Saturday, December 22, 2007

Prof. Ashok Ranade -- "Dhrupad represents the precomposed tendency in Hindustani music"

Approved transcript of an interview 
with Deepak Raja on August 19, 1998.

In this discussion, I am happy to explore some themes related to Dhrupad, which are in circulation today, and enjoy varying degrees of popularity amongst different categories of audiences.

Conventionally, such discussions begin with its origin. In my opinion, it is not proper or valid to associate the word "origin" with the emergence of any musical form. Musical forms are a cumulative result, a progressive crystallization, of certain tendencies, and this process takes generations, even centuries. Therefore, the specific attribution of origination to an individual, or a period in history, is untenable.

Of the two tendencies in Indian music -- Nibaddha (pre-composed) Sangeet and Anibaddha (improvised) Sangeet -- Dhrupad is a crystallization of the former tendency i.e. Nibaddha Sangeet. In Nibaddha Sangeet, we accept the possibility of pre-composing all the important elements of music making.

This strategy certainly has its advantages. If all important elements are pre-composed, the resulting whole can be esthetically very tight, and coherent. Very little is left to chance. It is a perfectly crafted totality. Whenever musical forms crystallize this kind of tendency, all elements -- the Swara, the Laya , the Tala , the thematic element, the poetic , and the orchestral -- have a very significant and purposeful relationship with each other. In this sense, it becomes a very well structured piece of music.

Nibaddha Sangeet was a very important phase in Indian music making. It also suggested that music had a larger relationship with other facets of life. Otherwise, it would have had no need to be pre-composed.

Indian music in general -- not merely art music -- distinguishes itself by its ability and intention to relate to three important cycles governing human life -- the cycle of birth and death, the cycle of night and day, and the cycle of the six seasons. I am suggesting that if you want to have a system of music that responds to all these three cycles, then music will inevitably tend towards being pre-composed.

It would appear that, at one stage, Nibaddha Sangeet, of which Dhrupad is one manifestation, was interested in responding to all the three cycles. And, that is why you find compositions for birth, death, marriage, birth of the first son, initiations, coronations, and every conceivable landmark. This suggests the pre-composed, structured attitude to music, leading to a consolidation in this particular form of Nibaddha Sangeet.

People have expressed an interest in imagining a relationship between the Dhruvas, as described in Bharata's Natya Shastra, and Dhruva-Pada (Dhrupad) as we know it. We know that the word "Pada" always refers to the textual/linguistic aspect of the music. We know that Dhruvas are totally pre-composed. They have been placed in a very specific dramatic context. Their musical parameters have also been defined -- the tempo, the meter, the Tala, the language -- everything.

If we accept continuity between the two, Dhruva of Bharata's Natya Shastra emerges as the pre-composed music in a dramatic context. And Dhrupad, as we know it, represents a continuity of that tendency towards pre-composed music outside the dramatic context. By removing it from its original context, you are not necessarily altering its basic characteristics.

Let us speculate upon the situation in the 15th or 16th centuries. This is the time when , Jatigayan has disappeared from the scene, Moorchhana has faded away, the principle of Swaragrama had been established and we are led to tonality as the basis of Raga-based music. You have all the musical intervals within one octave. This was the state of evolution of the melodic ideas.

As far as rhythm is concerned, the Mridanga, the two-faced drum, continued to be the prototype of the language of all the other avanaddha & ghana instruments, just as the veena remained the prototype of the language for all melodic instrumental music.

During this period, I surmise that Nibaddha Sangeet continued to dominate music making. But, music had begun to step out of the ritualistic context. A part of it could have remained anchored in the ritualistic context; but an independent stream had certainly begun to flow .

We have no reason to believe that this was caused by court influences because the forces of secularization need not necessarily work through the instrumentality of power or patronage.

This is suggested to us by the emergence of the Dhamar form, as an adjunct to the Dhrupad form. Dhamar is related to the Holi festival, a secular festival, and has nothing to do with either the ritualistic context or the feudal aristocracy. Also, notice that the name itself is the name of a Tala. Dadra is the only other musical form which carries the name of a Tala. You will find that no major musical form carries the name of the Tala.

To me, it appears significant that, in more recent times, Dhrupad and Dhamar have evolved as a pair. In Dhrupad, you might have themes that deal with courtly life or theological themes. But, alongside Dhrupad, you have Dhamar, which deals with secular themes. Even tempo-wise, Dhamar is a very different kind of music making.

I am suggesting that Dhrupad, being a Nibaddha form, wanted to relate to a wider area of human experience. In that search, it gathered, under its rubric, other forms like Dhamar. But, its own central shaping force was Nibaddha Sangeet.

Let us consider the context in which Raja Mansingh Tomar functioned as a major force in shaping the secular tendencies in Dhrupad. At that time, there was Haveli Sangeet. And, you had the parallel tradition of Vishnu Pada. Within these different musical forms, secular or otherwise, there was something happening which was seeking a different direction. But, the basic tendency of all of these forms was Nibaddha Sangeet.

It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Dhrupad, as we know it, has the tendency to imitate prototypes created in earlier times within the tradition of Nibaddha Sangeet. As its predecessors were more drama oriented and ritualistic, Dhrupad was an attempt at extending the area of operation for this strategy/tendency of music making. We should also therefore resist the temptation of attributing the origins of Dhrupad either to any single person or to a particular period in history.

The transition
Let us now consider the present corpus of musical forms. We have Dhrupads as such, then we have Dhrupads which are slightly liberated, and then we have Khayals which are akin to Dhrupads. And, of course, we have Khayals. All these forms are interacting with each other. The moment a form tends to get too rigid, there is bound to be a reaction.

Originally, we had Dhrupads which had four stanzas. Later on, one stanza disappeared, and then you had three left. Then, you had Khayals which had three stanzas. But, in today's Khayal, the manjha has disappeared, and now Dhrupad and Khayal both have only two left.

In the Khayal genre, we have a form called sadra, which is akin to Dhrupad; actually, it is called langda Dhrupad. I have myself been taught, by Prof. BR Deodhar, a composition in Lalit Pancham which is a Khayal version . I have also learnt the same from Pt. Ganu as a Dhrupad-oriented composition.

The dialectic process will work in the other direction also. When we find the tendency of the form becoming too loose or amorphous, we move to give it a more definite shape. This is, therefore, a dynamic process. Every decision to impose or loosen the form will automatically activate its reaction in the opposite direction.

Khayal is therefore to be understood as the a crystallization of one of the reactions against Nibaddha Sangeet. Historically, even if we take Sadarang as a landmark figure in the history of Khayal, Dhrupad and Khayal co-existed for at least two centuries before Dhrupad began its decline. And, this is the way musical forms co-exist, with different degrees of popularity, acceptability and expressive power at different stages in the life of a society.

I believe that there is nothing like the death of any musical form. Forms, when in decline, tend to go underground for a while, and resurface in some other form. Therefore, to talk of art-music in the context of art-music alone does not make much sense. Unless you have all the five categories of music in view -- primitive music, folk music, religious music, popular music and art music -- you cannot speak intelligently about any of them. In India, this is even truer because all these are living traditions.

When we speak about India's traditional music, which tradition in particular are we talking about ? We can talk about art music. But, the same tendencies have prevailed in religious music. For instance, take Haveli Sangeet. Why is it that certain compositions in Haveli Sangeet do not permit melodic or rhythmic elaboration ? The reason is, obviously, their tie-up with religious rituals which prohibits freedom of musical elaboration.

The moment we come to Khayal, we are moving from Nibaddha to Anibaddha Sangeet. The name itself signifies imagination. This does not mean that Dhrupad does not have imagination. It means that imagination is the primary moving force in Khayal while in Dhrupad it is co-existing strategy. In Khayal the priority is accorded to imagination or the improvisational process overriding other music-making strategies/ techniques etc.

But, you notice that even in Khayals, you have not isolated yourself from the wider aspects of human experience. Why, for instance, why do you have Mubarakbadi ? Why do you have seasonal songs ? This is because we feel that if music becomes too abstract, it may forfeit its moorings in the totality of human life, and might cease to be contemporary with it.

There is interesting evidence of this. In 1904 or thereabouts, the Rampur Nawab published five volumes of his own compositions with notations. For these, the composer has taken themes from folk music to turn them into Khayals. In the introduction to that publication, he specifically mentions that compositions composed especially for different occasions were going out of circulation, and that he was making an effort to bring back music appropriate to special occasions by composing and publishing these volumes.

It is clear that this was a man who had seen the era in which art-music was bound closely to different facets of human life, and felt that contemporary art music was becoming too formalistic, too much of an abstraction. I believe that Indian music finds it difficult to drift too far away from such a reference point.

Consider instrumental music which has made great "progress" in the last five decades. If you discuss his music with any instrumentalist, he will speak in terminology of gayaki. Instrumental music has developed its own forms, but musicians remain wedded to the concepts of vocal music.

This is because they feel that to formalize the independent idiom of their music through its own terminology would abstract their music from the mainstream of music. They might see the relationship with the totality of human experience as belonging to the territory of the poetic form, because it is explicit there. One might say that there is some guilt associated with the process of abstraction. But, this might equally well be pure and simple nostalgia.

There are, of course, other, more general, trends that support nostalgia. For instance, the loss of intimacy between the performer and the audience in the modern auditorium. This is also a form of losing a sense of connection with the world. But, the loss of the explicit meaning of poetry is certainly a contributor to the instrumentalist's nostalgia.

Coming back to the transition, Khayal is often playing hide-and-seek between explicit meaning in poetry, and the abstraction of the melodic form. Can you imagine the incongruity of a Mubarakbadi, related to greeting a person on his marriage, composed in Darbari ? The textual and musical contents are totally incompatible. But, there it is. We Indians are not very comfortable about dispensing with explicit meaning, even when we wish to make a statement contrary to it.

Recently, I came across the writings of DL Roy, who had heard all the leading Dhrupadiyas in the 1920's and 1930's. He has strongly criticized them for the total absence of either emotional or esthetic appeal in their music. On this basis, he came to the conclusion that Dhrupad had no chance of survival as a dominant musical form.

It has been argued that Dhrupad drifted towards being an excessively cerebral, rhythm-obsessed, and even unpleasant, form of music in a desperate effort to counteract the growing influence of the Khayal form. But, considering the way Dhrupad was structured, there was little else it could do.

Every musical form has its own genetic plan, by which its maneuverability is determined. Dhrupad was genetically handicapped in meeting the esthetic forces it had to contend with. It was limited in its range of ragas, talas, instrumental accompaniment, thematic content, compositional variety, and improvisational freedom.

Dhrupad was also constrained by the Pakhavaj, whose language rules out the rendering of a theka, and whose sonorous acoustics would drown any melodic subtleties. And, notice how closely the language of the pakhavaj and the melodic idiom are tied up with each other. There is a tal-paran, and there is a sur-paran. They go hand in hand.

The same can be said of the Rudra veena accompaniment. Its acoustics are rich in sustain and the harmonics they deliver. Every time the string is struck, the resulting sound has a long shadow, which again tends to drown out melodic subtleties in the vocal rendition.

The issue of accompanying instruments becomes even more critical in the contemporary environment of amplification acoustics. Unless this is very astutely controlled, the rhythmic contours of the Pakhavaj and melodic contours of the Rudra veena can create a blurred, and even confusing aural experience.

Dhrupad finds itself, esthetically, in a dead-end street. Given this reality, how else, other than an accentuation of rhythmic dexterity, could Dhrupad have even tried to counteract the growing Khayal influence ?

Consider also the interesting fact that Dhrupad has had no female singers, until recently. All these are, no doubt, offshoots of the socio-cultural environment at a certain stage in history. But, they are inter-related. If you develop an excessively masculine style of music which does not attract women, you are not only restricting your pool of talent, but also your audience profiles.

Khayalias were clever. They started picking up elements of Dhrupad. This is how the sadra form in jhaptal came into being. And, they created Langda Dhrupad which is part-Dhrupad, part non-Dhrupad. In this form, they could introduce tans, bol-tans, sargams, any form of improvisation, which Dhrupad would not permit.

Largely, the same logic holds for the future of the Rudra veena and the surbahar, instruments associated with the Dhrupad-dominated era. Or even to the Pakhavaj in relation to the tabla. They are in a dead-end street because the Sitar and Tabla have taken over their music, and extended it into a territory they cannot enter.

Khayal was setting up an alternative model of music making which accentuated tendencies which were not allowed to prosper in Dhrupad, and it acquired a following because of its appeal to the cultural and social environment of the modern times.

We are not saying that Dhrupad and Khayal are contrasting forms. What we are saying is that the two epitomize two distinct tendencies -- Nibaddha and Anibaddha -- in Hindustani music.

When we look at the emergence of Khayal as the dominant form, we should look at how any musical form achieves and sustains its dominant position.

First, it attracts all kinds of performers towards it. Second, it tries to assimilate the musical tendencies of other forms. Third, it allows individuals enough freedom to express themselves, especially in the initial stages. Fourth, it makes allowances for a distinction between the larger disciplinary model of a gharana, and the style of an individual musician.

All these factors can bee seen in the case of Khayal, when Dhrupad and Khayal were both active in the field of Hindustani music, and Khayal was overtaking Dhrupad.

The dynamics of a multiple-genre environment
In the present context, we are not looking at just this pair of competing musical forms. You have other forms contending.

First, we have the Thumree, which you may not consider to be a major contender at the moment. But, Thumree is also a fairly recent development. The Nibaddha/ Anibaddha formulation had become well consolidated by late-16th/ early 17th century. So, even the Thumree can be considered, in dialectic terminology, as an anti-thesis to the dominant Nibaddha form of Dhrupad. Its content was attractive enough. So, Thumree came into being.

Then, you have the evolution of Persian influences. It entered through poetry. The ghazal form evolved from a purely recitative expression (tarannum) to its contemporary song form.

So, we could, at one stage, look at Thumree and ghazal the same way as we were looking at Dhrupad and Khayal; Thumree representing the Anibaddha form, and the Ghazal representing the Nibaddha form. So, whenever you have an Anibaddha form, you will find a Nibaddha form parallel to it.

But, our understanding of the phenomenon can not stop there. The Ghazal, sensing that Thumree has greater freedom, has started picking up elements from the Thumree. You have heard Beghum Akhtar introducing the practice singing "shers" in a Thumree. Poetically, you are not talking of an independent unit. But, musically, you have created a slot of freedom, and are interpolating poetry into it merely to validate its presence.

It is interesting to observe that the bol-banav Thumree is now becoming expansive. It is also no longer being sung only in light ragas. In effect, the bol-banav Thumree might be doing to the bada Khayal precisely what the Bada Khayal did to Dhrupad more than two centuries ago.

On the other hand, the chhota Khayal consists almost totally of compositions from the bandish-ki-Thumree genre. In the process, it has almost destroyed the bandish-ki-Thumree form altogether. Thus, you find that all musical forms are vying for supremacy by borrowing elements from each other.

Esthetic appraisal
It would appear that the Khayal form provides the esthetic satisfaction that Dhrupad delivered, and in addition, it provides those satisfactions Dhrupad could not provide. Only such a formulation can validate the present status of Khayal in relation to Dhrupad.

It also appears that, progressively, Dhrupad distinguished each element to such an extent, that they had become almost segregated, and even isolated from each other. They had acquired a purely sequential relationship with each other without any degree of coherence between them.

I believe that Dhrupad declined also because it progressively lost the richness of its multi-faceted personality.

Let us consider the textual or poetic element of Dhrupad. There is a general impression that Dhrupads were written in a very limited range of themes -- either in praise of God or emperors, and at best, to describe seasons. The evidence suggests otherwise. Dhrupads have a very wide thematic coverage. Obviously, the width reflects a certain quality audience.

Consider the evidence that Nayak Bakshu is rated, in contemporary texts, as being superior to Tansen. One of the reasons mentioned for this assessment is that he never used a vocal accompanist. Secondly, he used to accompany himself on the Pakhavaj. Thirdly, he used to sing in a very high pitched voice.

If you analyze the textual content of Nayak Bakshu's compositions covered in Sahasarasa, you will be surprised to find that there are many esoteric musicological themes, along with general themes. My contention is that if Bakshu was popular during his lifetime, and the King ordered a compilation of his compositions a hundred years after his death, Bakshu’s listeners must have been of a very high intellectual level. The textual sophistication of his compositions, many of which deal with esoteric aspects of esthetics, Raga and Tala, is truly amazing. .

This evidence emphasizes the stable chain of expectations and familiarity which binds a musician to his audiences in Nibaddha Sangeet. Every element of the music can afford to be stable and predictable, because audience profiles are also stable and predictable.

Whatever the reasons for the textual impoverishment of Dhrupad, the truth is that it did shrink in terms of its thematic coverage. At the same time, you find that Thumree, ghazal, and Khayal are conquering new territories, whether thematically or not. If poetry, which was the mainstay of Dhrupad, starts getting weaker, the locus standi of the genre itself starts slipping.

Another suggestion of history is that, with the Khayal form, the individual musician was coming to the fore. The argument for the distinction of Nayak Bakshu -- that he sang without vocal accompaniment -- suggested that traditionally Dhrupad was not as a solo a performing art as Khayal has been.

Even today, you find that several leading Dhrupad musicians perform in pairs. But, you do not come across as many Khayal singers singing in pairs. This is because Khayal is Anibaddha, and demands greater individual freedom. Dhrupad, being in the Nibaddha tradition, does not require individual freedom.

The same tendency is visible in the role of percussion. In Dhrupad, the Pakhavaj has a major share in the music making. But, in Khayal you want merely an accompanist, playing only a supportive role.

Who likes what kind of music?
The original audience for Dhrupad was a homogeneous, sophisticated, elite audience. The audience for Khayal was probably not as highly initiated, but perhaps a more heterogeneous, with a more diverse set of expectations from the process of music making. One of the aspects of this expectation would be not only that of intellectual satisfaction, but also emotional satisfaction. Khayal, I believe, started delivering this emotional satisfaction, and hence scored a point over Dhrupad.

In an extreme expression of man's needs for emotional satisfaction from music, Rabindranath Tagore complains about this handicap of Hindustani music. He says that he wants to sing about his own individual sorrow; but the moment he breaks into Hindustani music, he finds himself singing about universal sorrow. Where, he asks, is the place for his personal joys and sorrows in Hindustani music ? This is why he says that he wanted to write his own poetry, to compose his own music, and also to sing it.

We therefore come to the notion that every society has certain musical needs. At one stage, we needed music to provide primarily intellectual satisfactions. Then, we realized that we also required music to provide emotional satisfactions.

To fulfill this need, there was either religious music, which did not allow an individualized expression, or folk music, which had the same problem. Then came the growth of popular music. Here, you will observe that in every region which has witnessed a growth of popular regional genres after the advent of British rule, the music tends to be of a strongly emotional nature, and outgoing to the extent that some of it even became obscene. There was a general impetus towards liberating the mind.

As evidence, notice the thumrees in the north, the tamasha lavnis in Maharashtra, the jatra in Bengal. Imagine, at one stage, Nidhu Babu's tappas were considered obscene, much as the waltzes of Strauss were considered licentious in the Europe of his times. If you look at the texts of these tappas, there was nothing obscene in it. They were only singing of individual love, instead of the leela of Radha and Krishna. This became sufficiently titillating for the cultural environment of that time.

In this context, Khayal has the flexibility to handle personalized emotional statements as well universalized emotional statements. Thus, Khayal is capable of a much wider appeal than Dhrupad. And, the converse is also valid. If there are segments of society which have musical needs narrower than those that Khayal satisfies, Dhrupad is there to fulfill those needs.

So, when we observe that Western audiences favor Dhrupad on a larger scale than Khayal, it is easy to understand why. They are getting a structured form of music which is comprehensible. It is also solo music, and also melodic music, these being the points of divergence from the Western classical tradition. For them, Dhrupad probably fulfills, in a very broad sense and at a different level, the same needs that pop music does.

Western audiences probably also find Dhrupad tonally more cohesive than their own classical music. It may lack tonal color; it is monochromatic in a way. But, it is one single color presented very solidly.

In addition, the Western mind values a musical genre that is broadly -- even if wrongly -- described as ancient music. It creates a kind of nostalgia. Nostalgia need not necessarily be evoked by a cultural affinity with the object of the feeling; it can also be a more universal sense of loss, in purely historical terms. I am capable of feeling very nostalgic when I visit the monuments of ancient Greece or renaissance Italy because, somewhere deep within myself, I have been through the phases of evolution that they represent.

The Dhrupad revival
I am willing to grant that the very features that make Dhrupad appealing to Western audiences, might also explain its growing popularity with the younger, less initiated audiences in India. Classical music is being projected now as the voice of culture, an expression of the Indian identity. And, Dhrupad is being projected as ancient, as the authentic voice of the Indian tradition.

The character of Dhrupad and this configuration of images cannot have much appeal for those who are exposed to thumrees, or Khayals, or taranas or even folk music. It is more likely to have an appeal for those who are exposed only to other kinds of music, like film music, or popular music -- contemporary music, not necessarily rooted in any tradition.

Could the so-called Dhrupad revival in India be a backlash against declining standards of musicianship in Khayal ? Might the freedom of Khayal have allowed it to decay to such an extent, that even initiated audiences are beginning to feel safer with Dhrupad ? The structure at least guarantees a certain minimum degree of aesthetic coherence !

This is a distinct possibility. We might have started doing to Khayal, precisely what Dhrupad did to itself over the last three centuries. We are chopping off some of its assets.

For instance, in the 19th century, people stared saying that the poetic form has no importance in Khayal music. Look at the corpus of Khayal music. You will find a tremendous variety of themes. But, look at the Khayals in circulation. Very few people sing traditional compositions. New compositions have no literary value; they are diluted versions of earlier prototypes.

We know that many Dhrupads were transformed into Khayals. Those Dhrupads were high in poetic value. How many people sing those Khayals today ? That variety has gone.

Consider the Khayals which, for instance, form Bhatkhande's compilation of 1800 compositions. You find Khayals in Marwadi, Brijbhasha, Sindhi, Punjabi, Persian, Maithili, Bhojpuri, and several other dialects. Analyze what is being sung today. So, even the linguistic variety is lost.

The same can be said of variety in talas. Tilwada, which was called the Khayal Theka, associated with the Khayal just as Dhrupad is associated with Chautal, has become a rarity now. Then, there were Ada Chautal, Roopak, and several other talas. What remains in circulation today is only Ektal.

Then, there is the issue of significance in Khayal compositions. The great composers used to write poetry and compose it into its rhythmic-melodic frame on special occasions. In the olden days, it was customary for a musician to narrate the history of the composition, which put all the facets of the composition in a perspective.

Today, hardly any musician knows the compositional context of his compositions. As a result, the composer's intention ceases to guide the presentation, the poetic content is often mauled by ignorance of its context, and the Khayal is expected to make sense in a contextual vacuum.

Another important aspect of the decay is that because you are now projecting the individual singer and his talent, the quality of the voice has become more important. This trend was, of course, aided by the growth of amplification technology.

If you consider the generation of giants who emerged in the pre-amplification era -- Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Faiyyaz Khan, Kesarbai, Abdul Kareem Khan, Vaze Buva, Omkarnath Thakur -- all of them had very distinctive voices. None of them was similar to any of the others, and their voices were their respective individual responses to the dissemination environment of their times.

Today's Khayal singers have not yet realized that with amplification electronics, the pitch and volume of their voices has ceased to be a major issue in audience appeal. And, unless they work on the distinctiveness of the timbre in their voices, and the nuances created by the manipulation of the timbre, they will all begin to sound the same, and fail to hold audience interest. In achieving an appealing timbre, today's Khayal vocalist is competing with the fantastic variety and richness of the timbres being offered by instrumental music, which enjoys greater popularity than vocal music.

If you look at the totality of this perspective on the contemporary Khayal scene, Dhrupad might seem like a safer esthetic package, especially to uninitiated audiences.

Reproduced, with the publisher’s consent, from “Perspectives on Dhrupad”, edited by Deepak Raja, and Suvarnalata Rao, published by the Indian Musicological Society, Baroda/ Bombay. 1999

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ramakant Sant -- “You can forget about the Shehnai’s future”

Sant spoke to Deepak Raja on April 04, 2004

My father, Gangadhar Sant, was a Shehnai player and a violinist, who served the princely state of Baroda, and later taught at the Faculty of Performing Arts of the University. He came from a small town in Maharashtra called Yeola. He was orphaned at an early age, and was adopted by his uncle, Ganpatrao Bidwe, one of the leading Shehnai players in the service of the Baroda court. Bidwe taught him the Shehnai and sent him to study the violin with Prof. Hirji Doctor, the principal of the Baroda music school. My mother was the daughter of Shankarrao Gaekwad, the famous Shehnai player from Pune in Maharashtra, and well versed in Hindustani music.

The Baroda tradition of Shehnai is an offshoot of the Maharashtra tradition. It began in the early 20th century when Ganpatrao Vasaikar came from Maharashtra to the Baroda court. In addition to performing duties at the court and the palace, court musicians were required to teach at the state music school. Vasaikar groomed several students, the principal amongst them being my father’s uncle, Ganpatrao Bidwe, Bhagwantrao Waghmare, and Govindrao Shinde. I am the fourth generation of Shehnai players in the family from my father’s side, and a descendant of famous Shehnai players from my mother’s side.

Ours is a Khayal based tradition while the Benares tradition is allied to the Thumree and the regional and folk genres of that region. Maharaja Sayajirao wanted the Shehnai players of the state to be systematically trained by Khayal vocalists. The Baroda court employed some of the greatest vocalists of the era. But, in his wisdom, the king chose to have Vasaikar trained, at the state’s expense, by Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhindi Bazaar gharana in Bombay. Because of this legacy, our repertoire uses Khayal bandish-es; our treatment of the bandish-es follows the khayal style, our tan-s are also of Khayal type, and we perform several profound or complex ragas, which Shehnai players from Benares do not generally play.

The Baroda shehnai tradition flowered as long as the princely states were under British rule. However, a Shehnai player’s life was precarious even before my father’s time. The State paid Shehnai players a salary. But, the Shehnai was a ceremonial instrument; Shehnai players had neither enough performing to do, nor students to teach. The state ran an orchestra. So, Shehnai players trained themselves on at least one more instrument – usually a bow instrument -- in order to ensure their usefulness. In line with this pattern, my father’s uncle trained my father on the Shehnai at home, and had him groomed as a violinist at the state music school.

My father started life as a member of the Baroda State Orchestra, in which he played the violin as well as the Shehnai. He also taught the Shehnai at the music school. When the princely state merged with the Indian Union at the time of independence, the orchestra and the Shehnai classes were both wound up. By this time, the Shehnai class had virtually no students anyway. My father retained his job as a violin teacher at the music school, which later became a part of Baroda University. This gave him his livelihood, while he continued his Shehnai profession on the side in a shrinking market. The violin became the principal bread-earner for my family, and it was obvious that the situation would not change. It was natural that I should have been trained on the violin and the Shehnai, in addition to vocal music, which is the foundation. I also learnt to play the harmonium, the Tabla and the sitar. I might have done well enough without the Shehnai. But, the family tradition kept me wedded to it. Of course, I have no regrets. But, under less hostile circumstances, I could have done much more with the Shehnai.

I started life at 20 as a violin teacher at the Music Academy in Rajkot (Gujarat). After that, I taught music at several schools in different cities of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Of course, there were no students anywhere for the Shehnai. I taught vocal music, the violin and other instruments. I continued to perform on the Shehnai whenever an opportunity arose -- even for paltry sums of money because I had to keep in touch. I practiced on the Shehnai religiously for two hours a day, no matter what I did for a living. One of those teaching jobs took me to Udaipur, where I performed part-time at the famous Lake Palace Hotel. There, I had occasion to play for Yehudi Menuhin, who gave me a letter of appreciation, and an autographed copy of his photograph. These are my most precious possessions. My life stabilized only at 40, when I was appointed on the staff of All India Radio -- as a violinist. The job gave me financial stability without requiring me to be a Jack-of-all-trades. I could then concentrate on just two instruments – the violin for my livelihood, and the Shehnai for whatever else.

Interestingly, I got my rewards as a Shehnai player after I joined the radio staff as a violinist. These rewards came from abroad, and not from within the country. Thanks only to them, I could buy the simple house I live in, and have retired peacefully. My father had predicted that, some day, the Shehnai art would attract a premium. This has begun to happen, but not visibly enough to motivate my sons. One of my sons is a sitarist and works for the radio station. Another has studied the Shehnai, but has only casual interest in it because he teaches the violin at the music college. I doubt there will be another Shehnai player in my family. I will happily teach others, but there are no students.

After retiring from the radio station, I continue to broadcast on the violin as well as the Shehnai. Other than this, my occupation revolves around the Shehnai. However, the opportunities are largely in the ceremonial market, which demands popular and folk music. Even in that context, I try to remain true to my training by performing music based on classical raga-s. Invitations for classical concerts on Shehnai are few and far between. The market for the Shehnai has to be primarily local. Shehnai performance is a group effort because of its extra-ordinary demands on the breath. Long-distance travel becomes unviable. So, my skills are not being refined by wider exposure and competition. I have grown largely on my own steam, and this is hardly sufficient. This must be the story of classical Shehnai players all over the country.

Every village in Northern India has Shehnai players. But, they survive by playing folk and film songs at marriages. Marriages are a highly seasonal affair, so they live by other means during the lean season. Even the marriage market is dying out, as people are moving to pre-recorded music and brass-bands. There is no incentive for Shehnai players to go through 15/20 years of training to become classical musicians. The Shehnai can now survive only as a classical instrument, and with the encouragement of international audiences. By the time the support gathers momentum, there will be no decent Shehnai players left either to perform or to teach. You need at least a hundred serious Shehnai players to produce another Bismillah Khan. It is too late now. You can forget about the Shehnai’s future.

© Deepak S. Raja
The finest recordings of Ramakant Sant have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kaivalya Kumar – “Musicians should think, all the time, about enriching the content of their music”

Introduction: Kaivalya Kumar (born: 1963), the son of the Kairana stalwart, Sangameshwar Gurav [Born:1932] tried very hard to avoid a career in music. Discouraged by his father's moderate success in the profession, Kaivalya educated himself for a career in business, and engineering, achieving academic distinctions in both. When none of these gave him a professional opening, he turned to classical music. He took a degree in music, surrendered himself to rigorous training under his father, and launched himself into the ancestral profession. Finally, destiny smiled. Kaivalya occupies the “A” grade of All India Radio, enjoys a respectable presence on the concert platform, has released several commercial recordings, and received honours from cultural organisations all over the country.

Kaivalya spoke to Deepak Raja on June 4, 2001

My training with my father has the strong Kairana gharana bias of his own music. But, I have also been taught some ragas and bandishes, which my grandfather, Ganpatrao, had learnt from Bhaskarbuwa, and documented with detailed notations. A good part of the Bhaskarbuwa legacy came from other gharanas – Gwalior, Jaipur and Agra. Our family archive has over 250 ragas, with several bandishes in each of them. My father had chosen not to master some of these ragas or bandishes because they either did not suit his musical temperament, or were too demanding considering the manner in which his voice had been trained. He found me capable of handling some of them, and trained me in their exposition.

Beyond the family’s musical legacy, I have been influenced a lot by Kumar Gandharva’s music. My father and he were close friends; he visited us often. He was an exceedingly creative musician, with a passion for tonal precision, inspired by our own Kairana gharana fountainhead, Abdul Kareem Khan. I liked Kumarji’s short tans, and his use of the poetic form as a musical element. I have tried to incorporate these into my singing.

I try to think about the content of my music from the angle of compensating for its weaknesses. Our Kairana tradition is very strong on the communication of a raga’s emotional content. But, do we utilise all the elements of music to achieve the desired result? We tend not to give due respect to the poetic form of the bandishes. And, especially in vilambit laya [slow tempo] rendition, we are inclined to make the rhythm almost irrelevant. Without disturbing the essential melodic fluidity of Kairana vocalism, I try to allow the poetry and the rhythm a bigger role in the communication of the emotionality of the raga.

As a performer, I am concerned that my music should be as satisfying an emotional experience for the audiences, as for me. When I am practicing, I sing to an imaginary audience, and try to anticipate its responses to my music. Fortunately, our audiences have a tradition of responding overtly to music. In the performing situation, I hear exclamatory remarks, such as “Wah”, or “Ahahaha” or “Aaaah”, or I suddenly find people listening with their eyes closed. Each of these is a different category of response. Over the years, I have begun to understand what each of them means, even if I cannot describe their precise connotation. The understanding is important because I should know which of these makes more sense to me than the others.

It is important for musicians to think, all the time, about enriching the content of their music. In many ways, Khayal music has become much richer in the last few decades. But, in many ways, it has been impoverished. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is very little dialog between scholars and connoisseurs on the one hand and musicians on the other. Musicians themselves, too, are no longer interested in discussing and thinking together about the content of music.

You rarely find musicians even attending concerts of other musicians, especially those of comparable stature. Each one is so involved with his own little world, that the sharing of musical ideas is negligible; and that too is taking place by imitation, rather than by an interactive process. From the accounts of our elders, this was not so in earlier days. There was a healthy exchange of ideas even between rivals. Great musicians attended each other’s concerts with great respect. The music of our generation is missing out on something valuable because we are not willing to make such efforts.

(c) Deepak S. Raja 2001
Read a detailed profile of the artist in: "Khayal Vocalism: Continuity within Change".
The finest recordings of Kaivalya Kumar have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Benares: Culture? Yes. Gharana of vocalism? Doubtful.

The semi-classical genres of Hindustani music, the Thumree being the principal amongst them, evolved in late 18th century Lucknow followed thereafter by Benares. In the early stages, the Thumree accompanied Kathak (North Indian classical dance), later to acquire independent status as a vocal art form. The link with Kathak, however, remains strong as ever. As a performing tradition, the Thumree of Benares got associated with several folk-derived genres from the neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Collectively, these semi-classical genres represent an attempt by classical musicians to raise folk genres to a level of sophistication worthy of genteel society. The resultant musical forms retain a reference point in art-music through raga-s, compositional formats, and tala-s. However, they lack the architectural imperatives characteristic of the classicist genres.

Prof. Peter Manuel of the City University of New York, an authority on the Thumree, regards them as a romanticist reaction to the feudal values, triggered off by the rise of bourgeois capitalism. Though Lucknow withered as a centre of the semi-classical genres in the 19th century, Benares remained vibrant until the early years of the 20th century. By the time India gained independence, the way of life, which supported these genres, faded into history, taking the music with it.

Vocalists, instrumentalists, and even Kathak dancers are known to claim membership of the “Benares gharana”. The term “gharana” is, however, inappropriate in this context. The so-called Benares gharana is an entire culture that revolved around the salons of the courtesans supported by the aristocracy of the region during the 18th and 19th centuries. Its performing arts were Kathak dance, and the semi-classical genres of vocal music. Its accompaniment arts were those of the Sarangi and the Tabla. These were supported by a group of composers, choreographers, and teachers. The culture of the salons required all performers to study dance as well as music, irrespective of their profession. Teachers, choreographers and composers also cultivated a similar versatility.

The offerings of the courtesans had to be responsive to the profiles of a diverse clientele. Heredity, though a factor, played only a small part in populating the courtesan districts. The courtesans, enlisted for their talent as well as personality, came from different backgrounds, and brought with them their respective folk traditions and stylistic orientations. Each salon had teachers affiliated to it to groom the recruits into polished performers. They were first trained in Khayal vocalism as the foundation and then taught semi-classical genres – Thumree, Tappa, and Dadra – and the folk-derived genres such as Hori, Chaiti, Kajri, Jhoola, Savan etc. The diversity of the repertoire required them to study with a multiplicity of teachers who, in turn, came from different cultural backgrounds, and could be vocalists, Kathak dancers or even Sarangi players.

Neither the grooming of courtesans, nor the nature of their relationship with their clients, could have permitted the crucial ingredient of the gharana concept -- stylistic continuity over several generations of a well-defined lineage of tutelage. The notion of a "gharana" in the music of Benares may be valid for lineages of Tabla exponents, and even Kathak dancers. The semi-classical genres of vocal music, or even Khayal vocalism, however, have evolved primarily as an individualistic art form within a very broad stylistic identity defined by the Kathak-Thumree culture of Benares. This is not to deny the formidable quality of musicianship these art forms have delivered with great consistency over several generations. It is, however, proper that the notion of a "gharana" be approrpiately understood and applied.

(c) Deepak S. Raja, 2004
The finest contemporary recordings of the Benares tradition of vocal and instrumental music have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd., New York.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Time and Season in Raga Performance

Justin Ryan, Denver University, Colorado, USA November 2006

Justin Ryan is working toward a Master's degree in Musicology from the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. He is a frequent performer and scholar of the carillon, an instrument of large bells played manually from a keyboard and mounted in a tower, originating in the 18th century Low Countries. He is also a teaching assistant in music history. Justin was a Fulbright Fellow in 2004-5 at the Netherlands Carillon School. In addition to recitals in Europe, he has performed throughout North America, including a concert before the Houses of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada.

Time of day in performance of north Indian ragas has infused Hindustani music for centuries. To some, time and season may be equally important as the svaras themselves, or nothing more than mere fancy. Ragas are in part defined by emotion and other extramusical affects, firmly set in tradition, so that the music itself cannot be readily separated from ritual and lore. This paper examines the raga-time association from several angles, asking the reasons for its existence and how it is perpetuated. It will explore time and season connections within the music itself, searching for consistency and inconsistency. And perhaps more relevant, It will consider the extramusical cues underlying time association and the music as a whole. Because of the nature of this research, much of this discussion will be based upon the investigations of others, who usually consider the raga-time connection as a small fragment of the whole genre.

The history of raga performance time provides plentiful arguments against its musical inherence. It is believed that many ragas existed before any association with time had evolved. The first known writings concerning time and season come from the first few centuries AD, where seasonal connections are believed to predate those with the time of day (Lath 115). This raises questions on how the existing ragas were reinterpreted within new temporal constraints, and of which timings were assigned to which rags. Scales have also changed over time, while time and season connections often remained with the name. That certain modes have not remained in their time space detracts from any assertion of a universal relationship—that komal re is always found in the morning or evening, for example.

Assigning musical traits to certain times of day is ominous and varies wildly in analyses in print. Most scholars append their technical descriptions with a caveat that no rules are solid, while others argue that any musical connection is altogether fleeting. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936) is often referenced as the only scholar to have made a thorough thesis on time and performance practice. Due to the unavailability of his work in translation, my understanding of his work is through the readings of other interpreters. As with any text regarding this tradition, one must wonder whether conclusions drawn are from pure observation, or if rules are crafted in order to impose structure upon and to demystify an otherwise enigmatic practice.

A few features of rag construction do bridge across the various interpretations, forming some loose themes. Deepak Raja nicely distills and simplifies musical details without sacrificing their significance in his book Hindustani Music: Tradition in Transition. Any account giving precise details on the music-time connection will necessarily be inconsistent with other writings, and presumably with common practice. Raja presents the most consistent observations, without being unecessarily thorough.

First, the location of the vadi bisects the day by dividing the scale: Purvang ragas have a vadi in the lower tetrachord and uttrang ragas in the upper tetrachord. Purvang is given as either the period from noon to midnight or from sunset to sunrise, depending on the source, with uttrang occupying the opposite twelve hours. Given the six hours' discrepancy, exact time parallels remain unclear, but there is significance in the day's division in half.

With the placement of the vadi, a rag is said to have momentum toward this most important note (Deva 133). In a purvang rag, this is a descending quality, down to the vadi; in uttrang, ascending. The character of this motion is echoed in literal descriptions of a day. Ranade describes the uttrang as the “vigorous and active part of the day,” while the purvang is “delicate and is mostly by oneself and puts on a reflective mood”(108).

One discrepancy of note concerns Bhatkhande's vadis compared to vadis used in common practice. Jairazbhoy observes with rag Tilak Kamod that Bhatkhande places a vadi to conform to his time theory, when in fact most musicians use another vadi (43). Vadis are not always agreed upon between musicians, and vadi and samvadi are usually in opposite tetrachords. If there is ambiguity between the vadi and samvadi, there is ambiguity of time following Bhatkhande's theory. Thus if a rag's vadi is not absolute, this theory is weakened. A revealing further study would be to observe the ascending and descending tendencies of musicians in their realizations of these rags.

Bhatkhande's cycle of thats also follows the shape of the day. In this system, modes associated with rags change gradually as the day progresses, coming full circle every twelve hours. Rags of late morning use the same that as rags of late afternoon, etc. Of this, Deva raises the argument that the same that must then represent two distinctly different times of day, having different affects—a drawback to connecting time with musical traits (133). This can be somewhat reconciled with the vadi placement, with the idea that the that will take on a different personality when presented with the perspective of a different vadi.

From another angle, Jairazbhoy states,

The significant feature of the Circle of Thats is that it shows an easy transition from scale to scale, and it is not surprising that the rags are generally performed in this sequence during the course of each day. There is thus some reason to suppose that the scales may have evolved in this same sequence during the course of the centuries and to say that the daily succession of rags is, in some respects, a reconstruction of the course of evolution (64).

This is an elegant concept, and satisfies the inclusion of rags extant before a time association existed. The connection this twelve hour cycle draws between sunrise and sunset, midnight and noon is not necessarily a contradiction. While opposite times on the clock, they do share similar properties: transition and stability, alertness and restfulness.

In sunrise and sunset, the same thats represent the twilight times, which can appear to the eye nearly the same in daybreak and in nightfall. These times of day—sandhi prakash, or the meeting of light—hold a special place in north Indian music and Hinduism. Ranade asserts that during twilight, “the best ragas of each type are to be heard”[referring to purvang and uttrang](108). We will see below that the emotion associated with twilight has a strong connection with and adds vivid imagery to the raga-time connection. The sandhi prakash also helps to delineate the svaras typically found among the hours of the cycle of thats. According to Deepak Raja, the most consistent pattern is seen in the use of komal re and komal dha in the sandhi prakash ragas (164). In the periods after twilight, these svaras are elevated to shudd form. Also prominent around sunrise and sunset is tivra Ma. In the hours surrounding noon and midnight, the komal forms of ga and ni are prominent.

Thinking of svaras inevitably raises the question of how the listener perceives each of these notes in their various forms, and the larger issue of whether time association is perceptible to a sensitive listener, or inherent to the music. In an absolute pitch sense, each note is equal since Sa is movable. Notes in a scale are then heard primarily in relation to Sa and the other drone pitch, usually Pa. Pakars will also set the mood for a particular rag, as melodic ideas give a personality beyond the individual svaras. As Deva writes, “the actual movement of the tones is the dynamic aspect which is the essential quality in melodic music”(130). Interpretations of these, however, may vary enough to change their affect.

There is no question that intervals have universal qualities about them, comparing folk scales from around the world, for example. Raja writes, “Certain svaras, or combinations of svaras, might have a higher probability of communicating certain emotions appropriate to certain times of the day/night than others”(165). Some intervals evoke stability, such as Sa to shudd ma, Pa, or Shudd Dha. Others create a more emotion-laden mood, such as Sa and shudd Re, either Ga, komal dha, and komal ni. The others create strong tension and an immediacy to resolve to a nearby note: Sa to komal re, tivra Ma, and shudd Ni. Deva writes, “The emotional qualities creatable by such movements are infinite, almost literally so. Particularly the function of leading tones is important as they create the maximum tension and desire for rest”(131). While each of these qualities could be paired with a particular time of day, none of these three groups are found exclusively in two opposite points on the clock.

Tivra Ma is a special case, found in the sandhi prakash ragas. The oddity of the tritone, being symmetrical within the octave yet so dissonant, is described by Deva as a “drop of curd in milk”(135). It also means “Adhvadarsnk, or showing the way”(Popley 64). Popley writes that Tivra Ma does not occur in the morning unless accompanied by a stronger shudd ma. It can resolve either down or up, giving it an ambiguous quality, compared with the definite direction in the other strong tendency tones.

This survey of musical-time characteristics has drawn some connections, while leaving or creating more questions than were answered. Some inconsistencies may be clarified with historical or cultural connotation, while others are best left as figments of tradition. Joshi writes that if a musically novice Indian only knows a few things about a rag, they will include the time of day in which it is to be performed (62). Revolving about rasa, extramusical traits are equally, if not more central to defining the raga-time association than musical particulars.

Hindustani classical music can be evocative and moving on its musical merits alone, as experienced by native and foreigner alike. But in my several moths studying the art, no account of it has ignored the myriad of external references. Just as a rag cannot be summarized by its scale alone, proper performance time is an archetype of the form. Whether performance in this tradition is aiming for aesthetic pleasure or a profession of love for the divine, extramusical references exist to heighten the experience.

Knowing that a raga refers to exuberance and joy can inform a listener's experience in a way not possible amid abstract sound. Likewise, a performer may make decisions in interpretation knowing that the raga belongs to the rainy season. While this is not a direct musical-perceptual connection, it can give direction to the way the music will be realized by the musician and audience. And as I qualified the nature of this research in the introduction, we must consider the tendency of academic analysis to find hidden meaning in the features of art and culture which are not well defined in the minds of those who are a part of the culture.

This study does not survey the performers of this tradition directly, rather through the observations of other researchers. We expect and hope that the values of these scholars will reflect the values of the musicians they have studied. Having said this, it is fascinating to consider the coverage given and colorful language used to describe the raga-time connection. Some writings do not even mention performance time as a factor, others dismiss it as “sheer madness”(Pingle 64) without much discussion, while for other authors it is a central element about which all other factors revolve. One book classifying ragas is even organized according to time of day, and Gangoly, Deva, and Raja devote chapters to it in their books.

In categorizing ragas, time of day is most always listed as a characteristic, ranging from the vague (morning) to the verbose (to be played when the sky is red before sunrise). Descriptions of the consequences for not obeying proper time constraints are the most vivid. Keeping in mind that many are translations, consider these examples: “utterly lacking in sensibility”(Danielou 95), “loss in efficacy”(Ranade 34), “disastrous consequences”(Narada in Kaufmann 286), “complete ruin”(Lath 117), “grating effect”(Lath 113), “all listeners will become poor and their life durations will be shortened”(Narada in Kaufmann 276). And finally, one old performer atributes World War II to playing “funeral marches and dirges when there is no songs and spring songs when there is neither love nor spring...nocturnes during the day and wedding music when there is no wedding!”(Kaufmann 289).

Quotes claiming the virtues of performing rags in their proper time are less dire, but also insightful: “especially beautiful”(Bhatkhande in Jairazbhoy 43), “essential for aesthetic appreciation”(Sumati Mutatkar), “sound best....[but are] only advisory and not mandatory”(Sambamoorthy in Wade 79), “for at the wrong hour it could never be developed so perfectly nor could it so greatly move an audience”(danielou 95), “auspicious” and “added religious merit”(Lath 117).

This last idea of devotional poignancy was surprisingly sparse in my readings. I expected that if for any reason time association would survive, it would be mystical and religious. Namely, that obeying performance time would be a spiritual boon. Those who affirm the time association tend to speak instead in aesthetic terms.

Another colorful connection is the supposed effects that ragas can have on the physical world: “It is said that once the celebrated Tan Sen was ordered by the Emporer to sing a night raga at noon. As he sang, darkness came down on the palace where he stood, and spread around as far as the sound reached”(Popley 65). Bhatkhande says, “if a particular rag is performed well it will create an atmosphere of a particular day or night”(Jairazbhoy 43).

With a diverse set of features defining a raga, Raja maintains that the most important feature is the underlying emotion. Referring first to the musical traits, he writes,

It is important to note that these are not rigid rules. They cannot be so, simply because the primary classification of ragas is based on rasa, and not on svara material. And, the Indian aesthetic sensiblity is far too mature to assume a mechanistic correspodence between svara-material and the emotional content of all its melodic potentialities (165).

In Western classical music, some works are meant to stand on their own, while others exist as programmatic. In the Hindustani tradition, strong emotions such as pathos, devotion, quiet, and joy stand above the melodic material. As in time associations, specific svara forms could represent particular emotions, but the connection appears to be more ethereal than an explicit prescription. To further confuse the matter, Raja continues, “Different musicians, of comparable stature can, and do, interpret the same raga in obviously different rasas”(165). For rasa as well, musical traits are not absolute.

Several interpreters write that time association is so culturally ingrained in Indians that it essentially takes on a musical basis, even while admitting that convincing musical connections are limited. Mukund Lath: “If it seems natural and spontaneous to the Hindustani musician and listener, it is because it has been so deeply ingrained through centuries of persuasive suggestion and habitual observance as to have become almost a reflex”(115).

A fascinting connection beetween performance time and Indian culture is the role of the cow. According to Raja, another way of labelling sandhi prakash ragas is godhuli bela, or cowdust time.

This is the time when the cows raise a lot of dust on the village roads either on their way out to the grazing pastures at sunrise, or on their way home at sunset....To the Indian mind, this is an emotionally charged description. The cow plays a pivotal role in India's primarily agrarian economy, and is held sacred (163).

Finding musical basis in dusty twilight may be a struggle, but the idea that an Indian may consider these elements inseparable is invaluable. Raja continues,

It necessary for “believers” to to accept that, maybe, the Time theory works for them because they have Indian bodies, and Indian minds, of a particular generation, responding under the sunlight quality and climatic conditions characteristic of the Indian subcontinent (165).

When considering the most potent examples of raga association with time and season, one finds that twilight, spring, and the rainy season are most often mentioned. There is little reference to strong ties with noon or summer, for example. Sandhi prakash and spring are times of transition, which entails instability and a more profound pathos, or romance. With much talk of the decline of temporal and seasonal constraints, it is not surprising that the most emotional times and seasons would be the holdovers. Have these transitional periods always been more important, or is the falling away of tradition dispensing with the more banal, stable areas first?

Before the fall of the Raj, classical music's role in the court was more appropriate for obeying time tradition. Musicians were dedicated throughout the day and year, compared to the evening concert hall setting of contemporary India. In the patronage system, there was no demand for morning rags in the evening, since they could be performed naturally in their proper time. In the present, though, middle class audiences expect to be entertained in the evening, which would preclude the presentation of many rags on the basis of time. Joshi writes,

We have heard many a melody sung on the Stage irrespective of their conventional proper time. But it has never been our experience that on account of the wrong time the melody has not had the desired effect. This is why it is difficult to accept the old Raga Samaya (time) theory fully in the present state of affairs. Either the theory must be radically amended or the present-day time-table of Ragas must be completely overhauled (63).

Notice that he does not advocate for removing the Raga Samaya completely, only to alter it.

So far, time has been the focus, but seasonal associations also have a certain prominence. Ranade writes,

The seasons greatly influence our diet, dress, and moods, and the day and night-cycle controls our hours of work and rest. These are the factors which are mainly responsible for the assignment of particular seasons and also of a particular part of the day or night for singing or playing particular Ragas (107).

The purpose of rasa, season, and time metaphors is to create imagery in the minds of the performer and listener. Music is more profound in this sense when descriptive, relatable ideas can be communicated through music, which is in emotional ways largely indescribable. He continues, “The restriction about the season has almost disappeared in course of time, but the restriction about the time of day or night still dies hard.” Since observation of seasonal performance has been abandoned, one wonders if time is headed in the same direction.

Lath writes that “Bhairavi was allowed to break its bounds....without adversely affecting its ethos. Who knows, other ragas may follow suit”(115). Whether or not it is a fair reading, Pingle accuses, “In order to sing or play any Raga at any time and to thereby break through the ancient custom, many old celebrities seem to have mixed, more ingeniously than musically, two Ragas of quite different melodies”(63). Even if this is not their intent, it appears that mixing rags effectively voids their time constraints. If the performance time was indeed crucial to these musicians, such mixing of rags would include the maintenance of an ascribed time.

Karnatic music has a history of time and season association, which has disappeared altogether. South and north Indian music descended along the same lineage, but only the Hindustani region has maintained any connection to time. Raja suggests that since the south of India is closer to the equator, it does not experience the same shifts in day length and season as the north. With less contrast, environmental factors are not experienced with the same weight (166). Joshi writes, “The same raga (i.e. its equivalent) is sung at different times in the Northern and the Karnatak system”(63).

Any discussion of north Indian classical music today cannot ignore the context of the modern world. Hindustani music relies upon subtlety above all to be evocative and communicate rasa, season, and time. One sitarist can, ideally, express the expanse of moods of the entire day, from one sunrise to the next, and the cycle of the year. But to the postmodern, globalized ear, the persistent timbre of Hindustani classical music could be heard as a monotone relative to the endless variation available elsewhere. The subtleties, including any reference to time, are lost amid the general exotic sound.

Deva writes that the effectiveness of any music is the building of tension and subsequent resolution (128). When a listener is not familiar with the subtleties of a certain genre of music, he is less likely to experience the buildup of tension and resolution to what Deva terms the tonus, or relaxed state. To the untrained Western ear as well, a listener may enjoy the music, but in a childish way where awe takes the place of deep understanding in appreciation. The minute references to time and season in classical music may be less accesible to audiences who are not able to perceive them.

At least one attempt has been made to prove or disprove the psychopsyiological basis of the time association. Deva chronicles a series of experiments, in which the subjects show no significant perception of time ascribed to the example recordings. Despite this, both Ranade and Raja claim that there is some reconciliation in science, without explaining (Ranade 108). Raja writes, “Arbitrary and even fanciful as these prescriptions may appear, they relate music to a reality whose relevance the latest researches in physiology are beginning to vindicate”(161).

An investigation into the raga-time association should not invalidate the tradition based on a limited musical foundation. Rather, it should asses the cultural value of these connections as a way to find meaning in the art. Musical vindication is questionable, but the cultural significance is bolstered by the fact that ragas' ties with time have not gone away. In light of this, Alain Danielou writes,

The cycle of the day corresponds to the cycle of life which also has its dawn, its noon, its evening. Each hour represents a different stage of development and is connected to a certain kind of emotion. The cycle of sounds is ruled by the same laws as all other cycles. This is why there are natural relationships between particular hours and the mood evoked by musical modes (95).

Danielou, Alain. Northern Indian Music. New York: Praeger, 1969.
Deodhar, B.R. Pillars of Hindustani Music. Translated by Ram Deshmukh. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1995.
Deva, B.C. The Music of India: A Scientific Study. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981.
Fyzee-Rahamin, Atiya Begum. The Music of India. London: Luzac, 1925
Gangoly, O.C. Ragas and Raginis, a pictoral & iconographic study of Indian musical modes based on original sources. Bombay: Nalanda, 1948.
Holroyde, Peggy. The Music of India. New York: Praeger, 1972.
Jairazbhoy, Nazir. The Ragas of North Indian Music. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1995.
Joshi, Baburao. Understanding Indian Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974.
Katz, Jonathan. “Music and Aesthetics: An Early Indian Perspective.” Early Music 24, no. 3 (Aug 1996): p. 407-12, 415-420.
Kaufmann, Walter. “Rasa, Raga-mala and Performance Times in North Indian Ragas.” Ethnomusicology 9, no. 3 (Sep 1965), p. 272-91. .
Khan, Ali Akbar, ed. and George Ruckert. The Classical Music of North India: The Music of the Baba Allauddin Gharana as taught by Ali Akbar Khan at the Ali Akbar College of Music. Volume One: The First Years Study. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2004.
Lath, Mukund. “An enquiry into the raga–time association.” In Sumati Mutatkar,
ed. Aspects of Indian music. Delhi: Hope India, 1987
Neuman, Daniel M. The Life of Music in North India. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1980. “Indian Music as a Cultural System.” Asian Music 17, no. 1 (Autumn-Winter 1985): p. 98-113.
Pal, Pratapaditya, ed. 2000: Reflections on the Arts in India. Mumbai: Marg, 2000.
Pingle, Bhava’nra’v A. History of Indian Music. Calcutta: Susil Gupta, 1962.
Popley, H.A. Music of India, 4th ed. Delhi: Y.M.C.A., 1971.
Prajnanananda, Swami. Historical Development of Indian Music. Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1960.
Raffe, W.G. “Ragas and Raginis: A Key to Hindu Aesthetics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 11, no. 2, Special Issue on Oriental Art and Aesthetics (Dec 1952): p. 105-17.
Raja, Deepak S. Hindustani Music: A Tradition in Transition. Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2005.
Ranade, G.H. Hindusthani Music: Its Physics and Aesthetics. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971.
Roy, Hemendra Lal. Problems of Hindustani Music. Calcutta: Bharati Bhavan, 1937. Microform.
Strangways, Fox. The Music of Hindoostan. Oxford: Clarendon, 1967.
Strickland, Lily. “The Mythological Background of Hindu Music.” The Musical Quarterly 17, no. 3 (July 1931): p. 330-40.
Wade, Bonnie. Music in India: the Classical Traditions. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.

(c) Justin Ryan, 2006
Reproduced with the kind permission of the author

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Raga Gunji-Kauns – inspired by a ghazal

Raga Gunji-Kauns is the creation of the eminent sitarist, Arvind Parikh, the senior most disciple of Ustad Vilayat Khan. He has performed it on the radio at least 20 times since 1975, and perhaps as many times at concerts. Nothwithstanding the maturation of the melodic idea in the creator's mind, the flowering of its "raga-ness" will require several generations of competent musicians to work on it. Even though a couple of his students have begun to perform this raga, Gunji-Kauns is still an "infant" in the universe of ragas. It is, however, interesting as an example of how ragas are born.

Gunji-Kauns is a compound Raga, dovetailing the phraseologies of Malgunji and Malkauns. But, this is not how it was conceived. The Raga has its origins in a fleeting exposure to a famous Ghazal of the Pakistani singer, Mehdi Hassan. Parikh was captivated by the poetic and melodic poignancy of the opening line:

Lyrics: "Tum aae ho, to shabe intezaar guzri hai"
Skeletal notation: S G M n d/ d M G P/ P G M G/ R S d

It occurred to Parikh that the pathos of the melody could be enhanced if a Komal/flat Ga could be added to the Shuddha (Natural) Ga in the descent. So, he modified the first line of the Ghazal as follows: S G M n d/ d M G P/ P G M g/ g R S d.

From this point onwards, he found that the musical idea started taking the shape of Malgunji in the lower tetrachord, and Malkauns in the upper tetrachord. So, he christened it Gunji-Kauns.

Broadly, Malgunji, the base Raga, has elements of Rageshri in the ascent, and Bageshri in the descent. In the mid-octave region, its treatment has shades of Jaijaiwanti. All three are late evening Ragas. When a shade of Malkauns is added, the Rageshri facet of Malgunji is subdued. The compound Raga acquires a touch of pathos, and its late-evening haracter is further strengthened.

Malgunji : Ascent: S G M d N S N S/ Descent: n D P M G M g R
Malkauns: Ascent: S G M d n S/ Descent: S n d M G S

Gunji-Kauns has to be understood as a dovetailing of phraseologies, rather than a marriage of scales.

Gunji-Kauns: Phraseology:

M. d. n. S (from Malkauns)
R n. S R G (from Malgunji)
G M R G P M (from Malgunji)
G M d M G P (Malkauns + Malgunji)
d n d M G P (Malkauns + Malgunji)
G M d n S' (from Malkauns)
S d n d M P (Malkauns + Malgunji)
P G M g R (from Malgunji)
M g R S (from Malgunji)

The process of fusing phraseologies requires the building of linkages between them. The linkages create dangers of pushing the Raga, unintentionally, into the shadows of other existing Ragas. In different regions of the melodic canvas, this compound raga risks confusion with Nat Bhairav, Darbari Kanada, and Jaijaiwanti. The Raga has, therefore, to be navigated skillfully.

To audiences cultivated in the Carnatic tradition, Parikh's Gunji Kauns could suggest a shadow of the Carnatic Raga Charukeshi. Parikhs’s phrasing strategy ensures that the risk of confusing one for the other is made negligible. In any event, Charukeshi is a minor issue considering that the Hindustani adaptation of the Carnatic Raga has spawned several variants.

In Parikh’s opinion, the structure of the raga is such that you can creatively develop melodic phrases from any note of the raga. This, he believes, is not very commonly possible with many ragas.

Parikh, an astute musicologist, is aware that, the new Ragas to emerge during the last 50 years, have had a high rate of infantile mortality. Parikh, and musicians of similar stature, are driven by the urge to give expression to their distinctive musical vision. To them, it does not matter if they themselves are destined to be the first and the last performers of their creations.
Deepak S. Raja
(c) India Archive Music Ltd. New York. Producers of the finest recording of Raga Gunji Kauns by Arvind Parikh.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ustad Vilayat Khan: The orthodox revolutionary

Epochal artists provoke either adulation or criticism during their lifetimes. The interpretation of their art and their contribution begins only after they have departed from the scene. This is proving to be true of Ustad Vilayat Khan (1927-2004). This is a small contribution to this process. For the confidence with which I make my observations, I rely on four decades of training in the Vilayat Khan style of music, the intensive interaction I have had with the Ustad, a study of a substantial archive of his music, and decades of tutelage with the eminent scholar-musician, Pt. Arvind Parikh, the Ustad’s most senior disciple.

The personality
Vilayat Khan’s was a personality shaped by the conviction that it was destined to leave its mark on the world. He would not have been happy with just being the greatest sitarist; he had to be amongst the all-time greats of Hindustani music. This set him on a path of passionate absorption of the tradition, unrelenting innovation and the pursuit of superhuman standards of perfection in the execution of his musical vision.

The burning ambition that powered Vilayat Khan’s destiny was, partially, a reaction to the humiliations and privations suffered early in life. He had a very comfortable childhood as the elder son of Ustad Enayet Khan, court musician at Gauripur (now in Bangladesh). After he lost his father at the age of eleven, the most prosperous and eminent amongst his father’s disciples denied him the training of his gharana (stylistic lineage), and abandoned the family to virtual destitution. This experience re-activated – after five generations -- the Rajput (a warrior tribe) genes of Thakur Srujan Singh, the founder of his lineage. Vilayat Khan left Calcutta in his early teens in search of training and a career, and swore not to return until he had become India’s foremost Sitarist.

These forces shaped Vilayat Khan into an essentially elitist musician. But, his was not an elitism of the snobbish category that makes music inaccessible to the majority. His repertoire was dominated by popular raga-s and tala-s, and always had a reasonable component of semi-classical music. His elitist made him place a premium on the approval of the cognoscenti, and made him averse to populism of every variety. He challenged his audiences with its elaborate architecture, richness of musical content, and sophisticated presentation.

Attempts have been made to portray Vilayat Khan as a representative of the romanticist movement in 20th century Hindustani music. Amongst instrumentalists, he was, without doubt, the peerless master of the romanticist genres. However, Vilayat Khan defies simplistic classification. He rendered profound music at the highest level of classicism and semi-classical and folk repertoire with heart-rending impact. Irrespective of the genre he performed, aloofness remained a basic quality of his music, as much as it was of his persona.

The Ustad often quoted the aphorism – “When you sit on the stage, perform with the authority of an Ustad. But, when you listen, no matter how insignificant the musician, listen with the receptivity of a disciple”. He saw the artist as having a hotline to God, and the artistic expression as a “Revelation”, which audiences ought to receive in a spirit of reverence. The core of elitism in his personality never allowed him to drift towards titillation, populism or kitsch.

His aloofness and elitism were an integral part of the feudal values acquired in early childhood. He had grown up amongst the nobility, and valued their cultivation in the arts, as also their standards of propriety and decorous conduct. As a corollary, he had only contempt for the credentials of the democratic state as a patron of the arts, and for the crassness of the culture nourished by bourgeois capitalism after independence. He stuck steadfastly to his values, and willingly paid the price for so doing.

The presence
Ustad Vilayat Khan saw himself as an orthodox musician. The world of music, however, considers him a revolutionary musician. The clue to the mismatch of perceptions lies in that he was steeped in the vocalist tradition, while he expressed this commitment on the sitar. He revolutionized sitar music, which, until his father’s era, had evolved as an extension of the traditional Rudra Veena idiom, though severely constrained in its melodic content by the instrument’s limitations as an acoustic machine.

Circumstances drove Vilayat Khan into the orbit of vocalism during his most formative years. Consequently, he most wanted to sing, while family pride obliged him to become a sitarist. So, he did everything necessary to make the sitar sing. Vilayat Khan worked on the basic design of the sitar, its ergonomics, and its idiom to give it a new voice in Hindustani music. Vilayat Khan now enjoys so large a presence on the Hindustani music-scape, that it is difficult to determine which of the two traditions he hijacked – the vocal or the instrumental.

Formative influences
Vilayat Khan is inconceivable without Enayet Khan. However, Enayet Khan is far from sufficient to explain Vilayat Khan. Vilayat Khan was largely a self-taught musician, who built a magnificent edifice of esthetically coherent music out of inputs from various sources.

Young Vilayat Khan had received only five or six years of training when his father departed. But, by then, he had already recorded two ragas on 78 RPM disc in the thoroughbred technique and idiom of his father. However, by the time of Enayet Khan’s departure, sitar music was poised for a great leap forward because of revolutionary changes in the acoustic environment and audience profiles. Only an instrumentalist unfettered by the sitarist tradition of those times could have achieved such a leap. In this sense, Vilayat Khan’s personal tragedy turned out to be a historic event for the evolution of the sitar.

In the 1930s, the stranglehold of heredity over musicianship was such that it ruled out the grooming of Vilayat Khan by a sitarist from another gharana (stylistic lineage). Even the possibility of half a solution vanished when his father’s disciples deserted him. Vilayat Khan’s search for training took him to Nahan in Punjab, the home of his maternal grandfather, Ustad Bande Hassan Khan and uncle, Ustad Zinda Hassan Khan, both eminent Khayal vocalists. Though, in later years, he also studied the Surbahar under his father’s brother, Ustad Waheed Khan, his years at Nahan were the most formative years of his life, and had the greatest impact on his evolution as a musician, because they cast Vilayat Khan’s ideation process decisively into the vocalist mold. Traces of this influence were evident when Vilayat Khan sang, taught vocal music, and through the style of his Khayal compositions. Other vocalists, however, came later to dominate his vocalized idiom on the sitar.
The dominant influence on Vilayat Khan’s musical vision came from Kirana maestros, Ustad Abdul Kareem Khan and Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan. He had memorized every single 78 RPM recording of Abdul Kareem Khan, and could render it verbatim. Vilayat Khan captured the essence of Abdul Waheed Khan’s music through his principal follower, Ustad Ameer Khan. Ameer Khan, had also been influenced by Rajabali Khan of Dewas, whose music incorporated features of the Jaipur-Atrauli style of Ustad Alladiya Khan. In addition, Vilayat Khan greatly admired Ustad Faiyyaz Khan of Agra gharana, with whom he was on intimate terms. In addition to these major influences, Vilayat Khan adopted some features from the music of several other vocalists – Kesarbai Kerkar, Pt. Omkarnath Thakur, and Zohrabai Agrewali, to name a few. For his stroke-craft, he drew generously on the percussion idiom of the Tabla, the Pakhawaj, and even the Tasha and Nakkara, kettle-drums used as accompaniment to the Shehnai.

Vilayat Khan was not wedded to the musical values of any gharana except his own. His melodic imagination was not even as dependent on vocal music as is widely believed. He picked up musical ideas from every source that appealed to him, and integrated them into a style which was distinctively his own. His was an exceptional musical mind, aided by a photographic memory, which retained and processed musical inputs in a mysterious manner. One day, for instance, Vilayat Khan invited a beggar woman from the street to sing for him, paid her generously, and rendered her song as a bandish at a concert the next evening. Equally typical was the melodic idea he picked up from the chimes of the Big Ben in London, and adapted it as a composition in raga Hansadhwani for a concert the following day.

Vilayat Khan, the vocalist
In compliance with a promise he had given to his mother, Vilayat Khan never presented a full-fledged vocal concert. But, he did not entirely deprive his fans of his competence and charm as a vocalist. He made it a practice – in most concerts – to sing parts of his performance along with their rendition on the sitar. Vilayat Khan’s fans vouch that if the Ustad did not sing even once in a concert, they felt cheated. He not only had the mind of a vocalist, but also a trained, authoritative voice.

He coached several students – amateur and professional -- in vocal music. He had studied the styles of many 20th century masters of Khayal and Thumree and, though only in private, often did remarkably authentic impersonations of them. In his memoirs, “The raga of my life”, Arvind Parikh has recorded that shortly before her demise, Begum Akhtar, the empress of Ghazal and the semi-classical genres had started studying with the Ustad, and had wished to be formally initiated as a disciple. The contemporary Khayal maestro, Ulhas Kashalkar, sought the Ustad’s guidance in his last years, and studied several of his raga creations and bandish-es with him.

Vilayat Khan, the surbahar player
In Ustad Vilayat Khan’s gharana, musicians were routinely trained on the sitar as well as the surbahar (a magnified and bass version of the sitar). This tradition was a part of the 19th century practice of presenting the elaborate Rudra Veena/Dhrupad-style alap on the surbahar followed by post-Dhrupad bandish-es on the sitar. In this tradition, Vilayat Khan had studied the Surbahar with his father’s brother, Ustad Waheed Khan. However, according to the Ustad, his mother prevailed upon him to cede the surbahar territory to his younger brother, Ustad Imrat Khan.

By and large, he respected this arrangement. As a result, both the instruments gained by having outstanding specialists from the same stylistic lineage. Vilayat Khan did, however, do at least one concert on the surbahar in Bombay in the late 1970s. Towards the end of his life, he also did two recordings – Kafi Kanada for India Archive Music, New York and Bilaskhani Todi for Navras Records, UK. The three recordings are proof of the command the Ustad had over the instrument.

His performing style on the surbahar moved away from the traditional Dhrupad idiom followed by his father and grandfather and was in tune with the stylistic orientations of the post-Dhrupad era. In conformity with the tradition, however, Vilayat Khan performed only the solo prelude (alap-jod-jhala) on the surbahar, and never performed percussion-accompanied music on the instrument.

Vilayat Khan, the duet artist
Vilayat Khan had a minor, but distinguished, presence as a duet artist. During the 1950’s he did several memorable concerts with the sarod maestro, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, whom he admired immensely. He also launched a partnership with the violinist, Gajananrao Joshi, which turned out to be short-lived. During the 1960s, he released two LPs of duets with his brother, Ustad Imrat Khan, on the surbahar – Chandni Kedar and Miya-ki Malhar. Both are regarded amongst the finest pieces of instrumental music recorded in the latter half of the 20th century. Thereafter, the sitar-surbahar duet of the brothers also featured sporadically on the concert circuit. Starting from the 1980s, Vilayat Khan occasionally performed duets with his son, Shujaat Khan, on the surbahar.

By far the most durable, and also successful, partnership the Ustad enjoyed was with the Shehnai maestro, Ustad Bismillah Khan. It was a reflection of their mutual affection and respect, as much as their parity in stature and compatibility as musicians. Their concerts were always sold out, and their recordings are prized collector’s items.

Vilayat Khan and film music
Not surprisingly for an elitist musician – and much like classical music stalwarts of his generation -- Vilayat Khan’s formal involvement in film music was negligible. He composed and conducted the score for three feature films – Satyajit Ray’s “Jalsaghar” in Bengali, Merchant-Ivory Productions’ “The Guru” in English, and Madhusudan Kumar’s “Kadambari” in Hindi. In addition to these, he also gave music for a little known documentary film in Bengali produced by Dr. Barin Roy. The score for Ray’s “Jalsaghar” won a national award.

The repertoire
Vilayat Khan’s gharana has a tradition of specializing in a few raga-s for concert performance. His grandfather, Ustad Imdad Khan, for instance, became the most influential sitar and surbahar player of his times by concentrating on just two ragas– Yaman and Puriya. Likewise, his father, Ustad Enayet Khan, an equally influential sitarist, performed very few raga-s. The gharana has performed almost entirely in Teentala. Vilayat Khan’s own repertoire of raga-s was probably larger than either of his immediate ancestors because he was addressing a larger and more diverse audience through a variety of media. He also stuck to Teental, except for a rare Khayal bandish rendered in Ektala. In semi-classical music, however, Vilayat Khan often performed in Dadra and Keherva.

Vilayat Khan sought greater and greater depth in the exploration of a limited range of mature melodic ideas rather than enlarge the span of coverage. In line with this philosophy, he never considered his musicianship adequate for rendering a particular raga. Pt. Arvind Parikh who has watched his Ustad practice for a concert, reports that Vilayat Khan tried out every phrase of a raga in a variety of ways until it delivered the desired melodic and acoustic result, and practiced it for as long as it took to perfect it before a performance. Only the flashes of spontaneous brilliance relied on chance. The hard core of every raga was subjected to serious exploration in isolation and ruthless preparation for punctilious execution.

An inventory of his raga repertoire has been compiled based on a survey of about 200 hours of concert and published recordings starting from 1950. Over 80% of his concerts and commercial recordings are of ragas currently classified as common or popular. About 15% may be considered rare. And, 5% of the ragas performed by him are those that the Hindustani (North Indian) music has recently adopted from the Carnatic (South Indian) tradition.

Not surprisingly, Vilayat Khan had little enthusiasm for creating new raga-s. He did, on occasion, experiment with idiosyncratic interpretations of mature ragas. Only two of them sustained his interest, and evolved towards some kind of independent raga-ness: Enayet Khani Kanada (initially named Vilayat Khani Kanada) and Sanjh Saravali. In the last two decades of his life, he explored these two “raga-s” with reasonable seriousness. Of the two, Sanjh Saravali is the more significant. With its seeds having germinated in the mid-1970s, Sanjh Saravali had a long history of sustained evolution. By the time the Ustad recorded it for India Archive Music in 1991, it had matured sufficiently to yield perhaps the greatest piece of instrumental music recorded in the latter half of the 20th century. In response to its creator’s involvement in it, Sanjh Saravali acquired a following during his own lifetime. Ulhas Kashalkar, the distinguished contemporary vocalist, studied the raga with the Ustad, and started performing it. This development triggered off considerable interest in the raga amongst younger vocalists.

Starting from the 1980s, Ustad Vilayat Khan also found the Raga-Malika an increasingly convenient and popular means of ending a concert. The raga-base for the link-chain was most commonly Khamaj, but occasionally Piloo, and rarely Bhairavi. He rendered the Raga-Malika either in pure alap format or in alap and bandish format. He used this format to present glimpses of a variety of common ragas.

Amongst raga-s, Bhairavi remained his all-time favourite. He performed Bhairavi more frequently, and in more varied treatments, than any other raga. In fact, it can be said, that Vilayat Khan had a lifelong romance with Bhairavi.

The Gayaki Anga
The term “Gayaki Anga” refers to that facet of Ustad Vilayat Khan’s music that enables him to simulate the experience a vocalism in all phases of the rendition. The classification distinguishes his music from the “Tantkar Anga” (the idiom of the plucked instruments) which was performed on the Sitar until the era of his father, Ustad Enayet Khan. The “Tantkar Anga”, being fundamental to the technology of music making on the sitar, can never be jettisoned. Any sitarist of stature has to be a master of the “Tantkar Anga” before he can do anything more with the instrument. If he decides to move towards vocalism, he can, at best, create an illusion of a vocal recital by transcending technical limitations. And, this is precisely what Vilayat Khan achieved.

Modern vocalism differs so fundamentally from the music of the plucked instruments, that it is impossible to identify all the elements that constitute this distinction. Vilayat Khan was a vocalist who wanted to sing on the sitar, and kept working at it all his life with ever growing success. He enabled the experience of sitar music to transcend the limitations of the technology of the instrument, and brought it closer to the acoustic, aesthetic and emotional richness of vocal music.

Vilayat Khan’s vocalism shaped every element of his music -- the architectural, sculptural, ornamentational, and acoustic. The architecture of Vilayat Khan’s rendition of classical music most faithfully and meticulously follows the linear architecture of modern Khayal vocalism. This involves the progressive enhancement of melodic and rhythmic density and complexity without any regression. His choice and sequencing of improvisatory movements in the vilambit as well drut bandishes strictly follows the Khayal protocol, suitably adapted to exploit the distinctive features of the sitar. Vilayat Khan’s melodic sculpture swung sharply towards Khayal style phrasing involving melodic continuity over two or more intervallic transitions. This was a major change from the staccato intonation and single-transition phrasing patterns of the traditional sitar idiom.

The influence of vocalism in Vilayat Khan’s music was prominent in his alap. He adopted a narrative approach to the alap, inspired by the Merukhand (building-block) system of raga exposition evolved by Kirana gharana maestros. Arvind Parikh has described this feature of the Vilayat Khan alap as a “story-telling intimacy enriched with emotional meaning through variations of volume, timbre and pace”. A part of this narrative approach was the subtle use of silences and the use of the Tanpura-substitute (the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings) as a filler of silences.

Another prominent facet of vocalism is found in the Ustad’s bandish-es (compositions). Although he continued to perform bandish-es in the traditional Masitkhani and Razakhani formats, Vilayat Khan made a radical departure by adapting Khayal and Thumree bandish-es for rendition on the sitar. In a few ragas, he also composed his own Khayal-style bandish-es. His own compositions in the vocalised style were first composed as Khayals, along with the poetic element, perfected as pieces of vocal music, and then adapted for the sitar. He demonstrated this process frequently by singing the bandish-es in concert, along with their sitar adaptations.

An important part of Vilayat Khan’s vocalised idiom comes from his photographic memory. He has memorised so many Khayal renditions of the departed masters that echoes of their recordings – firmly etched in the memories of his audiences – are easily discernible in the Ustad’s phrasing. His renditions thus acquired a haunting quality that often rendered his admirers sleepless after a concert. This nostalgia triggered off by his renditions became compelling in the Ustad’s Thumree-style renditions. His study of the thumree tradition relied largely on his memory of early 20th century recordings. As recently as October 1991, at a concert in Los Angeles, he reproduced an entire Thumree rendering of Zohrabai Agrewali (“Paani bhareri” in Ghara) from a 78 RPM disc recorded more than half a century ago, accompanying his sitar rendering with his own voice.

In relation to the human voice, a crucial limitation the sitar is in the communication of emotional values. The human voice communicates them effectively with the aid of variations in volume and timbre. In his attempts at singing on the sitar, Vilayat Khan evolved an entire science of acoustic manipulation of the sitar. The magic of his stroke-craft (right hand) remains the envy of every sitarist who has heard him. He used this magic not only to simulate the vocal expression, but also a variety of special effects – often imitating a Piano, Sarangi, and Shehnai -- hitherto not heard on the sitar. A lot of this magic was painstakingly perfected. But, a lot of it was intuitive. I had queried him once on the special effects he had produced on a recording. His answer was: “I don’t really know how these are produced. Over the years, I have built up a relationship with my instrument. I visualise the sound I want, and the instrument delivers”.

The man-machine relationship
For involuntary processes to have taken charge of the Ustad’s music – as they do in vocal music – he would have needed to weld his body and his instrument into a single unified musical machine. This is probably the most fundamental, and least understood, facet of Vilayat Khan’s contribution to the art of the sitar. He had probably not reasoned out the precise logic of the ergonomics he evolved. But, it could be inferred from the manner in which he taught Arvind Parikh, whose analysis I present here. Vilayat Khan’s basic tenet was that the entire body should be relaxed with the instrument in the sitarist’s hand, and every movement should be natural.

The most significant ergonomic contribution of Vilayat Khan was perfecting the posture and the handling of the instrument. Vilayat Khan held the sitar exactly at an angle of 45 degrees to the floor on which the sitarist sits.. This was a change from his father, Ustad Enayet Khan’s posture, whose angle – judging from his photographs -- was between 35 and 40 degrees to the floor. This change delivered an incredible enhancement in mechanical efficiency in bi-directional movement of both the hands – melodic execution as well as stroke-craft.

Vilayat Khan then reasoned that the torso should not have to lean on the right side to hold the tumba (chamber resonator) down. The elbow of the right hand should, therefore, be supported by the tumba of the sitar at a height at which the torso can remain upright. So, he increased the size of the tumba to achieve the desired level of comfort. This change also determined the distance of the sitar from the sitarist’s body, and the point at which the stem of the sitar would rest on the right knee of the sitarist to achieve the 45 degrees angle. With this posture and handling, he ensured that the right hand felt no stress in holding down the tumba, and the left hand was not required to hold up the stem. As a result, the power of the forearm and palm muscles of both the hands could be deployed entirely for executing the music.

Vilayat Khan’s ergonomic engineering redefined and standardized the grip of the instrument with respect to both hands, the stance of the right-hand palm while implementing the strokes, and the design and placement of the mizrab (wire plectrum) worn on the sitarist’s index finger. All these changes had the result of maximizing mechanical efficiency, and control over the musical output, while minmising stress on the muscles directly engaged in music making. He wanted to do with the sitar what no one before him had attempted, and found a way of making the instrument obey his commands. However for achieving total compliance, he also had to re-engineer the instrument.

Re-engineering the instrument
Executing melody on the sitar is subject to two kinds of melodic discontinuity – that imposed by the frequency of left hand moving between frets, and that imposed by the frequency of sound priming by the right hand. Both these had to be minimized if Vilayat Khan was to simulate the aural experience of vocal music on the sitar. He had to get many more intonations under the impact of each stroke, while also ensuring a much greater sustenance of each intonation. The ratio of melodic density to stroke density had to be tilted sharply in favour of melodic density. In addition, the instrument had to be made capable of delivering a wider range of timbres than had hitherto been possible. A part of the solution to these problems was technique. But, the larger part of it had to be the instrument’s ability to support the technique. These were the guiding considerations for Vilayat Khan’s re-engineering of the instrument. But, once they were put in motion, a more comprehensive vision of the vocalized aural experience took charge of the process.

For executing the vocalized idiom, Vilayat Khan’s first imperative was that the melodic execution should shift predominantly to string-deflection techniques, such as meend, murki and gamak. The Enayet Khan sitar rarely attempted meends of more than two or three tones pulled from the same fret. Complex seven or eight-tone murki-s and heavy gamak-s were absent from the Enayet Khan idiom. If any of these, or even a five-tone meend was attempted on the Enayet Khan sitar, the stress on the instrument would upset the tuning of all the strings. This consideration, and others related to string-deflection, received considerable attention from Vilayat Khan.

The first facet of this was the reinforcement of the instrument for greater stress-tolerance. Vilayat Khan increased the thickness of the tabli (the cover of the tumba), and of the tar-gahan (the channel on top of the instrument which carries the strings to the nuts). He also reinforced the joint between the tumba and the stem with steel bars to enable the instrument to withstand the additional stress of string deflection. The second facet of the re-engineering was enhancing the ability of the instrument to deliver a five-tone string-deflection. The Enayet Khan sitar had a slightly narrower stem, and relatively flat frets, with the strings running close to the surface of the frets. With the enlargement of the tumba by Vilayat Khan, the stem became slightly broader in proportion. But, the frets still did not provide sufficient surface area for a five-tone deflection. So, Vilayat Khan introduced frets of more prominent convexity, and increased the distance between the strings and the frets. These changes helped to create and support an idiom that relied predominantly on string deflection. There was, however, also an acoustic dimension to this. The thickness and metallurgical composition of the frets on the Enayet Khan sitar were not entirely hospitable to a meend-dominant style. So, Vilayat Khan made them thicker, and replaced the brass frets with those of an acoustically superior alloy.

The problem of acoustic sustain led to other changes. The larger tumba provided part of the solution. However, in the sitars of pre-Vilayat Khan design, the acoustic output generated by each stroke was deployed more in generating the volume than sustain. This required a change in design as well as technique. A part of the dissipation of acoustic output was taking place from the upper tumba, which was in use till Enayet Khan’s time. In that era, devoid of electronic amplification, the upper tumba provided a useful booster to volume as well as delivery of harmonics. Vilayat Khan dispensed with the contraption, thus allowing the stem to function more efficiently as a column-resonator. His other solutions were at the stroke-production end of the instrument. He perfected of fine-tuning the jawari bridge in such a manner that the acoustic output was subdued in volume as well as brightness, but richer in sustain. Along with this, his fine-tuning specifications gave him access to a wider range of timbres. This change also required changes in stroke-craft.

Along with experiments in stroke-craft, Vilayat Khan kept experimenting with different materials for forging the jawari bridge. In the 1970s, he dispensed with the traditional ivory bridge, and the deer-horn (its substitute) of the Enayet Khan era. Thereafter, he experimented with various hard-wood bridges, and even with some space-age polymers. In the last few years, he had settled down to using an ebony bridge, which gave him the best combination of stability and acoustic features. Although he did use the services of expert craftsmen to periodically rework the jawari bridge, he had mastered the technique, and could do it himself.

The distinctive sound of the Vilayat Khan sitar, however, is also the product of more obvious changes – those in the tuning of the strings. Vilayat Khan thus converted the traditional treble-and-bass sitar, modeled after the ancient Rudra Veena, into a pure treble sitar. The traditional sitar had seven strings running over the main bridge, and an effective melodic canvas of three and a half octaves. Vilayat Khan sacrificed one octave, and reduced the number of strings to six. He removed strings representing the lowest octave, and replaced them with strings tuned to middle with a suitable combination reflecting the tonal geometry of the raga. These strings were not intended for executing melody, but to function as a chord-like filler of silences, over and above the chikari (drone strings) which performed this function partially. Vilayat Khan developed a style of deploying this chord-like device as a suggestion of Tanpura accompaniment. In addition to functioning as a Tanpura replacement, these strings provided a powerful reinforcement of the raga’s psycho-acoustic character.

With these structural and tuning changes aimed at executing his vocalized vision of music, Vilayat Khan created an entirely new instrument with a distinctive sound and acoustic ambience. As a result, today, just the opening stroke on a Vilayat Khan style sitar is sufficient to identify the sitarist of the Vilayat Khan style.

The Vilayat Khan legacy
The legacy of a musician consists of his style, and his recordings. Judged on these facets of his legacy, Vilayat Khan ranks amongst the greatest musicians of the 20th century.

Vilayat Khan looms so large over the world of the sitar, that the gharana, named originally after his grandfather, Ustad Imdad Khan, may now legitimately be re-christened the “Vilayat Khani gharana”. Today, followers of the Vilayat Khan style amongst sitarists outnumber those of all the remaining gharanas of sitar music. The sitar world is now dominated by the Ustad’s brother, sons, nephews and disciples, along with other third generation disciples of his father, Ustad Enayet Khan, and of his uncle, Ustad Waheed Khan. Over and above the descendants and direct disciples of the Imdad Khan lineage, there is a large number of professional sitarists who have studied the Vilayat Khan style, and follow it without having been formally admitted into the gharana. The wave of “Khayal-isation” of instrumental music set in motion by Vilayat Khan has swept all of sitar music, and made significant inroads into the music of all the major instruments. Interestingly, young vocalists are also known to study Vilayat Khan’s recordings, especially for his tan-s.

Though a comprehensive discography of the Ustad’s published recordings is yet to be compiled, he is estimated to have released between 70 and 100 commercial recordings during his career spanning six decades. The existing archive of concert recordings in possession of his admirers is likely to exceed 400 hours of music. These recordings are amongst the most actively exchanged items in the grey market for live music. Digitally re-mastered versions of many of these recordings will certainly surface in the pre-recorded music market over the next few years. The National Centre for the Performing Arts persuaded the Ustad to do about 30 hours of lecture demonstration on his gharana’s music in 1979. By special arrangement, this archive is available to the public for hearing. Although the Ustad stopped performing on All India Radio in 1952, AIR could be in possession of a sizeable Vilayat Khan archive, which could become publicly available one day.

Considering the totality of the Vilayat Khan legacy, his place in the history of music is comparable to the greatest amongst 20th century musicians like Abdul Kareem Khan, Faiyyaz Khan, and Alladiya Khan.

© Deepak S Raja, 2004
The finest recordings of Ustad Vilayat Khan have been produced by India Archive Music Ltd. New York.