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Hindustani Classical Music
An Introduction

Similar to Carnatic classical music, the two fundamental elements of Hindustani classical music are raag and taal.

The svaras in Hindustani music have a different nomenclature in comparison to Carnatic music. The 12 notes are called Shadja, Komal Rishabha, Shuddha Rishabha, Komal Gaandhaara, Shuddha Gaandhaara, Shuddha Madhyama, Tivra Madhyama, Panchama, Komal Dhaivata, Shuddha Dhaivata, Komal Nishaadha and Shuddha Nishaadha.

Raag is the intricate system of scales and associated melodic patterns. Raags express melodic structure. In their numerical ratios, the scales and melodic patterns correspond with moods, colors, seasons, and hours of day and night. This time-theory which governs the raags is a unique feature of Hindustani music.There are about 200 main raags, each of which is defined by its unique combination of scale-pattern, dominant notes, specific rules to be followed in ascending or descending and certain melodic phrases associated with it. The Hindustani music's counterpart of the gamakams in Carnatic music are the meends. The meends are not as demanding as the gamakams, but they are essential for correct protrayal of certain raags.

As raag organizes melody, the other fundamental element, taal organizes the rhythm. A taal is made up of a number of matras or beats. A unique set of bols (patterns) define each taal. There are hundreds of taals and the most commonly encountered one is the sixteen beat, teentaal.

Amir Khusro, a scholar poet and musicologist of rare talent in the court of Allauddin Khilji (13th Century, A.D.) is credited with the introduction of entirely new forms and styles in Hindustani music which are still in practice today. The Hindustani music that developed during the Moghul (15th and 16th Centuries, A.D.) is based on the rich Indian tradition and its interaction with Moghul influences. During the rule of Moghul emperor Akbar, Hindustani music reached its zenith, mainly due to Mian Tansen, who was one of the nine jewels in Akbar's court. It was during this era that Hindustani music, like an ever flowing river, absorbed many streams of varied musical cultures to make it richer, more colorful yet retain its pristine purity, beauty and grandeur.

An important landmark in Hindustani music was the establishment of gharanas under the patronage of princely states. A gharana is more a school of thought than an institution. Each of the gharanas developed distinct facets and styles of presentation and performance.

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936) was a dedicated musician and musicologist whose contribution to Indian classical music cannot be over emphasised. He was the Lakshanakaara of Hindustani music and was the pioneer who gave current Hindustani music a grammar where none existed. He brought most of the renowned artistes and musicologists from all over India together, to give a new significance to music by discourses and performances. His research works, Karmik Pustak Series in six volumes are still among the most authentic documents of Hindustani classical music. His significant achievement is the concept of the ten Thats or basic parent scales from which raags are derived.

Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872-1931) took up the task of conveying the message of music to every home and convey it in the simplest way. An accident in his childhood deprived him of his eyesight. Inspite of this serious physical handicap, Paluskar took up musical training with enthusiasm and perseverance. He believed that music should not only be entertaining, it should also elevate and inspire. He realised that all great art should draw its inspiration from contemporary life and bereft of its social values it would be an empty kernel. He openly declared that his mission was to democratise the art of music. After giving public performances all over north India, in 1901, he founded the Gandharva Mahaavidyaalaya in Lahore, the first music school run by public funds. Here he trained individuals who would dedicate their lives to teaching music. In 1908, Paluskar migrated from Lahore to Bombay and opened a branch of the Gandharva Mahaavidyaalaya. Prominent among his disciples were his son D.V. Paluskar, Vinayak Rao Patwardhan, Narayan Rao Vyas and Pandit Omkarnath Thakur.

A performance of Hindustani music begins with the aalaap. This is a slow invocation of free rhythm, presenting the subtleties of the raag in an expressive and meditative style. aalaap is followed by a more rhythmic piece called jhod which has many variations. Then follows the more rapid rhythmic style called jhala, which fills out the rhythm with rapid notes. The depth of imagination and creativity of the performer is revealed in the aalaap and jhod. After the jhala comes the second part, gat that introduces the percussions for the first time. gat is based on taal or rhythm structure and is played in vilambit (slow tempo), increasing to a madhyam (medium tempo), and concluding with a drut (fast tempo). The main melody is introduced by the artiste while the tabla provides the taal. Against this taal the artiste improvises imaginative melodic patterns and introduces complex rthythmic patterns, which at times appear to diverge from the taal but must resolve on the first beat of the taal. Later the artiste may hold firm to the rhythm while the tabla may create counter-rhythms.

The two main vocal traditions in Hindustanic music are dhrupad, the purest of all, without any embellishment and completely austere in its delivery, and khayaal, with a romantic content and elaborate ornamentation. Less abstract vocal forms fall into the light-classical variety: dadra, thumri, ghazal and qawwali. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Smt. Gangubai Hangal are vocalists well known to Hindustani music fans.

Sitar, invented by Amir Khusro in the 16th Century, A.D. is the well known stringed instrument in Hindustani music. The Surbahar, Sarod, Sarangi, violin and Santoor are the other stringed instruments used by Hindustani musicians. The bansuri and shehnai (wind instruments) are equally well-known in Hindustani music. The pakhavaj is similar to the mridangam in Carnatic music and it predates the tabla. The maestros have become synonymous with musical instruments like Ustad Bismillah Khan (shehnai), Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar), Ustad Ali Akbar Khan (Sarod), Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor), Pandit Ram Narayan (Sarangi), V.G.Jog (violin), and Ustad Alla Rakha (tabla).

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