Shringar: In the mood for love
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 month, Harini introduces us to the romance of Shringar ras—which expresses the classic and familiar emotion of yearning for a lover—who may well be divine.
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, Raga Hamsadhwani and Indian poet-saint’s in classical ragas.
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.
In the ancient tradition of Indian performing arts—including dance, drama, music, and storytelling—the concept of the Navarasas are very strong. Literally translated, the Navarasas mean the nine essences or the nine fundamental emotions of humankind—and the art form is geared to evoke these in the audience.
These rasas are not exclusive to Hindustani classical music; they are a fundamental concept in various Indian arts and literature, tracing back to ancient texts like the Natya Shastra, a foundational treatise on Indian performing arts composed by Bharata Muni. At the top of all the rasas is Love and Passion—Shringar.
Shringar is the mood that expresses romance, feelings of love, passion, and sensuality. Shringar is not always related to the relationship between a man and a woman; it can also be an expression of the divine love between a devotee and God—and much of Hindustani classical music explores this love.
The Legends of Shringar
One of the most celebrated tales embodying Shringar Rasa is the divine love story of Radha and Krishna. Their relationship is depicted in numerous texts, most famous of which is the Gita Govinda by Jayadeva. The playful, yet deep love between Radha and Krishna symbolises the soul's intense longing and devotion towards the divine, transcending the physical and reaching the spiritual. Their interactions, from playful flirtations in the forests of Vrindavan to the deep yearnings when apart, are often depicted in Indian classical dance and music as the epitome of Shringar Rasa.
Many of these compositions—usually Thumris—are based in and around Vrindavan, and the Yamuna. One of the most famous compositions is the song Jamuna Ke Teer. Many artists have sung about this love by the banks of the river. This Bhimsen Joshi thumri, that conveys the deep love and longing, remains my favourite.
A popular Hindi Film song, based on the same Raga, is one sung by Lata Mangeshkar. This has Radha asking—’Kaise Aaon Jamuna Ke Teer’?
The Thumri and the language of Shringar
The language of most of the compositions are in dialects spoken around the regions adjoining the Ganga and the Jamuna. Compositions are in languages like Brij Bhasha, Avadhi, Purbi—though more modern compositions are also in colloquial Hindi. The language is informal—the tone of flirting. There will be lines that accuse the lover of being unfaithful. Of spending the night in the arms of another.
There are themes that are addressed in the songs. These include the passion elicited in the first glance; the joys of the first romance; the pangs of separation; the pain and longing; the fulfilment of togetherness. Many of these songs are erotic in terms of raw emotion—especially when they talk about complete surrender to the lover. This thumri by Rashid Khan—’Mora Saiya Bulave aadhi raat, nadhiya bairi beho’ (my lover has called me in the middle of the night, o river, flow gently).
Another fabulous Thumri, also that expresses Shringaar, is the deeply erotic ‘Baju Bandh Khul Khul Jaaye’. There are many variants of this song—but my favourite is Abida Parveen—who takes the song and elevates it to a song by the mystic to the Lord, asking for oneness.
The joy of meeting
One of the key emotions of being in love is the joy of meeting. And many of the compositions try and capture this sense of wondrous bliss. The lyrics literally talk about the lovers stealthily meeting each other to just be with each other. One of the really beautiful songs that capture this excitement is ‘Rangi Saari Gulabi Chunariya Re’ in Raga Mishra Pahadi—this variant sung by the immensely talented Kaushiki Chakraborty.
And this composition—Chalo Sakhi Sautan ke Ghar Jaiye by Jasraj—literally talks about meeting the lover in the house of their other lover. Another lovely composition that talks about the anticipation of playing Holi today, with Shyam—which is both a name for Krishna and a term for the evening—is sung beautifully by Venkatesh Kumar.
The joy of memories
A fair few compositions of love are around the beauty of the lover. The gaze of their eyes. The scent of their hair. The colour of their lips. This song—’Mad Se Bhare Tore Naina”—is about the lover with eyes like pools of honey—sung by doyenne of Thumris, Girija Devi. This one—jadoo bhare tere naina—by Kaushiki—talks about the eyes of the lover filled with magic.
This sub genre also has stories of minor fights and the joy of making up.This song— ‘Mora Saiya Mose Bole Na’—is a gentle, affectionate look at a tiff.
And of course the lilt in the step, the joy in the breath, and the anticipation in the soul is greater when the lover comes home.
Rashid Khan has a super rendition of ‘Saajan More Ghar Aaye’. I always enjoy these variants in both the male and the female voice. Because we are talking about love and longing, anticipation and excitement – it is always very interesting to see how each of them portray this. This is Gauri Pathare singing the same bandish.
The agony of separation
The agony of separation is a recurrent theme in ancient Indian artforms. Be it the separation of Nala and Damyanti. Or the separation of Ram and Sita. Or indeed the separation of Radha and Krishna—there are many stories, songs, and plays written around this. Songs of separation, often infused with the sentiment of Viraha (the feeling of longing or separation in Indian classical music), are a deep expression of longing, love, and the pain of being apart from the beloved.
One of the most famous songs around separation is ‘Yaad Piya Ki Aaye’, made famous by the legendary Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab.
The songs of viraha or separation are evocative of the sheer physical pain felt by one, when separated from the loved one. ‘Sakhi Eri Aali Piya Bin’—without my loved one, every second feels like a year.
And finally, to round off this selection of songs of love—let me leave you with the ultimate song of Viraha—Babul Mora. Attributed to Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, it describes the pain of leaving one's father's home after marriage, paralleling the broader theme of separation from one's roots and lover. This rendition is by Begum Akhtar.
PS: If you need a list of all the amazing music shared by Harini:
- Navrasas ( The Nine Emotions ) in Indian Classical Dance
- 'Jamuna ke teer' by Bhimsen Joshi
- ‘Kaise Aaon Jamuna Ke Teer’ by Lata Mangeshkar
- ‘Mere Saiya Bulave Aadhi Raat’ by Rashid Khan
- ‘Baju Bandh Khul Khul Jaaye’ by Abida Parveen
- ‘Rang Saari Gulabi Chunariya Re’ by Kaushiki Chakraborty
- ‘Chalo Sakhi Sauten ke Ghar’ by Jasraj
- Ao Khelo Shyaam Sangh Hori by Venketesh Kumar
- Madh Se Bhare Tore Naina by Girija Devi
- Mora Saiya Mose Bole Na by Shafqat Ali
- Sajan More Ghar Aaye by Rashid Khan
- Sajan More Ghar Aaye by Gauri Pathare
- ‘Yaad Piya ki Aaye’ by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
- Sakhi Ee Re Aali Piya Bin by Bhimsen Joshi
- ‘Babul Mora’ by Begum Akhtar