There was a time when music used to be served within the confines of magnificent palaces belonging to mighty kings, and music enthusiasts from all over would unite to taste the magical concoction of the ragas. What a period it must have been! Now all we have are tattered walls that once witnessed the soulful rendition of music maestros and pages of history books describing the beauty of the dying art.
Indian classical music has primarily two branches – Carnatic of South India which uses instruments like venu, gottuvadyam, harmonium, veena, mridangam, kanjira, ghatam, violin, among others and Hindustani of North India which basically uses sitar, sarod, tanpura, bansuri, shehnai, sarangi, santoor and tabla. These instruments instantaneously conjures in our minds images of great performers like Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, a distinguished maestro of Sarod, Ustad Bismillah Khan, the renowned shehnai player and recipient of all four civilian awards (Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna), Pandit Ravi Shankar, a living legend who is a genius Sitar player, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, the Santoor star, Ustad Zakir Hussain, notable tabla player, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, the flute genius and vocalists like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi of Hindustani and Dr. Balamuralikrishna of Carnatic genre.
Remember the song ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ that used to air on Doordarshan? Some of these amazing talents have featured in it. The song was a work of absolute brilliance depicting India as a country with ‘unity in diversity’ and showcasing the allure of our ragas and taals. The magnificence of that five and a half minute song is so much that even now, after two decades, you get goose bumps and your eyes get teary whenever you listen to that rendition! This masterpiece was re-created recently using modern sound techniques but unfortunately it failed to create the same magic because the song was nothing but a musical cabaret of movie stars and utterly lengthy.
Indian classical music has come a long way, from the temples where priests would chant Vedic shlokas to palaces where the kings would arrange mehfils and take delight with other worshippers of the pristine art. It is said that during the reign of Akbar, Indian classical music was elevated to a great height; this was primarily due to Tansen, one of Akbar’s Navratnas and supposedly the creator of Hindustani Music. Another talent from that era was Baiju Bawra, a court musician of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior. From palaces, and only recently, Indian classical music has found its place in public venues like convention halls and community parks reaching out to a bigger chunk of society.
Alas, in the times of nation’s growing obsession with Western pop music of the likes of Britney and Beyonce and Bollywood routine of Munni and Sheila, Indian classical music has taken a backseat. Of course, we do have protégés of bygone generation like Ayaan and Amaan (sons of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan), Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Pandit Ravi Shankar) and Rahul Sharma (son of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma) following their father’s footsteps. But we need more, don’t we? The responsibility is partly on us to carry forward the torch of our ancient tradition, prevent cultural devastation and demise of the essence of Indian classical music.