Mallikāmoda (for voice and chamber ensemble) 

— Duration: c 8′21′′

This piece was commissioned by the Oxford University Music Faculty and was premiered by Ensemble Isis and the Hindustani vocalist and musicologist Dr Shruti Jauhari at the Holywell Music Room in 2018 as part of the inaugural concert for the Sounds of South Asia Series. The piece is intended to be a sonic bridge between early 20th Century French “Orientalism” and Hindustani classical music. 

Mallikāmoda is the name given to the fragrant jasmine flower and is also a character in a lesser-known fable from the Padma Purana, one of the eighteen major Hindu Puranas. The story centres around Vihunda, the son of a demon, who falls in love with a female manifestation of Vishnu. The mysterious lady agrees to marry Vihunda on condition that he worship Śiva with ten million kāmoda flowers. A sage and travelling musician named Nārada informs Vihunda that these flowers manifest from the laughter of a woman named Kāmoda. When she is happy, these fragrant flowers fall from her lips; but when she cries, her tears produce an odourless red flower that should not be touched. 

Nārada convinces Vihunda that he need not go to her directly but can collect the flowers when they float in the River Gaṅgā. However, Vihunda is betrayed when Nārada convinces Kāmoda that Vishnu is about to be born on earth, in one of his incarnations. This thought so depresses Kāmoda that she begins to cry. Flowers pour from her eyes and flow down the Ganges, where Vihunda is waiting. Not realising that these are the flowers from her tears and not her laughter, he gathers them up in order to worship Śiva. This act infuriates the Goddess Parvati so much that she strikes down Vihunda with her sword. 

This piece was developed as a result of a collaboration between Dr Shruti Jauhari and myself. Over a series of Skype meetings, we discussed subjects ranging from time, form, phrase, tone colour, contour, as well as the numerous idiosyncrasies, similarities, and differences between our respective musical traditions.

  Alongside my initial sketches of the piece, I dedicated a certain amount of time each day to researching the history, theory, and performance practices of Hindustani music, as well as listening to repertoire recommended by Dr Jauhari. Given that this work arose from a cross-pollination of ideas, the flower seemed an appropriate subject matter. 

The piece is very loosely modelled on some of the principal formal characteristics of the raga. The harmonic language was created by superimposing different traditional night-time rags. I also used several deśītālas listed in the well-known treaties Saṅgītaratnākara (c.1240 CE) by the musicologist and theorist Śārṅgadeva. My treatment of this material is inescapably Western and not intended to be period- or provenance-authentic in any way. 

As with Maurice Delage’s ‘Quatre poèmes’, my piece is inspired by the subject of India and constitutes a form of artistic cultural appropriation. This being the case, I felt it important not only to study aspects of Indian classical music in preparation of my composition, but to work directly with a musician with a background in Hindustani music, to approach the project with a degree of sensitivity and authentic intention. Given that Indian classical music is predominantly an oral tradition, I was unable to rely on Western notation in my collaboration with Dr Jauhari. What seemed at first like a daunting technical challenge instead opened new avenues of creative possibility. 

Des Oliver


Text by Des Oliver 

Joy will bring you flowers, 

Dripping from my lips, 

To worship at the altar, 

And serve as special gifts. 

My tears overflow, 

My tears overflow, 

Like a river.

Suspicious little demon,

You take what you need,

Gather up my misery,

To satisfy your greed. 

I flood the world,

With all my fears,

Petals fall from my cherry eyes, 

Illusions breed sorrow, 

Lies become the seed. 

My tears overflow, 

My tears overflow, 

Down the river. 

My grief runs wild on the river, 

My crimson tears rain on the water. 

Suspicious little demon,

You take what you need.

Gather up my misery,

To satisfy your greed.