Though Bhairavi is a raag prescribed for the morning as per the Hindustani raag-time equation, it is conventionally performed at any time of the day to conclude many a concert. Traditionally, it uses the flattened versions of all notes, but several performers employ all 12 notes. This creates a wide melodic canvas for limitless exploration, and it is for this reason that the raag is used most prolifically in thumri, dadra, tappa, ghazal, bhajan and other forms, which allow more flexibility with regard to the grammar of the raag.
Needless to say, this does not for a moment suggest an anarchic display of all 12 notes. There are at times chromatic movements that are not otherwise heard in raag music, but these appear only as flashes and are more characteristic in certain styles.
As 2019 draws to a close, it is perhaps a good moment to conclude with Bhairavi – though we will continue the Bhairavi series in the weeks to come.
For today, I have chosen a few renditions of a well-known thumri Ras ke Bhare Tore Nain. Listeners will note that the word nain landing on the sam/sum or the first matra or time-unit of the rhythmic cycle is sung differently by some of the artistes. All recordings end with the laggi section on the tabla in which the tabla player changes from the original taal and tempo to double and quadruple tempo in a four or eight matra cycle.
We begin with the inimitable Siddheshwari Devi, an exponent of the Purab style. She sings this thumri in the eight-matra Kaherva. In this poignant rendition, the word nain is placed on Madhyam or the fourth note. The song-text contains the name “Gauhar”, which suggests that this composition may have been created by Gauhar Jan.
Begum Akhtar places the word nain on Pancham or the fifth and sings this thumri in the 14-matra Deepchandi. Although vocal recitals do not conventionally use sitar accompaniment, in this recording a sitar provides melodic support in addition to the sarangi and harmonium.
In Patiala gharana exponent Barkat Ali Khan’s rendition, the mukhada or beginning of the composition is grounded around the tonic with the word nain placed on the tonic. The text of the antara or second part of the composition differs from the one presented by Siddheshwari Devi. Barkat Ali Khan chooses the rhythmic cycle Deepchandi for his performance.
The next recording for this episode is that of Rasoolan Bai, also one of the best-known representatives of the Purab style.
We end with Gauhar Jan’s rendition of the same thumri recorded in the first decade of the twentieth century. Her presentation is punctuated with couplets, a practice that was often followed in order to expand on the narrative of the song-text. Though the tabla on this recording is barely audible, it appears that Gauhar Jan has chosen the six-matra Dadra taal.