Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur is a legendary name in the world of Hindustani Classical Music, not just for his sparkling music but also for his simple living. Born on 31st December 1910 in what is now Dharwad, Karnataka, young Mallikarjun Mansur’s entry into the world of music was through theatre, like so many musicians of the time. He trained initially in the Gwalior style of khyal music, but later took to the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana and received training from Ustad Manji Khan and Ustad Bhurji Khan, sons of Ustad Alladiya Khan. Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur is remembered as one of the foremost male exponents of the gharana from the 20th century. He received tremendous recognition and many accolades for his music, albeit only later in his life, including the Padma Vibhushan in 1992, the same year that he passed away.
The exhibition is created by Nishad Matange. Here he shares his experience of listening to Mallikarjun ji’s Bhairavs. We hope you enjoy reading and listen to the beautiful audio exhibits.
I have never had the honour of meeting Pt. Mansur or even listening to him live. Yet, growing up on a healthy diet of khyal music by Jaipur-Atrauli masters, I feel like I have met Pt. Mansur, the artist, through a wealth of recorded music that has endured since his passing. I continue to meet him with every hit of the play button on my ipod, one facet of his diamond-like gayiki at a time. My first epiphany-like awakening to his musicianship was when a kind soul threw a teenaged me into the throws of his rendition of Raag Bhairav. The very same recording found its way to Youtube a few years ago and I couldn’t help but re-live the eye-opening experience that Pt. Mansur’s music almost always is.
In this exhibit I want to share a few thoughts about two of his most striking renditions. The first is Raag Bhairav and the second is Raag Kabir Bhairav. My hope is that, like me, you too will ‘meet’ the artist through these recordings and hopefully feel the urge to explore the music of this great master further.
The Jaipur-Atrauli gayiki is well-known for its emphasis on harmony between Sur and Laya, sound and time, which are the two pillars on which any musical form stands. Listening to Pt. Mansur’s music, one is immediately awestruck by the beauty of his Sur and how it melted into the sonic landscape of the tanpura. The effortlessness of his music and its lack of pretention rendered his Sur practically transparent, shining but not wanting to overwhelm or overpower. Pt. Mansur’s music was also perfectly in Laya, never stagnating and steady in its progression. The use of Laya in his khyals was so innate and natural that it often reminds me of the flow of a river. At once gentle and at once aggressive, but always organic, his music takes the listener with it on a spectacular journey. Few artists have been able to create as much affect with their singing as Pt. Mansur. And yet his music was always unassuming. The intention of his music, it seems, was never to impress or demonstrate mastery, but to use his command over the technicalities of khyal music to create the ‘mahol’ or atmosphere of a Raag, that ever-elusive goal for any khyal musician.
Raag Bhairav is deceptively simple. It presents itself as a straightforward melody, using komal (or flat) Rishabh and Dhaivat and the remaining swaras in their shudhha or natural positions. It is a sampurna raag, which means that it uses all 7 notes of the octave and therefore is one of the first raags one learns as a student. But in its apparently simple structure, this raag makes demands of the artist that only someone of Pt. Mansur’s sensibilities can fulfil. Bhairav is associated with the hours around sunrise. Like the first rays of the sun, Bhairav is intense but not harsh, radiant but not blinding. Creating the atmosphere of this raag requires very specific application of swaras. One of the most characteristic embellishments without which this raag would be incomplete is the andolit, or oscillating application of Rishabh and Dhaivat. We see this most emphatically in Pt. Mansur’s rendition. His oscillations on both these notes are measured, serving to enhance the raag’s affect rather than distract from it. Pt. Mansur also uses these embellishments consistently through the rendition, not for a moment forgetting that Hindustani khyal music is not about singing notes in isolation, but in the larger aesthetic context of the raag. The second defining feature of Bhairav is the meend, or slide, between Madhyam and Rishabh to create the sombre and meditative character of the raag. The third striking feature of Bhairav, seen so beautifully in Pt. Mansur’s rendition, is the emphasis on Madhyam, and the conversation or samvad between Madhyam and Dhaivat. By omitting the Pancham in a number of phrases, Pt. Mansur establishes the beauty of the Ma-Dha relationship in this rendition of Bhairav.
Pt. Mansur begins with the Sadarang khyal ‘Dukh Dur Kariye’ in Jhaptaal. As was characteristic of his renditions, he jumps right into the bandish within the first minute or so. The words of this khyal beseech the all-powerful and omnipresent ‘Parabrahma-Parameshwar’ to relieve suffering. The mukhda of this bandish lands emphatically on the oscillating komal Dhaivat, and Pt. Mansur’s masterful execution of this is an immersive experience for the listener. There are a number of surprises and easter eggs strewn across the badhat in this recording, for instance the subtle use of komal Nishad. But I shall leave these for you, the listener of this exhibit, to uncover. After some masterful use of gamaks in taans, Pt. Mansur rounds off the performance with a delightful bandish in Teentaal, ‘Mohe piya milana ki vaari’. In contrast to the mammoth bada khyal, this bandish is sprightly in character, and Pt. Mansur gives in to its playful nature with some delightful laykaari. All in all, this rendition of Bhairav leaves me spell-bound each time I listen to it and I hope you enjoy it too.
When on the subject of Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur, one cannot help but mention his mastery over uncommon or ‘anvat’ raags. Anvat raags are often structurally complex and demand great control over voice and mind. Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur’s particular skill was in being able to take complex melodies and make them appear simple. For the sake of this exhibit I want to introduce you to Raag Kabir Bhairav sung by Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur. Kabir Bhairav uses Raags Jogiya and Bhairav as its main scaffold. It additionally adds an element of Ahir Bhairav in the use of Shuddha Dhaivat and Komal Nishad to its structure. I am only aware of musicians from the Jaipur Atrauli tradition singing this raag, though the bandish presented here ‘Ari Eri Mai Main’ has been rendered by others as well, most notable Pt. Kumar Gandharva in the Raag Shivmat Bhairav.
In this rendition of Kabir Bhairav we find Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur completely in the throes of the melody right from the go. The ‘pukaar’ of this Raag requires the singer to launch deftly to the komal Rishabh of the upper octave, a non-trivial feat. Pt. Mansur rises to the challenge beautifully, resulting in piece of music that is absolutely heart-wrenching. The rendition is so energetic, engaging and fiercely effective that the listener forgets the complexity of raag structure and melts into the atmosphere created by Pt. Mansur’s singing. The emphatic ‘Wah!’ from members of the audience who were fortunate enough to be part of this mehfil, and on occasion even Pt. Mansur himself, are testimony to the power of this music, that seems to envelope the listener. A noteworthy point is also the way that Pt. Mansur uses the ‘ee-kar’ sound in the upper octave to blend into the tanpura, making for a sublime listening experience. Unfortunately, this piece is only a clip from the whole performance and the listener is left wanting more.
Another rendition of the same raag can be found in the archives of the Baithak Foundation, and the motivated reader is encouraged to give it a listen too.
About the curator:
Nishad Matange is a young vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, based in Pune. He has received training in this style of khyal music from Smt. Manik Bhide, Pt. Rajeshekhar Mansur and Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. He holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and is currently a research scientist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER, Pune).
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