Hindustani Music A Tradition in Transition by Deepak Raja

Hindustani Music A Tradition in Transition

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Hindustani Music A Tradition in Transition
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Hindustani Music: A tradition in transition" is a wide-ranging survey of the North Indian tradition of classical music during the post-independence period. Explicitly, this book addresses music lovers of above-average familiarity with Hindustani music, and their curiosity about its inner workings. It is, however, also a valuable reference for scholars and other writers on music.

The book is based on author's long years of training as a musician, vast experience as an analyst of music, and an observer of the cultural environment.

This book is divided into six parts.

Part I articulates an Indian perspective on important societal, cultural, economic and technological drivers of Hindustani music.

Part II discusses issues pertaining to presentation formats, and the structural and melodic aspects of Hindustani music.

Part III deals with the notion of raga-ness, and the world of ragas.

Part IV presents comprehensive backgrounders on the four major genres of vocal music - Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumree, and Tappa.

Part V features detailed fact-sheets on eight major melodic instruments of Hindustani tradition - Rudra Veena, Sitar, Surbahar, Sarod, Sarangi, Shehnai, Santoor, and the Indian classical (Hawaiian) guitar.

Part VI presents a glossary of words in italics, a list of suggested readings, and an index.

The book makes complex musicological concepts accessible to non-academic readers, and contributes significantly to widening the understanding of contemporary trends in Hindustani music. Written by an author of impeccable credentials as a musician, researchers, and author, this book is very significant addition to a body of authoritative writing on 20th century Hindustani music.

Experts from Reviews:

" I commend Deepak Raja's book as a serious review of the Hindustani music tradition in the post-independence era. Deepak is an author with a keen analytical mind, imbued with a scientific approach. His chapters on raga grammar, raga authenticity, raga chemistry, and introductory essays on Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumree and Tappa can be of immense value to music students and scholars. His essays on the time-theory of ragas is a thought-provoking piece of writing, which deserves the attention of the music fraternity in view of the changing context of music performance and enjoyment…. I sincerely hope that this book will be widely read, and will encourage the serious discussion and debate on different facets of Hindustani music"

Shiv Kumar Sharma

" Deepak Raja's volume is a welcome overview of the recent trends in Hindustani music. It provides a panoramic, rather than encyclopedic, appraisal of important developments in Hindustani music, and confronts us with the problems that Indian classical music faces today… Raja has a very definite point of view and argues it passionately."

Lyle Wachovsky

About the Author:

Deepak Raja [Born: 1948] is amongst the finest contemporary writers on Hindustani music. He is a Repertoire Analyst for Indian Archive Music Ltd., New York, the most influential procedure of Hindustani music outside India. He is also a columnist for Sruti, the performing arts monthly, and frequently contributes papers to seminars and journals of the ITC-Sangeet Research Academy, Sangeet Natak Akademi, and the Indian Musicological Society.

The author is a sitar and surbahar player of the Imdad Khan/ Etawah gharana, trained for over forty years by two of its stalwarts, Shri Pulin Deb Burman, and Pandit Arvind Parikh. He studies Khayal under Pandit Dhondutai Kulkarni of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. As a performer, he is respected for the soundness of his approach to music, and his command over the instruments.

Deepak Raja took a BA Honours degree from Delhi University, an MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and studied advertising at the Watford College of Technology in the UK. For over thirty years, he has been a prolific writer on media industry, including the Editorship of Business India. While being well versed in the tradition concepts of Indian musicology, he brings to the subject a fresh perspective using the conceptual tools and analytical methods cultivated by his careers in media research, business journalism and financial consultancy.


CHANGE is the only permanent reality in music. Even the music of the same gharana changes from generation to generation. No musician can be a perfect xerox of his guru. This is the way it has been, this is the way it will remain, and this is the way it should be. It is this process that allows new styles to emerge, and new genres of music to be created. If classical music does not change constantly, it will stagnate, and become irrelevant to society.

Along with accepting the permanence of change, we have to acknowledge that, in music, as in other fields, each generation is attuned to certain values based on the environment in which it has been brought up. Because of their conditioning, a majority of people tend to develop firm notions about what is good and what is bad, or what is right and what is wrong, and find change difficult to accept. Their initial response to anything new is often rejection, and even condemnation. It is only gradually that society begins to discover the elements of truth in the newer manifestations of human endeavour, and concedes legitimacy to them.

To develop an intelligent approach to change and diversity in music, we have to recognize that classical music, like any other art form, evolves in society in response to the changing socio-economic realities, and sustains itself by fulfilling the cultural needs of society. Its evolution is the result of an interaction between musicians and their audiences and reflects the quality of the relationship they wish to forge between them.

In our own era, say a little before that, performances of classical music were confined to the courts of the maharajas and nawabs. Outside this circle, concerts took place primarily in private gatherings. They were either jumme-ka-takiya (Friday evening gatherings) or special occasions where either a musician's son was getting married, or some musician was hosting a commemorative concert for a deceased father or relative. Sometimes, a local aristocrat hosted these concerts. In most cases, the organizers and the audiences were either musicians, or close friends and relatives of musicians - in short, people of considerable discernment in matters of classical music. The event had virtually no financial implications for anyone. This was the chamber-music stage of evolution of our tradition. Considering the context of these gatherings, the music of the era was naturally of a very, high standard, very intellectual, very competitive, and perhaps even intimidating.

In the second quarter of the twentieth century, music came out of the chamber-music context into the public arena. These were also the sunset years of British rule and the era of maharajas and ndawabs as patrons of music. That was the time when scholars like Pandit V.N. Bhatkhande, and enthusiastic patrons like Jeevanlal Mattoo in Lahore and Lala Babu in Calcutta (now Kolkata) started organizing music conferences. At that stage, musicians were still poorly paid; and audiences were not large - maybe 500 or 700 people at the most. But, musicians got an opportunity to acquire a following, and create a market for their music. Around the same time, the radio and the gramophone record also started taking music all over the country. So, there was an opportunity as well as an attraction for reaching out to audiences - of shaping a career in music. From this stage onwards, the receptivity of audiences became an important determinant of the quality of music that was performed .

I am sure that, out of audiences 500 or 700 strong in that era, 100 per cent of the listeners were not knowledgeable about the intricacies of music. The proportion of audiences who understood, for instance, the nuances of the gandhar of Darbari was probably not much higher than iris today. From that stage to present times, audiences have become larger, their profile has changed, their expectations from music have changed, and the media for exposure to music have grown in number and reach. But, as a percentage of the total population, I doubt if classical music audiences are much larger today than they were fifty years ago. I also doubt if the ratio of the discerning to the rest is very much smaller today.

I am driving at two points here. First, that music has changed much more because society has changed, and not as much because the discerning audiences have been reduced to a small minority. Second, despite dramatic changes in the quality of music, which some regard as signs of decay, the musicians who enjoy stature along with popularity today exhibit the same values as those of the early twentieth century, whom we mention with reverence. And this quality is what I call the "Musician's Truth".

The "Musician's Truth" touches the mind, heart, and soul of audiences irrespective of their level of discernment. This truth goes beyond raga-grammar, and aspects of music theory. People relate to music in a million different ways, and it is futile for a musician to think that he can tailor his music to specific audience profiles and needs. The only thing he can rely on is a steadfast commitment to the "Musician's Truth" and help his audiences to become receptive to it. He may not accomplish this in a year, or five years, or even ten years. But, abandoning it is no solution to his relevance as a musician. If this element of "Truth" is missing from a musician's art, even the undiscerning listener will be uneasy, though he may not be able to tell you why he is uneasy. If it is present, even the total ignoramus will go home happy, and will return for more. In the short run, a musician may be able to create a niche for himself without the "Musician's Truth". But, he will find it impossible to retain that position without a secure grip over it.

The foundation of the "Musician's Truth" is sincerity and seriousness of purpose. This is reflected in several facets of music, which have remained, and will remain, fundamental to our music. A musician's intonation should be perfect. Whatever his interpretation of a raga, his exposition of it should be consistent and coherent. He should organize his musical material neatly and logically. There should be a reasonable balance between the melodic and rhythmic elements in his music. While a degree of partiality to either melodic or rhythmic elements is acceptable in our tradition, an obsession with either of them at the cost of the other deprives the music of its aesthetic value. These qualities qualify as good music by any yardstick of value.

The "Musician's Truth" has exhibited amazing resilience for over a century now, and I have no doubt that it will continue to attract musicians in sufficient numbers for the tradition to survive. However, I am concerned about the threats that have emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century. The threat comes from two recent developments - the tidal wave of consumerism, and the "commoditization" of music.

It takes ten or fifteen years of rigorous training to groom a classical musician, and another ten to twelve years of concert experience for him to reach his peak level in the profession. A life in classical music requires the musician to defer his economic aspirations until he is about 40. This is asking for a lot of self-denial from a musician who sees a successful pop singer achieve a glamorous lifestyle at the age of 20 or 25.

This reality may, or may not, shrink the inflow of top class talent into classical music. But, it will certainly encourage classical musicians to think in terms of a "strategy", in which the "Musician's Truth" becomes the first casualty. With the growing impatience of musicians to live well, and an environment that offers ample opportunities for exposure, we now find a large number of talented musicians struggling -somehow, and even anyhow - to create a comfortable niche for themselves. This tendency is crowding the music market with a lot of dishonest classical music.

However, there is no reason to be pessimistic about the future of Hindustani music. I believe so because a few of the musicians struggling in the "somehow-anyhow" circuit might stumble upon the "Musician's Truth", even if inadvertently. Moreover there will always be musicians outside this circuit who have the junun (passion/commitment) to pursue the "Musician's Truth" irrespective of the financial consequences. The number of such musicians has always been small, and will remain small.

The task before the community of musicians and music- lovers is to make the world of Hindustani music more receptive to the "Musician's Truth", which will continue to shine forth, though almost certainly in less homogeneous and more unfamiliar manifestations. This requires us to rise above our conditioning, and open our minds to change and variety. It also requires us to drop the arrogance of the classical music world, and appreciate the manifestations of the "Musician's Truth" in other forms of music - semi-classical, folk and even popular.

It is in this context, that I commend Deepak Raja's book Hindustani Music: A Tradition in Transition as a panoramic, and serious, review of the Hindustani music tradition in the post- Independence era. Deepak is an author with a keen analytical mind, imbued with a scientific approach. His chapters on raga grammar, raga authenticity, raga chemistry, and his introductory essays on dhrupad, khyal, thumri and tappa can be of immense value to music students and scholars. His essay on the time-theory of ragas is a thought-provoking piece of writing, which deserves the attention of the music fraternity in view of the changing context of music performance and enjoyment. I may not personally agree with all his views on the current trends in Hindustani music. However, I acknowledge them as representing those of his generation of hard-core rasiks, who find themselves in a minority today.

I sincerely hope that this book will be widely read, and will encourage serious discussion and debate on different facets of Hindustani music. I wish Deepak success in his endeavours as a student of Hindustani music and as an author.



THIS book is a collection of essays written between 1996 and 2003. Some of them have appeared in Sruti, the performing arts monthly published from Chennai; some are papers published in other journals or read at seminars; and the rest are backgrounders forming part of my commentaries on recordings produced by India Archive Music Ltd. (lAM), New York.

The moment this book was envisaged, the sub-title, "A Tradition in Transition" acquired a degree of inevitability. This meta-theme pervades the essays featured in this book, and has been central to my efforts at interpreting the Hindustani musical tradition. The theme also reflects the very essence of Indian culture, with its infinite propensity for change without losing its intrinsic character.

The book begins with a Prologue; which sets out the perspectives that have guided my writings on music up to this stage. The main body of the book is divided into six parts.

Part I deals with some important societal, cultural, economic and technological drivers of Hindustani music in the contemporary context. These facets of our musical culture have received some attention from Western musicologists. Although I have no quarrel with alien .perspectives, the emergence of an Indian viewpoint on them is, I hope, helped by my consideration of the issues.

Part II deals with musical forms and structures. In this part, I have dealt with issues pertaining to architectural and sculptural, rather than stylistic aspects of Hindustani music, and some presentation formats. The limited choice of subjects for this part could reflect merely the urgency with which the Hindustani music community, I feel, needed to take cognisance of present-day tendencies.

Part III deals with the world of ragas. The papers in this part attempt to give the reader a feel for the notion of raganess, understood intuitively by cultivated Indian listeners, but an enigma for uninitiated, though enquiring, audiences. However, the number of connoisseurs who found these essays informative has surprised me.

Part IV presents backgrounders on the four major genres of Hindustani vocal music - dhrupad, khyal, thumri, and tappa. They attempt to outline the historical, structural as well as aesthetic aspects of these genres.

Part V consists of backgrounders on the major solo melodic instruments of the Hindustani tradition. The specific recordings for which they were originally written have determined the thrust of these backgrounders. For this reason, they might appear to lack the uniformity of format and coverage evident in the backgrounders on the vocal genres. However, they do uniformly highlight the essential as well as the little-known facets of the instruments, and have been appreciated widely by lovers of Hindustani music.

Part VI presents a glossary of words in italics, a list of suggested readings, and an index. The list of suggested readings includes sources I have relied on, but is intended, in general, for the relative beginner and the cognoscenti of music, rather than for scholars.

This book makes no claims to scholarship. Nor is it a journalistic endeavour. It is writing that has secured the support of the most demanding editors outside academia and deserved the attention of some astute lovers of Hindustani music in several parts of the world. Explicitly, it addresses music lovers of above-average familiarity with Hindustani music, and curiosity about its inner workings. Incidentally, it may also prove useful to other writers on music, and to scholars.

Whatever its merits, this book would have almost certainly not been in your hands, but for the Foreword written by Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, amongst our most learned, popular, and respected musicians. I have no words to thank him for helping me to reach you.


THE Indian classical music tradition, and writings on it, can be traced back to the pre-Christian era. Since then, the melodic structures, the presentation formats and the instruments, have evolved in fits and starts, and available documentation leaves us with only a patchy picture of their evolutionary path. The systematic organization of knowledge of the various facets of the Hindustani tradition gained momentum towards the end of the nineteenth century. Significantly, that period also witnessed a great flowering of the performing tradition, often described as the Golden Age of Hindustani music. Today, at the dawn of the third millennium, the tradition is experiencing yet another efflorescence - though of an entirely different kind - and is accompanied, once again, by literary activity aimed at interpreting its content and significance.

Deepak Raja's volume - Hindustani Music: A Tradition in Transition - is a welcome overview of the post-Independaence trends in Hindustani music. It provides a panoramic, rather than encyclopaedic, appraisal of important developments in Hindustani music, and confronts us with the problems that Indian classical music faces today. At the same time, Raja has a very definite point-of-view and argues it passionately. The consistency of his viewpoint may, at times, seem questionable. He acknowledges this in his Prologue by disclosing that conservatives as well as liberals have, on different occasions, had reason to criticize his writings.

The book also has very definite structural underpinnings. It is linear, in that he begins with a series of chapters providing a contemporary overview of Hindustani music and moves towards dealing with more and more specific aspects of the presentation of the music, ending with chapters on the genres of vocal music and on instruments used in presentation. It is circular in that it begins with an assessment of the effects of populism and globalism on Indian classical music and ends with acceptance of possibly the most "populist" of instruments, one introduced very recently to Indian music from outside India, the Hawaiian slide-guitar.

Raja sets out the underlying approach of his argument in the very first chapter of the book. Indian classical music has suffered from a "major discontinuity" imposed upon it, as an unintended consequence, by Indian Independence. The sudden end to the royal/feudal patronage of great musicians terminated the era of music as an economically secure and hereditary profession. The depth of musicianship previously cultivated by musicians gave way to competent artistry, even as musicians became somewhat of a commodity controlled by market forces". The concurrent evolution of a mass market involved a concomitant dumbing down of the audience. This has left the connoisseur - amongst whom Raja counts himself - and connoisseur-quality music in a state of decline and disadvantage.

Raja, as noted, is a passionate connoisseur. He accepts the obvious fact that the continuation of the circumstances that enabled the music he cherishes is an unrealistic expectation. Great musicians and music validate themselves only in, and through the environment and means that produce them. How to achieve a return to a high standard of musicianship and artistry in a world driven by commercial considerations is the author's main concern. Although, as he acknowledges, "art- music" comprises only 2 per cent of the commercial recordings market, he sees no reason why contemporary music has necessarily to be qualitatively inferior to pre-Independence music.

Part I of Raja's book deals with the identification of the problems and their causes, which the author finds to be at the root of the dilution and mediocrity that now confront Indian classical music. The first chapter outlines the overall problem- times have changed. The traditional patronage model, which produced the greatest musicians and music, is no longer viable. Social and economic forces have caused the acceptance of a new paradigm - the mass marketplace as the arbiter of taste. Indian classical music, which thrived in the narrow upscale patronage market of music-knowledgeable rajas and zamindars, is now in the position of being controlled by the need to earn a living in the musically unsophisticated mass market - concerts, recordings, and teaching.

On the other hand, Indian classical music and musicians are thriving. Over the past fifty years, there has been a veritable explosion of concerts, recording companies and students. The market for Indian classical music is now larger, and no longer only Indian, but worldwide. And, there has even been minimal corporate support (e.g., the ITC-sponsored Sangeet Research Academy), and government support (e.g., Madhya Pradesh-sponsored Dhrupad Kendra). The problem, Raja finds, is the quality of the music being produced.

  Foreword VII
  Preface XIII
  Acknowledgements XXV
  Key to Transliteration XXIX
  Prologu 1
  Not by Accident Alone 2
  The Bigger Picture 3
  The Language Issue 5
  Issues of Objectivity 6
  The Writer's Role 7
  Towards Connoisseur Activism 9
  Clarity of Purpose 11
  Introduction 13
Culture, Technology and Economics
1.1 Populism and Rival Forces 25
  The Emergence of a Market 26
  Dimensions of Populism 27
  The Conservationist Reaction 29
  The Unlikely Ally 32
1.2 If Peanuts is What You Pay 36
  The Changing Context 37
  The Economics 38
  The Bottom-line 41
1.3 Government, Business and Classical Music 42
  The Traditional Patronage Model 42
  Benefactor Qualifications 44
  Reconfiguring Benefaction 47
1.4 Pandits and Ustads Aplenty 49
1.5 Archival Music and the Cultural Process 55
  Obsolescence in Recorded Music 56
  The Archival Music Market 57
  Generations as "Markets" 59
  Continuity and Change 61
  The Challenge from the Graveyards 61
  The Yardstick of Musicianship 64
  The "Virtual Guru" 66
  The Big Picture 69
1.6 A Requiem for the Gharanas 71
  What is Gharana? 71
  Favourable Conditions 73
  The Golden Age of Hindustani Music 77
  Chinks in the Armor 78
  The Gharana "Brands" Today 81
Form, Idiom and Format
2.1 Architecture in Modern Hindustani Music 87
  The Architectural Metaphor 88
  Function and Structure 89
  The Linearity of Progression 90
  The Cyclicity of Melodic Exploration 93
  The Econometric Model 96
  A Case Study 97
  The Duration Factor 99
  The Argument 100
2.2 Instrumental Idioms Anga or Apanga 102
  Source Material of the Hindustani Material 103
  Adoption and Adaptation 104
  Deviations and Innovations 105
  Aucitya in Innovation 107
  Aucitya - The Idea 110
2.3 The Jugalbandi Racket 111
  Jugalbandi Patterns 112
  The Burden of Evidence 113
  Experimentation and Propriety 115
2.4 Tihayis and the Rape of Melody 117
  The Logic of Tihayis 118
  Placement, Function, and Aesthetics 120
  The Aesthetic and the Grotesque 121
The World of Ragas
3.1 The Raga-ness of Ragas 125
  The Melodic Grammar of Ragas 130
  The Aesthetic Grammar of Ragas 133
3.2 Raga Chemistry and Beyond 138
  The Allotrope 139
  The Compound 141
  The Emulsion 143
  Chemistry Defines Options 145
  The Raga-Malika 146
  Beyond Chemistry 147
  Raga Chemistry and you 149
3.3 Raga: Right and Wrong 150
  Nomenclature 151
  Rare Ragas and their Compounds 152
  Creative License   153
  Raga Evolution 154
  Grammatical Propriety 156
  The Bottom-Line 157
3.4 Kedara at Sunrise 159
  The Theory 162
  A Rational Perspective 165
3.5 The Experience of Melody: From Dhrupad to Santura 168
  Melody in Dhrupad 169
  Melody in Khayala 171
  Melody on the Sitara 172
  Melody on the Saroda 174
  Melody on the Flute 175
  Melody on the Santura 175
  What the Trends Imply 176
  The Concept of a Genre 178
  The Concept of a Music-Scape 179
  Alarm and Reassurance 182
The Major Genres
4.1 An Introduction to Dhrupad 185
  An Aesthetic Perspective 188
  Stylistic Diversity 189
  Gharanas of Dhrupad 191
  Melodic Expressions in Dhrupad 192
  The Talas of Dhrupad 194
  Raga Presentation Structure 195
  Variants on the Raga Presentation Structure 199
  The Ensemble for Dhrupad Performance 200
  A Structural Analysis 201
  The Nature of Appeal 202
  Dhrupad Today 204
4.2 An Introduction to Khayala 207
  The Plastic Arts Metaphor Applied to Khayala Music 208
  History and Evolution 209
  The Gharanas of Khayala Music 210
  The Ensemble for Khayala Performance 213
  The Format of Khayala Presentation 213
  Melodic Expressions in the Khayala Genre 215
  The Poetic Element in the Khayala Vocalism 217
  Articulation in Khayala Music 218
  The Structure of Compositions 220
  Khayala Presentation Protocol 220
  The Typology of Tanas 222
  The Aesthetics of Tanas 224
  Trends in Khayala Vocalism 226
4.3 An Introduction to Thumari 229
  Sources of the Thumari Tradition 231
  Stylistic Evolution 232
  Landmark Personalities 236
  Poetry in Thumari 241
  Ragas in Thumari 243
  Tala in Thumari 244
  Dadara, The Genre 245
  Ensemble for Thumari Performances 246
  Bandisa Thumari: Structure and Rendition 246
  Bola-banao Thumari: Structure and Rendition 248
  Thumari in Instrumental Music 250
  The Thumari Today 253
4.4 Introduction to the Tappa 257
  Historical Outline 258
  Salient Stylistic Features 261
  The Tappa Today 263
The Major Instruments
5.1 The Rudra Vina 269
  Organology 270
  History 271
  Design 274
  Ergonomics 276
  Acoustics 278
  Stroke Craft 279
  Techniques of Melodic Execution 280
  Recent Bina Music 281
  The Disappearing Breed 287
5.2 The Sitara 290
  The Masit Khani Gata 291
  The Raza Khani Gata 292
  Sitara Styles 293
  Techniques of Melodic Execution 294
  The Singing Sitara 295
5.3 The Surabahara 298
  Surabahara and the Imdad Khan Lineage 300
5.4 The Saroda 303
  History 303
  Organology 305
  Design and Tuning 306
  Acoustics 307
  Ergonomics 307
  The Saroda Idiom 309
  Techniques of Melodic Execution 309
  New Path to Sculpting of Melody 311
5.5 The Santura 314
  Organology 315
  Construction and Tuning 317
  Evolutionary Perspectives 318
  Shiv Kumar Sharma's Music 321
  The Santura after Shiv Kumar Sharma 324
5.6 The Sehnayi 328
  Organology 328
  Design 329
  Idiom and Repertoire 330
  Genres in Sehnayi Music 331
  The Ensemble for Sehnayi Performances 332
  The Disappearing Sehnayi 332
5.7 The Sarangi 334
  Construction, Design, and Tuning 335
  Playing Technique 336
  The Role of the Sarangi in Music 336
  The Harmonium Challenge and the Response 338
  The Sarangi - As the Second Fiddle and the First 340
5.8 The Indian Classical Guitar 343
  Evolutionary Perspectives 344
  The Vicitra Vina Legacy 346
  Kabra's Guitar 347
  After Kabra 349
  Glossary 351
  Suggested Bibliography 419
  Index 23

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