Introduction to Indian Classical Music

Introduction to Indian Classical Music

Indian art and its Classical music in particular have historically commanded international respect. Across history, many art lovers and important personalities came to India to study and enjoy its arts including music. Apart from such isolated individual interactions with our music, history testifies to massive and large scale interactions following political inva­sions and conquest of India. Those who entered as conquerors, however, came to stay in this land and had brought with them their music and instruments. This is very much true of the Persians and Mughals.

What, however, is more signi­ficant is that due to their greater geographical proximity to India compared to the distant Western countries, musical affinities were on the cards and over the centuries a process of musical metamorphosis better signified as cultural assimilation had started and subsequently taken deep roots. The developments and changes in the Indian classical musical system were thus part and parcel of this process of cultural assimilation. Such, however, has been the resilience and flexibility of our musical system that in this process, our music did not lose its individuality or separate artistic identity both as a system and art.

The traditional Indian music assimilated what it found congruous, compatible and best in the musical systems of the Middle East and West Asia. This has been all to the good in the sense that our music kept on develop­ing, changing and searching new vistas and fresh directions for improvement. Truly speaking these developments were not exactly new or unknown to the Indian Musical culture. The process of change that went on from say the 11th to the 20th century was perhaps a repetition of what had happened following the entry of the Aryans into the plains of North India with their Vedic hymns, religious rites and a culture imbued with devotion and a spirit of abnegation. This explains why in India the indigenous classical traditions, unlike other traditional Societies of the world, were not relegated to museums or archives. Their place, unlike elsewhere, has not been taken by occidental forms. Perhaps due to its inner momentum and vitality, our musical tradition acquired a living force and survived the disturbances and imbalances of centuries resulting from fighting, chaos and disturbances of many kinds.

Pre-Independence Scene of Classical Music

Indian Classical music in a high degree of purity and authenticity was in vogue during the thirties and forties. It was clearly an elitist activity, and listening and enjoyment of classical music in India was confined to selected groups only.

From 1910 on-wards however, thanks to the persuasive and pioneering efforts of leader’s like Bhatkhandeji and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, schools and colleges of music with the tacit support of the rulers and richer sections of Indian Classical Music lovers were being established. Alongside, efforts had started to standardize and bring about uniformity in the concept of ragas and compositions and the introduction of notations. What is more, for the first time (starting with Baroda in 1915) music conferences or sammellans began to be organized where the maestros from all the Durbars and other centers were brought together and genuine lovers of music were given the opportunity to listen to classical music at its best.

Still, however, the grammar, the parampara, and traditions were left undisturbed, there still were Durbar and chamber concerts and performances in large halls or pandals were still few and far between. More importantly the Classical Musicians exercised restraint and kept on their attempt to train listeners to a higher taste. Conversely the listeners also kept an invisible check on the Indian Classical Musicians who could not easily turn adventurists or stray out of the classical mainstream even if they wished to. It was common for performances to be punctuated by applauses or frowns and protests if things were not done the right way.

Post-Independence Scene of Classical Music

With the advent of independence a sea change took place.

The Princely states and Durbars vanished and with them the long standing infrastructure of classical music, the court musicians, the guru shisya parampara subsisting in the native states. The knowledgeable listeners of Indian Classical Music also slowly disappeared. A major source of patronage, training and propagation by native states (however limited) disappeared.

A real qualitative change from small chamber concerts to the concert stage and pandals took place to cater to the “demands” for wider public listening.

Promotion of Classical music soon became a commercial proposition and so emerged a class of professional conference/concert organizers under various names with the blessing of moneyed interests.

Industry and Commerce better known as the Corporate Sector, who had no connection with Classical Music earlier, woke up to their social responsibilities and with their phenomenal money power took to organizing high fee concerts and permitting unpaid admissions to listeners of Indian Classical Music. Apart from helping culture to survive, this helped to improve their public relations and social image and drew the applause of the artists, the listeners and they also came to the favorable notice of government.

The disintegration and dissolution of gharanas of Indian Classical Music come with amazing rapidity as the ethos and changed economic conditions were adverse to their continuance as distinct and separate musical disciplines. Let us understand clearly that the best and topmost artists of today represent only an amalgam of earlier styles stamped, of course, by their individual musical genius and personality. Diversity of styles ‘exemplified in the gharanas slowly disappeared and we have now a fairly standardized style of singing or playing follow­ing the style of the commercially successful musicians. It is no use denying this stark reality.

The new expanding body of listeners has created a new milieu. It is difficult to say whether they created the Classical Musicians or the latter created them in the matter of presentation of more acceptable and entertaining music on the concert stage. The earlier “control” exercised by listeners on the performers had been all but lost giving the innovative and adventurist performers great courage and confidence and perhaps some degree of license. Questions such as “purity”; conforming to traditions etc. seemed to be irrelevant so long as entertaining and appetizing music was available. Those who are mightily happy with this state of affairs rationalize it as the result of “public demand” as if classical music was a commodity subject to the forces of demand and supply. The development, to say the least, is interesting.

One of the major catastrophes to overtake Indian Classical Music was the death in quick succession of some of the best known maestros after independence. Earlier in 1936 alone we lost Nasiruddin Dagar, Abdul Karim Khan and Enayet Khan. A landslide set in after 1950 and the maestros we lost in 30/35 years were Faiyyaz Khan, Sawai Gandharva,   D. V. Paluskar,  Omkarnath Thakur, Rajab Ali Khan, Allauddin Khan,  Kesar Bai Kerkar, Sharafat Hussain, Latafat Hussain, Sidheswari Dav, Abid Hussain Khan.

It is not being suggested that the old masters of Indian Classical Music should not have died but many of them were good for several years more. Some of us will certainly shed tears on their unti­mely departure because they were solid links with the past and were great supporters one and all of our heritage and parampara based music. Any careful observer would see that this vacuum was too large to be filled up and the loss was almost of a permanent nature.

Like the inexorable laws of nature, there has been a rush of new artists of Indian Classical Music  to make up for the vacuum. It is no reflection on the calibre and potentiality of the present day artists but it would not be any exaggeration to say that, at their best, they cannot match the depth or brilliance a the great masters we have lost in the last 30 or 40 years. I say this with my deepest respects and regards for the present day stalwarts who are certainly doing their best to keep the torch of our heritage burning.

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