Magic of Malhaar or Rain Raga in Indian, Folk and Western Music

As the monsoon winds start to blow, the clouds gather and suddenly torrential rains drench the thirsty earth. Now it’s time to celebrate

This classical raga of melodious music evokes joy, romance, yearning, love and devotion writes Kul Bhushan after enjoying an eclectic concert.

The red-hot sun mercilessly heats the parched soil during the long, dry summer in India. Towards its end, everyone looks up to the cloudless, blue sky for respite. As the monsoon winds start to blow, the clouds gather and suddenly torrential rains drench the thirsty earth, the trees and the people. Now it’s time to celebrate, to sing the famous Raga Malhaar.

At the end of the monsoon season this year, Indian classical maestro, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, the Khalifa of Dilli Gharana of classical music, stages a grand concert in the capital to celebrate over 20 mystic melodies of Raga Malhar with a lineup of over 40 artistes.

The Dilli Gharana Ensemble had Indian Classical orchestra, Indian classical vocalist group, Indian Sufi and folk group and, surprisingly, a Western Classical Instrumental Band. When the curtain rose, the assembled singers and musicians took the breath away of the packed auditorium.

The concert started with a tiny tot singing the basic strains, followed by a spirited violin recital by a twelve-year old prodigy. From then onwards, various versions of Raga Malhaar came thick and fast. The beauty of this Raga is that it is sung by different persons for different reasons: the children dancing and bathing in the rain, the young romantics yearning for their lovers, the married woman longing for her parents’ home where she grew up, the committed devotee thanking the lord for rain. In vocal instrumental, classical, Sufi and folk styles, the soft pitter-patter of rain drops, heavy rain, pouring showers, thundering cloud bursts were all artistically created in different ragas.

Fascinating legends are associated with this raga. When sung passionately and totally, it can induce rain showers. This raga has been sung much earlier than medieval ages. Many legendary maestros like Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Baba Ramdas, Baba Ramdas, Nayak Charju, Miyan Bakhshu, Tantarang, Tanras Khan, Bilas Khan (grandson of Tansen), Hammer Sen, Surat Sen, and Krishna devotee Meera Bai are among the singers who are said to have been capable of starting rains using various kinds of Raga Malhar, according to Dr Geeta Banerjee, author of ‘Raga Malhar Darshan’.

Fabled vocalist Mian Tansen is associated with a legend about this raga. Once the Mughal Emperor Akbar asked his court musician Tansen to sing Raga Deepak, the raga of light. The effect was such that all the lamps in the courtyard lit up themselves, and Tansen’s body became so hot that he had to sit in the nearby river to cool himself.

However, the river began to boil, and it became apparent that Tansen would soon boil to death. He set out on a search to find someone who could sing Raga Malhar to cure him. In due course, he reached Vadnagar, in Gujarat, where he found two sisters, Tana and Riri, whom he pleaded for help. They agreed to sing Raga Malhar to cure him. When they sang, the raga, rains came down in torrents to cool Tansen’s body immediately, as mentioned in a book on Indian music by C. D. Bigamudre.

The concert evoked Tansen’s legend, but did not bring rain though it regaled all those who attended.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi


*  Published in print edition on 13 October 2017

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