Raga Gunji-Kauns – inspired by a ghazal

Raga Gunji-Kauns is the creation of the eminent sitarist, Arvind Parikh, the senior most disciple of Ustad Vilayat Khan. He has performed it on the radio at least 20 times since 1975, and perhaps as many times at concerts. Nothwithstanding the maturation of the melodic idea in the creator's mind, the flowering of its "raga-ness" will require several generations of competent musicians to work on it. Even though a couple of his students have begun to perform this raga, Gunji-Kauns is still an "infant" in the universe of ragas. It is, however, interesting as an example of how ragas are born.

Gunji-Kauns is a compound Raga, dovetailing the phraseologies of Malgunji and Malkauns. But, this is not how it was conceived. The Raga has its origins in a fleeting exposure to a famous Ghazal of the Pakistani singer, Mehdi Hassan. Parikh was captivated by the poetic and melodic poignancy of the opening line: 

Lyrics: "Tum aae ho, to shabe intezaar guzri hai"

Skeletal notation: S G M n d/ d M G P/ P G M G/ R S d

It occurred to Parikh that the pathos of the melody could be enhanced if a Komal/flat Ga could be added to the Shuddha (Natural) Ga in the descent. So, he modified the first line of the Ghazal as follows: S G M n d/ d M G P/ P G M g/ g R S d.

From this point onwards, he found that the musical idea started taking the shape of Malgunji in the lower tetrachord, and Malkauns in the upper tetrachord. So, he christened it Gunji-Kauns. 

Broadly, Malgunji, the base Raga, has elements of Rageshri in the ascent, and Bageshri in the descent. In the mid-octave region, its treatment has shades of Jaijaiwanti. All three are late evening Ragas. When a shade of Malkauns is added, the Rageshri facet of Malgunji is subdued. The compound Raga acquires a touch of pathos, and its late-evening haracter is further strengthened.

Malgunji : Ascent: S G M d N S N S/ Descent: n D P M G M g R

Malkauns: Ascent: S G M d n S/ Descent: S n d M G S

Gunji-Kauns has to be understood as a dovetailing of phraseologies, rather than a marriage of scales.

Gunji-Kauns: Phraseology:

M. d. n. S (from Malkauns)

R n. S R G (from Malgunji)

S G M P

G M R G P M (from Malgunji)

G M d M G P (Malkauns + Malgunji)

d n d M G P (Malkauns + Malgunji)

G M d n S' (from Malkauns)

S d n d M P (Malkauns + Malgunji)

P G M g R (from Malgunji)

M g R S (from Malgunji)

The process of fusing phraseologies requires the building of linkages between them. The linkages create dangers of pushing the Raga, unintentionally, into the shadows of other existing Ragas. In different regions of the melodic canvas, this compound raga risks confusion with Nat Bhairav, Darbari Kanada, and Jaijaiwanti. The Raga has, therefore, to be navigated skillfully.

To audiences cultivated in the Carnatic tradition, Parikh's Gunji Kauns could suggest a shadow of the Carnatic Raga Charukeshi. Parikhs’s phrasing strategy ensures that the risk of confusing one for the other is made negligible. In any event, Charukeshi is a minor issue considering that the Hindustani adaptation of the Carnatic Raga has spawned several variants.

In Parikh’s opinion, the structure of the raga is such that you can creatively develop melodic phrases from any note of the raga. This, he believes, is not very commonly possible with many ragas.

Parikh, an astute musicologist, is aware that, the new Ragas to emerge during the last 50 years, have had a high rate of infantile mortality. Parikh, and musicians of similar stature, are driven by the urge to give expression to their distinctive musical vision. To them, it does not matter if they themselves are destined to be the first and the last performers of their creations.

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