As the inheritor of a venerable tradition of classical music, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan could have easily been crushed by its sheer weight. But such is the lightness of being endowed by the music itself on its favoured few, that he was able to evolve both the sarod and its style of playing.
In tune with the changing socio-cultural scenario of modern India, he has taken realms of experience. The innovations go back to his 19th century ancestor Ghulam Bandegi Khan Bangash who played the rabab, a Persian folk stringed instrument, with a somewhat staccato sound. Growing up in the wooded tracts of Rewa (home to the rare white tiger), in the lush green heart of India, he listened intently to the melodic suppleness and depth of Indian classical music and decided to attain these for the rabab. The addition of a metal chest on the finger board along with metal strings replacing the old gut ones made melodic exploration possible. The raba was thus re-named sarod, from the Persian word for melody, sarood.
Invitations from royal courts soon followed and Ghulam Bandegi Khan became a superstar of his time. His descendants added assiduously to the repertoire. In turn, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan has added content with depth through making the sarod ‘sing’ vocal genres like ekehra taan and dhrupad, dhamar, khayal and thumri song forms. He has envisioned 18 new ragas between 1961 and 1997, mostly for the evening and night, except for Suhag Bhairav and Amiri Todi (both conceived of in 1971) which are morning ragas.
In this album he explores three grand old traditional ragas that are pillars of Hindustani music: Mian ki Malhar, Desh, Durga, Mian ki Malhar, a variant of the ‘Rain Ragas’ of the Malhar family is said to be the creation of Mian Tansen and has edged out its original source, Shuddha Malhar from the present concert gamut. It contains shades of another exquisite raga, Kanada. Great innovators of the 17th century like Sadarang and Adarang have left weighty khayal bandishes in Mian ki Malhar and it is incredibly popular today with both Bollywood composers and the severest classical gurus.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan takes this evocative raga beyond its first impression as a light monsoon melody to the splendour of celestial forces, in which huge bolts of energy play life thunder and lightning in the heavens. To return us to earth from the skies and revel in the sensuous feel of fertile soil between our toes comes Raga Desh, of the Khamaj that, born of the Sorath scale that it overshadowed, say musicologists, with its subtle, insinuating use of the Gandhar. Des literally means ‘land’ or ‘country’ and is one of the most popular and beloved ragas in India, appearing in almost every musical genre from khyal to ghazal to hori and bhajan. It is the voice of political history as well, since the stirring nationalist call to Independence, ‘Vande Mataram’ (Hail to the Motherland) was set in Desh. This song was a stirring battle cry for the freedom fighters who rendered India back to Indians from colonial rule in 1947 and it carries both spiritual race memories, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s exploration is an emotional journey into the heart of Raga Desh, as much as a citizen of the world as of India, for love of Mother Earth is a universal feeling.
Raga Durga (26':37")
Durga is a romantic evening raga associated with joyful energy. It is an Audav (Pentatonic) raga that omits Gandhar the third and Nishad the seventh note, hence it goes Sa, Re, Ma, Pa, Dha in ascending, and Sa, Dha, Pa, Ma, Re in descending order. It consists of all shuddha swaras avoiding any flat or sharp notes. Some artists believe it to be dedicated to Goddess Durga.
The second volume begins with Raga Durga. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan gives it a systematic and detailed treatment by playing the introductory Aalap, followed by three subsequent gats in slow, medium and fast tempo of Teentaal, a rhythmic cycle of sixteen beats. The treatment of the raga is elaborate and adorned with diversified phrases. The artiste reveals a high level of musicianship and artistic depth in his masterly handling of the raga.
Raga Mian ki Malhar (18':03")
This raga is supposed to be a creation of Mian Tansen hence it is called Mian Ki Malhar or Mian Malhar. It is a seasonal raga and can be performed any time during the rainy season. The melody is attributed to late night hour but sounds particularly pleasing during the rainy season . .It belongs to Kafi That. Komal (flat) Gandhar and both Komal and Shuddha (flat and sharp) Nishad are used in this raga. Gandhar is avoided in ascent and Dhaivat in descent. It has a Vakra Chalan because the straight ascent or descent does not bring out the character of the raga. It has very sober calm and pleasing mood.
The artiste begins with a slow meditative Aalap which outlines the main phrases of the raga creating the appropriate atmosphere for the gat (composition) to follow in Teentaal, Madhya Laya(medium tempo). He gradually develops the structure of the raga by a skilful weaving of note combinations continuing the main theme. The oscillation of Komal Gandhar and the sensitive use of both the nishads move Rasikas with the emotional intensity of the raga.
Raga Des (10':02")
Raga Des or Desh belongs to Khamaj That with Komal (flat) Nishad in the descent. Its Jati is Audav- Sampoorna because it omits Gandhar, the third and Dhaivat, the sixth note in Aaroh, the ascending order, and comprises all seven notes in Avaroh, the descending order. It is a popular evening raga and portrays love especially in Monsoon. Being a romantic melody it is often used in lighter veins like Thumri Dadra or the Dhun.
Ustad Amajad Ali Khan concludes this volume with a melodious Dhun in Raga Des set to Chancher Theka of fourteen beats cycle. The use of both Komal and Shuddha (flat and Sharp) Nishads enhance the beauty of the Dhun in full measure. It gradually gathers momentum when the Tabala player matches his wits with the maestro in the concluding laggi that reaches the performance to a crescendo.
Raga Subha Rasa Sarod Samrat Ustad Amjad Ali Khan By: Renuka Narayanan, Irfan
Programme Notes By: Manjari Sinha
Introduced By: Amaan Ali Khan & Ayaan Ali Khan
Front Cover Photograph: Vinash Pasricha
Back Cover Photographs: Amjad Ali Khan’s Archives
Project Director: Navin Kumar
Devised & Designed By: Kamalini Dutt
Associates: Ved M Rao & Kali Prasad
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