In our series on representations of birds in Hindustani compositions, we will devote another episode to the swan or the hamsa/hansa. There is a rarely-heard raag bearing the word of hamsa/hansa called Hansakinkini or Hansakankini (kinkini literally a small tinkling ornament). Here is Gwalior gharana maestro DV Paluskar’s interpretation of a composition created by Niamat Khan Sadarang in this raag.
It is set to Jhaptaal, a rhythmic cycle of ten matras. Those of you who listen to tabla solo recitals will note that the first line of the sthayi or the first section of the composition has been used in the past as the preferred melodic refrain or nagma/lehera for tabla solo recitals in Jhaptaal.
Shruti Sadolikar Katkar, one of the chief representatives of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, sings a composition in Jhaptaal in the raag Hansakinkini.
Apart from raags bearing the word hamsa/hansa, it seems strange that the image of the hamsa-mithun or swan-couple, a favourite one in the Indian context to signify eternal love, seems missing in Hindustani compositions. This absence is particularly intriguing since one encounters mention of other birds in compositions that describe many shades of love. But Hindustani vocalists have sung religious and mystic poetry that includes metaphoric imagery of the swan.
For instance, here is an ashtapadi written by the twelfth century poet Jayadeva that includes mention of the swan. It is used as a metaphor for Krishna, the god who appears as the divine swan in the hearts and minds of sages. Sung by renowned vocalist Jitendra Abhisheki, it is composed in the raag Bhupali and set to the 16-matra Addha taal.
Poetic texts of the mystic poets from the nirgun stream often mention the swan as a metaphor for the individual spirit. We end this episode with one such nirgun pada written by the fifteenth century saint-poet Kabir and composed and sung in his inimitable style by Kumar Gandharva.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.