Uniquely, Mahatma Gandhi is one man who has had four legendary musicians in the last century create ragas in his name, as tributes. This unusual tribute is testimony to the rich creativity inherent in our classical music tradition.
The first raga was spontaneously created by Pt Ravi Shankar in 1949, on hearing of Bapu’s death. Panditji was asked by All India Radio to play a piece dedicated to the Mahatma, and on the spot he created a variation of the very sombre powerful Malkauns, one of the six main parent ragas in the North Indian classical music system, that he named Mohan Kauns. Shubhendra Rao one of his senior disciples played raga Mohan Kauns as the closing concert in a two-day classical music festival dedicated to Gandhiji last week. This was organised by the IGNCA, as part of a six-day celebration of Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary year.
Mohan Kauns, as Shubhendra Rao explained at the start of his concert, has the addition of the Shudha Ga in the notes of Malkauns. In addition, the ‘pakar’ of the raga was Ga Ni Dha (incidentally, these letters combined together spell Gandhi); thus changing the feel of the raga completely. Shubhendra etched out the raga in a brief “alaap jor jhala”, showing some well executed “meends” on the “kharaj” and “kharaj pancham” wires. His “gat” was in rupak taal; accompanying him on the tabla was Ustad Akram Khan, who unusually for him, played a more robust intrusive tabla than is his usual understated style. The concert took on a racy “laya” driven direction that perhaps Shubhendra would not have gone into, and may have preferred to dissect the raga with more leisure.
The second raga created for Gandhiji was by none other than the iconic Pt Kumar Gandharva in 1969, two decades after the Father of the Nation was assassinated. He was commissioned to compose something as a tribute to Bapu, and in the words of his daughter Kalapini Komkali “he wanted to create a piece of music that would do justice to the memory of the Mahatma and the values of truth and fearlessness that he espoused.” As such, Kalapini said his tribute to Gandhiji that he called Gandhi Malhar was created with much soul searing and was conceived not as a tribute to the man but to the values he lived by. For Kumar ji, it was the “shudha Ga” of his Gandhi Malhar that he saw as being the cornerstone of the Raga edifice; but he had to save it from sounding like Gaur Malhar, which has a prominent shudha Ga. Apparently, Kumarji took a long time to create the raga, and agonised over its contours. After recording it and singing on January 30th in Delhi, he rarely sang it subsequently, according to Kalapini. Her mother, Vidushi Vasundhara Komkali used to sing the raga occasionally and she taught Kalapini. Kumarji had written the lyrics of both khayals – the vilambit ektaal says
“Tum ho dheer, hore
sanjeevan Bharat ke virat, hore
aahat ke, aarat ke, sakha re
paavan aalok anokhe re”
The drut ektaal khayal starts with “tum mein sab roop”. Kalapini’s was the opening concert of the two day festival. The third raga to be composed on Bapu was by none other than that prolific composer, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, who in his late twenties and early thirties already created most of the signature compositions he is still associated with. His raga Bapu Kauns, created for Bapu’s 125th birth year, 25 years ago is also a Kauns, but in the words of his senior disciple Pt Biswajit Roy Chowdhary, who played it at the Gandhi Parv, “has the addition of raga Bhimpalasi or Raga Dhani”. The “Pa” of this raga has a significance; perhaps a spiritual flavour of Kauns aptly expressing the Mahatma’s gift of having his feet firmly rooted in the practical while his spirit reached upto godliness. Indeed the “sum” of the “rupak taal gat” (7-beat composition) created by the Ustad is on the pancham. Pt Biswajit Roy Chowdhary expanded his delineation of the raga by creating a Teen taal composition himself for the occasion This is indeed the magic of our raga system; a disciple in tune with the mood of the raga can take it into another dimension, and add to the basic skeleton or framework.
The fourth and last raga created for the Mahatma was by another great composer, Sangita Kalanidhi Chitravina Ravikiran, who had made raga Mohini sometime in the 1990s. Indeed it is amazing that even in the Carnatic pantheon today there exists a raga made as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi. His version is raga Mohanam (Bhupali) with the additional notes of uttra Re, uttara Ga and uttara Dha. Beautifully crafted, the new raga has a shape of its own, and does not sound disjointed. Sadly, due to prior overseas commitments the master could not personally present his creation at the festival, but he was ably represented by two of his young Chennai-based vocalist disciples Anahita and Apoorva Ravindran. Their ragam tanam had a maturity and slick execution that one did not expect from them, given their youth (both are in their twenties). The composition in Sanskrit, composed a few days earlier by Vidwan Ravikiran himself, in mishra chaapu (7-beats), had uplifting lyrics lauding Gandhiji as the consort of Kasturba and the upholder and protector of truth and dharma.
“Mahatma gandhim ashraye sadham
Suhasam mohini sama kasturiba devi sahatmam
mohana karam karamchandrajam (mahatma)
Satya dharma surakshanam asatya heena sulakshanam
atyahimsa marga dam ati
dheeram neeti saram
pratyari garva nashakam
para bhrtya bharata mukti karakam
nitya ravi shashi sama
pravahammama devam (mahatma)”
Member Secretary Dr Sachidanand Joshi shared that this unique presentation of four different Ragas honouring Gandhiji would be taken to the other IGNCA centres at Goa Baroda and Bangalore in the coming months, during the 150th birth anniversary year.