Just Listening 1


I have such good intentions! I tell myself, I need to post more often. It’s not that I don’t listen as often to music, or that I don’t have as many ideas. It is time that is missing. My life has become more and more a whirlwind of movement. Days, weeks and months rush by without my even registering their existence. The few periods of stability are taken up with unavoidable (and boring) chores. It doesn’t help that I have a number of hobbies which take up my free time. I have been walking ten kilometres a day for almost a year now, missing just a few days when I have been travelling. My fitbit tells me that I have walked 3675 km and climbed 9719 floors since last November! I amaze myself! I am very much into photography and digital scrapbooking. I read at least a few hours everyday. I travel often..since the start of this year I have travelled to Australia, Dubai, India, back to Australia, the Lombardy region of Italy, Copenhagen, the Greek isles, Umbria and Le Marche in Italy. I am off in two weeks to Krakow, then to Australia. From there to India and then back to Australia before I return to Switzerland in January! I blog about my travels when I can. But music is a primary food for my soul and I do enjoy blogging about it; I don’t want to give it up. A post which includes translation takes at least four or five hours so I am inhibited even before I start! So I thought, why not just post music that I have enjoyed listening without delving too deeply into meaning, associations and such? So here I am with the first of such posts. My idea is just to give you some interesting additions for your playlist for this week. I will, of course, continue my old style of posts and translations as time permits.

On one of my walks recently, I was listening to this RTP by U.Srinivas in the Raga Vakulabharanam. Those who have heard this Raga before will know how very Arabic/Middle-Eastern the sounds are. It struck me that the Mandolin is an excellent instrument for this Raga, enhancing its Arabic feel to new heights.

RTP in Vakulabharanam – U.Srinivas (Mandolin), P.Sunderajan (Violin), K.V.Prasad (Mridangam) – The Magical Fingers of U.Srinivas by Oriental Records.

This reminded me of a video I had seen on youtube by Prince Rama Varma. I went in search of it and here it is. Saadhu Tada is by Swati Thirunal. I believe this has been set to music by Prince Rama Varma himself (unsure of this).

Enjoyable, isn’t it!

I wondered if it exists in Hindustani music and found a good article on the subject. Basant Mukhari is described as the closest equivalent.  I found a good recording of Ali Akhbar Khan’s rendition of Basant Mukhari but somehow it didn’t give me the level of Middle-Eastern feel that Vakulabharanam does. What do you think?

Remembering how very Middle-Eastern sounding Dua Kar Gham-e-Dil from Anarkali was, especially the start, I went to listen to that again.

It is not Basant Mukhari but Bhairav, the equivalent of which is Mayamalavagowla in Carnatic Music. Lata does give it a lovely quavering Middle-Eastern touch doesn’t she!

Some browsing gave me the info that Hijaz is the Maqam (definition: a set of notes with traditions that define relationships between them, habitual patterns, and their melodic development. Wonder if it’s the equivalent of the word Raga?) which is closest to Vakulabharanam. I found this site in which samples are available and yes, it does sound remarkably alike! Try for yourself; select the ‘oud in A’ . Try some of the recording samples too, they sound so good!

Having started my journey with the Mandolin, I was interested in listening to a rendition on the Oud. I found this site with some rare recordings and was pleased to find a lovely rendition of Hijaz. Click here to listen.

Looking for some vocals, I found a very enjoyable version which had me swaying happily in no time! Hope you find it as appealing. The title says ‘turk’ so I assume it is from Turkey. Excellent music!

And so I whiled away an afternoon, following a link from Vakulabharanam to Turkish music. Hope you enjoyed the journey too!


Filed under Carnatic Music, Just Listening, Rama Varma, Swathi Thirunal, U.Srinivas, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Just Listening 1

  1. Exactly the way to while away an afternoon !

    Like this version of your post too, even though your usual more scholarly posts still define you.

    I presume the common root for much of Middle Eastern as well as Hindustani music is the Persian influence. But I am not able to see the extension to Carnatic music. The only reason I relate to Vaghulabaranam is that its the name of a famous banker and legend of business India ! Because it is such a tongue twister to a non Tamilian he was forced to shorten it to Vaghul !!

    To me of all the pieces that you have featured, the most enjoyable is turk-makam al hijaz . Although I must confess that i completely skipped the RTP. I am now of the firm view that as soon as somebody starts a RTP in a concert I should walk out !! But alas, if I were to strictly follow that principle, I would have to walk out of every concert because its now the norm to inflict a RTP on us poor rasikas 🙂

    • I’m sorry you didn’t listen to the RTP Ramesh, U.Srinivas sounds very good! And also it was the anniversary of his passing away on the 19th.. I am afraid I am very fond of RTPs and they will make their presence felt in my future posts of this kind 🙂
      Cheers. Suja

  2. Jay

    Hello Suja,

    Another well researched article! I liked the references including the article by the respected musicologist Deepak Raja and all the attached music clips. This raga was known as ‘bakulabharanam’.
    ‘Bakula’ stands for the bakula tree that has fragrant flowers and a host of medicinal properties. It is known as ‘ilanji’ in Malayalam and there are references in literature as to to how this flower can impart ‘sweetness’. The janyas being: vasantabhairvi, lalitapancama, soma, ragavasanta, vasanta mukhari. The words ‘vasanta’, ‘soma’ etc. give true feel to the feel for this mode. Vasantamukhari or Basanta Mukhari in Hindusthani, has a slightly different structure in arohanam: sa ma ga ma pa dha ni sa. The article on Maqam was very interesting to say the least. Notice how the articles talks about certain notes that are tuned higher/lower in Hijaz. Apparently some of our ragas too have slightly different positional placements for a given note across different ragas! While I find the similarities between maqam and raga alluring, I am of the firm belief that raga is much more. The quiver that you ascribe to the middle-eastern touch, is indeed the signature feature of the music from that region. A well-known singer who straddles several genres once described middle-eastern music as ‘vakra’; (not the vakra prayogam of svaras) but the zig-zag oscillations around the notes. What gives a music a particular feel is not just the scale but also how certain notes are rendered in that scale. There probably are notes, or their arrangement in the octave that lends itself to certain notes for the oscillatory gesture to be performed liberally that finds particular appeal in middle-eastern music.

    It is worth re-stating that Rama Varma picked this raga for the particular story from kuchelopakhyanam where the context is joy and notice that he mentioned the word ‘sweet’ That is another aspect that is traditionally attributed to this raga.

    Check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD5o7nz3Ns4. There is a small alapanam on the Veena. Here the rendition does not impart that ‘arabic’ feel but then listen to this sai bhajan, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIEaRZojFGs where the mandolin has that singular middle-eastern feel!


    • Thank you Jay, you always have so much knowledge to impart! The root of the name is very interesting! I agree absolutely that the oscillations define the music..that is why Lata sounds so middle eastern even in another Raga.

      I am enjoying Ghatam Kartik’s ensemble as I write, quite a strong Arabic feel here I agree! I am so reminded of some Hindi film song which is tickling my memory but hasn’t come forward as yet! I will see the other link soon.
      Cheers. Suja

  3. K.Venkataraman

    Why are you so allergic to RTP? RTPs are okay provided the artist sticks to one ragam without getting into three,four and five ragams and muddy the whole rendering. RTPs should be started and rendered during the middle of a say, maximum duration of a three hour concert. Nowadays the artiste starts a RTP at the fag end of a concert when more than half the audience have already deserted! Hope you stay on for RTP during your visit to the next concert!

    • I am glad you are sticking up for the poor RTPs sir 🙂 I am definitely going to feature more RTPs and try to convince even non-adherents to give it a go! Thank you for your comment.

  4. Raji

    Just heard Vakulabharanam in concert of malladi brothers where he sang a small clip describing the persian feel of the raga. Remembered reading about the raga on your blog and came to read the post once again. lovely write up!

    • Thank you Raji for your kind comment 🙂 It is not sung or played very often, so it was a nice experience for you to listen to it live, I am sure.
      Cheers. Suja

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