LAHORE: Musicologist and author of books on music Ustad Pervez Paras pointed out the reasons for the downfall of Indian classical music in Pakistan, saying the decline or growth of any performing art could be understood by placing the art against some reference to reject or endorse it, but it does not happen in our country because all literature on classical music is either in Hindi or English language.

He was speaking at a seminar on “The Evolution and Decline of Classical Music and its relevance in modern times’ organised by the Rationalist Dialogue Forum, in collaboration with the Lahore Museum, on Saturday.

“There has been an effort to keep the art (of Indian classical singing) secret. People don’t transfer knowledge even now. In olden times, the invaders from the north would destroy art and books of the natives. Music was transferred orally, except works of some people like (Vishnu Narayan) Bhatkhande and his love for music.”

Ustad Paras gave an example of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, as narrated by Chote Ghulam Ali Khan, who said the former would always keep singing even during travels in train. At the start of 19th century Bhatkhande, who had a degree in law, wrote books on music, stressing that knowledge of music could not be transferred only orally.

“In Bhatkhande’s time, there were only four books on music in Urdu, including Madanul Mausiqi by Hakim Karam Imam Khan, Sarmaya-i-Ishrat by Sadiq Ali Khan and Minkar-i-Muasiqaar by Hazrat Inayat Khan. But all these books did not lead the readers to the ragas as they are only about history (of music). They did not have arohi and avrohi, vaadi and samvaadi (notes) of the ragas. But these books are not even found now even in India.”

Until Bhatkhande, Paras said, all books on music were in Sanskrit and that also in poetic form. Bhatkhande travelled across India and went to even Karachi and Punjab to record ragas and their Thaats (scales) and collected a lot of bandishes of classical gharanas.

Paras lamented that there was disconnect between India and Pakistan, hence there was no communication even regarding classical music. He said there were two types of classical music– of Karnataka (south) and north and they did not accept each other.

“In our music, the masters of music have defined the time of ragas, but there has been no research on it as to why Bhairav is sung in the morning, while Sarang is sung at noon, Multani and Aiman in the evening and Malkauns and Darbari at night.”

In olden times, in gharanas’s bandishes and ragas were kept secret and only in the close family, Paras says and adds that he had a document of the Talwandi Gharana and the top of the document had this statement, “We don’t teach this raga to our students or even distant relatives, but only our own sons.” The document has even been scanned, he said and added that now nobody from Talwandi Gharana was there to sing.

Ustad Paras pointed out the lack of training among the new generations as even the young ones of gharanas were also changing their style of music.

“There are almost no exceptional classical singers in Lahore now and there are no programmes. Most music teachers, even in training schools, don’t know much music.” He says that in the current era, the singers are not following the system of classical music and the audiences also are not well-versed.

Paras stressed that music and singing should be impactful and effective even for those who don’t understand music. Sagar Veena player Noor Zehra says she belongs to an alternate form of doing music whose foundation was laid by her father Raza Kazim. In this style, the basic grammar of music is followed, but nothing beyond it as, according to her father, music is not only about sur and sound but also expression of feelings.

“To him (Kazim), understanding music as an art form was more important. My training has been with him. He invented the Sagar Veena about 50 years ago. For me that’s more real instead of music produced from it.”

Zehra termed the basic training of classical music necessary, but added that it would be useless if it did not express our emotions. She said understanding of classical music and its practice had a huge gap between them in the current era, rendering the theory of music redundant.

“To sustain classical music, we can’t do anything without understanding the current times as technology has become an integral part of life and we can’t do music by quitting it.”

She went on to say that the musicology department of the National College of Arts was founded by her father about 20 years back with the objective to bridge the gap between theory and practical music to produce more musicians.

“But sadly the objective could not be achieved as teachers and students there (NCA) could not grasp the thinking that music was supposed to be an intelligent understanding of musical process which was not done by only learning sur.” For all this, she stressed, one needed character, intellect and autonomy to understand and produce music. Classical music could not keep abreast of the times and needs to address the questions surrounding it, she added.

Musicologist and singer Ustad Badaruz Zaman stressed the training in the alphabets of music, including Sa Re Ga Ma. He said ragas were related to aesthetic sense. “Every nation has its own culture. A quality of Indian music is that sur is based on the voice quality of each and every singer.” He held the Hindu musicians responsible for ruining the music with the introduction of gharanas. He denied there was any downfall of music, saying he was thankful that he adopted music as a career.

Ustad Raza Ali Khan, the grandson of the Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, also spoke.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2023

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