What is Gharanas? and
What are its distinguishing features?
Literally translated a gharana basically means a family. The style of that gharana means the style initiated by a particular family of musicians By and large the nomenclature of the gharana or style is related to the city/town in which the initiating musician resided such as Rampur, Gwalior, Patiala Kirana, etc. On the other hand when a particular musician added an outstanding dimension to a perticular style of Vocal music, instrumental music or Dance, then his gharana is known by his name. e.g. lmdadkhanj or Vilayatkhni gharana or Pandit Ravishankarji’s style of sitar playing, etc.
In essence, a gharana is established through the medium of specialization. Any musical performance can be divided into the “matter” of music or ‘babat’ i.e., what you play and the “manner” of playing that is ‘tarika’ or how you play. It is commonly believed that whilst the various gharana-s have common denominators in the area of the matter Which could cover even the rag forms, the technique utilized for the presentation of the raga would differ from gharana to gharana and in fact, this results into specialization to which we have just referred to. There could be various facets of specialization and we may briefly refer to those - Emotional content of a presentation could be the first from of specialization The emotional content or the undercurrent of a presentation could be the first form of specialization. The emotional content or the undercurrent of a particular rasa has also been noticed to establish certain amount of specialization to distinguish one gharana from the other. Kirana is basically ‘Bhakti or ‘Shanta’ rasa oriented, Patiala could be ‘Shringar’ rasa based, Agra could be vira’ rasa based and so on. It Would not be appropriate to say that a gharana projects only one basic rasa - In fact, the rendition is not oriented only to a particular rasa and utilizes the elements of several rasa-s while emphasizing one basic rasa.
The second dimension is in fact a corollary of the element of the emotional content. The importance and therefore the length of different stages of raga presentation i.e., alap, bandish, tan-s, etc., could be governed by the Undercurrent of the basic rasa that the particular gharana emphasizes Hence, the alap in Kirana gharar,a utilises the ‘badhat’ or the unfoldment of the rage on a step by step basis and is both lengthy and involved. On the other hand, we note that both in Agra gharana and Patiala gharana the alap form is relatively shorter. Gharana-s like Jaipur, Patiala, Agra, etc., give significant importance and emphasis to the tan portion of a presentation.
The third facet of specialization would be the Sahitya” or the bandish i.e., the composition Kirana gharana as has already been said, gives greater importance to alap, that is melodic unfoldment Hence the “sahitya” becomes relatively less important. On the other hand, the bandjsh-s of Agra, Gwalior etc., gharana-s are of high literary value and the performers utilises the deeper meaning of the sahitya” in their renditions.
Specific raga-s become favourites of different gharana-s depending upon their mood and their inherent laya. This could be the fourth dimension of specialization Over the period, raga-s like Darbari, Abhogi,, etc., are favourites of Kirana gharana musicians while intricate raga-s Iike Sawani, Goud-Maihar Nat, etc., are favoured by the Jaipur gharana musicians However, I hasten to clarify that this is not a basic or fundamental evaluation. My remarks should be considered in a general manner only.
The fifth dimension of specialization could be the choice of tal-s and their laya. Kirana gharana musicians use tal-s like “jhumra’ i.e., a very slow tempo taal. On the other hand Agra gharana uses vilambit ektaal and Jaipur gharana often uses vilambit teental. It would be easily agreed that the choice of tal-s and the laya at which they are played is definitely governed by the general aptitude of the musicians of a particular gharana.
The final or the sixth facet of specialization could be the technique of Voice production developed by different gharana-s. This point would be very easily appreciated as we are all familiar with the fact that the Patiala gharana Uses open throated Voice While Kirana Uses a softer and controlled Voice production technique Agra and Jaipur, Sehswan and Gwaljor once again have their own special timbre of voices. A Supplementary of specialization in Using the technique of voice Production could be the manner in Which the fluidity and the ornamental phrases like Murki-s etc., are relied Upon by the Performing musicians belonging to different gharan-s. These remarks are no doubt related to Vocal music traditions of Gharanas. But the same remarks With slight modifications can be applied to instrumental music forms as well. Major Styles of sitar playing definitely express their Own and individual approach, resulting into specialised renditions.
The next issue to be considered is the Utility of the gharana system or the role that the system should or could play. We have already referred to the specialization which in essence the gharana system is based on. We have also analysed the different dimensions of this specialization.
When it is commonly accepted that specialization is not only necessary but highly beneficial to any area of human activity, how can We then question the utility of gharana system in music? A lot of keen and deep introspective thinking has gone behind the establishment of a gharana through specialization of the rasa or mood, emphasis on alap, or tan rendftion the sahitya or literary content, the selection of the ragas and tal-s and finally the voice production techniques. It takes 2 or 3 generations for all these elements to mature and crystalljze and it is truly said that a gharana cannot establish itself in a few years. It requires 2 or 3 generations to evolve and establish. What is unfortunate however is that certain negative elements have crept in the gharana system Over a period of years, as a result of human frailjties resulting into subjective assessments, inability to appreciate the styles of other gharana exploitation for financial gains and finally short-sighted behavior of the noted musicians and so on. The absence of gread Ustads in the present time - barring a few celebrities - has also added to the problem. Then of course the availability of modern day gadgets like tape-recorders radio, T.V. etc., have provided easy and economical means to learn as compared to the discipline that the Shishya has to follow when he learns at the feet of the Guru in the Gunu-Shishya Parampara. But then the quality suffers and frankly has suffered. Reluctance of some of the great musicians to give vidya dan without reservations has further added to the problem. Personally, I am a great supporter of the gharana system, and I would urge that efforts should be directed not to destroy the system but to remove the negative elements that have crept in the system.