Saturday, February 5, 2011

About! Raag Gara "The raga and the fragrance"

Gara is a rare raga. But, if you have heard several renditions of it, you could be confused because one Gara often does not sound like others. There is a good reason for this because Gara, is not the exclusive name of a well-defined melodic entity. Gara is, in fact, an independent raga, as well as an additive fragrance to other ragas; and that too, in two variants. If there is confusion about Gara, it is because musicians might announce, simply, Gara, when they decide to perform one of the two variants, each of which has a self-explanatory name. By Deepak S. Raja* (

Gara belongs to a family of ragas, which were apparently derived from folk melodies, and entered art-music in association with the Thumree genre. (Manuel, Peter. Thumree in historical and stylistic perspectives, First edition, 1989, Motilal Barasidass, Delhi). This family includes ragas like Kafi, Pilu, Jangula, Barwa, and Zilla, along with several others. These ragas remained loose, informal melodic entities until the 18th century, after which their grammar was organized by classically trained musicians. However, even today, as Manuel points out (Ibid. 1989), they are performed only infrequently in classical and semi-classical music, and in disparate versions. 

Ashwini Bhide Deshpande is a great khayal singer of Jaipur gharana! Systematic exposition of the raga structure, brilliant phrasing, variety of taan patterns, ease and grace in all of the three octaves mark her singing! This jhoola on Raag Gara simply takes one in the middle of an enchanting SAWAN RUT!

Raga Jaijaiwanti bears the closest resemblance to Gara. However, according to some authors (B Subba Rao, Raga Nidhi, 4th edition. 1996, Music Academy, Madras), Gara is a combination of Khamaj, Piloo and Jhinjhoti. The raga belongs to the Kafi parent scale, and is characterised by a notional scale-base at Pa of the lower octave, rather than the customary Sa. Although an antara movement ascending to the upper-Sa is often encountered in this raga, prolonged action in the upper half of the melodic canvas is contra-indicated.

Ascent: M. P. D. N. S R g R G M P
Descent: P M g r S n. D. P. D. N. S

Identifying phrases: R g R S / D. n. P. D. N. S/ G M R g R.

Bhatkhande regards the raga as time-neutral. Other authorities and common practice accept its performance between 9.00 pm and midnight.

Full-scale Khayal style presentations of Gara were popular with Agra Garana vocalists, between 1940's and the 1960's. During that period, instrumentalists adopted several Agra favourites. Gara was one of them. While studying this raga, I was able to locate recordings only of Sharafat Hussain, and Yunus Hussain, both Agra vocalists, Ustad Bahadur Khan, a Sarod maestro of the Maihar-Senia lineage, and Ustad Vilayat Khan, the recent torch-bearer of the Imdad Khan/ Etawa Garana. You would be hard put to locate a Gara recording made by a musician of the post-independence generation.

Vilayat Khan - Raga Gara & Zakir Hussain - Teen Taal

Sharafat’s treatment of Gara is broadly consistent with the melodic outline available from Yunus Hussain’s unpublished recording, and the recording of the raga by the sarodist, Ustad Bahadur Khan. Even between the two Agra vocalists of the same generation – Sharafat and Yunus -- there are minor differences in melodic phrasing. Bahadur Khan broadly follows the Agra phrasing strategy, veering a little towards Pilu around base-Sa by emphasising Ni. Sitarist, Ustad Vilayat Khan (EMI/HMV: ECSD: 2828), also of the same generation, adopts the Pilu-Jhinjhoti axis of the raga described by Bhatkhande. Towards the upper end of the melodic canvas, however, Vilayat Khan’s Gara tilts mildly towards Jaijaiwanti of the Bageshri ang (bias).

Considering that melodic informality virtually defines the raga, we need not attach significance to the differences in its interpretation, as long as it remains identifiable, and distinct from ragas of the same family, but most crucially, from Jaijaiwanti.

This raga is characterized by limited improvisational potential and a zigzag phraseology, both protecting it from the shadow of Jaijaiwanti. But, its phrasing strategy exposes it to risk of confusion with other ragas, such as Pilu and Desi in the purvanga, and Barwa (Agra version) in the uttaranga. The most comprehensive risk of confusion for Gara comes, of course, from Jaijaiwanti of either anga (bias) – Desh or Bageshri.

D. V. Paluskar: Bhajan in Raga Gara;%20Tumaki%20chalata.mp3

The phraseological distinctions between Gara and Jaijaiwanti are subtle, and the mood is often believed to distinguish between the ragas. Conventional wisdom regards Gara as vivacious and romantic, and Jaijaiwanti as profound, though not unromantic. This confirms the historical fact that Jaijaiwanti has acceptance in the formal Dhrupad and Khayal genres, while Gara’s primary territory has been the romanticist thumree. The raga apparently lends itself, within limits no doubt, to a range of moods broadly towards the lighter end of the emotional scale.

Tonal geometry and the additive fragrance
Outside the context of a full-fledged raga, and as an additive fragrance to compatible ragas, Gara is associated with a single phrase: D-n-S-N-S around base-Sa. . The melodic key to Gara, the fragrance, is the tonal geometry of this phrase. With Sa as the base =1, this phrase has relative pitch values of: Dh=0.8333, ni=0.88889, Sa=1.00, Ni=0.9375, Sa=1.00. This is considered the signature of Gara, the raga, which is actually “Gara to the base-Sa”. By the principle of first-fourth and first-fifth correspondences, this geometry delivers congruent or near-congruent phrases in different regions of the octave.

Brij Bhushan Kabra on Slide Guitar - Dhun Based on Raga Gara - Dadra Zakir Hussain - Taal on Tabla

If the scale base is shifted to Ma=1, the phrase R-g-M-G-M will give you near-identical relative pitch values: Re=0.844, ga=0.872, Ma=1.00, Ga=0.9375, Ma=1.00. This phrase, along with a scale-adjusted phraseology, defines a raga called "Madhyam-se-Gara" or “Gara to the base Ma”.

If the scale-base is shifted to Pa=1, once again, we get G-M-P-M^-P with near-identical tonal geometry. Ga=0.8333, Ma=0.888, Pa=1.00, Ma^=0.9375, Pa=1.00. This phrase, along with a scale-adjusted phraseology, can define a raga called "Pancham-se-Gara" or "Gara to the base Pa."

Shamik Bose performing Bhajans set on Raga Gara
Last bhajan in a program organized by the India Cultural Foundation, Oklahoma City. Shamik Bose, a disciple of Sangeetacharya Pandit Amaresh Chawdhury of the Senia Gharana, is accompanied on the tabla by Shantanu Bhattacharya, a desciple of Ustad Tari Khan.

Neither of the Gara fragrances, whether from Ma or Pa, yield independent self-sustaining ragas. They get mixed up with thumree genre ragas like Piloo, Khamaj, Kafi, Barwa etc. as additive flavours to enhance the melodic potential and lyrical quality of these ragas in rendition.

If you think you have never heard Gara as an additive fragrance, think again. The song “Mohe panghat pe Nandalal chhed gayo re” in the film Mughal-e-Azam, is composed in “Pancham-se-Gara”. If you jolt your memory now, you might also recall having heard light compositions in “Madhyam-se-Gara” without quite knowing what the melody is called, and why. 

*Deepak S. Raja (, the Repertoire Analyst for India Archive Music Ltd., New York, has just launched a significant new Internet resource on Hindustani music.  Deepak is a trained sitar and surbahar player, who has also received training in Khayal vocalism. His book "Hindustani Music – a tradition in transition", has received widespread acclaim in India and abroad. His second book incorporating a survey of 20th century Khayal vocalism is due for publication by end-2007. Deepak Raja holds an MBA from India's most prestigious business school, and has a distinguished career in the media industry and as a financial consultant. He is well known in publishing circles for his contribution as a former Editor of Business India, and Secretary General of the Indian Newspapr Society.

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