Raga Bhairavi


Bhairavi is immediately familiar to most listeners because of its fixed place in Hindustani music as the concluding raga of a performance. Although it is not a mandatory practice, it is often performed as a finale, in whatever genre the artist feels inspired to do so. It is a morning raga, but because of this practice it is sung at all times of day. Bhairavi is a popular raga that has become a cornerstone of Hindustani classical music and all genres of Indian music.

Bhairavi is unique because it contains all the twelve shrutis in its scale – the only raga that has this feature. In its sampurna aroha and avoroha, the swaras are: S R (komal) G (komal) M P D (komal) N (komal). Shuddha Re, Ga, Dha, and Ni, as well as tivra Ma, all fall under the purview of the raga even though they are not in the original aroha and avaroha scales. These vivadi swaras are also part of the identity of the raga, and are not to be shied away from in their usage.

Most compositions in Bhairavi are drut bandishes, or are part of the semi-classical repertoire. One of the most famous khayals in Bhairavi is “Bhavani Dhayani,” popularized by Begum Parveen Sultana. It is a sadra composed by Pandit Bhatkhande, set to jhap taal, describing the goddess Devi, who is associated with Bhairavi. Drut bandishes abound, such as “Payaliya Bajare Mora Saiyyan,” and “Kaisi yeh bhalayire,” in Teen Taal.  “Ab na maro phul gaindava,” by Pandit S.N. Ratanjankar is a playful bandish. Abdul Karim Khan’s “Jamuna ke teer,” is a classic that has become associated with the doyen of the Kirana Gharana. The thumri, “Babul Mora Naihar Chhuto Hi Jaaye,” is a peak of Bhairavi in emotion, lyrics, and raga usage. Composed by the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, it describes his great sadness in his powerlessness over the loss of his kingdom to the British. Many artists have rendered with tremendous grit and suffering, including Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Siddeshwari Devi, Kesarbai Kerkar, Smt Kishori Amonkar, and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, just to name a few. It is perhaps most known from the 1930’s film, “Street Singer,” as sung by K.L. Saigal.

Bhairavi is a musical storehouse for the film music industry. “Aaiye dil tujhe,” from the film “Dulari” is sung by Lata Mangeshkar. She has also sung “Tumhi ho Mata” from “Main chup rahungi,” and “Tu Pyar Kare” from the film “Dekh Kabira Roya.” From the film “Anuradha,” Pandit Ravi Shankar composed the song “Saavare Saavare” for which Lataji has lent her voice as well. From “Shola Aur Shabnam,” she and Mohammed Rafi have sung “Jeet Hi Lenge.”  The list knows no ends.

The Carnatic music equivalent of Bhairavi is Sindhu Bhairavi, which also employs all the twelve shrutis.


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