Indian Music Enthusiasts Present A Lec-Dem on the History of Hindustani Music

 By Shambhavi Desai, Bridgeville, PA

Editor’s Note: Shambhavi, after receiving her initial training in the Indian dance tradi­tions from her mother, went on to earn under- and post-graduate degrees in dance from the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Baroda. She also has a diploma in vocal music from M.S. University, Baroda. She teaches dance and music in her school Sanskruti. More info in available at

Shambhavi acknowledges Anupama Mahajan’s and Nalini Padmanabhan’s help in finalizing the article.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Music in collabora­tion with Chhandayan presented a concert on September 9, 2012 at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium on the History of Indian Music focusing on Hindustani music. Pta. Tripti Mukherjee, the founder-director of the Pt. Jasraj Institute of Music developed the concept for the program, with her disciples giving the recital in the program.

The two-hour program was informative and enjoyable to all regardless of their extent of familiarity with Indian Classical Music. Using a Pow­erPoint presentation to narrate the story, different genres of Hindustani music were presented.

The performing artistes were Nidrita Mitra Sinha, Nalini Padmanabhan, Shambhavi Desai, Priyadarshi Desai, Shailesh Surti, Anupama Mahajan and Babeena Sharma, as well as younger disciples of the Pt. Jasraj Institute of Music, Eishan Ashwat, Moha Desai, Ashutosh Sharma, Rivu Sinha and Divya Ramkumar. Priyadarshi Desai was on the Harmonium and Asish Sinha provided the laya (rhythm) support on the Tabla.

The evening commenced with an introduction to Indian music with its two broad categories — Hindustani music from Northern India and Karnatic music from Southern India. The common origins of Hindustani and Karnatic music in the vedas with just three notes — Udaat, Anudaat and Swarit — and its gradual evolution into two distinct forms of music were covered effectively. The concert then progressed to focus on the evolution of Hindustani Music through the ages.

The first piece was a Vedic composition on Agni (Fire) from Rig Veda with just three ‘swaras’ and Saam Veda with five ‘swaras’ presented by Nidrita, Nalini, Shambhavi, Anupama and Babeena. This was followed by a Saraswati Bhajan, composed in Raag Saraswati and presented by Eishan, Moha, Ashutosh, Rivu and Divya. The journey continued with melodious renditions of different genres of Hindustani music — Tappa, Dhrupad, Khayal, Haveli Sangeet, Thumri and Bhajan.

The audience was introduced to India’s ‘Bhakti’ movement. Start­ing from the 5th century in Southern India, it emphasized the intense personal devotion of worshippers towards their personal deities using lyrics mostly in regional languages of the times and in Sanskrit.

Nidrita presented Tappa or Jati Gaayan — a light classical com­position with intricate and fast-paced patterns of swaras (notes). As Indian music was influenced by the Islamic advent at the end of the 12th century, it brought the Persian culture with it. As an example of this, a composition of Amir Khusro was rendered in Raag Zilaf in Rupak Taal presented by Priyadarshi and Shailesh.

The evening continued with a group performance of the oldest genre of Hindustani classical music that is still performed — Dhrupad, in Raag Basant set in Chautaal. Dhrupad was popularized by Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior, in today’s Madhya Pradesh in India.

Babeena rendered a Kirtan in Haveli Sangeet, a genre that has been revived by Pt. Jasraj of the Mewati Gharana. The composition was in Raag Yaman set to Deepchandi Taal.

Just as Venkatamakhi’s Chaturdandi-Prakashika (17th century) laid the structural foundation for the ragas of Karnatic Music, the modern era of Hindustani music is indebted to two doyens of the early 20th century: Pt. Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, both from Western India (today’s Maharashtra), who gave the structure for modern Hindustani music we see in different genres — Khayal, Thumri, Chaiti, Kajri, and Folk traditions.

An example of Khayal (meaning ‘thought’ in Persian) style of sing­ing was presented by Anupama with Nalini accompanying her for the Tarana — in Raag Nayaki Kanada set in Teen Taal.

Another popular style of light classical music is Thumri, character­ized by great flexibility with the raag. The text is either devotional or romantic, revolving around Gopika’s love for Krishna. Shambavi presented a Thumri in Raag Khamaj set in Addha Taal.

The concert concluded with a mellow signature bhajan of Meerabai, composed by the doyen of Mewati Gharana, Pandit Jasraj. This was presented by all participants en masse.

It was rather extraordinary to see a full auditorium for an Indian clas­sical concert whose audience consisted of both Indian-Americans, and more importantly, students from neighboring colleges and schools.

After the program, all left with good vibes, having listened to differ­ent styles of Hindustani music, and having received a broad outline on the evolution of Hindustani music through the millennia.

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