Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur,
(Felmay, 2003)

Talk about Indian music and "mesmerizing," "hypnotic" or "meditative" are some of the key associations that come to mind. That is also true for this CD of music by Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur.

Mallikarjun Mansur (1911-1992) was a performer in the so-called Jaipur gharana or musical tradition. He received his training as a singer from the sons of Alladiya Khan (1855-1946), a towering figure of the Indian music scene who was instrumental to the formation of some the most prominent 20th-century vocalists of Hindustani songs. Alladiya Khan came from a long line of court musicians, already performing for the Moghul emperors in the 17th century -- at which time his ancestors also converted to Islam.

Ustad or Khansaheb Alladiya Khan -- as he was often referred to -- would continue in that tradition. Even though, by his lifetime, India had become a British colony, many of the former maharajas and sultans continued as patrons of the arts.

Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur came relatively late to prominence, only starting to catch the limelight in the 1960s. But by then he had already been a child-actor and performer of Carnatic music. Like some of the other giants of the Khayal and Bhajan genres, such as Bhimsen Joshi and Kumar Gandharva, Pandit Mallikarjun hailed from the Dharwad region in the state of Karnataka, located in southern India. As an artist he distinguished himself by the range of his voice and the tremendous control he was able to exercise over his breathing.

On this album, simply titled Khayals, he demonstrates his powers as a vocalist with three compositions, governed by different raag or rhythmic patterns that give Hindustani music -- of which Khayals and Bhajans are the prime examples -- their melodious and fanciful characteristics. This raag feature betrays the Muslim impact on Indian music, because it is not known to traditional Carnatic music for example, but it does exist in Persia. The influence of Persian art and culture in India has been very pervasive from the time of the Moghul emperors onward. And yet it has somehow become seamlessly embedded in Indian music, which has philosophical and religious underpinnings predating Muslim culture by many centuries.

All three Khayals are lengthy, 20-minute pieces greatly challenging the singer's stamina. From the beginning, with a track called "Hun to tore karan," Mallikarjun Mansur impresses the listener with his seemingly effortless command of vocal skills. This opening number is very melodious, and the harmony is even further advanced by the background vocals provided by the star performer's own son and disciple, Rajashekhar Mansur. The plaintive tone of this first raag is associated with the experience of sunrise and is indeed very evocative.

The rendition of "Yamankalyan" is described as a presentation of an evening raag. The rhythm is slower and the Pandit resorts to a more dragged-out enunciation of the lyrics, which is partly achieved by a technique called meend -- sliding over the notes. But it is in the final number of Khayals that the vocalist's skills are tested to the limit. By now we have moved to a night raag titled "Raag Nat Bihag." The key phrase of this number is Jhan Jhan Jhan Payal Baje, which is repeated endlessly. As the song progresses Pandit Mallikarjun Kumar steps up the pace with increasingly difficult tremors of his voice and an exceeding range of octaves.

Khayals is a treasure performance by one of India's most admired Hindustani musicians and it makes for enjoyable listening when in a contemplative mood.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 10 April 2004

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