The magic of the rain raga

Reviews: Exhibitions / Performances

This classical raga of melodious music evokes joy, romance, yearning, love and devotion, writes Kul Bhushan after enjoying an eclectic concert in New Delhi.

The red-hot sun mercilessly heats the parched soil during the long, dry summer in India. Towards its end, everyone looks up to the cloudless, blue sky for respite. As the monsoon winds start to blow, the clouds gather and suddenly torrential rains drench the thirsty earth, the trees and the people. Now it’s time to celebrate, to sing the famous Raga Malhaar.

At the end of the monsoon season this year, Indian classical maestro, Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan, the Khalifa of Dilli Gharana of classical music, staged a grand concert in the capital to celebrate over 20 mystic melodies of Raga Malhaar with a lineup of over 40 artistes.

Malhar 40+ artists
Singing Malhar
Ustad Iqbal
Western Orchestra

The Dilli Gharana Ensemble had an Indian Classical orchestra, Indian classical vocalist group, Indian Sufi and folk group and, surprisingly, a Western Classical Instrumental Band. When the curtain rose, the assembled singers and musicians took the packed auditorium’s breath away.

The concert started with a tiny tot singing the basic strains, followed by a spirited violin recital by a twelve-year old prodigy. From then onwards, various versions of Raga Malhaar came thick and fast. The beauty of this Raga is that it is sung by different persons for different reasons: the children dancing and bathing in the rain, the young romantics yearning for their lovers, the married woman longing for her parents’ home where she grew up, the committed devotee thanking the lord for rain. In vocal instrumental, classical, Sufi and folk styles, the soft pitter-patter of rain drops, heavy rain, pouring showers, thundering cloud bursts were all artistically created in different ragas.

Fascinating legends are associated with this raga. When sung passionately and totally, it can induce rain showers. This raga has been sung much earlier than medieval times. Many legendary maestros like Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Baba Ramdas, Baba Ramdas, Nayak Charju, Miyan Bakhshu, Tantarang, Tanras Khan, Bilas Khan (grandson of Tansen), Hammer Sen, Surat Sen, and Krishna devotee Meera Bai are among the singers who are said to have been capable of starting rains using various kinds of Raga Malhaar, according to Dr. Geeta Banerjee, author of ‘Raga Malhaar Darshan’.

Fabled vocalist Mian Tansen is associated with a legend about this raga. Once the Mughal Emperor Akbar asked his court musician Tansen to sing Raga Deepak, the raga of light. The effect was such that all the lamps in the courtyard lit up themselves, and Tansen’s body became so hot that he had to sit in the nearby river to cool himself.

However, the river began to boil, and it became apparent that Tansen would soon boil to death. He set out on a search to find someone who could sing Raga Malhaar to cure him. In due course, he reached Vadnagar, in Gujarat, where he found two sisters, Tana and Riri, to whom he pleaded for help. They agreed to sing Raga Malhaar to cure him. When they sang, the raga, rains came down in torrents to cool Tansen’s body immediately, as mentioned in a book on Indian music by C. D. Bigamudre.

The concert evoked Tansen’s legend, and although it did not bring rain, it regaled all those who attended.

Kul BhushanArticle and photos by Kul Bhushan

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