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Ataraxis and Sandhya Sadhana:

Marking nearly nine years since I have been recording bhajans with different varieties and styles, this year has two sets of recordings that will remain unique in their respective rights. From development of tape recording from 1997 to 2000, MIDI instrument and computer recordings from 2000 onwards, Matchless Gifts in 2005 marked my first set of recordings with involved and relatively detailed orchestration. With the start of 2006, I had two ideas for Krsna Conscious recordings that will benefit visitors of KKSongs.

 

SANDHYA SADHANA (2006):

 

Sandhya Sadhana is a unique concept in examining devotional music. Sandhya Sadhana literally means “Austerity of the Evening.” As the name implies, these songs are intended to give a sunset or nightfall feel. Even though these bhajans are not limited to any time of day, the ragas and the style recorded for each of these songs give the impression of the evening and nightfall. Like Matchless Gifts, this album is heavily based on classical music of North India. While Matchless Gifts was designed to give unique “personal” feel, Sandhya Sadhana gave more a group feel, for the most part. Matchless Gifts achieved the “personal feel” through the lack of tanpura and harmonium to fill the sound, even though most Indian musicians would have preferred at least a tanpura. Sandhya Sadhana includes tanpura in most of the recordings and harmonium to supplement the voice. Esraj was the supreme vocal accompaniment in Matchless Gifts, while esraj and harmonium work with each other to fill sound. The warm instrumental tanpura, esraj, and harmonium give this sunset and congregational feel. Lastly, while Matchless Gifts had eight devotional songs, these recordings feature four bhajans and three vina instrumentals. May this album benefit all listeners and aid their evening meditation.

 

1. Jaya Jaya Jagannatha Sacira Nandan

Instruments: Tabla, Tanpura, Esraj, Sitar, Harmonium, Kartal

This bhajan is a beloved one amongst devotees, as well as a popular one amongst Bengali folk songs. This was written by Vasudeva Ghosh. Even though most of his songs are not well known, this song is well appreciated for it simply glorifies Lord Caitanya and His pastimes. It is loosely based on Raga Kedar.

 

2. Raga Alankara Priya Instrumental

Instruments: Khol, Vina

This is a simple instrumental using the guitar-vina and the khol playing strict tintala. Raga Alankara Priya is a rare Carantic raga that sounds very much like Raga Carukesi with. This raga came up when I was playing the harmonium with these random notes in combination. It sounded like a different form of Carukesi that I have never before. I decided to research this and it turned out to be Carnatic ragam Alankara Priya. I tried to add a North Indian feel to it.

 

3. Srimac Caitanya Deva Tvam

Instruments: Tanpura, Tabla, Khol, Kartal, Harmonium, Esraj, Flute

From the Krsna Lila Stava by Sanatana Goswami, this is the 104th obeisance offered. This song was set to Raga Bagesri. After the bhajan is completed, what follows is a Raga Jhinjhoti kirtana, which uses the ma of Bagesri and equates that as the Sa of the new raga Jhinjhoti. It is not a popular idea for traditional Indian musicians. The Jhinjhoti kirtan that follows was based of a special kirtan that was sung at my mundane-samskara at age one that Sacinandana Swami, Krsna Ksetra prabhu, and Navina Nirada prabhu sang. It was one of those kirtans that I wouldn’t forget. In order to bring back memories and share them with the world, I decided to try this kirtan.

 

4. Jaya Radha Vallabha Jaya Radha Vinoda

Instruments: Tanpura, Esraj, Kartal, Tabla

One of Jaya Radha Madhava’s similar songs is Jaya Radha Vallabha Jaya Radha Vinoda, as both of them sing and glorify Krsna’s name. This was originally written by Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Not many A rare choice of Raga Purvi was used as another form of an evening raga. Many musicians will use Puriya Dhanasri, but hardly anyone will examine the haunting nature of Purvi with the subtle downgrade use of the two madhyams. Unlike all of the vocal tracks of this album, this track does not include a harmonium.

 

5. Bol Hari Bol

Instruments: Tanpura, Khol, Tabla, Swarmandal, Bansuri, Esraj, Harmonium, Kartal, Sitar

Another song from the Gitavali is “Bol Hari Bol.” Like Jaya Jaya Jagannatha Sacira Nandana, this melody composed was the original melody of the song. I tried to arrange the first part in a mellow Bengali kirtan, without speeding too quickly to today’s standards. After the sitar interlude, the tala goes to a 6/8 speed where dadra tala play inside the original eight-matra kaherva cycle. After singing the last verse of Bol Hari Bol and doing a few mahamantras, I switched back to a double layakari kaherva tala. Also features is a small alap including the verse from Brhan Naradiya Purana: “harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam kalau nastyev nastyev nastyev gatir anyatha.” This is the final vocal track from Sandhya Sadhana.

 

6. Raga Misra Pilu Ragamala

Instruments: Vina, Tabla

Based off of Pandit Ram Narayan’s famous sarangi performance of Raga Misra Pilu Ragamala, I decided to improvise my own renditions of Raga Misra Pilu and possible ragas for a good ragamala. The reason why Misra Pilu could be a good start and finish of a raga for a ragamala is because almost every note can be considered a part of the scale. Even though Kafi thāt notes and shuddha ni are the main notes of Raga Misra Pilu, other notes typically thrown in there. The tala on the tabla is Kaherva tala.

 

7. Raga Bhupali Dhun

Instruments: Vina, Khol

To conclude the evening’s ensemble of evening and night ragas with bhajans for evening meditation is a guitar-vina rendition of Raga Bhupali with Bangla ektal on the khol.

 

ATARAXIS (2006):

Another meditative collection of recordings I did this year was named “Ataraxis.” Ataraxis means “freedom of worry and anxiety.” The main theme of these recordings is to hear the way instruments sing on their own according to their ragas. The general tunes are based on various mahamantra tunes or devotional song tunes that I have heard before. It’s very free and open ended as far as adherence to ragas is concerned. There are four characters in Ataraxis: the santoor, the guitar-vina, mayuri vina, and the show-stealer esraj. Also starring tabla and special appearance of khol and pakhawaj! In Ataraxis, musical instruments are treated like performers in their own right.

 

1. Vandanam

Ataraxis starts off with the first track which improvised loosely on Raga Khamaja. The tune is based off of the singing of slokas or Vedic verses. The esraj takes the first turn, while the guitar-vina takes over afterwards.

 

2. Duality of Rajasthan

Rajasthan is one of the most studied subcultures within in India. One of their famous art forms is the singing of the mand. The mand is based off Raga Mand and contains topics about nature, human emotions, and devotional and folk stories. This track has pakhawaj playing free-style of dipchandi with mayuri vina playing. Mayuri vina is a bass esraj, commonly known as a taus in Punjabi community.

 

3. Morning Meditation

“Morning Meditation” is based off of Raga Lalita. Raga Lalita is often debated as a late night or early morning raga as its prahar is at 3 AM. The Lalita presented here is in Marwa ang. Most musicians prefer playing the song in Purvi-anga with the komal dha. However, in my opinion, Lalita with suddha dha has a dreamy complex between the late night and early morning paradox.

 

4. Kashmiri Nightfall

After leaving the primarily day mood of the first three tracks, we enter the next four tracks in the evening and night mood. This is a quiet piece of rupak tala of seven beats accompanying the special solo of the santoor in Raga Kirwani, known to Western musicians as the harmonic minor. The gat composition of this song is based on the bhajan “Sri Guru Carana Kamal Bhaja Mana.”

 

5. Welcome to the Royal Court of Krsna

The regal feel of this track was due to Raga Darbari. The entire track was inspired by Riksaraja prabhu’s composition of Ujjvala Varana from his 1978 album, Reservoir of Pleasure. The song was based in Raga Darbari Kanhada with sarangi, sitar, and sarod accompanying him. Since Ataraxis has musicians singing their own methods of chanting, the bowed esraj introduces the next special performance of the guitar-vina, who appeared at the Vandanam track. The regal mood was to please the head of the Highest Royal Court: the court of Krsna. Tintal was played on tabla.

 

6. Bengali Monsoon Rains Kafi Colors

The monsoon feeling is introduced through this track. Based on the main raga of this track (Raga Megha – “monsoon raga”), the subtle changes in notes bring unique colors. This track takes each color produced and displays them all together to form a rainbow. As Raga Megha is a Kafi thāt raga, a ragamala was introduce to bring about the various differences and similarities between other Kafi ragas. Unlike most classical recordings, this was accompanied by a Bengali drum, the khol or mridanga, playing the twelve matra cycle of Bangla ektal.

 

7. Separation

Per tradition, most musical shows end with Raga Bhairavi. Sometimes, the manner of how all the performers interact for the final piece also changes. This final track is a duet performance between the esraj and the tabla. The esraj sings the versatile raga Bhairavi with many angles to show the mood of parting away and being separated. Once the tabla enters in a looped Kaherva prakar, the esraj recalls memories of the past tunes and a cameo of the song Bhaja Hu Re Mana. This lengthy track ends the highly meditational evening.

 

UPDATED: July 10, 2009