Brahminized Music And De-Brahminizing Music

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Friends, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

It was a dream to listen to Ustaad Rashid Khan live which came true last November. I must have spent days just listening to his Raag Kaushi-Kananda, Raag Bhimpalashree and Raag Kirwani. And when I was asked to interview him for The Hindu I was thrilled.

The text of Raag Kirwani recitation reads “Torey Bina Mohe Chain Nahi Bruj Ke Nandalaala.” Being an atheist I must say that when I listen to this text being sung by Khan saheb, I feel the absence of “Bruj Ke Nandalaal.” That is how beautifully he sings. Telling about this to Khan sahed I wanted to ask him, in my interview, as to if he feels it is a Brahmnical hegemony that almost all the texts used for singing in classical music are quite Brahminical in nature with references to Hindu (Brahmin to be more specific) Gods.

But thanks to the delayed flight because of 26/11, Khan saheb did not have time for the promised interview. I was robbed of some personal moments with Khan saheb and also from getting an answer to a question which has been bothering me. This question surfaced yet again in my mind this evening while watching Yousuf Saeed’s moving documentary KHAYAAL DARPAN. The documentary was screened in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library as a part of the Jashn-E-Aman (Celebration of Peace) festival. The film is about classical music in Pakistan.

Yousuf Bhai interviews one Aliya Rashid, a classical singer in his film. Aliya is blind and passionate about music. She keeps thanking ‘Allah’ for having shown her the path of music. She also believed that it is because of ‘Allah’ that she could perform so well in her life. She goes on to speak of her training in ‘ilm-e-mousequi’ (art of music) under the Gundecha bothers of Bhopal. She elaborates on how she had to adjust to the life style of a Jain family which was a pure vegetarian while she was a “meat eating” person. Expressing her high respects for Gundecha brothers- her teacher- she sings before the camera. The text of the her singing reads “Shanker Suta Ganesha” (Son of Lord Shiva, Oh Ganesha)

A girl who thanked ‘Allah’ in every alternative sentence had no choice but to sing in praise of Lord Ganesha because that is what she was taught. Interestingly she was taught by a teacher who belonged to the Jain faith. This interview with Aliya Rashid brought back to me the question that I wanted to pose before Ustaad Rashid Khan.

Once the film got over I went to Yousuf Bhai and put forth my question to him. And he told me something even the more interesting. “Gundecha brothers are the disciples of Dagar brothers who are Muslims,” said Yousuf Bhai and laughed. I too laughed but the question I had in my mind was unanswered yet answered.

“Most of the classical music borrows from Dhrupad which has Hindu or as you call Brahminical texts. And classical music is not a common man’s art. It has been an art of the elite,” said Yousuf Bhai. “There are artists who have attempted and still are attempting to make it more and more Brahminical but there are artists who have continuously attempted and still are working towards de-Brahminising the art” he added.

The film KHAYAL DARPAN has interviews of Salanat Ali, a music critic of Pakistan who mentions about the attempt by many in Pakistan to change the name of some Ragas like Shiv Kalyan to Shab Kalyan and thus de-Brahminise the art. But I personally feel even such an extreme step wouldn’t solve the cultural hegemonic problem.

Yousuf Bhai said that there were also attempts to use the texts of Kabir Das in classical music and thus de-Brahminize the art. This was a relief for me, I say. I immediately felt that even the Vachanas (a form of poetry which was an offspring of the 12th century socio-religious Vachana movement in Karnataka) should be used. And suddenly I remembered Pandith Rajshekhar Mansoor being requested by Pattabhi to sing a vachana, as he was to conclude his concert in Manipal (May 2005). Pandith ji then sang, “Akka kelavva naanondu kanasa kande…” (Listen my dear sister, I have a dream…)

26 September 2009

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