An ode to music stalwarts of 1900-1950
India is well endowed with rich diversity in terms of topography, languages, culture lives in its songs and music. The oldest stories, myths, even epics have been set to music. In every little hamlet, mountain village or desert town, metros or quaint small towns, the singers have found their voice and tunes. There is a deft mix of classical and folk music which we have received in abundance.An event, Mausiqi Manthan ke Maharathi was a sure invite to regale over the elixir of music of the bygone era. Most voices are now fading in oblivion as we choose to hear them even rarely. ANHAD baat cheet invited music lovers for a sumptuous musical dose on 30th December evening at Oxford Book Store, Connaught Place, New Delhi. The request by thespeaker Nicholas Hoffman who is a writer, curator and member of Dehradun Gramophone Society that “Artists live if you remember them” is actually the need of the hour. A short presentation about the stalwarts who graced the musical stage with renditions par excellence was a good way of turning pages of an old book. That was a time when the purity of music was primary and transcended the audience to a spiritual realm. Nicholas’ passion, knowledge about music and the speech was applauded by the audience.
It was referred to as the best and worst of times, as season of darkness and light, of hope and despair, of wisdom and foolishness. Though it may sound ironical but in all times we had everything and nothing before us.
During this time primarily we saw music being practiced by Royal Singers, Tawaifs or courtesans. So, music was limited to royals and somehow looked down by middle class. The Decline of princely states had started under whose patronage music flourished and became popular. It saw a positive growth in terms of emergence of Raag based music. Music started reaching the masses through class room teachings, it was being institutionalized now. All India Radio came into being and gave a platform to artists. The loss suffered by artists due to decline of Royal patronage was substituted somehow by Radio.
The yarns of stories beautifully woven around the celebrated musicians and singers of that era set the mood and excitement of the evening. It was interesting to listen to how the artists announced their names at the end of each recording as the records were sent to Germany for final making. It was a wonderful way to see how music evolved and matured with time and technology. The first and pioneer of all stars of that era was Gauhar Jaan who recorded for the first time on 78 rpm record in 1902. The nasal tobacco laden rich voice cracks on the audio being played now but the structure of music is marvelous. Gauhar Jan was intelligent, well versed in ten languages, had excellent communication skills and churned out great ṭhumaris like More karejwa mein lagi chotSiddheshwari Devi another great lady who was from Varanasi was drawn into music by sheer coincidence. Her parents died at a very young age and she stayed with her maternal aunt, Rajeshwari Devi. There one day when her cousin was unable to pick up a lesson she explained it very easily to her. Guru Siyaji Maharaj noticed her talent and took her under his wings. This is how the journey of a musical star began, whose emotional Bhairavi-Thumri were much sought after. Ras ke bhare tore nain (रस के भरे तोरे नैन)
Then comes Mallika Pukhraj who is known for her famous number, Abhi to main Jawaan hoon or Mere qatil mere dildar mere paas raho. She was born in Akhnoor, Jammu and was trained by father of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. She sang ghazals and folk songs with equal ease. The seductive value in her voice is hard to miss.
Another notable star of Indian musical era was Vishnu Digambar Paluskar who became blind when he was 12. He started Gandharva Mahavidyalay in 1901 and made music accessible to the general public. It was the beginning of deviation from the Gharana system of music.Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande is credited for writing the Hindustani Sangeet Padhati , which is a consolidation of many Indian music forms. The class room teaching of music was a notable development in this period.Other remarkable singers were Faiyaz Khan who sang at the court of Baroda, Krishna Rao Pandit of Gwalior Gharana, Abdul Karim Khan, Ustaad Aamir Khan Sahib. Each one of them was masters of their art who zealously pursued music. The singing of the era was such that it not only entertained but transported the audience to spiritual domain. The beautiful lyrical thumris had a special appeal. Riyaz was strictly followed. They handed over to us such wealth which we even enjoy today. The musical evening left the audience mesmerised and wondering as to how these maestros lived in penury but guarded music sacredly to avoid its misuse, never compromising on the purity of music. Many of them are forgotten today but we cannot forget their impact on the music world. The depth of profound content cannot be missed. Those who want to relish the old melodies can find them on sites like www.sarangi.net. A wonderful evening of musical baat cheet.