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:



One thought on “The Magnificence of Malkauns

  1. It is a great pleasure to see that your site is contributing to the veritable literature available on ragas. I have had the opportunity to explore the site quite a bit and I am immensely pleased by your lucid explanations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *