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Divergent colonial ideologies created a Western-educated intellectual class in India. To begin with, the orientalists studied various aspects of Indian society and sought to link them to an ancient exotic civilization. In the process, they supported Indian languages, and published literature to acquaint Indians with Western rationalism and scientific temper. The Evangilicals set up missionary schools to further the cause of Christianity among Indians. But above all, it was the Anglicist viewpoint so vociferously put forth by Lord Macaulay in his famous Minute of 1835 that made English education inevitable in the Indian context. In Bombay, the influence of Western education was widely experienced after Mountstuart Elphinstone, as Governor of Bombay Presidency from 1819 to 1827, laid a firm base for modern learning in the region. Bombay saw the birth of several institutions that gave an impetus to the city’s intellectual life. Among these, the Students Literary and Scientific Society established in 1848 and its vernacular branches known as the Marathi and Gujrati Upayukta Jnyan Prasarak Sabhas (1849) are of particular relevance here. Members of the intellectual elite played a prominent role in these organizations and challenged the position of the shetias, who had until then been the leaders of the Indian community and had supported the spread of education by donating generously to such organizations, but had often been sectarian in serving the interests of their individual castes and communities. Western ideas of liberty and equality inspired intellectuals to question British administrative, political and economic policies. Spurred on by a nationalistic sentiment, they endeavoured to prove that Indian civilization was in no way inferior to the West and that India was a repository of ancient culture.

The rise of national consciousness, a growing urge for social and political change, and the search for a national cultural identity, thus compelled English-educated Indians to explore and project facets of indigenous culture that challenged racial and cultural superiority flaunted by the colonial masters. The revivalists among them contradicted Western influences and Christian missionary propaganda by reviving memories of India’s ‘golden past’ and by taking pride in this cultural inheritance. As part of these attempts to promote Indian culture and influenced by the orientalists, some intellectuals promoted Hindustani music as an ancient legacy and a symbol of India’s ‘glorious heritage’. They sought to establish links between this system of music and a Hindu/Sanskritic past, ignoring Islamic influences or the patronage that had been provided by Muslim rulers and also condemning the latter for having destroyed a rich and ancient tradition. Thus, patronage from the intellectual elite was not motivated merely by their interest in Hindustani music, but was part of the larger discourse that sought to contend with colonial notions of Indian culture.

Hindustani Music In Colonial Bombay: Three Essays Collective, 348 pages, 750.
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Hindustani Music In Colonial Bombay: Three Essays Collective, 348 pages, 750.

... Thus, the English-educated Indian intellectual elite found itself in a complex situation. Some were influenced by the liberal and rational phase of the Indian Renaissance, there were those who advocated a revivalist path, and there were still others who were influenced by Victorian morality. As pointed out by Justice M.G. Ranade, “...caught as we are in the midst of two civilizations we live a divided and conflicting life".

But the growing interest in Hindustani music, the objective of bringing respectability to the art, and a nationalistic spirit, motivated Bombay’s intellectual elite to form music clubs that promoted education and performance among amateurs. Until then, music education had followed the traditional guru-shishya parampara with oral transmission as its primary pedagogic tool. Music was taught mainly to those from hereditary families of professional male and female performers and to some disciples outside these families. The guru occupied an exalted position and was regarded as an omnipotent figure. The system made it obligatory for the shishyas to prove their worthiness to the guru before the training could begin. Once accepted, the shishya seldom made cash offerings to the guru for the training, but performed various menial tasks for the guru. Those wishing to train as professionals but not from the guru’s family, were expected to serve the guru and win his confidence for him to agree to impart knowledge that was otherwise a closely guarded secret, as was seen in the case of Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale during his studentship with his guru Faiz Mohammad Khan’s residence. ...

...In addition to musical knowledge, the guru also went on to introduce the disciples to extra-musical aspects and etiquette that became the basis for social interaction in the specific milieu of hereditary performers. The guru’s pivotal role as a knowledge-giver and interpreter in an essentially oral tradition was emphasized through various rituals. The guru tied a ganda or ceremonial thread to the wrist of the shishya during the ganda-bandhan ceremony symbolizing the disciple’s initiation and signifying an everlasting bond between the guru and shishya.

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Muzaffarabad Hall, a concert venue now in ruins. Photo: Aneesh Pradhan

It was in this atmosphere that enlightened intellectuals decided to bring the art into public domain, by establishing music clubs. Like many other choices that the Western-educated Indian intelligentsia made, the idea of starting clubs was also borrowed from the West.

In favour of setting up music clubs in various parts of the country to propagate music education, V.N. Bhatkhande prescribed a multi-pronged role for them. He believed clubs should compile, print, publish and translate all available ancient Sanskrit treatises on music, organize regular music conferences and invite scholars to discuss issues related to music theory and practice, document the current state of Hindustani music, codify the raag rules and publish this codification, consider the opinions of leading musicians regarding the structure of controversial raags and standardize these, seek the help of musicians under the patronage of various principalities, procure the histories of musicians through the documents available with the princely patrons, organize periodic programmes featuring famous vocalists to create an opportunity for the general public to listen to presentations of uncommon raags, employ good musicians to impart regular music lessons as per a syllabus, acquaint musicians with raag rules and notation, and maintain records of the clubs’ proceedings or publish them in monthly magazines. This was an ambitious proposition for music clubs, but many of them took steps in this general direction.

Music clubs, like several public organizations established in this period, had definite community linkages. Notably, Hindu clubs and societies included the Dnyan Prasarak Mandali for promoting educational activity, Hindu Burning and Burial Grounds Committee, Hindu Mahajan Committee for managing temples and charitable institutions, and the Hindu Union Club established in 1875 by Justice K.T. Telang. Gymkhanas for sport like the Paramanadas Jivandas Hindu Gymkhana, Parsi Gymkhana, and the Islam Gymkhana were also organized along communal lines. Likewise, the Pathare Prabhu Social Club was set up in 1886. It was, therefore, not uncommon for even music clubs at the time to be run along similar lines, as is borne out by the fact that a Hindu music club functioned in the Kalbadevi area in 1868, and a subscription-based Muslim music club organised gala nights featuring women performers, who entertained members and their friends. But these clubs were of an informal nature and the ambience at their concerts was similar to the relaxed atmosphere at concerts held at the private homes of wealthy patrons. It was only with the establishment of the Parsi Gayan Uttejak Mandali that the concept of a formal music club took seed in the city.

Excerpted from Hindustani Music In Colonial Bombay, with permission from Three Essays Collective.

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