In a classical concert the
first point to note was whether the bandish (composition) which the singer had
started to sing was mustanid (authentic). The older the bandish, more mustanid
it was considered to be, for the real greatness of a singer lay in the fact that
he sang the bandish of a well known ustad. If he sang one of a lesser-known
ustad, or worse still, sang his own composition he was considered to be not too
well trained. It was thought that something was lacking in his musical
Usually the singers sang the
bandish of their own gharana, composed by the elders of their family. A few
others ascribed to the truly great ones like Tansen, Amir Khusro, Swami Haridas,
Hussain Sharqi Jaunpuri etc whose work is considered part of our musical
The bandish in khayal usually
sung in our time are ascribed to Naimat Khan Sadarang, an 18th-century composer,
who gave kheyal its modern form, Adarang, Tanras Khan, Mian Meherbaan, Bilas
Khan and many other ustads who have left an indelible mark on the development of
The second point to note was
that of improvisation. The raag being a structure of notes had to be improvised
upon, which meant that in its expansion, no set pattern or a preconceived
movements had to be followed. The prescribed notes of the raag and a few
artistic restrictions were the only rules which the singer could adhere to --
the rest of it was an open field where the singer had to improvise the musical
movements as he went along.
Whatever lai (tempo) was
established proved to be only a reference point, for whenever the improvised
movement ended it was wound up on the sum (the beginning of a rhythmic cycle).
There was no restriction as to how many rhythmic cycles were to pass before the
singer decided on the arrival of the chosen sum. It was all left to the musical
ability of the singer as the true merit lay in 'azaad gana'. The real essence of
our music and the creative genius of the singer lay in the number of musical
movements he could make on the given notes of the raag within endless rhythmic
The present song is all
composed. Words and phrases are set to definite rhythmic patterns and the singer
cannot escape but follow it religiously. This has reduced the scope of our music
and changed its character. The virtue of improvisation has been totally
eliminated. The entire song is as if prepared and then presented to the singer
for him to just mouth it.
This change started coming
about gradually with the invention of the recording facilities. The duration of
the song was limited to three minutes, which meant it had to be a composed
number and the improvisation was severely restricted, but actually outside the
studio where true music thrived the traditional practice of azaad gana: was
still considered the true merit of a musical performance.
The music is now meant for
recording in properly-equipped studio and the worth of a live concert where the
singer had to sing for hours has been on the decline. There is also no concept
of one singer following another in a nightlong concert, and confront the basic
problem of how to dispel the spell of the previous singer -- perhaps the most
difficult breakthrough to achieve.
The stress on creativity now
has shifted to merely the composition and the composition has to be original.
Since the entire musical performance has concentrated on the composition, the
stakes of it being original have been raised. The composers bend over backwards
and strive for originality and creativity in composition only. The older
composition, which only formed a part of the performance, was musically rendered
again and again with difference of stress and musical movements as if to bring
out the full and hidden merits of the composition. That could be possible
because it was the raag that ruled musically over the composition. The
musicality inherent in the raag was brought out rather than the mere set of
notes in the composition itself.
Now since there is no raag the
composition is critical as it solely bears the burden of musicality. Instead of
the notes of the raag, what motivates the composition is the lyrics. In
classical music the lyrics were incidental, used as pegs for the expansion of
the raag. It was a purer form of music where even words happened to intrude on
the purity of sound.
Our music is modal and rests
for aesthetic evocation on melody. The artistic device that make melody possible
are the shrutis or the microtones. The musical graces in one form or the other
are the artistic combination of these microtones. Now in our contemporary music
all these things have become obsolete -- no one uses the nuance because it can
only be correctly used in the vilambit lai (the slow tempo) as the various
shades of a particular notes are being evoked. The composition as a result of a
number of notes is best done in the madh lai (medium tempo), the laya that is
more suitable for the song format. The music that is being played and sung today
is all in the madh lai while the vilampat lai as well as the drut lai (the fast
tempo) have been consigned to oblivion. In the contemporary music one rarely
comes across a number in the slow or fast tempo -- usually it is all sung in the
same tempo -- the madh lai.
So the main characteristics of
today's music are lyrics, composition built round it and the song format in the
middle tempo. Similarly the rich rhythmic patterns which could be played at any
tempo have been simplified to minimize the possibility of melodic variation.
Layakari in the traditional
sense was not the display of how the given rhythmic pattern be sub divided but
how it could serve the purposes of melody within those various subtle
sub-divisions of the rhythmic cycle.
Since music was based on melody
the significant aesthetic criteria was raga. It seems that the contemporary
music is losing out just on that.