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Rewind to Girgaum's tryst with Hindustani music

Making Music/Making Space promises to be an exciting event that will map city spaces that supported and earned reputations for nurturing Hindustani music from 19th century onwards, as Kanika Sharma finds out

The port city of ours has been a destination for artistes since the 19th century, informs Dr Tejaswini Niranjana, a distinguished scholar and visiting faculty at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Today, she will unravel, share and narrate the many histories embedded in Girgaum as far as Hindustani music goes. Complementing her in thought will be filmmaker Surabhi Sharma who has featured music in her films such as Bidesia in Bambai, and architect Kaiwan Mehta, managing editor of Domus India.

Sites, sights and ornaments from the Bhuleshwar, Kalbadevi Road and Girgaum area — some of the localities crucial to the Mumbai-Music project. pic courtesy/Kaiwan Mehta’s Alice in Bhuleshwar archive
Sites, sights and ornaments from the Bhuleshwar, Kalbadevi Road and Girgaum area — some of the localities crucial to the Mumbai-Music project. pic courtesy/Kaiwan Mehta’s Alice in Bhuleshwar archive

Dr Niranjana shares about the idea’s origins, “Surabhi and I are long-time collaborators and have worked together on another music project before this (see her film Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean; and my book Mobilising India: Women, Migration and Music between India and Trinidad).



e have been working on the history of Hindustani music in Mumbai for two years, and aim to publish research papers and produce a film on the topic. Kaiwan Mehta has been involved in our discussions for a while…We recently participated in a conference in Berlin on Music and the Public Sphere, where we presented our collaborative work, and decided it was high time we presented it to a Mumbai audience, which we know will be critical and discerning.”

An old tabla maker in the Girgaum area
An old tabla maker in the Girgaum area

The session will cover areas of Girgaum including “Laxmi Baug and Trinity Club where Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Sawai Gandharva and Kesarbai Kerkar sang, Abdul Karim Khan’s Saraswathi Sangeet Vidyalay on Lamington Road, Deodhar School of Indian Music at French Bridge where Kumar Gandharva studied, and Bhangwadi and the Pila House theatres where Marathi and Gujarati plays flourished” announces the poster. The focus will be to reinvigorate interest in spaces that form an integral part of Mumbai’s heritage.

Dr Tejaswini Niranjana Scholar
Dr Tejaswini Niranjana Scholar

Charting the period from 1860 to the present day, Dr Niranjana says, “Many factors fed into Hindustani music’s (HM) migration into Mumbai. The decline of Mughal courts, which had nurtured HM, led to the dispersal of the musicians and tawaifs (courtesans) who started migrating to the princely states in western and southern India in search of new patrons.” She recalls how new technologies like the gramophone and the railways were crucial to the spread of HM. Mumbai emerged as a major hub for recording (radio and gramophone) and thus, attracted many musicians to the city.

Kaiwan Mehta Architect
Kaiwan Mehta Architect

“From the 1890s, a large number of music schools were opened. As far back as 1870, journalist, social reformer, playwright and municipal councillor Kaikhushro Kabraji started the Gayan Uttejak Mandali, which offered formal training in HM,” she shares, stressing that such developments deemed Mumbai as a major centre for music.

Surabhi Sharma Filmmaker
Surabhi Sharma Filmmaker

This led to the existence of varied kinds of spaces, namely, the musical theatre, the baithak (private gathering in a wealthy patron’s home), the concert hall, the Ganesh Utsav platform, the radio, and the municipal gardens (Rani Baug and Malabar Hill), which Dr Niranjana will further discuss during her talk.

On: Today, 6.30 pm onwards
At: Studio X, Kitab Mahal, fourth floor, 192, DN Road, Fort.
Email: StudioXMumbai@columbia.edu

Once upon a time an urdu opera
Parsi theatre was modelled on the European proscenium stage and adopted stories from Persian and Hindu mythology; it had dozens of songs in each play. Although Parsi theatre began in Gujarati, it moved to staging its main plays in Hindustani or Urdu (advertisements of the time call it “Urdu opera”). The Marathi Sangeet Natak was popular at the time (1860s), and while it continued to be in Marathi, its songs were based on ragas. Today, musical plays are not performed (except for odd revivals of Marathi plays), but their popularity in the late 19th century and early 20th century helped create a taste for Hindustani music in Mumbai and the rest of Bombay Presidency.

Sound of music in Girgaum
Girgaum was a neighbourhood with many chawls and stand-alone homes. Many buildings are now being demolished for redevelopment as ‘towers’. The social character of the area is also changing as a consequence. Since the 1950s, migration of Marathi-speaking middle classes to Dadar-Matunga and other suburbs had begun. The courtesan culture, which flourished in and around Grant Road and Foras Road, has disappeared, although a couple of mujra halls remain (there is one opposite Congress House). The major concert venues — Laxmi Baug (has become a wedding hall); Brahman Sabha (does not have music performances anymore); Royal Opera House is being renovated after years of neglect. The Ganesh Utsavs here still invite Hindustani Classical singers but not like before. By the 1940s, most of the theatres that staged plays had changed partially or entirely to cinema halls. With the exception of Edward Theatre few cinemas remain. Many screen action or soft porn films.

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