Abheri as we know it today is one of the most attractive and popular ragas. It is known in North India by the name Bhimpalasi and Sri Muthuswamy Dikshitar affectionately called it Devagandharam. It is also called Karnatakadevagandhari in texts of music.
Abheri is synonymous with “Nagumomu ganaleni” composed by Saint Thyagaraja, a lilting composition with a light hint of pathos. I often see people requesting “Eppadi padinaro,” a Tamil composition of Suddhananda Bharati popularised by D.K Pattammal, or “Bhajare manasa” of Mysore Vasudevachar.
Abheri is often confused with Suddha Dhanyasi. The difference is that Abheri has nishada and rishabha in the descent while Suddha Dhanyasi is a symmetrical scale. I hear you, I will not go into technical details – just a bit of information to whet your appetite for music.
In Tamil film music, Papanasam Sivan's “Maname ganamum,” sung by MS Subbulakshmi in “Savitri” set off the Abheri rage. The raga's stamp is evident in the lines “maaya vaazhvu sadama” and “eesan malar padame.”
The pièce de résistance in Abheri is of course SM Subbiah Naidu's “Singara velane deva” from “Konjum Salangai,” sung by S Janaki with the nadaswara accompaniment of Karukkurichi Arunachalam. The line “senthuril ninraadum deva” reminds us of the nadaswara vidvan's typical phrasings.
K V Mahadevan gave us “Isaithamizh nee seidha” in “Thiruvilaiyadal,” and Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, in “Pasamalar,” composed the immortal “Malarndum malaraada.” The raga's stamp comes through in the lines “maaman thangai magalana... ulagai vilai pesuvar.”
Lyricist Kannadasan's home production “Vanambadi” has P Sushila singing “Gangai karai thottam.” Another P Sushila favourite in Abheri is “Pazhamudir cholayile” from “Kuzhandaiyum Deivamum.” And no, I haven't forgotten “Vaaraai” from “Mandirikumari,” in the resplendent voices of Trichy Loganathan and Jikki, and “Vaarayo vennilave” from “Missiamma,” which catapulted A M Raja to fame.
The 1970s and 1980s saw Abheri in a new light with songs like “Chinnachiru vayadil” from “Meendum Kokila,” where KJ Yesudas, in the lines “Kalla thanam ennadi,” gives the pure Abheri touch. Other heady concoctions in Abheri include “Neela vana odaiyil” (“Vaazhve Maayam”) and “Naadam en jeevanae” (“Kaadhal Oviyam”).
AR Rahman's “Kannodu Kanbadellam” from “Jeans” once again revived Abheri, and more recently “Unakkul naane” from “Pachaikili Muthucharam” by Harris Jayaraj ensured this raga's popularity today. Recall the violin background in this song, a stunning traversal in two complete octaves of Abheri with one sweep of the bow.
In Hindi film music, “Yeh zindagi usee ki hai” from “Anarkali” and “Khilte hain gul yahaan” from “Sharmilee” come to mind. “Khoya khoya chaand” in Rafi's voice from “Kala Bazaar” is another number with Bhimpalasi touches.
The peppy “Tu cheez badi hai mast mast” (from “Mohra”) is an example of how even raga-based songs can make you dance. Viju Shah's sensational hit had the swaras “p n s... p r s” as a refrain lending a desi touch to the groovy tune. See you again in a fortnight with my favourite picks in a different raga.