Coming Down the Musical Notes

You may have observed that when people speak about the sport of mountaineering, they talk about climbing a mountain. The climber has to come back safely of course, but the challenge, excitement and fame have to do with the climb, not the descent. In the sport of skiing, on the other hand, the challenge is in the coming down. To achieve that, the skier has to be put at a height on a hill, perhaps with the help of a chairlift or ski lift, sometimes even by a helicopter.

On a simplistic level, the world of music too involves going up and down, something that is done on notes. We play instruments or sing, going up and down, using the notes of the octave, and this can happen over one octave or even more of them, depending on the singer’s range or then of the instrument’s. In the western scale, an octave is considered to be composed of the notes Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. The sharps and flats are there of course, as also the microtones, but the ones just mentioned are the main notes. In Hindustani, the grouping is called saptak, meaning a clutch of 7, the notes being Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. But often, for convenience of division, which we will just see, we too add the eighth note, ie, the Sa in the next upper register. That makes it Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa.

Now in Hindustani shastriya sangeet (classical music), they have a concept of two halves, one half called purvaang, and the other called utaraang. Essentially, if a Hindustani classical raag starts in the first four notes of the octave (Sa Re Ga Ma), and then rises to the higher notes of the saptak, it is called a purvaang-pradhan raag, meaning a raag from the first part. On the other hand, if a raag starts in the upper half of the saptak (Sa Ni Dha Pa), and descends down, it is called utaraang-pradhan (meaning second part, or the part from which we come down) kind of raag. In classical music, because its notes are structured so, raag Yaman is a purvaang kind of tune, while raag Bhairav is the utaraang type. But classical music also needs to worry about vaadi and samvaadi notes (which are like the King and his Chief Minister of a raag, respectively); as such, it also factors in these to arrive at the purvaang-utaraang definition. Luckily for us cinema music people, we need to consider just the primary aspect of the rise or fall start of a song, right away in the mukhda itself.

And so, a song starting from any of these four notes: Sa Re Ga Ma, and then heading up in the mukhda itself is a mountain-climbing, purvaang start song, while any song descending the ski slopes of the saptak, from Sa Ni Dha Pa in the mukhda itself is an utaraang start. This can also include the teevra and komal keys (sharps and flats, respectively). It matters not if the rest of the song goes up or down after that. But wait a minute, that’s not all. There’s more to this. As we know, there are 5 saptaks in full, and sometimes a song’s antara may begin in say the middle octave called madhya saptak, but end up in the next lower register, called mandra saptak. It becomes an utaraang even so. Here’s an example of that:

The Manna Dey song Oopar gagan vishaal neeche gehra paataal (Pradeep/SD Burman/Mashaal, 1950) is clearly an utaraang prakaar song. It starts in the middle register at komal dha, and then flirts with a few notes in the next higher octave. But its cross line, Beech mein dharti waah mere maalik, starts and ends at the ni in the next lower saptak.

If you think about it and listen to a large number of Hindi film songs, you will find that a large percentage of them belong to the purvaang kind. It is very seldom that you find songs fashioned in the utaraang way. Thus, it’s fun spotting them. Here’s a start for you:

  • Aa ri aa ja nindiya tu le chal kaheen (Kishore, Lata, Mehmood/Majrooh/Rajesh Roshan/Kunwara Baap, 1974)
  • Aahen na bhari shikwe na kiye (Zohrabai, Kalyani, Noor Jahan/J Nakhshab/Hafeez Khan/Zeenat, 1945)
  • Aaj na jaane paagal manwa kaahe ko ghabraaye (Kishore/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/Begunah, 1957)
  • Aaja o jaan-e-jaan, mere meherbaan (Asha/Hasrat/Ramlal/Geet Gaya Patharone, 1963)
  • Aaja sanam madhur chaandni mein hum (Lata, Manna Dey/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/Chori Chori, 1956)
  • Aankhon mein kya ji (Asha, Kishore/Majrooh/SD Burman/Nau Do Gyarah, 1957)
  • Baitthi hoon teri yaad ka le kar ke sahaara (Noor Jahan/Wali Saheb/Shyam Sunder/Village Girl, 1945)
  • Balma maane na (Lata/Majrooh/Chitragupt/Opera House, 1961)
  • Beshak mandir masjid todo (Nartendra Chanchal/Inderjit Singh Tulsi/Bobby, 1973)
  • Bol meri taqdeer mein kya hai (Lata, Mukesh/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Hariyali Aur Rasta, 1962)
  • Chaandi ke chund tukdon ke liye (Hemant/Gulshan Bawra/Kalyanji-Anandji/Satta Bazaar, 1959)
  • Chhalia mera naam (Mukesh/Qamar Jalalabadi/Kalyanji-Anandji/Chhalia, 1960)
  • Dildaar ke qadmon mein…aage teri marzi (Lata/Sahir/SD Burman/Devdas, 1955)
  • Door kaheen tu chal (Lata, Rafi/Bharat Vyas/Kalyanji Virji Shah/Bedard Zamana Kya Jaane, 1959)
  • Door papiha bola (Suraiya/GS Nepali/Anil Biswas/Gajre, 1948)
  • Jab dil ko sataave gham (Lata, Saraswati Rane/PL Santoshi/C Ramchandra/Sargam, 1950)
  • Jahaan main jaati hoon waheen chale aate ho (Manna Dey, Lata/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Chori Chori, 1956)
  • Jhoome re neela ambar jhoome (Talat/Shailendra/Salil Chowdhury/Ek Gaon Ki Kahani, 1957)
  • Kahe jhoom jhoom raat ye suhaani (Lata/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Love Marriage, 1959)
  • Kal naheen paaye jiya (Lata/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Chhoti Si Mulaqat, 1967)
  • Koi mere sapnon mein aaya (Lata/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/New Delhi, 1956)
  • Lambi judaai…Chaar dinaan da pyaar O Rabba (Reshma/Anand Bakshi/Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Hero, 1983)
  • Man mor hua matwaala (Suraiya/Narendra Sharma/SD Burman/Afsar, 1950)
  • Ramchandra keh gaye Siya se (Mahendra/Rajinder Krishan/Kalyanji-Anandji/Gopi, 1970)
  • Rootth ke tum to chal diye (Lata/Qamar Jalalabadi/Anil Biswas/Jalti Nishaani, 1957)
  • Shikaayat kya karoon dono taraf gham ka fasaana hai (Lata/Shakeel/Ghulam Mohammad/Kundan, 1955)
  • Tumhen aur kya doon main dil ke siwaaye (Lata/Hasrat/Shankar-Jaikishan/Aayi Milan Ki bela, 1964)
  • Udke pawan ke rang chaloongi (Lata/Majrooh/Laxmikant-Pyarelal/Shagird, 1963)
  • Unse pyaar ho gaya (Lata/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Baadal, 1951)
  • Wo na ayenge palat kar (Mubarak Begum/Sahir/SD Burman/Devdas, 1955)
  • Ye raat bheegi bheegi (Lata Mangeshkar, Manna Dey/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Chori Chori, 1956)
  • Ye to kaho kaun ho tum (Mukesh/Shailendra/Shankar-Jaikishan/Aashiq, 1962)

An utaraang start is not to be confused with songs that begin on a high with lines that are not part of the actual song. Such detached-from-the-narrative openers are like ushers in a cinema hall. Just as ushers only lead us to our seats for the coming experience, these harbingers only take us to the actual song. Example: Maut kabhi bhi mil sakti hai, which is the high-notes usher for the song Raat bhar ka hai mehmaan andhera (Rafi, Asha/Sahir Ludhianvi/OP Nayyar/Sone Ki Chidiya, 1958). Same for Na poochho pyaar ki humne jo haqeeqat dekhi…which is the usher announcing the actual song, Sab kuchh luta ke hosh mein aaye to kya kiya (Lata/Prem Dhawan/Ravi/Ek Saal, 1957). This last song has a Talat version too. Interestingly, in that version, the usher, Karte rahe khizaan se hum sauda bahaar ka, has a rising, purvaang start! Amazing openings in both!


In a music class, a young shishya asks her teacher, ”Ma’am, in the song Oopar gagan vishaal, the words go on to say, neechhe gehra paataal, beech mein dharti waah mere maalik…I noticed that the composer started the ‘oopar and ‘neeche words on the same note, while he started the ‘beech mein’ at a much lower note. Would it have made more sense if ‘oopar’, ‘beech mein’ and ‘neeche’ had cascaded down musically too?” The guru says, “I wouldn’t worry about that. In dictionaries, divorce comes before marriage, so please chill”.


Featured image: from Lambi judaayi

Originally published in DNA Jaipur on 18 November 2018 page 13

4 thoughts on “Coming Down the Musical Notes

  1. Kya likha hai Manek Premchand .

    This essay is usually the lecture from a Guru to Shishya- who wants to learn classical music.

    And what a connect you have exemplified with climbing of mountains and skiing .

    Too good too precious

    Take a bow SIR

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