The history of Indian classical music is very interesting. Just like the devotional music of the west, Gregorian chants, we have our Vedic hymns. They have just 3 notes which are repetitive. From natural sounds to chants the evolution began. From chants came the Hindustani classical form of singing, the Dhrupad. Most of the Dhrupad compositions are for the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. The pillar and biggest exponent of Dhrupad is Mian Tansen, a Muslim.
The Mughals brought Persian and Arabian influences into Hindustani classical music while the Portuguese brought the western influences. When the Mughals came, a lot of Hindu saints migrated to the southern part of India. They composed music based on Drupad but with a massive influence of the prevalent southern folk and classical music.
“It is a sacrilegious thing to say but Hindustani classical music is actually a fusion of these influences. We categorise music into traditional and modern. Something that is termed ‘purist’ today is ‘evolution’ tomorrow. After the ‘evolution’ it is considered ‘purist’ and at some point of time it starts to be considered ‘old’,” said sitar maestro Purbayan Chatterjee.
Hailing from the Senia Maihar Gharana, Purbayan has learnt under legends like Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and his father Parthapratim Chatterjee. The gharana was set up by Baba Allauddin Khan, guru to stlawarts like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, who himself learnt music under the tutelage of Ustad Wazir Khan, a direct descendant of Tansen.
“Some of the sounds used in today’s music would not have been considered as music 10 years back. The purists will judge the sound and label it as ‘not music’. The state Indian classical music finds itself in right now is because we have not evolved or developed,” asserted Purbayan.
Indian classical music is an oral tradition. We take a lot of pride in it. But a lot of work has also been lost because of it. It should remain an oral tradition but we have to document and archive it. Just like the west. Anyone can learn the guitar on YouTube. That is why you have guitars players in all parts of the world. But there are hardly any sitar players.
“The Guru Shishya Parampara has its limitation. We Indians take ourselves too seriously. Why shouldn’t there be sitar tutorials? Then we complain that the guitar is more popular than the sitar, though the sitar is a much older instrument. The west has kept on evolving, no one complains about an electric guitar. But god forbid if you plug-in your sitar, the purists are quick to judge you. I do not understand who gave them this right,” emphasised Purbayan.
Art imitates life. We use the daily happenings around us and convert them into sounds which we call as contemporary music. Our contemporary music is made of western harmony and Indian classical or folk. In order to learn new things some old ones need to be unlearnt. If you are expressing what was made 50 years back, the emotions will vary today. In today’s edgy world, the consumers want everything fast and that has to reflect in our music as well.
“Within me there is an amalgamation of my daily experiences and my learning and upbringing. My music is a sum total of this. When you dare to get in touch with your inner voice and deliver that on stage or in a recording, the music you produce will be true. It has nothing to do with the traditional grammar of music, what is wrong or right, it is an expression of your inner self,” stressed Purbayan.
“We have come to a time where we can balance the orient and occident. I am talking in a larger sense, music is just a small part of our culture. When I formed the ‘Shastriya Syndicate’ to explore the intricacies of Indian classical music, it was labelled as India’s first classical band. I followed it up with ‘Classy Cool’ which was also very successful. Once you are successful everyone appreciates it.”
The sitar maestro claims to be akin to a shop keeper trying to sell different wares. But one has to be ready to face the brickbats and abuses for trying to sell things which are not run of the mill.
I asked the maestro “Kitni gaaliya suni?”
To which Purbayan replied,
“Bohot. Ab bhi sunta hu. Gaali sunna hi padega aur sunna hi chahiye. Worst thing is being ignored. If people are abusing you that means they have heard your music. My journey is still on. In classical music unlike other popular genres the journey starts late and keeps on evolving.”