Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Prahars in Hindustani Classical Music

I love winters in Mumbai, a welcome break from the otherwise sultry climate that haunts Mumbai month after month. While mornings are commonly crammed with laziness followed by the tempting desire to bunk work, evenings give way to chancing upon creatures who share the same patronizing fervor for Old Monk. And not to forget unlike Dilli ki sardi there’s this certain nip in the air in Mumbai that follows you through the day along with the mishmash of plans for the weekend week on week. January and February truly are only one of their kinds. But what fascinates me personally is how these months are chock-a-block with concerts; Hindustani, Sufi, Ghazals, World, you name it and they would feature in either of these months’ gig calendar.

Last week I was attending a recital by Ustad Shahid Pervez, a prominent bastion of the gayaki ang in sitar playing and one of the very few purists of the Hindustani tradition of music who’s consciously stayed away from fusing his art with no other genre of music. When you attend a concert of such a legendary artist, you’re rest assured being mesmerised in the beautiful pool of raga-dhari sangeet, entwining taals amongst the delicately touched upon swars displaying virtuosity of the artiste, but it was something more than the notes of bageshri that lingered with me long after the performance.

I couldn’t really place my finger on it until the next day when I was singling out a particular raga to be heard early in the morning. And then I remembered what Shahidji had said at the start of his performance, “waqt ki raza toh nahi par bhabhiji (Ustad Rais Khan’s wife) ne farmiash ki hai, raga bageshri pesh kar raha hoon”. I recall seeing some confused faces in the audience but before they could react to it, Ustadji commenced his recital. What Shahidji spoke simply as a matter of fact is indeed one of the most significant facets of Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet: Prahar.

Like a preset function on our music system, ragas too come with a fixed time of the day and season of the year of its performance. It is programmed this way for the performer and the audience to gain optimum pleasure of the composition. Ragas performed at their prescribed time of the day add to the artist’s dexterity and the melody of the raga. These allotted sections of the day are known as prahars.
According to Hindu philosophy, time is a cyclical than a linear concept. Thus a day is divided into eight sections (ashth prahar) of three hours each (four in the day, four in the night). As what is foretold Hindustani music too flowed from the mythological era, the raga system is intricately associated with the eight prahars to maximise its aesthetics. For example, raga miyan ki malhar is performed during the monsoons, raga basant in the spring time, so as raga bahar.

Ragas create vibrations which are associated with particular feelings and sentiments. Like, if raga bhairav has the serenity of early dawn, raga darbari kanhara has the splendour of midnight; likewise raga bhupali can never be associated with mirth and fun whereas raga bageshri is a perfect backdrop for a light hearted romantic mood.

Simply put, there is this unseen link between our music and moods. A lullaby would put a child to sleep at night but the same song sung in the day may not have the same effect on the child or a love song sounds and arouses differently every time you hear it in different times of the day and so on. Similarly, it is believed that the ragas were composed keeping in mind the link between our changing moods to the changes in nature. This eventually gave way to the time cycle of ragas where there is a special raga for each period of the day and each mood in a human psyche. It is believed that such a finely tuned understanding of the mood created by different musical notes does not exist in any system of music, anywhere in the world.

The Time Cycle / Ashth Prahar

1st Prahar: 0700 to 1000: raga bilawal / raga bhatiyar / raga hindol
2nd Prahar: 1000 to 1300: raga asavari / raga jaunpuri / raga shudh sarang / raga deshkar

3rd Prahar: 1300 to 1600: raga bhimpalasi / raga multani / raga pilu
4th Prahar: 1600 to 1900: raga poorvi / raga puriya dhanashee / raga marwa / raga shree
5th Prahar: 1900 to 2200: raga yaman / raga bhoop / raga kedar / raga gorakh kalyan
6th Prahar 2200 to 0100: raga behag / raga bageshwari / raga khamaj / raga desh

7th Prahar: 0100 to 0400: raga adana / raga malkauns / raga chandrakauns / raga darbari kanhara
8th Prahar: 0400 to 0700: raga bhairav / raga lalit / raga gunkali / raga ramkali

Like a fragrance blending with skin and moisture in the air to give different aromas, a raga too sung at the right prahar arouses the right sentiment as it complements each mood. To talk musically, these prahars can then be further grouped into more specific segments (as seen above) based on their nature and day part. Like in early mornings, Bhakti-rasa and shant-rasa suit the mood hence uttarangwadi ragas in thaats of bhairav are most suited for this time. As the day progresses and the temperature of the day is at its highest, musicians shift to poorvangwadi ragas in the thaats of kafi, marwa and poorvi. As the day’s temperature starts dipping in evening, it’s the mood for romance or shringar rasa, performers hence shift back to uttarangwadi ragas. Ragas like lalat, pooriya sung at dawn and dusk respectively can also be termed as sandhi-prakash ragas.

It is believed, though I’m not very sure of this, that artists like Miyan Tansen were able to change the course of nature through their powerful performances (the famous raga deepak that lit all the diyas in the durbar). Call it wishful thinking if you like but it is believed that ragas have the latent power to summon rains or even start a fire or rejuvenate spirits or create an atmosphere of absolute bliss (jannat). Well, I’ve been listening to Hindustani Music since a child of 5 years and I’m yet to come across such a performance. I do look forward to it in more ways than one but for the time being the notes of raga bageshri plucked by Ustad Shahid Parvez are still resonating in my ears.

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