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The Ragas of Bargit & Their Evaluation in the Context of Indian Music from Admin's blog

by Dr Pabitrapran Goswami,


We find altogether 36 ragas attached to the Bargits and the Ankar gits: Ahir, Asowari, Barari, Basanta, Belowar, Bhatiyali, Bhupali, Dhanasri, Gandhar, Gauri, Kalyan, Kamod, Kanara, Kau, Kau-Kalyan-Sindhura, Kedar, Karunyakedar, Lalit, Mahur or Maur, Mahur-Dhanasri, Mallar, Nat, Nat-Mallar, Purbi, Saranga, Sindhura, Sri, Sri-Gandhar, Sri-Gauri, Sripayar, Suhai, Syam, Syamgera, Tur, Tur-Basanta and Tur-Bhatiyali. Out of these some are unitary in character and some others are of mixed or compound nature, involving the fusion of two or more ragas. Six of the ragas, viz., Gandhara, Karunyakedara, Kau-Kalyan-Sindhura, Saranga, Sri-Gauri and Sripayar are found only in the Ankas. Of these six again, Gandhara, Karunyakedara, Kau-Kalyan-Sindhura and Saranga, are some of the most sparingly used ragas. The name Gandhara for example is attached to just one or two songs from the Anka entitled Rukmini-harana by Srimanta Sankaradeva. But the extant manuscripts and the printed collections of the Ankas seem not to agree with one another on this point. Thus in a manuscript from Kuji Sattra preserved in the Srimanta Sankaradeva Gavesana Kendra, Batadrava, three songs from the Anka, Rukmini-harana, viz., E sakhi sudina bhayori; Hari hari hamara karama kina bheli; and Sundari dhari hari carana binave, are mentioned as being set in Raga: Gandhara. But most other manuscripts mention all these gits as being in Raga: Sri-Gandhara. In the printed collection of the Ankas, edited by Birinchi Kumar Barua, and also in the complete works of Sankaradeva, edited by Harinarayan Datta Barua the song Hari hari hamara karama .... is mentioned as being in Raga: Gandhara. But interestingly enough even this song is popularly referred to by most of the traditional singers as a song in Raga: Sri-Gandhara. Similar is the problem with the raga called Karunyakedara. Two songs from the Anka entitled Keli-gopala by Sankaradeva, viz., Harika gopi dekhaye napai; and Sakhisava aicana bacana na bola, are mentioned in a few manuscripts and printed collections as being in Raga: Karunyakedara. They are so practised in some sattras too. But in some manuscripts as well as in some other sattras these two songs are attached with Raga: Kedara. However the tunes speak for themselves and a close analysis of the notations of the respective ragas and the songs set therein would reveal the differences between Gandhara and Sri-Gandhara as well as Kedara and Karunyakedara.

Coming to the mixed Raga: Kau-Kalyan-Sindhura, emerging out of the fusion of the three ragas involved, we get only one song set in it in the short dramatic work entitled Rasa-jhumura ascribed to Madhavadeva: Sundari radhe bata bujhaloho tera. Similarly, in Raga: Saranga too, there is only one song in the Anka: Rukmini-harana by Sankaradeva: Kahatu bidhata bedaku bani.

In the Carita Puthis we get the mention of ragas like Akasa-mandali, Bayu-mandali, Timira etc. which are said to have been used by Sankaradeva in his first dramatic venture known as Cihna-yatra.1 There is also reference to some strange atmospheric changes that were allegedly caused by the singing of such ragas. But unfortunately enough those ragas have already become extinct, perhaps because of there being no song either by Sankaradeva or by Madhavadeva attached to them. Yet they might be cited as a historical testimony to the importance attached right from the days of Sankaradeva to the practice of the ragas even apart from the songs set in them. The prevalence of the Rag-malitas2 among some sattriya3 circles also speaks for the special attention the ragas as such have been enjoying among the traditional performers of Bargit.

A few more ragas, like Pahari , Gunjari , Ematkalyan, Sorath, Salengi , Desag, Paraj, Ramgiri, Dhupali, Madhyali, Bhyahgera, Malgera etc. have also intruded into the arena of sattriya music in some sattras like Barpeta and Kamalabari probably during the post-Sankaradeva time. Although some of such ragas are found in the compositions of a few of the post-Sankaradeva lyricists, no evidence is available about their use by Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva themselves. These ragas are mostly used in the performance of Oja-pali,4 where, besides the verses from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Bargits by Sankara and Madhava are also sung in such ragas. In sattras like Barpeta and Kamalabari, Bargits are sung in such ragas in some other occasions too. The gayans of such sattras often claim that these non-Sankarite5 ragas as well as the musico-theatrical form of Oja-pali have been in vogue from the pre-Sankaradeva time. The opinions of the scholars often vary on this issue. Thus, while some show the tendency to support the above view, others consider these items to be post-Sankaradeva importations. The non-Sankarite ragas mentioned above are not naturally related to Bargit. It may however be noted that some of such non-Sankarite ragas along with others like Gondagiri, Srigandhakali, Malasi, Patamanjari etc., attached to a set of songs called Hajovaliya git found in sattras like Daksinpat, Auniati and Bengenaati, are mentioned in the Bauddha Caryagits, the songs of Jaydeva’s Gita-govinda,6 and also in the lyrical compositions of Durgabar and Pitambar, the junior contemporaries of Sankaradeva.

The language, the style of composition, and also the names of a few authors mentioned in the songs, suggest the Hajovaliya gits to be post-Sankaradeva creations or importations. Hence it is not easy to determine whether these non-Sankarite ragas and gits bear testimony to a supposedly uninterrupted tradition of raga sangita in Assam from the pre-Sankaradeva time or to the historic interaction with the musical trends of Delhi and Bengal during the post-Sankaradeva period, especially under the sponsorship of the Ahom king, Rudrasingha. It may be noted that the ragas mentioned above are also found in the tradition of Gauriya Vaishnava Padabali Kirttana of Bengal. Whatever may be the case, these non-Sankarite ragas may possibly help us recover the forgotten forms of their counterparts in the Caryas, the Astapadis as well as the lyrical compositions of Durgabar and Pitambar. Oja-pali, on the other hand, with a separate set of ragas and a separate style of performance, may rightly be recognised as representing a semi-classical tradition of raga-sangita parallel to that of Bargit.

Evaluation of the Ragas of Bargit in the Context of Indian Music:

In the general context of Indian music, the ragas like Gauri, Kedara, Kamoda, Kanara, Saranga, Mallara, Nat, Barari, Basanta etc. are known to have originated between the 5th and the 11th centuries A.D. The other ragas of Bargit also appear in the ancient musical treatises like the Sangita Ratnakara by Sarngadeva, the 13th century scholar cum musician, and hence are not wholly unheard of in the Hindusthani and the Karnatik systems of music too. But the ragas of Bargit, in the forms in which they have been practised as an indispensable part of religious services for more than 500 years now, can hardly be assimilated to their modern Hindusthani or Karnatik counterparts. No other form of music contemporary with or prior to Bargit being alive today anywhere in India, proper comparative analysis is not possible, nor do we have any common standard by which the accuracy of the ragas of Bargit may be judged. Hence to say that the ragas of Bargit are distortions of their original forms, taking their modern counterparts in Hindusthani or Karnatik music as the yardstick, would amount to a sheer negation of the history of the evolution of Indian music.

As has been observed, Bargit reminisces the ancient musical trend of Prabandha Gana. On the other hand both Dhrupad and Kirttan or Kriti, the oldest forms in practice of Hindusthani and Karnatik music respectively, evolved at a later stage. Mansingha Tomar, the King of Gwaliar of the late 15th century, is known to have developed the Dhrupad form after accomplishing some reform of the Dhruva-Prabandha type of songs. Since then Hindusthani music developed through various experimentation by the musicians and the Khayal style of performance became popular in the 18th century at the initiative of Sadaranga, the court singer of Rangila Badshah, Muhammad Shah.

During that period, the Dhrupad form of music also underwent changes. Especially as a result of the experimentation by the court singers like Tansen, during the reign of King Akbar, unprecedented changes occurred in the ragas, talas as well as in the singing style of Hindusthani music. It is said, the sastras (treatises) were at one pole and the practice of music went to the other pole. As a consequence of such changes, the Hindusthani ragas acquired new character in the twentieth century through such new forms as Khayal, Thungri, Tappa etc. Hence it will be a purely unscientific and unhistorical approach to judge the accuracy of the ragas of Bargit set in the ancient tradition of Prabandha Sangit by comparing them with the changed, modern forms of the Hindusthani ragas.

Description of the Ragas also varies in various musical treatises (Sangita Sastra). Let us take the raga Basant for example. The first mention of Basant is found in Sangit Samayasara by Parshvadeva, where Basant is placed in the Raganga category as an Anga-raga or Uparaga of Hindol Raga. Parshvadeva places Basant in the Aurava Jati as, according to him, the notes Re, and Dha are discarded (Barjita) here. Sargadeva also recognises Hindol as the source of Basant and calls it Desi-Hindol, but while placing Hindol in the Aurava Jati, (Re, Dha discarded), shows Basant as a raga of the Sampurna Jati. Pundit Ramamatya (mid 16th century) calls Basant a Suddha Raga of the Sarava-Sampurna Jati (pa being discarded in arohana). In later days some call Basant the source of ragas like Bhairava, while others call it a Bhasa-raga derived from Bhairava. Pundit Somnath calls Hindol the Putra-raga of Basant. In the south there are three chief forms of Basant : Basant, Suddh-Basant, and Raga Basant, although many other forms of the raga are there in combination with other ragas, such as Kala-Basant, Kalyana-Basant etc.

In the Hindusthani Sangit system of modern times also we see various forms of Basant. One form is characterised by the use of Tibra Ma & Komal Dha. Another form, ascribed to the Purbi That, exhibits the use of both the Madhyamas, Komal Re & Komal Dha. A third form, said to be Marwa thatotbhaba, discards Pa and uses both the Madhymas and Suddha Dha. One more form of Basant, said to be Tori Thatotbhaba, is also in practice using Komal Gandhar. Now there is no point why the people who have been accepting the existence of so many different forms of the same raga right from the days of Parshvadeva without questioning should not be ready to accept one more form of the raga preserved by a musical tradition practised with religious restrictions for more than five hundred years now. Instead to question the accuracy of the Basanta Raga of Bargit, simply on the plea of its not conforming to any of the above forms would not be justified.

Analysis shows that the Basanta of Bargit tallies with Yaman of modern Hindusthani system: Ma Tibra, the rest Suddha. Some singers use Tibra Ma in both Arohan and Avarohan, while some discard Ma in Avarohan and some others show the tendency to touch Suddha Ma also in Avarohan. On the other hand, we see resemblance of the Dhanashree Raga of Bargit with Bhimpalasi or Bhimpalshree of Hindusthani music. But to label Basanta of Bargit as Yaman or Dhanashree as Bhimpalasi would be like reversing the flow of time. The need of the hour is to scientifically preserve the ragas and the talas of Bargit as they are and popularise their practice in the traditionally proper style.

The Proper Style of Singing:

Initially Bargit was confined to the surroundings of the Namghar, its utility or importance being restricted as an indispensable part of Nama-Kirttana, the chief ritual of the cult of Vaishnavism established in Assam by Sankara-Madhava. It was only towards the beginning of the 20th century that the musical potentialities of Bargit drew the attention of a few scholars and musicians which inspired them to develop Bargit as a performing art outside the Namghar. Unfortunately, however, that process of bringing Bargit out of the Namghar to the stage also involved a kind of simplification and modernisation of the traditional singing style. Thus the style of singing popularised in the process was not only devoid of Gurughat, Rag-talani, Thela-bajana etc. but also of the Ragalap before the song and the practice of elaborating the Pada part in more than one tala. The style of repeating the burden or the first line of Dhruba, as in the Bak-sanchar style of performance, has also become popular, which is not seen in the traditional style of performance with Khol, Tal, Negera etc.

This popular singing style of Bargit may be said to be just a developed form of the Bak-sanchar style, developed in the sense that here at least one tala is played with the song. At the same time it is also a too simplified form of the traditionally practised ideal performing style. On the other hand, we may trace the influence of the singing style of the songs of Ankiya Bhaona too in this popular singing style of Bargit. Although no difference is maintained between the Bargits and the Ankar Gits while being sung in the traditional Khol-Prasanga, the Ankar Gits are sung in the Bhaona with the accompaniment of the talas assigned to them only. Such renderings happen to be free from the complexities of the Gurughat, Rag-talani, Thela-bajana etc. The songs, in such cases, are even not preceded by the elaboration of the raga too. First the ghat of the tala assigned to the song is played and then the song is sung in rhythm right from the first line. Each line of the song is sung twice to be accompanied by the gaman and the ghat of the tala. However, as in the traditional Khol-prasanga style, the burden of the song is not repeated in between the padas. Finally in the last line of the song the cok of the tala is played to be concluded by the ghat. In a few songs of the Ankas two or three talas are mentioned. In such cases the dhruba part is sung with the accompaniment of the tala mentioned first to be followed by the second and the third talas in the pada part. In case of songs to be sung by some characters of the play, the actor initiates the singing of each line with theatrical gestures without rhythm and the group of gayan-bayan goes on repeating the line in rhythm by playing the gaman and the ghat of the tala ascribed. Finally the song is concluded as usual with the cok and the ghat of the tala. Sometimes the characters are required to dance in songs. In such cases the actors are given additional opportunities to dance by playing bhangi bajana in between the padas. The bhangi bajanas, normally played with talas like cutkala, domani, saru-bisam and rupak, happen to be elaborate rhythmic compositions quite in conformity with the pattern of the original tala. Anyway, in comparison to the Khol-prasanga style of singing a Bargit the normal style of singing the songs of Ankiya-Bhaona is too simple. Actually an admixture of the Bak-sanchar style of singing a Bargit and the style of singing the songs of Ankiya Bhaona has been done in the popular form of Bargit, commonly heard in the radio, television, c.d.s or stage performances today. While the practice of repeating the first line of the burden after every verse is characteristic of the Bak-sanchar style, the singing of a song in a single tala from the beginning to the end, avoiding the complexities of Gurughat, Rag-talani, Thela-bajana etc. and often even without elaborating the raga, is the style of singing the songs of Bhaona. However, we cannot expect to establish Bargit in its proper place as music through this simplified style of performance. In this form Bargit may be recognised at best as a light classical Bhajan type of music. On the other hand, if presented with musical perfection, the Khol-prasanga style of performance, beginning with the Gurughat and ending in the Thelabajana, where the raga is elaborated with the accompaniment of a rhythmic pattern called Rag-talani and each line of the song is sung with the accompaniment of more than one tala, can establish Bargit as a unique musical trend reminiscent of the ancient tradition of Prabandha Gana. Hence to establish the style of performance that begins with the Gurughat and ends in the Thela-bajana as the ideal and the proper style of singing Bargit is the need of the hour. While doing so certain modifications may be necessary. For example instead of playing the orchestral prelude comprising the Gurughat etc. in full we may play just a part of it. The Rag-talani as well as the elaboration of the raga may also be shortened. Again instead of playing more than one tala with each line of the pada portion we may play a separate tala with each verse. Similarly there should not be any difficulty in cutting short the concluding Thela-bajana too. Again although traditionally the the Khol-prasanga style of recital in the Namghar happens to be a choral performance accompanied by several Khols, Tals and Negeras, any public performance of Bargit outside the Namghar may be a solo as well, accompanied by one Khol and one pair of cymbals. After all, while practising Bargit today purely as music outside the Namghar, we should insist upon adopting its traditional style of performance only, that exhibits its actual musical characteristics, may be after the necessary modifications, as have been suggested above.

References and Notes :

1. No remnant of which is now available. It was probably a pantomime type of show, depicted with the help of painted scenes (cihna).2. Short legendary depiction in verse of the genesis of the ragas, set to and sung in the tunes of the respective ragas, evidently as a popular device for memorizing the ragas.3. The adjective form of Sattra, meaning, of or relating to the Sattras.4. The Oja-pali is a musico-theatrical performance in which the Oja (the expert leader) not only initiates the singing to be repeated by the palis (his associates), but also illustrates the contents of the songs through dancing and meaningful gestures of the hands. There are two forms of Oja-pali in Assam, viz., Sukananni or Marai-gova, and Byah-gova. The former is related to the worship of goddess Manasa or Marai, and the latter, related to the depiction of stories from the two Indian epics and the Puranas, has been adapted to the religio-cultural life of certain sattras.5. Not used by Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva.6. A monumental work from the 13th century A.D., containing 24 songs set in 12 ragas and 5 talas. The songs are written in Sanskrit and are popularly called Astapadis because of there being 8 pairs of verses (pada) in each song.


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