Hindustani musicians are often asked if they have any personal favourites from among the pantheon of raags. Those who choose to be politically correct reply that they are drawn to all raags equally and do not dislike any. But the total concert repertoire of most musicians reveals definite choices. While this does not necessarily mean that they are not familiar with other raags, it is obvious that they have favourites.

There have been instances of celebrated musicians performing only a only a handful of raags throughout their concert career, but lending those raags a flavour that is very much their own. In fact, in some cases, certain raags have become so closely associated with specific musicians that audiences prefer not to hear them performed by others. The latter view seems lopsided given the fact that Hindustani music allows for and encourages multiple interpretations of the same raag, and audiences should therefore respect this diversity.

On the other hand, there are some musicians who present a variety of raags, but handle them in a formulaic manner. As a result, the multiplicity of raags does not serve any useful purpose. In other words, the existence of a wide variety of raags in a musician’s concert repertoire is not necessarily an indicator of creativity in performance.

Change of heart

But just as musicians have favourites among raags, there are also instances when they completely dislike certain raags. This may seem like a blasphemous statement for die-hard Hindustani music fans, but the fact remains that musicians have avoided presenting some raags. Their decision could have been guided by the fact that they have not learnt these raags or because they just do not find them appealing enough for various reasons.

I must candidly admit that one raag I could not enjoy for several years was Shuddha Saarang, one of the many varieties in the Saarang family of raags. For the longest time, Shuddha Saarang was one of the few raags that was broadcast on the All India Radio almost every afternoon. There were a limited number of compositions selected by vocalists in this raag and the renditions seemed excruciating at the time. Perhaps, it was my young and uninformed mind that rebelled against this raag, but I clearly remember the day that the image of this raag was transformed for me by a single recital that I heard.

Coincidentally, this was also a recording broadcast on All India Radio, but it was refreshingly different and captivating. This was a rendition by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the Patiala gharana stalwart.

I would like to share this track in the second episode of the series on the Saarang family. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sings the first composition in slow or vilambit Ektaal, a cycle of 12 matras or time-units, followed by a drut or fast Teentaal, a cycle of sixteen matras. Both compositions are his creations. This is the third track on the compilation accessible here (listen to it here).

Listeners will note that Vrindavani Saarang that was discussed in last week’s episode contains the komal and shuddha varieties of Nishad, the seventh note. Gandhar and Dhaivat, the third and sixth notes, respectively, are omitted. The other notes are all shuddha notes. On the other hand, Shuddha Saarang uses shuddha and teevra Madhyam, the two shades of the fourth note, and does not use komal Nishad.