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Majestic Darbari - Part I

Raag Darbari


"इश्क मुझ को नहीं वहशत ही सही

मेरी वहशत तेरी शोहरत ही सही

हम भी दुश्मन तो नहीं हैं अपने

गैर को तुझ से मोहब्बत ही सही"


(Ishq mujhko nahi vahashat hi sahi

Meri vahashat teri shoharat hi sahi

Hum bhi dushman to nahi hai apne

Gair ko tujh se mhabbat hi sahi)



These lines from a famous ghazal by Mirza Ghalib – in a sense, they display the uneasiness in a forlorn lover’s mind, but could equally be a stand-in for Raag Darbari, a raag that can display the interplay of myriad human emotions within its ambit and leave the listener stupefied.

Envision the magnificence of a royal durbar hall, thick red carpets laid all across, soft candles sparkling from chandeliers, dignitaries lined up on both sides of the vast expanse: the atmosphere is laden with pleasant anticipation. Right at the center a seating is laid out with all musical instruments and everyone waiting with bated breath. And then, gradually, soft notes of Komal Dhaiwat and Komal Nishad fill up every inch of available space and take possession of the evening

This is the rich domain of Raag Darbari. It is said that Mian Tansen created the raag under express wishes of Badshah Akbar, in one magnificient stroke capturing the grandeur of Mughal empire, his own majestic musical talent and the towering heights of Indian Classical Music.

There may or may not be a historical basis for this story of Raag Darbari’s creation, but there is no doubt that it accurately captures its image in the listener’s mind. Structurally, as a raag using all seven swars, it provides untrammeled scope for the singer to build her empire. In aaroha, the Gandhar is so komal, so soft that it almost merges in the Rishabh coming before. And again, in the avaroha it almost nudges the Madhyam. The raag has such a royal presence and dignity that even accomplished singers are tested in its rendition. The aalap particularly is a major challenge in itself: it starts in mandra saptak with the Gandhar presented with ‘andolan’. Just this one note is enough for a connoisseur to assess the singer’s capacity!

The major phrases of this raag are “Sa-Sa-Re-Re-Sa-Ni-Sa”, “Ma-Ga-Ma-Re-Sa” and “Ni-Dha-Ni-Dha-Ni-Ni-Sa”.

Imagine a late evening with darkness taking over. Such utter silence prevails that even the flutter of moth wings becomes an irritant. The wind too wafts cautiously as the pale moonlight lends everything a semi-frozen appearance. And then, gradually, the soft lilting notes of Raag Darbari flow in from the distant flute of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasiya, making the evening even more magical…



This is realizing a sur at its ultimate, purest incarnation! Even the soft undertone of table may shatter the magic, so soft and clear is the experience. The notes may be soft, but the twists remain as exquisite as ever. Even the sound of one’s own breath becomes a distraction. Here one can get close to the ‘andolit’ komal Gandhar of Raag Darbari and allow it to fill one’s very being.

There are many songs in the light classical genre that show an alliance with Raag Darbari. The ambience of soft darkness described above finds a reflection in this song from the film “Milan” (1958):


It is not a very popular song in the conventional sense, but Lataji’s singing is something exceptional. Raag Darbari lends just its shadow here. Possibly the composer Hansraj Behl caught a ‘phrase’ of the raag which anchored in his mind and influenced the composition. He has made full use of Lataji’s ability to traverse all three octaves with ease. The emotion of longing and yearning predominates right from the initial humming of the flute (which does show unmistakable signs of Raag Darbari). But thereafter, the song and the raag go separate ways.

The skill of Lataji’s singing can be discerned in the line “Tumne to dekha hoga, e chand taron”. The word ‘tumne’ starts with a slight stress on ‘tu’ and then the voice goes higher and higher, soaring to its topmost by the time it reaches ‘Taron”. Not something to be handled by a faint-hearted singer. And in all this breath-taking acrobatics, Raag Darbari is nowhere to be seen…….

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