Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Indian Classical Music School System

Gharana literally means family tradition, members of a family of musicians establishing their own unique musical discipline consistently over three or more generations. It is difficult to give an exact date when this system came into being. Ithawa gharana has evolved over seven generations of some of the finest sitar players of India. Shujaat Khan is seventh in this unbroken chain of sitar virtuosi from Ithawa gharana and is considered to be the torch bearer for the future of this school of music. With Shujaat Khan in concert today, it would be appropriate to bring forth some of the hidden facts about the history and evolution of this style of music.

Ithawa gharana in its present form owes its existence, its popularity and its distinctive style of sitar playing to Shujaat Khan’s father, the legendary musician Ustad Vilayat Khan. But for him, the gayaki ang or vocal style in instrumental music, which is the hall mark of this gharana, would neither have existed nor would have flourished. To talk about Ithawa gharana of recent years is to talk about Vilayat Khan and his early period of musical training, his original thoughts about bringing gayaki in instrumental playing, his improvisations and changes made to the structure of sitar to accommodate the continuity of sound or to imitate vocals in sitar playing. It is believed that only after Vilayat Khan’s tantalizing performance that won the hearts of the listeners, critics and musicians alike, at the 1943 Vikram Samaroh music conference in Bombay, instrumental music earned a wider acceptance in the main stream classical music.

Born in 1928 in Gauripur, East Bengal, Vilayat Khan entered the world of music at an early age of four and gave his first performance when he was eight. He also made his first recording at the same age. Vilayat Khan hails from an impressive family of musicians. His great grand father Ustad Sahabdat Khan gave today’s surbahar, the bass version of the sitar and a very difficult instrument to master, its present tonal and structural form. At the early age of ten Vilayat Khan lost his first guru, his father Ustad Inayat Khan, a leading instrumentalist of his days. Thereafter he moved with his mother to the state of Nahan near Delhi to learn music from his maternal grand father Ustad Bande Hasan Khan, who was the court musician of the state. During 40’s and 50’s there still was Inayat Khan’s influence in Vilayat Khan’s playing. Tantrakari was still very prominent. The right hand which is considered as the main subject of instrumental playing for string instruments was still distintly dominant. Tantrakari had been taken to great heights by earlier generations but now was the time to give new direction to instrumental music. It is believed that human voice is the sublime epitome of expression and all other sounds are subordinates used only for enhancing and ornamenting the vocal music. In his quest to achieve vocal continuity in the sound of sitar, Vilayat Khan introduced the gayaki ang in instrumental music during the early 60’s.

Khayal ras, a vocal music style with imaginative use of lyrics, began to emerge in instrumental music with Vilayat Khan’s introspective vision and vivid imagination. The tone of sitar was now changed. The right hand remained at its place but there were significant advancements in the left hand. The pancham of kharaj was now replaced with a steel gandhar (this change helps in establishing the mood of the raag). Several other fundamental changes were also made to the structure of sitar.

There were various subjects involved in khayal ras which required ample improvisations in order to translate it in instrumental music. At first Alap, the slow but contemplative progression of a raag, was given a different approach adorned with meend, krintan and zamzama. Next were taans and bol taans, the fast tempo phrases, and thumri. The transition towards khayal ras is quite evident in Vilayat Khan’s recordings from 60’s onwards.

Gayaki ang is now successfully passed on to Ithawa gharana’s next generation of musicians. Today there are many musicians who prefer and follow this style of music. Thanks to his creative genius for this enormous contribution to the world of music. It would be righteous to refer to Ithawa gharana as Vilayatkhani gharana.

About Author
Shilpa Rao is a professional Indian Classical Music artist. Learn basics of Indian Classical Music system at