Indian singing at the BM

*For a roundup of posts on raga, with a general introduction, see here!*


Bihag, ragamala. Yale University Art Gallery.

After some time immersed in the rich harmonies of Mahler 10, it made a nice contrast for me to bask in the purity of monophonic Hindustani music in the Indian gallery of the British Museum. With the arhat at the other (Chinese) end of the gallery gazing on serenely from afar, Kaushiki Chakraborty sang with the lucidity and intensity characteristic of the style, accompanied by tabla and harmonium (the latter, alas, only intermittently suggestive of the bandoneon—call me old-fashioned, but you still can’t beat the sarangi).

She began with a khayal in the late-evening rāg Maru Bihag—whose relation with rāg Yaman (and Yaman Kalyan) is a subtlety to be explored by the aficionado. But even for the less attuned ear it’s worth homing in on the basic vocabulary of raga: the pitch relationships, always expounded most clearly in the opening alap.

To simplify absurdly the ascending and descending scales, and the choices of phrases within them, Ms Chakraborty’s version of the rāg featured Ni and Ma prominently, using an ascending scale of

Ni  Re  Ga  Ma  Dha  Ni

—feeding on the tension with the tonic drone of Sa, as in many ragas. The natural-fourth degree ma is introduced as a subsidiary theme (Ni Ga ma, or Sa ma, and Ga ma Ga), and later a sustained Pa also features. Here’s a version she sang in 2017:

Here’s a rendition by the great Nikhil Banerjee on sitar:

And for a version on shehnai, see Raga for winds.

8 thoughts on “Indian singing at the BM

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