Transcript from a talk I delivered at All Bengal Music Conference

Kolkata, January 4, 2008 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Gurus, Fellow musicians and all music lovers of Kolkata, My greetings to you. I wish you all a very happy new year and hope we will all be a part of more such enriching musical experiences in this year than in the past.

I thank the All Bengal Music Conference for giving me this opportunity to say a few words about the gharana gayaki of Gwalior, a tradition I myself strive to represent. It is at once a great honour and an onerous responsibility that I have been entrusted with and I seek the blessings of all the gurus of the tradition before embarking on this task.

Understanding a gharana or its gayaki is no mean task. First we would have to make a distinction between what a gharana is and what a gayaki is. A gharana, as we all know, literally means a family. Since it is not mandatory that a family member alone takes the tradition forward, a more appropriate word would probably be “Parampara”.

Gayaki refers to the style, the basic features, the tatva-sootra or the principles of the music produced by that family or parampara of musicians.  

I think my charge today is to explore the legacy of the parampara of Gwalior (the khayal parampara in particular) as well as to attempt to explain or articulate the salient features of the gayaki of Gwalior. 

So our primary questions would be, what is a gayaki? and how does it get a form? After years of learning, practising and assimilating parampara-gat taleem or gharanedar taleem, a student adds or brings something new to turn that vidya into kala and that is when he truly becomes a kalakar. But at the core, the spirit and the principles remain rooted to the taleem he has received. And that is the hallmark of a gayaki.  

When we speak of gayaki, three broad parameters may be considered, 1. The content. 2. The technique and 3. The presentation.  Firstly the parampara is seen more clearly in the taleem, in the training methodology, than in the performances. But even if we were to look at the music alone we see certain common points in the performances of all musicians of the parampara. As far as the gayaki of the gwalior parampara goes, the following may be said to be these common points. 

  1. The laya. In this context, by laya I mean tempo or the gati. Not speed or rhythm. So the overall tempo of the whole gayaki is rather fast. It moves more in the Madhya and Madhya-Vilambit laya./
  2. Emphasis on bandishes and distinct use of  sthaayi and antara.  I did mention before that the Gwalior khayal gayaki evolved out of a parampara of Dhrupad and therefore some principles were maintained.
    • Very often, training of a raga begins with teaching as many bandishes as        one can in a raga to familiarize the student with the various ang and features of the raga.
    • The bandishes very often have sthayis and antaras of two, three or even four avartans. There are some bandishes that go up to eleven avartans!
    • The sthayi is sung upto twice or thrice to firmly establish it.
    • The sthayi and Antara are sung in succession at the beginning of the Khayal itself.
  3. After the sthayi-antara are established,  we come to development or vistar portion.
    • The development is not Swar based, but Raga-ang based. In most cases, infact, it is khayal ang based. This means that rather than developing the raga swar by swar, the raga is explored through the phrases of the bandish. Each bandish offers a new dimension to the raga and the development is consistent with the dimension offered by the bandish in question.
    • In the context of khayal / raga vistar, it may also be noted that the alap is keenly knit with the theka. Not the taal, but the theka. (Where taal refers to a cycle of of a set number of equidistantly timed beats, theka is the structure given to the cycle with syllables of the tabla. In other words, theka is the language of the taal)). The alap moves in sync with the structure of the theka and a wide variety of tals like tilwada, jhumra, ektal, jhaptal, rupak, adachoutal are employed.
  4. Once the alap or vistar in the shtayi and antara is more or less done, the gayaki moves to a distinct Gwalior feature   called the Behelava. This is a faster movement – faster than alap, slower than tans. Behelava necessarily covers two to two and a half saptaks. The use of Gamak is introduced very markedly in this portion. This is like a bridge between the alap and the tans.
  5. Among other tans the use of the raga ang tan and sapat tan in a distinct sweeping manner in the avaroh is an important feature. Sargam and sargam- tans are used extensively during training, but are almost totally absent in the presentation.
  6. The repertoire of bandishes too includes certain rare kinds of bandishes which none of the other paramparas has, such as the tap-khayal, khayal-numa (vilambit khayal with tarana bols), ashtapadi, etc.

 So these are the main features of the gwalior gayaki.  

There are several streams within the Gwalior parampara. But they all confirm to these basic tenets or sootras. The Bade Nissar Hussain Khan stream – his disciples include Ramkrishna Bua vaze, Shankar Rao Pandit and his descendants Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit and L K Pandit. Then there is another stream of D.V. Paluskar, Omkarnath Thakur and other disciples of V.D Paluskar such as Narayan Rao Vyas, Vinayak Bua Patwardhan, etc. The Poonchwale stream of mainly Rajabhaiya Poonchwale and his son Balasaheb Poonchwale , the stream of Sharat Chandra Arolkar,  the Antu Bua stream of Gajanan Bua Joshi and his disciples including my guru, Ulhas Kashalkar and today’s artist Smt. Shubhada Paradkar. Another of Antu Bua’s disciples, also of the Agra Parampara but who’s music reflected a trememdous amount of Gwalior- S N Ratanjankar and his disciples including K G Ginde , S C R Bhat and my guru Dinkar Kaikini., all these musicians I mentioned sang the gwalior gayaki but had a different individuality to their music, a shaili of their own, which was well within the confines of the gayaki parampara. 

Having said this, what is of immediate relevance to a listener today is what gwalior is today; how Gwalior gakayi came to be, how it changed over the years and what it is as we listen to today. We need to look atthe history of the paramapara in context to the changes that musicians brought into it and evolved it to its current state. 

Khayal, per se, became a popular form of music only around two hundred years ago. Before this period Gwalior had a parampara of Dhrupad. It is believed that Gwalior came to the forefront of India’s musical lineage sometime in the 16th century. Rajah Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior established and popularised this Dhrupad parampara. Even the legendary Miyan Tansen, who went on to become one of the navratna in the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar is said to be a product of the school he established. 

Much later around the time of decline of the Mughal empire, Mohamed Shah Rangiley and two of his court musicians Niyamat Khan (Sadarang) and his nephew Feroz Khan (Adarang) composed a plethora of compositions in the Khayal genre. Both sadarang and Adarang were originally from Gwalior. Although, they are said to belong to “Quawal Bacchon ki Gharana (I don’t know why they say Bacchon ki!) 

The most significant changes in the parampara came from around the late 18th century onwards, following the migration of Nathan Khan Peer Baksh from Lucknow to Gwalior. His grandsons Haddu Khan, Hassu Khan and the lesser known Natthu Khan, it is said, evolved the genre of khayal into its present structure and popularised it. They were also greatly influenced by Bade Mohamad khan who is said to have initiated tans into the Gwalior gayaki. Haddu Khan’s son, Rehmat Khan is said to be the first to have made the shift from a very rigid dhrupad based khayal gayaki to a more flexible gayaki with the focus on the emotional appeal. 

Haddu and Hassu Khan produced a number of great musicians and one of the most important personalities at this juncture was Balkrishna Bua Ichalkaranjikar, disciple of Hassu Khan, his nephew Mohammad Khan and mainly Hassu Khan’s disciple Vasudev bua Joshi. He painstakingly acquired the entire repertoire of Gwalior from his Ustads and went on to produce a string of disciples such as Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Anant Manohar Joshi (Antu Bua) and several others. I have already mentioned how these musicians in turn contributed to the growth of streams within the same parampara. 

In more recent times, Omkarnath Thakur and Kumar Gandharva too were self proclaimed rebels who after receiving extensive taleem in the gwalior gayaki gave very different dimensions to their singing. The former introduces a sort of drama element or histrionics into his music while the latter infused elements of folk into his presentation. 

So, in general, over time several such changes have affected the gayaki. Today,

  • The overall laya, gati  or tempo, has reduced significantly, although, it is still faster than other gayakis. The pace of the alap too has become more restful, probably heeding to contemporary tastes.
  • Many more varieties of tans have joined in.
  • We also see use of bol baant and other gayaki angs employed.
  • The presentation has become more compact and structured.

 This is the gwalior we know today.

Gwalior being the oldest khayal parampara is naturally acknowledged to be a mother to most other paramparas. It was the same Nathan Khan Peer Baksh who trained Gagge Khuda baksh, the initiator of the Agra parampara. Rampur too is said to be an offshoot. In fact, many scholars opine that it is not a parampara at all in own right, but only a deviant of the mother parampara of gwalior. To ascertain this, all we need to do is apply those basic tenets that I mentioned in the beginning of my talk to what we listen to. 

It is very hard to articulate music. But I hope I have justified my standing here at this podium with the task at hand.  

It is important to listen to musicians of different paramparas. But it is more important to listen keeping the principles of their gayaki in mind as it gives us deep insights into approach adopted by different paramparas and their gayakis to attain the one aesthetic experience or realisation of beauty through music. 

 In other words, and I conclude by saying, music to a musician is his life. His gayaki is his religion. 

Thank you.