Editor’s note: It’s a shame that Indian classical music often feels inaccessible to so many of us. Even if we enjoy listening to a performance or an artist as a layperson, we rarely understand the rich tapestry of tradition that gives them meaning. So we are delighted that Harini Calamur—who is a writer, veteran journalist and also a classical music aficionado—has agreed to do a beginner's guide to Hindustani music. This is the second instalment in this series that comes with its own delightful playlist. You can check out the first one on Raga Bhairavi here.
The Queen of Dusk: Puriya Dhanashree
In Hindustani classical music, there are specific ragas that are sung at specific times of the day. There is an elaborate system of classification that starts with pre-dawn/post midnight ragas—like Sohini—and concludes with midnight ragas—like Malkauns. The clock changes every few hours (usually two or three) and there is a new set of ragas for our listening pleasure. Last month’s Bhairavi is a dawn raga. And, this week’s Puriya Dhanashree is a raga sung at dusk.
The nature of dusk is that it falls between the end of the day, and the beginning of night—so the dusk ragas carry that ambiguity in them. They can be contemplative or pensive, filled with longing or desire, or they can be purely spiritual. And, sometimes they can be all of that, woven into one.
Puriya Dhanashree in popular culture
In the film ‘Rangeela’, AR Rahman plays on all these emotions to create a song that is unforgettable. ‘Hai Rama Yeh Kya Huva’ is a sensuous, contemplative, and an intense song that stays seared in the memory for a lifetime.
Rahman returns to Puriya Dhanashree again in ‘1947 Earth’ with ‘Ruth Aa Gayee Re’ (below). Rahman’s fascination with Puriya Dhanashree possibly comes from the fact that the raga is very popular in Carnatic classical music too—known as Pantuvarali, and Rahman is deeply steeped in the musical tradition of the South. In fact he had already created a Tamil song in Pantuvarali that suspiciously sounds like the song he created for ‘1947 Earth’.
Puriya Dhanashree has been deployed by a host of other music directors. Popular songs include the contemplative ‘Meri Saason Ko Jo Mehka Rahi Hai from the film ‘Badalte Rishte’, the intense ‘Labon Se Choom Lo’ from the film ‘Aastha’ and many more.
Puriya Dhanashree: the instrumental version
Puriya Dhanashree is not an easy raga to master, but when played well it is beautiful to the ear–which probably explains why it is so very popular in the concert circuit. The late great Pandit Shivkumar Sharma—with Ustad Zakir Hussain—performed one of the most beautiful renditions of the raga. Below is another great instrumental performance, this one by Pandit Ravi Shankar:
Classical vocals in Puriya Dhanashree
One of the first classical pieces I heard based on Raga Puriya Dhanashree was at a Bhimsen Joshi concert. In fact. it was one of his favourite ragas, and you will find many of his recitals on Youtube. The nature of Hindustani Classical Music is that no two recitals sound the same. There are those in which he sounds playful and flirtatious (below). In others, he sounds contemplative. And there are iterations where he sounds almost melancholic and sad.
The khayal in Puriya Dhanashree
A khayal essentially means a thought. And when a master vocalist sings a khayal, she is usually exploring the raga in detail, and stretching it to its limits. One of the greatest living proponents of the khayal is Begum Parveen Sultana of the Patiala Gharana. The range at which she can explore the notes of the scale is at a different plane of consciousness. This is her with a superlative exploration of the thought that is Puriya Dhanashree:
Another sublime exploration is by the brilliant Pandit Mukul Shivputra—who prefers the solitude of his ashram to the bright lights of the concert hall to practise his music.
I will end this piece with two very different songs. A sweet composition based on Puriya Dhanashree by Fariha Pervez which is a love song that turns into a lament. And, this lovely bhajan by Pandit Jasraj:
We’ve put together all the tracks mentioned above in a handy playlist on splainer’s YouTube channel. ICYMI, you can check out Harini’s playlist on Raga Bhairavi from last month here.
- ‘Hai Rama Yeh Kya Huva’ from ‘Rangeela’
- ‘Ruth Aa Gayee Re’ from ‘1947 Earth’
- ‘Macha Machiniye’ from ‘Star’
- ‘Meri Saason Ko Jo Mehka Rahi Hai’ from ‘Badalte Rishte’
- ‘Labon Se Choom Lo’ from ‘Aastha’
- Instrumental rendition of Raga Puriya Dhanashree by Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain
- Sitar rendition of Raga Puriya Dhanashree by Pandit Ravi Shankar
- Playful rendition of Raga Puriya Dhanashree and melancholic and sad rendition of the Raga Puriya Dhanashree by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
- Superlative exploration of Raga Puriya Dhanashree by Begum Parveen Sultana
- Sublime exploration of Raga Puriya Dhanashree by Pandit Mukul Shivputra
- Composition based on Raga Puriya Dhanashree by Fariha Pervez
- Bajan in Raga Puriya Dhanashree by Pandit Jasraj