Shubhendra Rao presents Marwa, a popular evening raga prescribed for performance around sunset. The presentation is in three parts - an alap-jod-jhala, a madhya laya gat in rupak tal of 7 beats, and a drut laya gat in teental of 16 beats, with a jhala appended to it.
Shubhendra's interpretation of Marwa follows that of his mentor, Ravi Shankar. In this psycho-acoustic focus of the raga in a specific region of the melodic canvas is expressed on enshrined in the melodic construction of the pre-composed element, with the improvised element remainingg relatively free of these considerations. This approach is more characteristic of the rue and the dhrupad genre than of the contemporary sitar idiom increasingly inspired by the Shubhendra's melodic grammar is, however, irreproachable and effectively protects the performance against the risks of confusion with Puriya and Sohini, the two ragas which share Marwa's tone material.
While Shubhendra's alap consists of free-flowing, anarhythmic melody common to all gharanas of sitar music, the jod/jhala are true to his roots in the been idiom which constitutes the basic inspiration of the Maihar Seniya Gharana. In this been-inspired style, the jod makes generous use of bi-directional strokes on the melody strings, and lacks the regular and systematic use of the chikari a a rhythmic device more commonly found in other gharanas of sitar music. In the jhala, Shubhendra performs two types of jhala - the ulta jhala, dominated by strokes on the melody strings, and the direct jhala, dominated by strokes on the chikari strings. Consistent with conventions of raga exposition, Shubhendra follows the disciplines of melodic progression meticulously in the alap, with a gradual relaxation of it after the jod begins.
The percussion-accompanied phase begins with a madhya laya gat set to rupak tal. The improvisatory movements maintain a reasonably steady enhancement of stroke-densities. The improvisations belong mostly to the traditional right-hand oriented sitar idiom, with each round being wrapped up with tihais or chakradars. The drut gat is presented at a higher tempo than is commonly found in contemporary sitar music. Here again, the improvisatory movements are predominantly stroke powered, and tihais play a considerable role in relating the melodic to the rhythmic element. The jhala, desciplined in its organization of the melodic element, is a brief display of stroke-craft virtuosity.
RAGA MARWA - ALAP/JOR/JHALA
Structurally, Shubhendra's Marwa alap belongs to the progressive-inclusive category. While all alaps follow a systematic approach to opening up the melodic canvas with improvisations, the progressive-inclusive approach includes each region of the melodic canvas, after its xploration in the subsequent improvisations. The progressive-inclusive alap progressively enlarges the coverage of the melodic canvas as it progresses. This progressive-inclusive approach is more characteristic of the dhrupad genre and the been than of sitar music inspired by the khayal genre, which generally adopts the progressive-exclusive approach. In contemporary music, the progressive-inclusive approach is also more commonly encountered in alaps on the sarod than on the sitar. Being a semi-polychord, the sarod habitually executes melody on multiple strings and encourages the exploitation of the variety of timbres available on them. In the context of Marwa, however, there is also an inevitability about a broad-span approach to melodic exploration. Marwa is a near-pentatonic raga, with only two nyasa swaras (permissible tonal focal points for phrasing). This constraint in the raga’s melodic character fosters an expansive approach to phrasing and, as a corollary, to handling the notion of progression.
The alap opens melodic action with the customary improvisations around base-Sa. In these improvisations Shubhendra ensures that the Dha/Re axis of the raga is clearly emphasized, while also acknowledging the reluctant presence of base-Sa. The raga's identity is fully established in these introductory passages. The alap then commences its descent into the lower registers. The improvisations in the low octave revolve, once again, around Dha and Re, the two pivotal swaras of the raga. This is followed by a further descent into the ultra-low octave. Here again, the two pivotals form the focal points for the improvisations. Shubhendra invests a considerable amount musical energy in the low and ultra-low octaves, before making a leisurely ascent back to base-Sa. With the lower half of the four-octave melodic canvas having been covered, there is esthetic logic for planting a milestone. The milestone takes the form of a fresh round of improvisations around base-Sa, in which the pivotal roles of Dha and Re, and the melodic relationship between them are reinforced. The milestone having been planted, Shubhendra then uses a categorical separator between melodic action in the two halves of the melodic canvas. The separator consists of brisk, broad-span melodic passages virtually summarizing the melodic progress of the alap up to this point. Such separators are found in alap presentations of both the major sitar gharanas - Maihar Seniya and Etawah/lmdad Khan.
The melodic action now targets Re as the focal point for improvisations - from below and then from above. Appropriately thereafter, the same procedure is repeated for the melodic explorations with Dha as the focal point. With this, the sthayi of the alap is completed. The melodic action hereafter is the antara, in which a categorical ascent is made to high SA'. followed by improvisations around high SA’ and a partial ascent into the high octave. While the melodic action is still around high SA', the third and final stage of the alap - the sanchari - begins. The sanchari is, by definition, a brisk movement. Freed from the systematic progression discipline of the sthayi/antara, it moves freely across all regions of the melodic canvas in broad sweeps and broad-span passages. The sanchari effectively summarizes the alap, and prepares the aesthetic foreground for the start of the pulsating melody in the jod.
The I st tier of the jod is conventional, with alternating strokes on the melody an&'chikari strings - inward on the melody, and outward on the chikari. Appropriate to the character of the movement, the phrasing adopts a broader span than the alap, and the notion of progression is substantially relaxed. However, the movement does follow a broad sthayi/antara protocol. In the 2nd tier of the jod, with a stepped-up stroke-density, bi-directional strokes are introduced, along with a further relaxation of the notion of progression, and the regularity of chikari perforation. The melodic effort attempts to simulate choreographic effects with repetitive and playful rendition of identical phrases -va feature often noticed in Ravi Shankafs performances. The brief 3rd, and final, tier of the jod virtually,abandons chikari perforation and resorts almost entirely to bi-directional stroke craft. Sandwiched betvfeen a few brief ekhara taans (taans with a single stroke per intohation), are passages with Dir-Dir backed melody reminiscent of passages typical of the jod on the been.
The jhala is in two parts. The first part is an ulta jhala, with three strokes on the melody string for every stroke on the chikari string in a 4-beat pattern. The second part is a direct jhala, with three strokes on the chikari string for every stroke on the melody string in a 4-beat pattern. This direct jhala pattern repeated at the end of the drut gat in teental. Both patterns - the reverse and the direct are a part of the been legacy of the modern plucked lutes, and practiced by contemporary performers on the sitar and the sarod. Shubhendra's ulta jhala adopts three patterns of strokes. The first is the simple pattern three strong Da (inward) strokes on the melody string, followed by a softer Ra (outward) on the chikari. In the second variant, Shubhendra adopts Da-Ra-Da on the melody string, followed by Ra on the chikari. The third pattern is more complex, involving Dir-Dir-Da on the melody string, folio the chikari. The direct jhala, rendered at a stepped-up tempo, is conventional with 4-beat (Da-Ra-Ra-Ra) and 8-beat (Da-Ra-Ra-Da-Ra-Ra-Da-Ra) shaping of the melodic-harmonic experience.
As the jod-jhala has moved on beyond the 3rd tier of the jod, we have seen a progressively greater use of powerful outward strokes, which hit the face of the sitar with a thud, while also striking the first few taraf strings - a prominent dynamic feature in Shubhendra's style. The jhala closes with a tihai constructed predominantly with such strokes, supported by a kaleidoscopic treatment of the raga-scale.
RAGA MARWA - MADHYA LAYA GAT IN RUPAK TAL
The madhya laya gat in rupak tal opens at a tempo of 102 beats per minute (bpm) and closes marginally higher at 107 bpm. The madhya laya gat follows the 20th c. dhrupad approach, though less formally than dhrupad itself would. The entire presentation is held at a steady tempo, while the improvisations are dominated by layakari - a series of improvisations rich in rhythmic content. Dhrupad acquired this approach from the sanctity of the poetic element (pada), which could be preserved only if the freedom of melodic improvisation was curtailed. This left the musician with rhythmic play as the primary direction for a display of musicianship. During the late 19th/early 20 c. as dhrupad's survival as the mainstream genre was threatened by the melody-dominant khayal, dhrupad swung more dramatically towards rhythm-dominant presentations as a means of achieving a sharper differentiation between dhrupad and khayal.
After the presentation of the sthayi and manjha, Shubhendra launches the I st round of improvisations in which the strokes are primarily unidirectional, and the stroke-density is approximately equal to the beat-density (tempo), and the melody is firmly encased in the rhythmic frame. In this round of improvisations, the melodic approach is broad-span. The ascent to high SA' in antara formation is in the nature of a phrase substituting for a pre-composed antara. The 2nd round may loosely considered that of medium-density improvisations. The improvisations follow a similar melodic path as the 1st round, the primary difference being in the stroke-craft. In the 2nd round, Shubhendra introduces bi-directional strokes relying greatly on the traditional 4-beat Da-Dir-Da-Ra pattern. This movement resembles todas - melodic passages backed by multiple strokes per intonation – characteristic of the traditional idiom of the plucked lutes. The 3rd round steps up the stroke-density of the todas, relying more on Dir-Dir strokes. The melodic approach remains the same as in the 1st and 2nd rounds of improvisation. After achieving a more or less steady enhancement of stroke-densities through the first three rounds, Shubhendra shifts back to medium-density improvisations in the 4th round. This round approximates jod-type improvisations at a density of 4 strokes per beat. In the 5th round of improvisations, there is a further regression of stroke-density to three strokes per beat. In the 6th and final round, the improvisations shift back to high-density Dir-Dir backed passages. The presentation closes with a chakradar.
RAGA MARWA - DRUT GAT IN TINTAL
The drut gat opens at a tempo of 417 bpm and closes with a jhala touching 640 bpm. These temporal parameters define the upper end of contemporary sitar music. The ascending melodic pattern of the sthayi is near-identical to that of the madhya laya gat. As commonly found in traditional uttarang-dominant Marwa gats, the manjha expresses the raga's purvang facet. Shubhendra's rendition omits the gat's pre-composed antara, replacing it with an informal ascent to high SA\
After rendering the sthayi and the manjha, Shubhendra commences jod-type improvisations, in which the melody is firmly in the grip of the tala, approximately at a single stroke for every intonation. The jod-type improvisations consist of sthayi and antara movements. Thereafter, the rendition drifts into higher stroke density^with compound stroke patterns of the traditional sitar idiom: Da-Dir-Da-Ra and Da-Dir-Dir-Dir / Dar-Dar-Da. This phase may broadly be called the toda phase of the presentation. Having achieved a sufficient acceleration of the tempo, Shubhendra then drifts into the jhala. The jhala follows the conventional 4-beat and 8-beat pattern of stroke-craft (Da-Ra-Ra-Ra and Da-Ra-Da /Da-Ra-Da / Da-Ra) through the sthayi and antara phases, and the performance closes with a chakradar.