Making It Happen!

The Beauty of Khyal — A Recital of Night Ragas

I’m as happy with this recording as I’ve ever been. The recording session we did on August 16 of this year was wonderfully productive, and this CD represents the first installment of the raga performances Milind Pote, Chaitanya Kunte, and I laid down that night.

Please pitch in. You’ll love this music.

Very nicely put. I like the analogy to a relay race, which illuminates the underlying athleticism of the process!

20 Feb 2015, 2:43pm
by Sumana Ramanan

Okay, I had some time to think about the mukhda. If the bandish begins on the sam, then there is only one baton exchange, so to speak: the improvisation must hand over the baton to the first line of the bandish at the sam. If the bandish being slightly before the sam, then there are two handovers: the improvisation has to pass the baton to the mukhda and then the mukhda has to pass the baton the beginning of the rest of the first line. Now this, like you said, also allows for variations, including when the first handover happens, which will determine how you sing the mukhda — compress it or leave out the first few words. The first handover is the handover determined by the ‘sam’ of the bandish, and the second is determined by the ‘sam’ of the taal. Also, besides the exact position of that first handover, and the consequent variations in the mukhda, the singer can vary the rendition of the mukhda, even if he or she is picking it up at the same point in the taal cycle, because it has an identity that is independent of the rest of the first line by virtue of falling on the left side of the taal’s sam. So even if the length is the same, the singer can render it differently each time. So there are different axes of variations possible with the mukhda, besides the introduction of another handover. Also, the introduction of the first handover adds another layer of anticipation to the arrival of the sam, because it emphasises the sam’s impending arrival much more strongly than just the last line of a bandish would. What do you think?

Thanks for your kind words, Sumana!

There are several ways of thinking about the role played by the mukhda.

The simplest way of answering your question is probably the least satisfying: you experience the excitement of the resolution to sam because…well, because that’s the way the music works, and you’ve learned to respond to that type of musical stimulus as a part of learning to listen to the music.

As I said, it’s unsatisfying, because it rejects the notion of any intrinsic qualities of excitement in the music itself — and locates them instead in you and your relationship with the material. The resolution to the sam is exciting and interesting because to be successful, any musical idiom needs exciting & interesting qualities, and Hindustani music evolved over time to concentrate them at or around the sam.

But where’s the fun in thinking of it that way? Grrrrr.

In vilambit improvisation, the mukhda is likely to be transformed with each avartana of the tala. The return to the mukhda is thus simultaneously a link to the taal structure, and part of the larger cycles of alternating familiarity/novelty that make the performance interesting. When the singer reconnects with the mukhda it may not be rendered exactly the same each time, and it will therefore offer variety in the particular way of achieving “closure” at the sam.

I’ve heard a few khyal singers transform the relationship of the mukhda to the overall khyal structure, by choosing to embed the mukhda-sam coupling in the middle of their improvisations — that is, by (for example) starting an improvisation around the 7th matra of vilambit ektaal, and incorporating the mukhda-to-sam motion as a non-resolving element of the improvisation, which eventually closes off midway through the next cycle. This is easier to do in practice than to execute in the heat of performance — but it offers a different approach which can be very satisfying.

Note that many medium-tempo khyals in jhaptaal begin directly on the sam and don’t lose their thrilling qualities !

18 Feb 2015, 8:49am
by Sumana Ramanan

I like your blog very much. It has the one of the best structural definitions of khayal improvisation that I have seen. The business about nested phrases is great.

I have been wondering about one thing for a long time, and I thought you are likely to have some ideas. What is it about starting the vilambit composition before the sam, i.e. having a mukhda and landing on it at some point in the first line, that is so thrilling? In other words, why is it more thrilling than beginning a composition on the sam itself?


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