Keeping your cool: Raga Marwa
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:) Today, she offers a lovely guide to Marwa–the raga that is played at dusk–to calm your soul,
PS: If you missed them, previous instalments of this series include guides to Raga Bhairavi, Raga Puriya Dhanashree, Raga Lalit, Ragas of Spring, Raga Darbari, Ragas of Indian freedom, Raga Shree and Raga Hamsadhwani.
Written by: Harini Calamur works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences. She is a writer, columnist, visiting faculty and filmmaker. Her work has appeared in DNA, Free Press Journal, CNBC TV 18 and more.
Played as the sun sets, Raga Marwa feels like a cool breeze that not just cools your skin, but also calms your soul, washing off the weariness of the day. It is a poignant melody that is deeply introspective and, sometimes, melancholic. It evokes feelings of yearning and profound contemplation.
This raga is often associated with a mood of longing and is considered to be very serious and meditative in nature. Much of this tonality is caused by the omission of the note “Pa” or Pancham. This is one of the few Hindi songs that were composed in Raga Marwa—the lovely ‘Payaliya Bawri Baje’, sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
More recently, in the Marathi film ‘Mi Vasantrao’, Rashid Khan renders a beautiful version of ‘Kauki Reet Kovu Kare Sakhi Ri’ (below).
And this song ‘Virah’—from the OTT series ‘Bandish Bandits’—is also based on Raga Marwa.
Raga Marwa as Thaat
Raga Marwa belongs to the Marwa Thaat, which is one of the ten basic thaats or frameworks that serve as a foundation for different ragas in Hindustani classical music. As explained here,”… a thaat is a family of ragas sharing the same basic notes, offering different flavours of the same musical landscape.
Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkande, one of the most prominent musicologists, identified and categorised ragas in the Hindustani Classical Music tradition into ten major thaats—Bilawal, Kafi, Bhairav, Bhairavi, Kalyan, Marwa, Poorvi, Asavari, Todi, Khamaj. Marwa Thaat contains some of my favourite Ragas: Lalit, Bhibas (both morning ragas); Puriya, Sohini, Marwa (all played post dusk).
Let us start with this beautifully mellow and reflective performance by Rashid Khan—Guru Bin Gyan—which remains one of the most popular renditions in the raga.
For those of you who like longer performances, here is a full length concert performance, at the NCPA, by Rashid Khan (who passed on in January 2024 battling cancer). In this concert performance Marwa unfolds gradually, reflecting the setting of daylight and the arrival of dusk, capturing the listener's mind and transporting them to a state of reflective contemplation. The performance is not just a display of musical excellence; it is a journey through the hues and shades of human emotions, from longing and introspection to a subtle, unspoken joy.
Raga Marwa: The instrumental version
The way that the notes of Marwa flow, make it ideal for both instrumental and vocal expression. The loneliness and longing expressed in the Raga, are effectively conveyed in this Sarangi recital by Sultan Khan.
On the other hand, the deeply reflective nature of the raga comes across in this bansuri alaap by Rupak Kulkarni—as you can hear below.
But Marwa has a side to it that goes beyond the serious and the introspective. It is heroic and passionate. And this comes across very clearly in this vigorous Sitar recital by Purbayan Chatterjee.
The Surbahar is an instrument that is not too popular with musicians. Often called the bass sitar, it produces a very different mood when played. This recital by Kushal Das takes you through the slow alaap to a finale that is a vigorous tarana.
Vocals in Raga Marwa
While the instrumental renditions are wonderful, for me Marwa works best when sung as a full concert recording—with the Alaap, the bada khayal, the chota khayal, the bandish and the tarana. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many instances when a concert artist performs the raga so expansively. Possibly because modern day audiences do not find the time to gradually immerse themselves in the raga.
The gold standard in vocal recitals is considered to be the late great, Ustad Amir Khan. This recording is a beautiful journey through the Raga, and you will feel the raga gradually enveloping you with its sheer beauty and starkness.
As a comparison you can listen to Veena Sahasrabuddhe with another Tarana, and you will realise how different two very different schools (gharanas) of music sound, even when the same raga is being sung. Bhimsen Joshi was from the Kirana Gharana, and Veena Sahasrabuddhe was from the Gwalior Gharana.
And to end this vocal section is a male female duet in Raga Marwa—Begum Parveen Sultana and Dilshad Khan with a beautiful composition.
As I write this piece, dusk falls, and the air turns cool. And there is Nusrat singing a Qawwali in Raga Marwa. The music takes you gently into the night.
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, Ragas of Spring here, Raga Darbari here, Ragas of Indian freedom here, Raga Shree here, Raga Hamsadhwani here, Indian poet-saint’s in classical ragas here and the winter ragas here.
PS: If you need a list of all the amazing music shared by Harini:
- ‘Payaliya Bawri Baje’ by Lata Mangeshkar
- ‘Kahu Ki Reet Kahu’ by Ustad Rashid Khan
- ‘Virah’ from ‘Bandish Bandits’ by Shankar Mahadevan
- ‘Guru Bin Gyaan’ by Ustad Rashid Khan
- Full length concert performance by Rashid Khan
- Sarangi rendition by Sultan Khan
- Flute rendition by Rupak Kulkarni
- Sitar rendition by Purbayan Chatterjee
- Surbahar rendition by Kushal Das
- Vocal in Raga Marwa by Ustad Amir Khan
- Tarana in Raga Marwa by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
- Energetic tarana in Raga Marwa by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
- Duet in Raga Marwa by Parveen Sultana & Dilshad Khan
- Qawwali in Raga Marwa by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan