Evolution of Indian Classical Music

timeless Notes

By Rajiv Trivedi



{An estimate of Indian Classical Music as practiced across the globe in 2016}


Music is considered and studied more often as social phenomena than as a discipline. It is natural; because, while the latter concerns the breed of creators, the former represents the recipients, and there are more recipients exponentially than there are creators. Formalism was brought to genre of Indian Classical Music by Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande that helped establish it as a fringe activity, by gradually ridding it of attached stigma. [Why, stigma? Around the world prejudice against music kept many a talent from burgeoning. For historical response of Indian mainstream to music, see Thumri ki Utpatti, Vikas aur Shailliyan]   For a while, introduction of music into mainstream households through education, gained its practitioners some degree of respectability. But as education itself underwent several changes, foundation of music was weakened by removing it from schools, with limited colleges and universities offering courses to students who had neither a clue to innate musical talent nor any years of practice of music as skill. Thus, performance and knowledge of discipline were once again severed. This brings the relationship between artiste and his listener to fore. Till a century back the artiste and listener had only one kind of connection -- person to person, sharing same time and locale. Today the relationship has two forms -- on-stage and off-line. The third possibility -- virtual interaction -- is in experimental stage and might involve inclusion in such a discussion a few years, later.

Almost a decade back an esteemed music critic observed that when the listener in a metropolis has to invest two to three hours to reach the concert hall, he would not cherish listening to a single recital of almost equal length. Apart from academics, journalists and critics, musicians too have wondered about the change in receptivity of an average listener attending concert on Indian Classical Music. They wonder if they have to perform for the same Rasik whose characteristic mind-set is described in the very classics, which carry incontrovertible principles governing their music, to this day?

Aesthete or Rasik, is significant in Indian music, for fulfilling its goal of attaining Anand Sahodar -- a bond in bliss -- between performer/ artiste and listener/ viewer/ enjoyer. Only when there is full transference of aesthetic emotion (Ras-Nishpatti), is the ideal of art attained. The melodic form that has evolved to date, involves a minimum of two artistes -- one to detail and elaborate notes, the other to delineate the tempo and underlying rhyme schema. There could be several other artistes to support performance by providing base notes, base tempo and interludes. With gradual development of the art-form, percussion improved in certain areas, but its function has remained the same. Like other instrumentalists, the percussionist accompanies the main instrumentalist or the vocalist. The distinct roles of the two -- singer/ instrument player and the percussionist -- blend together to create music for heightened enjoyment. The term for this in parlance is 'Sangat' -- Sang+ ta (sounds 'at' with softened 't'). 'Sang' is used to mean company or with (together), and addition of 'ta' indicates the noun form of the act; thus accompaniment or together-ness. The sound of percussion, because of rhythm and tempo appeals on one level, the notes on another. Even without percussion, the presentation of singer carries the idea of rhythm and tempo along with play of notes; rhythm has primary appeal.

With ease of access, in almost all recitals, there is a large number of 'fresh' or 'light' listeners. The first adjective indicates lack of familiarity of the discipline, the second highlights their preference for instant appeal. So, while some decades back, when classical music was the privilege of the few, the artiste had full freedom of expression. The artiste would try out as complex variations as possible and the percussionist would try his best not to be outdone. If it ever came near seeming to be a duel, it was one the artiste had with his own mastery of the discipline and not with the other. If the percussionist was well versed, he would be able to out-guess the complexity of rhythmic pattern and would not get thrown off-beat. Similarly, when the percussionist started a complex pattern without change in tempo, the singer would face the challenge of following the beat-cycle. It was not spontaneous in the sense of creating a new musical pattern, but more like having the ability to solve a problem on fly, where one's knowledge bank alone was of help. But, as the two parts of performance -- rhythm and notes -- would intertwine and separate like the double-helix in DNA, the listeners would be thrilled by the perfection of un-rehearsed performance, which evolves right before them. The perfection of this Jugalbandi (literally, twin-bonding) of singer-player and the percussionist would accord pleasure to the erudite. A lay-listener is more apt to understand the percussion patterns but beyond a superficial level is unable to follow the complexity in singer/ player's rendering of Raga. As the number of simplistic listeners reached the hitherto privileged domain, they responded with spontaneous appreciation wherever they found appeal in the recital. Clapping replaced the subtle marks of appreciation as slant of chin, the lift of an eyebrow, the nod or bowing of head, the inward curve of fingers lifted mujra-fashion. And almost always, the best claps were for the percussion.

In an interview [Contemporary Indian Music], Pt. Manilal Nag and daughter Mita Nag reflect about the sensibilities of a modern Rasik. Pt. Nag speaks about the state of a modern recital. As practitioners achieved skill, they gained stature of solo-artiste, and Tabla, Pakhawaj, Ghatam recitals began to be included as independent performance in music shows and festivals. The erudite Sitar artiste finds that a whole generation of Tabla artistes has come up who even when acting as accompanist, want to display their own skill, instead of giving company to Pt. Nag. Without evaluating whether a particular pattern suits the mood of the recital, they play for the gallery. The main artiste has no choice but to go on playing on his own. The ideal of togetherness is lost, as the percussionist aims for lime-light alone. In a way, the response of the listeners has brought about the divorce in the concert presentation.

In the same interview Mita Nag recalls a concert organized by a prestigious organization in Kolkata. The performance involving a traditional Alap was appreciated by the audience but newspaper next morning were filled with plaint that in place of long Alap, another Raga could have been played. Clearly, it is a case of inverted complaint. Artistes of yore would refuse to perform if even a single person expressed ignorance by clapping or appreciating at the wrong juncture. It was not flawed appreciation, but break in concentration that disturbed the artiste. Those who have attended concerts of Vidushi Kishori Amonkar, would understand this. One who plays or sings out of memory, performs out of rote; one whose rendering involves spontaneity, requires to look within.

Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, makes acute comments on the pay of opera singers and the like. He observes,

"There are some very agreeable and beautiful talents of which the possession commands a certain sort of admiration; but of which the exercise for the sake of gain is considered, whether from reason or prejudice, as a sort of public prostitution. The pecuniary recompense, therefore, of those who exercise them in this manner, must be sufficient, not only to pay for the time, labour, and expense of acquiring the talents, but for the discredit which attends the employment of them as the means of subsistence."

It is again Adam Smith who forwarded the idea that poets and artistes don't seek their reward in money but in admiration, and followed it with argument that as money and admiration are both forms of currency used to seek recompense, dismisses any notion of exaltation in practice of poetry, music etc. By this casual denial he decimates the aesthete, the Rasika, making way for the consumer. And so in the garb of a consumer, the modern Rasika goes shopping for bargains in a concert hall. Naturally, he would get disappointed if there are not enough wares.

In a way, this plays out the concept of 'paralysis of choice' as studied by Barry Schwartz in his 2005 book, 'The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less'. In another article he observes that, "increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as jobs". The modern consumer-listener has the choice of listening to gramophone records, tapes, cassette-tapes, compact discs and digitized music over internet; moreover, a lot of it is free. So, instead of listening to a single Raga, Gaud-Sarang, he wishes to hear a recital that gives him all three: Gaud, Sarang and Gaud-Sarang. But if the artiste were to give him all three, reducing each Raga-rendering to thirty minutes, he may feel dissatisfied that he could have listened to Basanti, Kedar and Basanti-Kedar as well, if the artiste had made fifteen minute presentations. It is long forgotten that unfolding of a Raga involves subjectivity on part of listener as well and when he gets involved fully, by the time performance reaches its end, he is as satiated as the artiste. Actually, it is the duration of total immersion that counts. The whole Raga presentation structure is geared towards increasing the listener’s participation to the point of full immersion. Once that point is reached, he seeks little interaction with anything else in a desire to keep make the moment of bliss secure within.

So strong is the love for numbers that there is little thought given to fulfilment; quantity scores over quality. A legendary stalwart belonging to a pristine tradition known for its complex blends and rare compositions, received invitation from All India Radio to record five minutes of each composition. The institution’s archival holding (Akashvani) has just six pieces on Vichitra Veena by Dr. Lalmani Misra, an artiste who happened to be the first choice of UNESCO when it started its collection of music to preserve World heritage. But due to some departmental 'limitations' at Akashvani, we do not have full renderings of such Raga-s as Gandhari & Laxmi Todi, which can only find full expression on a fretless five-octave instrument like Vichitra Veena, and today are heir to these classic Raga-s, only for durations of 3 minutes 18 seconds, 3 minute 17 seconds respectively. At the same time, we should also feel grateful to the unknown individual employee, who took the initiative to preserve at least this much despite functional road-blocks. The same record- and tape-duration-hampered Akashvani of past, today offers radio-over-internet (Akashvani), where there is no physical constraint. It can afford to play recording of any length today; only, it has pieces of limited duration. More, in many situations, may be better than less. All of us want more pixels on our screens, greater resolution in cameras; more makes it work better. The secret is understanding the superiority of more in depth over more in width. So, on one hand we can have more in time; while, on other we may opt for more in variety. So, while recordings in archival holding are varied and some of undeniable quality, ensuring high-resolution and long-duration recordings of complex, less-performed Raga-s would have made the holdings, all the more, rich.

The case of Indian Classical Music occupies a pretty unique position. Unlike its western classical counterpart, it never rested on finished, fixed compositions. Some scholars choose to call it art-music because of the freedom granted to artiste for spontaneous creation. While the frame work or Raga-structure remains well defined with characteristic phrasal movements, the artiste has ample latitude to make applications as he chooses. The same artiste can present a particular Raga that through his varying choice, may evoke different responses in the same listener. The existence of this choice, of possibility, of the unpredictable, grants this music animus, which appeals to life itself. Precisely, because of this ability to differ, to change, this genre of music cannot be termed Art-music, which denotes aesthetics, perfection, even excellence but also a certain frigidity that is opposed to lively essence of Indian music. Indian Classical Music evolved with the idea of attaining the sublime and its end became sharing that moment of sublimity with the audience. From reality of sharing same time and place, the artiste and aesthete together move towards transcendence where bliss replaces consciousness of all earthiness. Essentially, it holds value only in attaining this end -- freedom from earth-binding consciousness.

When music recordings showed the sign of a becoming routine part of life, musicians were appalled. To Schoenberg, the ease of access was the drowning of wonder in “boundless surfeit of music”. It was a means of destroying the very essence through ubiquity. Also, the recorded music through endless repetition would render any piece of music ordinary and stale. On the other hand, the dreaded domestication would make music accessible to greater number of people. The proponents argued -- the extended reach would result in greater appreciation and increased opportunities for enhanced creativity. More... more... and more! The paradigm of 'more is better' lives strong.

In Indian context, musicians (who, in gross opposition to Adam Smith's principle of admiration as currency, treated music as worship, an offering of gratitude for having been granted musical ability) refused to record. To adherents of music-as-worship, recording would stain the self-less offering, with introduction of persona. The music would be identified through the voice of a particular person or get associated with a name; such association would corrupt the sanctity of prayer. When the very aim of their practice was to escape time and place, why would they wish to leave a mark on history? But where gold stops to function, lesser metals and alloys come to ploy. So with an open field, practitioners with more earthy ideals and rationality stepped in. The next generation of noble-musicians was further challenged with time-constraint. Almost seven decades since this turn in music-history, Indian music and musicians face still another challenge -- recording and distribution of music in the post-digital age of cloud.

Streaming music in a country with poor bandwidth has still not become mainstream but it is a market held in check only till right technologies get implemented. Everyone is conversant with free download and is able to enjoy favourites one way or another. Apps and channels are already building a user base.  There are ample tech-savvy young artistes willing and ready to ride the next wave. They have no lofty ideals of music being an offering or prayer; or there being any classical principle or ordinance which directs the inter-relationship of notes. Freed of such inhibiting mores, Indian classical music is on verge of taking the leap into the brilliant arena of Sansargaja. The idea is age-old. Bharat himself identified the domain of Sansargaja -- the world of induced sounds which mirrors part of music without existence of any inter-relationship of notes.

In the age of equalization, everything on a flattened earth finds equal display. The unstated principle, that only a limited few would survive, finds full acquiescence. Equally accepted is the dictum, market dictates survival -- that which sells, survives. Present day scholars, musicians and well-wishers, arrive at a point where 'to attract wider cross-section of people to listen to this music-style we require to first believe that ICM has the quality of wider penetration'. With this query as start-point, they examine the problem thus:
1.     What properties in the ICM are deterring wider cross-section of people from listening to it?
2.     Should we use certain ICM expression tools with more caution for wider penetration?
3.     Should we add additional limits on ICM renderings for wider penetration?

The premise involves following concepts --
a. to attract wider cross-section of people
b. to listen to this music-style
c. first believe that ICM has the quality of wider penetration

So, the concern of ICM well-wishers actually involves selling (a) a product (b) with internal pitch for salespersons (c). The strategy to attain this end involves (1) determination of deterring qualities, (2) restriction of characteristic expressions (3) restricting duration. The conclusion to such an obvious inquiry would remove all negative practices (Alap, Jod elaborations) and expressions (complex rhythm pattern; gradual mood-building) and zip up presentation in 350 - 500 seconds flat.

By the very fact of concepts involved in 'concern for ICM' above, it is clear that the end product born out of such strategy is not the Carnatic or Hindustani music as we know it till date. Yes, in past three decades, the changes based on 'speeding-up' have created a small body of presentations that shun the concept of music-for-sublimity and focus on display of those elements of ICM which have existed under layers of gradually-unravelling mystery of Raga elaboration. But, with existence of only a fractional recordings of maestros in past centuries as foil against the increasing number of fresh recordings, the structure of ICM is clearly endangered. It would have greater chance of survival if no usurping recordings were added; but the dead can't stop the living. When 'the words of a dead man (get) modified in the guts of the living', the flighty notes that aim to transcend, simply cease to be.

The modern and future practitioners (as also their consumers and promoters) of ICM do not subscribe to its end of sublimation, transcendence. They do not have patience for gradual elaboration. They pick and choose to play only that which displays their skill. They find the prohibiting rules of Raga-movement and structure restrictive, so take liberties as per their 'aesthetics'. Few may have studied theory of ICM to understand when and why a note becomes discordant. Still fewer would have inhibition about using a wrong note. It is questionable they might understand fully, that the just tri-tonal scale, which gives rise to their music, does not admit any deviation. So even as each Raga moves at will, within the strict boundaries, it has at least one or two note-phrases that carry universal appeal. None has twenty or so. So, it is convenient if the phrases with appeal are collected and combined freely to create melodies rich in the quality of wider penetration.

Well, this is exactly what music-directors of Indian films did for forty years. They would delve into rich treasury of classical music and come out with winning tunes -- Roshan uses Kamod in 'Aeri Jaane Na Dungi', SD Burman translates Jaijaiwanti as 'Man Mohana Bade Jhoothe', Salil Chowdhury explore Mand Khamaj in 'O Sajana, barkha bahar ai'. Even Pt. Ravishankar who had depth of knowledge to overcome minor aberrations and popularize Carnatic Raga-s, also delves into creation of light mode and give such songs as 'Hai re woh din kyon na aaye' bringing JanSammohini on lips of people. If the film industry could exploit the cornucopia of ICM, why should not practitioners of ICM be able to do it? It is this monetization of unclaimed treasure that is being made the goal of future ICM practitioners. The young tech-musicians are ready with their no-loyalty-feel-the-chill attitude and digital gadgets to 'save' this genre from certain-oblivion. Now their seniors, having been freed of their seniors, clear their path to inheriting the ICM brand, they have to think about practical aspects of packaging and delivery, not the sanctity of content. They are confident that even as they start as usurpers, they will finally come to be known as saviours and heroes.

That leaves the discipline of Indian Classical Music to be considered. We have come far since the Rishi tradition of Vedic age. In the field of education the whole activity rests upon dissemination, but how much are we able to impart today? (Joshi) Is it just a body of some quaint possibilities, or would it retain its continuity with original rigor? To seek an answer, the old issues need to be revisited. Origins are traceable to practice of music in temples, along with royal patronage -- this model was followed by limited music in temples, and patronage by wealthy in feudal structure -- dedicated institutions for music training and local patrons -- formal education and government schemes through its cultural bodies, sustaining a few generational musicians.

Is present situation any different from that in the last model? No, nothing differs in structure, but everything has changed in practice. Music was introduced at secondary school level. In most states, music was not a subject but only a hobby class. While in several states, it never reached the schools, it was converted to hobby where it existed as subject. Only in a few institutions, it is still offered to students as subject. Some premium institutions opted to teach western music and so students there never had any experience of Indian classical music. Of almost 800 universities in India only 20 offer music. Indian students are offered music as subject in less than 900 colleges where over 35000 exist. So, while most disciplines at college/ university level start with 12 years of background in main or related discipline, music starts with students having none. A performance-centric doctoral programme started in mid-60s in select universities, after noted scholars like Prof B. R. Deodhar & Dr Lalmani Misra invested years in convincing bureaucracy, has now petered out completely. UGC by its notification (University Grants Commission) in March 2014, has restructured D. Mus. as Ph. D. programme. While the earlier research programme promoted depth in performance and composition, the new nomenclature would discard that in favour of theoretical approach. Annual system that offered greater continuous study period has succumbed to semester-based system. The outcome is certain -- verbosity instead of music, experimental fusion instead of valid innovation. Music is no longer studies as fine art, but as application. The teachings of a Guru, after all, are limited by the abilities of the pupil; for past some time it has suffered under impact of structured curriculum design and lack of readiness on part of learner.

Is the young generation, skilled in making use of selective elements of ICM, wrong in its desire to showcase the elements with appeal to mainstream audience? They should keep this observation of Walter Kaufman in mind -- "The indigenous arts, particularly music (of the Orient), by imitating and absorbing imported Western elements, often of remarkably low quality, have frequently suffered a deterioration from which there is no recovery." (Kaufmann, Preface) So, the soulful Sarangi gets replaced by a western classical instrument violin, which does not greatly interfere with ICM essentials, only reduces practitioners of Sarangi, Dilruba, Israj etc., but when a fixed scale instrument like harmonium gains acceptance with vocalists, it limits their range of Raga selection and rendering with off-key Pancham [vocalists of yore would use only unison and avoid fifth with harmonium]. An instrument that to-date has no place in western classical music -- guitar -- has succeeded in finding a prominent place in ICM with its original and modified forms; so much so, that it has succeeded in replacing form-factor, design and material of Sitar and threatens even the Veena-s with half-way instruments and modifications. In a way, change in practice of ICM has gone beyond what Kaufman laments.

Forgiving their deviation from ordained end of transcendence and sublimation on grounds of lack of readiness to practice music at that level, and accepting the necessity of practitioners' desire to create a market-share on earthier plane, let us examine scope of such possibility. What is niche they wish to carve for themselves?

Large part of global music industry belongs to successful bands with one or more singers, whose albums gain popularity in a short period. The lead singer may sometimes play an instrument and may or may not write songs on his own. This is comparable to film-songs in Indian context. Next comes, a popular orchestra group which transgresses the classical boundaries and with well-beaded short compositions to simulate a symphony-like presentation. It often is a stage presentation with live recordings being released later. Then comes the creation of 'theme music' for theatre and films. This involves innovative explorations rooted in symphony music. A small category of 'world music' contains all other musical presentations. The tradition of western classical holds its own, maintaining its centrality to all formal music study and training.

The classical music of India is naturally placed under 'world' or 'ethnic' category and at times referred to as 'folk music of India'. Western scholars recognize Indian music as a complex form with strong structural framework. While some Indian academics are still trying to prove the Bharat's Shruti-s are equidistant, mathematicians have accepted the original Indian intervals since Helmholtz's 1863 work, On the Sensation of Tone. After examining works of Barbour (Tuning and Temperament: A Historical Survey, 1953), Lentz (Tones & Intervals of Hindu Classical Music, 1961), Pingle (History of Indian Classical Music, 1963), Loy Gareth in Musimathics: Mathematical Foundation of Music (Loy 78) finds three different intervals of Shruti-s hold true all the way -- "Hindustani music has emphasized melodic practices that are based on just intervals and do not transpose." Yet, such accurate estimation by scholars is not shared by mass-market oriented music industry. The musical principle of incorporating 22 just microtones in the scale to offer rich tonal palette (Loy 94) is of little value to them. The principle on which the industry thrives, is magnitude of consumption and early obsolescence. Largest possible number of consumers should consume within shortest possible period, so that market is free for the next product.

Therefore, if practitioners of ICM orient themselves towards the market-governed music, they need to choose a category. The largest -- popular music – offers the widest audience. This category involves song-writing and with their current Bollywood competitors in competition here, the classical musicians stand a minute chance.

Next come the bands focused on live shows. This is where ICM practitioners may find a foothold. Anand Shankar had done so successfully by using all elements of Natya – drama, dance, music. While it clicked with audience in the west, Indian audience in 1970s and eighties, was still steeped in tradition of lengthy solo performances and more such bands could not come up. Another factor against this is erosion of individuality. Only the main artistes stand to gain at cost of others. Indian classical artistes are not geared towards collaborative performance.

The third area is that of creative music writing – composing music for visual medium. Classical artistes have already received a taste of this, with occasional opportunities for creating back-ground scores in Indian films coming their way. While, their background scores stand apart to this date, they never could gain universal popularity. Indian artiste is essentially melody-centric; any attempt to go beyond destroys the classical element. Once again, either the visual had to be stretched to maintain sanctity of the melodic piece or the music had to end abruptly for continuity of action. Also, Indian music is practiced on completely opposed principle – sublimation, instead of feeding or flaring of emotions. Theme composers bank upon western principles of composition – an activity involving different cognitive abilities – and work with large body of musicians. They have perfected association of sound with time, space and motion and even a mildly conversant person can access the visual content. Consider Andrew Lloyd Weber, Enya, John Williams, John Williams, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard, Trevor Rabin, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, Harry Gregson-Williams, Ramin Djawadi, and James Horner (in no particular order). To understand the geographical, chronological expression through music see how even on first listening to David Arkenstone’s ‘Land of Tiger’ in album ‘Citizen of the World’, anyone would be able to identify, if not region, then at least its essence – rainforest, hills, desert etc. Some eager observations on this might be that Indian Raga-s too represent seasons and are time-bound. Such arguments do not address the question of creation of vivid visual and sensual images through aural presentation. Even though the Natyashastra speaks about music in passing, with main focus on drama and dance, apart from Bharat’s sketchy mention of orchestration or Kutup, none of ancient authors make any mention of orchestra. So, neither though content nor by training are ICM practitioners automatically geared towards offering challenge to western musicians in this category.

Indian classical music holds its share in World-music category. This is largely due to Indian communities spread around the world. Whenever, their numbers reach a point within a region, they are able to hold festivals in which they invite artistes from mainland. By doing this, a non-resident community tries to keep its Indian root alive and to foster a much required identity in foreign land. Indian musicians may also find partial employment teaching the young. Such organizations also invite performers from light music, dance and comedy. All these areas are much more popular within India, than classical music concerts. In a way, classical music gets more than proportionate share, abroad. Thus, there is little need or scope to increase market share in this category.

That brings us back to premise, ‘how to attract wider cross-section of people to listen to this music-style’. The answer does not lie in changing the content or duration. There are enough listeners who may sympathetically give a chance to an upcoming artiste; not because he is able to present a flashy, condensed version of the traditional music, but in spite of personal short-comings, he tries to stay within the course of a difficult and demanding practice. When the world passes a resolution to conserve heritage of oral tradition (UNESCO), it is with consent of practitioners to preserve its essence. A quick glance at comments on video clips of ICM recitals would convince anyone that the modern listener does not desire a shortened ‘quickie’ version of Raga rendering. And this listener is not one born to tradition, but one with sensitivity to good music, who is able to appreciate the rendering for itself. A true artiste is always looking for a discerning listener; a Rasika for an artiste who aims to transcend the material world. They are both opposed to a less-perfect other.

The mind which seeks to attract greater number of listeners is obviously seeking marketing solutions and would settle on solutions like selective presentation within appropriate duration, minimizing choice of content (Raga-s), adding visual appeal, promoting limited few artistes for volume sales. In a way, all of this has been taking place for a number of years now. ICM practitioners no longer seek respect and affection for their devotion to worship of Saraswati; they are moe concerned with making a mark with upward ratings on star chart. Each artiste has a limited repertoire of Raga-s (well under ten) and some recordings have adequate visual appeal, too. They are forced by necessity to cajole the world.

Reasons for such a change are not based merely on material ambitions of artistes. Inclusion of first-time listeners along with curious and the fashion-followers has reduced the average attention time. In early twentieth century some communities began responding to Bhatkhande's work and brought it home. In such families, even if they do not all sing or play, the members appreciate music and its significance. Western education includes music lessons for school-goers; this practice was started in a few Indian schools. By end of century, removal of discipline from schools diminished support even for music-inclined and partially trained students. During seventies a movement, started to induce 'appreciation for Indian classical arts' among students that gained root but by eighties, began subtly to control artistes and influenced their practice. Offering chain booking of almost a dozen presentations within a short period, in educational institutions within a city or region, it offended serious artistes and attracted stardom-aspirants who were good at making impressions. Some senior artistes were brought in at prestigious educational institutions, but the bulk of its artistes began honing a repertoire of selected Raga-s fit to attract first-time listeners. The success of such simplistic presentations among the young (some of whom enjoyed, while to most others it was one of the routine school time-killer events) convinced the practicing artistes and others that this 'sampler' version of ICM is the full-course. While their job was gradual introduction and cultivation of taste for inter-relationships of notes, most artistes considered it as opportunity to impress the young mind highlighting own talent. It requires effort on part of listener to become a true Rasika. “It is only for those who work in that direction, that sound transforms first into audible notes and then into intangible entity where all else ceases to exist.” (Trivedi) But rather than focus on youth, artistes involved with such task diluted music for easy appreciation. Corporate houses that funded the 'appreciation' movement, now proceeded to organize 'classical' events that show-cased star performers, initially in short solo recitals, then in ensembles where an artiste got barely more than five minutes for his solo flourishes. Fortunately, it was the pace of bureaucracy that kept such condensed version of classical form, from changing the practice completely.

The strength of this genre lies in what is being advertised as its weakness -- its fullness -- that unfolds over a certain duration. It is this pace of progression that takes the listener to the level of fulfilment. Listeners with natural or cultivated inclination find sublimation (freedom from emotions) in such a rendering of Raga. One of the stages of the journey involves ecstasy or intense joy. As it is certainly, quite a powerful effect, practitioners and some listeners may consider this to be the sole desirable effect. There is a section of such performances in all types of music. Indeed pleasurable to all listeners at certain stage for a definite duration, it cannot be taken as end of all or the most desirable ICM performances. The mainstream practice of Indian Classical Music in its traditional form needs to retain its continuity for survival of the genre, which will always have limited, yet committed, listeners at all time.

The question of raising market share, apart from wealth creation and richness of reward, also involves the question of survival of ICM artistes. Even under the most ideal norms, not all artistes can be offered high reward. But to keep the practice alive, a sufficient number need to be suitably recompensed, so that art-form and the artistes, both, maintain respectability and attraction for the younger generations to follow. While the problem of ensuring continuity is genuine, solution does not lie in abridging or cut-paste presentation, as market strategists and impatient artistes believe. Before year 2000, there were less than half dozen websites committed to discussion and/or teaching of ICM; now, there are hundreds purporting to give lessons, offering articles and even apps that help the learner. This welcome proliferation of information/ experience -centres indicates continuation of interest on part of learners and enthusiasts.

Yet, actual learning rests on personal, contact learning with graded syllabus and regular/ frequent supervision. Disciples who learn with Guru-s in traditional method, are kept from stage performance till the mentor is satisfied with level of performance. In contrast, a self-learner lacks such discipline and evaluation; as a result, may give unpredictable output. Thus, the twin areas – education and that of subsistence – alone, command consideration for maintaining tradition and continuity; keeping the practice unharmed and vibrant.

Scholars like Late Prof. R. C. Mehta, maintaining a positive view-point, have tried to envisage how to nurture practice of ICM, so that its essentials are safeguarded. Pt. Arun Kashalkar (omenadnet) suggests inviting traditional artistes into universities for a short period, so that students can learn a raga or two from them. This way rare Raga-s as well as the structure of learning person-to-person, both would retain continuity. At the turn of nineteenth century it took stalwarts like Paluskar and Bhatkhande to restore Indian classical music to its glory, in the twenty first, it needs collaborative effort of equally dedicated individuals to preserve its essence and form.


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Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 1: From Sound to Notes

Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 2: From Note to Raga

Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 3: Congegating Notes

Evolution of Indian Classical Music - 5: From Art to Silence

Problems in Contemporary Music: An Essay by Dr. Lalmani Misra


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