The Emergence of the Hindustani Tradition (Music, Dance and Drama in north India, 13th to 19th Centuries)

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Item Code: NAF930
Author: Madhu Trivedi
Publisher: Three Essays Collective
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9788188789771
Pages: 205
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 270 gm
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Book Description
About The Book

The essays in this book constitute an extensive study of the musical arts of north India from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Using material from several languages - Sanskrit, Awadhi, Braj-Bhasha, Persian and Urdu – they trace the varied developments in the musical arts and show how Indian, Central Asian, and Perso-Arab performance traditions underwent synthesis to become one tradition – the north Indian Hindustani tradition.

Highlighting the culture milieu of north India, with diverse patterns of belief and culture practices, these essays bring out significant details regarding the emergence of new elites, changing tastes, encounters between the court music traditions and the folk varieties, the percolation of court culture, the elevation of popular elements, the aesthetic values, the artistic vision, and, more importantly, the vibrancy and compositeness of the medieval and early modern north India musical culture that contributed to the shaping of the Hindustani tradition.

The Emergence of the Hindustani Tradition forges a link between history and musicology and emphasizes the importance of musical texts as a source of history. It enriches research on the history of music by bringing forth the role of the subaltern classes, specifically the role of women, in the making of Hindustani classicism.

About The Author

>Madhu Trivedi> teaches history in school of Open learning, University of Delhi. She is the author of The Making of the Awadh Culture. She has published several research articles on a variety of themes related to medieval north Indian art and culture, especially gender, literary culture, and performing arts.


The papers in this collection, written over a long span of time, represent my explorations in the domain of music culture of north India from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Taken together they seek to provide an overview of the cultural setting with diverse patterns of belief and cultural practices in the context of which performing arts, especially dance, music and theatre of the time, evolved. They show the process of continuity and transition, and take note of the developments which shaped the Hindustani tradition.

The spelling and transliteration of Persian and Arabic words and technical terms is mainly based on the system followed by F. Steingass in his Comprehensive Persian and English Dictionary. In some cases, however, I have deviated from him when transliterating word combinations and compounds, especially in those words and personal names wherein Arabic article at is used as conjunctive. I have thus written ‘Ala’ al-Din, instead of ‘Ala’u’ddin as transcribed by Steingass. Diacritical marks are applied to transliterated words and personal names throughout the text. This system is also followed in case of words and terms from Indian languages, especially Awadhi, Braj-basha, and Hindi. A dot under ‘d’, ‘r’ and ‘t’, as in dhadhi, hurakka and tappa, denotes the harder sound of the letters in these languages. Diacritical marks are applied in the same manner to the transliterated words and terms of Sanskrit origin as well in order to maintain uniformity. For the same reason, I have diverged from the usual practice while transliterating some Sanskrit words and preferred to write ‘sanchari instead of ‘sancari and ‘kosh’ instead of ‘kosa’. Explanations and short definitions of the technical terms and phrases occurring in the text are either provided in the footnotes, or given in a glossary separately. ‘India’ and ‘Indian’ are used in the sense of region, to denote the subcontinent, and not nation. As inevitably happens in the case of essays written over a period there is some overlap of ideas and information, some of which has been retained in the interest of continuity of argument and overall clarity.

I have incurred lots of scholarly debts of my friends and mentors in the course of writing these essays. Above all, I am extremely grateful to (late) Shahab Sarmadee Sahib who was a living encyclopedia of music. He taught me to appreciate the nuances of Indian music as it developed in north India during the medieval centuries. He was my guru in the real sense of the term. My thanks are due to Professor A.J. Qaisar who encouraged me to write on this fascinating subject, and Shereen Ratnagar for the interest she has taken in the publication of this collection. I have gained a lot from her erudition and expertise in music. I must also thank Muzaffar Alam for his valuable suggestions. Kirti, Koshu, Shanivi, Anshu, Amanita, Akshat and Kavish ever remain a source of strength to me.


The development of Hindustani music is contemporaneous with the establishment of the Turkish Sultanate in northern India with Delhi its capital. As a famous medieval historian ‘Isami remarked, the celebrities from Arabia, Khurasan, China, Bukhara, and other places de a bee-line to the newly founded city of Delhi as moths cluster round a candle. The process of the enhancement of its prestige as a political and administrative centre and a hub of cultural activities never ceased and it soon emerged as one of the truly grand capitals of the Islamic world. Contemporary Indian art and culture also began to grow in a cosmopolitan cultural setting wherein several cultural streams from the Persianate world contributed considerably.

Important developments took place in the realm of musical arts during the reign of the Delhi Sultans which show a transition From Turko-Persian traditions at court level and their synthesis with Indian classical and desi (regional) traditions at popular level. In fact, by the beginning of the fourteenth century, a synthesized Parsi-u Hindavi tradition began to emerge which laid the foundation of Hindustani music. It is remarkable that its vigour of synthesizing variant elements never came to an end; it was an ever developing phenomenon. It had assimilated every incoming influence, and yet its infrastructure remained intact. Some of the musical forms from the Persianate world lost their original character as a result of their amalgam with Indian music, which shows that the Indian performing artiste was a synthesizer, and not an imitator. The qaul became similar to git in its thematic and rhythmic content. The samä’ (music which leads to the attainment of mystic ecstasy) was Indianized in the Sufi khanqahs. The instruments of melody also evinced the same trait and they became a part of the all-absorbent Indian system. Rubab, an instrument of the Perso-Arabs and Turko-Iranians became a major instrument of Indian music. The Sikh musicians having expertise in shabad-kirtan are still known by a generic term Rabãbi.

Significantly there was no hard and fast demarcating line between the art music of north and south India. The musical forms prevalent in the south were well known to the north Indian musicians. Knowledge of these was deemed essential for accomplished musicians. Evidences show that south Indian musicians often performed at the court of the Sultans of Delhi and other regional courts. The name of Gopal Nayak, the veteran musician from the south, is foremost in the list of outstanding musicians mentioned in the musical treatises of Indo-Persian tradition. The form of dhrupad, which existed as a regional tradition, was standardized by the musicians of the court of Raja Man Singh Tomar (r. 1486-1516) of Gwalior which included a veteran musician Nayak Pandavi from south.

During the thirteenth century Delhi also began to emerge as a great centre of the Chishti silsila which also had its bearing on music. The Chishti saints played an important role in the religious and cultural history of the country as they adapted well to indigenous traditions and played an important role in promoting friendly relations amongst the followers of all religions. Their kijanqahs were the most effective venues of cultural sharing. The spiritual congregations held in these khanqahs were attended by people of all caste and creeds in large numbers. Amongst the Sufi orders popular in the Indian subcontinent the Chishti, and to some extent the Suhravardi, consistently practiced samã’, which was considered as a source of ecstatic inspiration. They included it as an essential part of their zikr (ikr-i jalr or reciting aloud). The famous Chishti saint Shaikh Nizam al-Din Auliya had many adherents of samä’ in the court circle, notably Amir Khusrau. The legality of the use of musical instruments in the samã’ is discussed in Khair al-Majalis, which is a collection of the sayings (malfuzãt) of Shaikh Nasir al-Din Chirägh Dehalvi. According to him sama’ should not be accompanied by any musical instrument but only clapping. Some manuscripts, however, include a remark of the author, Hamid Qalandar, who mentions that Shaikh Mu ‘in al-Din Chishti approved of the use of instruments in samã’. It appears that initially the qawwals, with whom the performance of samã’ is associated, used clapping for marking the rhythm. Later on, however, they began using instruments, especially dholak. Clapping is still an integral element of their repertoire.

The contribution of Amir Khusrau Dehalvi (1253-1325) to the development of musical arts during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries is immense. He had the rare opportunity of acquiring knowledge of the exclusive court traditions as well as folk traditions which were taking root in samã’. His musical innovations were instrumental in popularizing the exclusive Turko-Persian techniques which had been reserved for the aristocracy and the elite circles. Besides he also borrowed form folk musical varieties. Sama amalgamated these court and folk traditions under his inspiration, and it was popularized by the community of qawwals who combined in their vocal repertoire the voice culture of sapt-sur and dwãzdahparda. Amir khusrau thus tried to link two diverse cultures which became the foundation stone of Hindustam music. One also notices the emergence of a common musical culture which found favour with all sections of society.

The process of synthesis was already underway at a deep level in the sixteenth century when the Mughals appeared on the scene. Agra developed as a leading centre of musical arts under Akbar. His period is extremely important for the development of devotional poetry and music in the Braj region. Braj Bhasha, the dominant medium of poetic expression and the favourite song language of composer musicians, attained a classical status only after the establishment of the Mughal court at Agra. The famous asht-chhap poet-musician like Han Das, Sur Dãs, and Nand Dãs flourished during this period. Rãs-lila also attained classical status in the Braj region. Musical arts prospered enormously also under the patronage of his successors. Even Aurangzeb as connoisseur and as patron of music encouraged music and musicians of his time in the early years of his reign. His period witnessed a rise in the number of self trained non-professional musicians from the highest echelons of society such as Faqirullah Saif Khãn and Mirzã Khãn ibn Fakhr al-Din Muhammad who also authored valuable treatises on music.

From about the middle of the seventeenth century, artistic and cultural activities shifted from Agra to Shãhjahanabad, popularly known as Delhi, the new capital city founded by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahãn (r. 1627-58). During the reign of Muhammad Shah, the Qila-i Mubarak (the palace-fortress, popularly known as Lal Qila) had become the centre of cultural activities. This period was one of transition; one notices a decrease in the popularity of some of the elite styles such as dhrupad and the growing vogue for khayal, taränã, tappa, and other dhun based musical forms. The musical varieties rendered by the qawwals were integrated into a composite performance tradition which came to be known as qawwali Eighteenth century is also important for the development of marsiya-khwani (music rendered during Muharram) as a well established musical genre. A significant feature of the period was that dance and music, by and large, became a close preserve of the courtesans who dominated the city life in the manner of the ganikas of the early medieval period.

The trends set in Delhi were further perfected in other places, especially at Lucknow, which emerged as the cultural hub of northern India during the late eighteenth century. Lucknow is especially noted for the development of kathak dance. Regional musical patterns attained a classical status here and the form of the marsiya-khwani was standardized. Theatrical arts were also rejuvenated in the new cultural scenario.

Many new developments may be seen in musicology. The Sanskrit treatise Sangita-Ratnakara of Sarngadeva, a monumental work compiled in the thirteenth century had an overwhelming sway on medieval music scholars. Sãrangadeva gives an elaborate resumé of the general system of Indian music in theory and practice as it had developed in the centuries prior to the thirteenth, and also that which prevailed during his own times. The earliest known Persian treatise on Indian music, Ghuniyat al-Munya, was written during the reign of Sultan Firüz Shah Tuglaq (r. 1351-88) by an anonymous author who was well trained in Perso-Arab and Indian music. It is an important landmark in the history of Indian music as it forges a link between the textual tradition and the contemporary practiced art. Another Persian text on music, Lahjãt-i Sikandar Shahi, was authored by Yahya al-Kabuli during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Lodi (r. 1489-1517), which follows the trends set by Ghuniyat al-Munya. This text has the stamp of the immense knowledge of the author of both Indian and Persian musical traditions. Sanskrit terms have been provided by him with their Persian equivalents so that Persian knowing people may have familiarity with their exact connotation, and also that the treatise should gain currency amongst the Muslims and the mushriks (non-believers) alike. What is important is the fact that leading Sanskritists and musicologists were consulted by these music scholars on the inspiration and support of their patrons.

One may also point out at this juncture that religious conservatism of Sultan Firuz Shah in no way posed a hindrance to music, which continued to flourish with full vigour and remained a source of relaxation of the grandees. Indian dance and music was an integral item in the majlises of the ruling classes and the upper strata of society. Sultan Firuz Shah also showed interest in the translation of some Sanskrit texts on Patur-bazr in Persian. These socio-cultural attitudes bring out a very different picture of the developments in the realm of art and culture during the fourteenth ury, than is generally known.

During the Mughal period we find the inclusion of some other in musicology. There is a subtle unification of the literary and the aural cum visual arts. The poetic ideas like nayak, nayik bhed. and düt-duti found expression in music. These trends may be witnessed in Nartananiraya and Rag Mãlã compiled by Pandarika Vitthala during the reign of Akbar as well as in the Persian treatises of the seventeenth century. The Mughal paintings reveal many interesting details about the contemporary musical culture, musical instruments, and performance traditions.

From Shah Jahan’s time onwards, many connoisseurs of music, including the high grandees, developed a strong interest in the theories and principles related to various aspects of music as ‘amal without ‘ilm was not acceptable to them. This resulted in the compilation of numerous musical treatises in Persian on contemporary practiced art; most of these were written during the reign of Aurangzeb. These works, especially Rag Darpan and Tuhfat al-Hind, provide important details about musical forms and instruments, various categories of musicians, and performance traditions. These sources also show that regional and folk traditions were as vibrant as the classical ones. The imageries and ideas of stylized Braj-bhasha poetry were known to the authors of Rag Darpan and Tuhfat al-Hind. The continuity of this tradition may be seen in Ma ‘adin al-Müsiqi written in Urdu during the middle of the nineteenth century. The impact of Riti poetry prevails on the thematic content of lyrical and dance compositions, especially the nayika-bhed which was assimilated in the lasya-ang in kathak dance in Lucknow under the patronage of the Nawäbs of Awadh.

The British action against the Awadh state largely cut off the courtly musical life at Delhi, Lucknow and other places. However, the rich musical tradition nurtured in Lucknow continued to flourish in other places in many ways. More than forty thousand people accompanied Wajid ‘All Shah, the deposed ruler of Awadh, to Matiya Burj, a place in the vicinity of Calcutta which gradually came to acquire the cultural ambience of the Awadh capital. Eminent ustãds and the courtesans of repute, who shifted with the king, influenced the local artistes to a great extent. It is not a coincidence that Calcutta became renowned for thumri and allied vocal genres during the later half of the nineteenth century. Similarly, vocal music was not deprived completely of elite patronage though it remained confined to the rajwaras; in the absence of their genuine appreciation and patronage it could have almost become extinct.

In the new cultural scenario dancers certainly lost their cow place and patronage. Urban theatre too lost its elite patronage its infancy and started reflecting popular, often plebian tastes. Courtesans of repute denounced dance about this time and classical dance remained confined only to a few.

As a result, a most powerful medium of cultural expression lost sophistication and gradually came to be treated as a sub-culture. Theatre survived in northern India in the form of nautankr and nãch (nauch), both stereotyped and popular forms. Dance and drama, however, rejuvenated with the Parsi theatre in Bombay which took shape in the middle of the nineteenth century and drew largely upon Indar-sabha, the famous play written by Saiyid Agha Husain Amãnat of Lucknow as an assorted variety of dance, music and theatre.

In Bombay, some eminent music scholars took keen interest in the revival of classical music which had become a close preserve of the ustãds, and subject of admiration of only a few. While Pandit Vishnu Digambar popularized it amongst the educated classes, Pandit V.N. Bhatkhande established the current Hindustani system on a sound foundation. He established bilãwal as shuddha scale in place of kaft wherein he followed Mirzã Muhammad Raza’, a famous music scholar of Lucknow, who authored the Persian musical treatise Usul-al Naghmat al-Asafi during the reign of Nawab Sa ãdat Ali Khãn (1798-1814).These two scholars were joined in their mission by several other Indian and western scholars, and due to their efforts music has regained its pride of place in Indian society. The essays in this collection look at some of these dimensions of the rich musical heritage of the Hindustani tradition. The first essay presents an overview of the developments in the realm of performing arts which kept pace with socio-cultural environments and patronage patterns after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate. Some traditional genres vanished in this process while some were invigorated after coming in touch with the art forms of the Persianate world. The synthesisation of the indigenous and Turko-Persian traditions at the court as well as folk level continued under the Mughal rulers. The second is a survey of some musical treatises in Indo-Persian tradition of the seventeenth century, especially Rag Darpan and Tuhfat al-Hind, which delineate current performance techniques, musical and dance forms, and the idioms of the musical arts; examine the context of margi and desi; demonstrate correspondence or relationship between modal forms of Persian and Indian music, and so on. These texts are of immense historical significance as they reflect well the aesthetic values and the artistic vision that had gradually emerged during the Mughal period. The third article shows the contribution of Sufi and Bhakti saints in the evolution of Hindustani music. The fourth describes the musical life of the Mughal capital Shãhjahãnãbãd in detail: developments in the realm of vocal and instrumental music and dance during the reign of Muhammad Shah (1719-48). The shift of the Mughal capital from Agra to Shãhjahänãbäd was an important event in the history of performing arts as it paved the way for the confluence of the rich classical traditions of the Mughal court with the regional musical patterns of Delhi. The fifth describes the attributes of the classes and communities of the performing women, the fluctuations in their fortunes, and their attempts to adapt themselves to the requirements of the time in order to attain an identity of their own. The last essay aims at delineating the kathak dance in historical and stylistic perspectives and its stylization in Awadh under Wajid ‘Ali Shah (1847-1856).

These essays are based on an extensive study of primary and secondary sources in Persian and Urdu languages in published form and the manuscripts located in various libraries in India and abroad, Braj-bhasha, Hindi, and Sanskrit texts, as well as the study of performance traditions which are derived from the period. I also had in-depth interactions with the older generation of performing artistes whose skills and reminiscences take us on a journey into the rich past.

Ideally this theme requires the combined skills of a musicologist and historian, towards which I have made an effort. The endeavour has been to depart from stereotypes and to bring out details regarding the emergence of new elites, changing tastes, the percolation of court culture, the elevation of popular elements, the synthesis of several performance traditions, and the vibrancy and compositeness of medieval north Indian musical culture which were instrumental in the evolution of the Hindustani tradition.


1Tradition and Transition:11
The Performing Arts in Medieval North India
2Writing Musical Traditions:53
A Study of Seventeenth Century Texts in Persian
3The Contribution of Sufi and Bhakti Saints in the Evolution of83
Hindustani Music
4Musical Arts at Shahjahanabad during the First Half of105
Eighteenth Century: An Appraisal
5Female Performing Artists in North India: A Survey129
6Historical and Stylistic Development of Kathak in165
Medieval North India
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