A sarod rendition of Raga Bhimpalasi

The Darbar Festival is an annual Indian classical music festival held in the UK, and their YouTube channel has some really high-quality performances by a variety of artists; both instrumental and vocal, Hindustani and Carnatic.

This video features a rising sarod player, Debasmita Bhattacharya. She is playing Raga Bhimpalasi, which according to the Hindustani tradition is an afternoon raga. To make it even more visually appealing, it was recorded at a medieval (16th-18th century) Vishnu temple in Guptipara, West Bengal.

The ascending scale of Bhimpalasi
The descending scale of Bhimpalasi (source)

From Wikipedia: “The sarod is a lute-like stringed instrument of India, used mainly in Indian classical music. Along with the sitar, it is among the most popular and prominent instruments in Hindustani classical music. The sarod is known for a deep, weighty, introspective sound, in contrast with the sweet, overtone-rich texture of the sitar, with sympathetic strings that give it a resonant, reverberant quality. It is a fretless instrument able to produce the continuous slides between notes known as meend (glissandi), which are important in Indian music.

The sarod is believed by some to have descended from the Afghan rubab, a similar instrument originating in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The word sarod roughly translates to “beautiful sound” or “melody” in Persian, one of the many languages spoken in Afghanistan.

Among the many conflicting and contested histories of the sarod, there is one that attributes its invention to the ancestors of the present-day sarod maestro, Amjad Ali Khan. Amjad Ali Khan’s ancestor Mohammad Hashmi Khan Bangash, a musician and horse trader, came to India with the Afghan rubab in the mid-18th century, and became a court musician to the Maharajah of Rewa (now in Madhya Pradesh). It was his descendants, notably his grandson Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash, a court musician in Gwalior, who changed the rubab into the sarod we know today.”

The greatest sarod players alive today are Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and his sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan. I saw them perform in Seattle in 2014 in an interesting concert that first featured them playing purely Hindustani music, and then with a Middle Eastern music ensemble. I remember that concert was the first time I didn’t fall asleep during an alaap — the long, slow improvisation of a raga. Truly, one of the milestones in my journey in Indian classical music. 🙂


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