Monday, December 21, 2009

Indian music and aesthetics

-Vedprakash Sharma


Generally speaking, fine arts and the aesthetics have intermingled together. The study of the fine arts is incomplete without the assistance of the aesthetics. Likewise, the concept of aesthetics is inconclusive without an analysis of the fine arts. Especially, when it comes to the study of the art of music, the significance of the aesthetics seems to be greater simply because of the two major general notions:

  1. It is a general perception that the aesthetics is the study of "beauty", which is supposed to be the characteristic of vision, whereas music is expressed through the medium of sound.
  2. The characteristic of music is pleasantness or "enjoyable to ears" and hence has nothing to do with the aesthetics which is said to deal with the beauty.

    This article studies music with a view to explain its relation to the study of aesthetics.

    The philosophy of "Satyam Shivam Sundaram" expresses the importance of purity and pleasure in all the fine arts. When we talk of music, nobody can claim to disagree from the fact that it has the capacity to give pleasure even in the adverse conditions like trouble and tensions. That is the reason why music-listening is now recommended to the patients of hypertension, sleeplessness, cardiac diseases etc. music has the potential to diverge the mind from the negative attitude to the positive one and thus to provide relaxation and relief, though only for a shorter period of time. It is this speciality of music which is very important. In other arts, we have to concentrate our minds first in order to appreciate them. On the contrary, as far as the art of music is concerned, as a musical sound is perceived through our ears, our mind is diverted towards the sound itself. We do not have to make an extra effort in order to appreciate the pleasure inculcated through the perception of amazing and pleasing tones. That is why, music is liked by almost all the men and women of different ages, classes, social backgrounds etc. why the human beings only! It is taken in good taste by animals also.

    Music is the expression of one's state of mind through the means of the permutations and the combinations of the interesting and pleasing sound-patterns representing the tones and overtones of musical notes. Thus, it is perceived through our ears. Though on the higher levels, when we listen to the great artists, we make an eye-contact too with the performer. However, this eye-contact hardly affects or influences the pleasure which we receive by listening to the good music. It hardly makes any difference – listen to the music through a radio set [where it is not possible to view the artist], or listen to it through some visual media like the television, video etc. the only condition is that the listener should have the capacity to appreciate music. We are aware that those who are not "Rasika" cannot appreciate any arts. That is why this condition is important. This condition does not mean that most of the persons cannot appreciate the music. This only means that one has to attain certain level of understanding of the art in order to appreciate it. In the field of music, especially, Indian classical music, if one does not know the concept of Ragas, he/she is not able to enjoy it. The same thing can be applied to other arts too.

    Therefore, it is very important for the audience of music that they should have the capacity to appreciate the same. This is the reason why the level of appreciation differs from person to person. Some people like a particular piece of music but at the same time some others dislike the same piece. This does not mean in any manner that the piece of music itself is defected but it shows the difference of opinion amongst the masses or the classes.

    Sometimes, the question is raised about the popularity of some specific musical compositions. The compositions which seem to be popular sometimes are not liked by even the great artists. This is the reason that the insight as well as the anticipation of the masses is very different from that of the perception and the expectations of the artists. An artist can understand the concept of raga and if the performer deviates from any of the rules of the raga lakshanas given in musicology, he/she would not like it. On the contrary, it is difficult for the general listener to find fault in the concept of the art as they are not aware of it. In the compositions related to the popular music, the situations are different. These compositions are meant for the masses. Therefore, anybody can appreciate and enjoy them. However, in the classical compositions, only those persons can appreciate the music that has a basic knowledge of the Branch. Not only in the field of music but in any of the fine arts, when it comes to the Classical compositions, the rules have to be different from that of the popular piece of work. For example, in Literature, the "road-side books" are meant for the masses and hence catch more attention than the literary and Classic ones. In music the situation is the same.

    Music has therefore many forms. It has many modes of expression. We can find whatever level or standard at our will. We have folk music, regional music, cine-music, popular music [Pop music], classical music, semi-classical music etc. It is for the performer and the listener to decide which form of it they wish to go to. Therefore, let us concentrate upon Indian classical music.

    Indian classical music has a very great and illustrious tradition. It has passed through many ups and downs. It has developed the capacity to survive under the most adverse circumstances. It has the power to submerge music of different regions, kinds and categories. We have seen that in the medieval period of our history, when there was a total cultural invasion, the tradition of Indian music adapted itself in a manner that the chaos could not damage the beautiful and pleasing treasure of the musical tradition laid down by our great ancestors. History tells that there have been several instances when our tradition of music was tried to be changed and transfigured to the taste of the invaders who have come from different parts of the Asian region and elsewhere. But the power of our music was such that it did not succumb to the pressures and prejudices. It took all the changes in a positive manner and modified itself accordingly. That is why, in the present era too, when there are different streams flowing through our music, we see that the basics are still the same.

    Before analyzing the beauty aspect of our music, let us consider the "individuality" aspect first. It is very important that we should ascertain the capacities of an individual musician to the field of music. generally, the art is patronized by institutions and hence at times, the individuality of a particular artist is hampered.

In South Asian cultures the arts traditionally have been associated with "religion," but in at least three general ways, and with varying degrees of explicitness. First of all, even when textual content is not present to make the association explicit, music and dance are implicitly "religious" by virtue of the Indian cultural idea that music and dance are paths to salvation, or at least valued vehicles of devotional expression. Secondly, they may be "religious" because the text of the performance is explicitly religious. Finally, they may be "religious" because they function in a specifically religious performance context.

These essays provide instances of each of these ways of being "religious." Bharata Natyam and Kathakali are "religious" in the first two ways. Dhrupad sung by the Dagar family is "religious" in the first and usually the first two ways. Qawwali (Muslim) is "religious" particularly in the last two ways (but to some, in all three ways), though when performed out of the context discussed here, is religious primarily textually.

In contrast with the Indian association of religious expression with music and dance, orthodox Muslim thought does not associate these two art forms with religious expression. (The Sufi tradition within the greater Islamic world view must be seen in its own terms.) Through the Qureshi article on qawwciliand the Owens article on the Dagars, (a family who were high caste Indians but who converted to Islam several generations ago), we observe the results of the adjustment of the two value systems. The process of adjustment, the results in human and musical terms, have scarcely been considered by historians of Indian music. Nor is the process at an end. Owing to shifting patterns of patronage, the hegemony of Muslim musicians in North India is presently giving way to an hegemony of Hindu musicians, with both groups functioning socially and artistically within a rapidly changing India.

Another major topic in the study of the performing arts within the broader South Asian cultural context is patron-client relationships. In an analysis of one performed song, the performance provides an extraordinarily clear example of the direct musical result of the patron-client relationship. One facet that the teachers of the Indian classical music elucidate is what the performer must learn about the audience's response (including and especially the patron's) in order to perform effectively. They also are unusually direct about the matter of financial renumeration and its effect on the music INTRODUCTION itself. Those concerns are explicit in the Sufi assembly context to a far greater extent than in the concert context, of course, but those same concerns are equally significant in other spheres of artistic life.

A dual topic addressed in several of the Westerners research is the grouping of artists and the cultivation of "schools" within an art. Owens considers a North Indian gharani, while Jones discusses sampradiyas (teacher-student descent groups) in the history of Kathakali. Similarly, Qureshi points out that qawwali musicians normally belong to a community of hereditary professional musicians who trace their musical identity through lineages parallel to, or even converging with, the gharanas of North Indian musicians in the classical music sphere. And Jon Higgins notes that in the world of Bharata Natyam, dance musicians maintain allegiance primarily to a single dancer or school of dance.

The grouping of artists and the cultivation of "schools" within an art are topics integral to the greater context of South Asian studies, for several reasons. Studies of social and/or occupational groupings are crucial to an understanding of South Asia. The relationships of artistic groupings to those of the larger society are obviously significant, involving as they do criteria of artistic achievement as well as birth. Such studies, across the arts as well as within a single art form, particularly those studies that compare Hindustani and Karnatak cultures, inevitably lead to discussion of such important matters as values, religious belief, status, communalism, and many others. The subject of groups is important for the history of all Indian arts, for teacher-student groupings have controlled transmission, continuity, and change-therefore the very nature of the arts themselves.

Groups are vital facets of Indian culture, but so, too, are individuals. Thus, in the study of any Indian art form, there must also be considerable emphasis on the particular artist, as in Owens's presentation of Ustad Nazir Aminuddin Dagar and Qureshi's discussion of Meraj Ahmad Nizami. In any discussion of a single artist we are presented with three complex matters for consideration:

1.    The musical tradition with which the artist is associated-a system of training, teaching, performance and repertoire, its history over the centuries, and its expression in several contexts;

2.    The family of which he or she is just one member-a group of musicians who have concentrated their lives on the tradition, who have held places in a relatively long musical history and who have maintained their tradition in various places, therefore various contexts;

3.    The individual musician within the group who has viewed and therefore maintained the tradition in certain ways, lived during one phase of the history, and in several contexts.

South Asian artists and scholars certainly emphasize individuality within tradition, as when they praise a singer for carrying on a tradition (for example by showing proof of good training), but then temper their praise with a statement such as "but he (or she) is not yet free of his (or her) teacher's style." Conversely, sons of great ustcids complain that when they first try to establish themselves professionally, critics compare them to their fathers (usually unfavorably). Each new generation wishes to have its own musical individuality recognized.

For North Indian musical culture the two facets of a musician's responsibility-his maintenance of tradition and his development of individuality-must always be kept in perspective by scholars, as they are in the minds of musicians whom they study. Mention Kirana gharana and the response is likely to be: Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Hirabai Barodekar, and other distinguished individuals. Mention Agra gharana and the response is likely to be: Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad Nathan Khan, M.R Gautam, and the like. Mention any other Gharana and the response probably will be the same: naming of individual singers, only some of whom belong to the hereditary family. Furthermore, particular characteristics in the style of each individual singer will readily be mentioned, along with general characteristics associated with the Gharana style. (Note: it is also important to distinguish between the view of Gharana from members of the hereditary family (gharcinedcir) and the view of Gharana from non-gharcinedcir- two views which may or may not agree in all respects.)

The importance of the individual artist is also reflected in the attention given to biography (and hagiography) by South Asian writers on the arts. Journals devote a great deal of space to biographies of musicians, numerous book-length biographies are published and there are also many dictionaries of musicians. In this way our attention is drawn constantly to individual artists. Since the individual musician is so important to music, one should ask: who is "the individual" in South Asian and, particularly, Indian society and culture? In the collection of essays on The Status of the Individual in East and West (University of Hawaii Press, 1968), several perspectives on that question were offered. P.T. Raju in "Indian Epistemology and the World and the Individual," asserts: What we know in perception is not the abstract individual, but a particular individual, not a mere member of a class, but this or that member (p. 123)

The world does not consist primarily of individuals and relations, but of individuals and

their activities, involving relations of course (p. 136) . . . . One may express the central teaching of Indian epistemology about the individual and the world thus: [With regard to the empiri- cal world] The true and significant knowledge of the individual and this world is the knowledge of the individual in his field of action (p. 137).

Surama Dasgupta, in "The Individual in Indian Ethics," asserts: The theory of karma attributes full responsibility for one's actions to the individual himself. . . . Society has tried to help the average man by mapping out for him a scheme of life and duties, but it is on the individual himself that his karma depends, and results will accrue to him accordingly. So, from every point of view, the social good or the personal, the final responsibility for actions rests on the individual alone (pp. 288- 89).

S.K. Saxena, in "The Individual in Social Thought and Practice in

India," asserts: Indian tradition has always been tied in intellectual and emotional admiration only to individuals who created and molded the society. The heroes in the Indian social mind are all individuals-sages and saints-and not schools or "isms" or ideologies. . . . What is adored in social Indianism or in any social period is not a historical process as such, but a particular individual who has brought about social betterment. Not the adoring of the age of Gandhi, but Gandhi himself (p. 348).

Perhaps the most eloquent statement in these essays about individuality in India is the following: "In fact, there is no one Indian view of the status of the individual. There are many views, each upheld by substantial Indian thinkers and by a large section of the Indian people" (Kalidas Bhattacharyya, in "The Status of the Individual in Indian Metaphysics, p. 48). In these essays we perceive that we should view theindividual (not the idea of him), and know him by his particular set of actions (then his relations), for in the end he alone is responsible for his own actions which determine his karma.

Related to the topic of individuality is the concept of authority in the Indian context. When an Indian musician tells one (or writes- the two modes of communication being more similar to each other in Indian than in Western scholarship) "the origin of sargam is . . . ," or "Raga Todi is sung like this . . . ,"one is supposed to understand that "this is the gospel according to . . . ." Authority resides in the individual and an Indian student will decide whose authority he endorses and abide by that. But there are many other views, each equally authoritative, and this is tolerated and understood. Just as "there is no one Indian view of the status of the individual," so is there no one Indian (or South Asian) view about very many things, including details of musical tradition. Thus, it is critical for Western scholars of Hindustani or Karnatak music to inform their work with this value perception and to avoid the pitfalls of unbending generalizations about a body of knowledge based on the "authority" of one performer, one perspective, or one scholar. Thus, when analyzing the Indian musical tradition, the problem of identifying the "Individual" potentials of a musician is very challenging.

Now, after discussing about the "individuality" aspect of Indian music, let us see the beauty aspect of our great tradition. We have mentioned earlier that the medium of expression in the music is the tones which are called Nada. From Nada, musical notes are formed. Nada itself has been compared by the God. The concept of Nadabrahma is present in almost all the great Works of Indian music. This shows that our music was not meant just for fun or the worldly entertainment. But it had some higher levels than that. In the great Work of Pt. Ahobal, "Sangeet Parijat", two eminent objectives of music have been mentioned.

  1. Music should be entertaining. It should have the capacity of pleasing the masses through various tools and forms attached to it.
  2. At the higher level, it should also have the capacity which can liberate the artist/listener from the worldly problems. It should have the power of "self-liberation". In Indian philosophy, this "self-liberation" has been called as "moksha". "Moksha" or "bhav-Bhanjan" is said to be very important in the four "Purusharthas". These four "purusharthas are as under:
    1. Dharma, 2. Artha, 3. Kaam and 4. Moksha.

      One has to attain first three of them in order to get the forth one – "moksha".

      Through the practice of the tradition of Indian classical music one can attain these Purusharthas very easily. That is why, in Indian philosophy, music has been praised at many instances. I do not wish to go deep into it as it does not come under the present topic. The main purpose of my describing the aforesaid facts is that music in Indian tradition has been considered very pure form of the fine arts.

      It is the very famous saying, "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder". This applies to the beautiful musical tones too.

      As the literal meaning of beauty relates to the sense of vision, one may raise the doubts over the beauty of musical tones. But when it comes to the expressive meaning of the word "beauty", its scope seems to have no borders. Whatever gives you the pleasure, satisfaction, relaxation of mind, enjoyment etc is said to be beautiful. The things, situations, tastes, events, occurrences etc which one likes to experience again and again and feels happiness experiencing the same, can also be called as beautiful. Thus, everything that delights us is beautiful.

      However, the term "beautiful" in different Branches of knowledge like philosophy, literature, moral sciences, cookery etc has different meanings associated to it. Likewise, in the art of music this term has a specific meaning.

      As the broadest platform of convergence amongst the musicians, it can be underlined that the musical compositions which are based upon the set norms follow the rules and patterns set by the musicologists, are original and authentic, have the capacity to entertain the connoisseur are said to be beautiful. Many more parameters can be attached to it as and when suitable. But the basic rules remain the same. We are aware of the fact that the term "beauty" differs from place to place and from one cultural background to another. Hence, the beauty with reference to music also takes different shapes in different sociocultural setups.

      Here in India, we generally think in terms of our own musical traditions. In fact, the three basic dimensions of the arts in general and the fine arts in specific are: 1. the place, 2. the time and 3. The circumstances. These three aspects change the terminology of any concept let alone the beauty aspects of music. Therefore, while studying the aesthetical values of any musical composition, let us keep in mind these basic aspects which really make a vital difference. That is the reason why, the music of comparatively the olden times is not appreciated by the new generation. The exceptions may lie here and there but broadly, it is found to be true that generation gaps can be seen in the fine arts too like every other sphere of our social and cultural life. It is this generation gap which generates new trends and the fashion in the cultural scenario of the era. It is due to this fact that newer concepts, trends, systems, practices, habits, fashion etc keep on emerging from time to time. The famous poet Bhaas has once said, "The beautiful is that which is ever new".

      This newness of the compositions makes them appealing and beautiful. There are some classics which are liked in the present era too. It is because these classics are beyond the three basic aspects of arts. Namely, the time, the place and the circumstances.

      Playwrights like Kalidas, Shakespeare etc were beyond the limitations of place, time and the circumstances. They chose the topics which the masses can still identify themselves with. That is why, their plays still satisfy the readers and viewers aspirations and expectations.

      Likewise, the Western composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Handel as well as the Indian composers like Tyagraja, Muthuswami Dixitar, Shama Shastri etc from the South and Vishnu Digambur Pulaskar, Onkarnath Thakur, Pt. Ratanjankar etc from the North were ahead of their times. They composed very beautiful traditional Bandishes which are still being followed by the learners as well as the teachers of the Indian classical music.

      In the field of Popular Music too, there have been some great composers who revolutionized the style of composing music. Great music composers for movie melodies like S. D. Barman, Madan Mohan, Anil Biswas, O. P. Naiyar, and many other artists have contributed their skills in this field. Their music is still listened with pleasure and satisfaction. Many singing stars – the classical singers or the playback ones – have shown us the new hopes and horizons following which we can contribute to the aesthetic value of our music.

Through the above analysis, we can conclude that there is a fundamental relation between the arts and the aesthetics in general and between music and aesthetics specifically. That is the reason Naada is considered to be close to the Almighty God. In our tradition of music, music has been associated in all the religious rites. Not only that, music has been an integral part of our cultural heritage. Thus, music cannot be studied without the study of the aesthetics.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Origin of Banaras Gharana of Tabla

Banaras, known also as Varanasi or by its ancient name, Kashi, is the holiest city of Hinduism. Located on a northward curve of the Ganges as it cuts through the plains of Uttar Pradesh, Banaras has for centuries been a pilgrimage center and the bastion of Hindu orthodoxy. Maintaining tradition is the life blood of Banaras, and this holds true not only for religious practices, but also for the various arts and crafts that remain thriving family traditions. The elegance and fine workmanship in the Banaras silk sari industry is both legendary and contemporary. Banaras is an opera: the rhythm of leatherworkers pounding out hide for sandals; the clang of blacksmiths along the Thatheri alley; the ring of cycle-riksha bells; train whistles on the edge of the city; balloon bulb bus horns; cawing crows and whining peacocks; mendicants chanting, "Jai Sita Ram, Jai Jai Sita Ram;" a group of shen5r players leading a bridal party down the street; the normal din of six hundred thousand people living in an area little bigger than New York's Central Park.

Musical traditions run deeply in Banaras and the most famous tradition in the classical form is the Banaras Gharana or "style" of Tablaa playing. Drumming is at the heart of Banaras music and some of the best known tabla players in India came originally from this city. The style itself is hard to define in words and is flexible according to each Tabla player's taste. here is a Banaras "sound" in Hindustani music, just as there is a "Motown," or a "Chicago" sound in Afro-American music, but the exact definition of that "sound" is a matter of personal appreciation. The variety of individual styles within the total conglomeration of Tabla playing known as the Banaras Gharana is so great that any generalization about the Gharana as a whole may prove invalid from musician to musician. The mythology, the genealogies , the typical compositions and the favorite forms of improvisation are all uniquely Banaras.

late Kanthe Maharaj, one of the best known Tabla players of this century, recounted the good old days amongst his well-wishers and the disciples the as well as the musical history of the Banaras Gharana as he remembered it. His story, spiced with the numerous legends of the past that are an integral part of Indian tradition, was elaborated upon further by Sharda Sahay, the great-great grandson of the founder of the Banaras Gharana of Tabla , Ram Sahay .

Ram Sahay was born in 1798 in Banaras. His family had originally come from Gopalpur, a village in Jaunpur district bordering Banaras, but had moved due to a smallpox epidemic. One brother went to Lucknow and two others went to Banaras.

Ram Sahay's father was the elder of the two brothers in Banaras. The family astrologer predicted an auspicious musical future for the boy and when just two years old, Ram Sahay began learning Tabla, the basic sixteen-beat Trital of Hindustanimusic. Ram Sahay became the disciple of his uncle, a well-known Tablah player of the day. His uncle introduced him at various music programs and encouraged him to play solos. Under the pressure of constant public exposure, he began to arduously practice the tabla and the t'alas of Hindustani music.

When he was seven years old, Ram Sahay travelled to Lucknow with his father and uncle to attend a musical gathering at the court of the Nawab of Oudh, Shujatuddhaula. Many of the finest Tabla players of India were present and Ram Sahay sat entranced at the feet of the great musicians of the day. One old Muslim gentleman in the audience noted the boy's interest. Several days after the programs at the court, Sharda Sahay (the Sahay brother who had originally come to Lucknow to live) held a music party at his home. Modhu Khan, the old Muslim gentleman, as well as the other Tabla players attended the program and heard Ram Sahay perform a solo. While he was playing Modhu Khan began to pace about the room, acting like a man of a peculiar nature. The other musicians began to mock the eccentric old man under their breath.

After his performance, Ram Sahay asked his uncle why everyone had mocked the old man. Modhu Khan, overhearing the boy's question, answered sadly, "If I had a son, I would have stopped this disgraceful laughter.

" Ram Sahay's uncle took the boy aside and explained that Modhu Khan was a learned Tabla player but that he had given up his practice and now couldn't produce clear strokes. In fact, he was being ridiculed as a person who was no longer capable of doing anything like a "wingless pigeon, " because his fingers moved like a waddling pigeon with clipped wings. Modhu Khan had neither a son nor disciples. He had taken a vow never to initiate anyone from Lucknow into his musical tradition because of their inimicable attitude toward him. But after hearing Ram Sahay's playing and seeing his interest, Modhu Khan appealed to the boy's father to allow him to stay with him in Lucknow as his disciple. The father prayed the next morning and then agreed to the proposal.

Ram Sahay learned wholeheartedly from his inspired teacher. After several years, Modhu Khan was called away to his father-in-law's home in the Punjab. Ram Sahay continued to go to his teacher's house with the same vigor as when his teacher had been there. Each day, he awaited the return of Modhu Khan until after a month he broke down and cried in the fear that his teacher would never return. After consoling the boy, Modhu Khan's wife agreed to teach him in her husband's absence. She had learned over five hundred compositions of Punjab-style Tabla playing from her own father, though she did not play publicly.'

After five months, Modhu Khan returned and was very pleased with Ram Sahay's progress. Modhu Khan taught his disciple for twelve years in Lucknow. The old nawab of Avadh died and was succeeded by his son, the illustrious Wajid Ali Shah. On his "coronation" day, a large musical gathering as held in Lucknow featuring musicians and dancers from all over north India. Wajid Ali Shah himself had studied kathak (Hindusta'ni classical) dancing with Ram Sahay's cousin, Thakur Pra sadji, and the new nawab was anxious to hear Ram Sahay play. Modhu Khan declared that his young twenty-year old disciple would play under one condition: that Ram Sahay be allowed to play as long as he liked with no one stopping him. The nawab agreed.

That night, Ram Sahay began playing at eight o'clock and played through the night until four in the morning. As remarkable a feat as this was in itself, what was even more remarkable as that he played only two types of elaboration -the uthaan and mohra.' Even the greatest of the Tabla players could only play a few of these elaborations and yet Ram Sahay played for eight hours without repeating a phrase'. Seven straight days of playing passed and Ram Sahay continued to dazzle the audience with spectacular varieties of elaboration. His Khazana,or compositions of intricate and pronounced stroke and tempo change, were extraordinary. The audience remained spellbound to the end and then broke into excited conversation and nervous laughter.

Modhu Khan rose and approached Wajid Ali Shah with a final request: he wished to ask the illustrious tabla and pakhzwaj players present if they had the courage to play now, after Ram Sahay. The musicians answered in a chorus of resounding, "no, thank you'. " It was Modhu Khan's moment of glory and he relished it to the limit. He smiled and said, "All right, you pompous blowhards. You have been calling me a 'wingless pigeon' for years. Now come and lay garlands on Ram Sahay's shoulders. If that is too much for you, come and challenge my disciple. " Modhu Khan's challenge caught those present by surprise: if they laid garlands on the young Tablaa player's shoulders, they would be destroying the own esteemed reputations. Khudo Singh, the disciple of a famous pakhzwaj family, was the first to step forward and he declared, "Of all the drummers I have heard in my lifetime, Ram Sahay is the best. " The other musicians followed suit and presented garlands to Ram Sahay. The young master, with the legendary humility of the great, refused to be garlanded and instead asked for help from those present. One Tabla player, Salar Khan, immediately offered Ram Sahay his entire traditional knowledge.

Others volunteered to teach the boy rare compositions that only they knew. Shortly after the music gathering concluded, Wajid Ali Shah called Modhu Khan and Ram Sahay to his palace. He presented Ram Sahay with two diamond and two emerald necklaces, four elephants, 400,000 rupees, bolts of the finest silk, and gold jewelry. The nawab then ordered Modhu Khan to allow Ram Sahay to return to Banaras to see his family whom he had left twelve years earlier.

In Banaras, Ram Sahay eagerly learned new compositions and practiced faithfully. From the pakhwaj player Khudo Singh he learned gaja paran, "elephant composition, " which could tame wild elephants if played properly. From another player he learned a chakradar paran by which a cocoanut could be blown to bits with the correct combination of strokes. Popular history has it that Ram Sahay learned compositions that could bring rain, that could extinguish the flame in a clay oil lamp, and that could invoke the gods.

By this time, Ram Sahay had become a well-known concert performer, and his fellow Tablaa players grew jealous of his success. They concocted a plan among themselves to stop Ram Sahay and thus promote their own chances. One night, Ram Sahay was playing a concert when a man who had been bribed by the dissident Tabla players stood up in the middle of the performance and said, 'When we hear you play, master, it seems as if God made the tabla only for you. " Another stood in the back row shouted out, "Listen friend, you've got to remember that he was lucky to have learned in Lucknow. No one from Banaras could play like this. " Ram Sahay was very proud of Banaras and was hurt by the man's statement. When a fist-fight broke out between Ram Sahay's loyal followers and the conspiring musicians and their associates Ram Sahay rose up from behind his drums: "What the second man said is true. The future will judge me as a musician born in Banaras but playing the Lucknow style. From today onward, I will not touch the Tabla because no matter how many innovations I may create, it will all be attributed to Lucknow. Though I love my teacher and will always be grateful for his teaching, I love my city and feel I can't esTablaish it as a unique musical city because of my history.

" Ram Sahay's admirers were upset. His Banaras relatives and the elders of the city prevailed on him to change his mind, calling him a fool for ruining his career because of a madman's words. Ram Sahay agreed that the words were those of a madman, but that musicians and musicologists of the future would say the same thing: that he played the Lucknow Gharana in Banaras. Ram Sahay's uncle, understanding his nephew's determination, suggested that if he was no longer going to play publicly, he should at least teach others what he had learned. Ram Sahay accepted this proposition and, after a respite of six months during which he wrote down his repertoire and theory of music, he began to teach his brothers Janaki, Gauri, and Ishwari, and six other disciples from outside his immediate family.

Ram Sahay completely altered the traditional placement of the fingers on the Tabla head. The use of the ring firger as a main stroking finger, unique to the Banaras style, was introduced at this time. People in Banaras were shocked at Ram Sahay's new methods. His uncle couldn't bear this departure from tradition and demanded an explanation.

Ram Sahay presented his uncle with the manuscript he had been working on for six months -"The Banaras Ba'j ." Ram had created, analyzed, and rationalized the style on paper. The new style was suitable for any type of music from heavy classical dhrupad singing, (usually accompanied by the pakhwaj drum), to the lighter forms of thumri and tappa, to all styles of instrumental music, and lastly, to Kathak dance, a specialty of Banaras and Lucknow. Ram Sahay's uncle was still displeased, since Pakhawaj strokes were introduced on the Tabla, a practice considered "impure. " Ram Sahay countered that his disciples would learn both sets of strokes so that they could accompany any kind of music.

Many years passed, and Ram Sahay, who had not married, decided to become a sadhu or wandering holy man, and made pilgrimages to the sacred places of Hinduism.

A nephew of Ram Sahay's named Bhairav Sahay became the last disciple of the Tabla master; he spent the last six years of his life training the boy. On his death bed Ram Sahay predicted a glorious musical future for Bhairav, whom he felt would spread the new Banaras style throughout India. Bhairav Sahay often went to pray at the shrine of Lord Bhairav in the Nici Bag area of Banaras where drummers before him had prayed for strength in their lifetime goal of constant music practice. By the age of eighteen, Bhairav Sahay was regarded as the finest Tabla player ever heard in Banaras . His ceaseless devotion to practice earned him the astonished respect of the old experts.

Once Bhairav Sahay was invited by the Maharajah of Nepal, Bahadur Sinha, to perform at a large musical gathering. Niyamatulla Khan, the most famous sarod player of the day, was also invited, and Bhairav Sahay was selected as his accompanist. Together, these two masters turned out new improvisations, tempo changes and technique variations that dazzled the listeners. During the larant or "fighting" style of improvisation when each artist tries to outdo the other by taking the other's material and complicating it slightly, the experts in the audience gasped in astonishment. Niyamatulla Khan laid down his instrument and proclaimed, "Bhairav Sahay is not a Tabla player, he is an angel from heaven. God has given eyes to each of his fingers so that whenever a singer or instrumentalist begins his improvisation, those fingers visualize it and reproduce it instantly. " The Maharajah was so pleased at Bhairav Sahay's playing that he presented him with a costly rifle and sword.

The disciples of Bhairav Sahay were his own son Baldev Sahay, and Ehagavan Mishra. The direct descendants of Ram Sahay and Bhairav Sahay were many and their musical virtuosity has become legend in Banaras and amongst Hindustani music concerts.

Baldev Sahay, the son of Bhairav Sahay and an excellent Tabla player in his own right, had many famous students. His own son, known as Durga Sahay or "Nannu" Sahay, was considered as one of the greats of his day. This blind musician, who died at the age of thirty-four, was supposed to have a smooth technique and a fierce concentration in his disciplined practice throughout his life. He is particularly known for his speed of execution. Kanthe Maharaj, a name familiar throughout the Indian music community, was also a disciple of Baldev Sahay, as well as being his cousin. Legend has it that Kanthe Maharaj's father was had no son and hence used to pray to god for it. Often he went to the Ganesha temple in Kabirchowra to pray for hours at a time, for a son. One day, a priest of the temple overheard the prayers and immediately brought the man some prasaad telling him that if his wife ate the prasad before the sun was at its peak, she would bear a son. That night, Kanthe Maharaj's mother had a dream that a chain of fire was entering into her heart. The priest from the temple was called and he predicted that the boy to be born would become a great musician.

Kanthe Maharaj , who was the drean of the Banaras Gharana , died in 1969. With him vanished a unique style and a unique approach to the aesthetics of tabla playing. He believed that for every raga there should be a specific Tabla sound produced and that of each raga had a corresponding tala rasa. For every raga, he believed there are slight changes made to suit the rasa of the piece. In order to produce this feeling on the drums, Kanthe Maharaj mastered the dynamics of the loosely tuned left-hand drum, the bayan. Through proper control of the pressure on the bayan head, he produced an amazing variety of tones and could even play a complete scale, with each note clearly heard, just by shifting the weight and position of the heel of his left hand. Kanthe Maharaj was not interested in mathematical drills, only in clarity of sound. It is said that the only exercise he practiced was a slow, "na dhin dhin na, " while he concentrated on the exactness of each stroke. Kanthe Maharaj's unique and prominent style and vision is still remembered and respected.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Problems relating to Hindustani music

In the present scenario, many traditional art-forms are passing through a phase where the artists concerned have to decide whether they should leave the arts to the mercy of the "market forces" or sacrifice their own interests in order to safeguard the traditional values thereof. Most of the artists relating to different arts have to go through the aforesaid dilemma at least for once as they pursue their career. This essay is an attempt to identify the concerns of the artists who are related to specifically, the Hindustani music, and are going through the dilemma of "to do or not to do", and for one reason or the other, are flowing with the strong current of the market forces.

Hindustani music has a very rich and traditional heritage. It has been admired and appreciated the world over. However, in the present era of the Globalization, many of the musical forms are on the verge of collapse. The beautiful and affluent tradition of Dhruvapada and Dhamar is getting weak day by day. The singing form which once had been the measuring scale of the purity of a Raga, is dying and those who should come forward to save this tradition, are busy either making their own "future" or performing "new experiments" so as to mesmerize the masses with the miraculous "unique" style of theirs. Likewise, the traditional musical instruments like different forms of the Veena are facing the danger of extinction and the artists who can do something to protect these musical instruments are busy in the innovation of new instruments. There are very few artists who are capable of playing Rudra Veena. They wish to pass the valuable knowledge to the descendants but nobody is prepared to devote his/her "precious" time to learn it. The question rises as to what is the remedy or solution to the problems which the world of Hindustani music is encountering. The answer is not very easy. It is said that the present makes the future and the past makes the present. Therefore, in order to find the answers to the problems being faced by the world of Hindustani music, we would have to search its past.

Indian music can be traced back as early to the Indus Valley Civilization. However, the written references about the music are available only in the Vedic Literature. Therefore, we can submit without any reasonable doubts that the Indian music was flourishing during the Vedic Period. The history of our music, we can suppose, begins with the history of Vedic Period. At that instance, we find a lot of references regarding the evolution of music. The references regarding the vocal as well as the instrumental music are available in that period. Hence, we can assume that in the Vedic Period, our music had been come to a stage where the vocal as well as the instrumental music was practiced fluently. After the Vedic Period, during the Period of Natyashastra, we find clearly two different streams of music. One, which was concerned with the religious rituals and ceremonies, and was expressed in the forms like Sam Ganas etc, and the other was related to the folk music and was expressed in the form of Deshi Sangeet.

Gradually, these two streams evolved as Margi Sangeet and Deshi sangeet. In the Work of Matanga called "Vrihaddeshi", these two forms of music are available. However, the original Work of Matanga is not available these days. That is why; it is not possible to trace back these terms in detail. But many scholars have referred the Work of Matanga in their books. It is from their Works that we get some knowledge about Margi and Deshi Sangeet.

The trend of Margi and Deshi continued with several changes in the style as well as the content. In his book, Sangeet Parijat, Pt. Ahobal has described the two famous targets of music – one, Janaranjan or the entertainment of people, and BhavaBhanjan, the Liberation of soul from the worldly illusions.

The first objective of music is related to the entertainment aspect of music and other is related to the spiritual evolution.

Let us first talk about the latter. A deep analysis will be provided about the entertainment aspect of music after discussing its spiritual aspects.

The spiritual aspects of music

The spiritual aspects of music are not necessarily related to the religious acts or rituals. Spiritualism does not denote any faith in particular. On the contrary, it deals with the basic human conscience. This is the reason that music is said to have the powers which can cure many physical as well as the mental illnesses. We are aware that presently, music is being used as an alternative medical therapy or the supportive medical treatment in many hospitals. Many clinical psychologists now have ample evidence to believe that listening to the refined kind of music can energize the human mind. It supports the level of concentration of mind and controls the negative attitude. Hence, the listener gradually is transformed into the positive state of mind. It is through the power of the spiritual aspect of music that the Indian musicians are able to contribute to the promotion of world peace and international brotherhood. Spiritual music together with the devotional and the religious music can have enchanting and miraculous effect on the masses. Those who are able to appreciate music would have experienced this effect at some point of time. This is the reason that the Sufi music, Bhajan singing, Gurumukhi style of music etc are very high on the popularity charts. Many a classical musicians too are adapting the religious music these days.

Music as an entertaining medium

In addition to the spiritual aspects of music, it has the entertainment value too. We have already mentioned that the ancient as well as the medieval scholars of music have recognized two objectives of music. The first, the spiritual one, has just been described in the aforesaid paragraphs. Now we will discuss other one, that is, the entertainment feature of our music.

The first and the foremost objective of any fine art are to entertain the masses. Nobody will come close to the arts without it. That is why; all the fine art forms have the aesthetical value around which they evolve. The basic element of all the arts is the beauty. The creation of the artists must be beautiful. It is the very first criterion which is used to ascertain the standards of the art forms. In the art forms other than the fine arts, the utility aspect is also used to standardize them but in case of the fine arts, the beauty facet is prominent. When we listen to a song, we like or dislike it on the basis of the fascinating effect of the melody. The rules of the composition and other such issues which may be related to the "grammar of music" come at a later stage. The first priority of the listener as well as the artist is the "mass appeal" of the melody.

It is on the considerations like these ones that the two streams of music, (as has just been mentioned), incessantly and parelelly keep on growing. The stream which satisfies the entertainment aspect becomes popular amongst the masses. On the other hand, the stream which deals with the spiritual values is practised by some specific classes of the society and hence gets the name "classical music".

This division of classical/popular music has been clearly and distinctly reflected in the society beyond the ages. The names of the categories may be different at different times. But the basic essence of the division has been the popularity/spirituality of the art. In the Vedic Period, these two streams were known as 1. Aranya Geya Gana and 2. Grama Geya Gana. In the later periods, these two streams were known as 1. Margi and 2. Deshi Sangeet. In the present era, these streams are known as 1. Popular music or the pop music and 2. Classical music or Ragdari Sangeet.

Classical music and popular music

Before coming to the central idea of this essay, (Problems relating to Hindustani music), let us have a closer look at these two streams of our music.

All the fine arts can be categorized in two groups: 1. Classical arts and 2. Folk arts or the arts of the masses. However, in the present context, we are more concerned with music. Therefore, we will discuss the art of music in its classical as well as the folk form.

Music is a fine art wherein, the medium of expression is the sound. However, not all sounds are used in music. Only musical sounds are permitted. In the terminology of music, the sounds that are considered musical are called 'tones' or 'naada'. These tones are expressed through musical notes. Names of these notes differ from place to place but in the present era, it is universally accepted that there are seven musical notes in one octave. These musical notes are the alphabet of music. We have just these notes to express ourselves musically. This is the reason, these notes are said to be so important. In the Indian subcontinent, the teachers as well as the scholars of music insist on the practice of these notes. This process of getting control over the musical notes is called 'Swara Saadhana'.

Before going deep into the technical issues, let me tell you that in the folk music, the art comes naturally and instinctively. The folk singers (excluding the professional ones) do not formally learn how to sing or how to take to 'swara saadhana'. In the countryside, people impulsively sing and dance to express their joy and other sentiments. This is the reason that we find folk songs for almost all the occasions. Be it marriage ceremony, occasion of birth of a baby, harvesting season, and what not; there are folk songs for every occasion? Festival songs, seasonal songs, songs associated with different rituals etc are passed on from one generation of folk singers to another one. Thus, the chain keeps on growing.

This is a fact that the origin of all other forms of music is our rich, vibrant and ever new folk tradition. The classical music, popular music, regional music, devotional music, theatrical music, movie songs, light music etc have been originated and evolved from the great ocean of the folk musical tradition. If we go through the first written references about Indian music (the Rigveda), we find that two streams of music have been mentioned there. 1. Aranyagaan and 2. Graamgeya Gaana. It is said that the first one represents the music that was sung by the tribes of the forest. These tribes were far from the urban life and therefore were not cultured enough to devise the rules of singing and dancing.

The second stream of music – 'the gramageya gaana' - was governed by a set of rules and hence it can be considered "nearer to the classical music".

Although the folk music is the basic edifice upon which all other its forms evolved, yet the music which is assumed or reflected as the folk music has not been given its due share. Till the time of Sangeet Ratnakar, we find the references of the folk music under the various types of Prabandhas. We are aware that Prabandhas like "Chachchari", "Kreeda", "vasanti" etc were related to and are compared with many folk melodies by the present day scholars. Dr. Prem Lata Sharma has tried to highlight the similarities of folk music with various Prabandhas in her commentary on Sangeet Ratnakar.

However, after Sangeet Ratnakar, no such effort is reflected in the medieval works on music. The history of Indian music in fact had been limited to the Durbars and the Nawabs and the folk traditions were highly ignored. Durbari Sangeet was established as the "ragdari Sangeet or the classical music at a later stage. Musical forms like "Dhruvapadas", "khayals", "Thumaris" etc looked upon the folk music disdainfully and the classical musicians viewed it as something untouchable.

Nevertheless, amongst the masses, the folk music was not only preserved through the oral traditions from generation to generation, but it also got enriched through the contributions of many renowned folk singers.

However, in the era of the globalization and the Electronic Media Boom, this rich tradition of the folk music was badly hit. On one hand, it was tampered with by the market forces whose sole objective has been to exploit the maximum value from everything, and on the other hand, it was disfigured by the popular music which moulded it to the popular taste. Thus, it got new expressions like "Disco Garba", "Punjabi Pop" etc. Indipop singers like Daler Mahndi, Ila Arun etc gave it a new shape. It was transformed into disco music to be suited to the disco theques.

Movie melodies also contributed to the alleviation of the folk tradition. Many lyricists and music composers exploited the folk music and earned millions. However, in the process of creating more money, the folk musical tradition was shattered.

At present, the situation is such that those who even do not know the Punjabi (for instance), claim to sing Punjabi folk. My opinion is that unless one is familiar with the cultural traditions of a particular region, he/she cannot sing the folk melodies of the region. Surely, there are artists who can perfectly copy the style of the folk singers. However, the photocopy of a document cannot be considered as the original document. Likewise, the imitation of a folk style cannot be considered as the real one. To sing a folk song, one has to be familiar with the culture of that region. Secondly, folk songs are not composed. They just are transferred from one generation to another. Of course, these songs keep on changing according to the changing societies as the lyrics are not generally in the printed form. Every singer of the folk melodies contributes to the little changes that take place from time to time. The singers who are used to the cultural heritage of the particular society generally keep on changing the tunes as well as the text as per the requirements of that society. But those who are not related to the cultural heritage of the region cannot compose a folk song as is being done in some cases.

The problem is that the electronic media and the cyber space have changed the very definition of Hindustani music. Singing for the viewers and singing for the microphone cannot be alike and hence do not create the same enthusiasm in the hearts of the performers. When the artists perform for the recording machine, they do not get the feedback from the audience. Therefore their performance is affected. Performing before an appreciative audience provides a challenge to the artist; the challenge to enchant them with his/her charming innovations, the challenge to share with the viewers the same aesthetic experience which has been mentioned in the Upanishads as "Parmananda". This challenge is missing while performing in the captivity of a recording studio. However, the professional artists have changed their mindset according to the demands of the era. The artists of great repute hardly bother for such circumstantial realities. They have just been used to these situations.

The other problem is that new forms of music like the movie melodies, the fusion of two different kinds of music etc have changed the scenario completely and sometimes adversely. Here I would like to make some comments upon the Movie Music.

It is true that the film music has contributed immensely to popularise the music amongst the masses. It is also beyond any disagreement that the movie melodies have provided a lighter alternative in comparison with the traditional but tough classical music. But gradually, this kind of music has been transfigured into "computer-programmed" mechanical kind of music which, instead of giving us pleasure, increases the blood circulation thereby contributing to the high blood pressure. The yearn to imitate the Western style of music has also made the matters worse. Then there are "copy cats" who have not even got the basic training in Hindustani music and have still become composers. All these circumstances have created a kind of confusion. This confusion is reflected in the learner of music. When one wishes to learn music, he/she generally is not sure as to what kind of music he/she wishes to learn; the classical traditional music or the popular music of the modern era.

The result is that the appreciators of classical music are decreasing in numbers. Subsequently, the great artists of the classical music are forced to change their strategy of their performances. They are adopting new forms of music like Bhajan singing, fusion of different kinds of music, performing in duets and trios to make the performance more appealing etc. Many classical music artists are trying their luck in the world of cinema. Some have succeeded some others were not so fortunate. But the main thing is that many traditional artists are getting away from the classical music because they do not see any future in this direction.

Here let me tell you that the Electronic Media (Especially, Radio and TV), which is supposed to be the guardian of our heritage of music, is cashing upon the popular music only. Gradually, the space for the classical music is shrinking on these traditional avenues. On electronic media, now-a-days, the content of the broadcast is decided on the basis of the TRP rankings. The features which go high on the popularity charts, survive whereas, the programmes which have low ranking on the popularity charts but happen to be excellent in their content, vanish. On the state-owned TV channels too, the space for the classical music is shrinking day by day. Secondly, the time slot for such programmes falls at an odd time so that very few persons ever watch these wonderful programmes.

The world of glamour is slowly swallowing the world of our illustrious traditional arts and music. Disco Bhangda, DiscoGarba, DiscoDandia etc are the trends of today. In the strong and exciting beats of these new trends, many of us misunderstand these popular forms with the folk music of the oral tradition. Pop singers sing the folk melodies and some of us think that this is the real one. Recently, the song "Saas Gaari Deve" by Rekha Bharadwaj is actually based upon the traditional Chhattisgarhi folk melody. The difference is that the movie melody does not represent the real tradition of the folk culture. However, the new generation of today think that this is the real one.

On the internet, too much of classical music is available but there is nobody to decide what is right and what is wrong. In this era of IT Boon, everybody can upload the stuff of one's choice. There are sites like "YouTube" which host such video content. But there is no control on the quality side. Therefore, those who are not aware of the classical music cannot decide the authenticity of such music.

The only hope is from the traditional musicians. They can devise their strategies in such a way that the classical music gets more popular. They can create an appreciative audience by teaching the basics of the classical music. Not a single individual can do this. Therefore, the classical musicians should come together for the cause of our music. We have to save our heritage of wonderful music. Through small concerts, lecture/demonstrations, seminars, workshops etc the awareness for the classical music can be increased.

We have to counter the challenges posed by the Media Boon, the IT Boon etc. It is the human tendency that they like the spicy food and avoid the healthy one. Likewise, the exciting spicy music is liked more than the positive traditional music. Let us admit this fact. But it is our duty to present the facts in the right perspective. As the parents explain to their young ones about the benefits of the healthy food in comparison to the junk food, so we shall have to explain the students and the audience of music about the benefits of positive classical music over the modern pop music.