Sikhiya, Dikhiya, Parakhiya: Pandit Jasraj in conversation with Mukund Lath
‘My practice was in the form of training that I undertook in three stages—as three types of disciples: sikhiya (the learner), dikhiya (the observer) and parakhiya (the person with creative judgment). The one who is receiving knowledge and taking lessons is the ‘learner’. For a singer to develop into a true artist, he has to be all three, with education and training coming first and that’s what my training entailed.’
This article is an excerpt from a 2009 interview where Dr Mukund Lath explores a few key concepts of Indian classical music with the revered Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj.
An 87-year-old singer of the Mewati gharana, Pandit Jasraj represents the last of a generation of Indian classical vocalists. With a vocal range that extends three and a half octaves, Pandit Jasraj uses perfect diction, which is the hallmark of his gharana’s style. The maestro has done extensive research in semi-classical forms of Hindustani music, alongside creating a novel form of vocal duet called ‘Jasrangi Jugalbandi’. Known for presenting an extensive range of rare ragas, his illustrious career has spanned decades, and earned him accolades both at home and abroad. He is the recipient of many awards, including the Padma Vibhushan and the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, awarded by the government of India.
Dr Mukund Lath is an Indian scholar and cultural historian best known for his writings on Indian music, theatre, dance, history and philosophy. His research on Dattilam, an ancient Indian musical text, dating between the first and fourth century, is considered a landmark in musicology. He trained in classical music under Pandit Maniram, Ramesh Chakravarti, and Pandit Jasraj. He has received many awards including the Padma Shri by the government of India.
Mukund Lath: Some time ago you presented a major concert of the Mewati gharana in Bhopal. I watched some of it on television. The organiser of the concert, Kotharijee, had requested me to write on the Mewati Gharana. Though I am a disciple of the gharana, I am not fully conversant with its background, and more importantly, I’ve never quite understood the relationship between its history and the style of music it fosters. I had written to Kotharijee saying I would certainly write, but only after a discussion with Pandit Jasraj. Today is a good opportunity to understand the ideologies behind the Mewati gharana, and gharanas in general. Before we divulge into that conversation, I wanted to ask you a fundamental question—is it really necessary to belong to a gharana if one wishes to pursue music? Surely, the history of gharanas can only be of value if the gharanas, as institutions, have value itself. What do you think—is a gharana necessary?
Pandit Jasraj: How can the value of the gharana be denied? Our music has come to us through the gharanas, and it has developed within them. How could the very tradition of music have survived without the gharanas?
ML: Bonnie Wade, an American writer, has discussed the connection between khayal singing and gharanas in her recent book. She makes a fine point that the institution of the gharana is weakening and that if that continues, khayal singing will also weaken. She remarks that today there is a star system at work; the individual musician is almost being deified. People speak of Pandit Jasraj, Kumar Gandharva, Bhimsen Joshi and so forth but the gharana remains unmentioned. If this goes on, it will be the end of the institution of the gharana, and with that, of classical music. What is your view?
PJ: It is within a gharana that an artist is formed. One learns music as a result of being part of a gharana and only then does he move forward on his own. It is sad that once an artist receives acclaim, he is less inclined to acknowledge his gharana; but on his way to stardom, he takes every advantage he can of it.
ML: It is important to bear in mind the difference between gharana and the guru-shishya parampara. The two are not the same. In South Indian musical tradition, there is a guru-shishya parampara but no gharana. Interestingly, the guru-shishya parampara also works in the West. Fine musicians have gurus or teachers whom they hold in great esteem; it is just that unlike us they do not create a song and dance about the ‘guru’. Nevertheless, they do accept the great importance of the teacher. Good music training is simply not possible without a proper teacher-disciple relationship. But the gharana is a different matter. A gharana is not just a guru-shishya tradition, it is much more than that. It is marked as a family of musicians – the son, the nephews, the grandsons – it is they who are thought to be the true proponents of the gharana; others could be shishyas of the gharana or the family, but they cannot belong to it.
PJ: The guru-shishya parampara is indeed crucial. One can possibly sing without a gharana; as a matter of fact, people are doing so nowadays, but how can one sing without a guru? Wherever an artist trains and lives, that is his gharana.
ML: Gharana is generally understood to mean the descendants of a great musician. What we call gharanas are in fact families with musical lineages. And yet the fact is, whether musicians are aware of it or not, the traditions of khayal gayaki which we call gharanas, are comparatively recent. In the days of Sadarang-Adarang, who are thought to be the initiators of the gharanas, and who lived during the reign of Mohammad Shah Rangeelay in the 18th century, khayal was practiced widely but there were no gharanas as such. There was, one might say, a star system similar to the one we have today.
I have heard that in earlier times, if one sang a composition of another gharana, he was obliged to pay a token offering to the descendants of the composer’s gharana—is that still the case?
PJ: Yes, that’s how it was in the olden days. A singer would announce, ‘I’m singing a composition belonging to your family’ and then pay a token offering to acknowledge the maestro’s due.
ML: Then it seems that the relation with gharanas lies at two levels—one with style and the other with money. When it came to money, only a person who belonged to a particular family was qualified to receive it. And since such a qualification was related to a style of singing, an effort was made to confine the style within the family. A composition was the inheritance of the sons and grandsons of the family; it was their source of income. They held exclusive rights to their forefathers’ creations and earned their living from them.
PJ: No, but it wasn’t about money alone. It was about prestige, honour, and acknowledgement. Some would pay a gold souvenir, others would just offer coins wrapped in a handkerchief. What I mean to say is that it was more about honouring a creative contribution than it was about being paid cash.
ML: Some scholars say that there are only six gharanas but the Mewati gharana is not named among them.
PJ: Some gharanas are more well-known than others. There are about twenty to twenty-five gharanas which are not as well-known as the established six. Imagine a writer who writes about the music of today. As a result, he is only exposed to a few good musicians, writing about the ones he knows, overlooking the rest. The chroniclers after him also do the same. There were many gharanas that practiced their art but were not noticed or accounted for—this is the sad state of the history of our music.
ML: Tell us a little about your own training. Who did you train under?
PJ: My brother, Pandit Maniram, who is much older to me, was my guru.
ML: How long did you train under him? Did you practice with him every day and for long hours…?
PJ: My practice was in the form of training that I undertook in three stages—as three types of disciples: sikhiya (the learner), dikhiya (the observer) and parakhiya (the person with creative judgment). The one who is receiving knowledge and taking lessons is the ‘learner’. For a singer to develop into a true artist, he has to be all three, with education and training coming first and that’s what my training entailed.
ML: Yesterday you mentioned how Rajab Ali Khan challenged your father, Motiramjee. He sang the unknown raga Din-kee-puriya and then asked your father to sing it. This was a test of his learning. The thought in Rajab Ali’s mind was that if Motiramjee has been properly taught, he would be able to sing the raga with ease. Although Motiramjee did not know the raga, for he had just heard it, he was able to render it very well. There are many other anecdotes that make the same point. We’ve all heard stories of singers who listened to someone on the sly and were immediately able to learn a new raga, as well as adopt a new style of singing. If a person has had proper training, he should be able to absorb and learn a great deal by listening alone.
PJ: Yes, this is the process which enables the next phase, that of developing creative judgment or parakhiya.
ML: Wasn’t Rajab Ali trying to gauge the depth of Motiramjee’s learning? What sort of training would enable a singer to render a new composition just by listening to it, before absorbing and elaborating on it using his own imagination?
PJ: Essentially, he would need to become one with it.
ML: Speaking from the perspective of Western music traditions, it would not be possible for a person trained in that tradition to do what Motiramjee did. It is not expected of trained Western musicians to be able to creatively enter into the form and spirit of a new composition and render it in their own way. The training tests devised by Rajab Ali could not even be imagined in the West. If a singer in our tradition has been well-trained, he will be able to grasp the new composition and render it in his own terms; not a Western composition of course, but a composition in the raga genre.
PJ: This is what learning in Indian music is all about. This is what we call gurumukh vidya, knowledge acquired directly from the guru. In our tradition, the guru shapes the student’s mind so that he can follow the path shown by the guru. But as gurus, we never want the disciple to remain confined in that space. A student is not taught a definitive number of elaborations or embellishments. On the contrary, he is exposed to various kinds of ornamentations and elucidations.
A guru asks a student to follow him until he has reached a certain level, and has fully imbibed himself in the training. Afterwards, a disciple is free to listen to others, take in influences and devise his own style of singing. The reason why gurus in the olden days did not allow a student to listen to other musicians too much, was to better enable the student to first imbibe in the guru’s style. A guru never says, ‘follow me’ or ‘copy what I am doing’; he says, ‘listen to what I am doing and then try to walk the path I walk, in your own way’. Then when the student reaches a certain maturity, the guru asks his student to perform on his own.
ML: And this points to the question I had in mind—isn’t it strange that while the guru demands the student should follow him, at the same time, he also demands that the student should not follow him to the letter?
PJ: In the initial stages, the guru will ask the student to copy him. Copying involves some fine points and only a polished singer can copy well. In Indian classical music, the main notes and the intermediate ones have distinct affinities. For example, if one is working around three main notes, weaving them into a rhythm, and creating an elaboration or a rapid phrase, one is also required to be aware of the nuances of the intermediate notes, and articulate them with great subtlety. Let me show you. [Sings] This has to be done just so, and can only be accomplished by copying.
ML: … but once one learns to sing a tune like that, can he not use it in his own way? One could render the same phrase in many different ragas…
PJ: That’s right but there are other finer points besides this, which can only be learnt by copying. Let me show you a few ways of going from the second note to the third note. [Sings]. How could one master such techniques unless one is made to listen and practice?
ML: But the ability to render a raga is not just a matter of technique or skill …
PJ: True, but learning technique and developing skill is necessary for the disciple, if he is to become a capable singer.
ML: There are some skilled singers we know of, who can listen to a recording by a great maestro, and copy it in every detail. You too must have heard them –
PJ: Such a person cannot really be called a disciple …
ML: What then is the difference between a disciple and one who copies well?
PJ: A disciple does not just copy, he learns from his guru. And a true guru does not impose his singing on the disciple, he shows his disciple the way and imparts knowledge.
ML: That explains the learning part but what about the observer and the person with creative judgement. What do those terms imply?
PJ: Once a disciple has learnt the basics, he should become an observer or dikhiya. He should open his eyes and ears to the world around him in order to know where he stands and discover his place in the order of all things musical. He should, in other words, evaluate himself in relation to others. He should eventually become a judge, a parakhiya, evaluating what he has learnt and what is going on in the world around him to consider what he is going to do himself. Only then can he be a good singer.
ML: What if someone is less of a learner, but a good observer or has mastered creative judgement?
PJ: Such a person can also be a good singer, but he is unlikely to represent his guru, so to speak.
ML: How so?
PJ: A good observer and a good judge can certainly be a good singer, but if you ask such a musician to perform like his guru, he would surely not be able to do so. All three qualifications need to be present in equal sums. Nowadays there are plenty of observers and judges, but few learners.
ML: What do you think of the upcoming generation?
PJ: I am an optimist. I just feel that the upcoming generation is not able to devote sufficient time to learning music as there are too many other forms of entertainment they’re losing focus to. As a result, they are unable to gain competency in any one thing.
ML: Some people believe that our music never changes. Do you think it does?
PJ: Any vibrant genre must change. Change is necessary. But it is not as though the music today will change into something entirely different in the future. That is not likely to happen.
ML: Are you convinced of that?
PJ: What I mean to say is that songs and light-classical genres such as qawwali, geet, ghazal, thumri, bhajan will continue to exist; such music has been embraced in every age. I think that serious classical music will also flourish. It will undergo change, but will not weaken or become diluted.
ML: There was a time when elaboration of a raga in the shorter form of the khayal did not exist. With that evolution, a new style of raga rendition came into being. Do you feel anything like that can happen in the future?
PJ: No, not really.
ML: Let me ask you a different question in relation to the history of your gharana. It is said that two singers ‘left’ the gharana. How can anyone leave the household he/she belongs to, or was, in fact, born in? It’s not as if the ones who left were mere disciples, they were sons and grandsons of the family; what could ‘leaving’ mean in this context?
PJ: What it means is that they changed their style of singing. My father’s younger brother, my paternal uncle, was deeply impressed by Rajab Ali Khan’s music. He began to incorporate elements of Khan’s signature style in his own singing, though he never became a disciple. He remained in our gharana, but also digressed from it. In a similar manner, my uncle’s son Puran adopted the style of the Agra gharana. One is influenced by so many factors – personality, attitude, genre – all of these matter. Perhaps all these factors together influenced my uncle too; but of course, he was a good singer to begin with. He had no problem incorporating Rajab Ali’s style.
ML: Your uncle, did he have to learn music anew, that is, start from scratch? Did he train with Rajab Ali?
PJ: There isn’t much difference between the style of singing in our gharana and that of Rajab Ali Khan. I don’t think my uncle would have had to re-train.
ML: Let me ask you a question about the khayal genre. Some people say that the shorter form of exposition, the khayal, is influenced by the style in which the sarangi was played, just as the longer exposition form of the dhrupad is influenced by the style in which the rudra veena is played. What would you say?
PJ: Yes, there was a time when the sarangi was indeed dominant. It was an accompaniment for dance too—especially the kathak genre.
ML: What about performances by courtesans or tawaifs? Was there a sarangi-tabla prelude there too?
PJ: The roles of the sarangi and the tabla were different in kathak recitals and in performances by courtesans. Before the kathak dancer appeared on stage, the tabla was usually played with sarangi accompaniment, and then the curtain would go up…
PJ: I’m using the word ‘curtain’ loosely. Today we are used to the idea of the curtain, because concerts are held on stage. Earlier, there was no stage. The tabla would be playing and the dancer would wait on the side, until it was time to begin her dance with a striking tabla piece accompanying her entry.
ML: And the singing? Did that also have sarangi and tabla interludes?
PJ: No, just the sarangi. It went like this—there would be an exposition on the sarangi and then the tabla-player would then play a piece, and set the tone for the song. Right after, the courtesan would begin to render her composition.
ML: Well, music with such a strong sarangi component was bound to be influenced by the style of the sarangi, was it not? Just as the rudra veena influenced the singing of dhrupad? The staccato manner in which the chords of the veena are struck by the finger allows clear gaps between notes, which is similar to the slow exposition in dhrupad. The sarangi, being a bow-instrument, offers continuity of sound, and therefore, the kind of music it accompanies is bound to be different. It would be closer to the khayal style of exposition, wouldn’t it?
PJ: Yes, that would be so. If you look closely, you will notice that contemporary khayal singing is quite markedly influenced by the sarangi. Whatever the case may have been earlier, the distinctive flow of the contemporary form of khayal, is greatly influenced by the sarangi. It must also be acknowledged that this form of khayal singing owes much to the Kirana gharana.
ML: Is that in any way related to how the sarangi is played?
PJ: A singer who plays the veena is bound to be influenced by its sounds. Similarly, one who plays the sarangi, will also be affected by it. The typical style of sarangi playing would induce the singer to follow its contours and allow his voice to glide effortlessly.
Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, one of the founding fathers of the Kirana gharana, used to play the sarangi. People are probably going to criticise me for saying this, but remember, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali, the singer with incredible fluidity in his voice, also played the sarangi. And though he sang within the perimeter of the Patiala gharana, his singing was clearly influenced by the style of the sarangi. If you listen to the music of his predecessors in the Patiala Gharana, Ustad Ashik Ali or Ustad Ummaid Ali or Ustad Akhtar Ali, you will find that their style of singing is quite different. They used liberally, strong combinations of progressive notes (zamzama), which when played on the sarangi, would acquire a mellowness quite unlike the vocal interpretation. Bade Ghulam Ali’s singing had that quality of softness and a flow for which the sarangi may have been greatly responsible.
ML: I agree! Most singers were copied for a time, but the impact Ustad Amir Khan had is unmatched.
PJ: The credit for breathing new life into the alaap of khayal can certainly be attributed to Amir Khan. There are two riders though: one, luck favoured him; two, the trend existed before him but he brought it to fulfillment. Before him, Rajab Ali Khan’s nephew, Amanat Ali sang the slow exposition beautifully but he didn’t have as much impact. Amir Khan appropriated his style and made it his very own, moulding it to suit his music. Amanat Ali had a very short career.
ML: Did you ever hear Amanat Ali sing?
PJ: Often. He began singing the slow tempo khayal, which you just referred to. He enjoyed great prestige and was much respected in his day. There was a time when he was the highest paid artist on the radio. That was before India’s independence in 1947.
ML: Has his contribution been acknowledged? Did people accept him?
PJ: Not too many people did but he was much appreciated in Bombay. Back then, Bombay was the cradle of music, especially when it came to vocal music. Amir Khan’s name came to light five years after Amanat Ali’s death. You should write about Amanat Ali.
ML: I may have heard of Amanat Ali from you before but had not thought of him as being the initiator of the slow exposition style of khayal. There was a period when you too were influenced by Amir Khan. Later, of course, you crafted your own inimitable style. You are now an Ustad, a parakhiya. You have developed an approach to music which is unique and very much your own.
There ought to be more conversations like the one we had today. There are not too many perspective musicians who can present the past with such insight.
Abdul Karim Khan (1872 – 1937) was a renowned Indian classical vocalist of the Kirana gharana.
Abdul Wahid Khan (1872–1949) was an important Indian classical singer, who laid the foundations of the Kirana gharana.
Alaap is the gradual unfolding and development of a raga through monosyllables and without a fixed composition.
Bade Ghulam Ali (1902- 1968) was a classical vocalist of the Patiala gharana who was an important influence in the development of the khayal gayaki.
Dhrupad is an ancient, structured form of classical music reigning supreme for centuries in North India before the advent of Khayal.
Gayaki refers to style of singing.
Gharana is comparable to a style or school of dance or music (vocal/instrumental). The names of gharanas are almost always derived from the city, district or state that the founder lived in. Various gharanas adopted their own particular approach to presentation, technique and repertoire.
Guru refers to the guide and preceptor who shows the life-path.
Gurumukh vidya is the knowledge acquired directly from the guru.
Guru-shishya parampara is the primarily oral teaching tradition of Indian classical music, from the teacher (guru) to the disciple (shishya). The raga and its structure, the intricate nuances of rhythm, and the rendering of raga and rhythm as a composition, are passed on from teacher to disciple by word of mouth and through direct demonstration. There is no printed sheet of music, with notation acting as the medium, to impart knowledge.
Jee – ‘jee’ or ‘ji’ is a used as a suffix to a name as a mark of respect and politeness in Hindi, Urdu and related languages.
Khayal is ‘imagination’ (literal) or the elaboration of a raga with lyrical composition consisting of two stanzas.
Kirana gharana is considered one of the most prolific khayal schools, the style of singing which is concerned foremost with perfect intonation of notes. The name of the school of music derives from Kirana or Kairana, a town in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Mewati gharana is a musical apprenticeship clan of Indian classical music founded in the late 19th century by Ghagge Nazir Khan of Jodhpur. With its own distinct aesthetic and stylistic views and practices, the gharana is an offshoot of the Gwalior gharana and acquired its name after the Mewat region of Rajasthan from which its founding exponent hailed. The gharana gained visibility after the contemporary vocalist Pandit Jasraj revived and popularised the style of singing.
Motiram – Pandit Jasraj’s father and a musician of repute of the Mewati gharana. In the conversation between Mukund Lath and Pandit Jasraj, he is deferentially referred to as Motiramjee.
Pandit is an honorary title given to an expert.
Parampara refers to a continuing tradition.
Patiala gharana of Indian classical music is best known for its ghazal, thumri, and khayal styles of singing. It was founded by Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Ustad Ali Baksh Khan (known as Alia-fattu), and was initially sponsored by the Maharaja of Patiala, Punjab.
Raga refers to an aesthetically pleasing element (literal). The basis of Indian classical music, raga is a musical structure of five to seven notes, with characteristic phrases, an identity and mood.
Rajab Ali Khan (1874 -1959) was an Indian classical vocalist of repute, who sang a mix of both Jaipur and Kirana gharanas. He was a court musician of Dewas and Kolhapur, and later of Jaipur State. As a khayal singer Rajab Ali was known for slow improvisations full of melodic patterns as well as very fast and intricate phrases.
Rudra veena is a large, ancient plucked string instrument.
Sadarang- Adarang (1670–1748) was the pen name of the Indian musical composer and artist Niyamat Khan. He and his nephew Adarang are attributed to changing the khayal style of Indian music into the form performed today. He served in the court of Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah who ruled from 1719 to 1748 and had the pen name Rangeelay. Sadarang and Adarang remain influential in Indian classical music, mainly through their compositions.
Sarangi is a bowed, short-necked string instrument from India and Nepal which is used in Indian classical music. It is said to closely resemble the sound of the human voice.
Sikhiya, dikhiya, parakhiya – Sikhiya is a disciple who learns by directly taking lessons; Dikhiya is a disciple who learns through observation; Parakhiya is a disciple who learns by applying creative judgement
Tabla refers to a pair of drums, in which the treble is played by the right hand while the left hand plays the bass.
Ustad Amir Khan (1912 – 1974) was a well-known Indian classical vocalist. He is considered one of the most influential figures in Indian classical music, and the founder of the Indore gharana.
Ustad/Pandit refers to a guru, an expert; honorary title given to a learned musician.
Zamzama is an Urdu word meaning ‘addition of notes’, and implies a cluster of notes, used to embellish the landing note. Notes in a zamzama are rendered in progressive combinations and permutations.
Sources: Internet, ITC, Wikipedia
Madhu B Joshi is a communication practitioner. She has taught translation and a short, self-designed course on Indian culture; mentioned content teams of major education. NGO’s and designed educational audio-video programmes for CIET, NMERT Joshi is a translator of Hindi poetry and short fiction in English and has persented major black feminist writers in Hindi. She is also a prolific and visionary collaborator of Story Weaver.
‘My practice was in the form of training that I undertook in three stages—as three types of disciples: sikhiya (the learner), dikhiya (the observer) and parakhiya (the person with creative judgment). The one who is receiving knowledge and taking lessons is the ‘learner’. For a singer to develop into a true artist, he has to…