In this second part of our weekly series on seasons and music called Ritu, we explore the nuances of the raga Miyan Malhar.
Having embarked on this musical journey with an overview of the cluster of raga Malhar, or the monsoon ragas, we shall today allow our senses to be wooed by the raga Miyan Malhar.
This raga is said to have been created by the sixteenth-century singing legend, Miyan Tansen.
Born as Ramtanu Pandey, Tansen gained popularity as the star singer at the royal courts of Emperor Akbar. Of all the ragas he is said to have invented (rather mixed and matched), Miyan Malhar is one of his most famous.
If you want to listen to the pure, unadulterated form of this raga, here’s Dr Veena Sahasrabuddhe doing a wonderful rendition of a bandish in Miyan Malhar, called ‘Barsan Laagi Badariya Saavan Ki’. The bandish paints the imagery of the monsoons when the dark clouds pour down on the earth, and the lightning with the winds frighten the dainty damsel.
Notice especially the movement from 3:14 minutes to 3:44 minutes in the alap. It is quite something.
All through my childhood, one of the songs I heard often at various music competitions was Vani Jayaram’s “Bole Re Papihara” from the film Guddi. Those three words coherently articulate the main phrase of the raga. The flat and the sharp seventh (Nishad) come in quick succession, “ma pa ni dha ni sa, ni pa ga”. You’ll notice a similar pattern in Sahasrabuddhe’s link between 3:09 minutes and 3:25 minutes. (Having said that, I’m sure you know this song.)
While we talk about raga-based songs in movies, I cannot help but bring up Manna Dey. One of the most versatile and splendid singers of our times, Dey sang classical and light, humorous songs with equal ease and panache. The song ‘Bhay Bhanjana’ from the 1956 film Basant Bahar is based on raga Miyan Malhar. This is one of the few Malhar-based songs that is not about the rains or the weather or anything to do with the seasons. The pain of the lyrics, written by Shailendra, is gracefully brought out by Shankar Jaikishan in the composition, and Dey expresses it precisely, and effortlessly.
But, who says these ragas are only sung in the classical context?
The 1957 film Kathputli features the angelic Lata Mangeshkar in “Nach Re Mayur” based on this raga. The song is not just musically dazzling but also a visual treat, with Vyjayanthimala in it – probably the greatest dancer ever in the Indian film industry. The first (and probably the only) method actor in India, Balraj Sahni, does a phenomenal job, rendering Kathputli as one of the most poignant films in Hindi cinema.
While the actual song starts only from 1:22 minutes, I think you’ll really enjoy watching the video from the beginning.
My mother (who is an ex-Kathak dancer, ex-professor and an ardent Vyjayanthimala fan) often tells me that my initiation to music happened when I was still in her womb. She says she would listen to Mehdi Hassan on loop, over and over again. Sure enough, I grew up listening to Hassan and loving his style of singing. Arguably one of the best ghazal singers, most of his ghazals used to be based on classical ragas.
In his live performances, Hassan often used to explain the raga and how the composition was influenced by it. “Ek Bas Tu Hi Nahi” is one of those ghazals. You’ll hear Hassan speak about it and offer a detailed musical introduction to the raga in his velvety voice, right at the start of the video.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will survey more sub-types of Malhar, until varsha ritu makes way for sharad. More in this series next week.
This article is part of our weekly series called Ritu, which takes readers on a musical journey through seasons, one raga at a time.