Rajan Parrikar Music Archive

Cracked Open – the Nats! (Part 1/2)

by Rajan P. Parrikar
First published on SAWF on April 30, 2001

Part 1 | Part 2

Rajan P. Parrikar at Hoover Dam, Arizona (1989)

Rajan P. Parrikar at Hoover Dam, Arizona (1989)


The saga of raga continues. The primary focus in this series is the structure and contemporary practice of ragas.   Their fons et origo, the associated lore and legend, insofar as we can say something with any degree of certainty – and there’s not a great deal we can say with a high degree of certainty in matters of Indian cultural history – lie outside the ambit of our present discussion.   The ladies at SAWF invite you to join them this week on a safari deep within the reaches of Hindustani ragaspace inhabited by “The Nats.”   Expect a smooth ride but in the event we run into any unforeseen turbulence we ask that you hold on to your, er, Nats.

Raganga Nat

Raga Nat (pronounced with a hard ‘t’) is an old melody, sometimes also known as “Naat”; the latter denomination bears no resemblance to its Carnatic namesake.   A standalone display of this raga is very rare nowadays.  Instead, Nat is singular for its unabashed promiscuity and its liaisons.   Its musical conduct has come to be consolidated into a raganga that provides seed material for synthesis of newer, usually hybrid, ragas.

Throughout the causerie M = shuddha madhyam and m = teevra madhyam.

Nat is an M-centric raga; the rishab and pancham are strong in their nyasa bahutva role.   The main clusters belong to the poorvanga region:

S, S R, R G, G M…, M P…, S (G)R, R G M P, G G M, P

S G (R)G M, M, M P, P M, G M R S

The uttaranga is much less busy to the point of being sparse, the highlight being the frequent P-S”-P interval.  The shuddha nishad is rendered durbal (weak) whereas komal nishad is admitted occasionally via S” D n P.  An uttaranga chalan is suggested:

PDPP S”, S” P, P S”, S” R” S”S” (N)D P M

That, in a Natshell, is the basic topology of raganga Nat.

Mallikarjun Mansur

Mallikarjun Mansur

Mallikarjun Mansur surveys the Nat terrain in this tonal briefing: bairana nanandiya.

With this propaedeutic behind us we investigate l’amours de Nat.

Raga Chhayanat

Few ragas in the Hindustani community measure up to Chhayanat in popularity.   The union of its two constituents – Chhaya and Nat – is so natural as to leave virtually no trace of any suture.   Chhaya, like Nat, rarely strikes out on its own.   There is some overlap with Nat, and although differences of opinion prevail on the details, there’s a meeting of minds that the meend-laden swoop P–>R is Chhaya’s signpost.   The curvature of this P–>R trajectory is subject to variation.  It must be underscored that the uccharana here is distinct from the Kalyanic uccharana P-R.  A few other features distinguish Chhaya from Nat, such as the de-emphasis of madhyam and rishab, and the injection of shades of Bilawal and Bihag.

These lakshanas are succinctly reviewed by Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” in this telephone conversation last week.  He concludes with an old composition in Chhaya.

The bandish in the foregoing clip, bendiya gir jayagi, is credited to Ramzan Khan “Rangile” of Sikandarabad.  “Aftab-e-Mausiqui” Faiyyaz Khan was born into the Rangile tradition and although he came into his own later under the auspices of Agra, his samskaras are said to have been imbibed from the Rangile clan.   This Rangile is not to be confused with Mohammad Shah “Rangile” who was contemporaneous with Sadarang.

Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” in Goa
© Rajan P. Parrikar

Chhayanat’s poorvanga heritage comes from Nat, leading to a dominant rishab and madhyam.  R is the lifeblood of Chhayanat, its treatment vital to the realization of the raga-swaroopa.  The tug on R with a kan of G, the repose following the Chhaya-esque swoop P–>R – all these ploys advance the rishab‘s credentials.  Several forays are either initiated from or conclude on that swara.

Although pancham is strong it lives in the shadow of R and M.  The uttaranga is typically launched from pancham as in PDPP S” or PP S”.  Some few take to P N S” or even D S”.  The brightened dhaivatR G M D, D, P – adds a piquant effect. The gandhar, although necessary, is relatively low key; the shuddha nishad gets to eat the humble pie.  A soupçon of teevra madhyam registers but that swara is not essential: m has no independent existence and is chained to pancham in kans or quick trills such as PDmP or PmP or RGMDmP. Finally, there remains the case of komal nishad. In arohi passages, it shows up in clusters such as R G M n D P, and in avarohi passages via D n P.

A précis of the foregoing discussion in written out in notation:

S, RGMP, P–>R, RG, GM, M R, S

S, D’ n’ P’, P’ S, N’ S (G)R, R G M D, D P

P–>R G M R S, S R, R G, R G M n D P, PDPP S”

S” (N)R” S”, D P M, G M n D P–>R, R G, G M R S

S S M G P, DNS”, S” D P–>R, GMP G M R S

At various points in Chhayanat there obtains avirbhava of ragas such as Kedar (P M), Kamod (G M P G M R S), Hameer (R G M D, P) and Bilawal (S” D n P).

Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar

Madan Mohan and Lata Mangeshkar

Coming up, some choice cuts of Chhayanat.  Arrayed in the flotilla are almost all the traditional khayal compositions and their elaboration by the masters. Although it boasts a refined musical stature, Chhayanat is no caviar to the general. The lay Indian listener is well-acquainted with its genius loci for the elementals of Nat are pervasive in the musical memory of the land. The first few exhibits are drawn from the popular sphere where the raga-swaroopa may not present itself in full flower. Nevertheless, there are compelling vista points to be enjoyed en route.

From ZIDDI (1948) comes this gem by Lata Mangeshkar, for composer Khemchand Prakash: chanda re ja re ja re.

S.D. Burman nudges Mohammad Rafi towards some Nat phrases in this classic from KALA PANI (1958): hum bekhudi mein.

S.D. Burman again in TALAASH (1969), delivered by Manna Dey: tere naina talash kara.


Stamp honouring Mohammad Rafi

Stamp honouring
Mohammad Rafi

Composer Madan Mohan had few peers in the art of wrapping tune around verse as witness this beautiful creation from JAHAN ARA (1964) rendered by Mohammad Rafi and Suman Kalyanpur. The mukhda is textbook Chhayanat: baad muddat ke yeh ghadi aayi.

Over three decades later Madan Mohan is re-cycled by composer Rajesh Roshan (he first did so in LOOTMAAR but nobody noticed) in PAPA KEHTE HAIN (1996).  Sonu Nigam: mujhse naraz ho to.

A very subtle flavour is stocked by Khandwa’s Pandit Kishore Kumar.  Panditji’s interpretation retains the appropriate ingredients of Nat although you may have to look long and hard for them. From BOMBAY TO GOA (1972), set to R.D. Burman‘s music, Panditji coos with Lata Mangeshkar: tum meri zingadi mein.

The classical parade opens with a zesty Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” hitting his stride in this superb mehfil cut. Both traditional compositions come in for unalloyed praise from Jha-sahab.  The vilambit khayal, Eri ab gundala’o, and the druta, jhanana jhanana, are definitive Chhayanat, the latter a celebrated creation of Sahaswan’s Inayat Hussain Khan.

Kishore Kumar

Kishore Kumar

D.V. Paluskar‘s engaging rendition presses the canonical Nat bandish, E karata ho mose neha ki jhoothi batiyan, into Chhayanat’s service (in a sense certifying Nat’s de facto demise as an independent operator).  Observe that the catchy mukhda points to its Nat antecedents.

The same composition is handled by Omkarnath Thakur and his theatrics come along for the ride.

The Atrauli-Jaipur Chhayanat by Mallikarjun Mansur places its sam on madhyam, at once illuminating the mukhda.

A prized hearing of the Rampur heavyweight of yesteryear, Mushtaq Hussain Khan.  Notice the uttaranga launch via GMP N S” or PP N S”: Eri ab gundala’o.

Kumar Gandharva‘s Vesuvian gayaki is a great pleasure.  He chooses another traditional khayal: nevara ki jhankara in Jhoomra tala.

Mushtaq Hussain Khan

Mushtaq Hussain Khan

K.G. Ginde‘s is the lone dhrupad voice.  The traditional chhaya pari Jamuna jala mein is set to Chautala.

A vignette of Kashinath Bodas‘s private mehfil in Berkeley in 1995, a couple of weeks before his passing away in Canada.  On the harmonium is yours truly and on the tabla is Pranesh Khan.  He sings the traditional cheez: sandeshwa piya se mora kaiyyo ja.

Enter Mr. Khan, the dark and dimunitive (naked) Emperor of San Rafael.  It is given to only a few, Alumeister among them, to personify raga.

One wonders why anyone would ever give Amjad Ali Khan or Buddhadeb Dasgupta the time of day.  Amjad Ali and his silk kurta are more attuned to the rigours of the fashion catwalk.  As for Buds, may we interest him in a box of Lego blocks?  It would be terrible to let all that gold-medalist engineering talent go to pot.

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (from I&B 2005 Calendar)

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
(From I&B 2005 Calendar)

We now come to the best clip in this feature, perhaps the greatest Chhayanat on record.  Time spent listening to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan is time spent in the company of a supreme musical intelligence.  There is nothing for us to do but kneel down and praise the Lord for depositing Ghulam Ali on this planet if only for a brief while.  He settles into an old khayal describing a well-known prasanga from the Ramayana: Sugreeva Rama-krupa.  It is followed by another chestnut, nevara bajo. (This latter cheez is sometimes played as a gat on the sarod by our potential Lego expert.)  Bade Ghulam’s spontaneous shoptalk adds to our delight. The segment 7 minutes into the clip is particularly instructive. Hint: On which swara do the tans terminate? Chhayanat can’t get any better than this.

Bhimsen Joshi

Bhimsen Joshi

The selfsame Sugreeva Rama-krupa from Rampur-Sahaswan’s Nissar Hussain Khan.  In the druta segment he rolls out his gharana patent, Inayat Hussain’s jhanana jhanana.

Faiyyaz Khan‘s composition, pavana chalata, takes after Inayat.

This chapter concludes with a rendition of an old Chhaya composition by Bhimsen Joshi.  The Nat component is de-emphasized and the role of madhyam diminished.  There is no hint of komal nishad whereas shuddha nishad hews to the Bihag line.  This bandish and several other traditional chestnuts encountered earlier have been documented by Bhatkhande in his Kramika Pustaka Malika: tana-mana-dhana saba un par vara darun.

The cracking of the Nats continues in Part 2.

Part 1 | Part 2