Raag Malhaar: Music for the Monsoons

After wearying and scorching summers, even a light rain feels like a pour of blessings from the heavens. Music seems to be the ideal means to express one’s delight and euphoria at such jamboree. And I believe that no means other than music can express one’s true spirit during monsoons. Therefore, Indian classical musicians have embellished the rains with raag Malhaar. It is also known as Miya Malhaar as it was pioneered by sangeet samrat Miya Tansen. Malhaar is associated with the atmosphere of torrential rains. Interestingly, music maestros, be it classical, modern or contemporary, have always been able to deliver the best of their works in any raag they have been given. Since we are experiencing sweet showers all over the country this month, let’s take a journey through the times of the classical, modern and contemporary epochs of raag Malhaar and its evolution.

Every generation can narrate its own story of how they have experienced monsoons in their respective times. If I were to follow a certain chronology, then beginning from the very origin of this monsoonal flavour of music, one can stream a few classical songs which, if not mentioned, would be an injustice to this musical sojourn. Indian cinema first took up Megh Malhaar in the 1942 movie Tansen. More classical versions can be seen in renditions by famous musicians and instrumentalists, take, for example, Bole re Papiya Hara. The most popular song, which anyone from the era of the 1960s can recall, is Aaya Sawan Jhoom ke from the movie of the same name released in 1969. The video depicts how Indian tribes celebrate the onset of the monsoon. This also shows the different trends and customs that people normally follow to prepare for the god-sent rains, such as putting up swings and, of course, romancing the thundering rains. At this point, the music maestros aimed at blending classical music with trending music to get a hold of the hearts and minds of their listeners.

With these changes, Malhaar took the form of a refined blend with a greater inclination towards the classical. This could be seen in the 1980s popular movie, Chashme Buddoor’s song, Kaha Se Aayi Badra. And the same trend could be seen in the 1990s musical Saaz, especially in the song Badal Ghumad Aaye. This era also witnessed the foundation being laid for contemporary era songs based on this raag. There were also a few popular trends which actually made the legends of the Indian music industry, like Lataji and Ashaji. The song named Abke Sajan Sawan Mein from the movie Chupke Chupke also gained much attention in this sphere. The song Haaye Haaye ye Majboori, from the movie Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan, got popular as it garnered the attention of the youth more because its picturisation, which featured romancing youth.

With the advent of the 21st century, the induction of indie bands and singers in the music industry became a growing and emerging trend. This marked the new era of the contemporary use of raag Malhaar in songs like Abke Sawaan by Shobha Mudgal and Piya Basanti Re by Ustad Sultan Khan. Even recent cinema got inspired by the importance of classical Malhaar and began evolving soft and emotional songs on the lines of the classic Malhaar. It also received some much-unexpected popularity among millennial listeners and songs such as Aaoge Jab Tum from the movie Jab We Met, Bhaage re Mann from the movie Chameli, In Dino from the movie Life in a Metro, Pani Da Rang from the movie Vicky Donor, and Phir Le Aaya from the movie Barfi are a testament to the same. The modern legend of music, A. R. Rehman, also gave us some amazing numbers with this seasonal taste, including Barso Re from the movie Guru and Ghanan Ghanan from the movie the Lagaan.

Not only did Indian cinema give listeners a taste of the monsoon raga, indie artists and famous collaborations also gave us the rapturous experience of listening to the raindrops echoing in synthesized harmony. The emerging trend of studio singing seemed to be redefining the boundaries of the music industry. Coke Studio and MTV Unplugged are the most popular and successful experiments witnessed in this aspect. Miya ki Malhaar by Ayesha Omar, Fariha Pervez and Zara Madani, produced by Coke Studio is one such delightful result. This rendition of Ayesha Omar can actually make you feel like it’s raining. Also, the Malhaar Jam by Agam, produced by Coke Studio is another such recommendation. Furthermore, many classical singers and ghazal singers have paid homage Miya ki Malhaar through their respective versions like Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Ustad Hamid Ali Khan, Nirmalya Dey, Mehandi Hasan, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Ravishankar, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ashwini Bide Deshpande, and many more.

This monsoon, lengthen your playlists and enrich your taste in music with these wonderful creations, and maybe, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll experience that beautiful illusion, where you can’t tell if it’s the rain inspiring the raag, or the raag inspiring the rain.

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