While nearly all major gharanas and styles of Dhrupad, Khayal and Thumri have their origins in the Hindi-speaking region, musicians have moved out to the East and West

If one looks at the contemporary Hindustani classical music scene, it becomes clear that Maharashtra and West Bengal dominate it almost completely. In the case of Maharashtra, its limits can be extended to the adjoining district of Dharwad in Karnataka that has produced many top-notch musicians such as Sawai Gandharva, Mallikarjun Mansur, Kumar Gandharva, Gangubai Hangal, Basavraj Rajguru and Bhimsen Joshi. These days, M. Venkatesh Kumar, Kaivalya Kumar Gurav and Jayateerth Mevundi from Karnataka are making waves. There seems to be some kind of a division of labour between Bengal and Maharashtra-Karnataka, as the former has distinguished itself mainly in instrumental music while the latter has made its mark in its vocal counterpart.

However, it’s an irony that nearly all the major gharanas and styles of Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri, Tappa and Dadra have their origins in the Hindi-speaking region. Most of them were associated with Delhi and the towns and villages surrounding it within a radius of 300 kms. The dispersal and migration of these gharanas took place after the cataclysmic events of 1857 and the consequent disappearance of the last vestiges of the Mughal court. Even before this, musicians had started to move out of Delhi as the Mughal court was on the path of steady decline and the Emperor was reduced to the status of a mere pensioner of the East India Company. Tanras Khan, the most famous vocalist of the Delhi gharana, shifted to Hyderabad, while quite a few musicians headed for Lucknow.

In 1856, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was deposed and exiled to Matiaburz near Calcutta (now Kolkata). A large number of musicians and dancers moved to Matiaburz with him and laid the edifice of turning Calcutta in particular, and Bengal in general, into a great centre of Hindustani classical and semi-classical music. It also helped matters that Calcutta became the Capital of India after the British crown took over the reins of administration from East India Company. This was the time when Bombay (now Mumbai) was emerging as a major centre for trade and industry and a new mercantile bourgeois class was coming into existence. After 1857, many feudal patrons fell on bad days because of their real or alleged support for the anti-British mutineers. As patronage shrank, musicians started to look for greener pastures elsewhere and migrated to Mumbai as well as to small princely states of Maharashtra. Kirana gharana stalwart Abdul Karim Khan from Kirana in Saharanpur, Bhendi Bazar gharana founders Chhajju Khan, Nazir Khan and Khadim Husain Khan from Bijnor settled in Bombay, while Alladiya Khan made Kolhapur his home. Balkrishna Bua, a disciple of Haddu Khan-Hassu Khan, went from Gwalior to Ichalkaranji as he found employment there. Vilayat Husain Khan, a major figure in the Agra gharana pantheon, too, found shelter in Bombay.

Till the end of the 19th Century, Agra, Sikandarabad, Khurja, Kirana, Bijnor, Mathura, Gwalior, Atrauli, Saharanpur, Meerut, Sahaswan, Rampur, Shahjahanpur, Fatehpur Sikri, Alwar and Jaipur were associated with Khayal gharanas, Banis of Dhrupad and gharanas of sitar, sarangi, sarod and tabla players. Master makers of musical instruments were also located in these centres of music. But now, so far as the culture of listening to classical music is concerned, the entire Hindi region is, as it were, a vast stretch of barren land. While the middle class as well as the elite families in Maharashtra and Bengal make every effort to initiate their children into classical music so that even if they do not become professional musicians, they can evolve into knowledgeable listeners, no such music culture exists in the Hindi-speaking States. Even cities like Allahabad and Lucknow have lost their music culture, with Banaras being the only possible exception. The Hindi region had long ago stopped producing great musicians. Now, it is bereft of the audiences too. After the all-time greats like Faiyaz Khan and Alladiya Khan, Agra gharana vocalist Sharafat Husain Khan was the last big-ticket Khayal performer to have come from Atrauli near Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh. Banaras too has only Girija Devi today to flaunt.