Maestro duo: Teacher and the Student

Out of all the talent that I could have inherited from my mom, unfortunately I lacked on the musical gene. However, despite the fact that the dusty Harmonium is sitting quietly under my bed, I love listening to music. Not because of any particular affinity towards a specific style or band, even though Linkin Park will always reign my heart, but mostly because it has a poignant way of capturing your emotion – sometimes just to forget, and sometimes give you the words that you often seem to look for. I am particularly fond of those days when casettes were still the rave and sundays used to be dedicated to melody of myths or some other folk song being doled out as a cultural lesson to my young mind so that I grow up to be more aware of my Bengali heritage.

My first introduction to the Gharana concept in Hindustani music happened through the eyes of Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (10 Aug 1860-19 Sep 1936) and B.R. Deodhar during a local heritage walk in mumbai. ‘Gharana’, derived from the Hindi word ‘ghar’ (house), is a system by which a certain style of music, unique to the particular unit, is handed down from teacher to disciple. The system emerged as a means by which musicians could maintain their artistic authority—through emphasis of the lineage—in an era of declining court patronage. For a style to be considered as a gharana, it must be passed down through three generations. As such, for the longest time, a gharana consisted strictly of family members and music was preserved within its lineage, almost like any other property. This “distinctive musical style” in Hindustani tradition includes not only peculiarities of performance (creativity and interpretations) but also a broader ideology of music, aesthetics, and pedagogy. The Gwalior Gharana is regarded as the oldest vocal style, and is distinctively noted for its lucidity and simplicity.

While Professor B. R. Deodhar (11 Sep 1901 – 10 Mar 1990) gained expertise in different traditions and gharana styles as a vocalist of Hindustani classical music and opened a music school that gave the masses access to traditional school of music, Pandit Bhatkhande was an Indian musicologist who was known to be the first person to systematise and document the modern treatise on Hindustani classical music. In his quest to understand music, he abandoned his flourishing legal practive and spent quality time in the then princely states of Baroda, Gwalior, and Rampur. In fact, he was the disciple of legendary veena player Ustaad Wazir Khan, a descendant of Miyan Tansen. And this is where the build-up of the post leads to!

Despite the contradictory fables associated with the legend, Miyan Tansen was one of the nine gems of emperor Akbar’s court. He is considered as the most influential personality in North Indian tradition of classical music. In fact, numerous North Indian gharana consider themselves to be the descendant of the lineage founder – Tansen, the Sangeet Samrat. Born as Ramtanu Mishra in a village near Rewa, he was given the name ‘Tansen’ by his guru Swami Haridas in appreciation of his proficiency in rendering taans and the range and quality of his voice. The title ‘miyan’ was bestowed upon him by Akbar.

PC: Kevin Standage.
The infamous Tamarind Tree near Tansen’s grave.

The bulk of Tansen’s work as found in the Akbar’s court historian accounts and gharana literature are shrouded with miraculous legends. Amongst the legends, the most famous are the stories of him bringing down the rains with Raga Megh Malhar and lighting lamps by performing Raga Deepak. Raga Megh Malhar is still in the mainstream repertoire, but raga Deepak is no longer known. There are stories of his ability to bring wild animals to listen with attention (or to talk their language). The stature of the legend has actually fostered the rumour of the magical tamarind tree next to Tansen’s tomb, which is said to confer exceptional clarity on the voice for anyone who chews the leaves.

Tansen’s Tomb

He was born to a Hindu family, his father was already a well known musician and poet in Gwalior. After losing his father at a very young age, Tansen would sing outside the Shiva temple in his village. Sufi saint Mohammad Ghaus took him under his care and began training him in music. Despite the legendary presence of the man within musical history of India, Tansen’s tomb can only be described as incospicious. It consists of a small rectangular pavilion with pillars surrounding the tomb itself. But simplicity of the structure aside, it is said that on his death in 1586, Akbar and his entire court attended the funeral procession, which was completed according to Islamic customs.

Just because the student was known as the King of Music, doesn’t mean you can discount the influence of his teachers. Born in 1500 AD, Shah Sultan Haji Hameed Mohammed Gwauth Gwaliori Shattari aka Muhammad Ghaus was the 16th Century musician, a Sufi Saint of Shattari Order, and the author of Jawahir-i Khams. He was held in high esteem by 3 Mughal emperors: Babur, Humayun, and Akbar. Muhammad Ghaus played an instrumental part in Babur’s conquest of Gwalior fort in 1526 by suggesting tactics that helped the mughal army chiefs to establish their presence within the city, thereby giving them access to privileged information that helped them bring their plan into successful action. Muhammad Ghaus was also Humayun’s teacher. Humayun had a special interest in occult sciences. This helped Muhammad in securing a favorable position in Mughal court. Although, following dethroning of Humayun by Sher Shah Suri in 1540, Muhhammad Ghaus fled to Gujarat in the fear of his capture by the Afghan forces. Once Mughal regime came back to its full glory under Akbar’s leadership, he returned to Gwalior. Incidentally, it’s Akbar who commissioned his tomb in true Mughal style and glory.

Maybe its the whole teacher and student relationship, but despite being housed together in the same complex, the two tombs cannot be more different! The tomb of Mohammad Ghaus is square in plan with a slightly squat central dome which was once decorated with blue tiles. The walls of the tomb are nearly 2m thick, supporting hexagonal corner towers crowned by smaller domes. As a representation of early Mughal architecture, the highlight of this tomb are the carved stone lattices (jaalis), which are on the outer wall of a lofty verandah that surrounds the inner chamber. The relatively hard material of marble was replaced by the softer sandstone that was easier to carve into intricate patterns.

These geometric designs which allow light and air to filter into the interior chamber and create a cool, meditative atmosphere.

PC: Kevin Standage

Have you seen a better homage to teacher-student duo?


Further reading:

Ghawth translated the Amrtakunda from Sanskrit to Persian as the Bahr al-Hayat (The Ocean of Life), introducing to Sufism a set of yoga practices. According to the scholar Carl W. Ernst, in this “translation”, Ghawth intentionally reframed these practices with great subtlety to identify “points of contact between the terminologies of Yoga and Sufism”.


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