by Dr. Bharat Gupt


photo-res-rabab-jori1Instruments that look like the rabab or the sarod certainly existed in India as early as the 5th century CE as they can be seen in the Ajantapaintings. In fact, exchanges of musical scales, techniques and instruments have been going on between India and Greece (with contributions from Persia in between) from the very ancient times. The shift from the primacy of the harp like to the zither like string instruments had taken place together in this whole region. After the zithers had very nearly eliminated the harps, it seems that two main families of the plucked zithers came to prevail in North India, the vina (also called biin) and the rabab. Both of these were played for accompanying the singers of dhruvapada compositions and the devotional compositions in the courts, ashrams and temples.  

The rabab had a distinct place in the devotional music of India. For this reason, it was also called ‘dhrupadi’ rabab and some times was even called ‘rudra bina’ as it was closely associated with the devotion music that was composed in dhruvapada style. The Sikh Gurus beginning with the founder Nanak Dev specially patronized the rababas the accompanying instrument to the devotional compositions. The full frettedrudra bin, the dominant string instrument over the whole of India, was not taken up by them, perhaps to keep the example of Nanak and Mardana. Even the last guru Gobind Singh was fond of the rabab.

Much later the name rudra bina came to be used for the large fretted instrument earlier just called ‘bin’. The rabab had gut or silk strings, two types of bridges were used, the flat and the standing bridge or a composite bridge having both the features. Later after the introduction of sarod, the standing bridge was retained byrabab and the flat bridge went out of vogue. Rabab had two sizes, used form Punjabto Bengal for all kinds of kirtan in various languages. The Jodi and pakhawaj assisted the rabab for dhruvapada, gurubani and Vaishnava kirtan. Court or durbar rababs had bigger resonators or chakkis

But both bin and rabab lost this function with the advent of khayal singing which required a bowed string like the sarangi to keep pace with rapid tana-work. They were thus left out to survive as solo instruments only and a good deal of innovation was done to make them diverse and versatile. Thus started the inventions of the new instruments like the sarod, sitar, surbahar, sursingaar, mayur vina and many others.

A mortal blow was inflicted on the Mughal Empire by Nadir Shah of Persia when he invaded North India in the middle of the 18th Century, looted Delhi, massacred most of its population and plundered the Red Fort, the seat of the Mughal power and went back to Iran with an immense booty of gold, precious jewels like the Kohinoor and a huge enslaved population. He left such a terror in the minds of Delhi inhabitants that not only the musicians that flocked from far and wide to the court of Muhammad Shah Rangila, a great patron of music, ceased to come from other parts of India but also even those at the court left to seek refuge in the smaller principalities that surrounded Delhi. Thus the courts at Gwalior, Agra, Rampur, Jaipur, Atrauli, Lucknow and such others that owed lip allegiance to collapsed Delhi, became the prime locations of musical patronage. It is here that new traditions of distinct stylistic renderings developed and which later came to be known as ‘gharana’ (families of musicians that restricted teaching to family members only) but named after the court that offered patronage. Most eminent among these were the Lucknow gharana’ andRampur gharana’ where the best of the exodus from Delhi settled. During the 19thcentury, when a steep intellectual depression had set in, the vocal repertoire of thekhayal became stagnant but many innovations were done in the area of musical instruments.  

According to Somjit Dasgupta, as heard from his teacher Radhika Mohan Moitra, in Jaipur, the Madhavmal tradition of biin playing was taken up by Murad Ali Khan who was given the training of biin on the sursingaar but was forbidden to play the biin as he was not a family member of the teacher Madhav Mal. Around 1830, Murad Ali khan, invented the sarod by putting a metal plate on the rabab in place of its wooden plate. As the metal strings were also now coming to replace gut strings, the metal plate provided for greater clarity of notes. The sursingaar it seems had been given a metal plate earlier and the same change in rabab turned it into the ‘sarod’. As this was not the age of microphones the gain in the volume of the sound of the instrument was a highly welcome. Somjit thinks that now with electronic amplification rabab can make a comeback.  

The compositions of the rabab repertoire were earlier framed to match with Dhruvapad beat cycles or taalas and the later compositions for the rabab were called gats just as in sitar and sarod, the two instruments that rabab preceded. Earlier the stroke work or ‘bolkaari’ of the rabab was close to Dhruvapada and also emphasized with big ‘gamakas’ and strokes of the right hand and then it evolved more like the present day rhythmic patterning or ‘layakarii; By this time that is the 18th century therabab was not used for accompanying singing and became an independent instrument. The great maestros developed the new style of ‘gatkaarii’ and bolkarii andlarant.   The rabab with its gut strings and wooden base without mental plate such as in sarod, can produce all the ornamentions that are played on sarod or sitar. Forjhala on rabab, they use four of the main strings in place of chikari (side strings), which are used in biin or sitar playing. As a mater of fact all the present day techniques of sarod playing are inherited from the rabab.

Rabab in Colonial Days

By the end of the 19th century the courts of Lucknow, Jaipur etc., also faced a decline and a new patronage developed for the musicians in the ‘courts’ or rather coteries of the Bengali zamindaars around Calcutta, the new capital of British India. Calcutta zamidars contributed to the patronage and created an atmosphere of music appreciation and education that lasted till 1980s. Many innovations were done under their wings and even a gharana for pakhawaj playing came into being. Most important was their maintenance of instrument making workshops that provided a steady place of income to the instrument makers. Radha Mohan Moitra not only played the sur-rababsarodsursingaar, rabab etc; Haren Krishan Sheel played the biin, they also sustained workshops. They assisted or themselves made innovations along with the musicians they patronized. For instance the famous musician Ustad Alauddin Khan of Maihar put a larger resonator (chakki) on the sarod, which amplified the deeper notes. Radhika Mohan Moitra on the other hand made the resonator less high to yield sharper tones.

Somjit Dasgupta points out that Radhu Babu created 43 a new instruments, such as the sarod with less height, another with a wooden chakki, another with a flat bridge only which yielded a biin type sound and hence called mohan bina played by a tar java (plectrum). The instrument was so named by the musicologist Thakur Jai Deva Singh. Radhu Babu performed on the mohan biina in many National programs broadcasted by the All Indian Radio. Somjit recalls a famous performance on the mohan bina, in which Radhika Mohan Moitra played the raag called miyan ki malharand Karamattulla and Prem Ballabh played pakhawaj and tabla respectively. He could also play the sitar as the maestro Ustad Inayat Khan trained him for it, and that helped him create the instrument called dilbahar, a cross between sitar and surbahar. He also invented an israj type instrument called navadeepa, another called Indian banjo. His disciples play all of these even now, says Somjit. Sudeshana Baghchi gifted 57 instruments of Radhika Mohan Moitra to Somjit Dasgupta which comprise today of a rare collection which is not an archive but a living traditon, he says.

JORI : Percussion Instrument

The Jori, developed in the medieval times is said to be brought to the fore by the Sikh guru Sri Arjun Dev ji, by splitting the age-old instrument pakhawaj into two. Although instrument like this pairphoto-res-rabab-jori2 can be seen in ancient sculptural art, the Jori developed the repertoire of its contemporary pakhawaj into a vigorous style. The two parts called dhamma (left) and puda (right) are kept vertically on the floor, the first of 14 inches and as heavy as 16 kilogram and the second a few inches smaller. The left one produced deeper base sounds that are strong, expansive and resonating, unequaled by any other Indian drum. The right one again being upright allows greater modulation of strokes as well as volume. The Jori thus catered to the temperament of vigorous music of dhruvapad as distinct from the mannerisms of softness highlighted in the khayal of the much later period.

Three major sites of Indian performing arts, namely temples, courtesan houses and theatres were nearly wiped out particularly in the North, by the Islamic ravages and its shariat code. By the end of the twelfth-century, ashrams and the courts (that mostly defied the maulawis) were left as the only seats of dance and music. As the forums of secular music especially theatre declined, performance being ashram centric tended to concentrate on spiritual and philosophic themes under the impact of bhaktior devotional other worldliness. The royal courts merely patronized the music created in religious circles like ashrams and sufi khankahs. This narrowed but concentrated urge created a massive variety of devotional music in medieval India of which thebrijbhasha dhruvapad patronized initially by Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior (1486-1514) was dominant form in the North. ‘Ragdarpana’ (1662, a translation by Fakirullah of ‘Mankutuhala’ composed by Man Singh and his pandits, even calls him the inventor ofdhruvapada). The songs of all sects of Indian spiritual pursuits were sung in thedhruvapada style. Guru Nanak (1469-1339) and his successors till Guru Arjan Dev (1563-1609) who installed the Adi Granth at Amritsar at the holy shrine of Durbar Sahib in 1604, undoubtedly must have sung their compositions in the music of the day. The Jori, along with the mridang or pakhavaj, thus is the primary drum of the Gurbani kirtan which was performed according to the highest standards of what is now called classical music.

photo-res-rabab-jori3As a percussion instrument the Jori incorporated all the features of the sophisticated and complex rhythmic work that came to be developed in the course of the centuries that unfolded. It seems to have taken many contributions from various parts of the country to develop a comprehensive repertoire of what came to be known as the Amritsari baaj and which included elements like saath, jat, and the latest called the gat taken from tabla playing.  

The Gurbani kirtan from its very outset preserved the purely devotional ambience of dhruvapad and the pakhawaj and jori rhythms which in the royals courts softened into excessive embellishments and heavy ornamentations and eventually declined into the decorative and sentimental khayal with tabla accompaniment which is the presently extant genre. The Gurbani kirtan which had preserved till very recently the dhruvapad style has  yielded now to the demands of popularity and diluted the tradition.