(Read Kapi - Reflection, the previous article in The Raga Series)
It is very fascinating (and also quite absurd to me) how far we humans go for love. From romantic gestures to cold-blooded murder, love is probably one of the most compelling tools of the human mind. I believe love has invigorated some of the greatest pieces of art in the world – music, literature, photography, poetry, media, and so on. However, when I say that the raga Behag elicits the emotion of love, I don’t necessarily mean the very sentiment, but rather what comes as a result of it. This may sound complex, so let me explain.
The first song in cinema music that I could correlate with Behag was Malargal Ketten from the movie Oh Kadhal Kanmani. The movie came out in 2015 and as a teenager at the time, I consumed a lot of tragic love stories. Inevitably, I also ended up listening to a lot of gloomy, unhappy music. Soon, I was accustomed to listening to only this class of music and my playlists were flooded. Even when an occasional song of another genre came up, I would pause it, less than a minute into the song.
This is why I can still recollect how I responded when I first listened to Malargal Ketten. To my surprise, I did not hit pause on this happy pill of a song. I am still unsure as to why I decided to not move to the next tragic song I could get my hands on. It could've just been Chitra’s incredible voice, the simplistic lyrics beautifully woven together, or it could simply be the fact that I discerned that the song was based on a raga that I had listened to very recently (Behag). Nevertheless, this song is what brought me out of the blue-songs phase. People say that when you fall in love, you feel warm, protected and happy. I think of it like a blanket wrapped around me on a chilly night. That’s how Behag made me feel then. So, not only does Behag give me love, but also little doses of all its spin-offs.
Behag in Carnatic music is derived from the Hindustani raga Bihag. It is a janya raga (child raga) of the 29th melakartha raga Dheera Shankarabharanam. The aarohana and avarohana of raga Behag are as follows:
Aa: S G3 M1 P N3 D2 S
Ava: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 M1 G3 R2 S
It is interesting to note that Behag makes use of both madhyamams, (i.e) M1 in aarohana and M1 and M2 in avarohana, while its parent raga Shankarabharanam only has M1 in its structure. This could be attributed to the fact that Behag is a borrowed variety of the Hindustani Bihag. There also no compositions in Behag from the Holy Trinity, which could stand to say that the raga is recent and probably not of Carnatic origin.
Owing to Behag’s ability to melt the listener’s heart, it is extensively used in RTP’s (Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi), Viruthams, Padams, Javalis, and of course, film music.
I have listened to more than a few Tamil Carnatic compositions in Behag. Personally, this was a delight because as much as I love listening to Carnatic compositions in Telugu or Kannada or Sanskrit, the musical experience is entirely different when I understand the sahithyam (lyrics). My favourite in Behag is the song “Muruganin marupeyar azhagu” by Guru Surajananda, very powerful in words and tune. If you want to listen to my other Carnatic picks of Behag, refer to the recommendation list at the end of this article.
Behag has been used splendidly in cinema music as well. It would surprise one to know that songs like Mudhal Murai from Sangamam and Suttum vizhi sudar dan from Kandukondein Kandukondein are adaptations of Behag. You can refer to the list at the end to listen to more such cinema songs in Behag’s shades.
Behag was probably the first-ever raga that I began thinking about in relation to a specific emotion. In one of my previous articles on Reethi Gowla, I discussed how charismatic the raga is. In retrospect, I think I inferred this opinion on Reethi Gowla only from Behag. The feelings that these two ragas prompt were strikingly alike to me even until a few months ago. But as I started listening to more of Behag in recent weeks, I have come to recognise how they differ. To me, Reethi Gowla’s rasa is a subset of Behag’s. Like how love is inclusive of romance. Reethi Gowla can enthrall you and make your insides feel soft. It excites you. Behag, on the other hand, is more subtle and sublime. Satisfaction predominates passion and thrill in Behag. It was an interesting process for me in perceiving this difference, thanks to the Raga Series.
With that in mind, I would like to dedicate this piece of writing to all that I hold dear, and in particular, to my Kanna, who has shown me love like Behag has. I hope that you too find love and happiness in the music that Behag brings to you through this article.
Carnatic compositions in Behag:
1. Muruganin marupeyar azhagu by Guru Surajananda
2. Ithudano Thillai Sthalam
3. Irakkam Varaamal Ponadhenna
4. Aadum Chidambaramo
(2,3,4 composed by Gopalakrishna Bharathi)
(5,6 composed by Swati Thirunal)
7. Sankara nin karunai by Neelakanta Sivan
8. Kalpagaambikai neeyallavo by Papanasam Sivan
Behag in Cinema music:
1. Malargal Keten from OK Kanmani
2. Suttum vizhi sudar dan from Kandukonden Kandukonden
3. Mudhal Murai from Sangamam
4. Thamizhukkum Amudendru Per from Panchavarna Kili
5. Kai veenayai from Vietnam Colony
6. Kalvare from Raavanan
7. Koi gaata mei so jaata from Alaap
8. Zindagi ke safar mei from Aapki kasam
9. Tere sur aur mere geet from Goonj Uthi Shehnai
(7,8,9 are in Hindustani Bihag)
The Raga Series intends to elucidate on the Raga-Rasa relationship to make your listening experience more enjoyable. The author does not guarantee that the recommended songs are composed only based on the raga. The series is based on the author’s views and is purely subjective. Music tracks are shared for your quick reference and their rights belong to their respective owners.