Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Raga That Cracks Open Dawn

Early morning ragas have a special magic for me because it is that time when the day gently blooms opens, when everything is so rested, so cleansed, so pure; like a baby’s sleeping breath. And what could be more beautiful that to hear the sound of a raga unfolding in that brightening half-light….

And Raga Bhatiyar is one such raga; a raga so “early morning” that it is performed at dawn.

According to Rajan Parrikar, this raga may have been named after the King of Ujjain, Bharthari or Bhrthari. As the story goes, a Brahmin in Bharthari’s kingdom was given with the fruit of immortality from the heavenly Kalpavraksh; this as a reward for his many years of tapasya and sadhana. The Brahmin – who must have had no use for immortality, as odd as that sounds in this Age of Anti-Ageing elixirs - presented the fruit to his king who, in turn gave it to the love of his life – his youngest and favourite queen.

But alas, the queen loved not the king but the head of the kingdom’s police and so, as a measure of her passion, she gifted it to him. Who – as you will now come to expect in this tale of unrequited circles - was in love not with the queen but a maid of honour in…the king Bharthari’s court! And so, he passed on the fruit to this young lass. Who was much besotted by her boss…or shall we say – the King! When Bharthari saw the fruit back in his hand, he was devastated and decided renounce everything, including his kingdom, to become a santh. His disenchantment with the worldly life poured out as the Vairagya Satakam.

The person to whom Bharthari abdicated his throne to was his younger brother , who went on to become the King Vikramaditya, whose wise and courageous kingship became so famous that many other kings took his name, including Chandragupta II. Now Vikramaditya must have truely revered and loved his elder brother because apparently, the famous ghat at Haridwar called Har ki Pauri (The FootSteps of Shiva) was built by Vikramaditya in honour of Bharthari, who would come to these banks of the Ganga to meditate. This is the point where the Kumbh Mela begins…

Vikramaditya is also the “Vikram” in the famed stories of Vikram Aur Baital or Baital Pachisi as they are also known. According to Isabel Burton, wife of Sir Richard Francis Burton, this set of 25 wondrous tales is the germ that resulted in the Arabian nights. These stories also contain details of the lives of the two brothers.

So - what does all this have to do with the raga? 

Nothing whatsoever except this…

We don’t really know for sure if Raga Bhatiyar was indeed named after King Bharthari. But in trying to find out, it led me to take a fascinating journey that took me thousands of miles away and transported me thousands of years into the past. And I am the richer for it!

Whatever be the source of its name, Raga Bhatiyar is the usher of a new day, performed to rejoice in the sun slowly rising up over the horizon in a huzzah of golds and pinks. Belonging to the Marwa thaat, this ancient raga not a very popular one. But,when I went hunting for renderings of this raga that enchanted my ears. I found three…

The first is the two sisters Ranjani and Gayatri singing a Sant Tukaram abhang that they composed in this raga

The second is an AR Rehman composition for Deepa Mehta’s film “Water”, sung by the underrated, underutilized and now, literally unsung, Sadhna Sargam

The third is an Akka Mahadevi vachana explained and sung by Nachiketa Sharma, a disciple of Pandit Basavaraj Rajguru

And if your heart still yearns for more of this raga as old and as lyrical as a river, here is a rendition by Ajoy Chakravorty’s daughter – Kaushiki Chakravorty

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