Bhagesri, a raga that relaxes the senses and calms the mind, is predominantly north Indian in flavour. It is suitable for lighter pieces and dramatic vocalisation. Ragas such as Bhagesri cannot be defined purely by the notes themselves, but by the various permutations and combinations of these notes that give rise to the characteristic prayogas and phrases that may be said to be typical of the raga. The notes Sadja, Sadharana Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, Chatusruti Dhaivata, and Kaisiki Nishada feature in the ascent, while the Pancama and Chatusruti Rishaba also find place in the descent. The raga is assymetrical, and the phrase SND PDND MPD G is characteristic, the glide from the Dhaivata to the Gandhara being exaggerated and dramatic, with a dash of Madhyama adding to its curvature. This raga brings forth bhakthi and karuna rasa, and is usually sung in a slow or medium tempo.
One cannot find kritis aplenty in Bhagesri and with due reason. This raga was not very well-known during the times of the musical trinity of Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri. A stunning composition in this raga is “Sagara shayana vibho”, composed by the ace vocalist M. D. Ramanathan, a disciple of Tiger Varadachariar. “Kanden kanden” of Arunachala Kavi is often sung in Bhagesri. In the popular devotional song “Karpagavalli nin”, the Bhagesri lines deserve special mention - “Bhagesri maaye varai idhu tarunam”.
One of the early appearances of this raga in a film song was in “Gulebagavali”, the song “Mayakkum maalai pozhuthe” sung melodiously by A M Raja and Jikki, in the music of MSV-Ramamurthy. In the lines “Inikkum inba irave” the raga’s identity is well established – the oscillation at the Gandhara and the glide from the Sadja to the Madhyama define its contours rather unambiguously. “Kaana inbam” from “Sabhash Meena”, in the music of T. G. Lingappa, is a lilting slow melody in Bhagesri. The song begins in the lower Nishada and slowly progresses upwards.
This raga brings forth emotions of yearning, lost love and a hint of sadness as well. A song that is created in a typically Hindustani-style, with rhythmic patterns on the tabla and a plentitude of clever sangatis is “Kalaiye en vazhkaiyil”, sung by A M Raja and P Susheela in the film “Meenda Sorgam”. “S,,N,,D/ S,N G,,MRRS” – this signature refrain is popular till date.
One of the finest melodies of all time, “Nilave ennidam” from “Ramu”, sung in a ghazal style with minute and challenging sangatis by PBS, has been created brilliantly by MSV.
In the song “Koluse koluse” (“Penn Buddhi”), composer Chandrabose brings forth a fresh Bhagesri flavour. Sung by SPB, this song represents a contemporary avatar of a traditional raga, as does “Mazhai varudu”, composed for “Raja Kaiyya Vecha” by Ilayaraja. More recently A R Rahman has experimented with this raga by infusing jazz elements. The result was the mindblowing “Aromale” from “Vinnaithandi Varuvaya”.
Hindi cinema gave us the song “Jaag dard-e-ishq jaag” from “Anarkali” (music C. Ramachandra), where this raga is beautifully handled and sung by Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar.