In discussing a bygone era of discerning patronage, we often hear musicians say “Raje-maharajon ki baat kucch aur hi thi…". Indeed, many of the painstakingly researched facts in D.B. Kshirsagar’s fascinating Hindi book Jodhpur Riyasat Ke Darbari Sangeetagyon Ka Itihaas leave the reader awestruck, both for the wealth of information that the scholar shares, and for the vision and sagacity with which the rulers of Jodhpur patronized music.

Umbrella: A scene of royal patronage. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Possibly, recruits from the taleemkhana who received critical acclaim for their expertise were promoted to a division of the palace known as akhaada or department of accomplished performers. These women performers came to be known as “gayan", “goyin" or “goyini"—their names invariably carried a suffix of “Rai", for example, Gayan Rangrooprai. An exceptionally accomplished artiste could be directly enrolled in the akhaada.

Among the many documents that were examined by Kshirsagar are detailed reviews of performances held in the palaces. An undated review of a performance by vocalist Imambaksh, who served the court of Maharaja Man Singh, details that he first rendered dhrupad and khayal. The performance was just about competent, meriting neither praise nor criticism. Thereafter, acceding to a farmaish or request for tappa, he first sang a pracheen tappo or time-tested composition, but then moved to a tappa in a modern style, which was not appreciated. Besides which, twice his taan paltas were not up to the mark. Similar analyses of many artistes, including accompanying artistes, were documented, providing scholars insights into the manner in which music was patronized, presented and encouraged by the rulers of Jodhpur.

Without doubt, in a feudal culture, patronage of the arts could not have been without its politics, scandals, and even a selfish desire to present oneself as a benevolent patron. Yet, today’s supporters of traditional music in India, few and far between though they may be, could learn a thing or two from the Jodhpur royalty, who not only provided performance and training opportunities for the artistes, but saw to their well-being with a long-term vision that included taking care of medical requirements, sanctioning loans for weddings or other events in the artiste’s family, and even constructing kalavanton ki chaukis or studio spaces for riyaazwhere they were expected to hone their skills on a regular basis when not performing in the durbar. If today’s patrons lack this vision, they could consider commissioning translations of this book, so that more readers can marvel at this lost tradition of informed patronage.

Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com

Close