After the partition of India in 1947, the new born Pakistan was so beset with insurmountable problems that fine arts virtually remained neglected. History’s largest migration of people had totally upset the equilibrium of the population not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically. During such times, the fine arts could not get the attention of the people. Classical music was neglected more than anything else. The musicians were totally frustrated as there were no takers. Many took refuge in Ghazal singing to make ends meet. The height of despair was reflected in the decision of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to leave the country and settle back down in India, where connoisseurs of classical music were abound.
In remembrance of those days, here are a few songs of my choice, each one hand picked and posted here for your listening pleasure.
Indian classical music is basically split into two branches. The northern Hindustani tradition, influenced by the musical traditions of the Mughals, and the southern Carnatic tradition which largely remains culturally devotional in nature. To Westerners, and to many even in India, Indian classical music is simply a melody without a specific beginning or a definite end. To them it is more a gymnastics in sound, and to a few, unnecessary flexing of the vocal chords. As such, to many, its technicalities seem a little too baffling. A little basic knowledge about various sections of a recital is necessary, before one may start appreciating Indian classical music.
Probably the most striking difference between the Western and Indian classical traditions is the importance of improvisation in the latter. While Western music has written scores, an Indian classical performance is extempore. The overwhelming majority of Indian recitals are improvised on the spot, making each performance unique and unrepeatable. The musicians may almost never have practiced together, and it may be unusual for any musician other than a soloist to have a clue what will be performed. Given this, it is mind boggling to see the speed with which incredibly complex Ragas are improvised by the performers, with vocalists, instrumentalists and percussionists engaged in creating an unified interaction of rhythm and melody that is precisely calculated to bring out the essence of the Raga and mood, set out in the composition.
The improvisational nature of Indian music requires the artist to take into consideration the setting, time allowed for his concert, his mood and the feeling he discerns in the audience before he begins to play. The traditional recital begins with the Alap section – the serene exploration of the chosen Raga. Just like an hors d’oeuvre (appetizer) served before the main course of a meal. After this slow introspective beginning, the musician moves on to the Jor. In this part, the basic theme of the Raga is elaborated and the artist tries to bring the emotional mood of the Raga to the surface. There is no drum (Tabla) accompaniment in either Alap or Jor.
The Alap and the Jor evolve into the Gat or Bandish, the fixed compositions of the Raga. The Gat is divided into two parts called Vilambit and Drut. Vilambit is set to a slower tempo, while Drut is the fast composition. Here the drums enter with the rhythmic structure of the Gat and its time cycle, the Tal. The step-by-step acceleration of the rhythm in the Gat finally culminates in the Jhala, the final movement and the climax of the Raga. Here the music becomes more and more playful and exciting. Often, in vocal music, the artist erupts into a Tarana, a type of composition in Hindustani vocal music in which certain meaningless words and syllables (e.g. ‘todani‘, ‘tanaderena‘ etc) are used in a medium paced (Madhya) or fast (Drut) rendition. It was invented by Amir Khusrau and is now common all over India. Carnatic music has something similar called Thillana which is widely used in dance performances.
At the conclusion of a recital, the musician may choose to play a Thumri or a Dhun. This is a variation of Indian classical music, evolved during the Mughal rule. Here the artist has freedom to go beyond the scale of the Raga.
The Jaltarang, one of the most rarely heard instruments today, is among the oldest instruments in the world. It consists of china bowls filled with water and struck by two wooden sticks. Earlier, since china clay bowls were not available, artists used to play this instrument with metal bowls. Each bowl can be tuned to the desired frequency by varying the quantity of water in it. These bowls are placed in a semi-circle arrangement around the artist and played. The Jaltarang has a pleasant characteristic tone similar to the Feng Shui wind chimes. The player can produce on it, classical IndianRagas and light melodies as well. Jaltarang is a unique instrument in the sense that it is both a percussion, as well as non-percussion instrument.
Jaltarang is a dying art. Inspired by Jaltarang, glass music became popular in sixteenth century Europe using glasses in place of cups. Another variation of the Jaltarang is found in Jaisalmer district in Rajasthan in India, where a single metal plate, called the thali, filled with water, is used as an accompaniment by applying strokes to produce different tones and rhythms. It is called Jaltaal. Although Jaltarang has been prevalent for over five hundred years, the instrument attracted attention in the first half of the 20th century.
Kaamchor (1982) – Tum Se Badhkar Duniya Mein : (Download)
Jaltarang was extensively used in film music and orchestral compositions until recently. The song posted above from the Hindi movie Kaamchor (1982) is a good example of how Jaltarang could be used with amazing effect. However, this instrument is losing its popularity because the lack of ease the artists feel while trying to play the more complex Ragas. Very few artists in recent times have been able to adopt it as their main instrument for classical performances. Among these few are Milind Tulankar, Ragini Trivedi, Ranjana Pradhan and Anayampatti S Ganesan.
Suprabhatam (सुप्रभातम in Sanskrit or ‘auspicious dawn‘ in English) is the name given to Sanskrit hymns recited in the morning to awaken the Lord. The rendition by M S Subbulakshmi can be heard in many Kannada, Tamil and Telugu homes each morning. Suprabhatams by M S Subbulakshmi, perhaps the most essential songs anywhere in the world, is staple music to the Hindu people of South India. If you don’t have them, then you must be a non believer.
Once again I am posting a few songs, that I picked up from here and there, while surfing the web. All are in RagaKhamaj. For the uninitiated, RagaKhamaj is a late evening Raga usually sung in the light Thumri style.