An Introduction to Hindustani Classical Music

Apr 26, 2014, 09:58 IST | Narendra Kusnur

Most books on Hindustani Classical music are aimed at readers with a deep or at least a working knowledge of the genre.

Most books on Hindustani Classical music are aimed at readers with a deep or at least a working knowledge of the genre. In An Introduction to Hindustani Classical Music, Vijay Prakash Singha targets the rank novice who has no idea how to appreciate the art form, and yet wants to pick up something.

Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia

By itself, that is a great idea, stemming primarily from Singha’s own passion for north Indian classical music. Across 19 chapters, he explains various factors that make this music so beautiful and mesmerising. Basic topics like the birth and development of Indian Classical music, approaches towards vocal and instrumental music, the concept of gharanas, various instruments used, different taals of percussion and the format of a recital are covered in detail. Sections on semi-Classical music, ragas used in Hindi films, fusion music (which the author doesn’t fancy) and lounge music add value.

Without making things complicated, Singha explains concepts like alaap-jod-jhala, sthayi-antara, taan, meend and gamak, terms, which are used commonly by serious listeners. Though he has deliberately avoided getting into technicalities of different ragas, he explains how listeners can identify ragas through
their pakad.

Once through with the basics, Singha has a three-part approach to music appreciation, where listeners can start with semi-Classical music, go on to instrumental and finally to vocal music. However, his list on recommended listening misses out on certain big names like Ravi Shankar (whom he has described in detail otherwise) and Pandit Jasraj. While specific albums have been mentioned in some cases, they are not in others. A more comprehensive list was necessary.

One major complaint is the existence of a few very obvious inaccuracies. For instance, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt won the Grammy and not the Emmy. Guitarist John McLaughlin is named James McLaughlin, though it’s corrected in the second reference.

L Subramaniam’s wife is Kavita Krishnamurthy, not Suchitra Krishnamurthy. Keeping in mind that the book’s target audience is more likely to spot such errors, they were uncalled for.

Despite this major gaffe, it is definitely a very useful book, and Shyam Benegal’s foreword is well written. For someone who has a passing interest in Hindustani Classical music, and wants to learn more about the nuances, this is an ideal starting point.

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