A RAGA'S JOURNEY
Bhairavi can be likened to a prayer, a divine call from the soul to the supreme Brahman. Named after the primordial Mother goddess herself, this raga is majestic in structure and lofty in stature – an imposing combination that can only be fathomed by the receptive mind.
The notes that occur in this raga are Sadja, Chatusruti Rishabha, Sadharana Gandhara, Suddha Madhyama, Pancama, both Dhaivatas (Shuddha and Chatusruti), and Kaisiki Nishada.
The jagged arrangement of the Gandhara and Rishabha (SGRG) in the ascent adds colour and spunk to this raga's already gargantuan personality, while the Suddha Dhaivata in the descent adds elusive charm. Replete with gamakas or oscillations, this is a ghana raga, heavy and heady.
Bhairavi occupies a place of pride in Carnatic music. Several compositions come to mind in Bhairavi, the important ones being ‘Balagopala’ and ‘Chintayamam’ of Dikshitar, ‘Koluvaiyunnade’ and ‘Rakshabettare’ of Thyagaraja and ‘Sari Evaramma’ and ‘Kamakshi’ (swarajati) of Shyama Sastri. Students of music over the ages have often found themselves struggling to master the complex ‘Viriboni’ ata tala varnam. Other well-known pieces include ‘Thanayuni Brova’, ‘Upacharamu (lanu)’, ‘Yaaro Ivar Yaaro’.
A raga like Bhairavi is difficult to visualise in commercial cinema. A highly classical approach is required while using this scale and an added constraint would be the tough raga grammar that has to be followed uncompromisingly. Notwithstanding such restrictions, the beauty of this raga has attracted a few film composers to try their hand at it.
‘Unnai Kandu Mayangadha’ from the film Ashok Kumar sung by M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar is an outstanding example of Bhairavi in film music. Brimming with sringara rasa, this composition of Papanasam Sivan begins in the upper octave with the key phrase “GRS...NRSNDP..” In the line ‘Nadai Azhagilum..’ the gamaka at the Nishada in conjunction with the Dhaivata is executed with elan.
One of the most spectacular forays into Bhairavi on the silver screen was that of T. R. Mahalingam in the stunning ‘Kaayaatha Kanagathe’ viruttam from the film Sri Valli (music G. Ramanathan). The countless brighas and lightning fast sweeps across the scale leave us in raptures. Even now, after nearly 67 years of its release, this song is a hot favourite among music lovers, an example of the timelessness of raga-based melodies.
‘Bhairavi Thunaivan Paadam Paninthu Unnai Vendriduven...,’ sings Seerkazhi Govindarajan in the popular ragamalika duet ‘Vendriduven...’ (the other singer being TMS), as he dons the title role in the film Agathiyar. This phrase begins with the characteristic prayoga “PG,RS NRSNDP”, the Pancama-Gandhara connection being vital in this raga.
The composer of this piece is Kunnakudi Vaidhyanathan, and this song is a grand feather in his cap. The song gains tempo and at the crescendo the Bhairavi swara repartee is attractive and the jugglery of swaras gripping.
‘Thirupparkadalil Palli Kondaaye’ from Swami Iyyappan (music G. Devarajan), in the sonorous voice of Yesudas, is outstanding . Again, this piece begins in the upper Gandhara (GRS) and the Nishada gamaka in ‘Sriman Narayana’ clearly establishes the raga’s stamp. While the charanam is marked by plain notes that give a cinematic touch, the pallavi is traditional, time-tested Bhairavi.
The film Apoorva Ragangal, with the music of M. S. Viswanathan, has an attractive ragamalika. ‘Adisaya Ragam...’ starts off beautifully in Mahati raga and in the stanza that begins with ‘Oru Puram Paarthaal’, suddenly shifts to Bhairavi. Once again Yesudas breathes life into these lines and the noteworthy phrase in this stanza is ‘Maru Puram Paarthaal Kaaviri…’ — the twisty sangati connecting the dhaivata-nishada-shadja deserves special mention.
Not many composers have attempted Bhairavi in film music, though a flute interlude in the song ‘Sandhana Thendralai’ from the film Kandukondein Kandukondein (music A. R. Rahman) happens to be in Bhairavi.