Raga Hamsadhwani: The Song of the Swans
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:) This one is a guide to the Raga Hamsadhwani—which literally translates to the song of the swans.
Over to Harini…
If you are feeling low, and down—and want a pick-me-up raga, there is no better cheer than one brought by Raga Hamsadhwani—that literally translates to the song of the swans.
Hamsadhwani flows effortlessly, filling the space with an ethereal beauty. A raga borrowed from the Carnatic tradition, Hamsadhwani works effortlessly in the Hindustani classical tradition. Just as a swan’s motion exhibits both grace and tempo, the raga works perfectly well in its vilambit (slow) and tarana (vigorous forms).
Let us start with one of my favourite renditions of this Raga—the Doyenne
of Hindustani Classical Music—with the magnificent Parveen Sultana, who performs a wonderful rendition of the raga in its full glory. If you just want a sampler of the raga, before you dip your toes into the full blown classical versions of it, then I can’t suggest a better rendition of it, again by Parveen Sultana.
This is a beautiful alaap, followed by one of the most vigorous taranas ever.
The raga is often associated with purity and simplicity, which evoke swans gliding in the water in their own ‘dhun’. With each note, it paints a picture of swans taking flight at dawn, their silhouettes cast against the rising sun. Hamsadhwani is not just a musical experience; it makes you feel one with nature—embodying the grace and serenity of the world around you.
Raga Hamsadhwani: The origin
Like most Ragas, the history of Raag Hamsadhwani is clouded in legend. Some sources say that it was created by the Carnatic composer Ramaswami Dikshitar (1735-1817), father of Muthuswami Dikshitar, one of the musical trinity of Carnatic music. Others say that it is a much older raga, and that Dikshitar simply popularised it.
It is said that Raga Hamsadhwani was brought into Hindustani classical music by Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendi Bazaar gharana, from Mumbai. Khan was a master of both Hindustani and Carnatic music, and he is credited with introducing many Carnatic ragas into Hindustani music.
Given the simplicity and the versatility of the raga—Hamsadhwani quickly became a popular raga in Hindustani music, and it is now one of the most frequently performed ragas. And it is one of the few ragas which sound pretty much the same in both its Hindustani and Carnatic Avatars.
Raga Hamsadhwani in mythology
The Hamsa or the Swan, in Hindu theology is associated with both the creator—Brahma, and his wife, Saraswati—the Goddess of learning.
In the Bhagwat Puran, the Hamsa is also a form taken by Lord Vishnu on occasion. Also in pranayama—Ham Sa are the syllables associated with breathing in and out—as we try and attain the frequency at which the universe is pulsating. Hamsadhwani symbolises all of this, and it is not surprising that there are a fair few compositions that make a plea to the almighty.
This is the late great Veena Sahasrabuddhe with a beautiful composition ‘Sakala Dukkha Haara Haari Ke’.
Raga Hamsadhwani: Instrumental version
Hamsadhwani is a pentatonic raga, meaning that it has five notes in its scale. And this gives it a simplicity that lends itself to instrumental exploration. This is a lovely tarana on the santoor played by the legendary Shiv Kumar Sharma. If you close your eyes while listening to it, you can possibly see the gliding, and then the flight of swans on the lake.
Hamsadhwani is also a great raga to have in the background while meditating. Calming and soothing, it just makes you enter the meditative state sooner. This is Hari Prasad Chaurasiaji with a lovely rendition of the raga, on the bansuri.
Coke Studio had a magnificent recording of the raga by Ustad Raees Khan—all jazzed up for a modern audience—but at its core it still remained Hansdhwani or Hans Dhuni—the song of the swan.
Raga Hamsadhwani as Vocal Renditions
The nature of the raga, makes it apt for pleas to the almighty. This exposition by Jayteerth Mevundi—Jai Mata Vilambh Taj de—explores the many facets of the raga. Then there is the late great Channulal Mishra with Vatapi Ganapatim Bhaje (below)—a song that every student of Carnatic music learns without fail.
And finally, there is a lovely and rare duet by Kaushiki Chakraborty Desikan and Parthsarathi Desikan—‘Lagi Lagan’.
I will end this column with a lovely fusion piece by Sayalee Talwalkar and Indy Roots—that fills the heart with joy, the kind that you feel when you see swans take off towards the distant horizon.
We have created a handy playlist with all the tracks mentioned on splainer’s Youtube channel.
PS: If you need a list of all the amazing music and videos shared by Harini:
- ’Raga Hamsadhwani’ by Parveen Sultana
- ‘Raag Hamsadhwani’ by Parveen Sultana
- ‘Raag Hamsadhwani’ by Aman Ali Khan (Please note that this recording of Raga Hamsadhwani is more for historical reference than listening pleasure. The recording is quite terrible.)
- ‘Data Tu Ganpati Gajanan’ by Lata Mangeshkar
- ‘Ja Tose Nahin Boloon Kanhaiya’ by Lata Mangeshkar and Manna Dey
- ‘Raag Hamsadhwani’ by Veena Saharabuddhe
- ‘Santoor’ by Shiv Kumar Sharma
- ‘Teentaal Hamsadhwani’ by Hari Prasad Chaurasia
- ‘Hans Dhuni’ by Ustad Raees Khan
- ‘Raag Hamsadhwani’ by Jayateerth Mevundi
- ‘Vatapi Ganapati’ by Channulal Mishra
- ‘Raag Hansadhwani’ by Pandit Rajan Sajan Mishra
- ‘Lagi Lagan’ by Kaushiki Chakraborty Desikan and Parthsarathi Desikan
- ‘Hamsadhwani’ by Sayalee Talwalkar and Indy Roots