According to a popular research on Spotify, there exist 1300 genres of music in the world! But closer home, you will be hard pressed to find credible, all-encompassing research about music genres of India that represents every nook and corner of this vast country. Like the food and dialect, music too changes every milestone. What is also not so well known is the legend that the origin of music can in fact be traced to ancient India, to ‘OM’, the Shabda Brahma or the sound made by Lord Brahma, from which all other sounds including music emanated. According to Musicologists, sound emanates as a result of the friction between air and matter and reverberates through the galaxies. The first divine instrumentalist is believed to be Narada, who played his ektara (one stringed instrument) as an accompaniment to his frequent two-worder Narayan – Narayan.
Indian music has had deep and durable linkages with religious traditions and rituals. Bhajans and keertans and innumerable songs extolling the wonders of God almighty have been movingly sung in Kirtans, Sufi recitations and Christian carols. In fact one of the recognised ways of reaching the ultimate and realising salvation is through music. There is even a treatise called ‘Samaveda’ that proclaims music as a path to deliverance. If you notice, many saints and savants and indeed numerous Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu pantheon carry musical instruments. The veena of Goddess Saraswati, the damroo of Lord Shiva, the flute of Lord Krishna and the ektara of Narada are illustrative examples of the close and intimate relation between music and mythology in India.
In tribal society too, music is an integral part of life. Songs, dances and musical instruments are frequently used to mark every occasion, from birth to death. The origins of classical music can be traced to tribal tunes and songs. In fact, in the past, masters such as Pandit Kumar Gandharva and Bhimsen Joshi have presented the sensuous beauty of folk music in the sophisticated medium and matrix of classical tradition. Folk music is the seminal seed from which flows many genres. Yes, even some of your favourite contemporary hits may owe their popularity to folk music!
Coming back to Indian shores, music has also been an important and pulsating part of performing arts in India. Whether it is the popular Nautanki of the north, the vigorous Yakshagana and Burrakatha of the south or the titillating but fast fading Tamasha song-dance numbers of Maharashtra, rural India has had a fulsome share of music and has enjoyed it thoroughly in popular night-long performances. Natya-sangeet is a special gift of Maharashtra to the theatre-arts of India and its most charismatic propagator was the legendary Balagandharva. Seductively combining classical ragas both from the Hindustani and Karnatic Schools, natya-sangeet was a major attraction with its marathon, mythological and historical plays, staged at the turn of the century.
An important landmark in the development of Hindustani classical music was the establishment of gharanas under the patronage of princely states, which nurtured and encouraged them. This was an impact of the Moghul rulers on classical music and each of the gharanas developed distinct facets and styles of presentation and performance. The compelling percussion and rhythm of the Agra gharana, the sensuous softness of Swaras in Kirana gharana have become synonymous with their respective styles and schools. There was fierce competition among the gharanas and every effort was made to project each other as propagating a superior genre of music. Also the compositions were closely guarded secrets, treated as heirlooms and passed on reluctantly to the younger generation. In Banaras, it is known, that elaborate conspiracies were hatched to obtain musical compositions from family heirlooms!
In the confrontation between pure tradition and avant garde modernism, many prominent musicians have been caught in the cross-fire. In fact many fights and quarrels, apart from drawing sharp and clear battle lines, have divided them into warring camps. In fact when younger artists take liberties with gharana traditions and tend to mix up swaras of one raaga with another, there are angry protests by senior artists. But such a show of disapproval is fast fading away and even established artists now, try to combine attractive features of several gharanas into a novel and heady mixture. Similarly younger artists have freely borrowed attractive bits and phrases and made these a part of their musical vocabulary and grammar. This is no longer considered retrograde and is a part of avant garde strategy to achieve instant success on the concert stage. With the obvious advantages of digital audio and streaming platforms like, Spotify, Amazon, and a multitude of others, music has become part of every day life. Add to this heady, osmotic mix, a social phenomenon like the TV Reality Show and suddenly music is open to so many more influences, experiments and evolving tastes.
In spite of this, ardent connoisseurs of music see hopeful signs on the musical horizon. There are many more youngsters who are serious about classical music. There are more gurus and music schools than ever before and there is widespread sponsorship of music and musicians by the state and corporate sectors. Musicians are respected members of the community and are honoured by the State with awards and sent abroad on cultural tours and exchanges. The Government is eager to promote culture through State and central Academies and Regional cultural centres. Music has become a subject of serious study and research and many young people have made a rewarding career in it. Above all, music is learnt and performed even in small towns and evokes wide and popular response, be it a Bhaitak or a Concert.
Indian musicians are regularly performing in Europe and America and other continents, apart from continuous and extensive concert tours within the country. Thus the horizon has expanded widely and a bright and beautiful future is at hand for Indian music. Which is truly music to the ears of one and all.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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