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!
The courtly Raga Darbari
I cannot think of Raga Darbari without hearing in my mind’s ear, the deep baritone of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi (below), exploring the many nuances of the Raga, deep into the night. The best way to describe the Raga is majestic. It has the formal persona of a senior courtier, sombre and regal.
The raga is also called Darbari Kanada because it is believed to have originated from the Kanada family of ragas, associated with the Carnatic style of music. But the relationship between Darbari and Carnatic music is, at best, tenuous. The Raga is supposed to have originated in the court of Emperor Akbar, when Tansen fused influences of various ragas to create this slow and grave Raga for court performances—hence the name Darbari.
The popularity of Raga Darbari endures till date. It is one of the most revered and widely performed ragas in Hindustani Classical Music concerts. Amongst the most brilliant renditions of Darbari is by Ustad Amir Khan—the tarana at the end of this rendition is mind blowing in its intensity. A tarana is usually performed at the end of a composition and tends to use syllables instead of words—deem tanana deem, for example. The Tarana is attributed to the legendary composer Amir Khusrau.
Raga Darbari in popular culture
Two major films of the 1960’s were based around the court of Emperor Akbar—‘Sangeet Samrat Tansen’ and ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, and both featured songs based on Raga Darbari. In the film ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, Anarkali bemoans her fate with Lata Mangeshkar crooning ‘Mohobbat ki Jhooti Kahani pe Roye’ in the raga.
And in ‘Sangeet Samrat Tansen’, Manna Dey sings for Tansen—the beautifully lyrical ‘Mitwa Laut Aaye Re.
But it isn't just sombre Hindi songs that were composed in Raga Darbari, but romantic songs, and even fun songs. There is the wonderful ‘Pag Ghungroo Bandh Meera’ (below), from ‘Namak Halal’, in which both the singer, Kishore Kumar, and the actor Amitabh Bachchan—seem to be enjoying themselves. And fun is again the word you would use for Mehmood and Manna Dey on ‘Pyaar Ki Aag Mein’ also in Darbari.
Raga Darbari: The instrumental version
For a raga that denotes power and majesty, it can also take a very mellow form especially on instruments like the flute. One of my favourite instrumental renditions of the Raga is this absolutely soothing rendition on the flute by Hari Prasad Chaurasia. In the wee hours of the night, this rendition brings a lot of peace. On the other hand, when Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (below) plays Raga Darbari on the Sarod, the full majesty of the raga is on display.
And finally below is Darbari in fusion with Anoushka Shankar and a lovely, and light, rendition of Raga Darbari Kanada, as part of a jazz festival.
Great vocals in Raga Darbari
Much as the instrumental renditions of Darbari are enjoyable, its full glory is on display mainly in its vocal renditions. It is the singer who brings the power and the passion, the darkness and the joy of a political court alive in the recital.
Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, of the Patiala Gharana, was one of those who could bring out the full range of the raga in his recital. Here is a fabulous concert recording for All India Radio, with a superb Tarana at the end.
Pandit Venketesh Kumar is another fine explorer of the raga. This lovely concert rendition is probably one of the best concert performances in the Raga that I have heard. The drut (faster composition towards the end) Janaki Ram, Ram Janki, mere man mein bas gayi re… is otherworldly in its beauty.
And finally, to end this piece, is a lovely interview and performance by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan—where he shows the incredible range of the raga in a magnificent alaap.
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 Bhairavi here, Raga Puriya Dhanashree here, Raga Lalit here and Ragas of Spring here.
PS: If you need a list of all the amazing music shared by Harini:
- Raga Darbari Kanada (Vilambit and Drut Bandish) by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi from Siddhi
- Raga Darbari (Khayal and Tarana) by Ustad Amir Khan
- ‘Mohobbat ki Jhooti Kahani pe Roye’ by Lata Mangeshkar from ‘Mughal-e-Azam’
- ‘Mitwa Laut Aaye Re’ by ‘Manna Dey’ from ‘Sangeet Samrat Tansen’
- ‘Pag Ghungroo Bandh Meera’ by Kishore Kumar from ‘Namak Halal’
- ‘Pyaar Ki Aag Mein’ by Manna Dey from Ziddi
- Flute rendition of Raga Darbari by Hari Prasad Chaurasia
- Sarod rendition of Raga Darbari by Ali Akbar Khan
- Sitar rendition of Raga Darbari (fusion) by Anoushka Shankar
- AIR recording of Raga Darbari Kanada by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
- Concert recording of Raga Darbari by Pandit Venketesh Kumar
- Interview & performance by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan