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 put together this series on Hindustani music. Each instalment of this beginner's guide comes with its own delightful playlist :) Enjoy!
PS: If you missed them, previous instalments of this series include guides to Raga Bhairavi, Raga Puriya Dhanashree, and Raga Lalit.
A time of renewal: The ragas of spring
Spring is the time for renewal. The time between the icy cold winds in winter, and the blazing hot summer. During this time, the temperature is just right, and there is usually a lovely breeze that carries the fragrance of nature. The landscape is covered in lush greenery, and flowers such as roses, marigolds, and jasmine start to bloom, filling the air with their sweet fragrance. This is a time for music, for dance, for courtship and romance.
My first introduction to the marvels of the ragas of spring was this piece ‘Koyali Bole’ in Raga Hindol by Pt Bhimsen Joshi. The power of the raga cleanses and springs forward, driving away the darkness of winter. In films, I discovered Raga Basant ‘Kuhu Kuho Bole Koyaliya’ (below) primarily on Vividh Bharati on the radio.
Six seasons of Hindustani music
The six seasons of Hindustani Classical music are a cycle of life. Basant or Vasant (spring) makes way for the blazing hot Grishma (summer). The summer is washed away by Varsha (monsoons), that makes way for the moody Sharad (autumn). Then follows the Hemant (pre-winter) and the frozen, desolate seasons of Shishir (winter). Each of these seasons has a set of ragas associated with it.
Spring is a special season, and what better way to express love, joy, passion, renewal, and creation, than through a set of ragas. This rendition of ‘Kaliyan Sangh Karta Rang Raliyan’ by Bhimsen Joshi brings out the romance of spring—“he flirts amongst the buds”—go the lyrics. It is based on the Raga Bahar.
The gods of love
It is said that Kamdev makes you fall madly in love during spring by piercing your heart with his arrows of passion. Lord Krishna’s Raas Leela is also performed around Brindavan during Basant. In both these settings, the festival of colours, Holi, plays a pivotal part. One composition that brings together the themes of love, passion, colours, and a promise of renewal in Raga Basant is ‘Piya Sangh Kheloon Holi’ by Trina Chatterjee.
The ragas of spring as a Hori
The ragas that are associated with spring include—Basant, Bahar, Hindol, Sohani, Kafi, and variants like Basant Bahar, and Hindol Basant. All are used extensively in music in folk, film, and classical forms. You will find flavours of this thumri in Raga Sohini—‘Rang na Dalo Shyamji’ by Malini Rajurkar—in many film compositions. Of these, Hindol is interesting because it plays with just 4 notes of the musical scale.
A style of semi classical composition called the Hori is often associated with the ragas. This is Girija Devi singing a Hori in Raga Kafi—‘Kaisi yeh Dhoom Machayi’:
Often Horis appear in a blend of ragas, each adding to the beauty and mystique of the composition, like this one by Kaushiki Chakraborty—which is a lovely blend of ragas. This is usually called a Ragamalika—a garland of ragas. There are threads of Sohini, Lalit, and Basant Bahar that can be heard clearly—‘Rang Pichkari Mat Maro Kanhai’:
The ragas of spring: the instrumental version
The vigorous, flirtatious, and light music of spring is popular across instruments—Sitar, Violin, Santoor, Shehnai. This piece by Kala Ramnath on the violin in Raga Basant is evocative of being amidst pastoral beauty—with the vibrancy of spring creating a soothing and refreshing musical experience. This vigorous Teental by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (below), on the sarod, in Raga Hindol Hem (a variant of Hindol he composed) brings out the romance in the raga.
The ragas of spring: sabha, bhakti and tarana
Hindustani Classical has a very strong tradition in two very distinct forms of music. One is the bhakti rasa—sung to the Creator. The other is the music of the sabha—sung to an audience. As such the Basant ragas are used more in the latter tradition. Below is a rendition by the Dagar Brothers in the traditional Dhrupad style, an example of the bhakti style.
While this Tarana by Rashid Khan is more in the sabha style.
The Tarana is a form of Hindustani classical music that is lively and vigorous in its rhythmic structure. It mainly focuses on using syllables and sounds instead of words. It is typically performed as a standalone piece or as part of a larger performance, such as a khayal or thumri. This is a lovely tarana in Raga Basant by Manjari Asnare:
The ragas of spring as Qawwali
Traditional Qawwali as practised in the northern parts of undivided India, was also firmly rooted in classical ragas. As such, Basant and Basant Panchami are celebrated with vigor on the other side of the border, even today. This rendition below by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is based on Raga Bahar.
The ragas of spring as Drupad
And to end this edition, a lovely bandish by major new Drupad talent Pelva Naik, in Raga Hindol Basant (below). A bandish is a musical gem in Hindustani Classical music! It's a fixed composition with lyrics and melody, set to a specific raga and taal, allowing musicians to improvise and showcase their creativity.
We have created a handy playlist with all the tracks mentioned on splainer’s Youtube channel. ICYMI, you can check out Harini’s playlist on Raga Lalit here, Raga Bhairavi here and Raga Puriya Dhanashree here.
PS: If you need a list of all the amazing music shared by Harini:
- ‘Koyali Bole’ in Raga Hindol by Pt Bhimsen Joshi
- ‘Kuhu Kuho Bole Koyaliya’ in Raga Basant Bahar by Lata Mangeshkar & Mohd Rafi
- ‘Piya Sangh Kheloon Holi’ in Raga Basant by Trina Chatterjee
- Hori ‘Kaisi Yeh Dhoom Machayi’ in Raga Kafi by Pandita Girija Devi
- Ragamalika ‘Rang Pichkari Mat Maro’ by Pandita Kaushiki Chakraborty
- Violin rendition of Raga Basant by Pandita Kala Ramnath
- Thumri Kaliyan Sangh karta Rang Raliyaan in Raga Bahar by Bhimsen Joshi
- ‘Rang Na Dalo Shyamji’ in Raga Sohini by Pandita Malini Rajurkar
- Sarod rendition of Raga Hindol by Ali Akbar Khan
- Dhrupad in Raga Hindol by Dagar Brothers
- Tarana in Raga Sohini by Rashid Khan
- Tarana in Raga Basant by Pandita Manjari Ansare
- ‘Hazrat Khwaja Sangh Kheliye Dhamar’ in Raga Bahar by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
- Dhrupad in Raga Hindol Basant by Pandita Pelva Naik