On Indian Classical Music
The system of Indian classical music known as Raag Sangeet can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples. Unlike Western classical music which has written scores, an Indian classical performance is based on improvisation, and anywhere from 10% to 90% of the performance could be extempore, depending on the creative imagination of the artist. The music is rendered orally to the disciple by his guru, popularly known as guru-shishya parampara.
The very heart of Indian music is the raag, the melodic form upon which the artist improvises his performance. A raag is a scientific, precise, subtle and aesthetic melodic form with its own ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven-note octave or a series of six or five notes.
Every raag is characterized by its own particular ras or mood. The acknowledged order of these nine sentiments, or emotions, is as follows: romantic and erotic, humorous, pathetic, anger, heroic, fearful, disgust, amazement and peaceful. Each raag, in addition to being associated with a particular mood, is also closely connected to a particular time of day or a season of the year. Thus through the rich melodies and rhythm of Indian music, every human emotion, every subtle feeling in man and nature, can be musically expressed and experienced.
In terms of aesthetics, a raag is the projection of the artist's inner spirit: a manifestation of his most profound feelings and sensibilities. The musician breathes life into each raag as he unfolds and expands it so that each note shimmers and pulsates with life and the raag is revealed vibrant and incandescent with beauty.
The taal, or rhythmic cycle of a raag, plays an equally important role in expressing the mood. There is a unique relationship between melody and rhythm. The intricacies depict the complexities and sophistication with which they are woven together. The division in a taal and the stress on the first beat, called sum, are the most important feature. The most exciting moment for a seasoned listener is when both the musicians, after their individual improvisations, come back together on the sum.
Today, Indian classical music is a permanent part of Western culture. Many composers and musicians have been influenced by our music. The openness, will to learn, and sincere enthusiasm of Western audiences are a continuing source of inspiration and delight. Indian music is one of the highest forms of music existing and nourished through its rich cultural heritage.
Khayal literally means imagination, thought or fancy. Khayal is that vocal genre of all North Indian vocal styles which gives its performers the greatest opportunity and also the greatest challenge to display the depth and breadth of their musical knowledge and skills. Khayal has dominated the performing art for past 150 years. Khayal is the genre of improvisational music, and hence it is the study of artists creative individuality and ability to render a unique khayal at each performance. Despite the presumed freedom in khayal singing, it is structured upon three main characteristics: (i) the raag (melodic mode), the taal (meter) and the cheez (composition), (ii) the types of improvisation which are acceptable for khayal such as alap, taan, boltaan, sargam and nom-tom, and (iii) the placement of these material for creation of aesthetically and technically balanced performance. Khayal is not only a distinguished, richly evolved improvisational music genre, but also a study of cultural history of India since thirteenth century onwards.
Legend, scattered commentary, and speculations suggest that khayal originated with Amir Khusrau (1251-1326). Born in North India, Amir Khusrau was a poet as well as a composer and a great musician of his time. He enjoyed importance at the courts of the Khilji rulers in Delhi. Khayals origin may have been attributed to Khusrau because of the rapid fusion of Perso-Arabic and Indic musical systems during his lifetime. After Khusrau, the next prominent figures in the history of khayal are the sultans of Jaunpur - Muhammad Sharqui (1401-40) and Hussain Sharqui (ruled 1458-99), who were contemporaries of Babur, the first Mughal ruler in India. The precise role of the Sharqui sultans with respect to khayal is unclear; some scholars suggest a patronage role for them. Most historians are of the opinion that neither Amir Khusrau nor any of the Sharqui sultans was the innovator of khayal, but that khayal was an outcome of the gradual process of evolution that was at work during an era of Indo-Persian amalgamation.
For khayal, the first musical evidence of court support is noted at the Delhi darbar (court) of the eighteenth century Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangile (ruled 1720-48), where the musicians Nyamat Khan (Sadarang) and Firoz Khan (Adarang) composed songs that have been transmitted to the present time. It is believed that Sadarang and Adarang also formalized the structure of modern day khayal. As khayal continued to evolve in the courts throughout North India, distinct performing styles emerged into different gharanas. Three major khayal gharanas carrying the names of the princely states in which they were originally fostered, are Gwalior, Rampur (Sahaswan) and Patiala. Later Agra, Kirana and Jaipur gharanas also became prominent centers of khayal singing. Today this style of classical vocal music is even adopted by some of the instrumental gharanas such as Ithawa. Throughout most of its existence khayal has always been the music of elite patrons. Only in the twentieth century has any other group attained significant involvement in khayal.
The rendition of a khayal recital is typically divided into two parts: Bara (great) khayal and Chhota (small) khayal. During bara khayal, the artist is expected to cover a range of subjects, ideally giving importance to all musical elements such as melody, rhythm and technique, with a slow and contemplative beginning to invoke the very mood of the raag. The lyrical as well as melodic content of bara khayal compositions are devotional or romantic, and they are set in vilambit laya (slow tempo). Bara khayal is followed by a madhya or drut laya (fast tempo) in chhota khayal. Here the artist carries the mood created during the earlier part of the recital to its crescendo. The acceleration is maintained during the performance with increasing complexity of taans and interplay with rhythm. The compositions written for chhota khayal have syllabic text settings appropriate for the faster tempo. The performing ensemble for khayal consists of a lead soloist, an accompanist on a melody producing instrument such as harmonium or sarangi (bowed lute), a tabla (drum) player and one or two tanpura players to provide continuous drone. A possible addition to the basic ensemble would be a supporting singer. The role of the accompanists is to complement the lead vocals by repeating ends of phrases during short breaks.
The other forms of Indian classical vocal music include dhrupad, dhamar, tappa, tarana, thumri, hori and bhajan. Of all, dhrupad is considered to be the oldest classical vocal form. It is generally accompanied by tanpura and pakhawaj. Dhrupad compositions are set in a 12 beat rhythmic cycle. Dhamar compositions are akin to dhrupad and enjoy an identical status. They are set in a 14 beat rhythmic cycle. Because of their structured style of singing, both dhrupad and dhamar do not allow as many elaborate and extempore improvisations as khayal. Tarana is a style consisting of particular syllables woven into rhythmic patterns as a song and it is usually sung in the faster tempo. The creation of this style of singing is believed to have originated to bring out the tantrakari, or the discreteness of instrumental music, in vocal music. Tappa has its origin in Punjab. Its beauty lies in quick and intricate display of permutations of notes. Thumri is believed to have originated in Uttar Pradesh. It is the lighter form of Indian classical music. Its most distinct feature is the amorous subject matter that picturesquely portrays the play of Lord Krishna with Radha. It can be viewed as an unconstrained form of khayal singing. Hori compositions are mainly sung in the style of thumri and are associated with the festival of hori (the festival of colors). The mood is joyous and playful, illustrating the divine leela of Lord Krishna. Bhajan literally means pray (bhaj) the lord (narayan). Bhajans are devotional songs based on light classical music. It is a popular form of singing today.
Ithawa Gharana and the gayaki ang
Gharana essentially means a school of thought, or a school of music, that follows a particular style perfected over the years by rigorous practice and enhanced by coming generations that combine contemporary styles and incorporate new ideas. Gharana literally means family tradition, members of a family of musicians establishing their own unique musical discipline consistently over three or more generations. It is difficult to give an exact date when this system came into being. Ithawa gharana has evolved over seven generations of some of the finest sitar players of India. Shujaat Khan is seventh in this unbroken chain of sitar virtuosi from Ithawa gharana and is considered to be the torch bearer for the future of this school of music. With Shujaat Khan in concert today, it would be appropriate to bring forth some of the hidden facts about the history and evolution of this style of music.
Ithawa gharana in its present form owes its existence, its popularity and its distinctive style of sitar playing to Shujaat Khans father, the legendary musician Ustad Vilayat Khan. But for him, the gayaki ang or vocal style in instrumental music, which is the hall mark of this gharana, would neither have existed nor would have flourished. To talk about Ithawa gharana of recent years is to talk about Vilayat Khan and his early period of musical training, his original thoughts about bringing gayaki in instrumental playing, his improvisations and changes made to the structure of sitar to accommodate the continuity of sound or to imitate vocals in sitar playing. It is believed that only after Vilayat Khans tantalizing performance that won the hearts of the listeners, critics and musicians alike, at the 1943 Vikram Samaroh music conference in Bombay, instrumental music earned a wider acceptance in the main stream classical music.
Born in 1928 in Gauripur, East Bengal, Vilayat Khan entered the world of music at an early age of four and gave his first performance when he was eight. He also made his first recording at the same age. Vilayat Khan hails from an impressive family of musicians. His great grand father Ustad Sahabdat Khan gave todays surbahar, the bass version of the sitar and a very difficult instrument to master, its present tonal and structural form. At the early age of ten Vilayat Khan lost his first guru, his father Ustad Inayat Khan, a leading instrumentalist of his days. Thereafter he moved with his mother to the state of Nahan near Delhi to learn music from his maternal grand father Ustad Bande Hasan Khan, who was the court musician of the state. During 40s and 50s there still was Inayat Khans influence in Vilayat Khans playing. Tantrakari was still very prominent. The right hand which is considered as the main subject of instrumental playing for string instruments was still distintly dominant. Tantrakari had been taken to great heights by earlier generations but now was the time to give new direction to instrumental music. It is believed that human voice is the sublime epitome of expression and all other sounds are subordinates used only for enhancing and ornamenting the vocal music. In his quest to achieve vocal continuity in the sound of sitar, Vilayat Khan introduced the gayaki ang in instrumental music during the early 60s.
Khayal ras, a vocal music style with imaginative use of lyrics, began to emerge in instrumental music with Vilayat Khans introspective vision and vivid imagination. The tone of sitar was now changed. The right hand remained at its place but there were significant advancements in the left hand. The pancham of kharaj was now replaced with a steel gandhar (this change helps in establishing the mood of the raag). Several other fundamental changes were also made to the structure of sitar.
There were various subjects involved in khayal ras which required ample improvisations in order to translate it in instrumental music. At first Alap, the slow but contemplative progression of a raag, was given a different approach adorned with meend, krintan and zamzama. Next were taans and bol taans, the fast tempo phrases, and thumri. The transition towards khayal ras is quite evident in Vilayat Khans recordings from 60s onwards.
Gayaki ang is now successfully passed on to Ithawa gharanas next generation of musicians. Today there are many musicians who prefer and follow this style of music. Thanks to his creative genius for this enormous contribution to the world of music. It would be righteous to refer to Ithawa gharana as Vilayatkhani gharana.
On Indian Classical Music Recital
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. Since our music is spiritual in nature, it is devotional in performance. The traditional recital begins with the alap section - the stately and serene exploration of the chosen raag. This stage is inherently contemplative. After this slow introspective beginning, the musician moves on to the jor. In this part, rhythm enters and the basic theme of the raag is elaborated. The artist tries to bring the emotional mood of the raag to the surface. There is no drum accompaniment in either alap or jor.
The alap and the jor evolve into the gat or bandish, the fixed compositions of the raag. 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 taal. Here the musician improvises on a variety of taans (musical phrases in different speeds) and todas (a combination of plucked passages). The step-by-step acceleration of the rhythm in the gat finally culminates in the jhala, the final movement and the climax of the raag. Here the music becomes more and more playful and exciting.
Often, at the conclusion of a recital, the musician may choose to play a thumari or dhun. This is a variation of Indian classical music, evolved during a certain era, now popularly played at the end of the raag. Here the artist has freedom to go beyond the scale of the raag.