Raga Bilaskhani Todi - a tribute to Tansen!

Posted on 28 March, 20214 min read

Bilas Khan, an acclaimed singer, son and disciple of the legendary Tansen, is often credited as the creator of the Raga Bilaskhani Todi. The story goes that when Tansen died, Bilas Khan sang this Raga so emotionally and beautifully that Tansen stirred! And it came to be called Bilaskhani Todi.

Let us first look at the basic scale of the Raga. Please refer to the Program Notes below for the notation.

Scale - Sa re ga ma Pa dha ni

Now for the facts. As per most records, Tansen died in 1586. Indian musical system was highly evolved by then. We already had a sophisticated Jati-Murchhana system of music, through which many jatis (modern day Raga equivalents) were created. The scale of Bilaskhani Todi is the first Murchhana of Shadaj Gram. In other words, it can be derived by simply moving the Graha Swara (home note or starting note) to the Rishabh of Shadaj Gram. This murchhana, “Re ga ma Pa Dha ni Sa Re”, when moved to Sa becomes “Sa re ga ma Pa dha ni”. It seems highly unlikely to me that this scale was new to the Indian musical system at that time.

In my understanding, what could have possibly happened is the following. Bilas Khan was definitely a very acclaimed musician, and it is possible that on his father’s death, he did sing a very moving Todi. As a mark of honour to his singing, the Raga started to be called Bilaskhani Todi.

This scale is one of the desya ragas mentioned in Southern India literature of 17th century, and has always been just called Todi. The melakarta name for nomenclature purposes is called Hanumatodi.

In this session, I perform a Pallavi in Raga Bilaskhani Todi. I am privileged to be accompanied by Pandit Sanjay Agle for this session. Sanjay Agle is a master Pakhawaj player coming from a family and tradition of Pakhawaj players. His grandfather Ambadas Agle was a legendary pakhawaj player. Sanjay Agle learnt from his father Kalidas Agle, and another renowned pakhawaj player Swami Pagaldas. His sister Chitrangana is also a very well known Pakhawaj player.

Program Notes

Pallavi (composition) in Raga Bilaskhani Todi set to Chautala

Pallavi is a melodic phrase or lyrics set to a fixed set of beats in a rhythmic cycle. The improvisation here is creating interesting rhythm based melodic patterns while maintaining the framework of the Raga. This part of the performance is accompanied by Pakhawaj.

Here are some notes about the Raga and the Tala.

Raga - Bilaskhani Todi

Scale - Sa re ga ma Pa dha ni

Family - Todi

Melakarta - Hanumatodi (Sa re ga ma Pa dha ni)

Prahar - 1st prahar (equivalent to 6 AM - 9 AM)

Reading the scale

In Indian Classical Music, the seven notes in an octave are called Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni and then Sa comes again. Notes with a capitalised first letter are called Tivra (or sharp) notes. This scale does not have any Tivar notes. Notes written fully in lower case are called Komal (or flat) notes. E.g., re and ga above. Sa and Pa are always written with a capitalized first letter.


In Indian Classical Music, Ragas are classified into Prahars (time periods of a day or night) which are said to represent the most appropriate time to perform the Raga.

About the Tala

Chautala has 12 beats split as 4 + 4 + 2 + 2 denoted by solfas or syllables representing various rhythmic patterns. The basic solfas of Chautala are given below.

Tala - Chautala

Beats - 12 (4+4+2+2)

Solfas - Dha Dha Dhin Ta | ThiTa Dha Dhin Ta | ThiTa KatTa | GaDhi GaNa |



Chandraveena - S Balachander

Pakhawaj - Sanjay Agle


Sadharani Music Works - https://www.sadharani.com

The full video recording of this performance is available at https://youtu.be/SGNUq_OJjaU.

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