Punjab’s percussive power

Gian Singh Namdhari plays the pakhawaj jodi. Photo: Special Arrangement

Gian Singh Namdhari plays the pakhawaj jodi. Photo: Special Arrangement  


Beyond its formidable folklore lies an endearing classicism -- a legacy of percussion music, the Punjab Gharana.

Right from its inception, Sikhism has been synonymous with music as a medium of connecting the soul with the Supreme Guru. The legendary Bhai Mardana, Guru Nanak’s Muslim Rabaabiya, it is believed, would musicalise the latter’s divine inspirations into soulful ragas and, it is said that the verses in the holy Guru Granth Sahib are set to specific agas.

“Nanakji, it is believed, would often sing his response to someone who asked him a question!” smiles famed ‘Kathakaar’ Morari Bapu.

The Gurbaani keertans rendered at gurudwaras embody nuances of Indian classical music, the stark, Saatvik simplicity sans catchy frills, purity and overwhelming humility drive the devotee to tears. Sikh classical music stands as a genre apart with its distinctly devotional nature. Though common ragas and talas are employed, instruments such as Sarinda, Tauz, Dilruba (bowed instruments) and the plucked Rabaab are typical to Sikh music.

Interestingly, an ancient classical drum called the pakhawaj jodi is exclusive to Sikh music. Though resembling the tabla, the jodi is nothing but a vertical pakhawaj (ancient horizontal drum) with the left and right sides inverted as two separate vertical drums with moist flour smeared on the dhama (left hand drum) like in the pakhawaj, for a deeper tone. It is today the forte of the Namdhari Sikhs, Sukhwinder ‘Pinky’ Namdhari being among its prominent exponents.

Senior tabla maestro and scholar Pandit Arvind Mulgaonkar explains that the jodi was invented during fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Singhji’s era, essentially to accompany the age-old Dhrupad style, in which keertans were primarily rendered right from Mardana’s time.

“The jodi uses powerful strokes, and the technique and repertoire are similar to the pakhawaj, except that being vertical, the jodi offers a wider scope for speed and rhythmocity (laykaari), mathematics, complexity and expression,” says Pt. Mulgaonkar.

Originally, the pakhawaj would accompany dhrupad, but with the emergence of khyal singing, the jodi emerged as a softer, more refined accompaniment to dhrupad, later the tabla, to accompany khyal.

With the gradual evolution of the tabla as a solo instrument, there emerged various gharanas -- Delhi, Ajrada, Farukhabad, Lucknow and Benaras. “While pakhawaj stalwart Lala Bhavanidas brought tabla to the fold, it was Ustad Faqir Bakhsh-1 who later pioneered the Punjab gharana of tabla. After being denied the title of Khalifah or torchbearer after his teacher’s death, he quit playing the pakhawaj and took to the tabla in retaliation and there was born a sort of a synthesis of both styles,” explains Pandit Mulgaonkar.

Faqir Bakhsh-2, his descendant rose to great prominence as a performer, teacher and composer. Many of his disciples became legends including Ustad Firoz Khan and Miyan Qadar Bakhsh-2 who taught the likes of Ustad Allah Rakha, Ustad Allah Ditta and Shaukat Hussain of Pakistan.

One of Ustad Firoz Khan’s chief disciples was the legendary Pandit Gyan Prakash Ghosh (Gyan Babu) of Kolkata whose contribution to the Punjab gharana is historic. A venerated composer, his songs bore the stamp of the quintessential Punjab style. While Firoz Khan’s compositions stood as a class apart with their uniquely masculine, bold, expansive, colourful, flamboyant yet refined and poetic flavour, Gyan Babu further evolved the style with his touch of intellectualism and depth.

In the course of history, Punjab masters evolved a tabla style that incorporated the pakhawaj’s robustness reflected in bold, powerful strokes. Through the interaction of maestros of different gharanas though, an exchange of ideas influenced the Punjab style. “My guru Ustad Amir Hussain Khan saheb, the doyen of Farukhabad Gharana too, had an immense repertoire of Punjab through exchange of compositions with maestros such as Baba Malang Khan and Abbu Khan,” says Pandit Mulgaonkar.

Today, the Gharana is divided between India and Pakistan among past veterans Karim Bakhsh Pairna, Nabi Bakhsh, Karam Ilahi, Pawan Kumar Varma, Akhtar Husain Khan and Ustad Bahadur Singh, to name a few.

“My guru Ustad Allah Rakha brought the tradition to Mumbai in the 1930s. Highly challenging Gat-Tukda, Paran and Chakradhar compositions are the forte of the gharana which need intense riyaaz to perfect,” says Pandit Yogesh Samsi.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2018 9:57:14 PM |

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