What is Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet or Indian Classical Music …
An answer to a question like, ‘What is Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet’ is a bit difficult to be summed up in a few words or even paragraphs. The term “Indian Classical Music” is actually a combined representation of two very distinct (yet correlated) musical forms from India.
Possibly one of the oldest music forms, there is the north Indian style (often referred to as “Hindustani”) of classical music and the south Indian style (often referred to as “Carnatic”) of classical music. Both of these music forms quite popular and are taught, learned, practiced and performed across India and the globe. Our discussions, here in this article will be however restricted to the North Indian or Hindustani Classical music. We will use the terms “North Indian Classical Music” or “Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet” interchangeably through the rest of this article and also in our discussions/forums related to this musical form.
How it all started …
It is said that the origin of this form of music form dates back to the Vedic period. To put it in simple terms, Vedas are Sanskrit literature in its oldest form. They date from 1500 to 500 BCE. So, the Vedic period spanned for about a millennium. Literally, the Sanskrit word “Veda” means knowledge or wisdom. It is said that the Sanskrit used in the Vedas has a “form” of its own and hence it has been named as Vedic Sanskrit. Mantras written in Vedic Sanskrit are grouped into collections which are called “Samhitas”. There are four (4) of these Samhitas.
• Yajur-Veda and the
The Indian Classical Music traces its route back one of the four Vedas mentioned above; the Sama Veda. Technically, it can be said that the Sama Veda is a “sub set” of Rig Veda, in the sense that the hymns of the Rig Veda could be sung as SamaGana (pronounced as Saam Gaan). SamaGana, or the style of singing hymns from the Rig-Veda, later evolved into “Jati” (pronounced Jaati), which later evolved into the “Ragas”.
The evolution …
The tradition of North Indian Classical Music evolved with time with influence from multiple musical streams, namely the Vedic, the Persian and then folk music forms. During the medieval ages, presence of the Moghuls, along with the emergence of Sufi composers (like Amir Khusrou) influenced the North Indian Classical Music. During this period, on one hand eminent musical scholars like Mian Tansen and on the other hand, the clan of Vaishnavs flourished. With the advent of the 17th century, the courts of various kings started patronizing a particular musical style. This gave birth to the concept of “Gharanas”. Musicians/dancers from a particular Gharana not only follow a certain musical style but also have a unique interpretation and conceptualization of the music. Hindustani Classical Music usually has Gharanas for each type/style of performance i.e. vocal, instrumental and dance. Agra Gharana, Benaras Gharana, Patiala Gharana are few of the popular vocal Gharanas. Delhi Gharana, Punjab Gharana, Maihar Gharana are few of the popular instrumental Gharanas. While the Delhi and Punjab Gharanas represents the instrument the “Tabla”, the Maihar Gharana represents the stringed instruments like the “Sitar” and the “Sarod”.
An introduction/primer to Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet will remain incomplete without the mention of Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860 ~ 1936). He was a widely acclaimed musician and it can be said that he brought in a renaissance in the Indian Classical Music scene. Bhatkhande, who was actually a lawyer by profession, gave up his profession after the demise of his wife and daughter and devoted the rest of his life in re-organizing/re-categorizing and systematizing the prevailing forms of Hindustani Classical Music. He traveled widely across India, continuously studying and researching music and collected priceless gems like works of Mian Tansen and compositions of the Manarang Gharana. After publishing a couple of booklets during the early 1900s, he published his first book “Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati”, which came out in four (4) volumes and these books are considered as an authentic reference to Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet. These books were written in Marathi. He brought out in public more than two thousand compositions from various Gharanas. Pt. Bhatkhande used to write under the pseudonym Vishnu Sharma and Chatur Pandit.
We will be discussing in details in the time to come about this musical form which is possibly one of the oldest surviving musical traditions in the world.