Category Archives: Hindustani Classical Music

Mere Nazar Mein Moti Aayo

Diya, Diwali, Deepavali, Deepawali, Hindu, Lamp, LightHappy Deepavali everybody! May your lives light up with joy! May the light in your eyes never fade!

And that is my tale for you today – about the light in my own eyes. The story has morals and teachings, as do all tales if we just bother to look.  I’ve shared my own insights not for moralising, but for you to think about your own stories and derive your own morals from them.

I’ve been very short sighted as long as I can remember. It was quite by accident that my grandmother discovered by inability to see when she pointed out a passing bus number to me. I was about 8 then. ‘Do buses have numbers?’ I had asked in surprise. The optician she took me to was shocked as to how I survived with no glasses! I was so amazed when I looked around the world that first time with glasses. ‘Is this what you all see?’ I asked my grandmother in great surprise. How could I have known? If you have poor eyesight since birth, that is your only reality.

Moral : Our reality is defined by ourselves, within our parameters. It is not THE reality. Unless we test our parameters, we will not be able to keep bettering the definition of our own reality.

What a difference the glasses made! Until then I was a dud in school, performing near the bottom 30% of the class. I was also shy and didn’t have much to say. I can’t remember now, but I think I could never see the chalk board clearly so I used to be quite lost most of the time. After the specs I shot up to being in the top 10% of the class. This gave confidence and I got the attention of teachers. That gave further motivation until anything other than topping the class became unacceptable to me. This led to other openings and by the time I finished, I was in dramatics, debating and the like. Soon the approbation of others stopped mattering. The pleasure of doing anything well was motivation enough.

Moral : Both failure and success have root causes which may not be obvious so look at everyone with a kindly eye and lend a helping hand if you can. Sometimes a push in one direction can have a waterfall effect, so perhaps your support and encouragement will allow people to reach their potential.

I am not much for sports, so I don’t think my eyesight caused me to lose out much in life. In my teenage years, I used to be called four-eyes or such silly names by the class bully boys, but hey, I was the class topper and they always came to me for my notes, so my ego didn’t bruise much.

Moral : Careful about denigrating people – you may need their help one day and then where will you be?

I switched to contact lenses in my late teens and wore them for many years until one day I just decided I had had enough of it. For the last 20 years I have worn only glasses.  I have been going regularly to an ophthalmologist for about 15 years as my eyes are in the high-risk category for a number of problems. So I have been well-aware of the onset of the cataracts. It happened gradually but one day I found that I had had just enough of the dazzling lights while driving at night. Last week the lens in one eye was removed and replaced with an IOL – Intraocular Cataract Lens. That very day I was seeing quite well and now that it has settled down, I have 20/20 vision in the eye! Perhaps I am imagining it, but it seems I am seeing far more sharply than I have ever seen with any glasses or contact lenses! The world from this eye has a blueish tinge; the other eye has a yellowish cast; I was surprised and looked it up. It seems ageing eyes develop the yellowishness which I didn’t even know about! It’s all rather magical.

Moral : Sometimes solutions to problems exceed expectations and you wonder why you ever worried!

However I am quite struggling with near vision. How wonderful is our God given lens that it can focus from near to far with little trouble! My corrected eye which has now a perfect vision for the distance is no good for reading or the computer, or even the phone. I am finding it all quite difficult.

Moral : There is often a sting to the tail/tale; watch out for it!

My myopic eye will be fixed within a month. I am wearing disposable contact lenses in the eye for the moment. My doctor is suggesting something called Monovision. She will under-correct the vision in the second eye so it will be better for intermediate and near vision. My doc tells me that the brain will adjust to relying on one eye for distant vision and the other one for the near. I am testing it now as my contact lens is under corrected. It’s not perfect but it works to a degree. The world feels a bit weird though, as if I am sleep walking. Will it fix itself in time? Should I correct for distance vision in both eyes and just get reading glasses? What happens when I am sketching and need to look at both the distance and my drawing sheet intermittently? Or while taking notes at a seminar? Do I get those narrow glasses which perch at the end of one’s nose?

Moral : Dilemmas abound in life. There are positives and negatives to everything. Think things through thoroughly, make a decision and then make sure you don’t complain about the negatives.

So thats my tale. And as to my song, I had no choice but to choose ‘Mere Nazar Mein Moti Aayo‘ which translates to ‘I have cataract in my eyes‘! Sung by Shobha Gurtu, It is from a CD called Hari Rang Rati (1992). I featured another song from it in a post many years ago. On searching now, I see a CD called Main Bagiyan Mein with the same songs. The poetry is by Kabir whose words I admire so very much. Of course he is referring to the clouding of the mind’s eyes, not the physical one. For that the operation is far more complex and beyond my reach. Shobha Gurtu sings with heart and soul, I hope you enjoy this song on this Deepavali Day.

Alternate Link : Click Here

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Note to all my readers : I do not have the knowledge to translate Kabir as he is a mystic poet and there is meaning within meaning, none of which is clear to me. But then not only are my eyes clouded, but so is my mind! I leave it to you good people to get what you can from this.

मेरे नज़र में मोती आयो
मैं भला भरोसे पायो

mErE nazar mE.n mOtI AyO
mai.n bhalA bharOsE pAyO

Cataract (mOtI short for mOtiyAbinda) has come (AyO) in (mE.n) my (mErE) eyesight (nazar), and I (mai.n) gained (pAyO) good (bhalA) supports (bharOsE)

What use is there in having clear vision when the mind is clouded? Kabir refers to the clouding of his the mind’s eye, not the physical one. In those times when operations were not available to the common man in India, a man with a clouded eye needed someone to show the way. Who did Kabir find, the ones he calls as good support? When the eyes are clouded, we need support from a marg-darshak, the one who shows the way. Kabir may be referring to a Guru or to God.

चार कुण्ड का देवढ़ बनायो
उस पर कलश भरायो

chAr kUNda kA dEvaD banAyO
us par kalash bharAyO

I (implied) made (banAyO) a temple (dEvaD) of four (chAr) tanks/ponds (kUND) and (implied) filled (bharAyO) a pot (kalash) from it (us par).

A temple is an oft made analogy for our body but it is not clear to me what the four temple tanks represent. Kabir fills his water jug, or his soul, with the contents of these ponds, which I assume to be reservoirs of spiritual knowledge. I am defeated by linguistic knowledge and can see no further. Thanks to reader Padma who told me dEvaD is a Rajasthani term for a temple.

देश देश के दर्शन आये
संतन के मन भायो

dEsh dEsh kE darshan AyE
santan kE man bhAyO

People (implied) from many places (dEsh dEsh kE) came (AyE) to see (darshan); he crept into the hearts (man bhAyO) of the good people (santan).

Who did people come to see from far away places? It must be Kabir himself. Did he charm the good people who came to see him? Or did he influence people into letting God enter their hearts? Did they come to sip from this kalash he filled with spiritual knowledge?

सेज सूनी पर साहब मेरा
तीन लोक सब छायो

sEj sUnI par sAhab mErA
tIn lOk sab chAyO

My (mera) Lord (sAhab) spreads (chAyO) all (sab) three (tIn) worlds (lok) upon (par) my (mErA) empty (sUnI) bed (sEj) .

The empty bed is possibly life itself, lonely and meaningless without the presence of God. But the good Lord spreads all three worlds on this for Kabir.

कहत कबीरा सुनो भई साधो
हुकुमी नाव चलायो

kahat kabIrA sunO bhayI sAdhO
hukumI nAv chalAyO

Kabir says (kahat), listen (sunO) oh good brothers (bhayI sAdhO), God (hukumI, the one who governs) sails (sails) the boat (nAv).

Crossing the ocean of life is an oft repeated simile in India. Kabir says God himself will sail the boat which will help you cross it.


Filed under Hindustani Classical Music, Kabir, Shobha Gurtu

Hari Ke Charana Kamala

Krishna BabyA very happy Janmashtami to all of you! I hope that you joyfully celebrated the occasion with your families. Are you replete after having many lovely treats as  ‘prasadam’? Our household Gopala is on a diet and gets only fruit even on his birthday!

Other than adding an extra something to my daily prayers or going to the temple, I am not in the habit of celebrating our various festivals. I guess it all started with being married outside my community; my husband has little interest in rituals. He also did not appreciate my kind of festival ‘feasts’ or sweets. In my need to ‘fit in’ at the start of our life together, I gave up most of what were my own cultural ways. But I didn’t pick up any of his cultural festivities either which is my own loss. We moved overseas within a year of being wed so familial influences were lost as well. The thing is, festivals are social occasions rather than religious ones, don’t you think? One needs a community to celebrate them well, or at least a partner of the same mind. My children have never known the pleasure of kneeling on the floor with their mother, painstakingly drawing ‘footprints’ of Gopala to lead from the front door to the Puja room. I remember doing that with my mother and the picture in my mind is of the house we lived in more than 50 years ago. So it is with that memory and my mother’s kind face smiling at me that I mark the festival today.

As for a musical offering, I have wandered away from my normal Carnatic Music posts to this beautiful piece of Hindustani music. In this song, the poet urges us to meditate upon the feet of the Lord to help us navigate this ocean of existence. ‘Those who meditate upon the Lord find reconciliation‘ says he. Are we not all in need of reconciliation? A composition in Shree by Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, it was made famous by the incomparable D.V.Paluskar. (Note to Carnatic Music fans:  Shree Raga is quite different in the Hindustani system). In this version from a 78 RPM recording, Paluskar demonstrates ably why he lives long in the memory of his listeners. I find him simply incredible!

हरि के चरण कमल निसदिन सुमर रे
भाव धरकर (alt : धर सुधा) भीतर भव जलधी तर रे
जोई जोई धरत ध्यान पावत समाधान
‘हररंग’ कहे ज्ञान अबहु चित धर रे

hari kE charaNa kamala nisadina sumara
bhAva dharakara  (alt: dhara sudhA) bhItara bhava jaladhi tara rE
jO’I jO’I dharata dhyAna pAvata samAdhana
hararang kahE gyAna, abahu chita dhara rE

Remember (sumara) the lotus-feet (charaNa-kamala) of (kE) Hari everyday (nisadina). Holding (dharakara)  this emotion (bhAva) within (bhItara) and cross/swim (tara) the ocean (jaladhi) of existence (bhava) . Those (jO’I jO’I) who hold (dharata) in thought/meditation (dhyAnA) find/get (pAvata) reconciliation (samAdhAna). ‘Hararang’ (I think this may be the poet’s pseudonym) says (kahe) hold this wisdom (gyAna) in your mind (chita) from now (abahu).

I was reminded of this beautiful composition when I heard it ‘live’ in a webcast earlier this year. I had made note of it then, meaning to share it with you all. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande is a musician I have admired for a long time and I hope you enjoy her performance as much as I do.

Listen from 15:00 to about 1:02:00.

The Dhrut section reminds us that without a Guru, it is difficult to find a transcendental pathway.

गुरु बिन कौन बतावे बाट
भव सागर का लम्बा घाट
गुरु बिन ज्ञान नाही दूजा
ज्ञान बिना नहीं दीपक दूजा
दीप बिना कैसे देखूँ बाट

guru bin kaun batAvE bAT
bhava sAgar kA lambA ghAT
guru bin gyAn nAhI dUjA
gyAn binA nahIn dIpak dUjA
dIpa binA kaisE dekhU.n bAT

Who except a guru (guru bin) can teach (batAvE) the transcendental way (bAT)? Of the long (lambA) wharf (ghAT) of this ocean (sAgar) of existence (bhava) ? There is no other (nahin dUjA) knowledge (gyAn) without a (bin) Guru, and no other (nahIn dUjA) lamp (dIpak) without (bin) knowledge (gyAn). Without (binA) a lamp (dIpa), how (kaisE) will I see (dEkhU.n) the transcendental way (bAT)?


Filed under Hindustani Classical Music, Uncategorized

Babul Mora

Oh father mine, my natal home is slipping away from me! Four bearers are decorating my palanquin. That which was mine belongs to others, it is slipping away from me!

Wajid Ali ShahA decadent voluptuary? Or a patron of arts and intellectuals? How should we remember Wajid Ali Shah (1822-1887)? He ruled as the last Nawab of Oudh (Awadh) from 1847 to 1856. Even when he ascended the throne, much of the kingdom was already under the hands of the British. At about the same period, the sun was setting on the great Mughal Empire in Delhi as well, under the hands of Bahadur Shah Zafar. Is it a coincidence that both men were patrons of art ?

Wajid Ali Shah started out, it is said, by being a good administrator, in being interested in reforms. However his passion was not for statecraft but for the arts. Statecraft in those times was no easy beast to handle, was it? It is little wonder that he quietly retreated into his own world of pleasure filled with singers, dancers, actors and courtesans. They say that Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. Awadh did not burn, but it did disintegrate while Wajid Ali immersed himself in his life of pleasure. The British called him debauched, saying that his kingdom was maladministered and lawless. They used it as an excuse to annex his kingdom  and exiled him to Kolkata. Historians today are looking with a more kindly eye at him.

But what do I know of matters of State? My interest in him is as a patron of arts. He himself was a composer and had had vocal training as well as training in Kathak. He is said to have created a number of ragas and written prose, poetry and song. Those of you who missed seeing Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977), do take time to see an interpretation of the last years of Wajid Ali’s rule in Oudh. It is a classic, well worth your time. After seeing the film, if interested, click here to read a critique the depiction of Wajid Ali and Ray’s defence.

It is said that when Wajid Ali left his beloved Lucknow, all his subjects lamented his exile. On March 13, 1854, the royal caravan of about 1000 people left towards Kolkata (source). Wajid Ali Shah was distrait. It was in this grief stricken state that he burst forth with Babul Mora.

Oh father mine, my natal home is slipping away from me! Four bearers are decorating my palanquin. That which was mine belongs to others, it is slipping away from me!’ he wails. It  is written as a bidai song, in the voice of a bride as she leaves her father’s home. It is possible to interpret it as the final farewell to the world as four bearers carry one to the final resting place. For lyrics and translation, see footnote.

Babul Mora is the most famous of Wajid Ali Shah’s works and remains in the public consciousness of India due to K.L.Saigal’s memorable rendering of the song in the film Street Singer (1938). It is set to Hindustani Raga Bhairavi; if you want to know more about this raga, here is an excellent resource.

Coming back to my first question : Was Wajid Ali a decadent voluptuary? Or a patron of arts and intellectuals? Somewhere in the middle I would say. I feel a sneaking sympathy for him despite his having let his kingdom get into British hands with nary a fight. You see, I come from the same mould – my furniture is covered with dust, my cupboards look like disaster zones, my ironing pile is taller than I am, but I am spending all day today with my music and my new painting! I will remember him with kindness for he did help preserve, propagate and enrich the wonderful world of Indian music .

K.L.Saigal’s rendition has to come first. Is it even possible to think of this song without thinking of him? The music was composed by Rai Chand Boral.

Too short to satisfy? Listen below to a more detailed, brilliant rendition by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, a master of his art form. This is Bhairavi in despair, exquisite and memorable.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Poetry : Wajid Ali
Music : Rai Chand Boral
Language : Hindi

(Saigal’s version)

बाबुल मोरा नैहर छूटो ही जाए |

चार कहार मिल मोरी डोलिया सजावें
मोरा अपना बेगाना छूटो जाए |

अँगना तो पर्बत भया और देहरी भयी बिदेश
ये घर बाबुल आपनो मैं चली पिया के देश |


bAbul mOrA naihar chUTO hI jAyE

chAr kahAr mil mOrI DOliyA sajAvE.n
mOrA apnA bEgAnA chUTO jAyE

a.nganA tO parbat bhayA aur dEhrI bhayI bidEsh
yE ghar bAbul ApanO mai.n chalI piyA kE dEsh


Oh father (babul) mine (mora), my natal home (naihar) is slipping away (chUTO hi JayE) from me (implied)!

Four (char) bearers (kahAr) are together (mil) decorating (sajAvE.n) my palanquin (DOliyA). That which was (implied) mine (mora apnA) belongs to others (bEgAnA), it is slipping away from me (chUTO hi JayE).

The courtyard (a.ganA) has become (to bhayA) a mountain (=insurmountable) (parbat) and (aur) the threshold (dEhrI) has become (bhayI) a foreign country (bidEsh). This (yE) house (ghar) is yours (ApanO) now (implied) father (bAbul), I (main.n) am leaving (chalI) for my beloved’s (piyA kE) land (dEsh).


Filed under Bhimsen Joshi, Bollywood 30's Music, Hindustani Classical Music, Wajid Ali Shah

Yaad Piya Ki Aaye

Oh memories of my beloved haunt me! Alas, I cannot bear this grief! I am yet young but my bed is forlorn; my youth is passing by – Alas! The cuckoo, my enemy, coos his song. Bereft of my beloved, my heart burns. Yes, I am kept awake all night without my beloved! Alas!

GriefDoes grief bring forth song? The answer is yes, it can and does! Laments and dirges are expressions of grief in many societies. These are old ways from time immemorial; the bible refers to laments, as do the Vedas and ancient Greek books like the Iliad and Odyssey. I have read some death poetry of the Japanese, almost surreal and other-worldly. I have heard haunting Irish laments. I have heard Scottish dirges played on mournful bagpipes; a sound which makes the hair at the back of my neck stand! In India too, death can lead to song. In some Tamil communities, they (used to?) sing Oppari lamenting the dead. Do you remember the Hindi film Rudaali? That too featured a story of the professional mourners of Rajasthan who cried and sang laments for the dead. So yes, indeed, grief can bring forth song.

Today I present just such a song. It is  a Thumri but in essence, it is a lament.  Written by the great Maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan on the death of his wife who passed in 1932, it has certainly stood the test of time!  This is in the Punjabi  Thumri style, which is faster paced and sounds generally ‘lighter’ than traditional Thumris. Translated with a bit of artistic license, he says  ‘Oh memories of my beloved haunt me! Alas, I cannot bear this grief!’. He was only 30 when his wife died. ‘I am yet young but my bed is forlorn! Alas, my youth is passing by!’. Was he crying for himself or his wife? A bit of both, I think. ‘Bereft of my wife, my heart burns’ he says. See footnote for lyrics and translation. The song is set to the Hindustani raag Bhinna Shadaj. For those interested in the intricacies of this raga, there is an excellent article here.

Let us first hear the great Maestro himself who was and will always remain an iconic presence in the world of Hindustani Classical music. As the uploaded does not allow embedding, listen from 3:32 in the following link.

I was reminded of this song today by a live performance by Ustad Rashid Khan that I happened to watch on youtube recently. He has such an amazing voice! For me, this is the perfect classical male voice – rich and resonant, full-bodied with the undertones of a certain kharash, a certain texture. I could listen to him all day!

And lastly a very ‘light’ sounding version by another Ustad whom I have featured before, an Ustad who enchants me with his magical control over his voice. Here is Ajoy Chakrabarty with almost a playful rendition of this lament (listen to him cooing!) Note how beautifully he weaves in Basant Bahar towards the end. [Edit – Sigh, this video has disappeared from YouTube, I am saving this paragraph in the hope of finding it again] 

Footnote (Lyrics) :

Composer : Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
Raga : Bhinna Shadaj
Language : Hindi

याद पिया की आये
यह दुःख सहा ना जाये- हाये राम

बाली उमरिया सूनी रे  (alt: री ) सजरिया
जोबन बीतो  (alt: बीता) जाये- हाये राम

बैरी कोयलिया कूक  सुनावे (alt: सुनाये  )
मुझ बिरहन का जियरा जलावे (alt: जलाये )
हाँ पी बिन रैन जगाये (alt : पी बिन रहा ना जाये) – हाये राम


yAd piyA kI AyE
yeh dukh sahA na jAyE – hAyE rAm

bAlI umariyA sUnI rI sajariyA
jOban bItO / bItA jAyE – hAyE rAm

bairI koyaliyA kUk sunAyE
mujh birhan kA jiyarA jalAyE
hA.n – pI bin rain jagAyE (alt: rahA nA jAyE ) – hAyE rAm


Oh memories (yAd) of my beloved (piyA kI) haunt me (AyE = come)! Alas (hAyE rAm), I cannot bear (sahA na jAyE) this grief (dukh)!

I am yet young (bAlI umariyA) but my bed (sajariyA) is forlorn (sUnI);
my youth (jOban) is passing by (bItO jAyE) – Alas (hAyE rAm)!

The cuckoo (koyaliyA), my enemy (bairI), coos (kUk sunAyE) his song (implied).
and burns (jalayE) the heart (jiyarA) of (kA) me (mujh), the bereft (birhan).
Yes (hA.n)  – I am kept awake (jagAyE) all night (rain) without (bin) my beloved (pI) ! Alas (hAyE rAm)!
(Alt: I cannot bear to be without my beloved!)


Filed under Ajoy Chakrabarty, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Hindustani Classical Music, Rashid Khan

Saiyyan Bina Ghar Soona

Shafqat Ali KhanIts a small room, no bigger than my living room. A low stage is set along one side. Cushions are laid out on the carpeted floor and chairs are arrayed along the wall. There are no mikes, no amplification of any sort. What a way to hear music! From the lowest whisper of the singer to the highest note, no sooner than the music is created, it finds a place in the listener’s soul. Aaaah the pleasure of it! It took a long time for me to descend from the euphoric highs that the concert left me in.

And to think that I learnt of this concert quite coincidentally on the net! Held at the The Ali Akbar College of Music in Basel, it is about 225 kms from where I live. My husband may not have the burning passion that I have for music but he enjoys it well enough and is always happy to drive me to whichever place I demand that he take me. I have once made him drive me 300+ kms each way for a concert, all in one day, and he made nary an objection! I am grateful to him for that, for this is quite beyond my own stamina.

And this was how I came to hear Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan’s wonderful concert last Saturday. What a singer! I wonder, if you have 500 years of musicians as ancestors, does you DNA get altered? Do you transcend from being a mere mortal into a superhuman being whose vocal chords can perform acrobatics of the perfect 10 variety?  Belonging to the Sham Chaurasi gharana, his ancestors Mian Chand Khan and Mian Suraj Khan have sung in the court of Mughal emperor Akbar as contemporaries of the great Mian Tansen.  Shafqat Ali Khan’s father Salamat Ali Khan and uncle Nazakat Ali Khan were greatly respected Maestros from the recent past and his grandfather Vilayat Ali Khan was a great Dhrupad singer from before. A thought: is the whole Gharana system enhanced by Epigenetic Inheritance ?

Shafqat Ali Khan started his concert with an elaborate Raga Aiman (Yaman). This was followed by a Thumri in Mishra Pahadi. After that there was a superb Raga Malkauns and finally a Multani Kafi in Sindhi Bhairavi. When it came to the last number, my eyes were flowing, headless of the surroundings; I was in a ‘zone’ and when that happens only the music exists, all else ceases to be.

Today’s song choice is the  Thumri in Mishra PahadiSaiyyan Bina Ghar Soona’ of which I found an older recording. The lyrics are simple

सैय्याँ बिना घर सूना
सांवरिया ना आये (मोरे)
याद तिहारी जियारा जलाए मोरा
चैन जिया नाहि पावे 

My home is desolate without my beloved
my beloved has not come
My heart burns with the thought of you
there is no peace for my soul


The last song of the performance was Sanwal Mor Moharan, a Kafi in Multani written by Khwaja Ghulam Farid. ‘Turn back home my beloved’ urges the singer; unfortunately that is all I understand of the lyrics. But sometimes lyrics are unimportant; all you need to hear is the emotion. I found this priceless gem of a performance by Ustad Salamat Ali Khan (father of Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan) which I would urge you to listen to. I find it incredibly beautiful!


Filed under Hindustani Classical Music, Khwaja Ghulam Farid, Salamat Ali Khan, Shafqat Ali Khan

Mai Ri Shyam


माई री श्याम श्याम श्याम रटत श्यामा श्याम भई
अपनी सखिन सों पूछत हैं श्यामा कहाँ गयी
ब्रज बीथन में ढूँढत डोलत बोलत राधे राधे
रही निहार सोच कर सखी सकल मौन साधे

By chanting ‘Shyam Shyam Shyam’ Shyama (Radha) became Shyam
So our friends ask ‘Where did Shyama go?’
Searching everywhere in Braj & Beethan, they cried out ‘Radhe Radhe’
Thinking that there was a mist, they became silent.

We, who take so much pride in our individuality, what do we know of the pleasure of drowning ourselves in the Universal? The greatest of our Indian Saints have sung of this, have they not?  And yet we hold on to our separateness, our egos, our individuality. In this world of no absolutes, why do we think that ‘I’ is absolute?

I recently saw a Ted talk recommended to me by one of my readers (Thank you Ravi). The speaker is Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard trained neuroscientist. She talks of her experience during a stroke in her left brain. As a scientist, she observed herself and the world around even as her brain failed. When the left brain stopped functioning, she says that her consciousness shifted into the present moment and she experienced herself ‘at one with the universe’. In a heartfelt and touching speech she says ‘I looked down at my arm and I realised that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end’. Is this what the mystics talk about? Is this how Radha, chanting the name of Krishna, found herself to be Shyam? In my last post, I asked myself if the brain was what we called Maya, the illusion which stopped us from seeing the universality of the world. Today I refine my question to myself, is it the left-hemisphere which is the culprit?

It is not often that I pick up Hindustani Classical Music for my posts; though I love it, my understanding of it is abysmal. Yet today it can be no song but this. I am featuring a special kind of Jugalbandi today, called a Jasrangi. Typically, male and female voices have different pitches, the male voice being deeper and occupying a lower frequency range. To sing together, men and women have to sing a whole octave apart so that the notes match. This is why we find very high pitched singers in the Bollywood as this is needed in duets. However, in classical music where men and women sing in their natural pitches, duets are hard to achieve.  To overcome this problem, Pandit Jasraj has developed a style of duet in which the male and female voices sing different ragas at the same time. The ragas chosen are such that shifting the tonic of one raga to the madhyama creates the scale for the second raga. Whilst singing, the madhyama of the male singer matches the shadjam of the female singer. Choosing ragas which, after a tonic shift (Graha Bedam/Moorchana), use the same frequencies, there is no clash. And we the listeners hear a note which weaves from being one in the first raga and something else in the second raga. Is this what Radha felt, when she went from being Shyama to Shyam and then back to Shyama? In this rendition, the lyrics chosen are wonderfully appropriate as the ragas morph from Puriya Dhanashree to Shuddha Basant and back.


Filed under Hindustani Classical Music, Sanjeev Abhyankar, Tripti Mukherjee

Aaye Na Baalam

Ajoy ChakrabortyIt must be evident to my readers that I take a rather intellectual pleasure in songs and music. My mind buzzes with questions like : What does it mean? What mood is the composer trying to invoke? Why? Which raga is this? Why do I like this raga? Is there another song of the same raga I like or is this an anomaly ? When was this written? By whom? What was their life like? If it is devotional, what religious or philosophical idea does it convey? Does this make meaning to me? If its in a film, does it match the setting? Do the actors emote appropriately? Ah, so many questions! And so few that I know the answers to! But yet, it enhances my listening pleasure when I know at least a few answers.

But the truth is, music is most pleasurable, even to an analytical person like me, when its impact is so visceral that I stop asking questions or listening to answers. When I stand in the middle of the room, eyes unfocused, action forgotten, listening..or when my eyes fill, shedding hot tears for nameless things …or when I laugh aloud in sheer joy, waves of sheer exuberance engulfing my soul. The last is what happened to me when I heard Ajoy Chakrabarty’s version of the well-know and well-loved Thumri ‘Aaye na baalam’ a few days back. I re-listened a few times, and of course wanted to blog about it immediately!

 Thumris belong to the semi-classical genre, within the broader Hindustani Classical music. They can be interpreted as romantic or devotional. Like songs often featured in this blog, the mood is viraha, of separation from one’s beloved and the Nayika-Nayak are often Radha and Krishna. My today’s selection is written and composed by the Maestro of Maestros, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (1902-1968) in the Raga Sindhu Bhairavi.  His rendition is so well-known that many of you must already have heard it. If not, here is a clip below.

The rendition I have chosen for your listening pleasure is by the Maestro with the oh so delicious a voice, Ajoy Chakrabarty. This is a Maestro at play!!  There are touches of Ghazal style singing, a  different flavour of the raga thrown in to to spice things up, and a happy wander through the full chromatic scale like a child who has just discovered a keyboard! It is evident that he is enjoying himself thoroughly. And when Maestros play, is it any wonder that we ordinary mortals are engulfed in joy? Listen below to 18 minutes of sheer, unmitigated pleasure.

It is very interesting academically to listen to both versions; Ajoy Chakrabarty was the disciple of Munawar Ali Khan, son of the legendary Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

I am sure many of you readers in my generation are immediately reminded of the song with a similar refrain but entirely different lyrics from the film Swami (1977) sung by Yesudas. Here is a link for those who would like to listen to it.

Footnote (Lyrics) :

का करूँ सजनी आये न बालम
तड़पत बीती मोरी  उन  बिन रतियाँ 
आये न बालम
रोवत रोवत कल नाँही आये
तड़प तड़प मोहे राम कल नाँही आये
निस दिन मोहे बिरहा सताए
याद आवत जब उनकी बतियाँ
आये न बालम

kaa karoon sajni, AyE na bAlam
tadpat bItI mOrI un bin ratiyA(n)
AyE na bAlam
rOvat rOvat kal nA(n)hi AyE
tadpat tadpat mOhE rAm kal nA(n)hi AyE
nis din mOhE birhA satAyE
yAd Avat jab unkI batiyA(n)
AyE na bAlam

What am I to do, my friend, my beloved has not come. My whole night has passed in suffering without him, but my beloved has not come.
I keep sobbing, I keep suffering, but tomorrow comes not. Everyday when I remember him, I suffer with the pangs of separation. My beloved has not come.

Ajoy Chakrabarty’s slightly different version, with a couplet thrown in for good measure :

का करूँ सजनी आये न बालम
तडपत बीती मोरी उन बिन रतियाँ
आये न बालम
किस मुसीबत से बसे हम शबे-ग़म करते हैं
रात भर हाय सनम हाय सनम करते हैं
रोअत गावत कल नाँही आवे
निस दिन मोहे बिरहाँ सताए
याद आवत जब उनकी बतियाँ
आये न बालम

kA karoon sajnI AyE na bAlam
tadpat bItI mOrI un bin ratiyA(n)
AyE na bAlam
kis musIbat sE basE ham shabE-gam kartE hai(n)
rAt bhar hAy sanam hAy sanam kartE hai(n)
rOvat gAvat kal nA(n)hI AvE
nis din Avat jab unkI batiyAn
Aye na bAlam

Footnote (Raga ):

The scale of the Hindustani Raga Sindhu (or Sindhi) Bhairavi (or Misra Bhairavi, not sure if this right) are as follows :

Arohan : S rR gG mM P dD nN S’
Avarohan : S’ nN dD P mM gG rR S

Scale Hindustani

Yes, you noticed right, all notes of the sargam are present! This raga belongs to the Bhairavi That. I have read that if any Shuddha note is used in Bhairavi in which all notes are Komal (all lowercase notes except m), it becomes Sindhu (Sindhi) Bhairavi. It is a morning raga and it can display a whole range of emotions.

Note : Please note that C is used as Sa for the sake of simplicity as the scale is relative in Indian Classical Music. Also note that the scales paint only a superficial picture of the raga as the ornamentations are a very important part of a raga.


Filed under Ajoy Chakrabarty, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Hindustani Classical Music

Jago Bansi Vare

Hari Rang RaatiAll Hindus are no doubt familiar with the tradition of waking God in the morning with prayers and music.  Much as we believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, we still enjoy the play of wishing Him a good night, and waking him with a ‘Good Morning’ each day.  Surely, M.S.Subbulakshmi’s Suprabhatam is one of the most recognized prayer songs in India? This is addressed to Vishnu, but there are waking rituals for other Gods and Godesses, be it a Sanskrit Shloka or a simple prayer song.

Today I have selected a Bhajan written by Meera Bai (1498-1547), arguably the most well-known Saint in India.  The version I like best is rendered by  Shobha Gurtu, in her CD Hari Rang Raati, an album  of devotionals that I have had and listened to with great pleasure for the last 20 years. 

I do so love songs which paint a picture! Jago Bansi Vare is a particularly evocative piece of poetry.  Even those not familiar with village life in those times can well imagine how the village slowly wakes up in the morning. ‘Wake up’, Meera urges Krishna ‘the night has passed, and dawn has arrived. The shutters are opening in every home. You can hear the bangles of the cowherdesses as they churn the yoghurt. Do wake up, both Gods and men are their doors. The young cowherds are joyfully cheering as they gather with bread and butter in their hands. Do wake up!’.

It seems to me that it is Krishna’s mum who is singing this song for did I not wake my son just like this each morning, hurrying him to catch the school bus? The world has changed, yet the world remains the same. The jingle of cowherdesses churning butter have been replaced with the ping of the microwave and the whirr of the juicers, instead of shutters we draw open the curtains, the muted sound of cars starting have replaced the sounds of men readying for work, and the boys still shout cheerfully, waiting for the school buses, with school bags and lunch boxes, instead of cowherds collecting their cattle, holding their bread and butter for lunch. Meera’s song to wake Krishna is the song of mothers everywhere. For those wondering why this is a prayer song – there is not a single prayer-like request – I think it is symbolic; Meera is urging Krishna to wake to her plight.

For lyrics and translation, see footnote. Now listen to Shobha Gurtu who emotes so beautifully with her voice alone.


Footnote (Lyrics) :
Note : I use ITRANS transliteration scheme.

जागो बंसी वारे ललना, जागो मोरे प्यारे ।
jAgO bansI vArE lalanA, jAgO mOrE pyArE
Awake, oh little one with the flute, awake my dear,
रजनी बीती भोर भयो है, घर घर खुले किवाड़े ।
rajanI bItI bhOr bhayO hai, ghar ghar khulE kivAdE
The night has passed, dawn is breaking and shutters are opening in every home
गोपी दही मथत सुनियत है, कंगना के झनकारे ॥
gOpI dahI mathat suniyat hai, kanganA kE jhankArE
We can hear the gopis churning yoghurt as their bangles jingle
उठो लाल जी भोर भयो है, सुर नर ठाढ़े द्वारे ।
uThO lAl jI bhor bhayO hai sur nar ThaDe dvArE
Do wake my dear, it is dawn, Gods and men are at their the doors
ग्वाल बाल सब करत कोलाहल , जय जय शब्द उचारे ॥
gvAl bAl sab karat kOlAhal, jay jay shabd ucharE
The young cowherds are joyously cheering
माखन रोटी हाथ में लीन्ही , गउवन के रखवारे ।
mAkhan rOtI hAth mE(n) lInhI, gauvan kE rakhvAre
With bread and butter in their hands, these protectors of cows
मीरा के प्रभु गिरिधरनागर, शरण आयां कूं तारे॥
mIrA kE prabhu giridharnAgar, sharaN AyA.n kU.n tArE
Oh Meera’s Lord who held the mountain up, I fall upon your grace (note: unsure of last phrase)


Filed under Bhajan, Hindustani Classical Music, Meera, Shobha Gurtu

The Colours of Holi

Holi Radha KrishnaHappy Holi everyone! On this day of colours, I thought to talk about colour-symbolisms in Indian culture, especially amongst Hindus. To connect with the poetry, music and spirituality of India, one must understand its unique language of colour.

There are of course secular associations that form the base of our reaction to colour. Being a visual artist, I am very sensitive to these colour triggers but I believe the following triggers are fairly common amongst Indians. A roomful of people in white and we think of the grief and bereavement. Women in red remind us of brides. A glimpse of yellow mustard fields and we are transported to Punjab. A swish of red and shocking pink skirts and we recall the women of Rajasthan. Men in black dhotis? Surely pilgrims to Sabarimalai? The poetry and music of India make full use of these colour triggers to bring evocative images to our minds.

On a religious level, there are very strong colour associations with the various forms of God. Red is for Ganesh of course, but also for Hanuman. Red is for prosperity and auspiciousness. Red is the colour of kumkum that we place in the position of आज्ञा (meaning: Unlimited Power) chakra, the Third Eye chakra, our direct connection to our inner self.  Think of yellow and the yellow silk of Vishnu’s attire, pitambaram, comes to mind as do tilaks of sandalwood. How can we remember blue and not think of Krishna’s skin or Shiva’s throat? Think of Green and we are reminded of the beautiful Meenakshi, the tulasi leaf we worship Vishnu with and the bilva leaf we lay at Shiva’s feet. One cannot think of a rich saffron without thinking of Sanyasis and their lives spent in following the path of God.

The religious poetry of India often uses being coloured as an analogy for bhakti.
मैं तो सांवरे के रंग रची
‘ I have been dyed in the colour of my beloved

sang Meera. Kabir, who was a Nirguni (a devotee of Nirguna Brahman, the undefinable God) likened the body to a woven shawl and said
ऐसा रंग रंगा रंगरे ने कि लालो लाल कर दीनी
‘The dyer dyed the shawl totally red’

Red-saffron represents self-realisation, the colour that sanyasis wear.
Nusrat Fateh Ali in his famous Sanson Ki Mala sings
प्रेम के रंग में ऐसी डूबी बन गया एक ही रूप
’I drowned in the colour of love so much that everything became one’
likening Bhakti or devotion with being dyed.

On a deeper level, each chakra in our body is associated with a colour. From the red of the Mooladhara chakra at the base of the spine to the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head, we have an inner spectrum of light within ourselves. The qualities and the power of each chakra can be accessed by its colour. A great healing and energizing meditation is to visualise each chakra in its colour and letting the colour energy radiate through the whole body. Today on Holi, let us splash ourselves with the spiritual power of each colour.

For my song choice of today, I present to you something quite unique. Traditional Holi songs are almost always about Krishna and the gopikas, for colour and Holi are about life and the living, about joy and play, about love – all that Krishna is about. But in today’s song, it is not Krishna who plays Holi, but Shiva, who is about asceticism and detachment, about self-control and inner strength. In the cycle of life and death, if Krishna is about life and colour, Shiva is about death and colourlessness, each one half of the whole. Shiva playing Holi? Who would sing of it? Channulal Mishra of Benaras, the city of Shiva, but of course!

खेलैं मसाने में होरी दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।
भूत पिसाच बटोरी, दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

लखि सुंदर फागुनी छटा के, मन से रंग-गुलाल हटा के
चिता-भस्‍म भर झोरी, दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

गोपन-गोपी श्‍याम न राधा, ना कोई रोक ना कौनऊ बाधा
ना साजन ना गोरी, दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

नाचत गावत डमरूधारी, छोड़ै सर्प-गरल पिचकारी
पीतैं प्रेत-धकोरी दिगंबर खेले मसाने में होरी ।।

भूतनाथ की मंगल-होरी, देखि सिहाएं बिरिज कै गोरी
धन-धन नाथ अघोरी दिगंबर खेलैं मसाने में होरी ।।

Can you imagine the scene? Shiva plays Holi in the cremation ground with ghosts and ghouls. There is no colour here – not even in his mind, for he plays Holi with the ashes of the dead. There is no Krishna, no gopikas, no lovers where Shiva plays Holi. He dances and sings, and the water-squirt in his hand is a snake which squirts venom. This Holi of Shiva is unique, isn’t it?

Listen below to the Maestro in this intimate singing with no instruments.


Filed under Channulal Mishra, Hindustani Classical Music

Bhavani Dayani

Durga 2

Bhajan literally means Worship. Is it just coincidence that it also means sharing in Sanskrit?  Because singing Bhajans is often a shared experience, done as a group. Normally the lyrics and melody are simple enough to be picked up by most people.

My mother was part of such a Bhajan group and once a week she would march us two under-10 girls to join the group. We were in Kolkata then, I remember her Bhajan group being near Rashbehari Avenue, close to a park. If I was good and sat still for the hour the session lasted, she would buy me a lolly on the way back home. A pink and white cigarette sized stick was my favourite and that is what I got each week! In the Bhajan group, people would take turns in leading a song of their choice. They would sing a line and the whole group would follow. My mother was a good singer but being the anxious kind, she would meticulously practice one or two Bhajans on the off-chance that she would get the chance to lead – as far I remember, one just butted in and started the moment someone else finished. Being hesitant, she would often not get her chance. Even in these places there was politics and one-upmanship! Still, there was always some nice prasad (food offering) at the end to look forward to!

I too got a chance to lead a bhajan once. I was 18 and taking part in a week-long Spiritual Camp for young people. On the first day, there was an impromptu bhajan session. After a number of songs had been sung, I took courage in my hands (I am not a good singer) and took the lead. Always embarrassed about my high pitched squeaky voice (I can’t sing but I do have a good ear!), I deliberately started in a very low pitch and soon I was in trouble in the lowersthayi.  I still remember someone sniggering from behind.  I was so embarrassed! One never forgets the shame of one’s childhood failures, does one? Needless to say, that was the end of my bhajan leading (or public singing) career!

Today I have chosen a Bhajan which has been made famous by Parveen Sultana, one of the foremost Hindustani classical singers of our times. Take simple lyrics and melody and give it the expertise of a classical singer with years and years of training and experience, and it becomes a gem! This well known Bhajan is in praise of Bhavani (Durga). It is set to raag Bhairavi of the Hindustani system.

भवानी दयानी महा वाकवाणी
सुर-नर-मुनि जनमानी सकल बुध ज्ञानी
जग जननी जग दानी महिषासुर मर्दिनी
ज्वालामुखी चण्डी अमर पददानी

bhavAnI dayAnI mahA vAkvANI
sur-nar-muni janamAni sakala budha gyAnI
jaga janani jaga dAnI mahishAsura mardinI
jvAlAmukhI chaNDI amara padadAnI


Filed under Bhajan, Hindustani Classical Music, Parveen Sultana