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Mughal influence on Indian music

IMAGING SOUND - An ethnomusicological study of music, art and culture in Mughal India: Bonnie C. Wade; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 1900.

AS THE author has aptly described her work under review as a ``search in historical time'', it is a well-researched documentation of music history under the Mughals, set against the background of the art history of South Asia. The main sources of information for her are the illustrated manuscripts, fabulous miniature paintings and works like Akbar Nama, Babar Nama, Aini- Akbari and the records of the reigns of successive Mughal emperors from Babar to the decline of the empire. Among those vital source materials, the focus is mainly on the contribution of Akbar as during his rule the forces were directed to Indianisation of Persian culture and thereby he occupies a pivotal role.

Imperial histories, well illustrated in manuscripts, memoirs of the kings themselves and other visual images speak of the legacy of the Mughal Empire, noted for patronage of art and culture. These make it very clear that although Babar was the founder, it was left to Akbar to usher in the process of musical change, which was a means to culture synthesis on which Akbar set his heart. The author hits the nail on the head when she says that ``by familiarising his Indian subjects - women and men alike - with illustrious members of his family, he might be able to create the perception of himself as less foreign, less alien and less threatening.''

Music in those days had no notation system and passed on orally and this fact has compelled her to scrutinise the visual materials to get a clear picture of the Mughal rulers as great patrons of art. Ensembles of musicians, women dancers in action, the variety of musical instruments drawn as part and parcel of Mughal documents help the author in her inter-disciplinary study of political developments and culture influences. In paintings depicting life, ceremonial occasions, events like the birth of a child, in scenes of hunting, battles and camps, musicians find a prominent place to emphasise that no part of the life of the Mughal kings was without the enjoyment of music and dance. To justify the significance of Akbar as patron of art, she quotes what the astrologers predicted from the study of Akbar's horoscope. ``The Lord of the Fifth House (Sagittarius) is Jupiter and he is in the second... He will have ample treasures and great countries will come under his sway. And as Venus is also in the Second House he will be acute and discriminating in musical notes, in subtle harmonies and the secrets of melody'' (Akbar Nama).

The Dhrupad style marked the beginning of a new era in Hindustani classical music. The author has placed particular focus on the legendary Tansen. The entry in Abul Fazl's account states that the title of ``Miyan'' was not conferred at the time of coming to Akbar's court and the author infers that it was awarded to Tansen in Fatehpur Sikri. The controversy regarding Tansen's conversion to Islam is referred to and the author quotes the viewpoint of Chaitanya Deva who had said that ``Tansen's compositions evince no trace of Islamic influence and that his devotion to Hindu Gods is well known.''

The place of honour Tansen enjoyed in Akbar's court is irrefutable. To quote Akbar Nama: ``On April 26, 1589 Miyan Tansen died and by HM's orders all the musicians and singers accompanied his body to the grave making melodies as at a marriage.'' Besides Tansen, there were other artistes in the court like Miyan Lal, Bilas Khan, son of Tansen and Naubat Khan, a player of Rudra Veena. Tansen enhanced the prestige of Indian musicians in Akbar's reign.

Women dancers were integral to Mughal court life and in cloistered women's quarters. They are in the illustrations depicting forts and palaces and fighting expeditions.

The other end of art patronage refers to the orthodoxy of Aurangazeb burying deep, the music in his kingdom. He ordered the discontinuance of music in imperial functions. Jehangir and Shah Jahan too get their due share as patrons of art and the author makes the remark that relatively speaking from the time of Jehangir, paintings offer far less visual documentation for music. More than 180 paintings and manuscripts are reproduced with proper analysis at appropriate places.

This is a painstaking effort by the author to present Mughal influence on Indian music and dance, though in all this process the South Indian Carnatic music remains untouched to this day. Though Indian music has a common origin it has split into two streams since the days of the Mughal dominance over North India.


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