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The Punjab Tradition

Partho Datta

By Bindu Chawla
Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, Delhi, 2004, pp. 173, Rs. 435.00


In B.R.Deodhar’s luminous biographical essays Pillars of Hindustani Music (Popular Prakashan, 1993*) there is a story from the early part of the twentieth century on Marathi vocalist Bhaskarbua Bakhle’s victorious tour of Punjab. These concerts so overwhelmed local vocalist Mubarak Ali that he publicly submitted to the Marathi pandit’s superiority by massaging Bakhle’s head as a token of his devoted servitude. This seemingly charming and innocuous tale of course has a nationalist sub-text, that of Hindu triumph over Muslim gharanedar ustads, suspiciously akin one must add, to the famous story in school text-books of Maratha sway from “Cuttack to Attock [Punjab]” during the reign of the third Peshwa. For the music historian however, Deodhar’s account is invaluable because it yields important information on the vibrant classical traditions of pre-partition Punjab. From his account we also learn that Mubarak Ali and his brothers Murad Ali and Bibbe Khan were all well-known singers, sons of the venerable Gaman Khan. In another chapter Deodhar tells us about Amir Khan who trained in the Gwalior style [not to be confused with the later Amir Khan of Indore] and whose son Shende Khan [i.e. from Sind] was a major inspiration to Deodhar, the latter’s disciple Kumar Gandharva and Bade Ghulam Ali of the Patiala gharana.   Lahore, Karachi and other smaller towns in Punjab, Sind, Multan, Jammu and the hill principalities, even distant Kabul were important centres of patronage and attracted musicians from all over north India. Perhaps this explains why there is such a marked presence of Punjabi bandishes in the repertoire of Hindustani vocalists. Sudhir Chakrabarti in his Bengali memoirs remembers travelling from Calcutta to Shikarpur on the Punjab Mail [it took three days!] with his guru the vocalist Vishwadev Chatterjee in 1935 and meeting among others Mallikarjun Mansur from Dharwad and Vasant Desai from Bombay at the music festival organized there. In 1937, Krishnarao Shankar Pandit of Gwalior arrived in Karachi at the invitation of his patron Seth Lakshmichand and made his first private recording on disc of the Raga Todi. This precious recording is still preserved carefully with the Pandit family. But there also existed in the Punjab a rich seam of popular music ranging from the folk to the music of Sufis, qawwals, raagis and mirasis. Thanks today to more porous borders and pirated CDs the full repertoire of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pathana Khan ...

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