Indian classical music

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

Indian classical music is broadly of two kinds (1) Hindustani music (2) Carnatic music.

Hindustani music:

  1. The main form of Hindustani classical music is called khyaal, which means a thought or mood. Khyaal replaced dhrupad which was the main form till the 18th century, which change is often attributed to a musician called Niamat Khan, also known as Sadarang, who was the Court singer in the Court of Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila, who ruled from 1719-49. Even today many bandishes ( compositions ) in khyaal mention the names ‘Muhammad saheb’ ( which refers to the Mughal Emperor, not Prophet Muhammad ), and ‘Sadarangile’

Khyaal is more melodious than dhrupad, which was sung by earlier singers like Tansen. Khyaal compared to dhrupad has more scope of improvisation, whereas dhrupad was bound by strict rules.

There are other forms too like thumri, dadra, tappa, taraana, bhajan, ghazal, qawwali, etc, Thumri is regarded as light music, with more words in it than khyaal. The latter only intends to create a mood, and words in it are only incidental, while they are primary in thumri. Also, there are no ‘taans’ in thumri, as there are in khyaal.

Taraana is said to have been invented by Amir Khusro. There are no words at all in taraana, and the sounds will appear nonsensical if taken literally, but they create great music when sung.

Qawwali is spiritual music, often sung in dargahs of Sufi saints

  1. Indian classical music, both Hindustani and Carnatic, is based on the raag system. A raag is a set of 7 notes and 5 half notes, in a particular sequence, which creates a mood or emotion often associated with a time or season.
  1. Indian classical music is often connected with nature. Thus, the early morning raags like Bhairav and Jaunpuri create the ambience of early morning, while the late night raags like Malkauns and Darbari create the ambience of late night. The early morning raags, as well as the late-night raags, have mostly low notes. The former are intended to gently wake one up, while the latter are intended to gently put one to sleep.

The Malhar raags ( there are many malhars, the main one being mian ka malhar ) create the ambience of the rainy season, while the Bahaar raag creates the ambience of spring.

  1. There are what are known as ‘gharaanas’ in Hindustani classical music. These gharaanas grew because before modern times modes of transport and communication were primitive. There were no cars, buses, trains, or planes then. A guru who would teach ( often his family member-only ) would remain in one place all his life. So his distinct style would be passed on to his disciples, and this became a gharaana.
  2. Two persons popularised Hindustani classical music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries–Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande ( 1860-1936 ) and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar ( 1872-1931 ).

Bhatkhande’s contribution is in the theoretical side of music, while Paluskar’s is in the practical side.

What Bhatkhande, who was himself a great singer, did was to go to the various gharaanas in different parts of India, and study them. He found some defects in their styles, but these had remained unnoticed and unquestioned for generations as the method of teaching disciples then was to strictly follow the guru without questioning him. Bhatkhande then wrote his classical treatise called ‘Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati’ in 4 volumes, standardising Hindustani classical music, removing defects which had crept in, and arranging raags into 10 groups called ‘thaats’

Paluskar’s contribution was on the practical side. At that time music was not regarded a respectable vocation. To popularise it and make it respectable he set up the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, a music academy, in Lahore in 1901 ( it was later shifted to Bombay ). This took classical music out of the gharaana system to the masses. Paluskar trained his disciples, and then sent them to several cities in India to start music academies there. My own music teacher in Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Kashalkarji, was the son of one of Paluskar’s disciples who had been sent to Allahabad ( my home town ) to set up a music academy there.

  1. There have been many great exponents of Hindustani classical music e.g. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Mallikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva.

Pandit Jasraj, Amanat Ali Khan and his son Asad Amanat Ali Khan, Fateh Ali Khan, Rashid Khan, Girja Devi, Kishori Amonkar, etc. But Begum Akhtar is unmatched in thumri and ghazal singing.

Of these, Maharashtrians and Pathans ( Khans ) have made the greatest contribution.

  1. Hindustani music is also performed on musical instruments e.g. sitar, veena, etc. Bismillah Khan popularised shahnai ( which was earlier used only by low caste people like jamaadars ) while Shiva Kant Sharma popularised the Kashmiri santoor.
  2. A great contribution to Hindustani music was made by the India Tobacco Company. Earlier, music was patronised by princely states ( maharajas and nawabs ), but when these were eliminated after Independence in 1947 the musicians lost their economic support. Hence the ITC set up a Sangeet Research Academy in Tollygunge, Calcutta, and invited leading exponents of vocal and instrumental Hindustani classical music to live and teach there, providing them a flat and a substantial salary.

Carnatic music

Carnatic music is mainly performed in south India.

It follows the raag system, as in Hindustani music, but has many distinctions. It is more vocal and devotional, and its compositions are all in Telugu or Sanskrit.

Its trinity is regarded as Tyagaraj, Shyama Shastry, and Muthuswamy Dikshitar.

Every year in January-February a weeklong Tyagaraj music festival is held in Tyagaraj’s home town in Tanjore district in Tamilnadu where Carnatic musicians from all over the world perform.