The fláme – and it was no còmmon
Fláme, but rather Agni incarnáte –
Rose róse as the music fell
From the sínger’s sweltering lips.
Insìde, the furnàce of his throat
Was alchemizing air to góld-
Mùsic of dìvíne degree;
And stìll the fire róse and róse
Around the singer’s blazing throat
And limb by limb encovered him
In whose one eye was couchèd death
And in the other rhapsody.
Raag Mēgh Malhār
Fall fall fall fall and falling fall
And falling fall again.
Drink all the seven seas and fáll
For my fáther’s filled with flame.
Fall for my song, fall to my plea,
Fáll for my father’s life
Depends on me
And I depend on you.
Fall waterfall and flood this fire,
Fall fight and fill the flame.
Fall fall fall fall until my father’s full
And the flame no more remains.
1. Agni (ug-nee): The deva associated with fire in Hindu mythology. The Sanskrit word also simply means ‘fire’.
2. Rāga (raah-gaah): Roughly, a sequence of swara-s that together form a melody. Raag is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.
3. Mēgha (may-ghuh): One of several words for ‘cloud’ in Sanskrit. Mēgh is how it is usually pronounced in the north of India.
4. Swara (swuh-raah): One of the seven notes of the Indic musical scale: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.
5. Jugalbandi (jugal-bun-thee): Used to describe a Hindustani classical music duet. The duet can be either vocal or instrumental. Accurately, this does not so much begin as a jugalbandi as it becomes one.
Raag Deepak and Raag Mēgh Malhār:
An (apocryphal) story tells of how the medieval Mughal emperor, Akbar was tricked into ordering Tānsēn – a legendary Hindustani Classical musician – to sing Raag Deepak, a raga capable of producing fire. A sublime singer, Tansen knows that doing so will mean setting himself aflame; so he asks for a month’s time and teaches his daughter to sing Raag Mēgh Malhār, a raga capable of bringing rain.
On the appointed day at the appointed time, Tansen begins his rendition of Raag Deepak and, as he loses himself in the music, conjures up the expected fire – that begins to circle and engulf him.
On cue, his daughter – nervous and quavering – begins her rendition of Raag Megh Malhar. For a time it seems as though Tansen has not taught her well enough, but just as the flames begin to singe him, she breaks through, the skies open and down pours life-giving water.
In this pair of poems (written in 2015), I have attempted to describe Tansen’s state of musical ecstasy as also the urgency of his daughter’s musical plea. (I must admit, however, that I am unfamiliar with the melodic progression of either raga.)