9- Raga Profile

Dr. Ibrahim Ali


Every raga has its own profile from the point of view of swara application. The form of raga is decided by some factors of raga grammar, like the position of swaras omitted or applied in ascending or descending, their shuddha or vikrat form, ragang or raga introductory swara combinations or swara phrases, alpatva [rarity] or bahutva [frequent use] of a note, nyas sthan [place of stabilizing], vadi [most important], samvadi [consonant of vadi], purvang pradhanta-uttarang pradhanta [the lower or upper tetra chord dominance] etc. Observing these principles of grammar, the vocalist has to find out the ways of his artistic expression. Ustad Amir Khan combined the tradition and his own thinking in the context of raga profile. That is why in most of the ragas presented by him, the traditional raga vachak [that gives identity to a raga] swara combinations and swara phrases, are easily available, whereas his own imagination generated quite new impact in raga presentation. Dr. Prabha Atre writes: -

“There was thinking of merukhand system in swara creation, but its presentation was very artistic. It was not merely mathematics; there was also his self discretion in the context of raga. That is why the ragas presented by him appear different from prevalent profile and ahead of tradition.”[i]


Khan Saheb used to give importance to the thought as to what profile a raga should have in presentation. That is why he didn’t sing raga bilaskhani todi, until he reached to his own conclusion about raga profile. Similarly to what extent a raga should be improvised in bass octave, he had his independent opinion. For example, he has sufficiently improvised raga lalit and bhatiyar in bass octave, whereas it prevalent that these ragas are to be kept in uttarang [upper tetra chord] from the very beginning. Such applications by Khan Saheb remained controversial among critics too. For example, Mr. Chetan Karnani, in his book ‘Listening to Hindustani Music’, does not consider it proper to apply the method of badhat [gradual movement] in raga lalit by Khan Saheb. From available audio recordings of Ustad Amir Khan, on the basis of some ragas, the raga profile in his vocal style can be analyzed as follows: -


Raga Marwa: Ustad Amir Khan has sung raga marwa in serious mood, joining swaras with meed. Avoiding the shadja, stabilizing more and more on rishabh and dhaivat, he has produced heart touching emotion of compassion. If the traditional profile of marwa is compared to that of Khan Saheb’s marwa, the impact of both would be different. As Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande in his book, Kramik Pustak Malika Vol.2, has stated about raga marwa: “Generally meed is not applied in this raga and it also doesn’t look nice”[ii]


That is in absence of meed, application of swaras in flat manner can not produce effect of pathos [karun rasa]. On the other hand, the quantity of avoidance of shadja by Khan Saheb was more than that was in tradition. Khan Saheb's improvisation in raga marwa have been quoted previously under the topic: 'Alap and Bhadat'. For comparative evaluation, pt. Bhatkhande's swara vistar in raga marwa is as follows:

1. "g, r, s, n, r, s, n r g, r g, m g, r, s.

2. n r g, m g, d m g, rm d n d, m g, r, d, m g, r, g, r s, n r, s.

3. n r g, m d m g, n d, m g, n R n d m d, m g, d, m g, m g, r, s, n, r, s.

4. s, n r n d, m d s, r, g r, mr, d mr, n d m, g r, g m d, mr, g r, s, nr s.

5. n r s, n r g r s, n r g m g r s, n r g m d m g r s, n r g m d n d m g r s, n r g m d n d       m g r s.

6. d m d m g r, g m g r s, n r s, n r n d, m d s, n r g m g r s, n r g m d n R n d m g r        s.

7. n r g, r g, m g, d m g, n R n d m g, n n d d m m g g, R R n n d d m m g g, r g m d       n d m g, n d m g m g r s.

8. m g, m d m, S, S, n R S, G R S, M G R S, n R S, n R n d, m d, n d m g, r g m d n     d m g, d m g, m g, r s.

9. s d; d, n d, m d, n d, m g r, g m d, n d, m g, r, g, r s.

10. m g, m d, m, S, S, S R S, n R G M G R S, M G R S, R S, R n d, m d, n d m g,           r, g m d m g, r, g, r, s, n r, s."


Pt. Ravi Shankar has considered raga marwa presented by Khan Saheb in LP, as an ideal of khayal gayaki. In this regard, his ideas have been expressed in a Marathi article, written by Mr. G.N. Joshi as under: -

“That night, I [G.N. Joshi] got a very beautiful audio recording done in raga marwa by him [Ustad Amir Khan]. It is not necessary to tell the knowledgeable people, what a worth listening presentation of this raga was by Ustad Amir Khan. Two years ago [some time in 1972], Pt. Ravi Shankar delivered a lecture before the students of department of music of Bombay University. For this, he had taken 5-6 LPs from me, from which he played raga marwa of Khan Saheb, as an ideal of swara application, raga presentation and alap, and made the students understand the artistic qualities of Khan Saheb.”[iii]


Pt. Ravi Shankar, in his book ‘Rag Anurag’, has himself accepted Khan Saheb’s presentation of raga marwa as extract of Khan Saheb’s vocal style and Kirana gayaki.


Raga Bilaskhani Todi: Khan Saheb maintained the profile of this raga with the help of todi-ang and in application of swara combinations he assumed sufficient imaginative freedom. That is why, 'r g p m, p m m p d p m' etc swara phrases he applies in raga improvisation, also he applies them in the basic bandish of vilambit khayal. To see the swara notation of bandish of vilambit khayal of raga bilaskhani todi, click here Thus, departing from the prevalent profile, the pancham swara has been generally taken in descending and madhyam swara has been given importance as nyas. Such usage brings this raga near komal rishabh asavari raga but if komal rishabh asavari, presented by Khan Saheb is kept in mind, the difference becomes clear; because he has maintained alpatva [rareness] of gandhar swara in komal rishabh asavari. Whereas the sama of vilambit khayal of raga bilaskhani todi too falls on gandhar.


Khan Saheb had presented raga bilaskhani todi also in Radio Music Conference of 1972. On that occasion, he made a new experiment by including tivra madhyam, due to which the lower tetra chord of the raga in descending became much similar to todi raga. Acharya Brihaspati was also present in that concert. His reaction to this experiment was as follows: -

“Two years ago, he [Ustad Amir Khan] has rendered bilaskhani in Radio Music Conference. He used tivra madhyam in it and maintained fully. Though I would not like to do so, but I had to appreciate his genius.”[iv]


It is to be noted that in HMV LP, No. ECLP-2765, there is no use of tivra madhyam in bilaskhani todi.


Raga Charukeshi: An example of his experimentation with the raga profile can be found in raga charukeshi, wherein he has freely applied rishabh in aroha. Due to this reason, he has also included the swara phrases like 'r g m p, s r g m p'. So some impression of raga natbhairav is possible. With such swara phrases, joining the upper tetra chord, and by abundance of komal nishad in it, he protects charukeshi from natbhairav.[v]


Raga Darbari Kanhada: Special discipline is required to vocalize raga darbari, looking to its profile and gravity. During the movement of raga, Khan Saheb improvises it from every possible angle, with the controlled andolan [tonal glide] of ati komal gandhar and dhaivat. He does not mix swara phrases such as 'r m p' or 'p n s' in ascending, with sarang ang, for making the movement of raga easy and accessible. Even under the tans, gandhar and dhaivat remain in aroha. After establishment of profile of the raga fully, some non prevalent usage are seen in his vocalism. For example, in the audio recording of Akashwani Indore, 'd n g m' and 'd. n r g r', such usages are found in tarana of darbari. Considering such new experiments being made by Khan Saheb in darbari as proper, Acharya Brihaspati writes: - “Amir Khan intelligently used freedom in raga like darbari, but it was very scanty. It was his own specialty.”[vi]


Raga Malkauns: Madhyam and shadj as being vadi [dominant] and samvadi [subdominant] respectively, are generally used emphatically in malkauns. Since Khan Saheb wanted expression of devotion and pathos in malkauns, he gave a new dimension to this raga by laying stress in various ways on komal gandhar and the komal nishad of bass octave. Also the sama of his vilambit khayal falls on the komal nishad of bass octave. To see notation of vilambit khayal of raga malkauns, click here


Raga Hansadhwani: Raga hansdhwani of South Indian Music was adopted for khayal gayaki and Khan Saheb has added swara combinations in it, according to the interest of prevalent North Indian Music. Such worth mentioning swara combinations are as follows: -

1. p s n r, 2. r n p s, 3. p n r g r, 4. g p r s, 5. n R n p g r, 6. n r g p, 7. g r g p, 8. p g     n p.


In the above swara phrases, 'n r', 'g r' and 'p r', swara combinations may appear to be influenced by kalyan ang from the point of view of ragang, but in the presentation by Khan Saheb, the purpose of avoiding shadja swara for some time was to produce a peculiar beauty there in. On avoiding the shadja, appearance of swara combinations, like 'n r' or 'r n' is quite natural. Afterward, the swara combinations of 'g r' and 'p r' were accepted as included in raga hansadhwani by most of the musicians of North India.


In this way, on the basis of some selected ragas in the gayaki of Khan Saheb, we understood his own experiments amidst the prevalent trends of raga profile. Some other qualities of his gayaki regarding ‘raga’, can be summed up in the following points: -

1)      What swaras should be applied to raise the raga, in this regard he had his own style, which some times appeared to be different from the prevailing modes. For example, raising bageshri with bass dhaivat, with bass dhaivat and rishabh in puriya and in darbari with bass dhaivat and gandhar.

2)      He did not take much interest in mixed and non prevalent ragas, but has vocalized mixed ragas such as kafi kanhada, bageshri kanhada, kaunsi kanhada, hemkalyan, nandkalyan, puriyakalyan, bhatiyar etc.

3)      He did not aim to show his dexterity in tirobhav [concealment] and avirbhav [unfolding]. In different dimensions of expressing emotions, the shadow of samprakritik [similar] raga can be seen naturally and the entire profile of basic raga being clear, no special effort is required for avirbhav [unfolding].

4)      Khan saheb has avoided some prevalent swara usage in certain ragas too. As in raga bhatiyar, the swara combination 'm d S', coming as part of marva ang, Khan saheb apples shuddha madhyam only, in place of tivra madhyam. In his bhatiyar presentation preserved with Akashwani Indore, there is no tivra madhyam and because of this there is no lalit ang also. The second example can be given of raga ahirbhairav, wherein he never applied shudha rishabh, which is commonly done. Similarly in his presentation of raga lalit, the swara combination of 's m' has not been applied any where.

[i] Swarmayee, P. 29, ‘Amir Khan Saheb’, Author: Dr. Prabha Atre.

[ii] Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati-Kramik Pustak Malika-Vol.2l [Hindi version] P. 282, Author: Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande.

[iii] Maharashtra Times-22nd Feb 1974, ‘Ustad Amir Khan’, Writer: G. N. Joshi.

[iv] Sangeet-March 1974, P. 10, ‘Do Shraddhanjaliyan’, Writer: Acharya Brihaspati.

[v] Observe-H.M.V. Cassette No. S.T.C.-4B-7371 Side A.

[vi] Sangeet-March 1974, P. 10, ‘Do Shraddhanjaliyan’ Writer: Acharya Brihaspati.