Rendezvous with raags

The unique musical aspects of the Bettiah Gharana were brought to Chennai audiences at a recent festival.

February 18, 2010 05:27 pm | Updated February 19, 2010 04:23 pm IST

Pt. Falguni MitraPhoto: M. Karunakaran

Pt. Falguni MitraPhoto: M. Karunakaran

Chandramandala is all about ambience. The abode of Chandralekha, erstwhile high priestess of the arts and dancer extraordinaire, this haven of tranquillity on Eliot's Beach Road is an irresistible draw for the aesthete. Tree-shaded stone courtyards and cool interiors with tiled roofs welcome the visitor. Small wonder then that Prakriti Foundation chose the open-air theatre here as the venue for a three-day Bettiah Gharana festival.

Well conceptualised with alternating sessions of lectures and concerts, the series was flagged off by festival curator Sumitra Ranganathan's succinct introduction highlighting the Gharana's salient features. Accompanied by M.Narmadha (violin) and Apurbalal Manna (pakhawaj), veteran vocalist Pt. Indra Kishore Mishra embarked on alaap, drupad and dhamar, his soft tone complemented by the robust voice of young daughter, Jaymala. The duo illustrated a series of leisurely glides of Malleswari raag, evoking clear, simple motifs that put the voice through its paces for smoothness and pliancy in gradually widening swirls and whorls.

Demonstrating two types of gamaks, those emanating from the throat and the stomach, Pt Mishra aroused audience interest with the vibrations of highly stylised gamaks in a decidedly interesting display of virtuosity. The unfolding of the dhrupad replete with ornate passages invoked ancient echoes.

The accelerated pace highlighted the dynamic structuring of sahitya to taal in ‘Har Har Mahadev' dwelling on Lord Siva's attributes. The succeeding item transmitted intense energy with characteristic gamaks and strong enunciation lending points of emphasis. In Dhamar, the syllables were finessed by technique, yet retained a raw power. In marked contrast, a wash of tenderness coloured the compositional richness of a Chaturang, celebrating the glory of goddess Kali in a melodic trajectory of sahitya, rhythmic syllables and swaras.

The Swaramalika dipped into hues of swaras resting on laya variations. And finally, it was the prayerful ‘Bhavani Dayani' (Bhairavi) that stilled the senses and let the soul speak. Violinist M.Narmadha's responses drew appreciation from the vocalist.

Many influences

In a lecture outlining the socio-economic and cultural conditions from the 18th- 20th century in Champaran district of Bihar, Mihir Kumar Singh, secretary, finance, Government of Bihar, explained that ancient Bettiah saw a confluence of Buddhist and Hindu influences, particularly from neighbouring Nepal. Conquests brought in southern influence as well. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan granted parganas to Bettiah's zamindars who consolidated small kingdoms. A local ruler and patron of the arts, Raja Ugrasen, laid the foundation for musical activity in the Bettiah court. The 18th and early 19th century saw the Gharana flourish under poet kings such as Naval Kishore Singh and Anand Kishore Singh. A strong colonial presence arising from local rajas' support to the British ensured peace and plenty. However, the incurring of vast debts and surrender of lands to the British who used them for indigo plantation, resulted in a decline in prosperity and patronage.

With the vicissitudes of time imposing economic hardships, only a handful of traditional practicing dhrupadiyas remain today.


Opening with an alaap in three clearly defined stages, Pt. Falguni Mitra also presented a bandish (composition of Prabhu Sinha). Raag Behag unfolded in disciplined, measured progression.

Excursions in the mandra sthayi were set off by closely woven passages in madhya sthayi highlighting the interplay of the two madhyams with the pancham. Heavily oscillated gamaks emulating the rhythmic tolling of a bell embellished the languid glides of the Gaudhar bani and the simpler lines of the Dagur bani.

Pt. Mitra threw light upon the meaning of sahitya. The poet describes Radha bedecked with flowers and ornaments, the sheer grace of her form and gait, on her way to meet Krishna. The lyrical structure was complemented by the sonorous resonance of Apurbalal Manna's pakhawaj and a variety of rhythmic permutations.

A composition of Suraj Singh (son of Tansen) in raag Adana, describing the triumphant return of Rama from Lanka, was rich in detail, infused with the energy of veer rasa. Celebrating the spirit of spring was a piece in raag Shuddh Basant, not often heard in concerts.

Pratima Mishra's play of notes on the harmonium was deft.

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