Music Bhairavi is an ancient raga and said to have been prevalent 1500 years ago. Ranee Kumar

If Thodi (Hanumatodi) strides like a king in the concert conduit, raga Bhairavi saunters with dignified grace like the majestic regina. Though it is not strictly a melakarta (parent raga) and is the offshoot of the 20th melakarta Natabhairavi, it has greater appeal and is more absorbing than its mother as far as the number of compositions and its own scope for expansion during rendition go. Apart from this, the aesthetic quality of this female raga/ragini is enigmatic and enriching. And this has to be experienced in order to appreciate. The Carnatic Bhairavi is not to be confused with the Hindustani raag by the same name.

The origin of Bhairavi, according to musicologists is in the Panchama moorchana of Shudda Shadja grama (Sa grama). It is one of the ancient ragas, stated to be in prevalence about 1500 years ago. This raga is the seventh of the 19 prominent (prasiddha) melas mentioned by scholars of Sangeetha Ratnakara, Sangeetha Makarandha and Sangeetha Samayasara. It corresponds to the Tamil Pann ‘Kausikam’.

We are aware of only the bhashanga version of Bhairavi from early days as far as compositions in the raga are concerned. The parent Natabhairavi now has become the scale for centuries. The ascent-descent (aarohana-avarohana) structure of Bhairavi goes as: Sa-ri2-ga2-ma1- pa- dha2-ni2-SA and SA-ri2-ga2-ma1-pa-dha1-ni2-sa respectively. There is bit of controversy here. Some musicologists view the aarohana (ascent) as ‘Sa-ga-ri-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni-SA. The first half of this phrase (Sa-ga-ri-ga) occurs in this raga but it ought to be taken as a vishesha prayoga as the regular sapthaswara ascent (karma sampoorana aarohana) is correct and more frequently used, say authentic scholars on the subject. Despite the seven notes, the Bhairavi uses two sets of Daivatha (Dha2 and Dha1), hence it cannot be classified as a sampoorna (complete) raga and comes under the nomenclature of ‘eka anya bhashanga raga’ (raga using one extra note). This extra note or ‘anya swara’ is not a ‘nyasa’(ending note) in any bhashanga raga but in Bhairavi, it is an exception. And even if the Daivatha does occur as an ending note, it is just a touch and go sans emphasis.

The raga is also said to be ‘sarva swara gamaka varika rakti raga’ (all notes are prone to oscillation and hence scope for artistry). In practice, only Chatusruti Rishaba and Madhyama can be prolonged without gamaka. In the ascent, the Gandhara is held in conjuction with the Rishaba with crisp or elongated range of oscillation (Sa-ga-ri- ga-ma) where the gamaka on Gandhara ends in Rishabha. In the descent, for instance where the phrase ‘ma-pa-ga-ri’ occurs, the Gandhara glides from the Madhyama and oscillates. The adroit use of gamaka in rendering the Gandhara, Nishada and the two Daivathas bestows the Bhairavi with a special flavour. This raga can be elaborated in all the three octaves and it glows as it reaches the upper madhyama and tara octaves (sthayi). The Nishada (ni2) is the arterial nerve (jeeva swara) of Bhairavi which can be dealt with varying gamaka in keeping with the Daivatha being used at that point of time. Many a composition in this raga begins on the Nishadha swara, while there are a few that begin on the Daivatha or Rishabha notes. The Rishaba, Gandhara, Madhyama and Nishada are the raga chayya swaras (flavour of Bhairavi as such). The phrases ‘pa-dha-ma’ and ‘pa-dha-ni-dha-ma’ and ‘ma-pa-ga-ri-sa’ are the vishesha prayogas (special features) that serve as embellishments to the raga. The raga has unlimited range for exploration in the alapana (preface) and improvisation (virtuosity) and hence is sought-after raga in Carnatic katcheris. There are no ‘vakra sanchara’ (jagged notes) and hence it makes slower phrases very appealing. The raga is usually assigned to the evening but then there is no restriction in singing it during any time of the day.

Any number of compositions find their way to Bhairavi. Some prominent compositions is Bhairavi are the Ata tala varnam Viriboni , Shyama Sastri’s swarajati Kamakshi… , Thyaragaraja’s Koluvai unmade …, Upacharamu chese vaarunnarani ..., Dikshitar’s Chintaya maa. .., Patnam Subramanya Ayyar’s Nee padamule. .. to name a few.

The raga is also said to be ‘sarva swara gamaka varika rakti raga’ (all notes are prone to oscillation and hence scope for artistry).