The Raaj and the Raag

The Raaj… not the romantic Shahrukh Khan Raj, but the British Raaj, the impact of which was manifold. While on the one hand we got cricket, the railways and infrastructure, postal services and social reforms, on the other hand, the roots connecting us to our culture and heritage started to sway. Strong efforts were made to make our people forget the glorious past of our country. This did result in people unifying against foreign forces, but it didn’t happen overnight.

With any invasion, as seen earlier, the culture, art and social customs of the society are usually the most to be impacted. Whether positive or negative depends on so many factors. In the case of Indian art forms, again the effect was contrasting and intriguing. One can’t demarcate a white or black consequence. The strengthening foothold of the British led to a great decline of patronage from the royals towards artistes of music, dance, poetry and all art forms. Some of the princely states that remained on good terms with the British still enjoyed the mehfils and utsavs where artistes of different Gharanas (schools of music) performed in order to gain accolades or to prove the superiority of their Gharana.

The East India Company and the British monarchy were not particularly fond of local or traditional Indian art forms. Fascinated and curious, yes! But not committed to its survival.

Ironically, many British researchers and musicologists studied Indian arts and music. As a result, a lot of literature was published on Indian music. Books such as The Music Of Hindostan was published in 1914 by A. H. Fox Strangways and The Music of India in 1921 by H. A. Popley. These scholars wrote serious treatises on Indian music with an aim to help their people realize the value of Indian art. They set the ball rolling for Indian musicologists like Pt. V. D. Paluskar and Pt. V. N. Bhatkhande.

Music and art forms help form unspoken bonds between people. Two minds and hearts connect at a spiritual level through music. This is exactly what Pt. Bhatkhande and Pt. Paluskar did, through their efforts of preserving our heritage. Set against the backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle, these two individuals can be considered as the revolutionaries of ICM. All their efforts were towards preserving our culture through spreading music. How did they do this? By bringing ICM to the masses which was earlier restricted only to the royalty. This gave an impetus to unifying the population, to remind the people of who they really are, of their history and heritage, giving a breath of fresh air into the lives of people who were exploited and ridden roughshod over.

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Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath
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Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath

Ashwini Narayangaonkar-Kamath is the eleventh generation of her family to be dedicated to the ancient art form of Indian classical music. She has performed in India and abroad, has music albums to her credit and successfully runs her classical music academy all over Mumbai.