The man who banned music! Yes, such an individual did walk the face of the Earth, who banned listening to, as well as practising music in his court during his reign. Aurangzeb, the son of Shahjahan (who built the Taj Mahal) took the Mughal Empire to its zenith and was himself an accomplished Veena player. With many contradictions in his laws and ways, he patronized the arts in the first decade of his rule. But with growing puritanism, he banished all musicians and singers. These artistes then took shelter in other princely states. Ironically, a large number of books on music were published in his time.
The wheel of fortune for music and musicians turned once again with the crowning of Muhammad Shah Rangile (1716-1748 AD) after numerous successions to the throne with the passing of Aurangzeb. His love for music was legendary, so much so that he himself composed compositions under the pen name Rangila Piya. Indian Classical Music (ICM) once again began to flourish. The Qawwali style of singing came back to life and brought with it the invention and improvisation of musical instruments like the Sarod, Surbahar, Sitar along with the traditional Tambura, Tabla and Veena. Two of Muhammad Shah’s court musicians Niyamat Khan “Sadarang” and Firoz Khan “Adarang” enlivened the Khyaal style of gayaki. This style of performance became so popular that it soon overtook the traditional Dhrupad style of music. The word Khyaal itself means Kalpana, i.e., to imagine. This trend brought in a blend of orthodox Hindustani music systems and the new liberal form of expression. Altering the existing system of Hindustani music, it gave scope to freedom of expression in the artistic and aesthetic sense.
And with freedom came disintegration. The Mughal dynasty ended with other princely states like the Maratha Empire, Sikh empire, the Woodeyar dynasty, Nawabs of Bengal and Hyderabad among others, coming to power in their respective regions. The inner turmoil in our country between these princely states and the coinciding timing of these monarchs still retaining the love for music, coupled with the arrival of the British, Dutch and Portuguese marked the creation of a new dimension in music. While on the one hand, the foreign invaders were indifferent towards Indian culture and ICM in general, the royalty in different regions still had sufficient resources to support artistes and let continue the growth of arts and music. This was extremely conducive for ICM.