Is it necessary to sing Rare/Apprachalit Ragas?

Reading my Facebook notes on music, a young talented musician enquired me if it was important to sing rare ragas, to what kind of audience and why. Since she has been discussing this problem with her musician friends, as she said she was, I thought I must respond to her and to her friends. Hence this note.

I am of the opinion that it is very important to sing rare ragas provided one is sufficiently well versed in them to bring them into currency. But they must be your “Taalimi ragas” and not just ‘suni’ or heard ragas. In these dog days of limited repertoire being sung on the music stage, bringing the rare ragas to prevalence is the most important contribution a musician can do. Rare ragas if not performed would remain as museum pieces, unsung, unheard and lost forever. (I wonder how many of them have already been lost by not being performed even by those who knew/know them). Come to think of it, if these rare ragas were taught to learners and performed by them, there would be no need to create dubious ragas today by young musicians. (Once a young musician told me proudly that he had created six new ragas! Aghast, I simply said go on with it! What else could I say because he was brimming with a sense of great pride) It is very important to note that if the Guru has taught these rare ragas, they must become an active part of your repertoire. That is, if they have been learnt guru-mukhein, it would only mean he wants you to sing them,else he would not have taught them. And of course,vyou should take his permission to perform them. I believe one cannot ‘take’/learn rare ragas just by listening to other masters and try to sing them however intelligent and talented one may be in the ‘art’ of copying. (This is not the done thing in music, although you may come across people who do it. Listening to recorded rare ragas by various maestros and trying to sing them would definitely show in your struggle to sing. ) Without a Guru before you constantly guiding you in the subtle nuances of these rare ragas, you cannot derive confidence in them. To give you my own example, my father-guru taught me Lacchasakh, Ramsakh and Devasakh and I sing them confidently. But he forgot to teach me Bhavasakh and I didn’t ask him to teach it. However much I may listen to Bhavasakh of other maestros, I will have no confidence to sing it because it would not be a guru-mukhein raga! (To some I may sound traditional in this). My conscience does not permit me to copy others (old fashioned as I may be). I cannot brazen it this way because I have not been taught a certain raga. It is a matter of principle for me not to copy from other maestros.

Once when I sang the rare raga, Dhawalashri, a musician friend of mine said “Arre Bhai, who will appreciate your Dhawalashri-Pawalashri? Why sing it?”. I told him “That’s all right! At least some of the listeners will have had the satisfaction of having heard it once in their lifetime! We should create a taste for rare ragas in the audience and almost everybody knows that our Gharana is known for presenting rare ragas. If those who know don’t sing rare ragas, they would be lost forever like many have already gone out of circulation.” He was not convinced and I don’t go to any length to convince him.

As to when to sing rare ragas, I would suggest to my young friends to buttress one rare raga between two prachalit ragas. If you know that you have an informed audience as in a house concert/Mehefil, you can venture to perform rare ragas. In such cases you could briefly, not at great length, talk about the combinatory ragas, the ‘angs’ involved or the ‘Bhasa” of some other ragas, if these are there. For instance, the raga NatNarayani we sing comprises of Nat, Kedar, Kamod ‘angs’ on which we build the raga. This could be told to the benefit of the listeners. In fact, it is a raga of angs only. There still are some informed listeners who can appreciate your short introductions.

Again, I would like to stress here that the musician singing rare ragas must be well versed in them and should have learnt them from the all-knowing Guru.