Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 5 Issue 78 | January 6, 2006 |

   Cover Story
   Food For Thought
   Special Feature
   Slice of Life
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks

   SWM Home

Special Feature

Classical Music
Neglected and Dying

Sd Khan

Has classical Music vanished or been banished? Whatever it is, in Bangladesh it just isn't there any more! Despite having been the birthplace of such musical giants like Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Ayat Ali Khan and Ustad Vilayat Khan, classical music in Bangladesh is now but history. It is neither performed these days in any privately arranged musical functions nor is it heard or seen in any of the electronic media, state owned or private. Bangladesh today is an utter destitute of this fundamental music.

Ustad Allauddin Khan, the doyen, Born in Shibpur, B'baria, Bangladesh

Indian Classical Music (in the northern tradition) reached its zenith during the reign of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great. After the demise of this period, the culture of Shastriya Sangeet or pure music was kept going under the patronage of the Maharajas and Nawabs of the various independent internal states of British India. Music was in the blood of these rulers and it was one of their many regal passions. Prolific musicians graced their Courts or 'durbars'. Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, the Aftab-I-Mousiqi, was the court musician of the Maharaja of Baroda, while Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan adorned the court of the Maharaja of Patiala. Hundreds of other great ustads or maestros both in vocal and instrumental music were literally 'fed and raised' by these connoisseurs of music. Generations of these court musicians were awarded state hospitality by the Maharajas that led to the creation of the different "gharanas" or houses of musical traditions. Like the Agra, the Gowalior, the Jaipur, the Seni, the Patiala and the Kirana gharanas. Having nothing to worry about, living, shelter and other worldly needs being taken care of, thanks to the largesse of their royal patrons, these musicians could devote themselves entirely to their respective art. The excellence of classical music of India thus soared higher and higher. Those were the hey days of our classical music.

In sharp contrast, Bengal did not have any Maharaja or Nawab of the stature of those of northern India. There were, however, a few petty maharajas (like that of Tripura, Gouripur, Natore) and numerous Zamindars in East Bengal. Ustad Alauddin Khan was for sometime in the court of the Maharaja of Tripura. The legendary Sitar maestro of all time, Ustad Enayet Khan was the brightest jewel in the court of the Maharaja of Gouripur (near Mymensingh) during the twenties where his son, the proverbial Sitar maestro of our time, Ustad Vilayat Khan, the Aftab-I-Sitar, was born. Under the patronage of these small maharajas and local zamindars (mostly Hindus), the culture of classical music somehow continued to thrive in our part of the subcontinent. Music being part and parcel of Hindu religious rites, its practice and culture was a normal phenomenon with this community. Maharajas, big zamindars or even the rich Hindu used to hold annual musical programmes of religious songs (Kirtan, Bhajan etc) during their Pujas. These landed gentry of those days always vied with one another in their bid to outdo one another, in their show of pomp and aristocracy by holding such music conferences. In their bid to outdo one another, they invited the good, and the best musicians of that time to their state to live permanently and perform their art in total freedom from worldly cares. Coming into contact with the famous (mostly Muslim) Ustads from the upcountry a new generation of talented Hindu classical singers and instrumentalists were born in the then Bengal. Names like Pt. Biswadeb, Pt. Tarapad, Pt. Jnanendra Goswami, Timir Baran, Radhika Mohan Moitra (of Rajshahi), Birendra Kishore Roy (of Gouripur) are noteworthy.

In the undivided Bengal, the city of Calcutta being the provincial capital, it was the centre of all activities including cultural. All the musical personalities at that time of Bengal and also from other parts of India converged in this city. After the partition, all the Hindu maharajas and zamindars in East Bengal migrated to Kolkata along with their musical entourage. The Bangali (all Hindu) classical vocalists and instrumentalists also left for West Bengal. Music conferences of these artists were often arranged in those days in Kolkata by various private cultural organisations. In this way, not only the aristocratic intelligentsia of the society but even the common people of Kolkata got exposure to classical music for the first time. It is said that appetite comes with eating. Surprisingly, ordinary Kolkatans soon fell in love with classical music. Even today, if any musical soiree is held in any auditorium of Kolkata, and if some mikes are fixed outside for the public, there will be no dearth of common people to listen with patience to the serious musical recital and appreciate too the merits of the performance. Because of such an appreciative crowd, open-air performance of top classical musicians became very popular in that great city. Classical music thus attained a new dimension -- the once confined "chamber music" of the aristocrat was brought out in the open. In the nineteen fifties, the Indian government, through its state broadcasting media, the AIR, took up the missionary task of 'democratising' classical music. A regular weekly (Saturday night) "National Programme of Music", on the entire network of the AIR would broadcast a three-hour-long solo music performance (vocal and instrumental) of the great ustads and pundits in the country. This national programme continued to be aired for several decades by the AIR. The general public of India, who never even dreamed of listening to such great maestros in their lives, thus got acquainted not only with their names but also with their music by the grace of the AIR. The unique role played by the AIR in inculcating the Indian mass to develop a taste for classical music is beyond question. The entire credit goes to the AIR (and later to Doordarshan) for bringing about the refinement in the taste for music on the part of the Indian people. Indian classical music as it is known the world over today, is absolutely the result of the effort of the AIR. The Indian government felt it to be their moral duty to take it up as a campaign to preserve the rich treasure of classical music not only for the posterity but also for the world at large. It was something that they could hardly afford to neglect and let be lost to the debris of history. Many works of high intellectual excellence in the field of classical music of India had by now become part of the World Heritage of Arts. As only one example, the UN has preserved (years ago) Dhrupads sung by the famous Dagar Brothers in two extra long play discs. Internationally famous musicians like Ali Akbar Khan,

Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Bismillah Khan, Zakir Hussain, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Bhimsen Joshi etc also played their ambassadorial role in introducing Indian classical music all over the globe by their regular performance visits. The 'popular' appeal

Ustad Vilayat Khan, Born in Gouripur, Mymensingh, Bangladesh

of classical music that was created over the years by the sustained effort of State broadcasting (the AIR and the Doordarshan) media, had given direct impetus to the creation of new talents of these music. The handful of superannuated classical musicians once feared, as 'endangered' species will now continue to live through the younger musicians of the respective 'gharanas' of theirs. The classical music of India will thus never die.

Coming to the condition of classical music in Bangladesh, it is a shockingly sad story. It is heard no more in this country, nor can one even remember when was it heard last. It is said that when the vultures of a country quit, it spells a pall of doom for that country. Likewise, when the 'sarengias' (the players of sarengi) become scarce, it is the death knell for classical music. 'Sarengi' is inextricably connected to the practice of classical music. Its sound being closest to the human voice, this has been, from time immemorial, the chief accompanying musical instrument for vocalists. It is impossible to believe that in all the years of the Pakistan period and the Bangladesh period, not a single sarengi player was produced in this country. As the sarengi and its players came to be extinct, so did the classical music from Bangladesh. For a time, however, accompaniments to vocal music would be provided (in the then radio) by an apology of the 'sarengi', its distant cousin, the 'esraj', which could be played then only by one old Ustad Phuljhoori Khan.

Muslims in Bengal from the time of the British Raj were predominantly poor farmers and boatmen. Music to these people comprised of simple folk songs sung to the accompaniment of a 'dotara' Among the few educated people, the culture of music was a kind of taboo -- having no religious approbation. There was only one exception, -- Abbasuddin Ahmed, the folk singer. With the independence from the British in 1947, Muslims of East Bengal (Pakistan) gradually started to be educated and culturally oriented. Culture of modern songs, Rabindra Sangeet and of course folk songs began in full earnest. But the field of classical music was, for some strange reason, left totally ignored. Except one or two mediocre talents (Fazlul Huq, Barin Majumdar) there was none noteworthy in the domain of classical music. The musical taste of the people being plebian from the beginning, classical music, to her, held no attraction or appeal. In the fifties, when Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Allauddin Khan came once to perform in a music conference in the Curzon Hall, I remember (I was a small boy then) that on both days of the performances of these musical giants, the majority audience booed the maestros and walked out of the Hall to the utter astonishment and indignity of the two ustads. They swore never to set their feet on this soil again! So, there was no hope in sight for classical music in this arid wasteland of music illiterates. West Pakistan, which too was not much better off than us in music, yet had a few classical musicians of high repute. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan, Ustad Amanat and Fateh Ali Khan were amongst them. They were frequent visitors here to perform in TV and radio. It can be safely claimed that the spell binding performance of these ustads had a great influence in motivating the potential (though few) musical talents of East Bengal (East Pakistan) in those days to lean towards learning classical music. Ferdausi Rahman soon became the disciple of Ustad Salamat Nazakat Ali. She subsequently became one of the top classical vocalist of the country, winning the Pride of Performance award from the President. Only two other senior classical vocalists of that time, namely, Ustad Fazlul Huq and Ustad Barin Majumdar in Bangladesh kept the torch burning with a handful of disciples around them. In the state controlled broadcasting media (both radio and TV) there was no significant airtime allotted for classical music. All the music time in TV or radio were allotted to modern music, Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Sangeet and folk song. The broadcasting authority of our country never felt it necessary to imbue the people with delicacy of taste in music by exposing them to the majestic beauty and elegance of classical music. It is the duty of the national TV/radio authority of any country to disseminate all higher forms of art to its people. People cannot have easy access to these materials by themselves and also they need to be educated to understand them. The BBC, the NHK, the RTF and all other state owned TV and radio organisations of the world serve their people in this regard. But ours, unfortunately, failed miserably. Lacking promotion by the state and the days of nawabs and zamindars gone, classical music in

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Born in Shibpur, B'baria, Bangladesh

Bangladesh sharply declined, finally meeting its natural death. As a result, the country could not, to this day, produce a single classical musician, vocal or instrumental, of any standing whatsoever. With such a vacuum in the domain of classical music, that is the basis of all music, any genre of music in Bangladesh cannot reach very high standards. Without solid foundation of classical music, any attempt at singing or playing any musical instrument is bound to flounder. Be it a Tagore song, a Nazrul song or a modern song, the effort will produce an amateurish result. GB Shaw has rightly said, "Hell is full of musical amateurs." What we see or hear nowadays in our TV and radio is the living proof of Shaw's saying.

With such decay and degeneration gnawing at the core of our music, it is high time that we salvage our classical music from oblivion as soon as possible to underscore the need of its practice and training by all music aspirants. The lead role in this respect has got to be played by our national TV and radio. Also, the several private TV channels that are happily now operating in the country can too join hands in this salutary effort. That there is no short cut to music and no excellence in it could be attained without the grounding in classical music, this fact must be driven home. Talents in classical music must be tapped by holding musical conferences all over the country. Similarly, international musical symposiums, conferences etc should be arranged at regular intervals by inviting stalwarts in classical music from India. It is the exposure again that counts in motivating people to noble pursuits. The land that once gave birth to so many musical giants and genius certainly has the potential to repeat its feat. As long as their is enough support and encouragement from both the society and state.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005