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Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU

MUSIC: November 29, 1998


Gharana and Bani

Lakshmi Viswanathan

Aterm which one hears less and less in relation to Hindustani classical music today is "gharana". Derived from the Sanskrit "graha" or home, from which the Hindu "ghar" seems to have come, "gharana" denotes family ties, blood relations, common caste or heritage, and living under the same roof. Thus, in music, gharana denotes direct descendants of a master musician, who have trained under him and imbibed the style of the master. The gharana got established over time by collective adherence to style, and technique. At least three generations had to be followers of the school to give the gharana a name, fame and credibility. Usually the gharana took its name from the place where the master lived and taught and also found royal or noble patronage. Thus we have the Gwalior, Jaipur, Kirana, Patiala, Rampur gharanas to name a few. Exceptions of course came to the fore without the support of a gharana label.

Amir Khan who lived in Indore learnt the Sarangi from his father, got influenced by the Kirana gharana in his early singing, evolved a poetic style infused with the Shringara rasa (romantic style) and stood out for his individuality because his music did not belong to a specific category.

Avinash Pasricha
Ustad Vilayat Khan

The other outstanding example with no gharana to his credit was Kumar Gandharwa. A rebel of his time, he rose in people's esteem by virtue of his inspired originality. However, he did, before reaching his eminent position, train for 11 years under Deodhar who staunchly favoured a combination sourced from all schools. Overcoming his limitations, he experimented, succeeded and made an impact. But such originality could not be imparted to students, inspite of his immense popularity among the younger generations of listeners.

To argue the case for a musician to identify himself with a particular gharana in order to succeed as a performer or a teacher is becoming increasingly difficult in today's emerging scenario of wide access to music. Ravi Shankar has written about the rarefied atmosphere of learning under Allaudin Khan in Maihar. Many students had no opportunity to hear any music other than their gurus. There were no radios, cassettes, TVs or CDs to draw their attention.

Some gurus were even tyrannical....forbidding their disciples from going to another master's concert. Many may have heard the story of Mysore Vasudevacharya being virtually condemned by his guru Patnam Subramanya Iyer for attending a concert by Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer.

Great masters exercised great control. On the one hand, such discipline laid strong foundations which helped a student to then grow with confidence, purpose and direction. On the other, that generation is envious of today's disciples who have so many sources of inspiration that they can freely choose and assimilate ideas.

Amar Talwar/Fotomedia
Nishat Khan.

Gharanas were identified mainly by the musician's treatment of the Khayal, and its many facets. Recently Pandit Jasraj spoke about his own Mewati gharana. He lamented that even critics knew only 50 per cent of the "Angs" of his style. The four "Angs" or aspects are Asthayi, Antara, Abhog and Sanchari. If Jasraj treats the raga, Shudh Sarang using particular notes, he knows what he is doing in accordance with his gharana's technique. Jasraj in fact has contributed to the resurgence of an interest in the lyrics of the Khayal which is not true in many styles. With Vaishnavite poetry inspiring him he has carefully nurtured the return of Bakthi to music.

Perhaps yet another classic example of a product of multiple influences is the maestro Bhimsen Joshi. Many may not know that gharanas got stature only because of one particular artist who rose head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Bhimsen Joshi who took a lot from the Kirana gharana, has created his own style by meticulously sourcing from other schools. The Kirana gharana's popularity South of the Vindhyas was the handiwork of one man - Abdul Karim Khan who took it to Maharashtra and then on to Mysore where he received royal patronage. The appeal of this gharana to South Indian listeners perhaps can be traced to Abdul Karim Khan's genius in drawing from the richness of Carnatic musical traditions. With a high pitched voice, he focussed on melody, dwelling on each note of a raga, taking listeners on a slow path of unfolding beauty. By the time Bhimsen Joshi reached his peak, his projection of his gharana had re-invented many aspects. One can now safely state that the distinctions between styles of various gharanas have become so blurred that the relevance of the concept itself is under question.

In the absence of educated listeners who can identify their favourite gharana, personalities who can command an audience reign supreme. It is entirely up to a Shruti Sadolikar, or a Veena Sahasrabudhe or an Ajoy Chakravarthi to maintain contact with their respective gharanas, be it Jaipur, Gwalior or Kirana.

Avinash Pasricha
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan with his father Ustad Alauddin Khan's photograph as backdrop.

In Carnatic music, "Bani" denotes a style or school of singing perfected by a musician. It is derived from the word Vani, meaning voice. Did not Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer evolve a style according to the texture of his voice although he had learnt from his ancestors and from Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer? Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar evolved his Bani and gave it to his disciples. He went a step further and structured a concert for all to follow. Even the idiosyncrasies of Madurai Mani became aspects of a style, although he had other important features like Swara singing worth defining as distinct.

It is said that in Carnatic music, the Bani of individual artists has played a lesser role in the cultivation of followers among musicians, than the oral tradition of learning the great composers' songs from a direct line of disciples. The Trinity, Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshithar and Shyama Sastry, were Vaggeyakars, who taught their disciples and this way, authentic renderings of their compositions have reached todays concert halls.

Avinash Pasricha
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with his father Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan

While a great artist like M.S. Subbulakshmi took from many sources, she was able to mould her own style with her inimitable voice, without entering the realm of becoming a guru. The spectacular proliferation of the G.N. Balasubramaniam - M.L. Vasanthakumari school has been the most significant in the latter half of the century. GNB's style has been combined with a powerful voice by Trissur Ramachandran to evolve his own inputs. M.L.V. soared like a free bird to a higher perch from her guru's nest. Taking a leaf out of that individual approach, Charumathi Ramachandran has harnessed her Bani, absorbed points from others and given credence to originality. The ability to enhance a Bani is the hallmark of an exponent like D.K. Jayaraman who grew out of the D.K. Pattammal school. If today innumerable musicians like Vijay Shiva are following Jayaraman's Bani it is a mark of that quality of expansive adaptability.

Avinash Pasricha
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with his son.

Says musicologist T.S. Parthasarathy: "Take the case of T.N. Seshagopalan who cannot be classified in any Bani. With talent and hard work he has come to the top." The hard work of instrumentalists has made it possible for them to establish a Bani of their own. One may marvel at a Mandolin Srinivas for his expertise, knowing that he has absorbed from many streams of technique. But one must acknowledge the perfection of a superb style, as in the case of Lalgudi Jayaraman, which has virtually showed the way for innumerable violinists. The same is the case of N. Ramani whose style seems to be the soundest for flute artists today. Dilution of a Bani takes place only if the repertoire is not mastered carefully and at leisure. Improvisational aspects of music must also be guided by a Bani, say experts. As otherwise, the depth of 'rasa' in a raga will be missing.

Says Chitra Veena Vidwan Ravi Kiran: "The evolution of an artist is a process, in which he is equipped to listen to other masters and take in the positive aspects of those influences in an analytical manner. He has to individualise these inputs and make it his own." Ultimately it is the rasika who would hopefully use a discerning ear to identify excellence, with or without the stamp of a Bani!


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