The Gwalior heritage

Print edition : April 13, 2018

Meeta Pandit, Laxman Krishnarao Pandit and Krishnarao Shankar Pandit. Photo: AVINASH PARISCHA

Ustad Rehmat Khan.

Krishnarao Shankar Pandit paying respects at Tansen's samadhi with Hirabai Barodekar.

Krishnarao Shankar Pandit flanked by Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Allah Rakha.

The book describes in great detail Gwalior’s centuries-old khayal style and the contribution of the Pandit family to preserving and promoting the gayaki.

THIS beautifully produced coffee-table book is different from other books in this genre for the simple fact that the author, Meeta Pandit, is not only a well-known exponent of khayal but also a sixth-generation member of the famed Pandit family of Gwalior. Armed with a doctorate in the subject and an insider’s deep understanding of the Gwalior gayaki with all its complexities and nuances, she has offered a panoramic view of Gwalior’s centuries-old musical traditions while dealing with the process of the emergence and consolidation of the khayal style associated with the city. Meeta Pandit also describes in great detail the contribution and the musical practices of the Pandit family.

The book is a veritable collector’s item with dozens of rare photographs of historical value and a highly informative text about the musicians who emerged from Gwalior and represented the style of khayal singing developed there.

The book has five chapters—“Gwalior: The Abode of Music”, “From Khans to Pandits”, “Gayaki of Gwalior Gharana”, “The Legendary Figures of the Pandit Family” and “Contribution of the Pandit Family”—and a bibliography and a glossary of terms used in Hindustani classical music. Both will be of immense help to those who are interested in appreciating and understanding Hindustani music and the historic role played by the Gwalior gharana and its Pandits in its development. However, one wonders what prevented the author and the publisher from appending a detailed name-subject index to make the experience of reading even more pleasurable.

As the history of north Indian music is, to a large extent, still hazy and it is not yet clear how khayal evolved from dhrupad, it is gratifying to note that the book tries to offer a cogent and plausible explanation although it does fall short of painting a complete picture. There is also a noticeable tendency to ascribe everything that is valuable in north Indian music to Gwalior and, in the process, make quite a few statements that would perhaps not be able to pass the rigorous test of history. Yet, it is a rewarding experience to read the book as the author displays a keen sense of history and makes valuable information about the leading lights of the Gwalior gharana available in one place.

Tomar and Scindias

As is well known, Raja Man Singh Tomar, who ruled Gwalior from 1486 to 1516, was a great patron of music as well as an accomplished theoretician-musician. It is generally accepted that it was he who gave a decisive push to the development and crystallisation of dhrupad and also wrote a treatise titled Mankautuhal. After him, it was the Scindias who patronised music and the Gwalior style of khayal singing. Thus, the Gwalior gharana came into being and flourished under their patronage and encouragement. It is the intervening period between Tomar and the Scindias that witnessed the gradual emergence and ascendance of khayal as a major musical form. However, not much is known about how the process actually unfolded during this period.

Niyamat Khan alias Shah Sadarang, the famed court musician of the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah “Rangeele”, played a decisive role in this process and composed thousands of vilambit, or bada khayals, and also many drut, or chhota khayals. His disciple and son-in-law Firoz Khan alias Adarang, too, contributed to this and thus made khayal a popular form. In view of this, one finds it difficult to believe the assertion, made earlier by many writers and repeated by Meeta Pandit, that Sadarang and Adarang never sang khayals and confined themselves to dhrupad singing. She more or less ignores the role played by various Sufi khanqahs and the qawwals who sang there. Although Vilayat Husain Khan, one of the Agra gharana stalwarts, mentions in his Hindi book Sangeetagyon ke Sansmaran (Reminiscences of Musicians) that Shakkar Khan and Makkhan Khan belonged to the Qawwal-bachcha (progeny of qawwals) gharana of Delhi, she omits this association. While Vilayat Husain Khan says that Natthan Khan and Pirbux were two sons of Kadir Bux, she intriguingly quotes him to the effect that Natthan Pir Bux was one person and Kadir Bux was his son. This shows that there is a crying need to straighten out the history of Hindustani classical music where events and personalities of a period as close as the 19th century cannot be described with some measure of certainty. She also does not make things easier by attributing the nom de plume “Sadarangile” to Muhammad Shah and “Sadarangile Muhammad Shah” to Niyamat Khan Sadarang. And, one is left wondering if Muhammad Shah, too, composed khayals that are sung today.

These vexed issues of history do not detract from the merit of the book as it offers a detailed account of the Gwalior tradition and the Pandit family’s seminal contribution to enriching it. According to Meeta Pandit, khayals were composed by Amir Khusro and later by Sultan Shah Hussain Sharqi (creator of many ragas, including Jaunpuri), Baz Bahadur, Chanchal Sen, Chand Khan and Suraj Khan but they never became popular. While the credit for preparing a firm ground for khayal should go to Sadarang, the style came into prominence much later. Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula of Lucknow had a famous nayak (theoretician, composer and practitioner of the art of music), Ghulam Rasool, who composed and popularised khayals, while his son Ghulam Nabi alias Shori Mian created the style of tappa singing. Ghulam Rasool’s two prominent disciples were Shakkar Khan and Makkhan Khan. Shakkar Khan’s son Bade Mohammad Khan made a name for himself because of his unique and intricate taans and Natthan Pir Bux’s grandsons Hassu Khan, Haddu Khan and Natthu Khan learnt Bade Mohammad Khan’s art by hiding behind the throne of Daulat Rao Scindia. Eventually, all the three brothers found their place among the most famous vocalists of the country and trained many disciples.

Haddu Khan’s son Rahmat Khan was one of the most outstanding khayal singers of his time and influenced the likes of Abdul Karim Khan (founder of the Kirana gharana). The three brothers and their nephew Nisar Hussain Khan also trained a number of Brahmin musicians who carried forward their gayaki and spread it in Maharashtra and other places. These included Shankarrao Pandit, Eknath Pandit, Ganpatrao Pandit, Vasudeobua Joshi, Baba Dixit, Bala Guruji, Ramkrishnabua Vaze and Balkrishnabua Ichalkaranjikar. While the Pandits remained in Gwalior and did their best to preserve and promote the pristine style of Haddu-Hassu Khan, it was Balkrishnabua Ichalkaranjikar, a disciple of the two great Ustads as well as Vasudeobua Joshi, who took the Gwalior gayaki to Maharashtra and made it popular. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar was among his main disciples.

Shankar Pandit belonged to the family of Kirtankars and his father Vishnu Pandit was attached to the Scindia court. He made a big name for himself as a khayal singer and his son, and disciple Krishnarao Shankar Pandit emerged as one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century. Famous for his complex, robust and technically mind-boggling style, he was a majestic presence on the music scene.

As Warren Senders, an American vocalist trained in the Gwalior gayaki, says: “What other vocalists could not even imagine, Krishnarao Shankar Pandit executed effortlessly.” He trained his sons well and Lakshman Krishnarao Pandit, father and guru of Meeta Pandit, is among the best-known exponents of Gwalior gayaki in the country. Sharachchandra Arolkar was one of his prominent disciples and had learnt from Eknath Pandit, too.

While music aficionados are familiar with Krishnarao Shankar Pandit and his music, they do not know much about Eknath Pandit or Ganpatrao Pandit and other stalwarts of the Gwalior gharana. This book fills that gap and completes the story of the Gwalior heritage. And this heritage had a secular dimension that must be underlined. After the death of Hassu Khan, Haddu Khan and Natthu Khan, Nisar Husain Khan came to live with the Pandit family in 1886 and breathed his last there in 1916. Both Shankar Pandit and Krishnarao Shankar Pandit learnt from him. They remained true to the ashtang (eight-part) gayaki of their gurus.

Meeta Pandit has given detailed information as well as analysis of this style, thus making the book a must-read for music lovers. However, the second edition of the book could do with some careful editing.

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