Friday, July 3, 2015

The Raga of the Dusk

They say, Tagore never composed a song in the raga Marwa. That is not surprising because Tagore was famous for his affinity for uttaranga-vadi ragas such as Purvi, Puriya-Dhaneshri, Puriya, Shri, Bageshri and their combinations. These ragas, with their flat tones, with occasional stress on sharp ones such as the teevra madhyama, produce a sensation of a peculiar punch of warm and cool colors.

                                                   Sunset over Venice - Monet , 1908

We see such colors in nature only during the sunrise and sunset. However, sunrise begins from the dark. It is always rich with red tones. In the dusk, the gradient from blue to red, leading to wild tonalities of magenta, challenges the highest human imagination. The palettes take on any color, continuously and drastically, in any combination, from azure, through turquoise, to magenta, purple and orange.

We call that the light for the first romance. Anyone looks beautiful in that light. Photographers call it the magic hour. This time of day is called sandhya in the North Indian languages. That  word means transition. The mood signifies the transition between work and home, the one between wakefulness and sleep.

Komal, or flat, notes in succession evoke the mood of the blue – the distant, unknown, nostalgic stars, of whose dust we are made. In contrast, teevra notes and shrutis evoke the sense of the warmth, earthly, close. The ragas of the dusk, such as Marwa or Purvi stitch those two strands of our emotion in different patchworks. A master like Ustad Amir Khan easily roams from Puriya through Dhaneshri back to Marwa, just by changing the emphasis from dha to gaa, as the point of return. This is interesting to note that what we call scale (D-major, for example), is roughly known as the thaat, or major raga, in the Indian classical system. The scale may undergo variations on the use of different chords and notes. Similarly, we have closely linked, different ragas.

Some ragas have the same movement through notes and shrutis – shrutis are semi, quarter and even minor fractions between quarter notes. Take Shivaranjani and Bhopali, for example. Bhopali is roughly tantamount to Em7 and E7 chords on a pentatonic scale. Here, if one changes just a single note, shuddha gaa to komal gaa, the raga changes. It is touched upon by the mystery of komal swaras conflicted with the shuddha ones.

Coming back to the ragas of the dusk, or vespertine ragas, they primarily originate from two major scales – Purvi – S r G M P d N, and Marwa – S r G m D N. The change in only one note – from komal dhaivata in Purvi to the shuddha swara in Marwa, changes the collision among the notes. Hence, the presence of pancham swara in Purvi is justified. Marwa does not need that support.

One of the best expressions in Marwa is here

Tagore used Purvi and related ragas a lot in his songs of nostalgia, tantalizing love, first look and waiting. Sometimes, he changed the shuddha madhyam of Purvi to its teevra swara equivalent. The result is magnanimous, as one many find in this rendition. 

But, the question remains. Why did Tagore shy away from Marwa? It is a main Dhrupad raga, and one major scale, or thaat, both in Bhatkhande and Palushkar systems.

when I hear the typical dha-ni-ri-sa-ma-ga-re of Purvi, I immediately visualize a blusih-orangish long stretch of road arcaded by tall plants, with patches of sky seen through. Sunset time. A typical low-key situation in cinematic term.

He has composed on ragas based on the Marwa scale, even in ragas like Deepak-Pancham which was not so popular - Prathama aadi taba shaktii. Why he never used Marwa would always remain a mystery.