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Hindustani Music in Rajasthan

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The Illustrated Weekly of India, June 29, 1980

Alladiya Khan founded the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana.

Alladiya Khan founded the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana.

RAJASTHAN’S contribution to Hindustani music is as significant as that of any other region. When music in North India underwent great changes during Mughal rule, Rajasthan became the veritable nursery of several styles and vogues in Hindustani music, both vocal and instrumental.

Mirabai, the princess of Udaipur and one of the most famous singer-poets of Rajasthan, who is stated to have created Mirabai Ki Malpur, belonged to this period. The multitude of princely States of the vast region accorded high patronage to musicians, musical scholars and musical painters for several centuries till their political merger in the wake of the country’s independence.

Lack of Authentic Information

Rajasthan’s record of achievement in the field, however, suffers from the tragedy that also besets the classical tradition of North India as a whole – the general lack of authentic information about its early musical luminaries and their individual contribution to the art.

On the basis of the available data, however, Rajasthan can be said to have contributed to the preservation and enrichment to the preservation and enrichment of the North Indian tradition in three distinct ways : artistic, musico-literacy and educational.

The chequered history of Hindustani music is now traced back, by common consent, to the emergence of dhrupad, which came into vogue as a form of court entertainment during the reign of Akbar. Dhrupad, the innovation of which is credited to Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior, evolved into what are known as four banis or styles of singing: Goudari, Dagori, Khandari and Nohari.

While Mian Tansen of Gwalior (the most celebrated court-musician in Akbar’s durbar) and Brijchand of Delhi (an eminent maestro contemporaneous with Tansen) are mentioned as the pioneers, respectively, of Goudari and Dagori banis, the credit for innovating Khandari and Nohari banis goes, respectively, to two Rajput maestros; Sanmukh Singh and Shrichand.

Sanmukh Singh is said to have earned double distinction as dhrupadiya and beenkar. Impressed by his versatile genius, Akbar made him his court-musician. Sanmukh Singh soon embraced Islam and, assuming the name Naubat Khan, married Mian Tansen’s daughter.

The Dagar Heritage

However, the late Moinuddin Khan Dagar, one of the most eminent and erudite dhrupadiyas of our time, asserted that it was not Man Singh, but one Baba Gopaldas, Dagar’s lineal (and musical) ancestor from Rajasthan, who was the father of the modern dhrupad.

Moinuddin Dagar claimed it was Baba’s blood that flowed through the veins of several later celebrities. These included Behram Khan, who was under the patronage of Sawai Ram Singh of Jaipur, Allah Bande Khan (Moinuddin’s grandfather) and Zakiruddin Khan (his uncle), who flourished in the durbars of Alwar and Udaipur, respectively, and Nasiruddin Khan, who was Moinuddin’s distinguished father. Ziauddin, Rahimuddin and Imamuddin are the other stalwarts of the Dagar family.

Amidst this controversy over the origin of dhrupad are many musical historians who hold the view that dhrupad was in vogue even earlier as a form of sacred music, which won tremendous acclaim in all places of Hindu worship. The music of the Vaishnava temples, representing the Vallabhacharya sect, lends credence to this view and thereby serves to confirm the belief that dhrupad proliferated independently, if not simultaneously, in religious and non-religious directions. (There is thus great scope for comparative study and research in the styles of dhrupad singing in the Vaishnava temples and outside).

Role of Vaishnava Temples

As is well known, the Vaishnava temples have played a crucial role in the preservation of religious music over the centuries. The most important group of Vaishnava temples at Nathdwara, in Rajasthan, is credited to have evolved the special form of religious music, known as kirtan, a variant of the ancient dhruva prabandha and akin to that of Jayadeva’s immortal musical: Gita-Govinda. The style of kirtan singing is radically different from that of durbari dhrupad, which, these historians say, represented a transformation of sacred music into a form of entertainment to be offered outside the precincts of a temple.

Although, with the growing popularity of khayal, dhrupad seems to be gradually going out of vogue, there are still in our midst several exponents who continue to sustain the ancient art of singing by pure devotion. Most of these masters belong to the illustrious. Dagar family and include Aminuddin, Fariduddin, Zahiruddin and Faiyazuddin.

Novel ‘Khayal’ Technique

If dhrupad, with its purity of form, coherence of structure and austerity of approach, typified the dignity, discipline and restraint of its age, its successor, khayal, with its romantic and colourful form, embodies a rich imagination and also reveals the temper of its age.

Here, too, Rajasthan’s genius in music has found eloquent expression. It has nurtured many noted khayal gayakis. Pride of place must go to the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, founded by Alladiya Khan, who hailed from Unniyara, in Rajasthan. Although his forefathers were all dhrupadiyas, Alladiya Khan evolved a novel khayal technique which has its moorings in the dhrupad gayaki.

The style became so popular in due course that it claimed adherents like Kesarbai Kerkar, Mogubai Kurdikar and Lakshmibai Jadhav, to name but a few. The continued popularity of the style even today is borne out by the fact that it has what is probably the larges following among present-day vocalists, such as Mallikarjun Mansur, Nivruttibuva Sarnaik, Kishori Amonkar, Padmavati Shaligram, Kousalya Manjeshwar, Kamal Tambe and several others.

The Mewati ‘Gayaki’

The Mewati gayaki, of which Jasraj is the most popular exponent today, had its origin in Rajasthan Jasraj inherited his vocalism from his father, Motiram, and his grandfather, Jyotiram, Maniram, Jasraj’s eldest brother and guru, and Pratap Narayan, elder brother, have played their part in popularising the gayaki.

Safdar Hussain and Fida Hussain, father and uncle respectively, of the great Faiyaz Khan and noted exponents of the Agra gharana, enjoyed the patronage of the Maharaja of Tonk in the early years of this century.

Mention must also be made of the late Lakshman Prasad Jaipurwale for his contribution to the khayal tradition. Althrough an exponent of the Shyam Chourasi style, he had made a name in Rajasthan while under the patronage of the Jaipur durbar.

By contrast, not much is known about Rajasthan’s instrumental musicians. There are only stray references which indicate that Mian Tansen bequeathed his beenkar (seniya) tradition to Rajasthan. The names of Rahim Sain and his sons, Nihal Sain and Amrit Sain, are mentioned as sitar maestros and pioneers of the Seniya parampara. The brothers are stated to have elevated the sitar, originally used as an accompanying instrument, to the status of a solo instrument by devising a number of modifications in its morphology.

Today’s been maestro, Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, hails from Udaipur, where his father was a court-musician. The noted sarangi veteran, Ram Narayan, as also his illustrious percussionist brother, the late Chaturlal, belong to Jodhpur, Manharlal Beenkar and Jagannath Pakhavaji, recipients of the President’s Award for instrumental music, are from Rajasthan, versatile Bhishmadev Vedi is known as the master of the sur-darpan-his own invention.

‘Outsiders’ of Renown

Among the ‘outsiders’ who enjoyed princely patronage are sarod virtuoso Vilayat Khan, who were the porteges of the Maharaja of Jodhpur. During his stay at Jodhpur, Ali Akbar groomed the late Damodarlal Kabra in the sarod and his younger brother, Brij Bhushan, in the guitar.

A geologist and businessman, Brij Bhushan has emerged on the traditional scene as a trend-setter, in that he has transformed a Western instrument into a full-fledged Indian solo concert instrument that can lend itself to classical abstractions as naturally as the sarod or the sitar. Flautist Suraj Narayan Purohit, a disciple of Pannalal Ghosh, is a talented amateur artiste from Jodhpur.

A wealth of musical literature, both scientific and appreciative, came to be written by many eminent scholars side by side with the development of classical music as a performing art in Rajasthan. Books and manuscripts on the subject are treasured in the libraries set up by the rulers of the erstwhile princely States or Bikaner, Ajmer and Udaipur.

The House of Kabra

No account of Rajasthan’s contribution to Hindustani music will be complete without reference to the great work done by the late Govardhanlal Kabra in the educational field. The illustrious house of Kabras has, in fact, vied with the princes in their patronage to music and musicians for the last three generations.

Govardhanlalji was an eminent musicologist and educationist of his time and had the benefit of guidance in vocal music from Vishnu Digambar and the sitar maestro, Inayat Khan, father of Vilayat Khan. Propagation of music was, however, his first love and he founded the music college at Jodhpur. As founder chairman of the Rajasthan Sangit Natak Akademi, he launched a revolutionary programme for scholastic education in classical music. He organized annual sangeet sammelans and generously helped gifted and needy artistes. Govardhanlalji’s missionary work is still being continued by his children.

Kirtans of Nathdwara

One of the Nathdwara temples.

One of the Nathdwara temples.

THE dhrupad type devotionals sung at the Nathdwara temples in Rajasthan are known as kirtans. Reportedly numbering 3,000, these kirtans are poetic compositions credited to eight saint-musicians (ashta chaap) representing the Vallabhacharya sect of Vaishnavas.

The style of singing these kirtans is different from that of the dhrupads that were performed in the princely courts and which are now heard on the public platform. Kirtans are rendered strictly according to the specified time of day and season sanctioned by convention. The ragas in which they are sung also correspond to the poetic mood designed to be depicted through the compositions.

There is no scope in these kirtans for alaap-like preliminary raga exploration that always goes with dhrupad singing elsewhere. The reason given is that kirtans are rendered at darshan time. An interesting feature of kirtan singing in the Vaishnava temples is that quite a few traditional ragas are treated ‘as out of bounds’. These include Bhairavi, one of the perennially popular melodies of North Indian music, Puriya Dhanashri, Bilaskani Todi and Jaunpuri.

According to available accounts, Tansen was found ‘guilty’ of having heard Bhairavi clandestinely from Khumbhandas, an eminent saint of the sect, without obtaining his consent. The orthodox temple singers have, therefore, come to look upon the charming raga as a ‘defiled’ raga. The other three ragas are also believed to have been introduced by what are described as ‘outsiders’ by the temple singers. According to another version, the ragas are said to carry ‘foreign’ influence and are, therefore, taboo in the sacred temples.

– M.N.

Musical Literature and Paintings  

RAJASTHAN’S contribution to India’s musical literature is as rich as it is varied. The impressive collection of the Anup Sanskrit Library at Bikaner includes Bhavabhatta’s Anup Ragamala, Sankarshana’s Ragaratna Kavya, Pakshadhar’s Sangit Kalpataru, all the Sanskrit.

There is also a Vaishnava treatise containing a plenitude of musical references in Hindi. Besides another Hindi book, Ragamala, the authorship of which is not known. Sangit Madan is a unique publication. The State Library at Ajmer has Man Kutuhala, written by Raja Man Singh and reputed to be the oldest publication of its kind in Rajasthan.

The collection in this library covers books on Ragamala by three separate authors : Moharaj Gopal Sing, Sukhdev and Kavi Harchan; Jaan’s Sangit Guru Deepak; and Fakirchand’s Vadya Viveka Vilas and Nritya Sudha Manjari. Maharana Kumbha of Udaipur’s Sangit Raj is an encyclopaedia of music. He has also written a commentary on Gita-Govinda. Both these works are in the Udaipur State Library.

About a dozen manuscripts on the ragamala concept are to be found in a private library at Fatehpur. There is a quaint manuscript, entitled Ragamala, in the Saraswati Mandir at Udaipur. It describes an unknown raga, Sindhu, as an offspring of the raga Dipak. There is also a pictorial representation of the raga which, according to the manuscript, used to be sung by Dholi and Dhadhi warriors on their way to the battlefield. Bikaner’s Prince Raj Singh was a great connoisseur of ragamala paintings and he had collected such paintings from places as far off as Ahmednagar. The Maharajas of Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur also patronized several gifted ragmala painters.

– M.N.


1 Comment

  1. Proud feelings to be associated with the kabras family as a affectionate member!

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