Among the themes explored in song-texts pertaining to Hindustani vocal genres, the devotional aspect is clearly noticeable. In particular, Hindu and Islamic imagery is found in many compositions. But there are also instances of padas or poetic texts written by poets belonging to specific religious sects finding place in Hindustani repertoire. Often, they are adapted to suit a particular musical genre or to allow more freedom for melodic and rhythmic improvisation. This clearly demonstrates the eclectic approach of musicians in moving away from repertoire expressly meant for Hindustani music and borrowing from other textual material.
This column has earlier featured compositions that reflect the influence of the Sufi mystico-religious tradition on Hindustani vocal music. Today, we listen to a few compositions that borrow from the Hindu stream.
Padas or poetic texts belonging to the Vaishnav temple tradition have found their way into Hindustani music. The first example included here is presented as a vilambit or slow khayal composition in Hindustani recitals but is originally a temple pada. Composed in the raag Bihagda and set to Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time-units, this track features a performance by Jaipur-Atrauli gharana exponent Mogubai Kurdikar.
The second track features Patialia gharana maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan singing a famous composition in the raag Bihag, set to a medium-tempo Teentaal. Some vocalists sing it as a bandish ki thumri, but most sing it as a medium-paced khayal.
Siddheshwari Devi, one of the best-known thumri exponents of all time, sings a thumri that uses the song-text of a pada written by the fifteenth-sixteenth-century Vaishnav poet Surdas. The thumri is set to the 14-matra Deepchandi.
It is obvious from all the examples we have heard and from those that have been featured in this series that devotional song-texts have played an important role in the concert repertoire of Hindustani vocalists. Whether it was to satisfy a creative impulse or to cater to a wider audience or to even spontaneously respond in a performance held in the precincts of a place of worship, vocalists have all along borrowed or adapted from these song-texts.
We end this week’s column and this series with another rendition by Siddheshwari Devi. Here, she sings a line from a pada written by fifteenth-sixteenth-century poet Kabir in a manner that is reminiscent of the Dadra form. She inserts couplets that highlight the literal meaning of the first line. Perhaps, this would be the best example to look beyond narrow textual and musical confines and cast away all kinds of prejudice.