The past few weeks have seen the sad demise of two senior musicians. They were dissimilar in most ways, but the one thing that they shared was their passion for music. It is this passion that drives sensitive musicians and shapes their trajectories. Their departure is always a great loss for the immediate families, disciples and fans, but their legacies continue through the body of work that is left behind to inspire generations to come.
Arvind Mulgaonkar (1937-2018), a respected scholar-musician, was known for his untiring efforts in documenting and sharing tabla solo repertoire. I saw him for the first time at the launch of his first book Tabla, a detailed work on the theory and practice of tabla solo. I was 10 at the time, so let alone understanding the contents of the book, I was unable to even read it properly. But over the years, I became conversant with Mulgaonkar’s writings and soon realised the immense contribution he had made to the world of tabla over several decades.
Mulgaonkar did not belong to a family of hereditary musicians, but he pursued an in-depth study of the tabla under many gurus. It was, however, his tutelage under revered performer, composer and teacher Amir Hussein Khan that lasted the longest and had a significant impact on him. His second book Athavaninchaa Doha, also in Marathi, focused on his guru Amir Hussein Khan (1897-1969) and memories associated with him.
Mulgaonkar’s electic approach to collecting traditional knowledge and his generosity in sharing repertoire is evident in both books, as they contain numerous compositions belonging to the six major styles of tabla solo, namely, Delhi, Ajrada, Lucknow, Farrukhabad, Banaras and Punjab. He has also provided the names of the composers.
Mulgaonkar’s decision to author books on the tabla follows a long line of scholars and musicians, who chose to write and publish since the 19th century. For instance, in Mumbai, way back in 1883, Gwalior gharana exponent and revered guru Balkrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar (1849-1926) brought out Sangeet Darpan, a monthly magazine consisting of information and lessons for sitar and vocal music. He was helped in this endeavour by sitar player Vishwanath Ramchandra Kale.
Importantly, Mulgaonkar embraced newer formats of dissemination and brought out a DVD entitled Shades of Tabla that incorporated traditional compositions belonging to different gharanas. In addition, he established the Bandish Tabla Art Promotion Trust dedicated to the art of tabla playing and to his guru Amir Hussein Khan.
Mulgaonkar was not a professional musician in the strictest sense of the term, though music remained a serious pursuit through his life. He passed away on February 28 and has left behind a tangible legacy that can benefit students of tabla. Sadly, music students are often not taught to utilise archival sources and other research material in a systematic and conscientious manner, with the result that it is used if at all in a haphazard fashion and without proper acknowledgement of the original source. One can only hope that students and musicians studying material documented by Mulgaonkar, will acknowledge original composers and the source of this information.
A link to his solo recital:
A short clip from his Shades of Tabla is available here:
On March 22, we lost Aslam Hussain Khan (1940-2018), senior vocalist of the Hapur gharana and also one of the leading exponents of the Khurja, Jaipur-Atrauli, Sikandra, Delhi, and Agra gharanas. At home with many musical genres, Aslam Hussain Khan was a proud possessor of choice raags and compositions belonging to various gharanas. But he always made it a point to mention that his ancestors Shaadi Khan and Murad Khan of the Hapur gharana had been court musicians under the royal patronage of Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’, the last Mughal Emperor.
I had the privilege of accompanying him on the tabla for three commercial recordings and several radio, television and live concerts. In fact, my first commercial recording was with him, although it was released only much later.
Clearly, Khan belonged to a social milieu quite different from that of Mulgaonkar. He was also a hereditary professional musician, thus having to meet with challenges and competition that the field threw up. But these did not deter him and he continued to pursue a strict riyaaz or practice regimen even in his later years.
He has left behind a rich legacy in the form of several hundred compositions recorded for various archives in the country. Students, scholars and musicians, will look forward eagerly to the time when these archives will choose to open their doors to make such recordings easily accessible and free of any proprietorial control.
We end with a recital by Aslam Hussain Khan: