g Raag Megh Malhar

Raag Megh Malhar

5 July 2020

Copyright © 1993- Ganesh H. Shankar

Megh Malhar

I guess music of monsoon can be heard everywhere now. My dear friends at CNP, Nevil and team, came up with a lovely monthly theme for CNP - "Raag Malhar". What a beautiful theme! Raag Malhar, a classical Raag of Hindustani music depicts clouds and rains. About 8 years ago I posted a thread on music and photography on CNP trying to draw some parallels between different ragas in Hindustani classical music and the mood we want to generate in some of the images we create by carefully managing the tonal ranges. I take this opportunity to revisit this again, this time with the focus on the CNP's monthly theme Raag Malhar. Fortunately I found an amazing youtube video where musician Mrs. Sawani beautifully characterised Raag Megh Malhar. She has nicely articulated very subtle differences it has when compared to another Raag named Madhmad Sarang, interestingly having same musical notes. However the difference I understand is in how these same notes move with other notes in these two ragas creating a very different expression. Please listen to Mrs. Sawani in the embedded video below.

Now, is there anything we can learn as photographers from this? I think, a lot. To me the answer lies in tonal treatment that we care about in our images, more so when we intend to print them. The theme, "Raag Malhar" is a perfect example to illustrate this I guess. Let me make an attempt. However, before that I kindly request you to spend 1/2 hour of your quality time on this below video. If not half an hour, just a few minutes, in particular between, 3:16s to 7:47s. I thoroughly enjoyed it, hats off to the musician and her fine articulation of nuances of the raaga.

Mrs. Sawani Shende-Sathye articulating nuances of Malhar
(Embedded as is from Youtube)

You may carefully listen to her wonderful articulations between the time interval, 3:16s to 7:47s and also observe the personifications! In particular I quote her following words:

"Ri..Ma.Pa.Ni....Ni..." This indicates gathering of clouds which happens gradually, that is depicted by 'komal nishadh'."
"Nishad is not alone in Meg Malhar, unlike it is in Madmadh Sarang"
"It is quite up right in its appearance"
"In hindustani we call this andolan.."
"and number of oscillations we try for singing nishad.."
"Ni comes with its companion shadaj"
"Mega Malhar is a raga which finds its beauty in mandra saptak also"

Why are these lines important to us? They have parallels in our visual grammar - tones and structure. Carefully listen to the movement of notes in her rendition that follows. I see this in monsoon clouds.

"Distinctive feature of Malhar, any type of Malhar is...this is again matched by...Ma.Ri..Ni.Ni.Sa..."

Excellent, listen to her! For me this part of the rendition clearly depicts the slowly gathered cloud. Hats off to her for the fine articulation.

The summary is, I think, all the wonderful and subtle points she made about temporal arrangements and repetition of notes is very much applicable to us as photographers. While time is an important ingredient of the grammar of music, for us, the photographers, it is space. The spatial distribution of tonal ranges is what we can play with. Ansel Adams was very good at meticulously rendering these tones in his prints.

I made this short video clip below to draw some parallel between what musician said and the "Raag Malhar" that we want to explore as an image. Please see whether you can go through this below video clip with some embedded commentary and see if some of those makes any sense. Yes, there is a subjectivity in these discussions which I hope we can live with.

An important submission, please note this is not a scientific study by any stretch of imagination. This is how I tried to relate music to photography and possibly learn a few things from musicians that I can use in my own photography. If any of you have better explanations I would love to learn from you. In the video, I also refer to a small image file showing musical scale and tonal ranges. Here it is, in the video it may not be very clear.

Comparing the grammar - Notes vs. Tones

Fine Art Nature Photography - What can we learn from musicians?

Which one of these two images below appears like "Megh Malhar" to your senses?

To me it is the latter. It seem to have a smaller gamut/notes compared to the first one. Further, drawing inspiration from Mrs. Sawani's characterization of Megh Malhar, "Ni" and "Sa" appears to be together in the sky (recalling what she said, “Ni comes with its companion Shadaj”) and tones are clustered in "mandra saptak" flowers too!!

Just wondering, in music with far fewer notes a musician can create such an emotional impact (and as she mentioned, Megh Malhar has only 5 notes). I feel ashamed that even if I have a huge gamut of tones to play with I can't effectively manage the mood. Is this a problem of plenty (of notes/tones)? Or, does the problem lies in targeted receptor, ears vs. eyes? Or with me as a photographer? I don't hesitate to conclude it is with me! If sound/music can convey monsoon mood an image should be able to do it more easily. Or, is it?

Megh Malhar - Some of my images

Here are some attempts at reprocessing a few of my images under the influence of "Raag Megh Malhar" in the background. I was listening to Mrs. Sawani's music in the background, "Sawan Ki Rithu Aayore.." from 11:43s to 21:35 and reprocessed these images so that contrast/brightness/shadows/structure goes with the mood of the raag (for my tastebuds). Listen to her comment "this happens because of the absence of shuddh nishad.." at 23:03s. This kind of observation applies very well to us. I think we need to handle our visual grammar (various tones and structure) very carefully. Again, I do understand there is some subjectivity here. After all each one of us are coded slightly differently.

"Sawan Ki Rithu Ayore.."

Thats it for now!

You may want to listen to some of these Megh Malhar renditions (embedded from Youtube as is):

Pt. Bheemsen Joshi - Megh Malhar

Vidushi Smt Veena Sahasrabuddhe - Megh Malhar

Vidushi Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande - Megh Malhar

Pt. Ustad Amir Khan - Raag Megh (Thanks to Ajinkya Khare for sharing this lovely moody rendition)

Virginia Nicoli - Bansuri - Megh Malhar

PS: I have also posted a similar thread (with some changes) ealier on CNP here.

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