Kafi has got to be one the greatest artistic triumphs of mankind….a melodic pathway so sweet, poignant, emotional and sophisticated, it is virtually an inexhaustible source of mental and spiritual nourishment. Here, I try to describe my take on this mother lode of Indian classical music.
(As always, I steer clear of the technical details of the ragas- that’s the stuff for musicologists, practicing students and (mostly Bengali and Marathi) intellectuals/critics living overseas – for us simple folk, emotion must suffice).
Kafi for me is inextricably linked to my home town of Varanasi (Banaras/Benares) and Northern India. Kafi springs through folk tunes for the Holi Festival, a riot of colours everywhere. Kafi too, is a multi-hued raga -it allows the full rainbow in its scope and as no-one can really tell how many shades and combinations, these diverse hues in the raga are conveniently bundled under the moniker “Mishra (mixed) Kafi”….[ I love the intent ” Let’s not overanalyze this – just call it Mixed”]
Kafi is used in folk tunes of Uttar Pradesh, such as Hori, Kajri etc. and can quickly change colour, from hopeful to brooding/sad with a quick turn of notes…
Used extensively in Bollywood (especially in the 60s -80s where music directors were trained musicians), it has powered many a superhit song. An internet search will reveal many different songs with different aspects of this raga.
I start this off by focussing on the lighter side… with a song from a film called Ijazat, then the famous Mohe Panghat (this might invite comments re: a child raga called Pancham Se Gara etc from the abovementioned group) and a thumri (semi classical) piece called Kahe Nanad Din Gaari…finally a classical piece from the Shahjahanpur style of sarod playing, learnt courtesy Pt Sugato Nag).
The thumri is interesting. I fully appreciated its meaning sitting on the banks of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales a few years ago – (that’s also where I appreciated other ragas such as Marwa too… great spot for musical development).
It goes as follows, sung by Radha, longing for Krishna
Kahe Nanad Din Gari (Why does my sis-in-law verbally abuse me ) (Gari means swearing, technically)
Hu to Suhagan, Vrishban dulari (For I am married, and dear to Vrishbhanu )
Main Jamuna Tat, Paniya Bharan Gayi (I went to the banks of the Yamuna to get water)
Door khare Banke Bihari (and in the distance is Lord Krishna)
Kahe Nanad Din Gari…
This thumri illustrates the struggle between earthly preoccupations and the yearning for salvation. The way this thumri is structured in terms of the tune is that the lines where Radha sees Krishna in the distance are set to a tune which simply conveys the longing of her…it’s a masterpiece of tunesmithing…
A Youtube video on these pieces… in Kafi, there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of compositions, and it’d take years to get them all… but we’ve got to start somewhere…