Sitar, Sarod and all that jazz

In the last 50-60 years, there has been an explosive influence of Indian music, specially instrumental, in the West. Most known, the wonders of the Indian music were spread by famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin in the 1950s and George Harrison of the Beatles in 1960s. The year 1967 saw the growing influence of Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Four years later, in 1971, George Harrison organized the ground breaking Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the first charity event of Rock, where an audience of 40,000 Westerners, new to the sounds they heard, applauded after the musicians had finished tuning their instruments. Ravi Shankar had then famously remarked, “Thank you, if you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.” Ravi Shankar had already wowed audiences at the Monterey Pop Festival, and he achieved stardom at the Madison Square Garden event.

Ravi Shankar & Ali Akbar Khan – Concert for Bangladesh :  (Download)

Vilayat Khan – Raga Jhinjhoti (Sings as he plays the Sitar) :  (Download)

Later in life, Ravi Shankar was named the ‘Godfather of World Music‘ by George Harrison. In an interview Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan said of Pandit Ravi Shankar, “My greatest admiration for him stems from the fact that, here is a man who had no gharana to talk about. His father was not a musician, his guru’s father was not a musician. On top of that his guru was a sarod player. Look at the odds he beat to become the extraordinary musician he became.” While Pandit Ravi Shankar was winning the hearts of the western audiences, Sitar maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan with his Gayaki-Ang style of Sitar playing, remained the darling of the home crowds.

Shivkumar Sharma & Zakir Hussain – Rageshwari :  (Download)

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt – Maand – Kesariya Balam :  (Download)

This era also witnessed the emergence of Santoor as a mainstream classical instrument, thanks to Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, the slide Guitar taking form of Mohan Veena due to the efforts of Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and the Tabla finally being accepted as a solo instrument due to the genius of Ustad Zakir Hussain. Indian classical instrumental music had finally arrived on the global stage. Globally, Instrumental Hindustani classical music was being accepted more than the Vocal music. The reason attributed for this is that the lyrics of vocal music are incomprehensible to people other than the Indians, hence cannot be appreciated in the true manner.

Teed Rockwell – Bhimpalasi :  (Download)

Ali Akbar Khan & John Handy – Karuna Supreme :  (Download)

A lot of experimentation is being done in instrumental music these days. The latest instrument to enter the world of hindustani classical music is the Touchstyle Fretboard (otherwise called the Chapman Stick), a sort of a slide Guitar, where strings are tapped instead of being plucked. The artist is Teed Rockwell and his new album is Hindustani Ragas. Jazz Saxophonist, John Handy is another instrumentalist who has played a lot with his Indian counterparts.



  1. Betian said,

    August 21, 2009 at 3:37 am

    Thanks for all especially Vilayat Khan – Raga Jhinjhoti. Amazing.

  2. Vivek Khadpekar said,

    August 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    In Vilayat Khan Saheb’s Jhinjhoti, I am particularly intrigued by the bandish he is singing. I can’t make out all the words of the sthaee, but the little that I can make out — dapha mridanga […..] baaje/ baaje Hari ke […..] — suggests roots in the Kathak or Haveli Sangeet tradition, unlike most of the bandishes one normally heard him sing.

    I would be grateful if you (or any of the visitors here) could shed light on this — and on the full words of the sthaee

  3. Vivek Khadpekar said,

    August 26, 2009 at 4:02 pm


    On closer listening, I got the words:

    “Dapha mridanga dhun kaahe baaje / Baajana laage Hari ke dwaara.”

    My question about its provenance still stands. Would be grateful for enlightenment.

  4. Betian said,

    August 29, 2009 at 4:21 am

    Does anyone know anything about the quality of this DVD on Raga?

    Would appreciate any info before I consider an order at $37.99 +.

  5. Betian said,

    August 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    A comment in the post continues to haunt me:
    “The lyrics of vocal music are incomprehensible to people other than the Indians, hence cannot be appreciated in the true manner.”

    Where could I get “translations” or some info on the meaning of the lyrics?

    I have listened again and again to Kaushiki Chakrabarty – Dadra Pahadi and Parween Sultana – Ja Ja Re Kagawa , both from this site, and imagine that any further appreciation would cause me to simply melt into the ether.

    With deep gratitude for these offerings.

  6. indianraga said,

    August 29, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    @ Betian

    Unfortunately, there is no credible source for the lyrics of Hindustani Classical Music. As most of the lyrics are in the dialect of Central India (Braj Bhasha), sometimes Indians from other parts of the country too, fail to understand the meaning in the song.

    One song that amazed me by it’s unusual lyrics is Raga Kirwani by Rajdulari Ali Akbar Khan posted here :

    Din Gin Dere Baman More, Aaj, Kal, Parson? Subh Din, Subh Garhi, Subh Mahoorat. Aaj, Kal, Parson?”

    In English it could be translated as :

    Count me my lucky days, O Brahmin (learned man or fortune teller), today? tomorrow? or day after tomorrow?” (the lucky day in question is the one when the two lovers shall meet).

    Note the yearning in the lyrics and the voice of the singer, the likes of which is almost impossible to find in other music. It’s true that once you understand the lyrics, the song will take you to an altogether different level.

  7. Vivek Khadpekar said,

    August 30, 2009 at 6:56 am

    @ indianraga,

    “… there is no credible source for the lyrics of Hindustani Classical Music … most of the lyrics are in … Braj Bhasha … sometimes Indians from other parts of the country too, fail to understand the meaning in the song.”

    What you identify is just part of the problem. The listener also has to contend with the traditional indifference of the singers (particularly khayal singers) to the sense of the lyric and idiosyncratic conventions of pronunciation affected by many vocalists in respect of particular words, syllables, phonemes or even vowels (examples — not necessarily the worst ones — that immediately come to mind are ‘mownda’ for ‘manda’, ‘bhookhana’ for ‘bhooshana’ or — as an example of vowel distortion — ‘saasae nanaedae’ instead of ‘saasa nanada’ etc.).

    These problems are compounded by typographical errors in ‘standard’ sources getting perpetuated in practice owing to ignorance of the meaning of words among vocalists not familiar with the language of the lyric. A classic case is the Yaman bandish langara tu kara jina chhuo, which got printed as […] turaka jina […] in Bhatkhande’s magnum opus and went uncorrected even through several reprints of the Hindi edition (in the original, other than the lyrics being printed in the original language of composition, all the discussion and explanation was in Marathi). To this day, many singers sing the bandish as langara turaka….

    To move on from the above, the explosion of Indian music, “specially instrumental”, in the West that you refer to, partly has to do with the language handicap inhibiting the appreciation of vocal music. However, there have been other factors at work too. To uninitiated audiences (and this applies equally to Western and Indian listeners) the speed and the rhythmic pyrotechnics for which instrumental music allows more scope than vocal, was another reason for the attraction to the former. However, with two generations of western listenenrs having matured since Ravi Shankar’s first forays, things are slowly changing. Today you find many westerners listening to serious Indian vocal music — particularly Dhrupad, in which the major part of the performance is generally the aalaap section. And back in India, too, vocal music has regained much of the prestige it enjoyed before “sitar, sarod and all that jazz” stole the limelight for a few decades in the latter half of the last century.

  8. Ashwin S said,

    September 17, 2010 at 4:19 am

    The “Raga Unveiled” DVD is simply amazing. I have watched it multiple times and every time I end up learning another nuance of indian classical music.

  9. Muhammad Rafi said,

    December 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    pleas send to me music of amjad ali khan

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