Music of India

The first detailed account of secular Indian music occurs in the ” Natyashastra ” by Bharata, which has been dated variously from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. Although this work is primarily devoted to drama and stagecraft, music is an important topic in it. Musical theory had , by this time, already reached a high stage of development and is decsribed in considerable detail.

Cultural excahnges between India and the oustsdide world included music and musical instruments before the advent of Islam. Furthermore, Roman singers are said to have been imported to India in about the 2nd century AD and 1200 Indian musicians are said to have been sent to Bahrum Gur in Sasanid Persia.
In Matanga`s ” Brahddeshi ” , of about the 9th century AD , a new technical term , “rag” – from the Sanskrit- raga- was introduced. The essence of the concept of rag was he recognition that certain combinations of notes were endowed with particular sentiments, ras. These ragas, which had been crystallised from the ancient modes (djati ), formed a melodic basis for the composition of songs (giti ). Gradually as the rags replaced the djatis, the original parent scales lost their significance.
In the ” Sangita Ratnaghara” ( dated 12th century AD ) it is stated that 264 rags were in use. The important Sanskrit treatise, composed by Sharngadeva attempted to follow the earlier theorists, he was obliged to admit that much of the ancient music was extinct.

Indian music was held in high regard in the Islamic world in the 9th century AD, when it was praised by al-Djhahiz, and in the 10th century AD, al-Masudi, evidently referring to the emotional impact of rags , reports that Indians ” frequently hear songs and musical performances, and they have various sorts of musical instruments which produce on man all shades of impressions between laughing and crying..”
Indian musical theory , too, was not entirely unknown , for the Caliphs of Baghdad are said to have ordered the translation of a number of treatises, among which was one on Indian music entitled ” Biyapur ” – which has been interpreted as ” the fruit of science “, but has not yet been traced.

In several respects Indian music was probably similar to Persian and Arabic musi, especially as all three were modal based on melody rather then harmony.Each was concerned with cosmic implications of music as well as its power to influence the individual. In India , the modes are ascribed to specific period of the day, and are further associated with seasons, colours , and of course, the Hindi deities. Similar associations, at first attached the strings of the lute ( al-Kindi ) and later extended to include the modes, are also found in Arabic musical treatises.

Thus the Muslims on arrival encountered in India a musical system which was not entirely alien, and their reaction towards it appears to have been favorable. The poet Amir Khusraw, who was an expert in both Indian and Persian music , at the Court of Ala-al-Din Khaldji ( 1296-1316) , states without equivocation , that ” Indian music , the fire that burns heart and soul, is superior to the music of any other country. Foreigners , even after a stay of 30 to 40 years in India , cannot play a single Indian tune correctly.” Amir Khusraw is credited with the introduction of a number of Persian and Arabic elements which include new vocal forms , as well as new rags and tals ( derived from the sanskritic term “tal” ( time, measure) and musical instruments. Of the vocal form , two are of particular importance; kawl ,which is said to be the origin of the kawali, at present a form of religious song and tarana, a song of syllables associated with Sufi musical invocation. The two forms are present today.

From this time until well into the Mughal period , foreign music , particularly from Iran , was frequently heard in the Indian courts along with Indian music. Under these circumstances , it is not surprising that there were numerous attempts to introduce new elements into Indian music. Many of these were subtle rather then drastic innovations, but they nevertheless brought about modifications in the character of Indian music without actually changing its basic form.

Music flourished in Islamic India inspite of the puritan faction which believed that music was unlawful in Islam. This impetus was supplied by the rulers, some of whom were not only patrons but excellent musicians in their own right. Sultan Muhammad bin Taghluk ( 1335-1351), although a ruler of strong religious convictions, yet kept 2200 musicians in his service. Sultan Zayn ul Abidin of Kashmir ( 1416-1467) encourages music, painting, and literature. He ordered a the writing of a treatise on music which is ,unfortunately , not extant.

Husayn Shah Sharki ( 1458-1528), initially from Djawanpur, was an incompareable performer and an innovator second only to Amir Khusraw. His most important contribution was the ” khayal” , which gave much greater scope for technical virtuosity than did the traditional ” dhrupad”. The practitioners of the two forms continue despite the eventual supremacy of the ” khyal”- meaning imagination from its Arabic meaning of ” imagination”.

This was a period of great musical activity , Sultan Sikander Lodi ( 1489-1517) took a keen interest in music , inspite of his religious orthodoxy. Under his patronage , probably the first treatise on Indian music in Persian , the ” Lahdjat e sikander shahi”, was composed. This was based on Sanskritic treatises. In Gwalior , however, Raja Man Singh Tonwar ( 1486-1516) was responsible for the formulation of a more progressive treatise in Hindi entitled ” Man Kawthuhal.” This work was compiled by the leading musicians of his court and incorporated many of his innovations that had been introduced into Indian music since Amir Khusraws time. In spite of this endeavour , traditional Indian musical theory continued to be expressed, for the most part, in Sanskrit treatises which bore less and less resemblance to court music as time went on. To some extant , traditional Indian music has been preserved in South India, but here too it has evolved , albeit in its own direction.

Patronage of music reached its peak under the Mughal emperors , Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan. The lists of the leading musicians , both Hindu and Muslim, who were attached to their Courts was impressive , and included such famous musicians as Tansen, his son Bilas Khan , and Baz Bahadur. Baz Bahadur was the last Muslim ruler of Malwa , whose traggic affair with Rupmati, a singer , has become legendary. In the later part of his life , after he had lost his empire, he became one of the leading musicians at the Court of Akbar. It is interesting to note that nearly all the vocalists attattached to these Courts were Indian , while many of the instumentalists were foreigners , some of whom came from Mashad, Tabriz, and Herat. In addition to this Court music , large orchestras ( nawbat), consisting of wind and percusion instruments, were maintained.
These usually played at regular periods in the ‘ nakkar khana’ or ‘ nawbat khana’ which were located in the gateways of palaces and shrines. A similar tradition, nawba , had been known in Arabia several centuries earlier.

In the beginning of the 17th century music flourished in the Deccan under the patronage of Ibrahim Adil Shah 11, a renowned poet. The ” Kitab e Nawras ” contains a collection of his poems intended to be sung in different rags. These are, however, referred to as ” makams ” and give an indication of the similarity between the Indian and Arabic musical systems.
Under the Emperor Aurengzeb ( 1658-1707) music suffered a temporary setback, for, although he was fond of music and was skilled in its theory, he relinguished all pleasure and chose a life of asceticism early in his reign. The cause of Indian music was, however, revived undet the later Mughals , Bahadur Shah ( 1707-1712) and Muhammad Shah ( 1719-1748). The latter was a famous singer who composed many khayals , many of which can still be heard. In 1724, an important Sanskrit musical text , ” Sangita Pardjata ” , was translated into Persian and the seal bears the name of the librarian.

With the decline of the Mughal empire , music was maintained in the provincial courts , but not at such a lavish scale. An important Hindi treatise , entitled ” Sangit sar ” , was compiled by the musicians of Maharaja Pratap Simha of Jaipur at the beginning of the 19th century, while in 1813, Muhammad Reda , a noble man of Patna , composed a treatise entitled ” Naghmat i Asafi”, a work which is considered to be the beginning of modern musical theory in North India. Whereas in the medieval period many new rags had been introduced. In the ” Naghmat i Asafi” a new system based on classification in terms of scale – ” that”- was a advocated. This basis for the classification of ” rags” is generally accepted in the present period.

This process of integrating musical theory and musical practice is in practice today. At the beginning of the 20th century great strides were made in this direction by the efforts of V.N.Bhatkhande , who was both a musician and a Sanskritic scholar. His theories are based on songs which he collected from a number of eminent musicians, many of whom could trace their ancestry to the Mughal court musicians.