Rajan Parrikar Music Archive

Short Takes: Bihag

by Rajan P. Parrikar
First published on SAWF on November 4, 2002

Rajan P. Parrikar and Asha Bhonsle in Marin County, California (1995)

Rajan Parrikar and Asha Bhonsle in Marin County, California (1995)
Photo: Rana Bose

Namashkar and Shubh Deepavali (2002) to All.

In this installment of Short Takes, we train our attention on Raga Bihag. After the customary inspection of the raga’s internals, we shall set upon a lavish spread from both the Hindustani and Carnatic paddhatis.  We shall also survey a few sub-melodies of the parent Bihag.

Throughout this causerie, M = shuddha madhyam and m = teevra madhyam.

Raga Bihag

The name “Bihag” is said to derive from “vihag” or “vihang” (Note: Raga Vihang, the Marwa-that melody in currency among the Atrauli-Jaipur vocalists bears no resemblance to our subject du jour).  Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande has assigned it to the Bilawal that with good reason: an inquiry into its structure betrays its Bilawal antecedents.  Bihag has carved for itself an independent swaroopa and garnered enough melodic heft to qualify for the cachet of a raganga raga. In his widely-read work, Raga Vigyan, Vinayakrao Patwardhan incorrectly observes that Bihag is a Kalyan-anga raga. This kind of nonsense is unsurprising for he comes from a long line of Indian musicians given to talking through their hat.

Let us now address the raga-lakshanas.  Raga Bihag is composed of all the shuddha swaras and a soupçon of teevra madhyam. Although elementary lessons proscribe both rishab and dhaivat in arohi prayogas these swaras are nevertheless manifested subtly, their conduct in this particular setting in accord with the overall raga-dharma (as Jha-sahab puts it).  Indeed, it will be seen later that most masters exploit the graces of R and D in the arohi sequence.

Ramashreya Jha "Ramrang"

Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang”
© Rajan P. Parrikar

The Bihag of yore had scant regard for teevra madhyam.  An examination of the compositions documented in Bhatkhande’s Kramika Pustaka Malika and Jha-sahab’s Abhinava Geetanjali shows m to be a ‘gupt‘ (hidden) swara in almost all instances.  It occurs in the meend from P to G or sometimes in the shadow of P. The core lakshanas can be stated without regard to m.  In recent times, however, the teevra madhyam has advanced in stature and the cluster P m G M G with its pointed reference to m has come to be associated with Bihag.

S, N’, N’ S G M G-(R)-S
The poorvanga activity originates on mandra nishad (the graha swara).  Both G and N are powerful, the vadi and samvadi swaras, respectively.  The meend-laden movement represented by G-(R)-S is a crucial component of Bihag’s signature: the elongation of G before the declination to S, finessing over R without its explicit acknowledgement.  R is also admitted in a more open, albeit weak, mode: G, RS.  The G-(R)-S and the symmetric uttaranga cluster, N-(D)-P, are important pieces of Bihag’s character.

N’ S G M G P, P->(m)G M G, P M G, RS
Notice the langhan (skipping) of the M from G to P.  Sometimes an alternative prayoga takes effect: S M G P.  The teevra madhyam comes into play in a ‘soft’ meend from P to G (contrast this intonation with the ‘hard’ meend employed in Shuddha Kalyan).  As indicated earlier, m has now come to be accorded a more visible role via P m G M G or P m P G M G.

[P] G M G, GMPD-G M G, P M G, RS
This movement, bridging the poorvanga-uttaranga regions, exhibits a pronounced Bilawal influence.  Of interest are the khatka on P (i.e. a quick PDPmP pulse), designated by enclosing it within a square bracket, the D-G coupling, a Bilawal giveaway, and the tonal ribbon containing another Bilawal germ, P M G, RS.

G M P N, N, S”
This uttaranga launch is a Bihag signpost.  Oftentimes the second instance of nishad is imparted a subtle grace of D, as in P N (D)N (D)P.  In performance the occasional intervallic leap from M to N as in G M N-(D)-P is also observed.

P N, N, S”, S” N, DP
The paradoxical role played by R and D should be evident by now: both are weak swaras yet essential to the Bihag spirit.  Recall the symmetry of G-(R)-S and N-(D)-P clusters with D and R forming exact counterparts in the manner of their uccharana.

This completes our overview.  Clearly, there are important gaps to be filled for which the reader is referred to the penetrating exegesis in Volume 4 of Abhinava Geetanjali by Pandit Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang”, where he takes Bihag apart swara-by-swara and then reconstitutes it.  We are fortunate to have him in our midst with his inspirited commentary recorded over the California-Allahabad telephone link.  It is fitting that he concludes with a recitation of the moving bhajan of “Khaalas”: nama japana kyon chhora diya? krodha na chhora lobha na chhora satya vachana kyon chhora diya?

Ramrang on Raga Bihag.

We inaugurate the banquet with Chitragupta‘s composition from HUM MATWALE NAUJAWAN (1961).  This composer revelled in painting popular hues with serious ragas as this Mukesh beauty reveals: banke chakori gori.

Vasant Desai and Lata Mangeshkar combine in this all-time masterpiece from GOONJ UTHI SHEHNAI (1958): tere sur aur mere geeta.

Turning the clock back, K.L. Saigal sings for Naushad in SHAHJEHAN (1946)  Pure ear candy (to say the obvious): ai dil-e-beqarar jhoom.


Naushad (standing) and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni

Naushad (standing) and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni

Another great composer of yesteryear, Anil Biswas, philanders with both Bihag and Hameer in MILAN (1946).  Parul Ghosh: suhani beriya beeti jaaya.

Composer Jaidev recruits Yesudas in this splendidly-arranged composition in ALAAP (1977): ko’i gata main so jata.

Tunesmith Kanu Roy wasn’t prolific in his output but whatever issued forth from his beautiful mind has been worth preserving.  In GRIHA PRAVESH (1980), Bhupinder is paired with the godawful Sulakshana Pandit: boliye surilee boliyan.

Rendered by composer Ravindra Jain, this song from DAASI (1981) takes after an old cheez: : palkan se mag jharun.

It is unusual for ‘Gantapaswini’ Mogubai Kurdikar to be seen in these ‘light’ corridors.  We have an old 1940s recording based successively in Ragas Bihag and Bahar.  Madhukar Rajasthani‘s verse is set to tune by Snehal Bhatkar in this celebration of India’s Independence: phir aayi laut bahar.

Our ‘light’ section fades out with a natyageeta from SVAYAMVAR by Kumar Gandharva: mama atma gamala.


Mogubai Kurdikar

Mogubai Kurdikar

We repair to the classical lounge.  Bihag has scores of compositions placed in its service across every genre.  The selection here is representative of the very best and much of it remains unpublished. Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” right away scythes to the core of the raga with a fetching Jhaptala-based composition, and in the clip following, dwells on its sahitya: navaneeta bhave na.

Ramrang, Raga Bihag.

Ramrang talks about the sahitya.

The Dagars specialize in the dhrupad idiom.  They also specialize in talking a great deal of balderdash, a trait they seem to have handed down to their pupils.  It has become fashionable in some small circles (especially in Europe and America, and now in India) to glorify dhrupad and simultaneously deride khayal.  The protagonists have all the zeal of freshly-circumcized converts and try hard (but alas, founder) to sound more intelligent than they really are.  I have often put the condescending nod punctuated by a set of smirks to good profit in these situations.

Moving along, we warm up to the younger Dagar brothers, N. Zahiruddin and N. Faiyazuddin Dagar.

Tansen Pande (1908-1963) was born Husainuddin Khan Dagar, the fourth son of Alla Bande Khan.  He later embraced the Dharma of his forebears who were Pandes before their forced conversion to Islam.  Tansen Pande belongs to that rare breed of musicians given to wholesale dealing in raga (most are retailers).  We have two cuts of his magnificent alap.

Tansen Pande – I.

Tansen Pande – II.

Pandit Bhatkhande‘s dhamar finds a proponent in K.G. Ginde.  The discerning reader may wish to measure the proportion of m here: jobana madamati.

The precision and nuance of swara purveyed by Kumar Gandharva are breathtaking.  The compositions are his own: the vilambit, yeh mora mana, and the druta, yeh ka murjhayo re.  The sam in the latter calls on the key D-G sangati.

Sharatchandra Arolkar preserves the established Gwalior values with a traditional vilambit khayal, pari ho paya pare more, set in Tilwada tala, and tops it off with a druta, hamare gusaiyyan.

Reprising the composition is Krishnarao Shankar Pandit who pauses at around 0:26 to recount Haddu Khan‘s taunt (“tum kadi-bhaat khanewale kya gaa’oge?“)

Vasantrao Deshpande‘s is a quality Bihag.  The traditional vilambit composition has been documented by Bhatkhande: ho ma dhana-dhana re.


Vasantrao Deshpande

Vasantrao Deshpande

The druta cheez was composed by Vasantrao’s dear friend Kumar Gandharva: na chhero na chhero na.

Sadarang’s khayalkaise sukha sove – is synonymous with Bihag and is presented in dheema Teentala by Bhimsen Joshi. He tops it off with another chestnut, lata urjhe.  Notice the dalliance with the komal nishad at 4:30.

Ganpat Ramchandra Behre (1890-1965), a Kirana voice from the past, was a direct disciple of Abdul Karim Khan.  Behrebuwa also had for his gurus other luminaries such as Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale, Vazebuwa and Rajab Ali Khan. The clip opens with a propulsive tan bearing the unmistakable stamp of his last-named guru. The compositions are familiar: kaise sukha sove and baaje re mori payala.

Nivruttibuwa Sarnaik tempered his Atrauli-Jaipur training with decisive input from Rajab Ali Khan. We have heard this composition earlier (from Vasantrao): ho ma dhana-dhana re.

Even amid the world-class Bihags on display here, this Amir Khan offering stands apart as a celestial experience, although it is partly contaminated by atrocious harmonium sangat (most likely, bongman Jnan Prakash Ghosh).  Sadarang’s vilambit is followed by the druta, aali ri albeli, which is a rejiggered version of an old cheez, presented with an odd choice for the sam (tar saptaka rishab).

Ganpatbuwa Behre

Ganpatbuwa Behre

The Ektala-wound canonical version of aali ri albeli, is delivered by Basavraj Rajguru in this radio recording.

The Rampur-Sahawan position on Bihag is established in the following two items.

Mushtaq Hussain Khan.


Mushtaq Hussain Khan

Mushtaq Hussain Khan

Nissar Hussain Khan deals the well-known tarana. Notice the unabashed P D N S” prayoga at, for instance, 0:16.

The voice of Agra, Khadim Hussain Khan.

On a good day, Banditji has the capacity to turn in a compelling Bihag.  This rendition at the Kesarbai Kerkar Samaroh held in Goa in the 1980s is offered primarily for the delectable composition of ‘Kunwar Shyam’: dekho more ranga mein bhigoye daari.

An unpublished mehfil of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan singing his own composition.

The next three are instrumental selections.

First, Allauddin Khan saws the violin at warp speed.

Ravi Shankar‘s LP recording where he is accompanied by the greatest tabla master of the 20th C, Ahmedjan ‘Thirakhwa,’ has long been a sentimental favourite.  Thirakhwa provides an object lesson in the art of accompaniment: he has no urge to commandeer the proceedings and is content to play a subordinate role, wholly in communion with, and in service of, the music.  Always.  This simple lesson the likes of Mr. Zakir Hussain (voted “San Anselmo’s Sexiest Man” in the “under 5′ 5″ and over 45 yrs” category) and other contemporary stage bullies (like that fathead Swapan what’s-his-last name?) have failed to learn.

The swarasmith extraordinaire, Bismillah Khan.

The Hindustani Bihag has found favour with Carnatic musicians.  The Carnatic adaptations are seen to have a pronounced komal nishad and phrases such as RGMP.  Whereas in the Hindustani system, the komal nishad finds prominence in a variant of Bihag known as Bihagda.  I understand that Gopalkrishna Bharati was the first Carnatician to compose in Bihag.

S. Ramanathan, itu tano tillai.

Another Bharati composition, this time by K.V. Narayanaswamy: irakkam varamal.

K.V. Narayanaswamy again, with a composition of Swati Tirunal.  This rendition bears the most likeness to Hindustani Bihag: saramaina.


K.V. Narayanaswamy

K.V. Narayanaswamy

Patnam Subramania Iyer‘s composition is presented by Ramnad Krishnan, accompanied by T. Vishwanathan: samayam ide.

We drop the curtain on Bihag with a veena performance of S. Balachander playing Tirupati Narayanaswamy‘s vagaladi.

I thank Dr. V.N. Muthukumar for his help in assembling this Carnatic montage.

The remainder of our session figures a flyby tour of Bihag variants, either jod ragas (hybrids) or composites built on the Bihag substrate.

Raga Chhaya Bihag

This raga, traditionally heard under the aegis of Agra Gharana, obtains by infusing an element of Raga Chhaya – in particular the P–>R arc – into the Bihag flow.  Jha-sahab sketches his beautiful composition and then, in the clip following, explains the textual context: baari nihari chhaya chandra ki.

Ramrang, Raga Chhaya Bihag.

Ramrang on the sahitya of the composition.

Raga Chandni Bihag

This uncommon variant is realized through a chalan bheda on the parent melody.  Both teevra madhyam and komal nishad are introduced in enchanting tonal formulations.  The chalan as given by Jha-sahab in Volume 3 of his Abhinava Geetanjali assumes the following form:

S N’ S G M G, G M P D n [S”] n D P
D N S” N–>P, m P D n S” n D P, G M G

Ramrang sketches an old composition handed down to him by his guru, Bholanath Bhatt, who in turn received it from the sarangi maestro Bundu Khan.  As Jha-sahab explains in the second clip, this raga and bandish have traditionally been the preserve of the Rampur vocalists: aaja ananda mukha chandra.

Ramrang – I.

Ramrang – II.

Obiter dictum: On the Legacy album published by Mr. Alubhai (voted “San Rafael’s Sexiest Man” in the “over 80 and under 1 foot” category), Asha Bhonsle sings the same text in Raga Shankara Karan.  It is interesting to compare the movements therein with the Chandni Bihag rendition of Jha-sahab above.

Omkarnath Thakur and Kumar Gandharva

Omkarnath Thakur and Kumar Gandharva

Raga Savani (Bihag-anga)

This type of Savani derives from a chalan bheda on Bihag: the teevra madhyam is banished, the value of N is diminished, and special sangatis are introduced.  Some musicians use the dhaivat sparingly, others (notably from the Atrauli-Jaipur tribe) ply it with deliberate piquancy.  Among the special artifacts are the S-P’ and the S”-P sangatis, and the M P G cluster.  Since N is weak, the P-S”-P coupling oftentimes determines the trajectory to the shadaj.  We adduce four renditions (all set in Jhaptala) and invite readers to bring their own measure.

Ramrang sings his own composition in this old radio recording: deva Mahadeva.


Mallikarjun Mansur and wife Gangamma

Mallikarjun Mansur and wife Gangamma

Bhatkhande has documented the old composition presented by Kumar Gandharva: jaane akala saba.

Take stock of the dhaivat in G M D, D M P G in the Atrauli-Jaipur treatment. Mogubai Kurdikar sings Alladiya Khan‘s dearly-loved composition: deva deva satsanga.


The same bandish is handled by Mallikarjun Mansur in an inspired 1980 mehfil in Mumbai.  At around 3:21, he pauses to inform that “this is [my guru] Manji Khansahab‘s gayaki” –

Raga Hem Bihag

This is a creation of Allauddin Khan of Maihar. The choice of label is misleading: the raga is a hybrid formed with strands of Hemant woven into the Bihag fabric and laced with special sancharis.  The “Hem” here presumably derives from Hemant, certainly not from the well-known Raga Hem/Hem Kalyan.  Jha-sahab has documented a different Hem Bihag – one fashioned from Hem and Bihag.

Alu’s alap.

Nikhil Banerjee, Hem Bihag.

A subtle difference or two in the above interpretations of Hem Bihag should provoke the discriminating listener.


Rampur court musicians. Allauddin Khan is on extreme left.

Raga Manjari Bihag

This specialty item of the Atrauli-Khurja musicians obtains through a chalan bheda on the parent Bihag. It contains all shuddha swaras and has some resemblance to PatBihag.  A special strand M P G SR, S involving deergha rishab stands out.

Aslam Hussain Khan presents two compositions of which the druta is a creation of Azmat Hussain Khan. (His colophon “Dilrang” can be heard in the antara.)

Raga Swanandi

We owe this fascinating melody to Jagannathbuwa Purohit “Gunidas.” It draws upon three ragas, namely, Bihag, Bhinna Shadaj and Bhatiyar (try isolating the respective strands).  Incidently, Allauddin Khan’s Hem Bihag and Gunidas’s Swanandi start out with similar raw material but then evolve along different lines.

Jagannathbuwa Purohit "Gunidas"

Jagannathbuwa Purohit “Gunidas”

Gunidas’s vision was reified in his definitive composition, presented here by his pupil C.R. Vyas: jiyara manata naahin.

The same composition dealt by Jitendra Abhisheki.

Raga Gagan Vihang

This baby of Dinkar Kaikini is erected on a Bihag substrate, spiced with chhayas of Savani and Nand, and rounded off with special sangatis.  Kaikini’s composition is charming but his constipated voice-production makes you wonder if someone is turning his family jewels on the lathe: sarasa sugandha aali.

Several other prakars of Bihag have been addressed in earlier features:

Bihagda and Pat Bihag, in Two Variants of Raga Bihag.

Nat Bihag, in Cracked Open – The Nats!

Shankara Bihag, in Shankara – Lord of Ragas.

MaruBihag, in An Evening with Raga MaruBihag.


My thanks to Romesh Aeri, Ashok Ambardar, Vish Krishnan, V.N. Muthukumar and Nachiketa Sharma. The motive force behind this set of articles remains Anita Thakur.