of the Jaipur-Atrauli tradition. She sings a vilambit or slow khayal, a creation of the 18th Century Niamat Khan “Sadarang” set to Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time-units.
Kerkar projects her voice and explores the intricacies of the raag with an open-throated aakaar using the vowel “aa”. Interestingly, though she increases the melodic intensity and denseness, not for a moment does the listener lose out on the expansive quality her singing brings to each succeeding avartan or cycle of the rhythmic canvas.
After exploring the parameters of the raag through the vistaar or free-flowing melodic elaboration, she moves to taans or quick melodic passages. This is a superb demonstration of Kerkar’s prowess over taans. She unleashes a variety of taans that include sequential patterns, long jumps across octaves at times reaching the upper octave, double note patters, repetition of a single note followed by a longer phrase, call and response patterns involving similar phrasing around different melodic centres, spiralling taans moving up and down the octave, and many more. She frequently breaks the taan patterns by inserting unpredictable, intricate and complex twists only to land on the sam or the first matra of the approaching cycle with a suddenness that takes the listener completely by surprise.
But the hallmark of her taans is the fact that they are so well chiseled that there is never a moment when their speed obfuscates the intonation or accuracy of pitch. She also judiciously introduces melodic relief with long notes and meends or slow glides between notes going up to the upper tonic and beyond. In fact, the tonal quality of her voice does not change even when she holds forth on phrases around the upper fifth. It is as full-throated and clear as it is in the lower and middle octaves.