The origin of Indian music is as ancient as India’s civilization and culture. Sam Veda, one of the 4 Vedas, India’s ancient text, is dedicated towards music. Is it not fascinating to realize that some of the Raagas performed today date back thousands of years? As the sun-scorched India waits for Monsoon, Raga Malhar comes to mind. Even if you are not a Hindustani classical music connoisseur you have definitely heard the melodious notes of Malhar in one way or the other. Why is Malhar the Raga of the Indian Monsoon? Rains and Malhar have become synonymous to the Indian music lover and over years, innumerable compositions have been based on this beloved raga.
बरसन लागी लागी बदरियाँ सावन की
अति कारी अति भारी डर पावन लागी मा
चमक चमक िबजुरियाँ चमके
सियरा पवन बहे
अब तो प्यारी चौंक पडी गरजन लागी
In the month of Sawan, the black clouds are pouring down with great intensity. The lightning strikes recurrently, accompanied by the gushing winds. Such atmosphere is indeed frightening for a beautiful damsel.
Raga Malhar has evolved into a family of ragas. Till date over 30 variations of Raga Malhar has been invented which includes the most popular, Miyan ki Malhar, Surdasi Malhar, and Megh Malhar.
But when did Malhar first become associated with the monsoon
Although the exact time period is unknown, in general, Indian music is heavily influenced by nature and the spiritual calling. Most Indian classical ragas are associated with a time of the day (Prahars). Some special ragas also denote the season when it should be performed. For example, Raga Basant is a spring raga, with sweeter undertones, and joyful vibrancy. Raga Deepak is sung in summer with bold notes. Similarly, Raga Malhar is the raga of monsoon. Mythologically, we ideate monsoon and the cloud covered skies with Lord Krishna. So Malhar over time has become the Raga of Indian Monsoon, with beautiful compositions depicting, love, longingness, and diving calling for the rains.
Miyan Tansen and the story of Malhar
The legend goes Miyan Tansen, a minister of Emperor Akbar(1542 -1605 AD) one time summoned rains with his powerful rendition of Malhar. He is believed to be one of the key persons in history who has made Malhar synonymous to Monsoon. In fact, his improvised version of Malhar gave way to Raga Miyan Ki Malhaar ( He was called Miyan, and roughly translates to Miyan’s Malhaar). A large part of music community still believes, if one can perform Malhar accurately, it rains that day.
One might argue that this is a just mass conditioning of the mind, but there is something within the notes of the Raga that makes one feels the rains. Till date, many northern villages of India perform this raga in the scorch summers to please the rain gods.
Trivia: One of the very popular movies Lagaan demonstrated this concept where an entire village sings together to summon the rains. Composed by maestro Shankar Mahadevan, that song also contained notes of Raga Malhar in it.
Your guide to Malhar
Innumerable film compositions are based on this ever favorite raga. Whenever the sky is overcast, just play Miyan ki Malhar by any of the musical legends: Pt Bhimshen Joshi, Pt Jasraj, Pt Ravi Shankar, Amazad Ali Khan and look out your window…
I bet you will find the magical connection between Malhar and the Monsoon.
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