Sonic Saturday

Listen: Doyens of Lucknow gharana display the khulaa baaj, a tabla-playing style inspired by Kathak

Our series on the percussion instrument moves towards India's heartland.

After a brief diversion last week on child prodigies in Hindustani music, to mark Children’s Day, Sonic Saturdays resumes its series on the tabla gharanas.

After visiting recordings of maestros representing the band or bund baaj style of the Delhi and Ajrada gharanas, we move on to the schools that explore the khulaa baaj. This style focuses on the sur or lav bols or strokes that are played in the inner ring of the daayaan the right-hand skin-top between the kinaar, which is the outer ring, and the syaahi (black portion in the centre). Varieties of gat, tukda, and chakradaar are the main forms that fall in this category. This baaj is heavily influenced by pakhawaj bols and incorporates strokes produced by all fingers in unison or the entire palm. The latter has also lent this style other names like hatheli kaa baaj or thaapiyaa baaj.

The popularity of Kathak dance in Lucknow and the evolution of instrumental performances posed a different challenge to tabla players, and this was perhaps the beginning of the khulaa baaj popularised by the Lucknow, Farrukhabad and Banaras styles.

Collectively known as the Purab gharana or baaj, the three have had strong associations with Kathak dance, the thumri-dadra genres and instrumental music. They are also linked by a master-disciple lineage. In fact, the first two even had family ties.

Lucknow gharana

This week’s column features maestros of the Lucknow gharana, which started with Mia Bakshu.

Doyen of the Lucknow lineage, Wajid Hussein Khan, recorded in 1971, plays a solo in Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time units. Although he plays some compositions from other gharanas, the main focus of this performance stays on the Lucknow repertoire. In particular, Khan plays a few rav compositions. The rav, an extendable form also referred to as rao or lao, is said to have been inspired by the drumming heard as part of Muharram processions, where a larger drum maintains an outline and a smaller drum introduces intricate strokes to fit into this structure. A rav consists of a basic outline and the spaces between its bols are filled with other finely woven bols that are subsequently added and demand tremendous dexterity from the performer.

Wajid Hussein Khan ends his recital with a series of shorter compositions like gats, tukdas and chakradaars.

Play

The next track is a live concert recording featuring Wajid Hussein Khan.

Play

The concluding track features Afaq Hussein Khan, son of Wajid Hussein Khan. The recording made in 1958 reflects the amazing virtuosity and tonal quality that Afaq Hussein Khan was known for.

Play
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Decoding the symbolic threads and badges of one of India’s oldest cavalry units

The untold story of The President’s Bodyguard.

The national emblem of India; an open parachute and crossed lances – this triad of symbols representing the nation, excellence in training and valor respectively are held together by an elite title in the Indian army – The President’s Bodyguard (PBG).

The PBG badge is worn by one of the oldest cavalry units in the India army. In 1773, Governor Warren Hastings, former Governor General of India, handpicked 50 troopers. Before independence, this unit was referred to by many titles including Troops of Horse Guards and Governor General’s Body Guards (GGBG). In 1950, the unit was named The President’s Bodyguard and can be seen embroidered in the curved maroon shoulder titles on their current uniforms.

The President’s Bodyguard’s uniform adorns itself with proud colours and symbols of its 245 year-old-legacy. Dating back to 1980, the ceremonial uniform consists of a bright red long coat with gold girdles and white breeches, a blue and gold ceremonial turban with a distinctive fan and Napoleon Boots with spurs. Each member of the mounted unit carries a special 3-meter-long bamboo cavalry lance, decorated by a red and white pennant. A sheathed cavalry sabre is carried in in the side of the saddle of each trooper.

While common perception is that the PBG mainly have ceremonial duties such as that of being the President’s escort during Republic Day parade, the fact is that the members of the PBG are highly trained. Handpicked by the President’s Secretariat from mainstream armored regiments, the unit assigns a task force regularly for Siachen and UN peace keeping operations. Moreover, the cavalry members are trained combat parachutists – thus decorating the PBG uniform with a scarlet Para Wings badge that signifies that these troopers are a part of the airborne battalion of the India Army.

Since their foundation, the President’s Guard has won many battle honors. In 1811, they won their first battle honor ‘Java’. In 1824, they sailed over Kalla Pani for the first Burmese War and earned the second battle honour ‘Ava’. The battle of Maharajapore in 1843 won them their third battle honor. Consequently, the PBG fought in the main battles of the First Sikh War and earned four battle honours. Post-independence, the PBG served the country in the 1962 Indo-China war and the 1965 Indo-Pak war.

The PBG, one of the senior most regiments of the Indian Army, is a unique unit. While the uniform is befitting of its traditional and ceremonial role, the badges that augment those threads, tell the story of its impressive history and victories.

How have they managed to maintain their customs for more than 2 centuries? A National Geographic exclusive captures the PBG’s untold story. The documentary series showcases the discipline that goes into making the ceremonial protectors of the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces.

Play

The National Geographic exclusive is a landmark in television and is being celebrated by the #untoldstory contest. The contest will give 5 lucky winners an exclusive pass to the pre-screening of the documentary with the Hon’ble President of India at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. You can also nominate someone you think deserves to be a part of the screening. Follow #UntoldStory on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to participate.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic and not by the Scroll editorial team.