Monday, July 26, 2010

The Classical Music Heritage of Islamic Thought

There is no historical knowledge how music was presented in the social setting of ancient India

It is, however, obvious that during the medieval, the so- called ‘Muslim’ period music acquired a respectable place in the set of entertainments which rulers, princes and rich people made available to themselves, In this setting, Dhrupad gave way to a lighter form of music which came to be known as Kheyal. Kheyal is an Urdu word meaning ‘emotion.’  In other words, the song or the poem became an important element, unlike Dhrupad where the chain of sounds was the main frame. The Kheyal is the mainstream classical music as performed today

Kheyal starts with alaap, in lower sounds and in slow motion. This is intended to unfold the ‘face’ of the Raag, its swaroop. The song has two alternating parts, sthayi (stable) and antara (higher). Sthayi is the resting level where the singing must return every time after having covered the ascendancy of the antara.

The whole performance of Kheyal is embellished by frequent taans, presented either in terms of the swars as pronounced, that is Sa, Re, etc., or just as vowels at the same sound levels. As for rhythm, after alaap the singing stays at a normal rhythm, but it gradually speeds up until we reach a crescendo which is presented as tarana. The consonants and the vowels which make the ‘words’ in tarana are without meaning - as in a mantra - and to make this a true representation of the Raag requires some skill.

 Jugalbandi, or a duet, is one of the interesting ways in which classical music is presented. The two performers may not be of the same class, although there are two famous cases of brothers, both vocalists, performing together, Nazakat Ali- Salamat Ali of Pakistan and Rajan Mishra- Sajan Mishra of Varanasi

 For the purists, ‘light classical’ or ‘semi- classical’ is an area of controversy. This class includes Thumri, Dadra, Tappa and Holi. The Thumri developed in about 18th century and was practiced mainly by courtesans for the entertainment of the rich. Varanasi and Gaya came to be known as the most prolific centers of Thumri. The practitioners of this genre do not accept its designation as ‘semi-classical’. It is pointed out, with good justification, that if Raag and Taal are both being adhered to, nothing else is required to name it ‘classical’. 

Poetry is the main component in a Ghazal. In fact, ‘ghazal’ is the name of a particular form of Urdu poetry, which is generally romantic, and sometimes devotional. Ghazal need not incorporate any Raag and is not contained within the discipline of Taal. The Ghazal singer needs only a light support of Tabla. Quite frequently, instead of the performer adhering to the framework of Taal, it is the Tabla player who adheres to the way the singing takes place. Understandably, the eminent Ghazal singers have used the lyrics of great Urdu poets, such as Zauq, Ghalib, Meer, or Faiz Ahmad Faiz. The words of the poem sometimes contribute much more to the listener’s pleasure than the music through which it is presented. Not being bound down with Raag and Taal, Ghazal singers are able to display great originality and innovation is the frills they provide.

Qawwali emerged as the musical expression of Sufi thought. Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, arose in Arabia and Iran about 9th century, as a philosophical movement within Islam which places man in a passionate, emotional relationship with God and ultimately in union with Him. As far as is known, the musical presentation of Sufi experience as Qawwali was not developed until about 15th century when Sufi orders arose in different parts of India.
Undoubtedly, Amir Khusro, prince, poet, musician and Sufi, was the one who developed Qawwali in 15th century as a combination of mysticism with music. Qawwalis are presented at important Muslim shrines such as Salim Chishti in Ajmer and Nizamuddin in Delhi, as Kirtan is presented in Hindu temples. With several singers participating in a Qawwali, an orchestration of human voice rises, wave after wave, and when the poetry is deeply devotional, it casts a spell over the listeners. Great Qawwals have reasonably good classical training and they provide such inputs as aalap, tan, and even tarana, making a powerful presentation of rich music. A number of the songs still being presented are the compositions of Amir Khusro himself. Since such mystic experience is human rather than scriptural, the poetry employs images, metaphors, even stories taken from both Hinduism and Islam, and has a philosophical, rather than a communal flavor.

The word gharana, literally meaning a household in Hindi, is used in classical music to refer to a lineage of masters and disciples that have evolved a common style. The many gharanas of Indian classical music offer their own unique flavors and nuances, which are quite recognizable to the trained ear. Gwalior gharana is considered to be the fountainhead of all gharanas from where other vocalists learned classical music from their gurus and migrated to other locations if they were of extraordinary merit.

The gharanas were never based on the name of these ustads but the places where they had settled. Thus we have Agra gharana (not the Faiyaz Khan gharana). Following this convention, there are Patiala gharana, Kirana gharana and, of course, Gwalior, Jaipur and Indore gharanas. These came to be known as the principal ones. These gharanas had a distinct flavor of their own.

Indian classical music, never written and, therefore, never distributed to aspiring musicians, is learned at the feet of one's master. Ustad Allauddin Khan, when learning his craft, even worked as a domestic servant in his master's home.

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