Archival sources repeatedly remind us that the world was never a monochromatic place as is imagined by some people. Resuming our series on bhajans sung by Hindustani vocalists, today we listen to tracks that help us understand the manner in which musicians in the past have interpreted devotional poetry in multiple ways and have not necessarily restricted themselves to what we consider to be the archetypal bhajan rendition today.
There are several moments when such interpretations borrow from thumri, dadra, tappa, ghazal, and other forms. Perhaps, this will dispel the notion of musical interpretations of devotional poetry always being “light”.
We begin with a short track featuring thumri exponent Siddheshwari Devi. She sings couplets with a devotional import, which are written in the ghazal form. The melody is set to Kaherva, a cycle of eight matras or time-units. Listeners will note the flexibility in free-flowing melodic elaboration, which includes traces of different raags and excursions into taans as well.
Agra gharana maestro Faiyaz Khan sings a Sanskrit verse in a manner that borrows heavily from tappa as is noticeable from the short, quick and unpredictable twists in melodic phrases. Composed in the raag Kafi, the verse is set to a medium tempo 16-matra Teentaal.
Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, one of the chief exponents of the Gwalior gharana, sings a devotional song-text written by the sixteenth- and seventeenth century saint-poet Tulsidas. It is composed in the raag Pilu and set to the 16-matra Teentaal. Listeners will notice the influence of bandish ki thumri and tappa.
Sharadchandra Arolkar, an exponent of the Gwalior gharana, sings a pada also written by the Tulsidas. Composed in the raag Pahadi and set to the six-matra Dadra, it has clear influences of the dadra form.
Kirana gharana maestro Abdul Karim Khan sings a pada written by sixteenth-century saint-poet Meerabai. Once again, the influence of thumri on this rendition is easily discernible. The composition is set to the 16-matra Jat taal.