Tarana: Amir Khusro and Ustad Amir Khan

I am looking forward to studying vocal music as part of my training in sangat for my upcoming AIIS grant in New Delhi.  In preparation, I have been listening to tons of Hindustani vocalists, though, I keep coming back to Ustad Amir Khan and his performances of the tarana–something I had previously little knowledge of before.

Tarana, literally means ‘song’ in Persian, but was born from the creativity of the legendary poet saint, Amir Khusro (1253-1325 CE) of Delhi.  With the influence of nigrit song forms in sanskrit of the time,  which used nonsense syllables during improvisations, Amir Khusro introduced the use of Persian and Arabic phonemes intertwined with Hindi/Urdu words and phrases to create a new art form called the tarana.  Sometimes the performers actually used sitar or mrindang syllables reciting entire gats, tihais, and chakradhars.

Saldly, the tarana of Amir Khusro’s time quickly become obsolete simply because there were no subsequent performers that could sincerely uphold the tarana’s integrity.  That was until the revival led by Ustad Amir Khan.  His renditions and interpretations of tarana were incredibly moving, and consequently reintroduced the genre back into the canon of Hindustani vocal forms.

Below are three renditions of the tarana form.  The first is of course, Ustad Amir Khan.  The second though, is a Tarana of Kishori Amonkar in Rag Haunsadhwani.  The final example is of an orchestral performance of Ravi Shankar Ji’s at the Kremlin.  Each example displays a distinct characteristic of the Tarana that I hope you will enjoy!

Deepak Raja’s blog

As I have been gearing up mentally for my upcoming year in Delhi, I have been looking for more online writings about Hindustani music and although I have seen his blog before, I never spent much time reading his posts.  But I wish I had!  Deepak Ji maintains a great blog with constant additions and great insights.  I recommend it to anyone interested in Hindustani music.  Enjoy!


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.

Chalan, Hindi/Urdu, and compositional forms.

Two things have inspired this post: 1) I have been practicing a famous chalan made popular by Thirakwa Khan Saheb and 2) I am studying lots of Hindi lately.  Paired together, I have been thinking about the nature of tabla compositions in terms of genre (if we can really call it that).  There are many different types of compositions in tabla, e.g., kaida, rela, laggi, tukra, chalan, etc., and each has its own characteristic, but a character that is sometimes very hard to define uniformly.  Some call a particular composition a kaida while other call it a chalan.  In fact, I have heard that Thirakwa Khan Saheb himself was not so strict on the names of different types of compositions.

In looking at some descriptions and definitions of tabla compositions on the Internet, it struck me that these attempts were coming close to what Amartya Sen calls the “curatorial” side of colonial scholarship on India.  This was the effort of colonial scholars in India to classify and define all aspects of Indian society in order to display them in a book, museum, or some other source with a curator.  So with this in mind, the need to classify and strictly define all types of tabla compositions could be viewed as an ideal that originates outside the realm of Indian Classical music, i.e., outside of the very mindset that harbors such a fluid art form.  Furthermore, rigid classification might actually go against the fluidity and flexibility inherent to Hindustani music.

When we utilize language as a signifier of what these compositions mean, I think we can come to a better place in understanding tabla compositions without rigidly classifying them.  For example: kaida in Hindi/Urdu literally means “rule.”  And in this way, a kaida is a compositional form in tabla that establishes rules of how to develop a composition.  Laggi, another type of composition in tabla, comes from the word lagatar, meaning continuously.  Thus, laggi compositions describe a set of bols (patterns of tabla sounds) that are played in a continuous fashion.  This is different from rela however.  Of the few stories on how the word and compositional type, rela, came about, one popular idea comes from the notion that it originated from relgari, the Hindi/Urdu word for train.  There is another idea though, that rela came from the Urdu expression, rela aya, which signifies a gushing of water, like when a damn breaks and water gushes from the source.  The latter, to me, linguistically speaking, helps clarify what rela describes better than any other description.  And really, I think that the names of these compositional forms, are just that: descriptions of the sounds and compositions of tabla.  In the spirit of Hindustani classical music I do not think these forms are intended to be so rigid that require exact definitions.

Having said all that, I return to my initial inquiry, chalan.  Coming from the word chalna, meaning to move, chalan in Hindi/Urdu means movement.  In this description then, a chalan is different from a kaida insofar that it does not establish a rule for development, it is rather, a movement.  In light of what I wrote above, it seems that chalan is just a way to linguistically describe the sequence of tabla sounds, and not a compositional genre that needs definition and rigid parameters to understand.

Finally, here is the beautiful chalan that inspired this post (performed here by Anindo Ji and his son Anubrata). The chalan actually starts at around minute 2:20, but is recited by Anindo Ji at 2:30.

Thoughts on the history of Indian Music

I have been applying for some grants recently–the AIIS senior performing arts grant in particular–and I have been thinking about how to formulate a Full Bright grant proposal as well, but for a completely different project.  For the AIIS grant, I am proposing to learn only sangat (music accompaniment) on the tabla for nine months in New Delhi.  For the Full Bright however, I am thinking about pursing something that extends my master’s research in Hyderabad and research the history of North Indian Hindustani Music in Hyderabad through interviews and historical ethnographies of families and disciples of those that were apart of Hyderabad’s past.  The eventual goal is to apply this knowledge to both a future Ph.D. and articles that I wish to publish in various journals.  To the best of my knowledge, nothing has ever been researched/published in the this subject more than a few notes in a larger study here and there.  I know that James Kippen has done some extensive interviewing in Hyderabad recently, and I would hope that I could be in contact with him if I have the chance to conduct research there.

In a recent conversation, I heard an interesting point about the scope of doing historical research on music in India: new research is limited to either biographies and/or written documents (i.e., letters) of the musicians and their families and collegues.  The point was raised in comparison to how western music history is based almost solely on documents and the written word from a far greater pool of sources (i.e., historians, novels, letters, political accounts, etc.).  This idea coincides with one of my favorite books by Regula Qureshi, Master Musicians Speak, where she asserts that the most important aspect of Indian Music scholarship at this point should lie in letting the Masters of this art be heard.

“In order to include these processes within a global horizon of musical thinking, the still Western-dominated idea of music history as a linear textual chain of antecedents needs to be opened up to the possibility of a history of music as embedded within a family group and repertoire being stored not in a library with a text, but in a brain with a context; being learned not from books, but from orally transmitted words that are being generated not declaratively but interactively.  In other words, it is a history that is based on ethnography, in the vein of initiatives to bring ethnomusicology and musicology, or anthropology and history, into dialogue.” (Qureshi 2007:3)

Using this as a model, I am formulating my Full Bright proposal to conduct research in Hyderabad of musicians and their families that were (and maybe still are) associated with the presence of Hindustani music there.  The idea is to collect as many interviews as possible, visit particular venues and neighborhoods that supported this music, and eventually write a critical history on Hindustani music in Hyderabad guided primarily on the voices of musicians and their ancestors.

Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan – a contextual biography

There are currently two short biographies of Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan online (www.tablaustaddawood.com and www.chandrakantha.com/dawood/) that I drew from for this biography.  My other sources for this paper were interviews I was able to do in the summer of 2008 in Hyderabad, India, with his son, Shabir Nisar.  

PART I – Contexts

In 1916, the year Ustad, Shaik Dawood Khan was born, India was in the midst of assisting the British in fighting the First World War.  Two years earlier, in August of 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and began sending Indian troops, over a million of them, to Europe and the Middle East to help their cause.  India’s economy suffered tremendously and, as in many times of war, inflation occurred.  Dawood Khan was born into an India ruled by the British and struggling for its Independence.  In 1915, the freedom fighter Tilak re-entered Indian politics in the Congress party, and India persisted in its road to become independent from British Rule.

During the decades leading up to his birth, an explosion occurred in the number of Indian political organizations called Sabhas.  Caste relations were being re-negotiated and there was “…widespread movement[s] towards modern organizational forms”  (Metcalf and Metcalf 138).  Many castes and sub-castes were making a move to reclaim a particular position in society for economic and political reasons, which did not exist before and were now taking on new forms.  This was due in a large part to a census the British ordered where many groups desired to be recognized as “higher castes.”

During the late nineteenth century, there were also many movements in the arts that related to emerging classes and political struggles over representation.  Two musicologists in particular were at the forefront of musical revolution involving Hindustani music in particular:  Bhatkande, and Palushkar (Bhakle 2007).  Hindustani music was undergoing a transformation from court music to “North Indian classical music.”  Since there were no more courts following the fall of the Mughals in 1857, hereditary Hindustani musicians were required to find new avenues for seeking patronage to support their music.  Some continued to flourish in the court of the Nizam in Hyderabad, but most had to be adaptive in their strategies to survive.  There was a new interest in theatre arts (including music), especially Marahastra, West India.

It was through these performances that Dawood Khan was first exposed to music as a child.  Although he did come from a musical family, his parents were extremely fond of music and took him to the theatre often.  Dawood Khan was born in the state of Maharastra on December 16, 1916.  His life as a non-hereditary musician was a product of a new India, one that was rapidly changing from exclusive, self-contained groups, to a nation desiring to establish its independence and an identity separate from colonial rule.  If Dawood Khan had been born during another period in Indian history, his mastery of the tabla and life as a musician would not have been possible.   His life’s work is a direct reflection of the political conditions of his time as well as his intense dedication to riyaaz (practice).

It is well known that the musicologists mentioned above, Palushkar and Bhatkande, had certain agendas in creating new arenas (i.e., music schools, something unheard of before their time) for Hindustani music while, consciously or not, taking power away from its current culture bearers:  hereditary musicians of Muslim families.  As Bhakle posits in her book though, hereditary musicians were extremely aware of these moves and were keen to adopt strategies that would allow them to continue as culture bearers.  Even though music schools began to spring up everywhere in India in the late nineteenth and earlytwentieth centuries, the fact of the matter was that the true performers of the day were still shaped and “created” by hereditary masters of Muslim descent.  There was a period, which Dawood Khan comes out of, when these hereditary musicians began teaching students outside of their family.  This is in conjunction with many other changes India was going through at the time, e.g., issues of caste, independence, world affairs, education, and religion alike.

PART II – Instruction

            If the relationship with a teacher and student is sincere and following the tradition of Hindustani music, they share level of interaction that is not unlike—and in many cases resembles exactly—that of a father and son.  Consequently, it is very rare for any student of Hindustani music to have multiple gurus, which is one thing that makes Dawood Khan Sahib so unique:  he had five different gurus throughout his life.

His first guru, Ustad Khasim Khan, was a zamindar (landowner) in the city Dawwod Khan was from, Sholapur, and held weekly musical gatherings at his home.  It was here that Dawood Khan developed an interest in studying tabla and at the age of 12 began tutelage under Khasim Khan.  During this period Dawood Khan received intense training from his guru, eventually preparing him to accompany many other artists (vocalists and instrumentalists).  A technique that has been lost with the new generation of tabla players was Khasim Khan’s innovation to manipulate the bayan (left-hand drum of the tabla) with his thumb.  This is a technique (among many compositions) that Dawood Khan acquired during his initial training and utilized in many compositions.

It is important to note that Khasim Khan never thought of himself as a professional musician and was not a part of any family of musicians.  He always considered himself an amateur who gained some notoriety by accompanying a few famous musicians.  From the discussion above, we can see how ideas of music and the transfer of musical knowledge were changing.  Initially, Dawood Khan’s training came from outside the hereditary culture bearers of this tradition, and the gatherings he attended were a product of a changing environment from the courts to middle-class homes and small concerts organized for a larger public.  Although this is after the time of Palushkar and Bhatkande, it is an indirect reflection of those efforts:  Hindustani music was becoming (or perhaps already was at this point) an enterprise that was taking place in multiple venues and was enjoyed, studied, and taught to many people.  It was no longer an exclusive art form.

Dawood Khan’s next guru was Ustad Alladiya Khan (supposedly seventh generation musician, also known as Allaudin Khan), of Hyderabad.  Alladiya Khan was son-in-law and disciple of Hussain Baksh (also from Hyderabad), who was in turn, son-in-law of the founder of the Faroukabad Gharana (Ustad Haaji Vilayat Ali, ca. 1840 C.E.).  The Nizam kingdom of Hyderabad is an important aspect of why Hyderabad flourished as a tabla culture.  It is well known that the Nizams loved music and especially tabla, as they would welcome any musician into their court.  There is one story told in Aban Mistry’s book of a female pakawaj (cousin and predecessor to the tabla) player who resided in the harem of the Nizam’s kingdom of Hyderabad in the early twentieth and late nineteenth centuries.  Unfortunately, the woman remains unnamed but is thought to have been the daughter of the famous pakawaj player Nana Panse.  This story, as it is retold by Mistry, establishes Hyderabad and the courts of Nizam as major centers for tabla and pakawaj, to such an extent that there were even female masters of the instrument.  (For a detailed description of the history and lineage of tabla in Hyderabad, see my previous post call “Tabla in Hyderabad.”)

As Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan gained more and more notoriety for his tabla playing in Sholapor  (a small city in the neighboring state, Maharashtra), he began being called to Hyderabad radio.  Consequently, in 1937, because of the frequency of his appearances on the then privately owned radio station (months after his arrival the radio station was taken over by the Nizam and was subjected to state rule), he shifted his residence to Hyderabad and became a disciple of Alladiya Khan.  Now in Hyderabad, Dawood Khan continued to flourish in all aspects of tabla:  learning, performing, and teaching—he was even teacher to one of the Nizam princes.

This is an interesting shift in the tabla player’s patronage that began to occur in Ustad Dawood Khan’s generation.  Emphasis on patronage by princely courts was slowly eradicated because of the fall of Mughal courts beginning in 1857, forcing all musicians to find new sources of income.  The reason why a Hindustani musical culture thrived in Hyderabad was not only because of the Nizam’s love for the music itself, but also because his was one of the only courts in India with that much political staying power.  Ustad Dawood Khan then (among others), represented a new generation of tabla players that entered a musical world devoid of its previous patterns of patronage.

Dawood Khan’s son, Shabir Nisar, suggests that this was also the generation that represented the pinnacle of tabla performance ending in the 1970’s.  The musicians of this generation inherited from their courtly forbearers the capacity for long periods of intense practice, and they now shared their dazzling virtuosity with the general public.  Their ability to communicate at such a high artistic level undoubtedly led critics and audiences to regard them as the very summit of this tradition.  Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan was part of this new generation of tabla virtuosos and contributed greatly to the evolution of the instrument in many ways.

Ustad Dawood Khan had three other teachers, the first two were the sons of Ustad Alladiya Khan: Ustad Mohammed Khan, Ustad Chote Khan, and Ustad Mahbood Khan.  His last teacher (Ustad Mahbood Khan) was first a close friend of Dawood Khan’s whom together they would share compositions with.  He only became a disciple of his when his friend’s father wanted there to be some concrete evidence that Dawood Khan learned from him.  Shabir Nisar, Dawood Khan’s son, said that his father learned 57 rare gats (a type of composition) from Ustad Mahbood Khan.


Shabir Nisar told me that his father, Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan, would complete two to three chillas a year.  A chilla is a period of forty days during which a musician practices ten to twelve hours a day, doing nothing else.  It is a complete immersion in one’s art, which musicians today are encouraged to do at least once.  In his fifties, the Ustad continued his commitment to practicing ten hours a night, and not sleeping until 4 a.m..  By the age of 40, his teeth were gone because he refused to get enough sleep due to his drive to practice.  In his 60’s, even though his health was declining, he would practice up to three to four hours a day.   The Ustad would always practice in front of a mirror, but only so he could see his hands.  He was very particular of both his hands and sitting position and constantly maintained to himself and his students that their hands could not be allowed above a certain height.  Ustad Dawood Khan always said that any real tabla player should not have calluses, and he would allow anybody to inspect his hands upon making this statement.

Teaching and transmission were of the utmost important issues to Ustad Dawood Khan.  Among his many senior disciples are his son, Shabir Nisar, Nandkumar Bhatlouande, Kiran Deshpande, Betrabet Prabhakar Rao, and Abhiman Kaushal.  I would like to conclude with a quote that opens up the website of the recently inaugurated “Dawood Khan Academy of Music of Hyderabad” to illustrate how important teaching was to the Ustad:

“The value of an accomplished tabla player lies in his ability to manage with and support younger and upcoming musicians.”

Indian music scholarship (Part 1)

In a description of the ways that scholars have written about India, Amartya Sen posits three distinct approaches to the “images of India’s intellectual traditions”: (1) exoticist, (2) magisterial, and (3) curatorial  (Sen 2005:140).  The exoticist approach focuses on the strange and different “wondrous aspects of India.”  The magisterial category “strongly relates to the exercise of imperial power” of the British and the Raj (India’s internal imperialist powers).  The third category (curatorial) is related to attempts that classify, note, and later exhibit Indian phenomenon.

Here, I wish to discuss the ways in which images of North India’s musical traditions have been represented and studied.  My aim is to provide an overview of the methods and approaches that characterize Hindustani/North Indian classical music scholarship.  Although my focus is primarily on the discipline of Ethnomusicology, there is no way of adequately understanding its approach without a discussion of India’s myriad musicological works.  Following Sen’s arguments above, I categorize methods of North Indian classical musical scholarship into three categories: (1) master narratives that deal primarily with theoretical and historical discourses, (2) ethnographies that counter and write against those master narratives, and (3) encyclopedic entries.

Through using a Sen type analysis and my own categorical tripartite, I wish to encourage discussions that go beyond simple, linear descriptions (even if I am proceeding from past to present), and move toward a dialectical discussion of various ideas and opinions of musicological development.  I do not mean to say that certain approaches must be viewed as “exoticist,” or “master narrative,” or even “exoticist master narratives,” but rather, I aim to look at how two analytical models (Sen’s and my own) can work in relation to one another and assist us in better understanding developments of non-linear trajectories.

Early Indian music scholarship

“In broad terms, the history of scholarship on Indian music begins with the insular elaboration by Indian writers and proceeds toward increasing Western influence, international authors, and a multitude of approaches” (Simms 2000:42).  The first scholarly writings on music were theoretical treatises that developed from  Bharata’s ancient treatise on the performing arts, the Natyashastra (second century).  Robert Simms breaks down the scholarship of Indian music into five distinct time periods: (1) 1300-1550, (2) 1550-1780, (3) 1780-1900, (4) 1900-1960, and (5) scholarship in the late twentieth century.  What concerns us here however, are the first two periods, from 1300-1780.  During this time almost all of the writings were commentaries on Sarngadeva’s thirteenth-century treatise, the Sangitaratnakara, “an approach that would occupy Hindustani scholars from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries” where the scholar Sudhakalasa in particular, was responsible for introducing iconographical personifications of ragas (Simms 2000:44).

This is an example of what I categorize as the master narratives.  The writings of this period focused on tuning theories, raga theories, and drum syllables that later became the concept of theka in North Indian classical music.  I do not mean to argue that these kinds of studies were confined to this period alone; these theoretical discourses are still in use today (see Nazir Jairazbhoy’s article, “What happened to Indian music theory?” in the Winter 2008 Ethnomusicology Journal).  What I intend to locate however, are master narratives of Indian music scholarship that began through political (and perhaps magisterial) efforts.

In 1428 the Muslim ruler Sultan Malika Shahi, “organized a conference of musicologists to review and edit his musicological manuscript collection into a single volume, which resulted in the Sangitasiromani” (Simms 2000:45).  Efforts such as these mark the role that aristocratic patrons played throughout the emergence of India’s musicology.  That musicology was patronized through the efforts of ruling classes—despite the fact that early Muslim powers were not involved in overt political struggles with the majority Hindu population—denotes that its popularity was embedded in political efforts.  With this understanding, we can view early musicology as a process of the establishment in a magisterial type of master narrative.

Tabla in Hyderabad

I have wanted to revise and post some excerpts from my master’s research in Hyderabad  recently, so here is a part of my research that explores the history of three distinct paramparas of tabla transmission in Hyderabad. 

There are three distinct paramparas (musical lineages that have more than three generations of transmission) that have roots in Hyderabad because of the Nizam’s love for the instrument. The first stems from Niyamat Khan’s son, Musahib Khan, who left the courts of Indore for the court of the Nizam in Hyderabad around 1920 (the exact date is unknown).  Although he did not stay for long, three of his disciples (the first two of which were his own sons) Ustad Bahadar Khan, Ustad Karmu Khan, and Ustad Maulla Baksh, stayed in Hyderabad and under the Nizam’s patronage for their entire career.  Aban Mistry suggests that “after circa 1926 A.D., . . . the new Maharaja [of Indore] was fond of music but severely lacked his father’s extraordinary flair for music . . . So during his reign, many artists left Indore and went away.  As per popular belief, most of Indore’s artistes settled down south in the courts of Hyderabad” (Mistry 1999:286).  Consequently, Musahib Khan’s parampara in Hyderabad represents the Indore connections to Hyderabad.

The second parampara emerges from Ustad Munir Khan, who learned from the son of Ustad Haaji Vilayat Ali (the founder of the Faroukabad gharana), Hussain Ali Khan.  Although he was not born in Hyderabad, he settled there early in his life because his father, Karim Baksh, who was not a tabla player, found work and moved to the budding metropolis.  As a result, Ustad Munir Khan lived and taught in Hyderabad most of his life but eventually settled in Bombay.  Some of his most famous students who did not live in Hyderabad, Ustad Amir Hussain Khan of Bombay and Ustad Jan Thirakwa Khan, continued to visit and learn from him while leaving their mark and traces in the Hyderabad tabla community to the present day.

The third parampara in Hyderabad includes Ustad Shaik Dawood Khan but stems from the son-in-law (Ustad Hussain Baksh) of the founder of Faroukabad gharana.  It is important to note here that both the son and the son-in-law of Ustad Haaji Vilayat Khan are represented as two distinct paramparas of tabla in Hyderabad (they continue to be quite divided today).  Ustad Hussain Baksh was loved by the Nizam so much so that it was said that he “would place himself next to his [the Nizam’s] royal seat and play the whole night through, while the Nizam languishing in the soothing effect of his Vaadan would doze off intermittently” (Mistry 297).   Ustad Alladiya Khan, the son-in-law and senior disciple of Ustad Hussain Baksh, also earned his seat as a member of Nizam’s court musicians as well as his two sons, Ustad Mohammed Khan and Ustad Chote Khan.


A beautiful rendering of the Farukhabad peshkar by Amod Dandage. I absolutely love the the aesthetic of Amod Ji’s peshkar, and this peshkar embodies some if Faroukhbad’s essential character.  The word peshkar comes from the Hindi/Urdu verb, peshkar karna, which means ‘to present.’

Amod Dandage (Farukhabad Gharana) playing here Peshkar in Teentaal. Amod Dandage is a disciple of Us. Mamhulal Sangaokar, Pt. Omkar Gulwadi & he has been training under the able guidance of Pt. Arvind Mulgaonkar for the last 15 years.

“Peshkar has a number of interesting characteristics. It often uses interesting counter-rhythms (layakari) and has a fully developed process of theme and variation. If the process of theme and variation follows the rules of kaida then it is called kaida-peshkar. Often substitution processes are used which, although logical, violate basic rules of kaida. In such cases it is simply referred to as peshkar.” -David Courtney (from http://chandrakantha.com/tablasite/articles/cyclic2.htm)

To add to Courtney’s description, there are a number of different approaches to peshkar stemming from one’s gharana.  For example, Faroukhabad’s peshkar always expands from a set pattern of bols (tabla sounds) that is distinct from say, the Panjab gharana.  All gharanas too, have their own aesthetic approach to expansions and variation.  Furthermore, within this aesthetic there are individual nuances and additions that give peshkar its amazing depth and scope.

Within the Benares gharana however, the popular composition known as ‘Benares peshkar’ is treated more like a kaida.

Reflections on Slawek

“Engrossed Minds, Embodied Moods and Liberated Spirits in Two Musical Traditions of India.” -Stephen Slawek

A quick note: There are no citations here because this is only a quick reflection on an article that intrigued me. This is not meant to be a scholarly paper.
Here is the link for this article: http://www.pathcom.com/~ericp/bansuri13slawek.html
In Stephen Slawek’s article, “Engrossed Minds, Embodied Moods and Liberated Spirits in Two Musical Traditions of India.” he attempts to explain a few ideas regarding Indian classical music: (1) he demonstrates the absence or avoidance of “spirituality” in scholarly engaged articulations on Indian music, (2) he discusses how seemingly disparate modes of Indian music making (i.e., classical and folk), are in fact much more connected than previous scholarly writings have presented them before, and (3) he concludes through a comparison and analysis of Abhinavagupta’s 11th century rasa theory to anthropology theorists Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Csordas, and Marurice Merleau-Ponty, by asserting that indigenous versions of cultural theory will provide, especially in the case of Indian music, a more illuminating and gratifying conclusion of why things are the way things are.

From reading this article I had the feeling he is not satisfied with the way that ethnomusicology has engaged with local theories of cultural development. Granted, this article was written 14 years ago (1995), and I do not know what the significance of this article actually was on scholarly engagement of indigenous theory, but I do know that many ethnomusicologists today constantly engage in what is known as local theory, which, is exactly what he claims has been overlooked by many within western Indian musicological engagements. Slawek posits that the reason behind this is because many scholars felt the need to distance themselves from ideas that emerged from Indian music in the 60s–ideas that spawned cliches about Indian music providing spiritual enlightenment (and ultimately culminating in new age movements that are so popular today). To this, I agree with him, but I also feel that he left out a very obvious reason why so many have not concentrated on the spirituality behind ICM (Indian classical music).

Throughout recent histories of India and Indian music scholars have pointed out the need to include Muslim heavy narratives of Indian music because of previous Hindu dominated trajectories of history. Consequently, many ethnomusicological studies on ICM came out of this awareness and proceeded to tell the stories of the Muslim lineages of ICM and how they related to ideas of Hindu nationalism. In this light, I disagree with Slawek in his assessment of why scholars have avoided discussion of spirituality, although I certainly agree with him that they have.

Slawek’s second main point in this article illustrates how ideas of ICM and Indian devotional folk music are much more connected through strains of spirituality than previously portrayed. What struck me, was again, his lack of a Muslim voice in his arguments. From north India, ICM, has been apart of Muslim traditions and practices for centuries, and for most of the gharana instrumentalists alive today, their forefathers were raised among courtly entertainers who had little or no business in the kinds of “spiritual” affairs Slawek discusses. I do not mean to bash or discount Slawek’s conclusions here, rather, I mean for this to be a discussion of how complex ideas of India’s history (or perhaps any one’s history) really are. Through this article Slawek insinuates that there is only one trajectory of Indian history, which, in my opinion, is an extreme oversimplification.

In the conclusion of this article–its strong point–Slawek successfully demonstrates the ways that Abhinavagupta’s theoretical treatise on rasaactually provide more of an illuminating conclusion than leading anthropologist’s theories do. But what this conclusion lacks, is a further discussion of the politics of his own choice to focus on a Hindu treatise for a musical tradition that has been essentially dominated (except for the past 150 years) by Muslims.


“Globalization is the result of powerful governments, especially that of the United States, pushing trade deals and other accords down the throats of the world’s people to make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to dominate the economies of nations around the world without having obligations to the people of those nations.” -Robert W. McChesney (In the preface to Noam Chomky’s book, Profit Over People)

Leaving for India in a few days, this passage sparked an interest. What is globalization? I know many people have written about this, but to me, concrete definitions are still a bit elusive. I like this description because it starts with a critique of capitalism in America. Do corporations that are spawned by Untied States capitalism really have no obligations to the people of the nations that they seek to expand in?

The obligations that I think they (corporations and the wealthy) are most interested in are concerns that create and promote consumerism whereby obligations rest in a creation and maintenance of happy consumers. In the light of McChesney’s assertions, then, globalization in the widest sense is an attack on the way of life of myriad non-consumer societies that still exist today.

SEM Wesleyan

Just coming back from SEM, the Society of Ethnomusicology and completely energized to do my projects. I was blessed to meet my favorite scholars and they were more than I expected, especially Regula Qureshi (University of Alberta), Allyn Miner (U Penn), and Dan Neuman (UCLA). I can’t wait to practice again and to get started on my new material… More later.

Thoughts on Yoga

Why does the west insist upon creating a world of yoga arts that is so different from the Indian expressions it claims to come from? If there are already Indian communities in diasporas, and temples associated with them in almost every major city in the western world, why is it that western practitioners do not turn to those centers for kirtan and other such spiritual practices? It is, as so many are claiming, a form that comes from Indian roots, and if the roots are there, why not go to them?

These are difficult questions to answer but I want to begin by our incessant need in the west to commodify. Because everything in the west has been framed under the capitalist condition, value rests on the sole feat of commodification. The entrepreneur is glorified in the west, and the new is sacred, but to sell that “new” is the ultimate state of achievement. We cannot seem to escape this condition. Yoga simply fits into this equation just as any other new product, and because Indian temples in the U.S. do not offer this commodification, the west has to create their own world to fit their needs of a specific market. Without this in place, yoga and the arts associated with it would have no value.

There are other ways to answer these questions and each gives us different insights into the psychology of the yoga economy. There is an addiction in the west to the simulacrum (the definition of simulacra according to Baudrillard is a representation of something that has no original, or a copy of something that does not exist) which, in regards to the yoga community is a condition that the yoga teacher and the kirtan singer stem from; it is a condition not unlike the epidemic of reality T.V. The simulacrum of reality T.V. pervades the audience in all directions, because the representation of the real is not truly the real, as it was not constructed from any place of true representation. It was rather, constructed by the producers and investors from a place of marketing, to look real; it is then transformed into the “hyperreal.” The reality T.V. show is sold as something that is, “More real than the real, [and] that is how the real is abolished” (Baudrillard 81). Hence, the hyperreal. What I am saying here is that we are addicted to the hyperreality that creates the simulacrum in the came way that we are addicted to the necessity to commodify. The yoga world (or economy) has neatly fit all elements involved in their bhakti driven market economy into these addictions. The yoga teacher and the kirtan singer are hyperrealities of something that has no original. How can the products of yoga being born out an entirely new system of thought be a representation of something other than that system of thought?

That system of thought, as I have explained throughout this paper is, the system of commodity and simulacra, where fetishes, like that of music, are born out of this system. The system has imploded on itself, where it does not even have the ability to recognize itself as distinct from the original, that is the system of thought that bhakti originally sprang forth from in India. “Strictly, this is what implosion signifies. The absorption of one pole into the other, the short-circuiting between poles of every differential system of meaning, the erasure of distinct terms and oppositions, including that of the medium and of the real–thus the impossibility of any mediation, of any dialectical intervention between the two or from one another” (Baudrialld 83). These poles can be described as two systems of thought, one side being the original system that gave birth to the bhakti movement, and the other side being the system that has now taken a hold of the bhakti movement. This new system transformed the meaning of bhakti by its very roots, and consequently imploded the whole system into itself because of the marketing. Bi-products of this system are the simulacrum in all corners of the yoga world.

As described before, the postmodern condition exists because of a rift or a gap occurring somewhere in history. As Frederic Jameson describes it in his book, Postmodernism, it is sometimes referred to as the end of something, that is, the end of history, the end of art, the end of ideology. I am arguing that bhakti and the yoga world must start looking at itself through the lens of the postmodern and admit that the system they belong to has created “the end of bhakti.”