5- Alap and Badhat

Dr. Ibrahim Ali


Among the different elements of khayal gayaki, based on extempore improvisation, alap is supposed to be most effective in expressing the basic theme of raga and presenting its form. Especially in swara dominant gayaki, it becomes necessary to pay more attention to refinement of alap. If looked from another angle, it appears that a gayaki becomes swara salient on account of giving more importance to alapchari. In the above matter, alap means an alap falling under a nibadha gayaki [within the composition and tal accompaniment]. It does not mean alap or nom tom etc, being presented before a bandish.


In the opinion of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi: “Alaap is the life-force of the song. It is only the Alaap that is capable of capturing the temperament of the artist. If the artist is Shaant [at peace] and Gambhir [serious], like Amir Khan was, the Alaap will represent the core of his very being.[i]


Mr. Vaman Hari Deshpande writes: "Like Kirana and Patiala gayaki, this [Amir Khan's] gharana also belongs to tantkar [players of stringed musical instruments]. Shahmir Khan, father of Amir Khan, was a famous Sarangi player and Amir Khan himself is fond of Sarangi. That is why stretching of strings can be found in the three gharanas equally. - - -

Therefore giving greater emphasis on alap by tantkars is quite natural. Because of this, all the gharanas having quality of stretching strings are devotees of alap bazi. Predominance of application of fine kans is generated on account of pull of the string and all these things are found in the gayaki of Amir Khan Saheb in prominence.”[ii]


In this context, Dr. Prabha Atre opines:

“The style of Khan Saheb was nearer to Kirana, yet his improvisation and presentation of raga was quite different. - - - His very first swara appeared to be coming from inner apartment of a temple as if it was coming out with its sacredness. It made the listener spell bound. Then started the weaving of swaras. Every swara, in the context of raga, came forward with its whole beauty and stabilized. With the support of kans, stuck to swara, and complex forms of meed, his alap blossomed.”[iii]


As much importance Khan Saheb gave to bass octave under alap, was different from the prevalent khayal gayaki of that period. Nevertheless, in the alap of dhrupad, lower octave was improvised. Reaching of his alap to mandra gandhar several times, was usual thing. The alap in lower octave was the foundation for the building of his improvisation. Bhatiyar is supposed to be an uttarang dominated raga, and from the very beginning, it rises with 's– d, d n p, d m, p g,' etc, in such a way it goes towards uttarang, and usually the notations of bandishes are also of the same pattern. Even adopting the traditional bandish of raga Bhatiyar, [Barni Na Jaye], Amir Khan Saheb easily performs alap of lower octave in few rotations of beginning in his well known method, whose form is as follows:


s n d, p p d n d n p,d n p g, g m d p, m m p d n p, p p d n r n d, n d s. [Except sa and re, all are of lower octave.]


He started alap around madhya shadja with the discipline of progression. He used to begin improvisation of alap with bol alap. Once the bandish was started, he did not perform wordless alap by making akar etc as medium. The movement of alap generally reached the rishabh, gandhar or madhyam of treble octave and in the end; he stabilized alap on shadja of treble octave. In between these bol alaps, he artistically mixed behlavas, zarab and swara alap [alap with swara names in the form of sargam], which was helpful in maintaining attraction of his gayaki.


According to Ms. Bindu Chawala: “Its [of Amir Khan’s style] movements have been compared to the telling of a story-with structuring of commas and full stops, sentences and chapters.”[iv]


The comparison of Amir Khan’s gayaki with a story can be meaningful in another sense also. As the climax of a story occurs at the end, but its real pleasure can be derived only when the reader goes through all the events described previously. Similarly the real effect of raga presentation by Ustad Amir Khan can be appreciated by a listener, when his mind is constantly tuned with all the stages of gradual development of the raga.


“Ustad Amir Khan has compared khayal gayaki to mountaineering. He said: Patience is required in mountaineering and continuous climbing is also essential. On stopping, foot will slip and on running, one will roll down. Those who clapped on your running would also clap on your helplessly falling down. They would ridicule you. Instead, one should climb the mountain with patience. There is pain but the pleasure is also immense. Get delighted and be happy. Every one will come to taste that pleasure. Seeing cheerfulness in your eyes, they would also like to share it.”[v]


In sum, there should be gradual and patiently unfolding of raga during improvisation. As in mountaineering, running and halting, both are dangerous; similarly, neglecting orderliness in raga presentation in haste and monotonous repetition, both inflict damage to the raga-rasa.


All the qualities of alap and raga progression of Ustad Amir Khan mentioned above can be summed up on the following points: -


1)     Brief alap before bandish: - Before presenting bandish of a raga, he            performed brief alap through akar.

2)     Bol alap within nibadh gayaki: - When he improvised a raga under the        bandish of khayal, he always blended the alap with the words of                  bandish. In nibadh gayaki, he did not take wordless alap by akar only.

3)     Improvisation centered on lower and middle octaves: - First, the gradual       improvisation reached to the bass octave, and then the raga was slowly         improvised into middle octave. He hardly emphasized alap presentation        over shadja of treble octave.

4)    Selection of thought provoking ragas: -Especially he liked generally             known ragas, having infinite scope for improvisation and having definite       and independent form, such as: darbari kanhada, abhogi kanhada,             malkauns, marva, Shudha kalyan, multani, todi, lalit, yaman etc.

5)   Reign of shadja [keynote]: - The alap style of Khan Saheb was such that       swara phrases got complexity with different varnas and were eliminated       on keynote. Marva is the only exception; otherwise there is reign of               keynote in most of the ragas. Coming on shadja only at the end of alap,        before taking the mukhada [refrain], such formality was not applicable         to his style.

6)    Clear status of swaras: - Under the gradual movement with every swara        of a raga, light is thrown through different swara combinations, because       of which the status of every swara becomes clear. Instead of phirat by           lengthy ascending and descending, he created alap by making the main         nyas swaras as center. That was the specialty of his gayaki.

The alap of initial five rotations in raga darbari and marwa, available in LP records, have been provided below in swara notation. It will help to understand the practical aspect of Khan Saheb’s alap and movement system.


Raga Darbari Swara Vistar: -

Alap/badhat of the raga in initial five avartans of vilambit khayal presented in LP No.EALP-1253, side B:

1.     m p, nd n p, m p n g, m p, d n p, nm n p n g, g m p nd, n, d sn, (n            s).

2.     pm p d, d (n p), dn m p nd, (n p), m p nd, n s (dn p), nm p g m p,             nd n n s dn p, m p nd, sn, (n s).

3.     m p nd sn s, d n s, d n p s, m p nd n s (dn s) p m p n p g m p nd, (n          s), d n p s, d, sn s.

4.     d sn r, s, r sn [s] (nd n p s), d n (r, s n d n r) - n r s, d n s r r s (nd n              r d r d n s), m p d, r r s (d sn s) d n (p r s).

5.     n s r r g, (m r), s, mr sn [s] n s r r sd, d (sn mg), r [s] nd n r, s, d n s              r g m r [s] (nd sn m d sn r - s r, [s] sd, d n s r g m d d mg n (r d) n              p, ps, n sr, mr sn [s] nd, d d n s r g m [s], sd n s r (rd r) s.


Raga marwa Swara Vistar: -

Alap/badhat of the raga in initial five avartans of vilambit khayal presented in LP No.EALP-1253, side A:

1.     m d, m d m g r g m d, g m g d, m n d, m gr g m (d r d), g (m n m            d), n dm d m n d, (n d s).

2.     m, n n d, n d m d, m dn n d, g g m d n n d m g m d, m n d, dr g mn         d, n m d - m d n m d, g d - m d n m d - m n - d, n n d d m d n - d,           n dm nd s.

3.     dn - d rn r - nd n d, nd rn r - n d, nr, nd, m n d, rn r n r, n d, m d n r          [n] - d m d m r - n d, m g r g m d n r, dn dr - rn d, m n d s.

4.     d rn r - r r, n d, n r n r, n d, d n r r n d, m d, n r, n d, (r, d n m n, d r          n r), n r n d, n r d n d r, n r nd, r n dn d, (m r) n m d m n m d - n (r          - s).

5.     d n r g (r - gd) n r g, nr d, d n r g g r, g r, g g r n n (d g r), n d, d n r g, r n d n                d r, n r g, r, ‘grndnr,’ r gr, n d, mn d, r n g n r d g r - n d ds.


[i] India Today, 15 Sept. 1987, P. 124, 'Bhimsen Joshi- The Master's Choice'- By Inderjit Badhwan

[ii] ‘Gharanedar Gayaki’ Chapter-‘Indore Aur Amir Khan’, Author: V. H. Deshpande, P. 93

[iii] ‘Swarmayee’-P. 28-29, Chapter-‘Amir Khan Saheb’, Author: Dr. Prabha Atre

[iv] Hindustan Times-30th Oct., 1988, ‘The journey of Gharanas’. Author: Bindu Chawala

[v] Sangeet-Dec. 1973, P. 26, ‘Sangeet Jagat Ke Amir-Ustad Amir Khan’, Writer: Madanlal Vyas.