12:00 AM, November 19, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 19, 2012

Nurturing the legacy of classical music

Celebration of melodies around the corner

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Alimur Rahman Khan


The Bengal Foundation and the ITC-SRA together are organising a grand music conference in Bangladesh. Many well-known artistes are coming from India and it is also perhaps going to include a great dance personality like Birju Maharaj. It is expected that classical artistes from Bangladesh will get some chance to bloom in the company of the senior artistes from India.
The conference is to begin from the 29 Nov. and continue till December 2, in Dhaka. The sponsors should consider having small concerts in places like Chittagong, Mymensingh and Rajshahi also. These could be one-day programmes if the need be. These are places whose names are well-installed in the records of the history of classical music in Eastern India at least from the second half of the 19th century. There could be still a few listeners who should be honoured; perhaps the dying embers will ignite again.
A civilisation and its culture are evaluated by later generations through the traces left behind over a period of time. The Indian culture has expressed its best in philosophy, music and architecture. They all combined to define a set of values in life. The classical music or rather the classical music system of North India has supposedly evolved out of an earlier music system of India. It is claimed to be still in existence in the South.
The Muslims, once they established themselves in the sub-continent from around the 12th century, took up the music of India seriously. The best of music till then was restricted, more or less, to the temples and was considered sacred from a religious point of view. The Muslims managed to bring it out of this framework, without being sacrilegious. They managed to secularise it without vulgarisation. They combined this music with whatever they could bring from the music of Central Asia, which in turn was influenced by the Persian and mainly Arabian music. The result altogether was charming.
During the early days, there were some conflicts regarding allowing music to flourish in the 'Dar-ul-Islam' (as it was considered by the Muslims) but in the 13th century it was well-established through the intervention of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya and his disciple Amir Khusru. Thereon the symbiosis of the two cultures bloomed in several ways, one of the best being through music. This is what is now the classical music of North India stretching from Kabul to Gauhati and Kashmir to Hyderabad including Maharashtra.
The North Indian Music system is based on Raagas. A raag is a musical expression of a stable modal pattern expressed through sound and rhythm. It is comparable to a painting where sound is used for colours, the raag being the theme of the picture. Various schools or “gharanas” are free to use their own methods to express the final product. With improvement in communication, the gharanas do influence each other and are in turn influenced by them. There is no harm if it is done carefully and efficiently.
Cultural activities do not necessarily establish culture in a society. Many activities and efforts are needed to integrate it into becoming a culture. An isolated grand music conference will not integrate in the culture. It has to become a charcha. It has to be followed up with many activities and efforts as mentioned above.
In this connection a few suggestions are laid down below.
1. This should not be a one-time affair. It should be repeated annually and also small conferences should be held on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
2. There still exist in the country some avid listeners, people who appreciate this art fully and wholly. They are limited by age, financial constraints and absence of quality performers. However, a kind of revival of this art is also taking place. A younger group of people is coming in that fold but they have constraints too. These are financial constraints and absence or lack of quality performers. The music has to be taken to doorsteps of these new listeners, as far as possible.
3. Universities and their students should be brought into the fold of listeners. They should be wooed if necessary.
4. Newspapers, television and other media as well as a word-of-mouth diffusion of information have to be explored. More so, after the conference, the glow of it should be continued through the media by several follow-ups of parts of the programme and several articles should appear in the papers from time to time.
5. Several concerts should be arranged in private houses, with a kind of an open invitation to listeners.
6. Smaller concerts should be held simultaneously, if possible, in towns like Mymensingh, Sylhet, Rajshahi and Chittagong; there are listeners there.
7. Seminars should be held in Dhaka and in Kolkata, to start with so that the movement continues.
Before closing, a quotation from Imam Gazzali as he puts it in his Ihya-ulum-ud-Deen may not be inappropriate. Speaking about music he says(quoting from memory) “ …in the hearts of people there are caves which are filled with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones but there is also the presence of inferior stones even coal and ashes from burnt coals. To reach the heart one has to go through the portals of the ears with the help of music…..but music cannot bring out what is not there….. This is a very significant and profound statement.
Other such statements are attributed to Al- Gazzali and even to Shihabuddin Shurawardi, but this is not the place for these discussions.
Our classical music is well-suited for the purpose of extracting the hidden jewels which lie dormant in the hearts of the people but it cannot draw out what is not there. This therefore draws readers to another area. It is the potentiality of the North Indian Classical music towards contributing to the uplift of the general moral and culture of a society.
There is much to be said but that has to be for another day and another time. This is enough for this day.

Alimur Rahman Khan is a connoisseur of music.

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