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The Gurjari Touch in Hindustani Sangeet

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Several Gujaratis have enriched the tradition of Hindustani classical music.

The Illustrated Weekly of India, December 2, 1980 

Omkarnath Thakur was among the more well known Hindustani classical vocalists from Gujarat.

Omkarnath Thakur was among the more well known Hindustani classical vocalists from Gujarat.

NOT much is known about the early traditions of classical music in the region now known as Gujarat (which became a unilingual State in 1960, comprising the Gujarati-speaking districts of the erstwhile bilingual Bombay State and the former princely states of Kathaiwar (later known as Saurashtra) and Kutch. In the absence of authentic data, musicologists and historians trace the genesis of classical music in the region to Haveli Sangeet.

Haveli Sangeet came into vogue as temple music in the wake of the Vaishnava movement (1300-1550 AD), which marked the epochal Hindu Renaissance of the Middle Ages. The great saint-philosopher, Vallabhacharya, a pioneer of the movement, spread the gospel of his Pushti Marga through his devotional songs, cast in the Haveli style, which was akin to prabandha-singing of the pre-dhrupad period. And it was the exponents of Haveli Sangeet, known as kirtaniyas, who were largely instrumental in the gradual propagation of North Indian (Hindustani) music in the entire region. The impact of this devotional singing is clearly perceptible in the compositions of Narsimha Mehta, another great Vaishnavite of Junagadh, in Kathaiwar, and of the eminent poet, Dayaram.

Mention must also be made of the contribution of the Nayak and Gandharva communities in this context. Both these communities were dedicated to music and drama as professions. The musicians excelled in vocal and instrumental music alike, while an artiste like Jayashankar “Sundari” became a legend in his lifetime as a singer-actor in feminine roles – like Balgandharva did on the Marathi musical stage.

As elsewhere in Western, Central and North India, it was the princely states that provided succour and shelter to talented musicians and patronized their art in Gujarat. We find reference to Aditya Ram, State Musician of Jamnagar, who flourished in the 18th century. He is credited to have popularised the singing style of chaturang, a variant of dhrupad. Chaturbhuj Rathod is one of its present-day exponents.

Bhavnagar, Porbandar, Sanand and last, but not least, Baroda were among other princely states which accorded patronage to Hindustani music. Maharaja Krishna Sinhaji of Porbandar was, by all accounts, a keen connoisseur of both Hindustani and Western music.

Pride of place among these princely patrons must deservedly go to Maharaja Sayajirao Gaikwad of Baroda who, during his six-decade benevolent rule till his death in 1939, was hailed – and is still gratefully remembered – as both a progressive ruler and a visionary. He brought about a transformation of his state in all respects, specially in the field of education, art and culture. If Baroda today is acclaimed as the cultural capital of Gujarat, it is entirely due to Sayajirao’s dynamism and liberalism. The university, named after him, with its faculty of music, drama and dance, and also the Kala Bhavan, which imparts education and training in the fine arts, are truly the monuments to his contribution.

First “Musical Meeting”

The first All-India Music Conference convened by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande in 1916 was held at Baroda under Sayajirao’s patronage. A great number of topnotchers in music adorned his darbar. The protégés included Abdul Karim Khan (Kirana gharana); Faiz Mohammed Khan (guru of the eminent Bhaskarbuva Bakhale); Tasadduq Hussain and Faiyaz Khan (Agra gharana); Fida Hussain and his son, Nissar Hussain (Rampur gharana); Lakshmibai Jadhav (Atrauli-Jaipur gharana) and the veena veteran, Hirjibhai Doctor. The noted vocalist, Maula Baksh, the first principal of the music college, invented his own staff notation for Hindustani music. Of interest is also the appointment of one Mr. Frdilis as successor to Maula Baksh.

It may surprise many – specially those outside Gujarat – to know that the spread of Hindustani music among the profane and the secular is due, in no small measure, to Gandhiji, himself a great patron of music. Gandhiji became a disciple of Narayan Moreshwar Khare, who was groomed by Balkrishnabuva Ichalkaranjikar, and Vishnu Digambar. The devotional songs sung at the celebrated Sabarmati Ashram were all tuned to classical ragas by Khare. Vishnu Digambar was intimately associated with the Mahatma and the national movement.

Fit For a Bestseller

Speaking of exponents of Hindustani music, the name that immediately springs to mind is that of Omkarnath Thakur. He was probably the only Gujarati maestro who earned national acclaim. The story f his rise to fame from a mill worker to one of the most eminent vocalists of our time could well provide material for a bestseller.

A disciple of Vishnu Damgambar and steeped in the tradition of old masters, Omkarnathji evolved a style of his own which embodied Western flourishes like shakes and tremolos! He wrote authoritative books like the Pranava Bharati and lectured eloquently on the aesthetic aspects of ragas (propounding, at times, self-contradictory approaches), but did not care to groom vocalist disciples worthy of him. The only exception is that of the noted South Indian exponent of Hindustani music, violinist N. Rajam, whom he groomed in the manner of a ganda-bandh shagird. Yet Panditji has his followers who include vocalists like Chandrashekhar Pandya, P. N. Barve, Vasant Amrit, Pradeep Kumar Dixit and many others. Panditji’s brother, Rameshchandra, was a percussionist.

Yeshwantrai Purohit, a gifted exponent of the Kirana gharana, would have risen to greater heights had he not died prematurely in 1964. Shivkumar Shukla, a disciple of Aman Ali Khan, rose to be the head of the Department of Music at the Maharaja Sayaji Rao University. A popular vocalist of his time, he now leads a retired life. Rasiklal Andharia, who follows the Meerkhand gayaki of Amir Khan, is the leading Gujarati vocalist of today.

There are many other vocalists and instrumentalists among Gujaratis, both young and old, in our midst. But most of them have somehow remained content to be merely broadcasters. Fewer still have managed to reach the concert platform. These fortunate few include the sitarist Arvind Parikh, disciple of Vilayat Khan, and his vocalist wife, Kishori; Kaumudi Munshi, who learnt from Siddheshwari Devi of Varanasi; and Bhikubhai Bhavsar. Atul Desai and Rajul Mehta are among other talented vocalists. Vithaldas Bapodara is a senior exponent of Haveli Sangeet and dhrupad at the music college at Bhavnagar. Sanmukhbabu Upadhyay (violin), Vinayak Vora (tar-shehnai) and Vasant Rai (sarod) are also popular as instrumentalists.

In the field of scholastic education, the name of Swami Vallabhdas of the Swaminarayan sect deserves special mention. This Hindu sadhu learnt Hindustani music at the feet of a Muslim guru – Faiyaz Khan. A unique example of guru-shishya parampara, this! Till his death in 1972, Swamiji worked tirelessly for the propagation of Hindustani music through his institution at Sion in Bombay, the Shreevallabh Sangeetalaya, which is part of his bigger multipurpose high school. An administrator and organiser par excellence, Swamiji made several visit abroad to collect funds for his educational projects.

The late K. M. Munshi also started the Bharatiya Sangeet and Nartan Shiksha Pith at his Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at Bombay. Both the Sangeetalaya and the Shiksha Pith are doing exemplary work in the field. So are the sangeet akadamis at Rajkot and Ahmedabad.

Gujarat can also be proud of its musicologists, authors and critics. Narendrarai Shukla, R. C. Mehta, Harkant Shukla, Dr. D. G. Vyas, V. R. Athavale, Geeta Mayor, Kalpana Desai and several others have contributed significantly to the enrichment of musical literature in Gujarati, Hindi and English. Wadilal Shivram Nayak, Sitarampant Modi and Jaisukhlal Shah have devoted their life to teaching music. The late erudite Satyendra Trivedi, too, made vidya-daan his mission. Every artiste and rasik had free access to his phenomenal Hindustani repertoire.

Among the notable Gujarati publications on Hindustani music are Sangeet Kaladhar by Dayabhai Shivram Nayak, who wrote it under the patronage of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar during the pre-Independence days. Rasa-Kaumudi is another publication which was commissioned by the Jamsaheb of Jamnagar. Yet another is one Shrikantha. A recent publication is Shree Sangeet Saurabh, containing classical and devotional compositions written and set to ragas by the former Maharaja Jaywantsinhaji of Sanand.

Critics and journalists of repute, like Jitubhai Mehta, Manubhai Mehta, Ravi Shankar Mehta, Vinayak Purohit and Pravin Desai, have also added to the musical understanding and appreciation of readers through their column is Gujarati, Hindi and English journals.

Of Melodies, Miracles And Mysteries

RAGAS like Saurashtra, Saurashtra-Tanka, Saurashtra-Bhairav and Sorath are claimed to be the contribution of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat to North Indian music. Though there is no authentic evidence to support the claim, all these melodies with their lakshanas have been dealt with in many old treatises on Hindustani music. Similarly, the celebrated morning raga, Bilaval, is belived to have taken its name from the place called Veraval, also in Saurashtra.

According to the noted scholar and musicologist, Prof. V. R. Athavale, who supports his belief, the raga, with its shuddha scale, is Arabic in character and, in all likelihood, it must have been introduced into India from Veraval, which has a port. Incidentally, this raga also finds mention in the shastras as Velavali. It is also claimed that Baiju Bawra, alias Baijnath Mishra (who, according to another legend, had a jugalbandi with the famed Miyan Tansen at Akbar’s court), hailed from Champaner in Gujarat. This Baiju (also referred to as “Manju Kalavant” by the noted historian, Prof Mohammad Habib) was in the patronage of Mahadur Shah, the 16th – century Nawab of Ahmedabad State and a keen connoisseur of music.

The complex morning raga, Bahaduri Todi, which is the forte of Alladiya Khan’s Atrauli-Jaipur gharana, was composed by Baiju and named after his patron. Bakshu and Gopal, who later became eminent musicians, are said to be Baiju’s disciples. Narsimha Mehta, the eminent Vaishnavaite and poet-singer, is said to have created miracles, particularly when he sang his favourite raga Kedara. Connoisseurs of Hindustani music are all too familiar with the miracle associated with Miyan Tansen’s rendition of the raga Deepak.

According to the legend prevailing in Gujarat, Tansen, after singing the melody, began to suffer from unbearable heat within his body and, in sheet exasperation, he absconded from Delhi and came down to Vadnagar in North Gujarat in search of a cure for his malady. A kindly Brahmin musician offered shelter to Tansen at Vadnagar. He was quick to surmise the cause of Tansen’s suffering and asked his gifted daughters, Tanna and Reeri, who were also accomplished singers, to render the raga Malhar, associated with the rainy season.

Their rendition had a miraculous effect on Tansen and he was cured of his affliction. Overjoyed, Tansen rushed back to Akbar’s darbar and told the emperor of the miraculous cure he had. Akbar lost no time to summon the two singing sisters to Delhi and sent his special courier to Vadnagar for the purpose. But the girls declined the emperor’s invitation. Incensed by the girls’ “impudence”, the emperor ordered his army to invade Vadnagar. Seeing the approaching army, the girls immolated themselves!

– M.N.




  1. Salute to Panditji.

  2. Very usefull data

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