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Rhythm and Rivalry

Maula Baksh

in the development of musical notation. Maula Baksh’s school was apparently very

Rhythm and Rivalry

successful, even attracting a large number

Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition

by Janaki Bakhle; Permanent Black, Delhi, 2005; pp 350, Rs 695.


anaki Bakhle’s book, in spite of its title, is really about four men – and a woman, all of them with important parts to play in the story she attempts to trace. The first chapter is about the Baroda musician Maula Baksh; the sixth, about Abdul Karim Khan and Hirabai Badodekar. The “two men” of the title, V N Bhatkhande and V D Paluskar, directly account for about a third of the book. The title perhaps does not give an idea of the book’s range nor of the scope of its survey. The book looks at the momentous events that span the decades from around the 1880s to the 1920s, by common consent one of the most difficult and determinative periods in the history of Hindustani music. Bakhle’s attention is focused closely on a particular issue, and she does not purport to give a larger history of the myriad transformations in the field of music in this period. Her attempt to situate music history outside strictly musicological concerns on the one hand, and ethnomusicology and performance studies on the other, is welcome. In doing so, her work situates itself with a number of studies, old and new, which have attempted to trace the social and political situation of Hindustani music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Adrian McNeil’s formidable work on the sarod comes easily to mind.

At the heart of Bakhle’s study lies the achievement of the two men indicated in her title, Bhatkhande and Paluskar. For the writer, the projects of these two great systematisers and educators were fundamentally different. She is clearly more enthusiastic about Bhatkhande’s project than Paluskar’s, seeing the one as perhaps more fragmentary and tensionridden, but bearing the marks of an emergent nationalist modernity, as against the other, which according to her was committed to the idea of preserving an authentic “Hindu” music. Thus, the apparent similarities of the two projects – both working through the publication of written texts and the institutionalisation of new forms of musical pedagogy – need to be examined closely, and a fundamental difference displayed. In doing so, Bakhle comes to the rather surprising conclusion that Bhatkhande’s project failed to win much support, either of musicians or of the lay public, whereas Paluskar’s was, at least comparatively, more successful.

Bakhle begins her study with the relatively lesser remembered figure of Maula Baksh, court musician to the Sayaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda. The Baroda court is remembered for its patronage to musicians: Maula Baksh and Faiz Mohammad Khan, Abdul Karim Khan of Kirana, Faiyaz Husain Khan of Agra, Fida Husain and the young Nisar Husain of Sahaswan. But Bakhle is not interested in the ways in which ustads from north India were looking for, and finding, homes under maratha rulers. The Baroda court played a critical role in this regard, though it is now clear that the process started somewhat earlier than was previously thought. Bakhle efficiently demonstrates that (in common with many of the other maratha princes) Sayaji Rao had a poor appreciation of Hindustani music, and that his treatment of musicians was bureaucratic and shabby. Thus, the image of Sayaji Rao as an enlightened lover of music actively promoting musical activities does not square with the documentary records of a ruler who, in the first place, was absent from Baroda for large parts of the year, and further, tied up his musicians in the strong coils of petty officialdom. Adept at negotiating the conditions of colonial regime, Sayaji Rao projected himself as a “new” ruler, promoting colonial “order” and “discipline” over a pre-colonial chaotic ease. Maula Baksh is important in Bakhle’s account, because he was one of the earliest musicians to introduce new methods of teaching and transcribing music. Bakhle notes that in many musical accounts, Maula Baksh appears as the most sycophantic follower of the Gaekwad’s policies, working actively to keep the other musicians in line, and discouraging others from finding employment in Baroda. But for Bakhle, he appears as one of the earliest institutionalisers of Hindustani music, a systematiser and music theorist, a pioneer of female students: his rival Faiz Mohammad Khan, though better known as a singer, was less successful in his attempt to run a music school. Maula Baksh in fact established himself as a major spokesman of an emergent modern musical discourse: he had contacts with cultural leaders in other parts of India, won a gold medal at the Hindu Mela in Calcutta in 1875, and contributed to Sourendra Mohan Tagore’s collection entitled Hindu Music. Incidentally, the Bengali press at the time lauded him for his reverence for “Hindu Music”.

Maula Baksh’s Contribution to Music

From the beginning of the book, Bakhle thus reveals the thrust of her argument and the nature of her interest. She is not documenting the general changes in music patronage around the turn of the century as much as she is trying to piece together an account of the growth of formalised musical pedagogy. Maula Baksh appears as the first figure in this account. There is no mistaking that Bakhle thinks that this is something of particular value and interest: she berates others for underestimating and misrepresenting the nature of Maula Baksh’s achievement. His integration of north and south Indian music, his encouragement of women students and above all his proposing “a nonsectarian understanding of what that music could be”(p 49) have been forgotten, and Bakhle seeks to set the account right. Let me take the point about “nonsectarian” music up briefly. Bakhle seems to use the term in opposition to an aggressive Hindu characterisation of music: that is the substance of her later argument. If there was an equally strong Muslim appropriation of music, that remains outside Bakhle’s purview. There are two points to be made here. One is that she is underestimating the larger dynamics of the way in which Muslim ustads were seeking adjustment in Hindu ‘samsthanas’ and elite circles over a fairly long period of time. The other is the way in which specific ethnic and local markers are disrupted in the course of the encounter of Indian music with the institutions of colonial modernity. It would have been more productive, one feels, to try to see the evolution of a new pedagogy in music as part of a wider set of changes that

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2006 overcame Hindustani music in the period she focuses on. Here she might have found the history of commercial recording of interest, as one of the figures she discusses, Shivram Sadashiv Manohar, a student and follower of Maula Baksh’s method, appears to be the same as the S S Manohar who was an enthusiastic participant in the early activity of the Gramophone Company. Later, Inayet Khan, Maula Baksh’s grandson, recorded a number of songs on gramophone records.

Two forms of exclusion practised in the study appear to me to lessen the force of Bakhle’s argument. One is her attempt to dissociate the Bhatkhande-Paluskar debate from the larger history of institutional changes in musical practices: the other is her unwillingness to consider the peculiarities of the musical tradition itself. Neither would have been important if her conclusions could have stood independently of such consideration. Her contention about the failure, or at any rate the limited success, of the Bhatkhande programme appears to be both too hasty and insufficiently contextualised. The magnificent building of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, and ready availability of the books and documents do not really prove the greater acceptability of Paluskar’s methods either. Bhatkhande in fact has been far more consistent than any other music theorist in the public domain, with his multi-volume works translated into many Indian languages, and studied for generations now by most serious music students, in institutions or otherwise. Most modern musicians refer to the ‘thata’ classification as well as the time-scale theory: often with reservations, but there is no mistaking their presence in the discourses of music. The problem with making any sweeping statement is that the practices of Hindustani classical music continue to be intensely layered and fragmented. The few music students continuing to study in the older ‘bandishi’ tradition, have no qualms in referring to Bhatkhande’s theoretical treatises. The institutionalisation and standardisation of music pedagogy remains an incomplete project, but a large part of whatever was achieved owes a lot to Bhatkhande. The Marris College may at present be in a moribund state, but Bhatkhande’s works continue to be read and studied diligently. More importantly, techniques of mechanical reproduction in music, whether in the form of printed music texts, or in the easy availability of recorded music – definitively altered the modes in which musical knowledge circulate, and this process was well underway from the early decades of the 20th century.

Defining Musical Practices

The other point I would like to make is that there is a problem in clearly demarcating “Hindu nationalist” and “secular” musical practices. This lies to a great extent in the nature of the musical knowledge itself. Bakhle is sceptical, and rightly so, about the oft- repeated view that Hindu and Muslim identities were seamlessly integrated in the field of classical music. However, what she does not consider at all is the content of the musical knowledge being dealt with by traditional performers and modernisers alike. She mentions, in a rather roundabout way, a rumour that Kumar Gandharva avoided singing ragas like Miyan ki Malhar as they overtly bore the signs of their “Muslim” origin (p 174). Leaving aside the fact that Kumar Gandharva sang Miya ki Malhar with great gusto, a larger point comes up for consideration. If Bakhle were to look at the bandishes taught and sung by Paluskar and his disciples, as well as other notable Hinduisers, she would find evidences of their composite and hybrid origin. The favourite Gwalior bandish in Miya ki Malhar remains ‘Karim naam tero’; in Darbari, ‘Hazrat turakaman’; in Bhairon Bahar, ‘E meri basanta ke mubaraka leho pyare mehbooba Nizamuddin Auliya’. In fact, all of Paluskar’s students were highly respectful towards the integrity of traditional bandishes. One need only think of Omkarnath Thakur, who aggressively projected a “Hindu” identity in his singing, and famously exhorted his audiences to shout “Jai Shri Ram” after his recitals. The two last bandishes mentioned are preserved in widely circulated private recordings of Omkarnath. Many of the important bandishes of the Balkrishnabua Ichalkanjikar line derive from the Kawalbachche tradition, and bear marks of their Sufi lineage. The khayal repertoire itself works against any uncomplicated demarcation between Hindu and Muslim musical practices. Bhatkhande himself was deeply respectful towards the bandishes that he painstakingly documented and collected over decades of travel and study. However, if one were to compare the versions of bandishes preserved in singers’ notebooks (like those of Bhaskarbua Bakhle) and the printed versions of bandishes in Bhatkhande’s books, one would note, I think, a greater attention to questions of grammatical and lexical felicity in the latter. Bhatkhande often complained (as did many other modernisers) of the verbal poverty of the traditional khayal ‘cheezas’, and was not averse to correction, alteration, and in some cases proposing, alternative

– in his view, more acceptable – texts to be set in roughly the same traditional musical settings. The advent of print modernity inevitably acts as a stabilising force, seeking to resist the heteroglossia of oral bandish circulation, with its many shadings of dialect, accent and individual preference.

I would argue thus that a greater attention to the specifics of musical practices might have resulted in some cases in a more nuanced understanding of what Bhatkhande and Paluskar were doing, of their achievements as well as their limitations. Hindustani classical music is a field containing infinite particularities, and any generalising argument must necessarily do violence to them. One admits the legitimacy of the need to construct such arguments, but an awareness of the problems helps us to fashion a more nuanced argument. The sections on Abdul Karim and Hirabai are avowedly based on available biographical studies, and do not add very much to them: it is a pity, though, that the author does not use the documentary evidence made available by Michael Kinnear in his 2003 biography. It would have corrected some of the slants of earlier biographers, as for instance the rather dramatic view of Rambhau Kundgolkar, better known as Sawai Gandharva, being guilty of “betrayal” (p 230). The breaks between Abdul Karim and most of his talented students appear to have resulted out of economic compulsions, and do not seem to have been in all cases permanent. Abdul Karim was photographed with Sawai Gandharva and Shankarrao Sarnaik in 1927, and there clearly were more substantial links between master and pupil through the 1920s and 1930s. Both Balakrishnabua Kapileshwari (Bakhle’s principal source) and Sawai Gandharva sang at the memorial concert for Abdul Karim at the Cavasji Jahangir Hall in Bombay in August 1938. There is little point in pointing out factual inaccuracies but there are some which require correction in future editions. The writer says that “Abdul Karim cut his first record with the Ruby Recording Company” (p 242) at the same time as Hirabai was first making her recordings of Marathi bhajans, that is, in the mid-1920s. It is well

Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2006

known that Abdul Karim recorded 30 odd songs for the Gramophone Company in 1905, and was persuaded to record for Odeon Records (a label of the Ruby Recording Company) only in 1934 (followed by sessions in 1935-36). Hirabai had been recording since 1923.

Music has rarely figured in histories of modern India. It is to Janaki Bakhle’s credit that she attempts to situate a particular episode of musical history in the larger account of the advent of colonial modernity. What needs to be emphasised strongly is that most musicians who practised their craft at this time – the closing decades of the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th – were perforce responding to changes in the political and social climate. The search for new patrons, the alterations in sites of performance, changes in the methods of dissemination and teaching, the accommodation of new forms of taste, are felt deeply by musicians and are strongly impacted in the material production of music. A full account of these changes is still awaited.



Economic and Political Weekly September 9, 2006

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