Raga Darbari: The King of Ragas, the Raga of Kings

Back to posting after a while… busy with working on a musical project – I thought I’d get on with my eternally  favourite raga : the emperor of Ragas: Raga Darbari.

Words cannot adequately describe the majesty of this Raga. In many ways, Darbari encapsulates all there is to say about Hindustani Classical music: the repose, the space, the meditative nature, the plaintive aspect, the introspection… the list goes on. For those who ponder the difference between Carnatic and Hindustani music, Darbari is the prominent example of the philosophical difference between these two systems and the contrast in their approach. While some say the origins may have been in Carnatic music, Darbari is the encapsulation of the Hindustani style, in particular, the meditative nature of the music.

Darbari has influenced everyone from ancient Dhrupad singers to Himesh Reshammiya to Abhijit Pohankar.  Such is the scale of this monumental raga, etiquette demands its performance in a respectful manner, taking care not to transgress the boundaries of the raga.

Historically performed by Miyan Tansen in the court of Mughal emperor Akbar, Darbari has been restricted to performance by senior musicians only – as a matter of tradition. For a long time, women performers were not allowed to sing this raga. Darbari is also not well tolerated by purists on newer instruments.

The essence of Darbari is its repose and majestic build up. Due to heavy meend work (portamento), Darbari carries shades of previous notes onto the next notes.  Without sympathetic strings, that flavour is lost.

The perfect Darbari that I can think of has been rendered by Ustad Amir Khan : the link can be found here:

Why do I consider this the perfect Darbari?

One, it is slow and full of repose. Two, it dwells upon the lower octave and draws out the gravity of the raag. Third, it “lets go” down to the lower Dha and stays there for a while, without rushing back to the Sa.

Instrumental Darbaris

Darbari rendered on instruments face the challenge of keeping the music interesting after the alaap. As the raga is not designed for high speed, this proves a bit of a challenge. The sarangi, surbahar, veena and sarod are particularly well suited for rendition, however, the published repertoire on the sarod does go up to higher speed, which, in my opinion, diminishes the appeal of the pure raga.

Note that dwelling on a lengthy, repetitive alaap is probably not good either – unless you have the musical material, you’ll put audiences to sleep.

Three instrumental renditions stand out – each for different reasons

The first is Pt Ram Narayan on the sarangi: pure Darbari -vocal equivalent



The second is Ustad Vilayat Khan with Shankar Ghosh – recorded in the 60s – he takes Darbari on a “sitarised” journey – it’s spectacular though – I was gobsmacked when I first heard it. This is also an adaptation of the famous khayal “Anokha Ladla”.

The third is Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with Sabir Khan  – this is a master class of how to approach Darbari on the sarod – the approach of the compositions is very fresh and not the traditional sarod approach. I will record and document the notation in my next post.

More on Darbari compositions soon

PS – following comments by Smt Maitreyee Sarcar of www.surtarang.co.uk, I edited this post, by linking to the masterpieces of Ustads VK and AmAK. A few points about these two masterpieces:

Ustad Vilayat Khan’s piece is loosely based on the drut khayal “Anokha Ladla” sung by greats such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

Ustad Amjad Ali plays no vilambit (he has a policy of not playing vilambit if the alaap jor jhala is extensively treated, especially in a time constrained situation -e.g cassette recording). Secondly, the drut ektaal piece has two parts: the second part settles into the famous ektaal composition Yareman Biyan Biyan, however, the mukhda is a complex rhythmic piece which uses an off beat Sam (I’ll publish the notation shortly). Thirdly, the drut teentaal piece is possibly the highest clarity Darbari played on the sarod at that speed – especially if you pay attention to the right hand bols being executed at the same time in the ekhara phrases. Fourthly, the sound engineer has gone nuts over adding a concert chamber effect to the sound, although it sounds ok. Fifthly, I was advised that Ustadji waited for a long time before recording this masterpiece and used his largest sarod for this performance.