Why is raag Darbari called the ‘the emperor of raags’?

Pt. Biswajit Roychoudhury 
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The 17th-century Ragamala painting of Darbari Kanada beautifully captured the grandeur of the raag. On the painting was inscribed a Sanskrit shloka from the ancient treatise Sangeet Darpan that defined the raag as ‘Kanada Ragini Kripal-Pani Gajadanta…’ (with an uplifted sword in one hand and the trunk of an elephant in the other, Kanada’s regalness is lauded by the hosts of heaven).  

Darbari on Sarod by Biswajit Roychaudhury and vocal by Sanjeev Abhayankar.

This perfect visual depiction set the tone for the Darbari Festival, organised by the Navras School of Performing Arts, Patna, in collaboration with the India International Centre. The festival, which was held recently at the C. D. Deshmukh auditorium at IIC in New Delhi, featured vocalist Sanjeev Abhyankar and sarodist Biswajit Roychoudhury.

Though raag Darbari was created by Miyan Tansen, the legendary musician and one of the ‘navaratnas’ of Akbar’s durbar, it continues to be popular till date. This was evident from the enthusiastic audiences who turned out in large numbers to listen to just one raag. Before the opening concert by Pt. Biswajit Roychoudhury, the founder of Navaras, Ajit Pradhan, introduced raag Darbari as ‘The emperor of raags and the raag of emperors’.

Myriad facets of Darbari

One of the eminent sarod artistes of our times, Pt. Biswajit Roychoudhury is the seniormost shagird of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and a ganda bandh (secured with the sacred thread) disciple of Pt. Mallikarjun Mansoor, the doyen of Jaipur Atrauli Gharana. No wonder, he has a treasure trove of traditional compositions. Creating a conducive atmosphere for raag Darbari with detailed aalap-jod-jhala, Biswajit played a number of vilambit, madhya and drut laya (slow, medium and fast tempo) compositions with deep involvement and understanding of the majestic raag. 

The serene alap played with composure, explored the mandra saptak (lower octave) with the signature andolan (oscillation) on the komal dhaivat and the ati-komal gandhaar, the pivotal notes of the raag, that struck a chord with the discerning listeners. The expansive delineation, covering the entire expanse of the raag till the taar pancham, was followed with the undercurrents of rhythm in the jod section, which also dealt with Bolkari, before the last segment of jhala. Pt. Ram Kumar Mishra joined the slow composition set to Teen taal with a long-winding, gentle uthaan to suit the gravity of the raag. The elaboration of Darbari was also reciprocated by Ram Kumar in the corresponding layakari of tisra, khand and misra chhandas of three, five and seven beats respectively.

The ‘sam’ of the medium tempo composition was not on a fixed note but on the challenging aandolan (oscillation) of dhaivat, likewise, the drut gat had its ‘sam’ on the oscillating komal gandhar. Obviously, both the ‘gats’ were composed by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Biswajit also played the famous Drut-Ektaal tarana of Ustad Amir Khan before concluding with a crystal clear, no-frill jhala.

Evocative tabla accompaniment

The admirable tonal elegance of Biswajit’s sarod was matched with the evocative tabla of Ram Kumar Mishra. This added an edge to the performance.

Sanjeev Abhyankar, the vivacious vocalist of Mewati gharana, presented raga Darbari and a few rare variants of Kanada thereafter. His voice has that lucidity and focus which always seems effortless. Accompanied on the tabla by Pt. Vinod Lele and on the harmonium by Abhinay Ravande, Sanjeev opened with a brief auchar, introductory alap and presented ‘Vinati suno mori’, a composition set to slow Jhaptaal (ten beats). The gradual vistar, elaboration of the raag with alap, sargam and bol-alap covering every nook and corner of the raga in mandra and madhya saptak had the desired restraint. Sanjeev took care of the texture of the raag along with its emotion even while rendering the aakar, sargam and bol-taans.

Sanjeev Abhyankar

Sanjeev Abhyankar
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

The Tulsi pada ‘Jaaun kahaan taji charan tihaare’ made for an imaginatively crafted Chhota Khayal in Teentaal, studded with geometrically sculpted taans, which stood out for both clarity and fluency.

The second raag chosen was Naga-Dhwani Kanada’, which sounded like Suha-Sugharai. Sanjeev sang a composition by Pt. Motiram, ‘Humko bisaar kahaan chale salone saiyaan’, immortalised by Pt. Jasraj, set to the lilting addha theka of Teentaal. 

Towards the end came a freshly minted Husaini Kanada. This rare variety of Kanada could have left a lasting impression with the Teentaal bandish, ‘Main vari vari giriraj dulari’, but for the hackneyed farmaish (request) of making Sanjeev conclude with ‘Mata kaalika’, the Adana bandish popularised by his guru Pt. Jasraj. 

One hopes that the resounding success of the Darbari festival will inspire the organisers to make it into a series of raag-based festivals.