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An Introduction to Indian Music

An Introduction to Indian Music | Indian Music |
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As a body of music, Indian music appeals to and is patronized by a small, well educated Indian population. Exhibiting two regional sub-styles or traditions (Hindustani and Karnatic), Indian music is heard through public concerts for which there is a similar notion of programmatic order (as in the West). Here our differences begin to appear. 

In any performance in the Hindustani or Karnatic styles, there are always three layers of musical activity: melody, rhythm, and a constantly sounding drone instrument. Indian compositions may be pre-composed, or a mixture of pre-composed and improvisational segments.  In the West we consider, melody and harmony as taking a dominant role in terms of creating the structure of music, rhythm is more of a decorative item. In Indian music, harmony is almost completely absent. Melody and rhythm functions operate in tandem to determine the overall structure. Unlike much of our music in the West, Indian music is not for selling, nor is it made for commercial purposes. To the Indian musician, music is like worshiping, and through music you worship God. Though it is difficult for a professional musician to follow this doctrine, it is true that you feel godliness music more quickly through music than any other medium, whether it is saying a mantra or doing yoga; ,these are very long process for obtaining some state or feeling of divinity. Music is the fastest vehicle, if one listens to the age-old saying 'Nada Brahma" - Sound is God.".

For an Indian musician, one must submit to a lifestyle of mental discipline and spiritual evolvement. "The guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) relationship is an exceptionally powerful one, at the center of which is the one to one oral teaching method. In order to gain the benefits of the received wisdom of the ages, the student must yield completely to the demands of the guru in a submission of the ego, must accept without question what he is taught. Even more important than achieving technical proficiency (though that is vital as well) is the process of imbibing direct from the guru the essence of each raga, and the essence of the music as a whole; without the feeling for these, his potential for authentic improvisation will always be limited. The relationship is as much spiritual as it is worldly, for the guru leads the pupil into the euphoria that results from true master of the music and appreciation of its transcendental potential. Teaching is done orally and aurally, from teacher to student. It is vitally important for the student to learn all the nuances of a raga from the "sounds" of the teacher, the essence of the raga itself must be learned in this way, one cannot learn improvisation from a musical score, as in the West.

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Use of Mohammad Rafi by SD Burman in realistic films

Use of Mohammad Rafi by SD Burman in realistic films | Indian Music |

Sachin Dev Burman as a composer had a liking for folk tunes and the softness of sounds of nature was captured in his compositions. Whenever his compositions were studied in the commercial films there was limitation relating to the immense musical talent because there were preferences of the producers, actors and other groups of people.

But when it came to realistic films, probably SD Burman’s best tunes were created. Mohammad Rafi as a singer had the greatest range and modulation in respect of singing. So SD Burman’s songs in realistic films with Mohammad Rafi created magic.


In Dilip Kumar and Bimal Roy’s Devdas, SD Burman used Talat Mehmood for the song “mitwa”. It was probably one of the best tragic songs Talat Mehmood had ever sung. SD Burman was successful in extracting the pathos in a rural background.

Lajwanti, Bandini and Sujata were female-centric films. So SD Burman composed songs for the female singers. Talat Mehmood’s “jalte hai jiske liye” was impressive in Sujata.

Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa was a landmark film where SD Burman and Mohammad Rafi combination touched the souls of people. “yeh mahalaon yeh takhton yeh taajon ki duniya” sung by Rafi and written by Sahir Ludiyanvi had philosophical dimension. Rafi’s s other songs in the film were masterpieces like “hum aapki aankho me”, “yeh hanste hue phool”, etc.

Rafi SD Burman combination followed the pathos andaz in Guru Dutt’s Kagaz Ke Phool. Rafi’s song “dekhi  zamaane ki yaari, bichre sabhi baari baari” was one of the best songs speaking about the reality of life. Philosophy, pathos and passion got merged into one. The other songs “hum tum jise kehten hai”, “ulte seedhe dao lagae” were equally impressive.

In Bimal Roy’s Benazir, all the songs of Rafi SD Burman combination were very impressive including “dil me ek jaane tamanna”, “aaj shishe me baar baar”, “le gayi ek haseena”, “mai shola hoon”, etc. Ashok Kumar and Shashi Kapoor were very impressive in the film and Rafi’s songs were brilliant by musical standards.


Meri Surat Teri Ankhen was another film where SD Burman could display his classical talent. Rafi and Manna Dey were used to their potentials. Songs like “pucho na kaise maine rain bitayi” in ahir bhairav, “naache man mowra”, “tere bin sune” were masterpieces which showed the pathos andaz of Ashok Kumar in the film.

Rafi was used in immense numbers of films of Dev Anand, in Dharmender’s Ishq Par Zor Nahi, Joy Mukherjee’s Ziddi, Vinod Mehra’s Anurag and majority of them dominated the chartbusters in the 1950s and 1960s. Many listeners must have Rafi’s rendition of SD Burman compositions “yeh dil diwana hai”, “mehbooba teri tasveer”, “teri surat se na milti hai kisiki surat”, “janu kya mera dil ab kahan kho gaya”. The songs were very melodious. References had not been made in the article because the article was devoted to the realistic andaz of Rafi and SD Burman. All the films and the songs mentioned above require publicity and restoration.

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Ravi Shankar (1920-2012): a gifted, complex and beautiful life

Pundit Ravi Shankar who died on 13 December at the age of 92 was a special human being. The Sanskrit ‘Om’ symbol on the red front steps of the sprawling hilltop home at Encinitas, San Diego, where he died, epitomised his life: he was remarkable not only for his extraordinary musical gift, but an enlightened mind. Shankar’s last musical performance was on 4 November, in Long Beach, California with his daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar Wright.

Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury was born on 7 April 1920, in the holy city of Benares, now known as Varanasi. He was the youngest of five sons of a Bengali Brahmin family from Jessore, now in Bangladesh. At the age of 10, he joined the world famous Paris based dance troupe of his brother Uday. Over the next eight years, in Paris, Shankar travelled with the troupe across Europe, America and Asia.

Ravi’s move from dance to music was due to the influence of renowned musician Baba Allaudin Khan (the father of sarodist Ali Akbar Khan) who joined his brother’s dance troupe: Shankar eventually became his pupil, gave up dancing and came back to India and spent 7 1/2 years of isolated, rigorous study of the sitar as required under the Gurukula system. Shankar gave his first concert in 1939, and in 1940 began playing recitals on All India Radio with Ali Akbar Khan. He later founded and became the musical director of All India Radio’s first National Orchestra. In the 1950s, Shankar’s fame grew, and was appointed music director for All India Radio.

Between 1950-1955 he wrote the scores for several popular films including Satyajit Ray’s Apu triology and movies such as Anuradha and Godaan. But Ravi Shankar could not compete on the popularity charts with Bollywood music directors like Shankar and Jaikishen, O.P.Nayyar, S.D.Burman, Naushad and several others.  In the 1980s he wrote music for Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi’’ for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

Ravi Shankar in the West

Ravi Shankar was better known in the West than in India. Many Indians believe that Ustad Vilayat Khan, the son of sitar maestro Enayat Khan, who came from an immaculate pedigree of court musicians near Agra was a better sitar player.

But Ravi Shankar shot in to international fame due to his associations with influential Western musicians such as the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison of The Beatles: beginning in the 1950s, Shankar collaborated with, and taught Indian music to Western musicians, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and the musical group The Byrds, whose song “Eight Miles High” contains Shankar’s mesmeric sitar playing. He also collaborated with flutist Jean Pierre Rampal, composer Philip Glass and conductors Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta. But it was his close relationship with George Harrison, the Beatles lead guitarist, in the 1960s that promoted him to global stardom.

George Harrison had grown fascinated with the sitar, and played it with a Western tuning, on the song “Norwegian Wood,” but asked Shankar to teach him to play it properly. Following Shankar’s tutelage, Harrison recorded the Indian-inspired song “Within You Without You” on the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

Shankar’s involvement in rock music spurred the raga-rock phase of the 60s, with him invited to play at iconic music events such as the Monterey and Woodstock festivals. Though there were signs that Shankar enjoyed the popularity, and the money that brought, his cultural estrangement with the drug use and rebelliousness typical of the hippie culture was apparent: he is reported to have been horrified when Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar on stage at the Monterey Festival and commented, “In our culture, we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of God.”

On the broader Monterey experience, Shankar wrote: “I felt offended and shocked to see India being regarded so superficially and its great culture being exploited. Yoga, Tantra, mantra, kundalini, ganja, hashish and Kama Sutra all became part of a cocktail that everyone seemed to be lapping up!” Shankar, once said Indian audiences did not always approve of his association with Western rock stars and he was also not comfortable with the fame it brought him. “When I started working with George Harrison I became like a pop star myself,” he told The Guardian newspaper in a June 2011 interview. “Everywhere I went, I was recognised. I didn’t like that at all.”

A complex personal life

The musical genius of Ravi Shankar was accompanied by other personality traits that made him an enthralling person. The self-confessed follower of free love, Shankar, has openly admitted that he could “be in love with different women in different places. It was like having a girl in every port – and sometimes there was more than one!”

When Ravi Shankar was 21, in 1941, he married 14-year-old Annapurna Devi, daughter of his guru Baba Allauddin Khan and sister of Ali Akbar Khan. The couple separated acrimoniously and his son with Annapurna, Shubhendra, died in 1992, aged 50.

Shankar lived with the dancer Kamala Shastri from 1967 to 1981, while his marriage to his first wife was crumbling. In 1978, he began an affair with the already married 18-year-old Sukanya Rajan who often played the tanpura at his concerts. In 1979, he fathered a child, musician Norah Jones, with New York concert producer Sue Jones. Anoushka was born in 1981 to Sukanya, and eventually Ravi married Sukanya in 1989 when Anoushka was 11.

His wife Sukanya has said: “He was 58 at the time of our marriage and the gap between us was 34 years. He told me he couldn’t change. I realised I was too much in love… I really couldn’t care. Even if he gave me a few days in a year, I was fine. That experience would help me tide over a whole year.”

Shankar’s life time achievement however, was in his interpretations of classical ragas rather than in bringing up a fundamental change in the perception of ragadhari music in the West where he spent most of his life. Though Shankar introduced millions of lovers of western classical, jazz and rock music genres to Indian music through his many collaborations, not many Westerners were enticed, with the exception of a few well known cases, to gain an in-depth understanding of the traditions of this sophisticated art form.

Ravi Shankar did not make a significant impact in terms of bridging the musical gap between the West and the East: The remark by Time magazine, on a Shankar concert in 1957, that “US audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled” summarised the impact correctly; Shankar and colleague Ustad Ali Akbar Khan were amused when they were greeted with admiring applause when they had been just tuning their sitar and sarod for a minute and a half at the opening of the Concert for Bangladesh.

Despite his fame, numerous albums and decades of world tours, Shankar’s own music, and Indian music in general, remains a riddle to many Western ears.

He would have justifiably said “One can only lead a horse to water”.


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A tribute to legend Manna Dey

LIVING legend Manna Dey is the only surviving top - ranking male playback singer from the golden era of film songs in the subcontinent.


A tribute to legend Manna DeyFrom the Newspaper | 25th November, 2012   2 

LIVING legend Manna Dey is the only surviving top – ranking male playback singer from the golden era of film songs in the subcontinent. His counterparts in the Indian film industry such as Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Talat Mehmood and Hemant Kumar died a long time back.

At more than 93 years of age, he is still energetic and travels around the world to present musical programmes. Besides being honoured with the titles of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the Indian government, he has been given 21 awards by different state governments and institutions, including the prestigious Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

In the beginning of his musical career, Manna Dey was highly inspired by his paternal uncle K.C. Dey, who had already established himself as a reputable composer and singer in Bombay’s film industry. He shifted to Bombay in 1942 and started working as an assistant, first with K.C. Dey and then with S.D. Burman, who latter composed music for many super – hit Indian films. While working independently as a music director for Hindi movies, Manna Dey continued to take lessons in classical music from various Ustads. He started his career as a playback singer with the movie Tamanna in 1943 singing a duet with Suraiya, which was an instant hit. The musical score for this film was by K.C. Dey.

Although Manna Dey had lent his voice for other movies as well but his real break and popularity came with the duets which he sang with Lata Mangeshkar for the hit film “Chori Chori” starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis and released in 1950. Two of these duets ‘Yeh raat bheegi bheegi’ and ‘Aaja sanam madhur chandni mein hum’ composed by the duo Shankar Jaikishan, sent a magical musical wave in whole of the subcontinent.

These were followed by Manna Dey’s other super – hit songs like ‘Tu pyar ka sagar hae’ from the movie Seema (1955), ‘Pyar hua iqrar hua hae’ from Shree 420 and ‘Naen milay chaen kahan’ from Basant Bahar (1956). He was the leading singer alongwith Mohammad Rafi in the most famous qawwali “Na to karwan ki talash hai” from the film Barsat ki Raat (1960).

Learning classical singing from various Ustads paid back dividends to Manna Dey as three of his semi – classical songs turned out to be one of the best in this genre of film songs, viz ‘Kaun aya mere mun key dwarey’ from Dekh Kabira Roya (1957), ‘Laga chunri mein daag chopaun kaesay’ from Dil Hi To Hae (1963) and ‘Poocho na kaesay mein ney raen bitaee’ from Meri Soorat Teri Ankhen (1963), the last one was picturised on the ace actor Ashok Kumar acting as the ugly – faced lover.

There is hardly any music programme in the subcontinent where a singer does not present one of the above songs. Besides, Manna Dey sang ‘Sur na sajay kya gaun mein’ for Basant Bahar. He received both the National Film Award (1971) and the Filmfare Award (1972) for best male playback singer for the song; “Aay bhai zara dekh key chalo” for Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker.

Manna Dey has great fan following in Pakistan but it is unfortunate that he has never entertained the local audience with a live performance.


Via Vikas Zutshi
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