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Relevance of Traditional Indian Classical Music

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Relevance of Traditional Indian Classical Music

Let us attempt an assessment of the present relevance of Traditional Indian Classical—the richest heritage handed over to us by history. Before the advent of the British, the culture of traditional classical music was largely confined to royal courts of Moguls, Nawabs, Rajas and Zamindars apart from Ashrams and Temple campuses. After the British left and coming of independence, a sea change has taken place. Though new possibilities have opened up, the type of patronage and environment (Mahol) in which our classical musical culture flourished had come to an end. Many living scions of rich gharanas had to fight for their livelihood. Determined not to compromise their art and position, many of them just perished unseen and unheard for there was no court of appeal or redress. Several representa­tives of Agra gharana, Delhi gharana, Jaipur gharana, Rampur gharana, Indore gharana spent years in great poverty and want after Independence. A few only were provided for by All India Radio. Many of their dependants had to abandon traditional classical music and take to other means of livelihood. Kathak dancer families took to singing Thumris and Sarangi players tried teaching vocal music. The simple reason was that they and their art were not capable of compromise and the new listening public, vastly increased in number, was just unable to relish their music and looked for exciting and entertaining music. The change started in mid fifties and by the eighties the very fabric of classical music, its practice and presentation changed phenomenally. We have had traditional musicians and some amongst them having the foresight (though not that amount of knowledge or musical excellence) developed the necessary strategy to carve out a niche and future for themselves.

The scenario had changed altogether. The Ustad-shisya parampara was dying out, courts of patronage had gone, the traditionally enlightened classical music listeners and lovers (nurtured by courts) were too gone. What followed next is too well- known. There was a mushrooming of schools and institutions imparting music to students through a large number of teachers. Music tended to become commercialized. Artists were driven to perform before varied audiences often uninitiated in music and insisting upon “pleasing” or “exciting” performances in a very limited time span because, for the new listeners life had many callings and time for listening to classical music was rather limited. Numerous “artists”, not even properly trained, emerged alongside various commercialized groups of organizers of music conferences and concerts. All inall, it was fine time for a limited number of clever performers having a reasonably good musical background and more so for a large number of new and upcoming artists who had successfully assessed the “listeners” requirements and tailored their music within the framework of changed ‘tastes’ and commercial considerations. Independence further opened the flood gates of the West and ‘propagation of culture’ because a major preoccupation of various organizations and artists. The Khandani Ustad and his music became total misfits in this new environment and ethos. Music had to be taught in Universities and institutions by teachers of varying back­grounds who were no match for the earlier musicians either in skill or knowledge. Earning a livelihood through music in such ‘open’ and competitive conditions became a commercial proposition.

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The most interesting but perhaps inevitable development in the changed context, has been the movement launched by several performers, organizers and listeners alike to work out and introduce ‘innovations’ in our classical musical system so that it adapts itself to ‘present day’ requirements. And so we have new styles, compromises, mutilations, new creations and all manner of new things brought in. Indian music has been historically changing over the centuries—a slow process where innovations did take place but within the mainstream of musical culture. Innovations came in phases.

  • Firstly, rhythm and tala became far too prominent and engrossing.
  • Secondly, western influence over orchestration and jazz music encouraged compromises in instrumental music in respect of both raga content and taking of liberties indifferent ways.
  • Thirdly, there was a craze for speed and tayyari in classical music. This new license was far too pronounced in the North whereas the South seriously held on to its traditions and tried to protect, as much as possible, the pristine purity of its music.
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