What next for Indian classical music?
Two traditions define Hindustani classical music. One is the intimate guru-sishya (teacher-pupil) relationship. The other is the stylistic dynasty defined by geographic location known as a gharana. These traditions combined to establish noble lineages of acclaimed musicians; one example being the Maihar gharana that included sarod masters Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Alauddin Khan, and sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, all seen above*. The Maihar Gharana was founded by the ruling maharajas of Maihar and rose to prominence in 1918, when Maharaja Brijnath Singh Jiu Deo brought Alauddin Khan from Rampur and appointed him court musician in his darbar.
Two recent Overgrown Path posts marked the passing of Alauddin Khan's daughter Panditayen Annapurna Devi. She is best known as the first wife of Ravi Shankar; but her greatest contribution to Indian music was as a teacher with her pupils including Nikhil Banerjee, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nityanand Haldipur, Basant Kabra, Amit Bhattacharya, and Amit Roy. In response to my posts the accomplished sarod player and faculty member at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay Avradeep Pal wrote the following in an email to me:
Many thanks for covering this. To me - Panditayen Annapurna Devi's passing away is very symbolic as she was the last survivor of a golden generation of Indian classical music, including both vocal and instrumental music. This generation was significant as it transformed our music from predominantly elitist royal Indian court music (for the last probably 5-8 centuries, both in terms of audience and learning) to something that's accessible to all members of public all around the world. A hundred years back - the only way you could learn Indian classical music, was if you were somehow connected to the royal court musicians.Avradeep asserts that the future of Indian classical music now officially lies completely in the hands of the next generation, and a recent article in The Tribune India raised concerns about this future that are shared with Western classical music. The duet combination of sitar and sarod was pioneered by Maihar Gharana protegés Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan in the 1950s, but established duos of sitar and sarod are now rare. As a result of hearing the sitar player Lakshay Mohan and sarod player Aayush Mohan perform, Pandit Shankar launched the Mohan Brothers on their debut US tour in 2015 with the backing of the Ravi Shankar Foundation, and since then the brothers have been acclaimed by the media as the harbingers of Indian classical music.
We as practitioners of Indian classical music owe everything to this bygone generation. It's specifically because someone like Ustad Alauddin Khan decided to disseminate this precious musical knowledge outside the family, and because all his contemporaries and stalwart students decided to follow suit, that a person from a middle class and traditionally non musical family, like me, could access this music.
The future of our music now officially lies completely in the hands of the next generation. The last remaining faintest link to the umbilical cord has now been snapped. A generation that has probably never been in royal courts, a generation that has seldom been subject to the strictness of the discipline of a rigorous guru-sishya tradition of learning. A generation almost like no other in the long history of our musical tradition. In other words - I see this as a start of a completely new chapter in Indian classical music.
Speaking to The Tribune the brothers express the view that only an educated audience can save classical music from mediocrity, explaining that "Basic education about Indian classical music can play a crucial role in creating awareness about it and saving it from mediocrity. The more educated the listeners are, the more will be the pressure on musicians to deliver genuine and aesthetically driven music". In other words, East or West, we need to wise up the classical audience.
* Photo by V V Krishnan via The Hindu. My social media accounts are deleted. But new Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).