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Classical Music Thread

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  • girish_a1973
    I am starting this thread with the hope that others will also contribute. This first post is in the form of an introduction and hopefully, over time, we shall
    Message 1 of 6 , Oct 31, 2004
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      I am starting this thread with the hope that others will also
      contribute. This first post is in the form of an introduction and
      hopefully, over time, we shall collect many original posts as well as
      links to what others have written about the topic. The aim is to
      share our knowledge about a great cultural heritage that we share
      across all the countries of the subcontinent - Classical Music.
      While it is referred to as Indian Classical Music (to differentiate
      it from Western Classical Music), it is owned collectively by other
      countries besides India - Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and
      even Afghanistan. It has also, to some extent, influenced music in
      countries outside the region, including some South East Asian

      There are two major classical music traditions that constitute Indian
      Classical Music - Hindustani and Carnatic. Carnatic Music is an art
      form that evolved primarily in Tamil Nadu and the other three
      southern states (Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh). Tamil Nadu
      remains the heart of the art form even today. Hindustani and
      Carnatic music share many common features, including the raag and
      taal systems but they are very different artforms. It is probably
      unfamiliar to people in other countries of the region, and even
      within India, most people outside the south are unfamiliar with it.
      Only recently, the film music director, A.R.Rahman, who is influenced
      by Carnatic Music (as well as western forms) has introduced elements
      of this artform to audiences outside the south (though they may not
      recognize it as Carnatic music).

      Coming back to Hindustani music, it is the artform that most people
      on this list would be familiar with. It is a fine example of
      syncretism - where traditions and cultures intersected and enriched
      us all. Even today, this is an area where religious traditions from
      all the major religions as well as secular traditions come together.
      The Qawwali and Sufi music are examples of how Hindustani music forms
      a part of Islamic culture in the subcontinent. The Sikh 'Gurbani'
      (literally translated as the 'voice of the Guru') is built upon
      various Hindustani ragas. And music in the form of Bhajans, Kirtans
      etc. forms an integral part of Hindu religious traditions as well.

      Classical music existed in India from ancient times. The Vedas were
      the first to introduce the concept of music. They were recited in a
      specific musical manner in a 3-note scale (the very first 'raga').
      The Vedas also make references to musical traditions. The first book
      on Indian Classical Music was 'Natya Shastra' (translated as 'The
      Science of Drama') by Bharata. This was a highly scientific book
      that explores musical scales (ragas) and their mathematical basis,
      besides of course talking about drama and dance. Many others wrote
      about Indian classical music.

      In the early days, several stringed, wind and percussion instruments
      were used, apart from the human voice of course. The oldest
      instruments include the veena (a stringed instrument from which the
      Sitar has evolved and which is more common now in the south), the
      bansuri (flute) and the mridang (a barrel shaped percussion
      instrument). Later on, several new instruments came in from outside
      India, including stringed instruments like the Rabab from Afghanistan
      (which evolved into the Sarod), bowed instruments like the Sarangi
      (considered to be the closest to the human voice), western
      instruments like the violin and that incomparable of percussion
      instruments - the Tabla. They have all become native instruments in
      India and nobody would think of them as imported instruments any

      Hindustani music evolved as a distinctive artform with the entry of
      Islamic rulers in India. The early rulers perhaps did not care for
      the native art form, but once they settled down, they patronized it.
      The native artform had been devotional in nature and had been
      centered around the temples, but a new secular artform emerged in the
      courts of Kings. The Mughal ruler - Akbar - was one of the greatest
      patrons of the art. One of the nine jewels of his court was Tansen,
      who is considered as the greatest ever exponent of the musical form.
      Legend talks about his ability to light lamps and bring rain through
      his music. While one should not take these literally, these legends
      talk about the magic that his music generated in people's hearts.

      One of the greatest modern exponents of Hindustani music was Ustad
      Baba Allauddin Khan. He founded the Maihar gharana (the 'Maihar
      school' of music) and many of his students went on to become famous
      around the world. They include Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali
      Akbar Khan (Sitar), Pandit Pannalal Ghosh (Bansuri's greatest
      exponent) and many others.

      My next post (hopefully tomorrow), will be about Ustad Allauddin
      Khan. Later posts will talk about other greats in the world of
      Classical Music. If interest is sustained, I shall also talk about
      syncretic traditions in Carnatic Music, about which people here may
      know less about.

    • ravikant Yuyutsu
      Please keep this thread going. I am most interested. I may not be a keen student of music but I enjoy listening to semi-classical stuff. thanks and cheers
      Message 2 of 6 , Nov 2, 2004
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        Please keep this thread going. I am most interested. I
        may not be a keen student of music but I enjoy
        listening to semi-classical stuff.

        thanks and cheers
        --- girish_a1973 <girish_a1973@...> wrote:

        > I am starting this thread with the hope that others
        > will also
        > contribute.

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      • Girish A
        Here s a profile of Ustad Allauddin Khan, one of the greatest exponents of the musical form in the last couple of centuries, written by another great artiste -
        Message 3 of 6 , Nov 3, 2004
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          Here's a profile of Ustad Allauddin Khan, one of the greatest exponents of the musical form in the last couple of centuries, written by another great artiste - Pandit Ravi Shankar.


          A famous disciple of Wazir Khan and an extraordinary teacher and performer himself is Ustad Allauddin Khan of Maihar in Central India. This saintly and learned man became my revered guru, and it is to him that I owe my devotion and love for my musical training.

          I saw him for the first time at the All-Bengal Music Conference in December, 1934. In contrast to the other musicians, who were wearing colorful costumes, turbans, and jewels, and were bedecked with medals, he seemed very plain and ordinary, not at all impressive. But even in my immaturity, it did not take me long to realize that he had qualities that far outshone the gaudiness of his colleagues. He seemed to shine with a fire that came from within him. Although I did not know enough about music then to discern his musical greatness, I found myself completely overwhelmed by everything about him. Baba has always been a strict disciplinarian with his students, but he had imposed upon himself an even stricter code of conduct when he was a young man, often practicing sixteen to twenty hours a day, doing with very little sleep, and getting along with a minimum of material things. Sometimes, when he practiced, he tied up his long hair with heavy cord and attached an end of the cord to a ring in the ceiling. Then, if he happened to doze while he practiced, as soon as his head nodded, a jerk on the cord would pull his hair and awaken him. From early childhood, Baba was ready and determined to make any sacrifice for music. Indeed, his entire life has been devoted to music.

          Allauddin Khan was one of the sons of a quite well-to-do peasant family in Bengal. They did not have a great deal of money, but were very rich in the land they owned and the animals they kept. His family were Bengali Muslims, converted to Islam only three or four generations before. The village they lived in was predominantly Hindu, and they all spoke Bengali. And so, even though his family were Muslim, Baba knew all the ways of Hindus and was well acquainted with their customs and ceremonies. Later, he was to follow a way of life that was a beautiful fusion of the best of both Hinduism and Islam.

          His father used to play the sitar for the family and for his own pleasure. And Baba's older brother, Aftabuddin, was a very talented and versatile musician who, too, did not perform professionally but played solely to express the music he felt within himself. In his later years, he became a very religious man and was revered equally by the Hindus and the Muslims who knew him. So it was natural that the musical inclinations of little Alam, as my guru was called by his family, were intensified by listening to his father with the sitar and his brother playing a variety of instruments, including the flute, harmonium (a small, boxlike keyboard instrument), tabla, pakhawaj, and dotara (a plucked-string instrument with two strings). Young Alam used to steal into the little music room at home to try to play some of his older brother's musical instruments - and was frequently punished for it. When his family realized that Alam had this burning love for music, they became worried that he might decide to be a professional musician and did not encourage him, for music was not thought of as a respectable profession for a young man. When young Alam wanted to leave his home and devote all his life to music, his brother, the influential one in the family, refused to let him go. The family much preferred that he take up regular studies in a school.

          Baba has told us that by the time he was eight he could no longer take the strict discipline and enforced study of books. He hated studying and was constantly being punished for pursuing the thing he loved most - music. So, he left his family without saying a word and traveled to a nearby village, where he joined a party of traveling musicians led by a very famous player of the dhol. (Though the drums known as dhol or dholak are found all over India in different sizes and shapes, the dhol mentioned here is indigenous to Bengal. It is a one-piece drum with two faces and is played with the hand on the right side and with a stick on the left.) Baba told the musicians he was an orphan, and they accepted him into their group, feeling sorry for the lonely little boy. Then he traveled with the musicians as they toured, and they reached the city of Dacca, the capital of the present East Pakistan. While he was a member of this musical group, Baba had the opportunity to learn to play quite proficiently many varieties of drums-the dhol, tabla, and pakhawaj-and he also took up the shahnai and some other wind instruments-clarinet, cornet, and trumpet. During all the time Baba toured with this troupe of musicians and later stayed in Dacca, he did not communicate with his family. They were of course distraught when they realized he had left. They searched and searched for him, but finally had to give up.


          The first forty years of Baba's life were full of adventure, and he underwent many unusual, almost unbelievable, experiences through his intense love of music. Baba was never clear about how long he was with these musicians or how much time he spent in Dacca, but he says that he arrived in Calcutta when he was about fourteen or fifteen. I remember his telling me about the hardships he suffered there.

          He went to one of the most famous Bengali singers of the day, Nulo Gopal, a very devout and orthodox Hindu. Baba instinctively thought it might be better if he said he was a Hindu himself when he approached this teacher, so he took a Hindu name. Nulo Gopal saw the tremendous ardor and talent for singing this boy had, but he warned Baba that he himself had learned music in a very old, traditional style and said that he would teach Baba only if Baba had the patience to learn in the same way. That is, Baba would have to learn and practice nothing other than the sargams, palta, and murchhana (solfeggio, scales, and exercises) for twelve full years. Only then would Nulo Gopal start teaching all the traditional compositions. This, he said, would not take a very long time, because Baba would already have a firm background! Baba did agree to the arrangement, and arduously devoted himself to his study, but unfortunately, after only seven years or so, Nulo Gopal died. Baba was so grieved by his death that, out of respect to his teacher, he took an oath never to take up singing as his profession. According to Baba, the excellent training he received from this guru in those seven years caused his musical sensitivity to grow to such a degree that he could notate in his mind as well as on paper any music he heard. This ability was to prove very helpful to him later.

          During the seven years Baba was learning with Nulo Gopal, he took a job at the Star Theatre (run by Girish Ghosh, the father of Bengali drama) as a tabla player in the orchestra to make a little money, and he had some training in the playing of the violin from an outstanding Indian Christian teacher. Baba also participated in the frequent orchestral parties held by a prominent composer, Habu Dutt, who was the brother of the famed Swami Vivekananda. Habu Dutt had studied both Eastern and Western music and maintained an orchestra for which he composed in raga and tala framework; he used all the Western instruments as well as a few Indian ones. This later inspired Baba to create his own ensemble, the Maihar Band, which was quite famous for many years.

          It was often frightening just to hear Baba talk about the hardships he suffered as a young man in Calcutta. The little pay he received at the Star Theatre and occasional extra income he got by playing a recital here or there all went to pay for gifts or offerings he brought to his teachers-fruits or sweets-in gratitude for their giving him lessons. Most of the time he had his one meal a day at some anna chhatra, a food dispensary provided for the poor by some rich families. (Until very recently, these existed in all the large cities as a common form of charity.) The rest of the day Baba either went hungry or nibbled at a handful of chick peas and drank the water of the river Ganges. He had no one particular place to stay. Sometimes he took a room in a cheap boardinghouse, and other times he stayed in the stable of a wealthy family.

          When he was in his twenties, Baba went to a city called Muktagacha, then in eastern Bengal, now in East Pakistan. It was here, at the court of Raja Jagat Kishore, that he heard the celebrated sarod player of the time, Ustad Ahmad Ali, and for the first time, he experienced the full effect of the musician and the beauty of the music. In his studies under Nulo Gopal, Baba had felt he was approaching the field of strict classical music, but when his guru died, he thought he had reached only the threshold of the musical sanctuary. He realized he needed another good teacher to elevate him to a higher level in his playing and understanding. So, he decided just then, in the Raja's court, that he must take this musician as his guru and learn to play the sarod. Baba's burning desire to learn and a recommendation from the Raja persuaded Ahmad Ali to accept the boy as his disciple. When Baba began learning from Ahmad Ali, he gave up all his old dilettante musical interests and devoted himself solely to the sarod. The next four years or so were spent living and traveling with his ustad, serving him in every way, even cooking, and learning and practicing music as much as he could.

          After some time, Ahmad Ali left the court and traveled to his home, the city of Rampur, taking Baba with him. By this time, Baba had learned a great deal of the art and technique of the sarod and had absorbed most of the knowledge of his ustad. Somehow, he felt that Ahmad Ali was a bit apprehensive about Baba's proficiency and was afraid that Baba might outdo him as a musician. One day, it happened that his guru called Baba and said that he had given him enough taleem (training) and praised him for achieving a fine standard of musicianship. Now, he said, it is time for you to go out and perform, and establish your own reputation, following the tradition of sikkha, dikkha, and parikkha (derivations from the original Sanskrit of shiksha, diksha, and pariksha, which mean training, initiation, and evaluation).

          Since Rampur was the most important seat of Hindustani classical music, Baba was overjoyed when he learned there were almost five hundred musicians who belonged to the court of His Highness the Nawab of Rampur. Out of these, at least fifty ranked among the foremost artists and were famed throughout India. They included singers of dhrupad, dhamar, khyal, tappa, and thumri, as well as players of been, sursringar, rabab, surbahar, sitar, sarangi, shahnai, tabla, pakhawaj, and many other instruments. At the head of all these musicians was the truly great Wazir Khan himself, a member of the Beenkar gharana, and thus of the family of Tan Sen. He was the guru of the Nawab and, in his seat next to the Nawab's throne, enjoyed a position that was unique at that time. After taking leave of Ustad Ahmad Ali, Baba went on a kind of musical "binge," and he met all the ustads and studied a little with a great many of them for a year or so. He was completely intoxicated with the ecstasy of meeting all these great musicians. After Baba settled down a bit, he decided he must finally go to learn from the greatest musician of them all, and the one about whom he had heard so many stories - Wazir Khan.


          Ustad Wazir Khan, a direct descendant of Tan Sen, was the greatest living been player of the time. Filled with enthusiasm and bubbling with hope, Baba went off to meet him, but the sentries who guarded Ustad Wazir Khan's gates, frowning at the young man's shabby dress and poor appearance, denied him entrance. In despair, young Allauddin Khan rather melodramatically decided that he would either learn from this great master or give up his life. Nourishing these severe thoughts, he bought two tola weight of opium with which to kill himself if necessary. But fortunately, he met a mullah (Muslim priest), who dissuaded him from such extreme measures and suggested another plan.

          The mullah composed a letter in Urdu on behalf of the young aspirant, explaining how he had come all the way from Bengal especially to learn from Ustad Wazir Khan, and if that were to prove impossible, he would swallow a lump of opium and end his life. But there remained the problem of presenting the letter to the Nawab. While the spirit of desperation was mounting, young Allauddin happened to hear that the Nawab would soon be on his way to the theater, so he stationed himself on the road, hours ahead, and as the Nawab's vehicle finally approached, he threw himself down in front of it. The police dragged young Allauddin Khan away to face the Nawab, who, when he heard the whole story, was so impressed by the fervor of a young man ready to use such grave methods that he called him to the palace to play for him.

          Baba gave a very impressive performance on the sarod and on the violin, and then was asked if he could handle any other instruments. The Nawab was quite amused when Baba, replying, boasted that he could play any instrument available in the palace. So, all the instruments were brought out and, to the astonishment of everyone present, he did just that - one by one, he played them all, and quite deftly, too ! The Nawab asked him if he had any other talents, and Baba said that he could write anything played or sung. The Nawab was overwhelmed when Baba did this easily on the first attempt. The Nawab then sang him a very difficult gamak tan, a complicated embellishment in a phrase. Fortunately, young Allauddin had detected that the Nawab was becoming a little annoyed at the thought that such a young man might know more than he, and so he meekly replied that such a tan would be difficult to write down. The Nawab was so pleased at this that, in a benevolent mood, he sent for Ustad Wazir Khan and recommended young Allauddin to him as a deserving student. The Nawab himself called for a large silver tray full of gold sovereigns, sweets, material for new clothing, a ring, and new shoes. All these were given to Wazir Khan on behalf of the disciple, and the binding ceremony between Wazir Khan as guru and Allauddin Khan as shishya took place on the spot.

          As Baba has said, from the time he moved to Calcutta until he came to Rampur, he had communicated with his family and had visited their home several times. His family, hoping they could give him a reason to stay with them, forced him to take a wife on one of his visits, and later, had him marry a second time. (Muslims may marry up to four times.) But to their horror, Baba ran away from home on the day after each marriage ceremony. His fanatic love for music left no room for such things as marriage or a family then.

          In his first two and a half years as a disciple of Wazir Khan, Baba more or less had the duties of a servant and errand boy to his guru and was not really being taught music by him. Baba was rather unhappy about this, but he still spent as much time as he could practicing what he had learned from Ahmad Ali and others on the sarod. Then one day, there came a telegram to him in care of Wazir Khan, asking him to come home immediately because his second wife had tried to commit suicide and was critically ill. She was an extremely beautiful woman, and the people of her village had tormented her, saying she could not keep her husband at home for all her good looks, and teased her to such an extent that in her unhappiness she tried to kill herself. Wazir Khan had the telegram read (it was in English) before passing it on to Baba. He was shocked and not a little angry to learn about this, because Baba had told him that he was completely alone and had no family. Immediately, he summoned Baba. After being interrogated, Baba tremblingly revealed the truth. When the great man heard the story, he was deeply moved. He realized that this was a young man with an unheard-of, abnormal desire to learn music, a love so strong that he would forsake anything else in life, including the love of two young and beautiful wives.

          In tears, Wazir Khan embraced Baba, saying he had never realized any of these things, and he felt extremely sorry that he had not paid any attention to Baba in those two and a half years. Then he advised Baba to go home for a while, and as soon as he had straightened matters out, to return to Rampur. Wazir Khan promised that he would consider Baba as his foremost and best disciple outside of his own family, and said he would teach him all the secrets of the art of music that the members of Tan Sen's family possess. "I'll teach you all the dhrupad and dhamar songs," he said, "and the technique and different baj [styles of playing] of the been, rabab, and sursringar." He qualified his vow, however, by saying he could never permit Baba to play the been, because it is traditionally restricted to the Beenkar gharana - his family - and he warned that if Baba were to play it Baba would never have an heir and his family would die out. Then Wazir Khan further explained that it would be quite possible for Baba to use all the techniques and styles of playing the been on the sarod, and he agreed to teach him to play the rabab and sursringar, two instruments that were going out of use at that time.

          Wazir Khan did indeed keep his promises. Baba told us that many years later, when he was serving His Highness the Maharaja of Maihar, one day news arrived that Wazir Khan was on his deathbed. Baba rushed straightway to Rampur to be with his guru. Wazir Khan blessed him before he died, saying that Baba's name and the names of his disciples would live forever and carry on the great tradition of the Beenkar gharana and the glory of Mian Tan Sen.


          Few people have any idea of the contributions Baba has made to the world of music, especially in the instrumental field. Above all, I feel, he is responsible for enlarging the scope and range of possibilities open to an instrumentalist. He has led us away from the confines of narrow specialization that prevailed in our music really through the first quarter of this century. Until then, one player would do only music of a light and delicate nature, and another would perform only romantic compositions, some musicians were purely spiritual and others emphasized the "materialistic" side of the music - the wealth of embellishment. Because Ustad Allauddin Khan, as a young man, was taught by so many masters, he learned a variety of styles of singing and playing and acquired a good many instrumental techniques - wind and bowed and plucked-string instruments, and even drums. And so he very naturally incorporated in his playing of the sarod some of the characteristics of diverse vocal styles and of the playing styles associated with a number of different instruments. He is known mainly as a sarod player, but he also performed on several other instruments. He was equally well known as a violinist, and as he did with the sarod, he played the violin with his left hand. Three stringed instruments that he did not perform on in concerts are the been, the sitar, and the surbahar, although he was acquainted with their techniques.

          Musicians who follow Baba's example may now choose from a great many vocal and instrumental styles-alap, dhrupad-dhamar, khyal, tarana, tappa, thumri-and synthesize, creating a whole new concept in interpretation and performance. Baba faced much criticism in the beginning, as indeed, some of us, as his disciples, have been and are still facing. Early in his career, he was reproached for not playing "pure sarod" when he performed and was criticized for bringing other techniques into his playing. I myself, when I began public appearances, faced the charge of not playing "pure sitar" and of having sarod techniques in my music, because I had learned from a sarod player. And I remember clearly that even into the late 1930s, sitar playing was restricted to a very limited dimension, and the players kept to their favorite specialized areas of music. There were some who used a small sitar for the "authentic" sitar baj (here baj means style of playing) and played only medium-slow Masitkhani gats with simple tans (or phrases), a style of composition created by Masit Khan. There were others who played only medium- fast Rezakhani gats and still others who used a rather large sitar and played it more or less in the way one plays the surbahar (a large, deep-sounding instrument with very thick strings). I have heard the wellknown sitarist Enayat Khan play the alap, jor, and jhala (first three movements of a raga) on the surbahar, then put aside that instrument and take up a small sitar to do the fast Rezakhani gat. His father, Emdad Khan, is known to have done the same thing.

          The criticisms of "impurity" of style are likely to come from other musicians who use the same instrument, and they and their admirers can cause quite a storm of differing opinion. Also, musicians who do not belong to one strong and well-established gharana are often open to harsh judgments. A musician who is a member of a certain gharana may - and often does - change his style, enriching and expanding it after hearing other musicians and interpreting their ideas in his own way. But, if questioned about this, he has recourse to the shelter of his gharana. He can claim that there is a precedent for what he has done and trace it back through his own gharana's traditions. Often, though, I am amazed that a musician who upholds the highest tradition can be cruelly criticized if he also happens to be a creative artist and brings about many innovations. The great Tan Sen and then Sadarang and even Allauddin Khan faced this sort of criticism early in their careers, but later their "innovations" became part of our musical tradition, and , were well established through their disciples. That is one of the beauties of Indian classical music - that since the Vedas it has never stood stagnant, but has kept on growing and being enriched by the great creative geniuses of successive generations.

          As a teacher, Baba aims at perfecting the hand and finger technique of the student. No matter what instrument the student may choose, Baba insists that the student who shows promise should also learn to sing the palta, sargams, and other song compositions, carefully delineating the scope of the raga and its distinctive notes and phrases and correctly using the microtones, or shrutis, to give the proper effect to the music and make it come alive. The reason for this is, of course, that the basis of our music is vocal, and it is composed primarily of melody, of embellishment, and of rhythm; any melodic phrase, with or without a definite rhythm, that can be sung can also be played on an instrument, with each instrument's own features bringing a special quality to the sound. According to our tradition, even the instrumentalists are required to have a moderate command of the voice. This makes it easier for them when they take on the role of teacher to instruct their students, merely by singing the gats, or tans, or todas, or even the alap, jor, and jhala. Along with the ability to sing the melodies, Baba recommends that his students learn to play the tabla and acquire a good knowledge of taladhaya (rhythmics). In mastering the fundamentals, the student learns all the technique of properly handling the instrument of his choice, working in the particular idiom, tonal range, and musical scope of a given instrument by practicing scales, palta, sargams, and bols taught by the guru. Generally, Baba starts with basic ragas like Kalyan for the evening and Bhairav for the morning, first giving, many pieces of "fixed music" in the form of gats, tans, or todas based on the raga. By "fixed music" I do not mean music that is written down as it is in the West; rather I am referring to what we call bandishes, which literally means "bound down," but in this context means "fixed." These are vocal or instrumental pieces, either traditional compositions or the teacher's own, that students learn and memorize by playing over hundreds, even thousands, of times, to be able to produce the correct, clear sound, intonation, and phrasing. Thus, Baba lays a solid foundation for the student to know the sanctified framework of the ragas and talas.

          When the student, after some years of training, has fairly good control of the basic technique of the instrument and has learned a few more important morning and evening ragas (Sarang, Todi, Bhimpalasi, Bhairav, Yaman Kalyan, Bihag, and so on) and has some mastery of the fundamentals of solo playing, then he may expand his creative faculties and is encouraged to improvise as he plays. But he has to be careful not to impinge on the purity of the raga. That is, his playing must be correct both in technique and interpretation. The right feeling of a raga is something that must be taught by the guru and nurtured from the germ of musical sensitivity within the student. Unlike some other musicians, Baba has never been stingy or jealous about passing on to deserving students the great and sacred art that he possesses. In fact, when he is inspired in his teaching, it is as if a floodgate had opened up and an ocean of beautiful and divine music were flowing out. The disciple spends many hours simply listening to his guru, and then he endeavors to fill up the frame of a raga with improvised passages born out of the compelling mood of the moment or enlarged through his own attempts at improvisation as his understanding grows and he becomes more familiar with a particular raga. At first, the student may improvise only a fraction of his performance, but as his musicianship matures, so his confidence grows, and he improvises more and more. It is, in a way, like learning to swim. It is exhilarating in the beginning to feel your own body moving through the water, but you are afraid to swim far and there is always the fear of losing control somehow. So it is with a raga. You are always a little afraid at first that you will make mistakes, play the wrong notes, and go out of a raga or lose count of the rhythm as the raga carries you along, but your confidence keeps growing, and one day, you feel you have complete control over what you are playing. A truly excellent and creative musician of the Hindustani system will improvise anywhere from fifty to ninety per cent of his music as he performs, but this freedom can come about only after many many years of basic study and discipline and organized training (if he has a good deal of talent to begin with), and after profound study of the ragas, and finally, if he has been blessed with guru-kripa, the favor of the guru.

          When I myself start to perform a raga, the first thing I do is shut out the world around me and try to go down deep within myself. This starts even when I am concentrating on the careful tuning of the sitar and its tarafs (sympathetic strings). When, with control and concentration, I have cut myself off from the outside world, I step onto the threshold of the raga with feelings of humility, reverence, and awe. To me, a raga is like a living person, and to establish that intimate oneness between music and musician, one must proceed slowly. And when that oneness is achieved, it is the most exhilarating and ecstatic moment, like the supreme heights of the act of love or worship. In these miraculous moments, when I am so much aware of the great powers surging within me and all around me, sympathetic and sensitive listeners are feeling the same vibrations. It is a strange mixture of all the intense emotions - pathos, joy, peace, spirituality, eroticism, all flowing together. It is like feeling God. All these emotions may vary according to the style and approach of playing and to the nature and principal mood of the raga. We Indians say that in a performance of our classical music, the listener plays a great role. It is this exchange of feeling, this strong rapport between the listener and the performer, that creates great music. But wrong vibrations emanating from egoistic, insensitive, and unsympathetic listeners can diminish the creative feelings of the musician. Although I am not a Tan Sen, at times I have seen miracles happen with my music. Perhaps my playing does not cause rain to fall from the skies, but it has made tears fall from the eyes of my listeners. The miracle of our music is in the beautiful rapport that occurs when a deeply spiritual musician performs for a receptive and sympathetic group of listeners.


          Besides being famous for his performances and innovations in music, Baba was also very well known throughout the musical world for his temper. I was rather apprehensive about meeting him for the first time in person. But I still remember how surprised I was when I found him to be so gentle and unassuming, endowed with the virtue of vinaya (humility) in the true Vaishnav spirit. It is only when he is wrapped up utterly in his music that he becomes a stern taskmaster, for he cannot tolerate any impurities or defects in the sacred art of music, and he has no sympathy or patience with those who can. His own life has been one of rigorously self-imposed discipline, and he expects no less from his students. Baba's views on celibacy and especially on intoxication through alcohol or drugs are extremely rigid and severe. He strongly insists that the students follow brahmacharya - for the disciple, a traditional Hindu way of life that includes only the absolute essentials of material needs. This way, with no thoughts of fine clothes, fancy foods, sex or complicated love affairs or anything else that satisfies and encourages physical desires, the student can channel all of his powers and forces, both mental and physical, into the discipline of his music. Music, to Baba, is a strict, lifelong discipline that requires long and careful training, and if a student is not prepared to regard music in this way, he had better not take it up at all.

          Unfortunately, Baba no longer travels or performs now, although on special occasions he may be seen playing the violin or conducting the famous Maihar Band (an ensemble of Indian and Western instruments) of which he is still the director. He also continues as Principal of the Maihar College of Music which he attends every day. In 1952, Baba was made a Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi (National Academy of Performing Arts), and in 1958, he was awarded the Padma Bhusan, an honorary title for outstanding citizens, by the President of the academy. Viswa Bharati, Tagore's university, gave him the honorary degree of Doctor. Thus, honor and recognition came to him in the evening of his life, but he remains, following the saying in the Geeta, unmoved and unruffled as he pursues his work and the study of music, never bothering, never worrying or looking back. Baba himself believes he is well over a hundred years old, and his centenary has already been marked. His true age is not known, because records have not been kept, but what does it matter if he is over a hundred or nearing a hundred? What he has accomplished in his lifetime many others could not do if they had three hundred years to live. He is respected and well regarded by everyone, including the most orthodox Hindu Brahmins, as a rishi, responsible for safeguarding traditions, for developing, teaching, and passing on to disciples the art of music.

          There are so many things one could add about Ustad Allauddin Khan. He belongs to a school that seems so far removed from our modern industrial era, and yet, in every way, he has been ahead of his time, injecting a new significance and life into Indian instrumental music. With him will pass an era that upheld the dedicated, spiritual outlook handed down by the great munis and rishis who considered the sound of music, nad, to be Nada Brahma - a way to reach God.


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        • girish_a1973
          Today s biography is about Tansen, considered to be the greatest of them all in the world of Hindustani music. I am actually going backwards in time - from
          Message 4 of 6 , Nov 6, 2004
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            Today's biography is about Tansen, considered to be the greatest of
            them all in the world of Hindustani music.

            I am actually going backwards in time - from Allauddin Khan (20th
            century) to Tansen (16th century). After this, the next person whose
            biography I shall post will be even further back in time - Amir
            Khusro (14th century).

            Anyway, here's a brief biography of Tansen.

            One of the legendary figures in the history of Indian Classical
            Music, Tansen was the court musician in the court of Mughal Emperor
            Akbar. Almost every Gharana try to trace their origin to Tansen,
            though some try to go further back to Amir Khusro himself. But, it is
            likely that Tansen and his guru Swami Haridas really started Drupad
            style of singing.
            Tansen was born near Gwalior to Mukund Mishra, a poet, in 1520. He
            was interested in music from an early age and leanrned under Swami
            Haridas of Brindaban and later under Mohammed Ghaus.

            Tansen served as the court musician to King Ramachandra of Mewa and
            then later to Emperor Akbar as one of the Navarathas (nine jewels).
            Stories and legends about Tansen's musical powers abound, including
            the ones which say how he was able to create rain by singing rag Megh
            or light a lamp by singing rag Deepak. He was given the title Mian by
            emperor akbar and usually Tansen is referred thus.

            Tansen is credited with creating many ragas like Mian-ki-Malhar and
            Darbari Kanhra. He also composed several hundred drupad bandishes.

            There is some controversy regarding conversion of Tansen to Islam.
            Some beleive he was converted to Islam while some others think that
            out of great respect Akbar had for Tansen, he left him alone.

            Tansen's son Bilas Khan, became a famous musician himself and created
            the Raga Bilaskhani Todi. Saraswati Devi, the daughter became a
            famous dhrupad singer.

            And here's an article about Tansen and his contribution to Hindustani
            music, written by Pandit Birendra Prasad Roy Choadhury.


            [chapter 3]

            During the epoch of the most glorious period of the Moghul Empire the
            musical culture of North India rose to the Zenith. Mian Tansen, the
            greatest disciple of the saint and musical seer, Swami Haridas of
            Vrindaban, was the central figure around whom a renaissance of
            Hindusthani music took place. The new features added during this
            period could never be brushed aside, for in the teaching of Tansen
            could be found the key that incorporated and federated the musical
            arts of India and the Middle East through a rhythmic pattern that was
            however India's own creation. In the past, the spirit of this
            synthesis had incorporated Greek and Arabian melody types into the
            Indian scheme. The creation of such a scheme was a triumph for the
            musical genius of India. This was the ancient spiritual ideal of
            India of creating unity in diversity. In fact, this is the cosmic
            way, so to say, and as such its long history in the practical
            concerns of Indian achievements is a matter of supreme interest for
            the world. Mr. Fox Strangways is right when he says, "India has had
            time to forget more melodies than Europe has had time to learn."

            I propose to furnish an outline of the traditional gifts of the
            Tansen school of music of which little is known till now to the world
            at large. This school although based on the inspiration of Indian
            Rishis, drew materials to enrich itself from the music of Arabia and

            I have come into touch with the original sources of the teachings of
            Tansen handed down through generations of his descendants.

            The royal courts of Rampur and Jaipur which patronised and
            respectfully retained the descendants of Mian Tansen estabilished the
            teachings of his School. The Nawabs of Rampur were themselves great
            connoisseurs of music. The late Nawabs Haider Ali Khan, Hamid Ali
            Khan and Chhamman Saheb were great masters of vocal and instrumental
            music and had in their Darbar the immortal Bahadur Hossainn Khan,
            Sangeet Nayak Wazir Khan (the Guru of Allauddin Khan) and Mohammed
            Ali Khan of the Tansen line. Wazir Khan himself was not only a great
            musician but was also great musicologist who wrote the Risala
            Mousibi, a voluminous work with notations. Chhamman Saheb also wrote
            several valuable manuscripts including Risala Tansen, Nurul Hawdayak
            and on the philosophy of music, all of which are carefully preserved
            in the court of the late H. H. Nawab of Rampur. Being a disciple of
            the late Mohammad Ali Khan and also of the son of Wazir Khan, I have
            received the original teachings contained in these works.

            Among the Seni musicians, that is, the descendants of Tansen of the
            19th and 20th centuries, we find two mighty figures who were given
            the title "Sangeet Nayaka" by the royal courts. In the 19th century,
            Basat Khan, the celebrated vocalist and Veena player,was an
            outstanding figure who trained many disciples and wrote some valuable
            books on music. The famous work "Nagamat-e-Asarhi" contained his
            teachings. Another book named "Nagamat-e-Niamat" written by the great
            sarodiya Niamatullah Khan who was one of his disciples, contains his
            musical theories. Md. Ali Khan who was my Guru, was the second son of
            Basat Khan. He and Wazir Khan flourished during the earlier part of
            this century and the latter trained Allauddin Khan, Mustaque Hussain
            Khan and Hafez Ali Khan. The immortal Pandit Bhatkande also took
            initiation from him in Seni music.

            I have found complete identity of views in the teachings of Basat
            Khan and Wazir Khan in the theories of Hindusthani music. Both of
            them have propagated the basic principles on which the entire
            structure of music of Tansen and his descendants stands. The
            tradition of Tansen brings us in close touch with the Iegcendary
            origin of the Indian music as rich as well as the historical accounts
            given by Sarangadeva.

            The theories of Tansen accept the view of the Sangita Ratnakara that
            Brahma created the Marga style of music out of the contents of the
            Samaveda which used to call the learning of music as the Nadavidya,
            the embodiment of the eternal spirit. The God Mahadeva was the
            original teacher of this Vidya and Parvati and Sarasvati received
            this divine knowledge from him. The mention of God Ganesa, Narada ,
            Hanuman come next. The celestial beings of the heaven that is the
            lesser gods, Ghandharvas, Kinnaras and the celestial nymphs learned
            this divine music from Narada and Hanuman. In the teachings of Tansen
            we find accounts of the Puranic personalities like Ravana, Valmiki,
            Lava, Kusha, Hanuman, Arjuna and others. Then there are references of
            Bharata, Matanga, Sarangadeva and Kallinatha.

            Tansen based his theories of music according to the Shiv Mata and the
            Hanuman Mata in which the expositions of the characteristics of the
            six main Ragas namely (1) Bhairav (2) Malkosh (3) Hindol (4) Shree
            (5) Megh (6) Dipak and their Raginis and the Raga Putras were given.
            In Sanskrit works like Sangitadarpana correlation of the ragas with
            Raginis seems to be based on imaginary grounds or fictions. But both
            Basat Khan and Wazir Khan in their musical manuscripts, have
            rearranged the relations between Ragas and Raginis which they
            ascribed to Tansen's theories in a way satisfying both reason and
            science. These two great musicians accepted the theory of twelve
            Melas and showed that the six main Ragas belonged to the six main
            Melas and there was correlation between the Ragas and Raginis
            according to the similarities of Melas, Vadi, Samvadi and Amsa
            Swaras. Later on Pandit Bhatkande established the theories of ten
            Thats of the Hindusthani Sangit Paddhati. Bhatkhande also became the
            disciple of Wazir Khan and collected many Dhrupads of the Tansen

            Tansen was acclaimed by Empeor Akbar as the greatest musician of
            India after the age of Bharata. We find evidence to this in the work
            of Abul Fazal. The descendants of Tansen expressed the view that the
            musical teachings of Tansen, especially those on the structure of the
            Ragas, have been carried down through lines of the Gurus and
            disciples. Tansen himself was a disciple of Baba Ramdas of Oadh and
            Svami Haridasji of Vrindaban, both of whom regarded God Siva as the
            creator and Hanuman as the propagators of Ragas and Raginis. Tansen
            also assimilated some of the basic principles of the of the Middle

            The origin of the Arabic and the Persian music may be traced from
            Greece. But it should be remembered that the Greeks were indebted to
            Egypt on the one hand and India on the other for the development of
            their philosophy, music, science and the various arts. Tansen however
            received the influence of the Arabic and Persian music from Mohammed
            Ghous, the celebrated Pir of Gwalior who was also one of the
            spiritual guides of Tansen. Tansen was the son of a Gaudiya Brahniin
            of Benaras and was initiated by Haridas Svamii in the Brahma Vidya
            and Nada Vidya and later on was initiated by the Pir of Gwalior in
            the cult of sufism. Although by his marriage with a Muslim lady he
            embraced the Islamic religion, he did not forsake the teachings of
            the Vedic cult ; rather he combined the philosophical principles and
            the practices of the Vedas and the Bhakti Sastra of India with the
            Sufi cult of Persia. The songs composed by him bear evidence of his
            true devotion to the gods and "avataras" of India as well as to the
            prophet Mohammed. Regarding the traditions of the music of the Middle
            East which inspired Tansen, we find the following account in the
            manuscripts of Wazir Khan.

            About the origin and history or legends of music, the ancient
            Persians believed that this art had originated from the melodious
            notes of a bird which they called Mausiqar. The beak of the bird has
            seven holes in it and through each hole it used to sound a different
            note. This ultimately led to the foundation of seven fundamental

            The Persians and the Arabic scholars mention the name of Pythagoras
            as the first authentic writer on music. Pythagoras wrote a book
            entitled Mausike in the Greek language in about 500 B. C. Mou in
            Greek means air and sike means knot and the word mousike meant "tying
            a knot in the air". Persians and Arabs call music, "Mousike",
            Pythagoras was known as a student of Sankhya Philosohpy and many
            believe that he learnt also the fundamental principles of Indian

            After Pythagoras, we find mentioned in the traditions of Tansen's
            School, the name of Aras-Ta-Talis of the Greek period who had three
            Arabic disciples who were both musicians and physicians: (1) Hakim
            Sukharat, Hakim Bokharat, and (3) Hakim Jalinus.

            During the reign of King Marun Rashid of Persia, Mutirbin-Kundi, was
            a renowned musicologist who followed the traditions of the three
            Hakims mentioned above and translated the work of Pythagoras into
            Arabic. The great sage Abu Ali Sina then gave it a practical shape.

            During the reign of Khalifa Harun Al Rashid of Baghdad the Arabians
            got free from the taboo on music and several Arabic musicians like
            (1) Sayeb (2) Ashib (3) Tyayib (4) Nasir (5) Ibrahim Bin Musli and
            (6) Ishakh Bin-Ibrahim emerged on the scene.

            The Pir Saheb of Gwalior who was one of the Masters of Tansen school
            received the knowledge of this line which flourished in Arabia. The
            Arabic inspiration of this line shines as the milky way in the
            firmament of Tansen music.

            Hazarat Md. Ghouse, however, was not the earliest exponent of Persian
            and Arabic music in India The influence of Turkish music had been
            carried to the Northern parts in India by the Sakas and the Hun
            tribes even in the Hindu period. The music of Turkistan was similar
            to that of Persia. Later on during the Pathan period Amir Khusru, the
            renowned poet and musician, introduced the Persian system of music in
            the Delhi Durbar. He composed numerous songs in the Persian style
            known as "Kwawali". The Persian system was based on the theory of the
            twelve Moquamis ( Main Ragas ), twenty-four Subhas ( Raginis ) and
            forty-eight Gussas ( Uparagas ). Amir Khusru composed also many new
            Ragas by combining the tunes of India and Persia.

            Baiju Bawra, a musician saint who was a contemporary of Amir Khusru,
            created the Dhrupad style of Hindusthani music in accordance with the
            lines of Sanskrit "Prabandhas" and "Dhruva gitis." Baiju Bawra was an
            exponent of theory of Ragas and Raginis. But the Dhrupad Paddhati
            introduced by him, although it received the highest respect in the
            temple of music, never held a dominant position in the courts of
            Pathan Emperors who placed the Kwawaii system in a position superior
            to that of the Dhrupad Paddhati.

            After the fall of the Pathan Empire, Raja Man-Tomar of Gwalior
            established a musical association in his court and retained four
            great musicians, (a) Bham, (b) Charju, (c) Dhundhibar and (d)
            Chanchal Sashi who were given the title 'Sangita Nayaka'. With their
            co-operation Raja Man revived the glory of the Dhrupad-system of
            music and gave it a status superior to that of the Kwawali.

            The Pir Ghouse of Gwalior was a friend of the Raja and although he
            imbibed the Persian culture in music and religion, he accepted the
            Dhrupad-system of Indian music and was also an admirer of the Bhakti
            cult of India.

            At that time Swami Haridas of Vrindaban was regarded as a great saint
            and musical genius of remarkable creative power. He followed the
            style of Baiju but gave an extremely melodious and colourful style of
            presentation of Dhruvapada music. As Tansen's musical genius was
            developed by his direct teachings it was evident that Tansen would
            become an exponent of the Dhruvapada Style. In fact, the Pir of
            Gwalior also encouraged Tansen to develop the Dhruvapada style
            although he made him well versed in Persian music. Thus Tansen based
            all his musical creations on the Dhruvapada Paddhati while
            assimilating some beautiful forms of the Persian music.

            Akbar the Great made the ideal of his policy to combine the different
            cultures of India. Tansen as the Guru of Akbar followed the same
            ideal in the creation of his music, both the Emperor and Tansen
            raised the status of Dhruvapada as the highest expression of music.
            Thus in the Mogul court unlike the Pathan Court the Kwawali type of
            music, was given only a secondary position. Akbar established an
            association of nine gems of musicians (Navaratna) with Tansen as its
            leader. Tansen created many new ragas which, uptill now, are regarded
            as the foremost ragas of Northern India. Some of these are
            noteworthy, e.g. Darbari Kanada,Darbari Todi,Miya ki Malhar, Miya ki
            Sarang etc. Tansen composed about one thousand Dhruvapadas which are
            even now remembered not only for the wonderful exposition of the
            Ragas contained in them but also for their very high poetic value.
            There are many songs of devotion to the Supreme Divine and also to
            the Gods. We find also many outstanding songs composed by him in
            praise of the Kings and the Emperors. And these songs contain
            remarkable synthesis of the Vedanta, the Bhakti Sastra and the
            mysticism of the Sufi cult.

            Tansen reshaped the entire of Dhruvapada music by the addition of new
            ornamentations in Meend, Gamaka etc. which were lacking in them. His
            songs had special charms and emotional appeal. As the Guru of Akbar,
            he received the highest honour from all and established a permanent
            school of Dhruvapada music. In the field of instrumental music also
            he had valuable contributions in the development of the Rabab ( Rudra-
            Veena ) and the Hinduathani Saraswat Veena. It is remarkable that his
            music was kept bright in the line of his descendants also.

            From the period of Akbar upto the beginning of the present century
            the descendants of Tansen who were called Seni musicians were
            regarded as authorities on Hindusthani classical music. Some of his
            descendants created new Ragas which have permanent value, e.g.,
            Vilaskhani Todi, Tilak-Kamod, Puria Kalyan, Kausiki Kanada etc.

            These musicians preserved and developed the Dhruvapada music
            introduced by Tansen containing the four Banis or styles : (1) Gouhar
            Bani containing melodious sliding notes. (2) Dagar Bani containing
            melodious Gamakas and curved lines. (3) Khander Bani with quick
            vibrations. (5) Naohar Bani with jumpy notes. These Banis contained
            five main Rasas: (1) Santa (2) Sringara (3) Karuna (4) Vira and (5)
            Abdhuta. The classical instrumental music of Northern India was also
            developed on the same lines through the instruments, the Veena, the
            Rabab, Surasringar and Sitar. The celebrated musician, Shah Sadarang
            was also a descendant of Tansen and it was he who invented the
            Hinduathani classical Kheyal by combining the techniques of the
            Dhruvapada and the Kwawali with the system of Ragas following the
            tradition of Dhruvapada.

            Now-a-days we come across many musicians who claim to belong to
            different schools of music of the North. But all these schools were
            founded by musicians who were directly or indirectly the disciples of
            some descendant of Tansen. Thus what we know about the classical
            Hindusthani Music, is originated from the line of Tansen. If we
            sincerely aspire to revive the glory of the classical music of the
            North, we have to turn our attention to researches on the music of
            Tansen's line and for that purpose the establishment of centre for
            research on the Tansen School of music is urgently required.
          • Girish A
            In an earlier post in this series, I had mentioned the syncretic traditions of Hindustani music and had pointed to Ustad Allauddin Khan as an example. I had
            Message 5 of 6 , Nov 17, 2004
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              In an earlier post in this series, I had mentioned the syncretic traditions of Hindustani music and had pointed to Ustad Allauddin Khan as an example.  I had also said that even Carnatic Music, which is almost entirely a devotional form of music, had its examples of syncretism.
              One such example is the tradition of Nadaswaram playing.  Nadaswaram is a wind instrument (somewhat like the Shehnai) that is associated with temples and religious occasions (including weddings) in south India.  It is also spelled and pronounced as 'Nagaswaram' at occasion.  Every temple would have a Nadaswaram player in its staff if it could afford one.  The Srirangam temple is one of the most ancient and most prominent temples in South India and indeed all over India.  It is situated in a large island on the Kaveri river and is a city by itself, with its own fortifications and street etc. within it.  This interesting fact is that the Nadaswaram has been played by Muslims in this temple for a long time.
              An example of a Muslim Nadaswaram player is Sheikh Chinna Moulana Sahib.  He is recognized as one of the most prominent Nadaswaram artistes in history and was, along with Rajaratinam Pillai, responsible for elevating this instrument beyond its ceremonial role into a full-fledged concert instrument.
              Here is a biography of Sheikh Sahib, who died about 5 years ago.
              P.S. In the next post on this series, I shall write about another great Carnatic music artiste (this time a composer), who was not a Hindu.  His name was Abraham Panditar (the Panditar is a honorofic attached to his name).

              Girish A <girish_a1973@...> wrote:
              Here's a profile of Ustad Allauddin Khan, one of the greatest exponents of the musical form in the last couple of centuries, written by another great artiste - Pandit Ravi Shankar.


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            • Girish A
              Quite by chance, I came across the following Carnatic composition - titled Allah Kripa http://musicindiaonline.com/l/1/m/artist.12/ (the compositions are in
              Message 6 of 6 , Nov 26, 2004
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                Quite by chance, I came across the following Carnatic composition - titled 'Allah Kripa'
                (the compositions are in alphabetical order - so scroll down to the composition titled 'Allah Kripa')
                It is a Carnatic composition in Hindi, whose author is unknown.  It is sung by a Christian - K.J.Yesudas (who may also be familiar to some people as a Hindi film playback singer besides being a Carnatic vocal artiste).  And it is set in Raag Panthuvarali and Adi Taal.  Quite a nice example of intermingling of cultures.
                What is particularly interesting is that Shri Yesudas decided to sing this in a concert - which would have been otherwise full of Hindu devotional songs.  The recording above is from this concert.
                BTW, the website http://www.musicindiaonline.com is definitely worth a look for those interested in Classical Music (as well as all other forms of music in India - including film music, devotional music, folk music, qawwalis, ghazals etc.).  It is hard to find a song that has been released on record/cassette/CD that is not available at this website.  Truly a treasure.


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