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      Bhairav - The Primordial Sound

      In this session, we occupy ourselves with a coup d'oeil of the hoary Raga Bhairav and members of its extended family. Bhairav connotes three entities: the rAga, the rAgAnga, and the thAT. All the three converge only in the flagship Raga Bhairav. Concerning its etymology, "Bhairav" is the epithet associated with Lord Shiva's fierce, bhayAnak swaroopa. In old treatises Bhairav is referred to as the AdirAga and comes attached with a wealth of lore. In his monumental exegesis Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati , Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande has sifted through Bhairav's tortuous history and its passage through time in great, and sometimes painful, detail. We shall here confine ourselves to its contemporary musical structure and practice.

      Bhairav is so fundamental to Indian tradition that its impaction on the nation's musical soul can never be overstated. Even the unlettered in the land is familiar with its germ in some form or the other. The overlay of Bhairav strains on an early, bucolic Indian morning affords a purifying experience like no other. Verily, it falls to the lot of the noblest of rAgas, deserving of renewal and reflection in the portals of the mind every single day.

      Throughout this promenade M = shuddha madhyam, m = teevra madhyam.

      The swara set constituting the Bhairav thAT - S r G M P d N - is congruent with the 15th Carnatic melakartA Mayamalavagoula. Raganga Bhairav (Bhairavanga) is composed of two chief threads, one each in the poorvAnga and uttarAnga regions.

      G M P G M (G)r, S

      The point of note here is the special Andolita treatment accorded the komal rishab in the avarohAtmaka movement. This ucchAraNa is vital, represents Bhairav's signature, and at once precipitates the Raganga.

      G M (N)d, d, P

      This is the uttarAnga marker of the Raganga. The swara lagAv of both r and d is Andolita, a sine qua non for effective expression of the Bhairavanga.

      The lakshaNAs of Raga Bhairav are now formally fleshed out:

      G M (n)d, (n)d, P, P G M (G)r, S

      The komal nishAd, while nominally varjya, is nevertheless cultivated through the Andolita nature of the dhaivat. That is to say, it is "gupt" (hidden) and rarely laid out explicitly in notation although in some of the old Dhrupad compositions there is a somewhat less inhibited recourse to the komal nishAd. Notice the pancham - 'langhan alpatva' (skipped) in the Arohi movement and 'nyAsa bahutva' (point of repose) in the avarohi mode. This is characteristic of Ragadari music where a swara may be called upon to wear multiple hats in service of the rAga. The swara, it must be emphasized, is not synonymous with note.

      G M (N)d, (N)d N S", N S" (N)d N d P

      The dhaivat is now caressed with the shuddha nishAd, the retreat from S"->d is mediated by a meeND. Although the intonational nuances are difficult to convey through the written word we shall shortly remedy the situation with the tools of current technology. The offerings in our audio package embosom all the subtleties of ucchAraNa.

      S G M P G M, G M (G)r, S r G M P

      The rishab is often rendered alpa and skipped in Arohi movements. An occasional deergha madhyam makes for a pleasing effect. The treatment of gandhAr calls for careful handling since an inopportune nyAsa may inadvertantly create an AvirbhAva of Raga Kalingada (to be discussed later). Ragas Kalingda and Gouri (Bhairav thAT) use the same set of notes but embody different Ragangas.

      Building on the foregoing discussion leads to the following formulation:

      S, (G)r (G)r S, (N')d' N' S, N' S G M, G M (G)r, S

      S r G M P, P G M (N)d, d, P, P GMPGM (G)r, r S

      G M (N)d, d, P, G M P d N S", r" S" N S" (N)d, d, P

      The gAyaki of the rAga thus outlined is complemented by straight Arohi-avarohi runs ( SrGMPdNS":S"NdPMGrS ) and other supporting gestures. With this propaedeutic we are now ready for a dip in the Bhairav ocean. The prefatory pieces are Bhairav-based samples drawn from the 'light' arena. The operative word here is "based." Oftentimes the scale of Bhairav will be plied but not the conduct demanded by the rAga.

      This monograph has brought within its ambit most of the important members of the Bhairav dynasty. A few traditional prakArs - for instance, Bangal Bhairav, Komal Bhairav - elude us at this time. Thinking about Bhairav is a profoundly moving experience. During the course of this compilation, I was often lead to wonder about the great rishis who saw in the primal scale the elemental patterns that finally coagulated into this wondrous melodic organism we now call Bhairav. These ruminations brought to mind the great German-English composer Handel. When his oratorio "Messiah" premiered in London to a thunderous ovation, a friend came up and said to him, "All the people seem to be greatly entertained." Handel, who had spoken of visions of the Lord's Creation during the making of his magnum opus, was not pleased. He replied, "My dear Sir, I should be disappointed if they were only entertained. My goal was to make them better." It is hoped that this mighty Raganga Raga, Bhairav, will incline those, whose good fortune it is to make its acquaintance, to a similar sentiment.

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