Sonic Saturday

Listen: A sombre rendition of the usually upbeat Kaharvaa taal, to mirror these sombre times

A ghazal rendition by Begum Akhtar marks the fourth episode of our series on the eight-matra taal.

Kaharvaa, also called Kerva in Maharashtra, is believed by some to be a taal inspired by the gait of the kahaar or the palanquin-bearer. In fact, there is a special song-form called kaharvaa that was originally sung by the kahaars. But examples of this song-form that I have heard are in Dadra, a cycle of six matras or time-units, and not in the eight-matra Kaharvaa that we are discussing in our series on this taal. Perhaps, there are other songs in this category, which are set to Kaharvaa.

Interestingly, kaharvaa or kerba is also a song and dance sequence that has been mentioned in 19th-century sources. For instance, 19th-century commentator K Raghunathji included the kerba as one of the types of dance performances presented in Bombay by professional women performers. Though his description does not give us an idea of the musical form, here is an illustration of what he described as the kerba:

“She puts on a Maratha turban (as worn by sipahis in public offices) or a gold embroidered skull-cap, incluned a little to her left ear, and with her thin small hands imitates the flying of the kite, and her eyes are turned upwards. When performing this part of her dance her tightly knitted drapery shows the form of her round limbs. At times she rolls a part of her dupata, holding one end between her teeth and the other in both hands, the fingers indicating playing on a flute. She does not exactly dance, but revolves in the midst of the audience, and sings with a charming simplicity, which is the supreme effort of these Muhammadan and Hindu women...” 

— K Raghunathji, 'Bombay Dancing Girls', Jas Burgess, The Indian Antiquary: A Journal of Oriental Research, Vol.XIII-1884, reprinted by Swati Publications, Delhi, 1984, p.174

As is evident, thus, there could be many explanations for the choice of nomenclature of this taal, but the fact remains that each of them have contributed to our current understanding of Kaharvaa.

But in the fourth episode of the series on Kaharvaa, I will move away from its conventional sprightly nature. The gloom and anger that surrounds us in the aftermath of the rapes in Kathua and Unnao and the absolutely callous and inhuman behaviour of those defending the perpetrators of these crimes, demands this and more.

I will leave the listeners with a ghazal rendition by Begum Akhtar. Penned by Meer Taqi Meer (1722/23-1810), it is set to an even-paced Kaharvaa played by tabla exponent Mohammad Ahmed Khan.


The text of the ghazal can be found here and a translation is available here.

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