by Rajan P. Parrikar
First published on SAWF on August 6, 2001
The ati-madhur and ati-priya Raga Bhimpalasi has the penetrating power to infect the human mind and control it for days and weeks on end. There is as yet no known antidote to the Bhimpalasi contagion. Fortunately, it strikes only those with a mind and so the damage is restricted to a very small fraction of humanity. My first memories of this expansive, orphic raga hark back to the many bhajani utsavs in Goa I had the good fortune to be part of as a lad in shorts. Here I invite you to join me on what promises to be a balmy afternoon cruise through the enticing waters of Bhimpalasi. This special package also comes with a guest contribution, From The Carnatic Gallery by V.N. Muthukumar.
The constituent swaras of Bhimpalasi are drawn from the Kafi that corresponding to the 22nd Carnatic melakarta Kharaharapriya: S R g M P D n where M = shuddha madhyam.
The aroha-avarohana set may be stated as:
n’ S g M P n S”::S” n D P M g R S
The aroha-avarohana barely betrays the rich fund of melodic promise vested in this mode. The very idea of raga impels us to look for fulfilment beyond mere scales. The insight, intellectual leap, and abstraction required to ferry us beyond a scale and into the raga realm must be considered a signal achievement in the history of music.
Bhimpalasi traces its antecedents to the almost defunct Raga Dhanashree of the Kafi that (Note: Dhanashree of the Bilawal that is still occasionally performed, and hence the clarifier). In Dhanashree the primary aroha-avaroha contour sketched above is retained, but it is instead characterized by a dominant pancham. When the accent is shifted off the pancham and the madhyam is advanced, the result is an avirbhava of Bhimpalasi and it is precisely this preponderance of the madhyam (nyasa bahutva) that bestows on Bhimpalasi its allure.
The kernel of Bhimpalasi is encapsulated in the following tonal movement:
P’ n’ S M… S g M, M g M g R S
Notice the M-centric nature of the phrase and the reprise of M g.
Supporting movements are:
n’ S g R, S, n’ S M, M P, g M P n D, P
The rishab and dhaivat are langhan (skipped) in arohi movements but assume the role of deergha bahutva in avarohi runs. There is symmetry in the elongation of R and D through the clusters n’ S g R and M P n D, respectively.
M P g M P (S”)n, n S”, P n S” g” R” S”
The typical launch vehicle for the antara.
S” n D, P, D (P)M P (M)g, M, M P (M)g M g R, S
The descent looks innocuous but there are always those gotchas to watch for. A spurious phrase of the type n S” D P may soil the development (we shall have occasion to experience this event later from a great master).
Obiter dictum: Some musicians, notably from the Agra school, view Bhimpalasi as a union of two component ragas, viz., Bheem and Palasi. Accordingly, their Bheem drops the rishab altogether and Palasi the dhaivat (the Bheem of the Khamaj that is today better known by the name “Gavati”). There is a recording of Faiyyaz Khan in Raga Bheem (not adduced here).
The innards of Bhimpalasi are irradiated in this delightful clip of Pandit Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” gleaned off the telephone line. Jha-sahab holds forth gloriously for over 5 minutes with economy of word, stripping the raga bare until its essentials emerge with clarity. Seldom are the virtues of scholarship and expression joined in a single person and when someone of such persuasion comes by, every word he or she utters in their area of expertise ought to be captured on tape.
Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” on Bhimpalasi.
The reader is now invited to participate in a sumptuous Bhimpalasi spread. Several selections in this cornucopia are out of the ordinary and every item has something substantial to say or a nook to illuminate. Bhimpalasi’s penetration in genres outside classical proper is a matter of common knowledge. Through numerous folk, film, stage and devotional songs, in varied languages, the raga has wedged its way into the subcutaneous regions of the Indian melodic ethos.
Shankar-Jaikishan‘s number from DIL TERA DIWANA (1962) is perhaps the most enchanting from the Hindi film department. For reasons unknown it is seldom quoted in a ‘light’ catalogue of Bhimpalasi. Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar: masoom chehra.
Marathi stage music can never adequately discharge its debt to Bhimpalasi. From the drama SWAYAMVAR, Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale‘s tune and Kumar Gandharva‘s voice: svakula taraka suta suvara.
Abdul Karim Khan‘s rendition from the play MANAPAMAN was set to music by Govindrao Tembe. The rocketing intensity and safa’i of Khansahib’s tans inspire awe: prema seva.
A complete suite in Bhimpalasi by Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” inaugurates the classical parade. The vitality and spontaneity of Jha-sahab’s delivery dispense delight. There is the occasional shoptalk and a histrionic moment or two dotting this memorable entrée.
The vilambit Roopak bandish is structurally significant for the decisive placement of swara and words at key positions in the tala cycle. Take note of the unusual location of the sam, on the mandra komal nishad.
mandara kaba aave piya deho bichara beera bamanava
lagana batade pee avana ki “Ramrang” de’oon dakshina jo mana bhave
The next three items are druta compositions one of which is a tarana.
In this dhrupad recital of the senior Dagar brothers N. Aminuddin and N. Moinuddin, a small strip of sargam adds a surprise element.
Savour the athleticism in “Aftab-e-Mousiqui” Faiyyaz Khan‘s alap.
Faiyyaz Khan, dhamar.
Gwalior’s Sharatchandra Arolkar took taleem from Krishnarao Shankar Pandit and the latter’s uncle Eknath Pandit.
Amir Khan‘s Bhimpalasi has a problem that has been hinted at earlier and reinforced by Jha-sahab in his “Bhimpalasispeak” (although he does not name names). To wit, the n S” D P prayoga. To aggravate matters the errant cluster has been placed squarely on the mukhda. Another issue concerns the madhyam treatment – Khansahib appears hesitant to give that swara its due. These transgression of raga notwithstanding, his voice is in fine fettle and the consuming barhat makes this unpublished recording a treat: kagava bole.
The next three items are drawn from the Atrauli-Jaipur contingent. Kesarbai Kerkar‘s recording is of poor audio quality but it is still possible to get at her wondrous performance. In our times in the realm of Hindustani music – vocal and instrumental – only Kishori has equalled, but not surpassed, Kesarbai’s level of musicianship.
Notice the beautiful dhaivat-laden prayogas in Mallikarjun Mansur.
Kishori Amonkar‘s unpublished Bhimpalasi is one for the gods, almost certainly the greatest exposition of that raga on tape.
In his exegetic volumes Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati, Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande refers to a variant of Bhimpalasi obtained by rendering komal both rishab and dhaivat. Evidence for this is provided by Allauddin Khan Maiharwale in a marvellous clip which also has him reciting the bandish.
Baba Allauddin Khan had to undergo unimaginable hardship in his quest for musical enlightenment. This great sage remained a lifelong devotee and student of music. His boy, the naked Emperor of San Rafael, on the other hand, is a disgrace who has squandered his time and gifts on ragtag and bobtail American and European material. Whereas Baba Allauddin attracted several remarkable students, Ali Akbar has been a magnet for hippies of insignificant musical ability (if at all any effort has to be expended in that direction we must endeavour to attract a better kind of American to our music). Ali Akbar Khan’s musical growth stopped long ago. Living off the musical capital inherited from his father does not count for greatness or qualify for worship. The phenomenon to which he has succumbed is not unusual. The quote from Edward Gibbon‘s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appositely summarizes his situation: “…But the frequent and familiar companions of the great are those parasites who practise the most useful of all arts, the art of flattery; who eagerly applaud each word and every action of their immortal patron; gaze with rapture on his marble columns and variegated pavements, and strenuously praise the pomp and elegance which he is taught to consider as a part of his personal merit…”
Recent concert announcements tell us that Mr. Khan is a “Swara Samrat.” There ought to be a law of Nature that imposes a limit on men’s fantasies. “Besura Bumrat” is what comes to mind if you listen to the fellow these days.
Moving along, a couple of Kirana contributions.
Roshanara Begum‘s legwork in the uttaranga…
…and its conclusion by Gangubai Hangal.
Vasantrao Deshpande‘s dégagé style works up a magical ambience. The sam is placed on rishab in this excerpt.
A textbook Bhimpalasi and its author, Jitendra Abhisheki.
Ghulam Mustafa Khan‘s rugged voice supplies the Sahaswan-Rampur viewpoint.
The dependable Fateh Ali Khan of Patiala.
The familiar old release of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan: beguna gaye.
The senior Dagars take a break from dhrupad and step into the demesne of khayal.
We wrap up the Bhimpalasi proceedings with a violin solo by M.S. Gopalakrishnan. Although MSG is a peerless virtuoso his Bhimpalasi leaves something to be desired.
Jha-sahab addresses Dhani in the latter portion of his “Bhimpalasispeak” above. This audav jati raga contains the following swaras: S g M P n.
In contrast to Bhimpalasi, the influence of madhyam is severely diminished and instead transferred to the gandhar. In some treatments the rishab is solicited in avarohi movements. Very occasionally the dhaivat (shuddha and/or komal) is reined in as a vivadi. Dhani is considered a kshudra raga fit for a chanchal, ‘lighter’ treatment, and is immensely popular in folk and auxillary genres despite the short shrift given it in Bhimpalasi’s presence. In the Western hemisphere only the African-American musicians have done something worthwhile with Dhani’s scale.
Consider a sample chalan: n’ S g, gRSn’ P’ n’ S g, SgMP g, n P g S
Of the many choices available in the ‘light’ arena we have culled three. S.D. Burman‘s splendid composition in SHARMILEE (1971) was recorded separately in two voices of which the Kishore Kumar version is superior. The teevra madhyam in the antara is a classic Burman-esque flourish: khilte hain gul yahan.
From HUM DONO (1961), this is the number most identified with Dhani. There have not been many composers of Jaidev‘s calibre. Catch both the dhaivats here, used to stunning effect. Sahir Ludhianvi‘s lyrics and Lata‘s flawless delivery elevate it to the ranks of the classics: Prabhu tero nama.
Another world-class composer, Jitendra Abhisheki, stretched his talents on the Marathi stage. The next item is a good example of his agility. Recall the natyageeta, gheyi chhanda makaranda based in Raga Salagavarali – vide The Empire of Todi. Here he turns it upside down by re-tuning it in Dhani and passing it on to Vasantrao Deshpande.
Ramrang‘s captivating composition, la de la de.
la de la de chunara piya dhani ranga ki
manabhavani hulasavani navarasasani saba gunakhani
la de chunara more meeta piyarava
pahira lagun tore garava “Ramrang” angiya suhavani
It is rare to have on tape a great vaggeyakara transferring his composition to a pupil. Jha-sahab gives taleem to Shubha Mudgal.
Yet another Ramrang composition, a different design this time: murakayi kahe Kanha’i mori baiyyan.
The next composition was picked up by Ramrang when he was still wet behind his ears. The composer “Vyakul” (the mudra is stamped in the antara) of Ayodhya was with the drama company that Ramrang worked for at the time. The mukhda is launched from the 11th matra of Teentala: tore more mana bhavaniyan.
A piquant shuddha dhaivat begs for attention in this Kumar Gandharva cheez: aa’i ruta aa’i.
We close the Dhani chapter with C.R. Vyas: E manava tuma na jane.
A quick survey of three allied ragas follows.
The swaras employed in Patdeep map to the 23rd Carnatic melakarta Gourimanohari: S R g M P D N. The rishab and dhaivat are varjya in arohana, thus making the scalar profile congruent to Bhimpalasi with a shuddha nishad. The crucial point is that Patdeep is carved out of the Dhanashree raganga which means the pancham – not the madhyam – gets top billing. Other artifacts of Dhanashree are also observed such as the P-g sangati. A heuristic set of runs is developed below.
N’ S g (S)R, S, N’ S g M P
The mandra nishad is typically the origin of tonal activity. The rishab receives a kan of the shadaj and the action quickly gravitates to the pancham.
N’ S g M P g, g M P N, D, P
The gandhar is deergha bahutva in arohi and nyasa bahutva in avarohi sancharis. The dhaivat is elongated as in Bhimpalasi, the nishad is nyasa bahutva.
M P g M P N, N (D)N S”, N S” g” R” S”, N S” D, P
The first half is a typical antara foray. Notice that the nishad is sometimes skipped in the descent from the tar saptaka shadaj.
S.D. Burman‘s tune in SHARMILEE (1971) flags off our Patdeep rally. Lata Mangeshkar, meghachhaye adhi rat.
Prabhakar Karekar presents the popular natyageeta from SANYASTA KHADGA: marma bandhatali.
Basavraj Rajguru: dhana dhana bhaag.
This Dhanashree anga raga employs two gandhars and two nishads, which makes for a rather busy swaraspace. There are chhayas of both Patdeep and Piloo. The highlights are stated simply as follows:
S G M P, G M P g, R S
G M P n D, P, G M P N, S”
S” g” R” S”, n D P, D M P G, M P g, R, S
Lata Mangeshkar‘s delectable rendition in NAYA ZAMANA (1957) for composer Kanu Ghosh is (surprisingly) moored in Raga Hamsakinkini.
An old “Sadarang” composition courtesy D.V. Paluskar.
Krishnarao Shankar Pandit‘s unpublished recording packs memorable moments. The declining approach to the komal gandhar is some piece of work: tero mana maya.
Kishori Amonkar treads delicately.
Raga Pradeepaki or Patdeepaki
The Kafi-that Pradeepaki (there is also one of the Bilawal that) is complementary to Hamsakinkini. Whereas the latter is given the Dhanashree treatment Pradeepaki is affiliated with the Bhimpalasi anga. Which means the madhyam is the dominant, controlling swara.
Four selections are offered. The quirks in these treatments are left as an exercise to the curious reader.
And to close out this session, the Agra veteran Khadim Hussain Khan.
My profound thanks to Romesh Aeri, Ashok Ambardar, Ajay Nerurkar, Guri Singh, Ajit Akolkar and Bobby Rishi: they put up with my unreasonable demands on their time and resources. Anita Thakur of SAWF is the driving force behind this entire effort with her inexhaustible fund of kindness and patience. If not for her I would have folded up my tent long ago.
From the Carnatic Gallery
by V.N. Muthukumar
As representative recordings of Bhimpalasi from the South, we display the same song as sung by artistes belonging to three different generations. Bhimpalasi is called Karnataka DEvagAndhAri in the Carnatic tradition. The Dikshitar school calls it DEvagAndharam. These days, the names are used interchangeably along with another, AabhEri. However, this is not entirely correct, since there is evidence (which we provide in the clips to follow) that AabhEri was perhaps the older scale, but sung with komal dha, an emphasis on R (the latter is seen in contemporary Bhimpalasi as well), prayOgAs such as PS”ndPM.
The most famous Kriti in Karnataka Devagandhari is arguably Tyagaraja‘s Nagumomu ganalEni. Modern treatments of this song are all inspired by Musiri Subramania Iyer . From all accounts, he seems to have been the first to use D in AabhEri, transforming it to Karnataka Devagandhari. However, he says he learnt this version from his teacher Sabesa Iyer. But first, we display the rendition of this song by N. Vijay Siva  (excerpted from a live concert at Boston University, October 1993). This recording is a good representative of the modern treatment. Note that Vijay Siva begins the song with the Anupallavi.
We now hear Musiri Subramania Iyer, who immortalized this song. He sings the same song, at a more leisurely pace, but one can clearly see the seeds of the modern rendition in his treatment. Note the dhaivat in the very first movement in the clip.
In recent years, the most influential treatment of this song has been Balamuralikrishna‘s . Here is an excerpt from a live concert of his. Balamuralikrishna doing Neraval and Swara prastArA in Nagumomu (Note the intelligent usage of the swara ni as in “ni nagumomu“.)
As we mentioned before, many people hold that the song Nagumomu was originally composed in the raga Aabheri. In this clip, R. Vedavalli illustrates how it used to be sung in the olden days. She is assisted by her disciple.
The next set of clips comprises two recordings of AabhEri. The first one is M.L. Vasantakumari  singing KandA vandaruL, a Kriti composed by Papanasam Sivan .
The final clip is a definitive treatment of Muthuswami Dikshitar‘s Veena bhEri vAdya. Note Dikshitar’s placement of the rAga mudrA (AabhEri in veenA+bhEri). This recording of S. Ramanathan is from a live concert, and the accompanying artistes are M.S. Gopalakrishnan and T.K. Murthy.
The last clip is an allied raga, Shuddha Dhanyasi (SgMPnS”/S”nPMgS). We hear a composition of Harikesanallur Muthiah BhAgavatar. The recording is from a live concert of G.N. Balasubramaniam  in Bombay, with M.S. Gopalakrishnan on the Violin and C.S. Murugabhupaty on the Mridangam.
All recordings were made available by M.V. Ramana.
 Musiri Subramania Iyer (1899-1975). Received training, among others, from T.S. Sabesa Iyer, who was a disciple of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (who belonged to Tyagaraja’s shishya parampara). Musiri’s first concert in Madras was in 1920, and within a decade, he was recognized as a master. His creativity and technique came to the fore in his Neraval singing. The musical community was quick in recognizing his leadership qualities, and in 1939, he accepted the post of Secy-Treasurer of the Tyagabrahma Mahotsava Sabha in Tiruvaiyaru. He became the first Principal of the Central College of Music, Madras in 1949. The Tamil Nadu Government renamed Oliver Road (in Madras, where he lived for the most part of his life) as Musiri Subramania Iyer Road, after his demise. For a biographical sketch of Musiri, the reader is referred to Sruti, Vol. 175&176, 1999.
 Born in 1967, Vijay Siva first learnt music from his mother Smt. Akhila Siva, and subsequently from D. K. Jayaraman. He is also an able Mridangam player, trained by Kumbakonam Rajappa Iyer. Vijay Siva is the Founder Secretary of the Youth Association for Classical Music, Madras.
 M. Balamuralikrishna (b. 1930). See https://www.balamuralikrishna.com
 M. L. Vasanthakumari (1928-1990). One of Madras’ illustrious progeny, M.L.V. as she is universally known, received her training from one of the great Masters of Indian Music, G. N. Balasubramaniam. “Sruti” (Vol. 41, 1987) observed that M. S. Subbulakshmi, D. K. Pattammal and M. L. Vasanthakumari constituted the “female Trinity” of Carnatic Music. For a detailed biography, the reader is referred to Sruti, Vol. 75&76, 1990.
 Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973). He was not named Sivan at birth, nor was he born in Papanasam. Born in Polagam as Ramiah, he came to be known as Papanasam Sivan. He is one of the greatest composers of Carnatic Music. During his life time, he received several honours, but the first title that was conferred on him, (by the eminent musician Simizhi Sundaram Iyer) “Tamizh Tyagayya” (The Tyagaraja of Tamil) says it all. He used the mudra “rAmadAsA” in many of his Kritis. Sivan became an ardent nationalist after the Jallianwalabagh massacre. His nationalism found expression in “TyAgabhoomi“, a film in which he acted. He also wrote several patriotic songs.
 G. N. Balasubramaniam (1910-1965). A brilliant musician who projected Carnatic music at its best, G.N.B. blazed a new trail and established a style that had, and still has, hundreds of musicians trying to emulate and/or assimilate it. Even his detractors grudgingly admit that “raga alapana acquired a new sheen with the music of GNB”. On his best days, his music had the depth of Amir Khan’s and the beauty of Bade Ghulam’s. For a detailed analysis of the Master’s music, the reader is referred to a video cassette released by the Sruti Foundation. It has approximately six hours of GNB’s music, along with a critical analysis by a panel of experts.