Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Hoax of the Century - III

[Continued from Part II]

Q. “What makes the Khyals of Sadarang so unique?”

A. “Because Sadarang (who was initially a beenkar in the court of Muhammad Shah (1719-48), by name Niyamat Khan) was a true reformer of vocal music, one who restored the essential form of Hindustani music from its decadent Dhrupad form of the time. In the compositions of Sadarang, you see the themes of Hindi love-poetry (which are anything but sensual), the whole heritage and dignity of Dhrupad, the fluency of the Hindi and Persian languages and the manner (paddhati) of the been in its glide or meend, plus a number of musical alankars that were introduced into the body of the composition.

One could make a life-long study of the compositions of Sadarang with respect to their musical form, how each alankar is exactly suited to the meaning of the word it embellishes. This was a music at once attractive and meaningful, as much in its original compositions (by Sadarang and his associates) as in its subsequent improvisations, like in the Thumri. No wonder that rasika Muhammad Shah was impressed, - impressed enough to accord royal status (darbar gayaki) to the Khyal immediately, without waiting for an ‘expert’s committee’. There are many more subtleties of the Khyal which one may observe from its authentic exponents rather than from the “reviews” of Hindustani music from newspaper critics.

Just ask yourself if the music of anyone of the current Khyal singers would be accepted by Muhammad Shah. More likely, they would be sent out immediately without their necks. But absolutely no one seems to entertain the slightest curiosity, to ask about any singer – “is the Khyal that once displaced the Dhrupad from the royal courts of Delhi and Gwalior?” There seems to be a general ‘paralysis of the critical sense’ in the arts and a mortal fear, as if all comparisons with previous models were anathema.

If you have encountered the original compositions of Sadarang, you could see that they were not easy to compose even by a seasoned musician, though they appear deceptively simple. It is not just a matter of allotting svaras to words as per the grammar of the raga. A composer like Sadarang comes once in a century. Consequently the music of Sadarang could not be copied or multiplied in every royal court of North India. And the Dhrupad having lost its pride of place, many would be vocalists “took to the Khyal”

About the beginning of the 20th century, there appeared two unfortunate influences in Hindustani music – Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande in the field of ‘theory’ and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar in the field of ‘practice’. They thought they were fulfilling the role of Vishnu the preserver. With all his monumental work in classifying and naming ragas, Bhatkhande failed to notice the unique quality of the Khyals of Sadarang. His obsession was with the nomenclature of ragas. With the result, he made it appear as if any musician with the knowledge of the grammar of a raga could be a composer of Khyals. In all his six volumes of “Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati” he finds no place even to mention the unique qualities of the Sadarang’s musical compositions though he had the opportunity of listening to and putting into notation the authentic rendering of the Gwalior Khyals. And witness the brilliance of the products of his Marris College at Lucknow. They are all caricatured copies of the pseudo-Dhrupad-Dhamar of Faiyaz Khan passing of as Khyals.

And Vishnu Digambar Paluskar with his obsession to “popularise” the classical music of North India, succeeded only in popularising himself. One may these facts if one compared the rendering of Sadarang’s compositions by Vishnu Digambar’s line from Hassu Khan, with those of the line of Natthu Khan who remained in Gwalior. These latter singers were in a microscopic minority.

Q. “Who then were in the majority camp of Khyaliyas?”

A. “The ‘Khansahebs of the Khazana’ and the ‘Pandits of the Raga’. Either from Bhatkhande or elsewhere these pseudo-Khyaliyas got the idea that the words (sahitya) of the Khyal were of little or no importance. What mattered to these (mis-)leaders of classical music was the raga. And you have all the music critics blindly following this lead. Even if you mumbled the words as Ameer Khan used to do, or indicated them by a wave of the hand (how symbolic!), it was alright, as long as you somehow gave the impression that you were “producing classical music”.

Have you ever heard from any singer an astai and antara clearly and consistently articulated and set perfectly to the matras of the tala? And what about the consistency of the meaning? That’s only for folk music, not for the higher classical categories as Bhatkhande pontificated! It was with this background that you got the whole horde of pseudo-Khyaliyas – Alladiya Khan of the Jaipur Gharana who could grind out a raga for hours without reaching the tar saptak, or Faiyaz Khan of the Agra Gharana who passed off his pseudo-Dhrupad-Dhamar as Khyal or Abdul Karim Khan of the Kirana Gharana ( and of the Sarangi line – nothing wrong in that by itself) who imagined he could imitate Rehmat Khan when nobody was looking, or Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of Sabrang Gharana who thought he could get the colour of the Khyal by mixing in colours of Qawwali, Thumri, Ghazal and the rest with sargamlocutions!

A Gharana of Khyal implies an original composer of Khyals and not a ‘style‘ of representing classical non-music under the excuse of a raga. If you think I’m exaggerating, do examine what the Khansahebs and their sisyas give out as Khyal. Do they render the words of the Khyal clearly, so as to bring out its meaning, as in the Thumri, Dadra, Ghazal, etc. Are they really singing the whole composition “in tala” or they concerned only with the coincidence of the sam of the tal or the cheez? Are there any alankars as an integral part of the composition or is that all as a show of vocal acrobatics, and most important of all – what is that they are elaborating for hours – the raga or the cheez with respect to its theme? If you find positive answers to all these questions, then you may say they are genuine representatives of the Khyal. But what do you find our current ‘big names’ of Hindustani music doing, like – Bhimsen Joshi, Mallikarjun Mansur, Jesraj, Parween Sultana, Kumar Gandharva, et al? What part of their performance can you admit as real and enjoyable music? And why do you think the Ghazal is now in the ascendant in Hindustani music?”

Q. “Probably because of the rapport the singer can establish with the audience?”

A. “Precisely, and rapport means artha and bhava. The ‘names’ I mentioned above are not to blame. It is what they received as ‘classical music’ from their teachers and it is what they will pass on to their students, even more denuded of content because there was neither form nor content to begin with, but only the grammar of the raga. Alladiya Khan and Company were the leaders of such classical non-music. By their time, the last generation of authentic Muslim singers of Khyal – Rehmat Khan and Nissar Hussain of Gwalior – were no more. There was no one influential enough to question the authenticity of these pseudo-Khansahebs. One could write a whole thesis on the changing patterns of patronage in North Indian music from the sacred setting of the temple and the aristocratic assemblage of the royal courts of North India to the present democratic (maifils) and the AIR and Sangeet Natak Akadamies.”

[Continued in Part IV]

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