Ever woken up to the scent of incense early in the morning? Listening to Pundit Jasraj singing the Vilambit Ektaal composition “Rasia Mhara” in Ahir Bhairav in his heady Mewati style has that effect. The Mewati style or gharana, as the name suggests, originated from the Mewar region in Rajasthan and co-founded by Ustad Ghagge Nazir Khan and Ustad Wahid Khansaheb. While the Mewati style of singing closely mimics the older Gwalior musical tradition it bares a composite of some truly inimitable elements. Combining the dual divinity of ‘Kitankari’ and Sufi influences, its sargam-dominant filigreed approach is among its chief highlights, to be acquired after years of rigorous practice.
Personally speaking, Ahir Bhairav has remained a favorite for years. That’s because I can identify with its character- maverick and rebellious, refusing to be pinned down to specifics. Pt. Bhatkhande, the foremost grammarian of Hindustani classical music, had the hardest time in the world trying to fit this radicalist into his inexorable thaat framework. Like most north Indian ragas, Ahir Bhairav too has a Carnatic equivalent or counterpart. In the present case it is Raga Chakravaka. In an interesting aside, Chakravaka is also the name of a bird, a ruddy goose, referenced in ancient texts including the ‘Sundara Kand’ version of Valmiki’s Ramayana. Just witness a portion of the passage highlighting Hanuman’s surreptitious visit to Lanka: “And of some other women, necklaces made with cat’s eye gems resembled birds called kadambas and for some others golden chains were like Chakravaka birds…”
Chakravaka birds symbolize lust in the mythical context, yet there is nothing remotely lusty about Ahir Bhairav as it signifies Bhakti or spiritualism. A raga of sunrise, it works great for meditation and yoga practitioners.
The next composition in Alhaiya Bilawal in this melody-scape is a masterly stroke. The most widely performed raga in the sprawling Bilawal family, it is a typical breakfast melody to be heard or rendered at 9 am, just after Ahir Bhairav. Like your morning coffee it is heady, strong, and aura-filled. Ghazal aficionados are not likely to forget the soul-stirring nazm by Jagjit Singh, Baat niklegi to door talak jayegi… set to the mellow tones of Alhaiya Bilawal.
Let it also be known that the Indian national anthem is based on Alhaiya Bilawal whose genesis, like Ahir Bhairav, is shrouded in ambiguity. With its lineage established in Bilawal the raga’s kinship to the now-extinct Alhaiya remains, at best, a clouded memory.
Ebullient tans and evocative sargam alaaps punctuate the compositions in the grand Mewati style, the hallmark of the great maestro. The album produced by RPG, Morning to Midnight Ragas, is an indulgence to the ears.