Where the Mughals got their music - II

The majestic musical tradition of the Mughal court was possible only through the merging of many diverse influences. Ambrin Hayat explains

Where the Mughals got their music - II
In India, with the advent of Muslim rulers, diverse musical and other traditions started influencing the court culture.

The Delhi Sultanate (1206 – 1526) adopted Indian classical music in its courts but, of course, not without glimpses of the cultural influences that the Sultans carried with them. Firoze Shah Tughlaq (1351 – 1388) especially patronised Indian music in his court.

However, music in India was not restricted to the courts only: temples and shrines promoted and helped develop different musical genres. One of the greatest musicians was Hazrat Amir Khusrau: a mystic who was a scholar and a musician. He was a disciple of Nizam-ud-din Auliya (1253 – 1325) and was in the court of Sultan Allauddin Khilji, who ruled from 1296 to 1316. Amir Khusrau wrote poetry in Persian but more importantly in Hindavi, the language of the common people. His songs and Qawalis were sung in ordinary homes and in the royal courts. A pioneer of Qawali-singing in the Subcontinent, Amir Khusrau also developed a style of singing known as ghazalgaiki.
Ali Khan Kakori another highly celebrated musician of the court had the unique distinction, along with Tansen, to be painted by an artist in the imperial atelier

The Mughals (1526-1857) with their Mongol, Uzbek, Turkic and Persian roots were, culturally speaking, very much in the Persian sphere. So they came to India with a gregarious heritage of mixed cultures. Amongst other aspects of an already multicultural milieu, the syncretic musical traditions that they carried were deeply entrenched in their urbane lifestyle.

However, in India, they encountered a musical tradition far more developed and synchronised with the everyday lives of the people there. The developments of arts and sciences and the development of culture and state were all an integrated way of life for the Mughals. If they were busy in acquiring new military technology and bringing in accomplished military generals to lead their armies, they were also striving to bring in exceptional artistes,painters and highly rated craftsmen and musicians from all over India, Persia and beyond to their courts.

Emperor Akbar and court musical maestro Tansen visit Haridas

The second Mughal Emperor Humayun had musicians given prestigious places in his court. And then, of course, Humayun’s son Akbar, with all the glory and grandeur of his court, also hosted at least 36 renowned musicians. The integration and assimilation of two ancient cultures was complete in Akbar’s court. The Mughals were now born in India, they now had mothers who were born and brought up in the Indian cultural realm. The Mughal court was now an Indian court, of an Indian imperial monarch, who was a carrier of many diverse dynasties in his heritage but he was an Indian, born on the Indian soil, raised in a composite culture of plurality. The Nauratans, the nine gems of Akbar’s court, are legendary. They were nine extraordinary people who excelled in their fields and were considered the ultimate examples of accomplishment. One of the nine gems was Mian Tansen (1500 – 1586) who epitomises the height of talent and skill in Indian classical music even today. Tansen was the student of Swami Haridas (1512 – 1573), himself one of the greatest music artistes that Indian music has ever seen. Haridas was a poet and a music composer and he was deeply initiated into spirituality. He influenced not only the music of his times but also the spiritual dialogue and philosophy of that era. A whole new school of thought emerged through his teachings in the society – which continues even today. Swami Haridas greatly influenced the Bhakti movement within Hinduism. Haridas was an expert vocalist who sang and propagated the dhrupad style of Hindustani classical music. He sang mainly about Radha and Krishna. Tansen at some point also took some lessons from, and was influenced by, a 16th century Sufi musician Muhammad Ghaus, who wrote Jawahir-ul- Khamsa. Muhammad Ghaus himself was greatly influenced by Indian philosophy. He translated the ancient Sanskrit manuscript Amtrakunda as Hauz-al-Hayat in Arabic.

Mughal standards of sophistication and excellence in music touched new heights in the imperial courts. Emperor Akbar (1542 – 1605) learnt Indian classical music and also the vocalisation. His teacher Lal Kalawant taught him extensively to deliver into his repertoire every aspect of the sounds that are required to be sung. According to Abul Fazal, Akbar had an expert knowledge of music and could understand it like a master musician.

Depiction from the second half of the 17th century of a musical evening in the Mughal court

Noted musicians Ram Das and his son Sur Das were famous for their skills, and so were part of the musicians of Akbar’s court. Ali Khan Kakori another highly celebrated musician of the court had the unique distinction, along with Tansen, to be painted by an artist in the imperial atelier. Tansen became the benchmark for excellence in Hindustani classical music. Tansen and through him the Mughal state found a vocal presence in the local masses. His voice and his compositions in a way reflected Mughal presence in the everyday day lives of common people in medieval India. Many compositions created by Tansen are sung even today. Mian Tansen’s versions of the ancient ragas are now the backbone of the rich Hindustani classical tradition and are referred to by his name – Mian ki Todi and Mian ki Malhar amongst others. Tansen’s books on music titled Sangeeta and Ragmala are definitive works on Indian classical music. Not just the Emperor but the extended imperial families indulged in music and sought excellence in every form of it. Dhrupad remained the favoured style of singing in the Mughal courts. Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (1618 – 1707) mastered the ancient string instrument veena which is mentioned in the Rigveda. Tuhfat-ul-Hind was written for Jahandar Shah (1661 – 1713) the Mughal prince who later became the Emperor for almost a year. Muhammad Shah (1719 – 1748) patronized the arts, as well as literary and scientific studies – very much within the tradition of the Mughal courts. Zij-i-Muhammad Shahi, a book indulging in scientific pursuits, was written in his reign. A great patron of the Urdu language, Muhammad Shah wrote under the pen name of Sada Rangila and was an accomplished Urdu poet. He introduced Urdu as the official language of the Mughal court. He was deeply entrenched in music and its promotion. Sadarang and Adarang, two famous musicians of Mohammad Shah’s court, are regarded as pioneers of developing and promoting a distinct style of singing known as Khayal.

Many princesses and princes mastered musical instruments and became accomplished singers and musicians. The courts patronage set high standards and Indian classical music became an integral part of the Mughal realm.

And from there it became central to the heritage of the Subcontinent…