Sonic Saturday

Listen: The challenging raag Bilawal comes alive in these two sarod recitals

The third episode of our series on the morning raag features performances by Buddhadev Dasgupta and Allauddin Khan.

Bilawal, a raag prescribed for the morning according to the Hindustani music raag-time theory, has a vakra chalan or crooked or zigzag movement of notes rather than the latter appearing in a consecutive linear ascending and descending order. Due to this, presenting this raag in a grammatically correct manner while also being able to evoke an aesthetically appealing melodic structure proves to be a challenge for performers.

As mentioned in the first part of the series on Bilawal, this raag utilises all shuddha notes or those that do not have any komal or flat and teevra or sharp varieties. Consequently, some even refer to this raag as Shuddha Bilawal and differentiate this from the more popularly known Alhaiya Bilawal, because of the use of the komal Nishad or flat seventh in the latter. However, some scholars believe that even Shuddha Bilawal uses the komal Nishad as a grace note in the descent. Most vocal compositions in this raag, therefore, use the komal Nishad.

In the third episode of this series, we feature two sarod recitals. The first is an exposition of Shuddha Bilawal played on the sarod by Buddhadev Dasgupta (1933-2018), an illustrious representative of the Senia-Shahjahanpur gharana. He plays an introductory unaccompanied aalaap followed by a robust jod with bold java or plectrum strokes set to a regular pulse. This is followed by a gat or instrumental composition set to Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time units. Quite early into the gat, Dasgupta chooses to launch into a series of taans that employ intricate right-hand stroke patterns. He employs many well-crafted tihais to resolve his melodic elaborations.

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We conclude with Alhaiya Bilawal played by sarod maestro Allauddin Khan (1862-1972), the founder of the Maihar-Senia gharana. He plays aalaap and jod sections before moving to the gat set to Teentaal. After a few aavartans or cycles of vistaar or free-flowing melodic elaboration over the rhythmic canvas, the maestro enters into a lively dialogue with the tabla player. Later, he changes to a drut or fast-paced gat also set to Teentaal. The performance ends with a jhala that involves repetitive percussive java strokes.

Although this recording was probably made when the maestro was at an advanced age, it is an important document of his style.

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