The first week of June this year saw four days of celebration in the United Kingdom as a culmination of festivities that marked the Platinum Jubilee or 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II as the British monarch. Several Indians in the United Kingdom participated in the celebration and Bollywood music and dance played an important part of their offerings on this occasion.
But history informs us that this was not the first time that musical offerings were made by Indians to celebrate a British monarch’s long years of service. In fact, a special music concert was held in Mumbai back on February 15, 1887, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne of England.
The programme was organised under the aegis of the Parsi Gayan Uttejak Mandali, probably the first formal music club to have been established in the city. It had been set up in 1870 to popularise the learning and performance of Hindustani music among Parsi families.
During this period, nascent national consciousness among most of the intellectual elite including social reformers, with a few exceptions, was tempered by an overriding belief that colonial rule was “divine providence”. This belief was amply reflected in special musical items that were presented to express the Mandali’s loyalty to the British Crown.
For instance, in 1882, a National Anthem Committee was set up to establish God Save the Queen as the National Anthem in India. This was to be accomplished by engaging specific Indians to translate the anthem in various local languages.
In Mumbai, novelist, playwright, and journalist Kaikhushro Navrojee Kabrajee, the founder of the Mandali, had translated the anthem into Gujarati and it had been sung on several occasions and as part of the Mandali jalsas or programmes.
As part of the National Anthem Project, his Gujarati version was sung at a function held at the Framji Cawasjee Institute in the presence of Sir James Fergusson, the Governor of Bombay.
A couple of years ago, this column tried to reimagine a concert that the Mandali had organised in 1890, based on information provided in a programme note pertaining to it.
Today, we try to recreate the first jalsa held by the Mandali on April 28, 1871, which concluded with the Gujarati version of God Save the Queen. The repertoire presented on that occasion as represented in the compendium published in 1887 and mentioned earlier consisted of varied forms like dhrupad, khayal, chatarang, tappa, ghazal, thumri, dadra, hori, lavni, pada, garba, and tillana.
The compositions in these forms were in different raags, namely, Yaman Kalyan, Jhinjhoti Pahadi, Kalyan, Jhinjhoti, Kalyan, Jangla, Khamaj, Bhupali, Todi, Kalingda, Kanada, Asavari, Bhairavi, Des, and Pilu.
A report on the Mandali activities entitled Gayan Uttejak Mandali: Teni Poni Sadini Tawarikhno Ahewal, published by in 1946, provides a list that is at variance to the one given in the compilation of 1887. The report states that the concert was divided into three sections and included 36 compositions.
Instrumental ensembles that included Indian and Western instruments were featured and readings from Dickens and a Gujarati text were also amongst the many presentations. I have discussed elsewhere the possible reasons for including so many diverse forms and raags in Hindustani Music in Colonial Bombay.
For us to get a flavour of what this mix of compositions would have sounded like, here is a selection of tracks that have been recorded closer to our times. We begin with the first dhrupad that was presented on that occasion. On the following track, maestros Nasir Mohinuddin Dagar and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar present a detailed aalaap followed by the composition set to the 12-matra Chautaal in the raag Yaman.
Unfortunately, I could not find tracks corresponding to many of the compositions that were presented on this occasion. But here is a link to one of the two Ingraji gayan or English songs that were sung.
The inclusion of Indian and Western instruments in the Mandali programme and the wide variety of compositions that even featured English songs, may come as a surprise to those of us who believe that intercultural musical experiments are a recent phenomenon.
The information provided in the Mandali compendium suggests that the Hindustani vocal compositions were interspersed with folk repertoire and the English songs. I have, therefore, chosen to follow this with a presentation of the raag Bageshri Kanada by Amir Khan, the renowned founder of the Indore gharana.
He sings a vilambit, or slow composition, that was sung at the Mandali concert. The compendium lists this composition as a Kanada without any prefix, but it is generally accepted by Hindustani vocalists as a khayal in Bageshri Kanada. Amir Khan sings the composition in the 14-matra Jhumra and follows it with a drut, or fast composition, set to the 16-matra Teentaal.
Since we do not have a track of the Gujarati version of God save the Queen, we conclude with a short recording of the original track accompanying the coronation ceremony of King George VI in 1937. The Gujarati translation was sung to the same melody.
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.