Song of Surrender

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Who's who in Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan

Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande (1860-1936)

(Continued from blog post dated 15 October 2012)

It was through Jeevanji Maharaj that Bhatkhande started studying musicology, the training that led his making serious contributions to the theory of Hindustani music.

In 1884, Bhatkhande joined the Parsi Gayanottejak Mandali and became involved in conducting music classes. He too learnt a large number of songs in the dhrupad and khayal traditions from some of the leading lights of the day. (Years later, he was to emphasise to Prof. BR Deodhar the vital importance of dhrupad training to grasp the real forms of ragas). During the period 1900-1915, he got some iconic musicians of Jaipur to record a large number of traditional compositions. He was also studying several music texts like the Natya Sastra and the Sageeta Ratnakara in depth and listening to great musicians all the while.

Bhatkhande's first published work, Swar Malika, contained descriptions of all the ragas then prevalent. In 1909, he published Shri Mallakshaya Sangeetam, in Sanskrit, under the pseudonym Chaturpandit which meant a clever scholar. As he was averse to publicity and self-promotion, most of his writings were published under two assumed names, the other one being Vishnu Sharma. 

Bhatkhande's Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati in several volumes is often considered the last word on Hindustani music and the thaat system he developed equal in importance to the melakarta scheme of the south, which he studied in depth on his travels to the south. He arranged the ragas of Hindustani music across ten musical scales, which he called thaats, which cover the vast majority of ragas. This was Bhatkhande's vital contribution to music theory. 

His disciple S N Ratanjankar,  Dilip Kumar Roy,  Ratanjankar's student KG Ginde, SCR Bhatt, Ram Ashrey Jha 'Ramrang', Sumati Mutatkar and Krishna Kumar Kapoor were among the scholars who followed in his footsteps. His notation system became standard until  Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Vinayak Narayan Patwardhan and Pt. Omkarnath Thakur introduced improved versions. 

In 1916, Bhatkhande reorganized the Baroda state music school, and later, with the help of the Maharaja of Gwalior, established the Madhav Music College in Gwalior. He prepared the course material for the the Marris College of Music that opened in Lucknow in 1926.  The college is now a deemed university with the name Bhatkhande Music Institute. 

Bhatkhande prepared the Hindustani Sangeet Karmik Pustak Malika as a series of textbooks. He also started the tradition of the All India Music Conferences to provide a common platform for discussion between Hindustani and Carnatic classical musicians.

Bhatkhande suffered paralysis in 1933 and died in 1936 on the auspicious Ganesh Chaturthi day, just as he was born on Gokulashtami day.

(To be continued)

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