Communal harmony has been a natural way of life with Indian musicians throughout the ages. Uniting people and finding the underlying binding thread between them was a part of their innate thought process
The world of Indian classical music has been an age-old treasure house of unpolitised unity and pluralism. As stated by vocalist late Ustad Amir Khan, “one may be a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian, the seven musical notes remain the same. The path of music is the same for all faiths”, music truly binds souls.
Indian music is a world where, while bearded ‘Ustads’ offered namaz and also performed pooja, ‘pandits’ in dhotis sang verses with Islamic lyrics and lived under the same roof as their Muslim mentors.
A natural way of life with Indian musicians throughout the ages, communal or religious differences mattered less. Uniting people of varied faiths and finding the underlying binding thread between them was a part of their innate thought process.
Like the Sufis and Bhakti saints believed that while there can be a myriad forms of worship, truth is one, Indian musicians, too, practiced and preached the same. Baba Alauddin Khan, the legendary Guru of giants like Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to name a few, though a staunch Muslim, regularly performed Kali Pooja. Taking pride in his Hindu ancestry, besides housing images of Shiva, Krishna and Ramana Maharshi, visited the temple of Ma Sharda built on a hill in his hometown in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh.
While Saraswati pooja was a regular affair at sitar maestro Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan’s Kolkata home, the monarch of Qawwal Bachche Gharana Ustad Rajab Ali Khan would recommend the recitation of ‘Om’ to his students as a part of their riyaaz. The ethereal singer Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, it is believed, would always begin writing his compositions with the words ‘Om Tatsat Saamavedaaya Namaha’. His daughter’s named is etched in history as Hirabai Badodekar. Like her father, she too sang many soulful bhajans like her heartfelt Bhairavi and the all-time ‘Giridhar Gopala’.
“Even stalwarts of tabla like Ustads Ahmedjan Thirakwa and Amir Hussain Khan were renowned for their pluralism. While Thirakwa Khansaheb would narrate to us kids, tales of the Ramayana and Hanuman’s bravery, Amir Hussain Khan saheb would always bless ‘Paramatma sukhi rakhe’, place his hands on the tabla and say ‘Shaarda Ma ki qasam’!” reminisces tabla and sitar wizard Pandit Nayan Ghosh.
The maestro, although never misses his daily pooja, never forgets to offer salaam while passing by the dargah of Sufi saint Hazrat Makhdoom Shah in Mumbai.
Pandit Ghosh also remembers as a child, Ustad Amir Hussain Khan wearing a dhoti and accompanying his father, late maestro Pandit Nikhil Ghosh to the Ramakrishna Mission Temple. Here, while the latter did his jaap, the former would do his tasbeeh right in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple!
While the doyen of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana Ustad Alladiya Khan boldly spoke about his Brahmin ancestry and wore the sacred thread, Shehnai Nawaz Ustad Bismillah Khan regularly performed at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Banaras. While the towering Kesarbai Kerkar made history as the former’s leading disciple, Bageshwari Qamar stands as India’s first woman shehnai maestro and the latter’s protégé.
Pluralism in poetry
The poetry of Hindustani classical music resounds with universal brotherhood. While the great Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s famous bhajan ‘Hari Om Tatsat’ spoke of several events from the Ramayana, quite like his meditative ‘Sughareeva Ram Kripa’ in Raga Chhayanat, Hindu mythology was his favourite lyrical theme as a composer.
Monarchs of the Agra Gharana like ‘Aftab e Mausiqi’ Ustad Faiyaaz Khan, Khadim Hussain Khan, Vilayat Hussain Khan though regular in their namaaz, proudly spoke of their Vaishnavaite Brahmin ancestry. Their Khayaal compositions set to lyrics on Krishna made history.
Ustad Aman Ali Khan’s ‘Jai Mata Vilambh Tajde’ in Hansadhwani, Ustad Amir Khan’s ‘Jinke Mann Ram biraje’ in Malkauns, his introspective self-composed Raga Ram Kalyan, ‘Pratham Allah’ sung by Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur in Shivmat Bhairav and Pandit Pratap Narayan’s ‘Mann Hindu Tann Musalman’ are evergreen masterpieces and icons of pluralism.
Greats like the historic composer Kale Khan ‘Saraspiya’ and the Dagar Khandan have been famed for their knowledge of Sanskrit.
Religion of love
“In music, there is only one true gharana, the Rig Veda, and in life, love” smiles the last living legend of his era, sitar maestro Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan.
Fluently reciting the Gayatri Mantra, verses in praise of Krishna and also the Surah Al Fatiha from the Koran, Khan saheb believes that although being a devout Muslim, he respects all faiths equally, love being central to his universal spirituality.
Proudly displaying a resplendent idol of Krishna and Saraswati in his living room, Khan saheb quotes Ghalib “Dhoondna, yeh qaida tha, dair o haram mein tujhe. Magar pahele laazim tha, apne ghar ke andar dhoondna tujhe” (seeking you, oh God, in places of worship was a mere formality. But our first duty is to seek you within, in our home which is our heart).