Meeting with Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan

Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan on his recent Australian visit.

Here is a picture of us together. We had a good exchange of thoughts and ideas and tips for practice..

A digression for the New Year : Raga Desh (Des)

I woke up on New Year’s Day 2015 with a burning desire to play Raga Des (Desh), a beautiful raga from the Khamaj group of ragas which I’ve written about before….

Of particular interest to me were compositions in fast 12 beat time cycle (Ektaal), and by fast, I mean reasonably fast, much faster than what can be usually played on the sarod (especially in the older styles, who emphasize the plectrum hand more than the hand playing the notes).
However, this approach has great risks – the real possibility of going offkey at any time due to the speed.
So, the only way to get the perfect note is to relax. But if you are rushing at this speed, it’s hard to relax !!
Hence, perfection at this speed can only come from being in a fully meditative state – being one with the composition – from hours and months of practice, to the point that your mind has overcome the mechanical stress of getting the notes out, and is focussing on the nuances instead. A tiny nuance can completely change the whole feeling of the composition.. and this is something that should be spontaeneous, not contrived. That’s the whole appeal of Hindustani Classical Music – the element of spontaenity and surprise…
As a great fan of both the vocal style and that of my teacher -sitar maestro Ustad Shahid Parvez, I concocted two compositions from each of these idioms.

Firstly, the USPK (USPK is shorthand for Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan) composition – what I like about this is the symmetry of the composition. As with everything he plays, there is a method and a plan. I’ve changed everything except the first line, but have tried to keep the same theme going.

The second one is a very famous vocal composition called : Beeti Jata Barkha Ritu
Beeti Jaat Barkha Ritu
Piya Na Aaye, Ae Ri
Ae Ri,
(O friend, The monsoon season is slipping by,
but my beloved hasn’t come yet)
I forget the second part of the composition, having looked  at this a long time ago…
Ideally, I would have played this at a slower speed, because it allows better use of subtle embellishments, which get squeezed out at higher speeds.
Des is such a beautiful raga … compositions in every possible taal abound, so this selection is very niche…

An inspiring book for all performance artists

I recently read Steve Martin’s autobiography : Born Standing Up

Part philosophical treatise, part how-to guide, it’s a deep dive into how a performance is created-an intersection of art and science, intense honesty and brutal self examination. He delivers an elegant and sophisticated analysis of his journey from Disneyland to sold out shows and hit movies with not a single gripe against anyone, solely focusing on improving his art using audience reaction as his guide. Whether you play classical music or hard rock or dance Bollywood and are serious about your art form, this book delivers invaluable insights.

Key points for me were:

1. A performance requires special planning and treatment, especially if you have a paying audience

2. It takes time to develop your own style –  you will inevitably start out with someone else’s material, but with hard work and honesty, you can develop your own

3. This is a long hard slog

4. Complaining about how the world is sabotaging you is probably not a good strategy – no -one owes  you a living.

5. Intense and brutal self examination is important, as is the advice of mentors and seniors.


Beautiful Ragas from the Khamaj Garden- Raga Jhinjhoti

Recently I played at the Independence day function for a local association, and ended up playing Raga Desh. Which made me think of other ragas which are related to Desh. In this category lies the beautiful raga Jhinjhoti. For some reason, Bengalis often call this raga Jhijhit…. not quite sure why….

Here’s a brief introduction to Jhinjhoti as I’ve leant it…

Raga Jhinjhoti

Thaat (Parent): Khamaj

Ascending: Aarohan: S  R M P D S

Descending: Avrohan: S n D P M G R S

Pakad (Distinctive Phrase):  P(lower) D (Lower) S R G – R P M G, S R G n(lower) D (lower) S

Jhinjhoti is a sweet raga, full of emotion and feeling. I visualise bright flowers in a beautiful garden when I think of Jhinjhoti. While it’s considered a light raga, there is no end to plumbing its depths….

In the instrumental tradition, the Shahjahanpur Gharana takes the honours for detailed treatment of Jhinjhoti. In particular, two compositions by Abdullah Khan and Mohammed Amir Khan demand special attention. They are rhythmic, bright, sweet and unique. Under the masters of Shahjahanpur, these have become part of the repertoire of a generation.

I’ll continue this discussion with the first of these compositions in Drut Teentaal.



The Magnificence of Malkauns

I’ve been practicing Malkauns a bit lately – in preparation for an upcoming concert.

Malkauns is a grand raga but very simple in its construction –

S g M d n S (lowercase=komal swaras)

Technically, it’s classified as a member of Bhairavi, however, it is an ancient raga, and the classification system is of recent origin in Hindustani music.

In Carnatic music, there is a raga with the same notes, called Hindolam. However, the treatment of the two varies greatly – each according to its own tradition.

The simple construction allows beginners to easily pick up this raga – however, like many “fundamental” ragas, it can take a lifetime to explore. That is the magic  of North Indian Classical music – you can keep yourself busy with just five notes for decades and never get bored…..

In my mind, Malkauns is a slow, deliberate raga – and should not be rushed. Instrumentalists in concert are always under pressure to “do something” or risk putting their concert audiences to sleep. In my mind, there is a fine balance between exploring the raga and repetitive playing. It comes down to the capacity of the musician. My personal preference is not to do lengthy alaps but do a longish vilambit if greater elaboration is required. That keeps the audience’s interest in a raga as well.

Malkauns has been called by some as an instrumental raga (this probably stems from something that Shrimati Kishori Amonkar said about it being a “been ka raag”). Anyway, my general preference is to avoid the musicologists and focus on enjoying the music first (thus avoiding some very aggressive characters)

The sarod lends itself very well to Malkauns technically. The five notes span the Sa and the Ma string. At faster speeds, the open Ma helps. Here is a standard Malkauns Vilambit Teentaal composition recorded on my iPhone in my music room – I’ve tried to maintain the deliberation around the lower Ni and Dha. This composition is certainly not my creation, but bears some resemblance to legendary Amir Khan Sahib’s “Jinki Man Raam”.

(Sidenote: Ustad Amir Khan really elaborated the raga and not his “value add”. In doing so, he attained legendary status and added far more value than those who deliberately set out to do so. He would plumb the depths of the raga as a complete devotee – giving us a glimpse of the “inner core” -and he did it so effortlessly, when lesser musicians look for “new angles” to the raga. When a musician starts planning to “value add” to ragas, their ego takes over – and the result is usually not good. (The same goes for those who venture into creating new ragas). These ragas are greater than any musician – let’s enjoy their essence and be enriched by it.

Among legendary Malkauns renditions is Ud Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s “Mandira Dekh” which has given me enormous joy and inspiration- and I’ve written about it before here:



Raga Dhani – An afternoon introspection

Raga Dhani is a rather uncommon afternoon raga and is not very common on the sarod, although it’s structure lends itself very well to the instrument. Some experts believe it can be played any time of the day and night. I tend to favour the afternoon time cycle.

Dhani is an amalgam of Malkauns and Bhimpalasi – if not careful, the identity of the raga is masked by either of these major ragas – so it’s a very delicate balance.

There are two schools of thought on Dhani- the common one sees it as a Bhimpalasi flavoured raga, the other sees it as a Malkauns anchored scale.

Raga Dhani

Thaat: Kafi

Aaroh (Ascent): Sa g M P n S

Avroh (Descent): S n P M g (R) S

The Re in the descent is sparingly used.

I think of Dhani as a “pukar” raga (plaintive calls)-  this is where the Malkauns comes in.  In particular, the ascent to the M has to be deliberate in my opinion.

Since I did not get much material on Dhani, I had to “roll my own”. Most of the established material was too similar to Bhimpalasi – whereas I lean towards Malkauns.

First,  vilambit teental (point of emphasis is ga)


Secondly, a Rupak composition (point of emphasis shifted to Ma – ala Malkauns)


Lastly a drut teentaal (point of emphasis remains on Ma)

Notations are here in PDF format
As always, all omissions and errors are mine, and this is a one take recording on Mr Zoom H2 in my music room.

Various tributes to Ud Amir Khan

Ud Amir Khan was one of the greatest musicians of the last century. Although very well known to regulars of Indian classical music, he remains relatively unknown among the population generally.

He inspired many stalwarts including Ud Vilayat Khan, Pt Nikhil Banerjee and others.    I personally consider his Darbari as the mother of all renditions of North Indian Classical Music of this raga – maybe only Tansen could have surpassed him.

Here is a collection of some articles on this “musician of musicians”.


Raag Khamaj : An ocean of sweetness

My New Year’s resolution is to keep content on this site updated regularly – aim is to cover off one raga a month at least. I start off with Khamaj.
Khamaj is a huge repository of very melodious and sweet tunes – so sweet sometimes, it’s unbearable !. Key ragas of this camp include Khamaj itself, the beautiful raag Des (or Desh), Tilak Kamod and Jhinjhoti. Variants include Jaijaywanti, Gorakh Kalyan and the like. Even Kalawati is technically in the Khamaj camp.Khamaj dominates semi classical and Bollywood songs as well.

I start off with a tribute to one of the greatest leaders of mankind : Mahatma Gandhi, whose death anniversary was marked this week – and whose favourite song was the Bhajan “Vaishnav Jan To” composed by 15th Century Poet Narsinh Mehta, set to Khamaj.

Vaishnav-ism is a sect of Hinduism, with particular emphasis on kindness, non-violence and empathy towards fellow beings. A Vaishnav is a follower of the God Vishnu. The first line says ” He/She who is a Vaishnav is one who understands the pain of others”

Here’s a rendition of this classic (first stanza only) on my sarod, with a bit of Desh tacked on to the end. As always, this is a one-take affair, no computer skullduggery to hide the rough spots, recorded on the Zoom in my music room.


Sultan Khan and the Sarangi

Recently, sarangi maestro Sultan Khan passed away – a great loss to the musical community. I met Khan sahab on his 2009 tour of Melbourne, where he performed in the Arts Centre with his brother on the tabla. I will post a clip of that recording – it has a few interesting parts – when he started off, he said “My English is like your Chinese or Japanese – pretty bad”. Then he demonstrated the complex trio of Puriya, Shree and Puriya Dhanashree. In the last raga, he sang the well known khayal ” Payaliya Jhankar Mori” – stopping to explain to the audience the difficult “saas -nanad” (mother -in-law and sis-in-law- who usually give the wife a hard time) relationship.

His performance was also marked by an outburst at the organisers on stage. (about a glass of water).

Musically, I was most inspired by a rather unique rendering of Malkauns that you can find here: (Tarana in 12 beat drut Ektaal)

What’s so special about this rendition? A few points come to mind

1. The points of emphasis are very deliberate.  He really “beds” down the note  e.g the Ga Ma movement. This is not that typical of Malkauns treatment. It’s more a reflection of the sarangi (vocal) treatment.

2. He introduces a quirky movement (around the 0.16 second mark and again at 0.21) -it is a quick Ga-Ma-Dha movement, done very quickly, but I had never heard this movement before. Note, that this movement is not directly translated in his playing (except at one point). This adds a new “angle” to Malkauns

3. He doesn’t dwell on the lower Dha Ni much – which is pretty much a Malkauns signature- he’s up on the middle octave most of the time

This is precisely the kind of innovative raga treatment that I crave. He also played “benchmark” compositions, instead of settling for lesser ones.

May he rest in peace.