MAY 2015
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida

Music

LALIT – A LILTING MELODY

Lavanya Dinesh

By Lavanya Dinesh



Man for centuries has pondered the mysteries and miracles of life, love and existentialism. In India, the spiritual, socio-economic and cultural evolution over centuries has produced transformational artists, philosophers and thinkers. They have always had a longing to transcend the mundane, to reach a higher plane of realization and ultimately become one with the Supreme. There have been so many artistic expressions of this eagerness, the love of the unfathomable Almighty and the true beauty of this love. Centuries-old Indian classical music and its robust, haunting melodies are masterful mediums of this form of expression.

As a young girl, there was one deeply alluring melody that made an impression on me. “Raina Ka Sapna Kaase Kahun …” (a midnight’s dream, how do I share it with thee ...) sang the soulful vocalist. Already a student of Hindustani classical music, I realized that this melody was unlike any I had heard before. The singer was my father and guru artist Kamalesh and the melody was raaga Lalit, also known as Lalat. The somber melody is performed in the pre-dawn hours just before sunrise. Its austere quality makes the most impact when listened to at this particular time. To this day, this raaga of my childhood continues to intrigue me and infuse my psyche with powerful emotions.

I would advise the uninitiated to start with small listening doses. Slowly, the complex and convoluted ebb and flow of raaga Lalit will grow on you. This raaga employs both Madhyams – the Shudh (natural) and Teevra (sharp) notes of ‘Ma.’ The playfulness and transition from the sharp Madhyam to the natural Madhyam forms the crux of this lilting melody. Raaga Lalit dates back nearly 400 years but many usages and note prominences have changed and evolved over the years. The first composition that I learnt in this raaga was the fast-paced ‘Piyu Piyu Ratata Papiyara,’ denoting the melodious singing of the song bird.

The late Pandit D.V. Paluskar’s three-minute recorded bhajan ‘Aaa Re Man Raam’ in raaga Lalit is a standalone masterpiece. There is a poignant hint of pathos and mellifluous gravity here that is unique to the performance of this raaga by maestros of the Gwalior Gharana or school of Hindustani classical music. Pandit Omkarnath Thakur’s rendition of Lalit is another such example. The maestro’s recording contains the same popular pieces ‘Raina Ka Sapna’ and ‘Piyu Piyu Ratata’ in slow-pace and fast-pace respectively. The inimitable fearless female vocalist Kishori Amonkar has recorded the latter composition as well. A beautiful contemporary recording of raaga Lalit can be found in the classical album of Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar. The vilambit khyal is ‘Re More Ghar Aa’ followed by a fast-paced Tarana composition. This vocalist’s rendition of Lalit – a melody whose essence is the opposite of everything flighty and ebullient – is filled with gravitas and majesty. A rare but regal raaga Lalit recording by the late Pandit Rasiklal Andharia can definitely be added to our playlist.

Due to the tranquil nature of Lalit, this raaga is most resplendent in renditions on instruments such as the saarangi (stringed, bowed, short length instrument) and the shehnai (double reed oboe) in addition to vocal exposition. Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai recording of Lalit is indeed haunting. One can also hear legendary maestro Ustad Bade Ghuman Ali Khan’s short and powerful performance of the raaga. Pandit Jasraj, the contemporary doyen of Mewati Gharana, renders a mercurial Madhyalaya (medium-paced) Lalit composition ‘Ratnaa Re Nainan Mein’ in Jhaptaal (a rhythmic cycle of 10 beats). The composition has also been ably recorded by this maestro’s disciple and ace violinist Kala Ramnath as part of her album “Passage through Dawn.” There is a surviving raaga Lalit recording of Pandita Kesarbai Kerkar. This iconic female vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana has recorded a short yet charming composition ‘Ratana Laagi Re.’

Music Today’s morning raaga series contains a brilliant Lalit recording by Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra. Their strong meditative vocal rendition has infused the melody with classicism and grandeur. Ustad Rashid Khan brings Lalit to life through forceful recordings and performances as well.

Some lighter versions of raaga Lalit can be heard in pleasing compositions from old Hindi films such as ‘Ek Shahenshah Ne Banawake Haseen Taj Mahal’ sung by Rafi and Lata, ‘Tu Hai Mera Prem Devata’ by Manna Dey and Rafi, and ‘Preetam Daras Dikhao’ rendered by Lata and Manna Dey.

Lavanya Dinesh is a performer and teacher of North Indian classical/Hindustani vocal music. The singer’s performances in India and the U.S. have garnered much praise as have the three solo album releases to her credit. Reach the artist/writer at
Lavanya@LavanyaDinesh.com
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