ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Khayal Gharana and the 20th-century Woman Musician

The Khayal Gharana and the 20th-century Woman Musician

How can we think about the figure of the 20th-century woman musician from the perspective of musical creativity and aesthetics in khayal?

Among the many transformations in Hindustani khayal music since the early 20th-century was the emergence of women performers from diverse backgrounds. Prior to this period, courtesans had performed khayal as a small part of their repertoire, but the genre had been the domain primarily of male hereditary professionals—master-musicians who trained within the familial structures of patrilineal gharanas. The gradual marginalisation of courtesans, and the absorption of their performance traditions within Ustadi repertoire, is a crucial part of the history of North Indian classical music. Over the course of the century, as forces of nationalism, modernisation and democratisation came to shape the genre’s social contexts, training and performance opportunities opened up also for women aspirants from middle-class and elite backgrounds. Eventually, women khayal musicians rose in prominence as representatives and teachers of several gharanas.

In academic scholarship, the figure of the woman performer of North Indian classical music has been primarily of socio-historical interest. Lending a keen ear to different classical and semi-classical genres, scholars have also analysed how these genres express gender. I propose a corollary question: Given that gharanas—the foundational aesthetic frameworks in khayal even today—emerge from the contexts of male musicianship, and only later assume gender neutrality, what kinds of generalised insights can we draw about gharana stylistics in relation to the woman musician and the woman pedagogue over the past century? More generally, how can we think about the figure of the 20th-century woman musician from the perspective of musical creativity and aesthetics in khayal?

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Updated On : 7th Apr, 2021

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