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Neelkauns - An inner calling - by Pritam Bhattacharjee


Every artist finds fulfillment in expressing his innermost thoughts and feelings through the medium of his chosen art form. As a musician and a lifelong student of North Indian Classical Music, I have experienced tremendous satisfaction learning, performing and teaching this music for the past several years. Although our rich music offers unbounded scope for creativity while performing, the creative urge within has always driven me into composing new bandishes, taranas, raagmalas and chaturangs to name a few. Having composed over 300 bandishes is 70-odd ragas, I had long since been haunted by the idea of creating a new raga that would lend an appropriate expression to my creative instincts. Like the pundits in this field would agree though, you can never invent a new raga; the raga instead, needs to discover you. I consider myself blessed that "Neelkauns" chose me to express itself.

Before we delve into the intricacies of this new raga, it would help to understand the basic structure of any given raga.

Raga Basics

Over the past few hundred years, the repository of North Indian Classical Music has grown to accommodate over 4000 ragas. One could think of a raga as a melodic pattern of specific notes that follow certain rules. This system of music consists of 7 basic notes called Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni that repeat themselves in three octaves (called "mandra", "maddhya" and "taar" saptaks). All notes with the exception of Sa and Pa come in two flavors: flat (Komal) and sharp (Shuddha/ teevra -) thus making a total of 12 notes per octave. Ragas can be of types ("jaatis") pentatonic ("audav"), hexatonic ("shadav"), septatonic ("sampoorna") or a combination of these, depending upon the number of basic notes comprising the ascending and descending order of the raga. The ascending order of notes in a raga is called "aroha" and the descending order is called "avaroha". Every raga has its own "chalan" or pattern of notes in which the raga progression can occur. Certain ragas have complex "chalan" in that there are restrictions regarding which note(s) can or cannot be followed or preceded by certain other note(s). Such ragas are said to be "vakra" (skewed) by nature. Every raga must also contain atleast one of the following notes: shuddha maddhyam (flat Ma), pancham (Pa) or shuddha Nishad (flat Ni) - in addition to "Sa", which is the primary note contained in every raga.

Of all notes comprising a raga, one note is considered to be the dominant note called the "vaadi". It is the primary note around which the improvisation of the raga is centered. Likewise, every raga has a single subdominant note called the "samvaadi". The number of notes separating the "vaadi" from the "samvaadi" can be either 5 (shadja-maddhyam bhaav) or 7 (shadja-pancham bhaav). The "vaadi" and "samvaadi" notes receive maximum prominence as the raga is unfolded. Apart from this, certain note clusters establish the overall identity of a raga and is called the "pakad". Moreover, each raga is assigned to a specific 3-hour period within the 24-hour day, during which it is sung. Although most ragas are capable of expressing different moods based upon how the raga is sung, each raga usually has a dominant mood that it expresses best. This would define the "ras" (nature) and the "bhaav" (emotion) of the raga.

Challenges

As previously mentioned, over 4000 unique ragas have already been defined since time immemorial. Any new addition to this repository cannot be done without a thorough knowledge of the existing ragas in order to ensure uniqueness. Uniqueness however, is not the only criterion that would award the status of a Raga to any melodic pattern. Of paramount importance is the fact that the set of notes and the combinations springing from them should sound aesthetically pleasing. It is also crucial that the pattern of notes exhibits a potential of being elaborated and improvised and a capacity to host numerous sub patterns or compositions, each unique in its own way and yet operating within the auspices of the defined structure of the raga. Over and above these factors, the structural characteristics enumerated in the section above must be adhered to. Thus, the title of "Raga" cannot be conferred on a collection of some random set of notes.

Inspiration

For several years I toyed with the idea of creating a new raga and experimented with several different note patterns. Each experiment opened up its own Pandora's box in which I got absorbed and picked up valuable jewels of deeper understanding and knowledge. Nevertheless, none of those experiments ultimately led to something that I could proclaim to be a new raga. One day though, as I was singing raga Audav Bageshri around midnight, I ended up dwelling upon a variation that sounded like it came from the depths of a different world. Without full comprehension, like drawn in a trance, I found myself employing the teevra Madhyam in the notes that otherwise constituted Audav Bageshri and it felt like magic was being unfolded. For an unknown period of time thereafter, I was lost in the vast expanse of these new set of notes as I improvised upon different clusters and experimented with different note combinations.

When I came back to my senses, I realized that a new Raga had unfolded itself before me! In spite of being so close to Audav Bageshri in terms of its constituent notes, the new raga had little in common with it. It seemed to belong unmistakably to the Kauns family of ragas instead, the defining trait of which is the cluster S g M g S, with a distinguishing slide ("meend") from g to S. The more I sang it, the more I came to realize its potential of creating a very soulful ambience, drawing the mind in a serene, contemplative mood. It felt like diving into the depths of calm blue ocean waters or like floating in the expanse of clear blue sky, and I decided to call the new raga - Neelkauns .

Defining Characteristics

Throughout is section, the convention used is as follows: uppercase letters denote the "shuddha" notes while lowercase letters denote the "komal" notes, with the exception of "m" which denotes the "teevra maddhyam".

Aroha: S g M m D n S

Avaroha: S n D m M g M g S

Vaadi: M

Samvaadi: S

Pakad: g M m D n D m M g √† S (where: †denotes "meend")

Jaati: Audav-Audav

Ras: Shanta

Bhaav: Gambheer

Time: 12 midnight- 3 am (8th prahar)

Saptak Pradhanata: Mandra/Maddhya (though the upper octave does bring forth different shades of the raga)