The 'Abhang' holds its own

The 'Abhang' holds its own

The conservative classical music connoisseurs of both Carnatic and Hindustani traditions may have their reservations about the 'light' devotional songs, the 'tukkadas,' and the 'bhajans', that are part of the concert experience, but audiences love them.

The 'Marathi Abhang' found its way on the classical stage through this route but for many a classicist, they have their own distinguished tradition and are an integral part of 'raga music'.

The Bharatiya Samagana Sabha's ninth annual festival 'Svaralankara' at Chowdiah Memorial Hall starts with an exclusive 'Santavani' (words of the saints) concert by Hindustani vocalist Sangeetha Katti on January 17.
The festival will end on January 21, with a vocal concert by Carnatic sister-duo Ranjani-Gayatri who are known for their rendering of 'Abhangs' in the Carnatic tradition.

These devotional songs are sung in traditional tunes in the 'Varkari Sampradaya' by pilgrims on their way to Pandharpur. "But when musicians started singing these devotional songs on the concert platform, they had to apply their knowledge of 'raags' to these compositions," says Katti.

Ranjani-Gayatri say that when they set tunes to 'Abhangs', they add their own touches, "especially in our single raga-based approach and singing 'Taans' (fast 'Akaara' flourishes) towards the end. We try not to change the raga in an 'Abhang', barring a few touches."

What makes the renditions of these 'Abhangs' classically appealing is often the 'rasa' or emotion that they convey through the raga. The way an artiste looks at God, can change the 'rasa' felt both by the singer and the listener. "There are different ways in which a composer or a musician 'bhakta' might look at God as a friend, father, a child, or a companion like Meera did. It all depends on the performer's mood," says Katti.

Ranjani-Gayatri have changed the way the 'Abhang' is treated in a Carnatic concert to great appreciation from their 'rasikas'.
"We have definitely tried to change the standard 'tukkada' approach, which is rendering a few sweet simple songs towards the end of a concert. We maintain the 'spontaneous improvisation' through the tail end section. No two renditions of an 'Abhang' are the same, unlike a typical 'tukkada'. We believe creativity, spontaneity, voice control, emotive singing, and passion create a reciprocal joy and thrill in the rasikas' hearts," say the sisters.

Ranjani-Gayatri grew up in Mumbai when during the time of 'Aashada Ekadashi', the streets would echo with the magic of 'Abhangs'. Many years later in 2001, a chance meeting with Vishwas Shirgaonkar, a world bank official and Hindustani music enthusiast, resulted in them learning a couple of 'Abhangs', including 'Bhooth Mote'.

"We first presented this in concert in 2001, and the response was absolutely staggering. 'Rasikas' simply loved it, and thus we started introducing 'Abhangs' as the last piece in a concert, to heighten the feeling of joy and exhilaration at the closure of a concert. Content-wise, with its strong devotional core, it is a natural part of the Carnatic repertoire. The Carnatic concert is all about fusing melody, classicism, beautiful lyrics, rhythm with 'bhakti'. An 'Abhang' is all this," say Ranjani-Gayatri.

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