Music played an important role in furthering the nationalist cause during the Independence movement. Patriotism, unity, equality and other similar themes were the subject of songs that were sung as part of the prabhat pheris or early morning processions that were part of the agitational repertoire of the freedom fighters. Songs focusing on specific political leaders were also included on such occasions.
Some Hindustani musicians also sang songs of patriotism in certain situations. It is well known that music educationist and vocalist Vishnu Digambar Paluskar sang Vande Mataram at some annual sessions of the Indian National Congress. But others also responded to the political climate. For example, Manji Khan composed and sang a song Charkheke Karaamatse Lenge Swarajya Lenge at the Blavatsky Lodge in Bombay in 1930 in support of the Swadeshi Movement and taught this song to children participating in the prabhat pheris.
Even Gauhar Jan, the iconic vocalist of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, was featured in a special concert held in Bombay on July 15, 1922. This concert was held in aid of BG Horniman, the editor of The Bombay Chronicle during the second decade of the twentieth century. Horniman who had been deported to the United Kingdom by the colonial government for his articles against the Rowlatt Act and the Jallianwala Baug massacre that took place in 1919.
An advertisement that appeared in The Bombay Chronicle mentions the Balliwala Grand Theatre as the venue of the concert, and the repertoire was to include songs on Gandhi, the charkha, khadi and more, all with a nationalist bent. Unfortunately, I have not come across any post-concert report or review that would help us assess the impact of this concert. But it is significant that Gauhar Jan performed on this occasion.
Did she do so because she was aligned with the nationalist cause, or did she see it as another concert opportunity? The repertoire that was announced suggests that she did align with the cause since she chose to sing songs specifically focusing on the issues at hand and was not going to present thumri, dadra, or other Hindustani forms, for which she was popularly known.
We do not have an illustration of any of the songs that Gauhar Jan sang on this occasion, as she does not seem to have recorded them for public dissemination. We also do not have too many instances of other Hindustani musicians singing similar repertoire on commercial recordings other than renditions of different interpretations of Vande Mataram.
But if any of the readers wish to listen to such songs, you can tune in to a special thematic concert to be presented by Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Mumbai, and Mani Bhavan Granth Sangrahalaya, on October 2, 2021. It will be premiered at 5 pm.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.