IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 16 | Regions |South Asia


18-20 December 1997
Rotterdam Conservatory , the Netherlands

The History of North Indian Music

This symposium had been in the planning stages for several years, and it was thanks to the sponsorship of IIAS that it could get off the ground. The original aim was to include the history of South Indian music as well. However, due to the broad nature of the task in hand it was decided to split the symposium into two separate gatherings, and hold the part on South Indian music history in Chennai (Madras), in the year 2000.

By Jane Harvey

Ashok Vajpeyi framed his keynote speech with the observation that 'History, as it is broadly understood in the West, is comparatively a recent and new concept in the Indian tradition and, therefore, in the realm of Indian arts, particularly the classical arts. Since the musical culture of India, whether for conservation, transference or performance, has been an oral tradition, the first problem one encounters at attempting a history of the art is how to go about putting it together.'
To make a start on this project, the presentation and discussion sessions during the three-day event, essentially set up as a workshop, were organized into panels by theme. They covered
'Changes in Concepts, Forms & Lyrics'; 'The Indo-Persian Heritage and 'Musical
Instruments'; and 'The Modem Period' and 'Indian Music and the West'. The anthology which is planned as a result of the symposium also follows these themes. The working title for the publication is currently 'Essays on the History of North Indian Music, 14th - 20th Centuries.'

Twenty-two scholars from India, Europe and North America attended and presented their papers on chosen aspects of the historical period under review. Topics had in fact been pre-selected by the organizers, and participants were requested to write on a specific subject (or a related one), according to the research they were engaged in. In addition to the speakers, there were up to twenty-five observers present each day of the symposium.
The first day's papers and discussions concentrated mainly on the technical side of music history, the content of music and musicological issues. Harold Powers presented his article on modernized raga-ragini schemes; Emmie te Nijenhuis talked about musical forms in medieval India, and N. Ramanathan addressed the gathering on the changing concept of tala in North India. After lunch, we heard Suvarnalata Rao on 'Shruti: An Unresolved Enigma'; Richard Widdess on the emergence of alap and dhrupad and Françoise Nalini Delvoye on collections of lyrics in Hindustani music.
The panel for the next morning concerned the Indo-Persian heritage. Madhu Trivedi spoke on court
music patronage from the 13th to mid-19th centuries; Amina Okada showed us many beautiful slides to illustrate the theme of music and musicians in Mughal iconography; and Regula Burckhardt-Qureshi talked about the Ma'adan-al musiqi of Muhammad Karam Imam Khan. Sulochana Brahaspati spoke on the history of Rampur as a centre of music, and gave us many delightful vocal illustrations, as she herself is a renowned performer of Hinstani classical vocal music. Later, we were given a historical overview of the sarangi and other Indian bowed instruments by Joep Bor, and an account of early historical sources concerning the sitar, sarod and related instruments by Allyn Miner. Concluding the afternoon, James Kippen spoke about the history of tabla.
Day three covered aspects of the social, educational and to some extent the political history of Hindustani music. Joep Bor and Allyn Miner presented their general paper on the modem period, c. 1640 to the present day; Daniel Neuman posed the question 'Where did all the Dhadhis go?' and showed us a video on music communities in Rajasthan; and Ashok Ranade talked on music and music drama in Maharashtra in the 19th and 20th centuries. With the aid of slides, Charles Capwell introduced his paper on representing Hindu music to the colonial and native elite of Calcutta, and Michael Rosse spoke on music schools and music societies in late 19th and early 20th century Bombay. Aspects of Indian music and the West were discussed, with Gerry Farrell outlining his historical overview and Ian Woodfield presenting his paper on English keyboard instruments in India: 'A Harpsichord on the Banks of the Ganges,' and the collection of 'Hindostannie Airs.' Neil Sorrell talked about two early western pioneers in the field of Indian music, John Foulds and Maud MacCarthy.
The presentations were followed by lively and pointed discussion, aided in no small measure by the incisive questioning of well-known historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam, who joined us as co-chairman. Finally, a concluding session was held to discuss the publication of the proceedings. The symposium made a strong impact on all those present, due to the well-researched, in-depth papers. And as one of the senior participants remarked, unlike in other conferences, he didn't even fall asleep once!
:Jane Harvey is attached to the World Music Department of the Rotterdam Conservatory, the Netherlands

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 16 | Regions |South Asia