When was the last time that we heard of politicians battling it out to name a street, a garden or a similar public place after a musician – or any artist for that matter? I must confess that I cannot recall any such occasion (but I am hoping to be surprised at some point).
But even as artists are on the periphery of politicians’ visions, what about those in the artist community? Most artists are quick to seek acknowledgement for themselves or their family members or those who have been close collaborators but are completely indifferent about those who preceded them and made vital contributions to their fields and to society. In fact, with the race for renaming streets, I wonder if even those that have been named after artists will soon be changed to names of deceased politicians.
Recently, there has been a demand to rename Akbar Road in Delhi. I fear there will soon be a call to rename Tansen Road situated in the same vicinity, simply because Tansen was the one of the principal musicians at Emperor Akbar’s court.
For the unthinking, anything even remotely connected with the Mughal empire is worth casting into the dustbin of history. Never mind the fact that we continue to sing forms and raags that date back to Tansen’s time or some raags like Mia ki Todi, Mia ki Sarang and Darbari Kanada that are considered to be his creations, albeit probably not in the manner that they were presented during that period.
In fact, for generations until today, Hindustani musicians have vied with each other to claim a link with Tansen’s genealogy, as that has for long been an important factor considered to prove historicity, legitimacy, musical “authenticity” and “purity”. If we were to take the illogic of renaming roads a step further, some may even consider renaming institutions and festivals that bear the name Tansen, all in the hope of severing any links with the Mughal empire.
I wonder if musicians will remain mute witnesses to such a reinterpretation of history or will even support wholeheartedly these attempts to position themselves close to the seat of power.
We end with a concert recording featuring Nasir Moinuddin Dagar and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar, who were popularly known as the senior Dagar brothers. They present a dhrupad composed by Mia Tansen in the raag Malkauns and set to the 12-matra Chautaal.
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.