Most Hindustani music concerts are held in the evenings and finish by around 10 pm. Earlier, concerts would go on through the night, but the law now prohibits open-air concerts after 10 pm, and audiences in big cities are in a hurry to get back home. Concerts are also held in the mornings, but these are few and far between. As a result, raags prescribed for the morning are not heard as much as those performed in the evening or at night. Sadly, of the raags that are heard in the morning, Bilawal, also called Alhaiya Bilawal, is not as frequently heard. This despite the fact that the raag is also treated as a parent scale and has a significant presence not only in its individual capacity but also as one that lends some of its characteristic features to other raags.
The second episode of our series on Bilawal features two sitar expositions of this raag. The first track features sitar maestro Vilayat Khan (1928-2004). He renders a medium-paced composition set to Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time units. The gat or instrumental composition superbly captures the contours of the raag. After using the gat to launch into short vistaar or free-flowing melodic elaboration, he moves to long taan passages, which are swift melodic runs across the gamut. They display his virtuosity, but are not aggressive. They seem to emerge seamlessly out of the gat and return in a similar manner.
He is accompanied on the tabla by Banaras gharana exponent Kishan Maharaj (1923-2008).
The second track features sitar maestro Ravi Shankar (1920-2012). He plays an extended aalaap or introductory unaccompanied chapter before moving to the jod, a pulse-driven unaccompanied section. Listeners will note passages that are reminiscent of the rudra veena and surbahar and that demonstrate the strong influence of the dhrupad style on his presentation. The taans that follow, the repetitive plucking of the chikari or the last strings tuned to the upper tonic, and the other strings resonating with the main strings, keep the listeners on their toes.