Monsoon raags and Covid-19 kajris

Shubha Mudgal | Updated on July 03, 2020


A season that showered bountiful melodies, some lost, others still in vogue

* What parts of our monsoon repertoire have slipped into oblivion, what have we been able to retain and what adaptations have taken place in current times when the season itself no longer holds the same associations we once celebrated?

The monsoon, I always thought — and often said publicly — had been abundantly celebrated and represented in Indian music and the arts. This is by no means an exaggeration; the monsoon-related repertoire is rich, and includes the many Malhars, kajris and jhoolas that are still sung and performed widely. Artistes and composers have steadily enriched this corpus of knowledge by contributing new compositions and melodies.

But, at the same time, there has also been a steady depletion as some compositions and forms remain neglected and ultimately become extinct. What part of this repertoire have we been able to retain, and what has slipped into oblivion? What adaptations have taken place, if any, and what are we adding to our monsoon repertoire in current times?

Currently, the Malhar family of raags is most commonly and popularly associated with the monsoon. Researchers and scholars identify Megh Malhar and Gaud Malhar as possibly the oldest forms of Malhar, with Miyan Malhar, Ramdasi Malhar, Nat Malhar, Sur Malhar and other variants emerging later. The path-breaking vocalist and composer Kumar Gandharva created Gandhi Malhar as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s compassion and fearlessness. While artistes continue to contribute to the Malhar treasure trove, either by creating new compositions in existing Malhars or crafting new ones, as Kumar Gandharva did, we also seem to have lost a raag called Gaund that was earlier associated with the monsoon and said to be a putra or son of the Raag Megh. Katherine Butler Schofield writes in the essay Delight, devotion, and the music of the monsoon at the court of Emperor Shah Alam II that in a single compilation of Shah Alam’s songs, as many as 63 of the verses indicated that they were to be sung in Gaund, a raag that is no longer part of the current Hindustani classical raagdari system. Clearly, we have lost a once popular monsoon raag in the last 223 years — that is, since 1797, when a scribe put together the Nadirat-i-Shahi and to which Schofield refers. She indicates that there is enough information available from a variety of sources to determine what Gaund must have sounded like, whether it had its own identity, or was a raag that we now identify by another name. Whether or not we will be able to reconstruct the Gaund of Mughal times and reinstate it in the pantheon of Hindustani raags remains to be seen, and will depend on the will and intention of musicians and scholars who choose to work together to assemble pieces of a difficult jigsaw puzzle.


Kajri, the popular north Indian folk form, is associated with the monsoon and the lyrics are usually charming descriptions of the season. Rain clouds, thunder, lightning, drizzles and downpours, monsoon festivals such as Teej, mehndi, shringar, love and longing in the monsoon are usually the themes. But folk musicians have been quick to adapt existing repertoire to include contemporary themes. Take, for instance, unsual samples from Arjundas Kesari’s Kajri Mirjapur Sarnam, an extraordinary compilation of kajri compositions that departs from the conventional. Sample this:

Moraa manwaa lagal ba ice-kireem mein, laa da piya keen ke na!

[My heart is set on an ice-cream, get me some, won’t you?]

If this didn’t make you smile, then the English kajri in the compilation surely will:

Aapter (after) taking murli, Radhe, ismyling (smiling), told Murari Shyam

Where ij (is) your murli Mohan? Then began to search Bihari Shyam!

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s call to spin and weave khadi, a kajri composer wrote this:

Khaddar ke chunri rang de chhapedaar, re rangrejwaa

Bahut dinaa ke laagal man hamaar, re rangrejwaa

[Make me a block printed khadi dupatta, O fabric dyer,

I have wanted one for a long time]

Unable to isolate themselves from contemporary social and political issues, artistes have always created works that speak of the times they live in. It is only natural, therefore, to find a spate of freshly composed Covid-19 kajris.

Young Shivam Gupta sings on YouTube:

Aail Corona bimaari, balam husiyaari dikhaya,

Abahi le dawai na baanti, hui jaataa jekraa oo roi roi kaati,

Rogi se doori banaya, balam husiyaari dikhaya

The kajri is written, as is often the established tradition, in the voice of a woman, urging her beloved to be husiyaar or careful when dealing with Covid-19. There is no cure for it yet, she says, and those who are infected weep through their recovery, so remember to maintain a distance from the rogi or afflicted.

‘Kajri samrat’ or kajri king Hazarilal Yadav sings a Covid-19 kajri written by Rasiya Kumar and composed by Pritam Vishwakarma:

Cheen kaile ba dekha jadu tona piya, phailal Corona piya na.

[China is using black magic and has spread Corona]

Sab ka baatai bura haal, saari duniya ba behaal

charo or machal hauwai rona dhona piya, phailal Corona piya na

[Everyone is in a sorry state, the entire world is suffering

In all four directions, there is grief and loss.]

It is inevitable that in the days to come artistes will create works that reflect and illustrate the many tragedies that the pandemic has laid bare. But, importantly, monsoon itself no longer holds the same associations we once celebrated. Climate change, its furious impact on the seasons, and our own refusal to pay heed to nature’s warnings will mean that the monsoon repertoire we thought existed in abundance, may slowly and steadily become extinct or grievously depleted.

Shubha Mudgal, a classical vocalist based in Delhi, is the author of Looking for Miss Sargam

Published on July 03, 2020

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