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Sangeet Baiju Bawra – 5: Ragamala and Desi Jugalbandi

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Baiju goes to the Shiva temple with his veena, determined to gain complete mastery over music and become a better singer than Tansen so that he could take revenge on Tansen by defeating him in a musical duel and have him punished with death as per the law in Akbar’s kingdom. Despondent because Swami Haridas will not teach him until his heart is filled with love instead of hatred, Baiju is moping away in front of Shiva’s statue when Haridas appears in his dreams and begins teaching him music. In this scene Naushad has artfully strung together mukhdas of a few ragas into a raga-mala in Rafi’s voice using some traditional compositions in the ragas which have been sung by stalwarts of classical music over the decades. We have Lalat (Piyu piyu re karat papihara), Gaud Malhar (Jhum jhum badariya barase), Puriya (Ajab teeri aan baan), Bageshri (Yeri ai mai kaise ghar aau). This raga-mala is a testimony to the musical training and understanding of classical music that both Naushad and Mohammed Rafi had. Here is the raga-mala in the film:

Listen to this bandish Piyu piyu ratat papihara in the mellifluous voice of the great D.V.Paluskar. This is a 15 minute long recording, and the initial alaaps contain the essence of Lalat. So do listen to it.

We then have a composition in Gaud Malhar sung by Pt. Venkatesh Kumar from Dharwad, Karnataka, one of the most impressive vocalists on the Hindustani music scene today.

The Puriya and Bageshri compositions used by Naushad in the film are not traditional bandishes as far as I can tell, but these are both very often sung ragas, and you will find tons of recordings in these ragas on the internet.

Back in the village, Gauri’s father is in a terrible predicament because of pressure from the village panchayat to get Gauri married, and Gauri has given up hope that Baiju will ever return. Then follows one of Lata’s most beautiful songs in raga Bhairav, Mohe Bhul gaye sawariya. According to some references this song is in raga Kalingada, but worry not, because Kalingada is almost indistinguishable from Bhairav and some aficionados see the two ragas merging over time into Bhairav. There are many references on the net explaining Hindustani and Carnatic ragas, and one that I often refer to is Chandrakantha, where you will find a description of Kalingada:

Here is the song:

I will take up a separate post to compare the subtleties of Bhairav and Kalingada with examples of film songs in both ragas.

Gauri decides to end her life and pulls out a vial of poison which she has hidden away somewhere. As she is about to drink the poison, daku Roopmati arrives on the scene and knocks the vial of poison out of Gauri’s hand with the barrel of her rifle. Still deeply in love with Baiju, Roopmati decides to make the ultimate sacrifice in love and promises to help Gauri find Baiju wherever he is.

The scene shifts to Swami Haridas’ ashram. Baiju comes to the ashram to meet his guru (for his darshan) and is stopped by a disciple who tells Baiju that Swami Haridas cannot see him because he is so sick that he is unable to walk even to the temple to get a darshan of his beloved lord Krishna. Now comes the all-time famous devotional song in raga Malkauns, Man tarapat Hari darshan ko aaj, which is arguably one of Rafi’s best classical based song ever. This song deserves a separate blog post on its own, so I will come back to the song later.

Baiju’s Man Tarapat Hari Darshan ko in raga Malkauns moves his guru Swami Haridas so much that he stands up on his feet and walks out of his hut to meet Baiju, to the surprise of all his disciples. Haridas blesses Baiju and tells him that Baiju was born with music in his heart, and Haridas only found the unpolished diamond in Baiju and polished it to make it shine in its full glory. He tells Baiju to continue his riyaz raga Todi, and walks back to his hut.

In spite of his guru’s exhortations to replace the hatred in his heart with love Baiju is still obsessed with the idea of taking revenge on Tansen. In this scene Baiju is seen moving his fingers over the strings of his tanpura. Even the best made films have some goof-ups that slip through, and here is one in Baiju Bawra. When you pluck the four strings of a tanpura from left to right holding the tanpura upright with the strings facing away from you, you will hear Pa (in the lower octave), Sa and Sa (in the middle octave) and Sa (in the lower octave). In this scene, Baiju is shown plucking the strings in the reverse order on the tanpura lying on the ground. This is not a big goof-up, but practitioners of music who play the tanpura would surely notice this. Here is that 20 second scene in the film for the curious reader.

Daku Roopmati manages to trace Baiju to Haridas’s ashram and arrives there with Gauri. Gauri is overjoyed to have found Baiju and calls out to Baiju with O ji O… the Bhairavi alaap that is repeatedly used in the film in Lata’s voice. Hearing Gauri’s voice Baiju comes running out of the ashram to meet Gauri, but then remembers his resolve to avenge his father’s death and pushes Gauri away and goes back to the Ashram, leaving Gauri inconsolable with grief, that finally having found Baiju she has lost him again.

Swami Haridas, knowing that Baiju is still obsessed with the idea of revenge, comes to meet him to give him one final piece of advice, that if he truly wants to be a great singer, he must rid heart of this poison of revenge and fill it with love. Only when his heart is filled with love and is sensitive enough to feel the hurt and pain that love inevitably brings with it, will he reach the heights as a singer that will turn stone into water.

Baiju realises that in order to feel love in his heart, he must return to Gauri, the only true love in his life. In a tragic turn of events, Gauri, hearing Swami Haridas’ advice to Baiju, gets herself bitten by a poisonous snake so that her death will cause Baiju the grief and hurt that will make him a great singer and defeat Tansen. Baiju comes back to Gauri, only to find her dead and turns insane with grief. Fortunately, Daku Roopmati who is still around realises that Gauri is still alive, takes her away to the village to try and save her.

Now we have another one of Rafi’s all-time great classical songs: O Duniya ke Rakhawale. This song is in raga Darbari, and deserves a blog post on its own, so we will come back to it later.

Baiju, overtaken with grief roams through the streets of Agra singing O Duniya ke Rakhawale and reaches Tansen’s mansion. The comical Ustad Ghaseet Khan hears Baiju’s voice comes running to greet Baiju patting him patronisingly on his back, to claim his own status as Baiju’s guru. Tansen’s soldiers once again confront Baiju for singing in front of Tansen’s haveli, and pick up Baiju and Ghaseet Khan and fling them both into prison. We have another comical interlude with Ghaseet Khan fretting about being put behind bars for no reason and exhorts Baiju to challenge and defeat Tansen in a musical duel in emperor Akbar’s court, else they would both be put to death.

While all this is happening Daku Roopmati arrives on the scene, this time to rescue Baiju from prison and take him to Gauri, who is still alive. Thanks to Roopmati’s presence of mind, Gauri was taken to a snake doctor in Gauri’s village and saved from the snake’s deadly poison. Baiju, once bitten twice shy so to speak, is still mistrustful of Roopmati but is finally convinced that Gauri is still alive and agrees to go with Roopmati. As they are leaving the prison, the emperor’s soldiers reach the prison and capture the fugitive Roopmati and take her away, leaving Baiju and Ghaseet Khan in the prison. Ghaseet Khan convinces Baiju that the only way he can ever meet Gauri is to defeat Tansen.

We now come to the most popular ever jugalbandi or musical duel featured in a Bollywood film, between Ustad Amir Khan Saheb as Tansen and Pandit D.V. Paluskar as Baiju in Emperor Akbar’s court. The scene starts with some scintillating taans in raga Todi by both contestants that are so powerful that the divine music draws a herd of deer to Akbar’s court. The emperor is still unable to decide the winner, as both Baiju and Tansen are able to attract the deer to themselves, and wants them to perform a miracle that will prove beyond doubt who is the better singer. Ghaseet Khan suggests that whoever’s music is powerful enough to dissolve a piece of rock in water should be declared the winner. Both Baiju and Tansen graciously accept this near-impossible challenge, and start raga  Desi. A piece of rock kept in a bowl of water is  brought to the court, and the contest continues.

Baiju (in Pt. D.V. Paluskar’s voice) starts a slow alaap in Desi, and then a vilambit khayal “तुमरे गुन गांवू, बिगरे बना दो काम (O Lord, I sing your praises, please help me accomplish my goals)“ in Madhya laya teentaal. Baiju sings one aavartan and in the second aavartan Tansen (in Amir Khan Saheb’s voice) picks up the mukhda from the thirteenth beat of the second aavartan. He sings two aavartans and from the thirteenth beat of Tansen’s second aavartan Baju picks up with a short taan and launches into the drut bandish “आज गावत मन मेरो (I am singing from my heart today)” in drut teentaal. Shakeel Badayuni has composed the words of this bandish, the antara of which translates into a description of the reason for the jugalbandi.

The Sthayi (स्थायी – the first verse) goes:

Tansen: हार गया तो जीवन जावे, जीता गायक दुनिया पावे. राखियो अब मोरी शान रे  (Whoever loses this contest will lose his life, and whoever wins will be a great gift to the whole world, so Lord, please protect my honour).

Baiju: प्रेम के कारन प्रेमी गावे, तांनोसे पाथर पिघलावे, जगत मे रहे मान रे (The Yogi sings out of love for his beloved and his taans have the power to dissolve a piece of rock in water, so please preserve my dignity in this world.)

The Antara (अंतरा – the stanza) goes:

Tansen: सात सुरों के मधुर मिलन में, जादू आज जगा दे (O Lord, help me create magic out of the seven notes)

Baiju: बैजू के संगीत से विधाता, जल में आग लगा दे, जल में आग लगा दे (O Creator of this universe, help Baiju light a fire on water)

With the second “दे” Baiju hits the Taar Shadja – the upper Sa and Paluskar takes a typically Gwalior “सपाट तान” spanning the whole octave from the upper Sa to the middle Sa. After a couple of scintillating taans each, both present some beautiful Desi phrases in सरगम  (Solfege) followed by a few brilliant taans where Baiju again hits the uper Sa and launches into some fast paced taans while the tabla plays अति द्रुत (ultra fast) teen-taal. One of the strings of Tansen’s tanpura snaps (presumably because of the sharpness of Baiju’s voice and the perfection of his Sa). Lo and behold, the piece of rock in the water starts to melt as the water boils, cracking the glass bowl.

Tansen graciously accepts defeat, is visibly pleased, and embraces Baiju. Akbar is impressed and delighted at this feat performed by this unknown musician Baiju, but suspects that Tansen has let Baiju win by willfully breaking the string of his Tanpura. Tansen insists that he has really been defeated, and Akbar asks Baiju to state what reward he desires from the emperor. Baiju asks Akbar for three things: free music from the clutches of the law that forbids anyone to sing in the open, the release of Daku Roopmati from prison, and for Akbar to spare Tansen’s life for the sake of music. Akbar, at first reluctant to break the law he himself has set, is impressed by Baiju’s humility and devotion to music and relents.

In one final twist in the story, Gauri’s father Mohan is unable to put off her wedding and decides to marry her off to Narpat. As the wedding ceremony is in progress, a weeping Gauri hears Baiju’s singing from across the river, as a victorious Baiju is coming back to the village to meet his beloved Gauri. Baiju has to cross the Yamuna to reach Gauri, but as fate would have it, the river is in full spate and a boatman, himself stranded refuses to row Baiju to the other side. Baiju, ignoring the boatman’s pleading, gets into the boat and tries to row the boat in the raging river. Gauri, hearing Baiju’s voice escapes and runs out to meet him. The whole village hearing of this unexpected development, abandons the wedding and gathers on the banks of the Yamuna to witness the drama. Gauri, seeing that Baiju’s boat has capsized and Baiju is drowning, jumps into the river and swims towards Baiju. As the Bhairavi Tu Ganga ki mauj plays in the background, Baiju and Gauri in tight embrace are swallowed by the raging Yamuna. As was customary in all Bollywood films in those days, the words “END” formed with flowers appear floating on top of the turbulent waters of the Yamuna. I can imagine the audiences in theaters all over the country, humming Tu Ganga ki mauj to themselves standing up at attention to the crackling sound of the National Anthem, as the Indian national flag flutters on the movie screen.

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