Music from the eternal city of Kashi

“Music is a language that is without boundaries,” says Saloni Gandhi, who conceptualized and curated Bhairav Se Bhairvi Tak (BSBT) a global tour by the brothers Pandit Rajan and Pandit Sajan Misra.

The Misra Brothers are among the leading vocalists in India today, with a distinguished lineage hailing from one of the most ancient cities on the earth – the pilgrimage city of Kashi or Banaras, as they still refer to the present-day city of Varanasi. The duo has received numerous awards for their contribution to shastria snageet, including the prestigious Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India.

The BSBT tour was launched last November in Banaras.

“Banaras has been declared as a UNESCO City of Music and it is enriched with centuries of a musical, spiritual and cultural influences,” says Gandhi.  “It was apt that the tour be launched here, since the Misra Brothers’ singing embraces the sensibilities and nuances of this eternal city and renders them in contemporary settings.”

In North Indian music, raags are generally presented at specific times of the day. The concept of the BSBT tour is to present the spectrum of raags spanning from the morning (raag Bhairav) through to the evening (raag Bhairavi).  Says Gandhi, “The science of using specific notes and phrasings for creating raags according to the time & season is unique to the world of music.”

Lovers of Indian filmi music, whether they are aware of it or not, will be familiar with this concept from old songs. Think of the song “Poocho na kaise maine rain bitayi” from the film Meri Surat Teri Ankhen (1963).  The song which is sung at dawn – the lyrics refer to the passage of an agonizing night – is based on the early morning raag Ahir Bhairav.

Another favourite song based on a morning raag is “Ek shahenshah ne banwake hasee(n) Taj Mahal,” from the film Leader (1964), which is based on raag Lalit. Lalit is an especially lyrical raag that is often played on the flute in film scenes that depict the dawn.

A search for “songs based on raag Yaman” on the internet will result in hits like “Zindagi bhar nahi bhulegi” from the film Barsaat ki Raat (1960), “Ehsaan tera hoga mujpar” from Junglee (1961), and “Abhi na jao chhodke” from Hum Dono (1961). These songs are all set at or after sunset, the time for the evening raag Yaman.

“Old filmi songs retain their popularity because they are based on classical raags,” states Manoshi Chatterjee, board member of Raag-Mala Toronto, which is sponsoring the BSBT tour in Toronto.  “Even first-time listeners at our concerts are surprised at how accessible Indian classical music can be – it is precisely the familiarity of the raags which comes from their exposure to filmi songs.”

Says Chatterjee, herself a singer and poet, “We are delighted to be presenting the tour’s North American debut with Pandit Kumar Bose on Tabla. By good luck, Kumarji will be in Toronto for his solo concert tour. He has also accompanied the duo on many concerts of this tour in India.”

Mohamed Khaki
President, Raag-Mala Toronto

When and where?
Saturday, April 7th at 7 pm
Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive
Tickets: agakhanmuseum.org
Manoshi: 416-276-5616