Far from the monolithic concept of nationalism that we often encounter today, composers from the world of Hindustani music in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were inclusive in innovative ways. Indeed, their practice was obviously influenced by the era in which they lived, and their inclusiveness may at times have been motivated by their desire to satisfy the patrons they served.
However, it is quite evident from diverse arts practices during this period that there was a constant exchange of ideas across disciplines and geographical areas. Also, their inclusiveness was tempered by existing social hierarchies. But the latter is an issue that needs a separate discussion.
Today, we begin a series focusing on compositions that use different languages in song-texts for khayal, thumri, tappa or tarana compositions. We find a mix of Braj bhasha, Awadhi, Urdu, Punjabi, Marwari and even Persian. A single composition may have one of these, but there are many cases where we find more than one blended seamlessly.
Unfortunately, the oral tradition has at times played havoc with the words with the result that some texts cannot be comprehended in their entirety, or some have multiple versions depending on how they were internalised and transmitted through successive generations. The printer’s devil has also played tricks on some compositions that have been compiled in publications dating back to the nineteenth century, and those who follow these compilations unquestioningly seem to validate the misprinted words through their performances.
Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we have seen an increasing number of vocalists who are not acquainted with different languages used in song-texts and who may not wish to engage with the text beyond its use to hold a melodic line. This has also posed a problem in negotiating old song-texts.
Perhaps, the younger generation of vocalists could consider revisiting these song-texts and deciphering them not only to understand them better and to examine ways in which this understanding could add to the expressiveness of the composition, but to also make inclusiveness a more meaningful concept than an official “national integration” model.
We include a track in this episode that showcases a composition in Punjabi created by eighteenth-century composer Niamat Khan “Sadarang”, whose khayal compositions are sung across gharanas. Versions of this are sung by different vocalists that do not necessarily always provide a meaning to the text even to a Punjabi-speaking person today.
Printed versions also differ from what is heard in many performances. Even so, here is Patiala gharana maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan presenting this bandish or composition. It is in the raag Hameer and is set to a medium tempo 12-matra Ektaal.
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.