‘He Who Wears Serpents Like Garlands’ | Raag Malkauns | Abhisek Lahiri | Music of India




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Published on Apr 13, 2015

#darbarfestival | Young sarod player Abhisek Lahiri plays the auspicious Raag Malkauns, said to have been composed by the goddess Parvati to soothe Lord Shiva’s tandav dance of destruction.
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Learn more about the music:

Abhisek Lahiri is a gharana-blending young sarod player, who fuses ideas from the Shahjahanpur, Maihar, and Senia Bangash traditions. Early training under his father Alok Lahiri has led to a successful career, including global tours, participation in Indian cultural delegations, and fusion work with his East Meets Middle East group. Hear more of Abhishek here:
-Shree | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhXFc...
-Bilaskhani Todi | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrVD6...
-Interview | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85kNH...

Malkauns is often said to evoke a state of ‘severe tranquility’.It is an auspicious raga, said to have divine origins. Hindu legend tells that it was composed to soothe Shiva’s rage after he learned of the death of Satī, his wife. Born into royalty, Satī had renounced the material world in honour of Shiva. This displeased her father, the king, who insulted her and berated Shiva’s character. Satī became consumed by anger, taking on the form of the supreme goddess Adi Parashakti. Storms broke, and her mortal body burst into flames, unable to contain the power of the goddess.

Shiva was distraught when he learned of his wife’s death. He flew into an wild rage, placing Satī’s charred corpse on his shoulders and throwing two locks of his hair to the ground. They sprung up to form the Manibhadra, two many-armed warrior spirits who wielded swords, tridents, and cleavers in their quest for vengeance. Shiva became lost in an unending tandav (dance of destruction), and the band roamed the globe, decapitating the king and slaughtering his entourage.

Shiva’s fury disturbed his fellow gods, who implored Lord Vishnu to help. Vishnu brought Satī’s spirit back to earth, reincarnating her as Parvati, the goddess of devotion. Parvati sought out Shiva, living with him in the forest and purifying herself by meditating naked in the harsh outdoors. It is said that Parvati composed the raga as they wandered in the mountains, naming it Mal-Kaushik after a prominent depiction of Shiva (‘he who wears serpents like garlands’). The music calmed his mind, succeeding where all else had failed. Soon after the couple became husband and wife. Shiva took mercy on his vanquished foes, resurrecting those who had been slain and even reinstating the king to his throne (although he did replace his severed head with that of a goat).

Historians also theorise that the raga may have been named through the combination of Malavas, an ancient Punjabi tribe, and kaisiki, a microtonal variant of the note ni. But through fact or fiction, Malkauns is inseparable from its darkly mythic reputation. Even today many musicians see it as having supernatural powers. Some believe it can attract evil spirits if not handled correctly, as if the shadows of Shiva’s tandav dance are buried within the raga, waiting to escape.

The underlying scale [SgmdnS] differs from the minor pentatonic - a musical universal - just one tone, but this new note radically reshapes its balance. The tone (dha) plays with our expectations, introducing a searching uncertainty to the scale’s core. Our minds feel an almost-familiarity, as if we are grasping at a reassurance that is always just out of reach.

Soloists often focus on the mandra saptak [low octave], elaborating long lines in vilambit laya [slow tempo]. All five tones can be used to start and end melodies on, bringing a tense but inescapable balance. You are pulled in all directions at once, suspended between all points of the scale, contemplating the world from a distance. The raga has comparatively few rules, but is regarded as one of the hardest to master.

Recorded at Darbar Festival in 2015, on location in Singur, West Bengal:
-Abhisek Lahiri (sarod)

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