Raag Malhar — Song and Rain

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 1 Jul 2019

Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

24 Jun 201 – There are many regions in Asia and Africa that because of global warming and climate change are experiencing dry weather and drought while waiting expectedly for the rains to quench the soil’s thirst. The Indian capital Delhi is experiencing unusually hot and dry weather. In the process, the people and animals are suffering and several people and their cattle are dying because of the torrid and dry heat. The myth in India is that when such a difficult situation arises, people start singing and beseeching the rain gods to be kind and shower the land with rain, by singing Raag Malhar.

This is a well known musical melody in classical Hindustani (Indian) vocal music repertoire. It is not a very easy melody to sing but its significance is profound. The myth is that if one sings it with sincerity and passion, the dry skies relent and start pouring rain on the dry countryside. Like many other countries of the world, India’s dependence on monsoon and rain is immense. Without adequate rain, people, animals, birds, plants and agriculture suffer.

Rain is essential for life on our planet. Yes, sometimes there is excessive rainfall that causes flooding and distress, but that can be accommodated. But no rain is an unmitigated disaster.

The RaagMalhar has an interesting history. According to legend, the famous Mughal  emperor of India, Akbar (1542-1605) asked his court singer Tansen to sing Raag Deepak. Deepak literally means a lamp and the story goes that the Deepak Raag was sung with such intensity by Tansen, that the royal court lit up and alongside, Tansen’s body also became too hot for the musician.

The only recourse for the King as the myth suggests, was to have someone sing Raag Malhar.This was done by two women singers and soon it started pouring torrentially and Tansen became better.

Apart from Tansen, other singers such as Baiju Bawra,  Baba Ramdas and even Mira Bai who sang soulfully about Lord Krishna including ‘Mere to Girdhar Gopal, Doosra na koi ‘ are reputed to have sung this Raag  soulfully and musically.

Another popular Hindi film Lagaan also is about a region where the rain has failed the people of that region. Out of desperation the villagers start singing a song that became extremely popular ‘ Kaale Megha, kaale megha, Paani to barsao …’ (O black clouds, please give us rain .. ‘ ). When the clouds begin to pour finally , the people start singing out of joy and relief.

Kalidas (who lived in the court of Viktramidtya in the first century BCE), is a famous Sanskrit poet. He has written a poem called Meghdoot (Cloud  Messenger) in 111 stanzas where a cloud is asked by an exiled person to take a message from him to his wife living far away. The poem is a beautiful and spiritual piece of imagination, was translated into English in 1813 and subsequently in many foreign languages.

My own experience of the versatility of the Raag Malhar is a Seminar that was organised in the Faculty of Music in Delhi University a few years ago. Many speakers talked of the rich musical culture of India and gave some performances by singing and playing on their instruments — violin, guitar, harmonium etc.

Then a team of two singers started singing the Raag Malhar. Believe it or not, after a few minutes, it began raining and quenching the soil’s thirst. The hall where the song was being sung exploded with joy and excitement. There could be no doubt about the Raag’s powers. Joy and merriment followed the arrival of rains. The myth had become a beautiful fact.

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Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Jul 2019.

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