Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in Notes- Beethoven

The Jaipur Atrauli gharana is all over today, its farthest outpost 20 billion km. into interstellar space, manned by the Grand Lady of JA Pta. Kesarbai Kerkar (check out Golden Record).

JA is sort of St. Stephen’s of Hindustani Classical. Aks Amitabh Bachhan how it feels not to have studied or bunked or being debunked in St. Stephen’s. Having studied in my Alma Mater Kirori Mal instead is a major existential issue with the great man, he, he, he…bhaya had you not been adopted by Frank Thakurdas of The Players c/o KM College, you would have been selling soap-directly, I sayyy…

Panduranga, asude….So far as affiliation to JA is concerned, even Pt. Bhimsen Joshi has gone on record saying he learnt his famous  boltaans, gamaktaans etc., if not damsaas from Kesarbai…

The Moses of the gharana was Ustad Alladiya Khan. Aficionados trace the JA lineage to a brahmin, Nath Vishwamber -and Swami Haridas. A string of Ustads followed the brahmin ancestors, with more than a dozen generations intervening between the Nath and our Ustad. The Ustad was a genius and a very sensitive human being, easily towering creativity-wise  over all contemporaries, who in turn never hesitated to acknowledge their fascination with his music and exhibited a Catholic tendency to adopt the depth and the embellishments of the JA gharana…In a sense the Ustad’s immense talents dealt a death blow to the gharana system. Even though pure (surviving) JA-ites can be counted on one’s fingers today, Vidushi Amonkar, Dr. Arun Dravid, Vidushi Manjiri Asnare to name a majority, no one can accuse Alladiya of not having left behind a caboodle of disciples in the Ustad Allauddin Khan tradition- for Alladiya DNA today pervades the Musical Universe at large….

For the record, JA gayaki was assiduously developed by the Ustad from the grass-root, that is from dhrupad. The style is distinct, with lots of alluring features like intricate taans, and a complicated grammar of blending sur, bol and laya. The Ustad also invented many jod-ragas, particularly Nat and Kanada variants which, in the language of Chemistry, are not Mixtures or Colloids, but stable Compounds... The Ustad was a pucca Namazi, but was also reputedly found wearing the brahminical sacred thread. This amalgam of two Beliefs is omnipresent in the Hindustani Classical world, especially in genealogies- for example Pt. Sureshbhau Mane and Pta. Hirabai Barodekar were progenies of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the Kirana doyen. Music did not really mesh with orthodox Islam, and in part, given the patronage of Kings and Nawabs, the musicians’ foibles were left unaddressed by orthodoxy, while the common Muslim merrily indulged in sama, qawwalis  and dargah-parasti. Alas, in today’s scenario, this fervour to embrace, instead of uniting people, invites only derision from of the 2% Mahabrahm fringe, masquerading as guerrillas of ‘Hindavi Culture’. To take a recent phenomenon, a delightful ancient Marathi play was made into a nasty movie with communal overtones!  In the process, the benign albeit  gharana-obsessed Khansaheb, a beloved character of the Marathi stage, is tarred and feathered  as the movie progresses or regresses…The greatest affront is to the memory of the Pt. Vasantrao Deshpande, who resides in our minds as Khansaheb! (*)

But our concern here is the doctrinaire approach of some JA stalwarts- are they not emulating the Khansaheb so ably portrayed by Vasantrao? In particular, let’s take the place of the sargam as a staple ingredient of a vocal recital. According to gharana’s high-priestess Tai, the JA vocalist sings only in aakar to the exclusion of the sargam. “It’s a meretricious display of your knowledge and prowess” says she. In a famous interview she demonstrated the Bilawal chalan Sa Ga Re Ga Ma Pa Ma Ga Ma Re Sa in both manners, obviously to the disadvantage of the sargam. Where does that leave great vocalists like Ustad Amir Khan who sang banderoles of sargam, and took the trouble of examining each of the 5040 merukhands..?

Well if you set so much store by the swara over the tala or bol part, pray why do you shy from calling the swara by his or her name? To the blinkered eyes of the writer, the very purpose of articulating the sargam differs from that of the melody. It serves to bring out the key to the emotional character of the raga to the less perspicacious listeners, who abound. It has a pay-off also for the vocalist – it reinforces in his/her mind and exposition, the nature or prakriti of the raga. To repudiate the sargam  is to belittle the importance of notation.

Tai has raved in the past about the pathos generated by Bageshri- where do they come from one always wonders? From sargams, one realises that poignantly evocative phrases are Ma Dha Ni Dha Ni Dha or Ga Ma Dha Ga Ma Ga- imitating x y z x y x . This is the distilled nectar of Bageshri’s pathos. The swara samoohs are enough to dissolve the listener into a limp pool of self-despondency. If your aakars do not give a clue to the listener, he/she is so much the poorer, and the genes of JA will terminate in Pt. Bhimsen Joshi like BT Cotton.  A singular disgrace to a great Creator…

The sargam is akin to English Grammar. Of course one need not be a grammarian to write beautiful English. But one certainly needs grammatical under-pinning, say, in order to explain to the errant user the fallacy in the expression “I have slept the baby”. If you are abreast of Wren and Martin, you’d be able to hold your own, and explain that the snafus is on account of treating an intransitive verb as transitive…!

No one including Tai would question an artiste’s right to present his or her own interpretation of a raga, choosing the ingredients and measure thereof. That’s what we mean by khayal. In fact Dr Prabha Atre researched the topic extensively and the title of her Ph.D. happens to be “Sargam in Khayal Gayaki ”. Ustad Amir Khan related  the sargam to ‘upaj ‘ or spontaneous improvisation in khayal gayaki. He firmly believed that in order to improvise, say experimenting difficult combinations (khandmeru) of distant swara components of a raga or combinations of differing octaves, the medium has to be the sargam, and if one tries bold combinations through the medium of the akar, one may founder. Dr. Ibrahim Ali of Vikram University, Ujjain has gone deeply into this aspect of the gayaki of his fellow Malwi…(see

But one is tempted to end the discussion on a different note. One cannot but admire Tai for stressing the neglected ‘Thought’ dimension in Music Criticism. She invariably shines the light on the sum and substance of musical delight! Advertently or inadvertently, we have a rare authority who always highlights the Theoretical side of Classical Music which is the passion of your site IK....
Atrauli to Jaipur: but the real action happened in Kolhapur:
They say the North made it and the Deccan listened!
(*) More on this later…

PS for the sake of completion: In Western Music, the equivalent of sargam is the solfege, which is not recounted frequently, but is used mainly for ear training and comes with hand gestures for each of the notes. It is said that the solfege in Western is an import from the Arab world: here is a kids' choir solfege:

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