Indian music scholarship (Part 2)

This is a continuation of an earlier post, Indian music scholarship (Part 1)

19th and Early 20th Century Musicology

Sir William Jones (1746-1794), the first European scholar of Indian Music (as well as the first to translate Sanskrit texts in both Greek and Latin), is important for two main reasons: (1) Jones was a famous judge in Calcutta and therefore represents another magisterial approach to scholarship, and (2) his work began a similar, but European approach to master narrative scholarship.  In Jones’ famous article, “On the Musical Modes of the Hindus,” he “drew scholarly interest toward Indian music by showing that it deserved respect and attention” (Quoted from Simms 2000:49 where he draws from Surobindro Mohun Tagore’s 1875 Hindu Music From Various Authors).

Beyond Jones’ contribution though, we cannot speak of India’s modern musicology without a look at its two most famous contributors, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872-1931).   Although both of these scholars had similar goals of disseminating musical knowledge to the emerging middle class, their ideals differed greatly.  Bhatkhande had a “tripartite understanding of music—modern, scholastic, and secular . . .” and strove to create a music that was not ancient, but modern, national, and unified (Bhakle 2005:97-98).  He believed that the division of Carnatic (South Indian classical) and Hindustani (North Indian classical) music was an approach that would never lead to a nationalist art, which he firmly believed in.  He aimed to create treatises of music that had nothing to do with religion or ancient works, and in return, established a textual basis for music schools all over India.  Bhatkande was also employed by princely states to codify musical exams that sought to standardize music education.  Even though his ideals departed from others within the category of master narrative scholarship, his approach was entirely devoted to theoretical and historical studies.

Paluskar differed in his approach only because of his ideals; he is still considered a scholar under the rubric of master narratives who utilized nationalist motives for his spread of Indian Classical music.  “His understanding of music was simple, straightforward, contained few contradictions, and focused on the simple, spiritual, and public duties of music over the arcane and intellectual” (Bhakle 2005: 137).  As opposed to Bhatkhande, Paluskar truly believed in the propagation that this music was tied to ancient Hindu beliefs, which, as I argue here, is apart of the master narrative.

Recent Musicological Works: Proceeding Towards Ethnomusicology

I want to make my conception of two approaches, musicology and ethnomusicology, clear: Musicological works within India’s musical scholarship are not based in ethnographic material and are concerned primarily with musical theory and/or history.  Without being devoid of history, ethnomusicological works are rooted in ethnographic research, but have more to do with social behavior and social systems, and almost nothing to do with theory.

Kofi Agawu addresses the divide between theorists and historians in his 1993 article, “Does Theory Need History?” by asserting that current boundaries “ain’t such a bad thing” (Agawu 1993:98).  He believes that although theoretical tools may be necessary for historical analysis, the contrary is false; historical conclusions are not needed for theoretical analysis.  This illustrates a contrast in the musicology of India—the divide in India’s music scholarship is through musicological and ethnomusicological approaches, not theoretical versus historical.  Although theoretical discourses such as Nazir Jairazbhoy’s book, The Rags of North India, or Alain Danielou’s, The Ragas of Northern Indian Music, focus on “Indian music theories,” they are always written with historical notions in mind.

For example, in Jairazbhoy’s, The Rags of North India (1971), he reflects on the historical/theoretical divide: “While a study of the cultural background of the people is essential for a social and historical perspective of this music, its appreciation depends largely on comprehension of the musical idiom, and it is to this end that the present work in dedicated” (Jairazbhoy 1971:11).  While theoretical developments of melody remain central to his effort the proceeding introduction is the only example of “social and historical” concern throughout the entire book.  The reason for Jairazbhoy’s division of theory has nothing to do with what Agawu expresses in his article.  Rather, the differences between history and theory in Indian music have much more to with the directed audience of a particular work.

For brevity’s sake, we cannot go into depth with other key musicological works, but they still need to be mentioned.  Fox Strangeway’s 1914, Music of Hindostan, is important because it was one of the first books rooted western scholarship to discuss Indian music history and theory and established the way many authors, Indian and non-Indian, wrote after him.  Swami Prajananananda’s 1965 book, A Historical Study of Indian Music, is an example of an Indian author following the approach of a much earlier musicologist (a lean towards a spiritual connection to music), Vishnu Digambar Paluskar.  Although much information in Aban Mistry’s, Pakawaj and Tabla was obtained through interviews (which could be considered ethnographic to some extent), its concern is undoubtedly rooted in historical and genealogical charts; something that ethnomusicological works tend to shy away from.

All of these works are still examples of the master narrative in Indian scholarship, with a shift in emphasis to what I see as curatorial.  If the preceding musicological works that we discussed (the Sangitasiromani, the Sangitaratnakara, and Jones’ “On the musical modes of the Hindos) were rooted in magisterial approaches, these more recent works certainly depart from earlier forms.  I posit that they are curatorial because their aim was to exhibit (especially in Jairazbhoy’s work) and frame what was important about Indian music for a larger audience.  Although there was a shift from magisterial to curatorial works, a common thread is of political concerns (be it nationalist or a choice of which audience one wrote for) were always at the forefront.

A recent book worth discussing serves almost as a bridge between the two approaches, musicological and ethnomusicological: Ritwik Sanyal and Richard Widdess’, Dhrupad.  Co-authored by a western musicologist and a professional Drhupad singer, the approach to this work encompasses ethnographic methods and historical/theoretical musical examples.  Although this book is not within the realm of what I consider ethnomusicological, it provides an example of a shift in emphasis from the purely musicological.  Conclusions are not presented as a result of individual labor, but rather, a collaborative effort where the “trained” musicologist is in dialogue with a very visible culture-bearer.  In the chapter, “The transmission of tradition: The Dagar family,” a difference in master narrative can be seen where focus is not entirely on historical and theoretical concern, but on processes of transmission.  While this book is not entirely representative of a shift in narrative, it certainly displays a shift in emphasis of musicological works on Indian music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s