A three-day concert was held last week at the Alhamra in Lahore to pay tribute to the contribution of the Patiala Gharana. Organised by Rustam Fateh Ali Foundation, many ustads performed — and opened the window of opportunity for younger practitioners to display their potential.
Reputed to be the youngest of the kheyal gharanas, Patiala is now in its fourth generation since founded by ustads Ali Buksh and Fateh Ali in the second half of the 19th century.
Nowadays the term ‘gharana’ is used loosely and for everything — instrumentalist and other genres of music. But it was traditionally meant only for the kheyal genre as it developed with the change in the musical needs and requirements during the course of the 18th and early 19th century. By then the central empire in Delhi had considerably weakened, and was unable to extend patronage as done earlier in the days of opulence and glory. Musicians then drifted to other parts of the subcontinent, mostly to the states that were becoming bigger and wealthier. These gharanas, not all, but mostly, were named after the states or the places that the musicians originated from or resided in.
Usually, it is stressed that other than the peculiarities of style, the gharana should have the staying power to be called as such, and probably the third generation ensures that the lineage or the teaching lines are long enough for it to be called so and designated thus.
The classical tradition, once firmly entrenched has been withering away for the last many decades, and the musical possibilities, initially seen and exploited in the so-called lighter forms, like ghazal and geet, and now probably in the more popular genres which are actually in a state of being formed. The popularisation of music and the democratisation of taste have been crucial factors in the changing musical taste. The diversity that musicians have to cater to and the various musical influences that he or she is exposed to and has to cope with have been the reasons for the forms of expression to become more eclectic in nature. To top it all, the various possibilities inherent in the digitalisation of sound and the multiplying softwares that drive music-making today are totally new areas to explore and creatively handle. But all this has resulted in the musical taste moving from the consistency of a certain style that was once the hallmark of the classical tradition.
The classical forms in the subcontinent, though subject to development and growth, nourished themselves in insularity where peculiarities of the style were jealously guarded. At the same time, the teaching lines were kept clear and the various influences could be named and counted as they were drawn from various sources. It was always done, personally through an ustad, so it was not unlikely that a number of influences formed the basis of a particular style as it did in the case of the Patiala Gharana. It is said that four major influences went into the making of the gharanas — Delhli, Rewa, Jaipur and Gwalior, and through the ustads — Tanrus Khan, Bare Mubarak Ali Khan, Behram Khan and Haddu Hassu Khan.
Whatever the grand or major tradition has been known as, saman, maarg, shastria, classiki or ahang e khusravi, the region has a long history of taking up and practicing music as a distinct and elevated form of human expression. The ruling classes fully patronised this expression and thus the classical or the major tradition was established and continued to prosper and develop despite the great upheavals that have characterised the history of this area. There has been a consistency of sorts and no clean break from the past has totally disrupted the continuity of the tradition. Actually all these influences imposed, accidental or necessary, have added greater flows to the mighty stream of music.
Now with the dilution of the class structure, greater democratisation and easy accessibility through technological means, the patronage has shifted to companies that operate on commercial lines with their market not limited to a country, or region but actually the entire world.
It has been difficult for more stylised expressions to adapt to the fast changing taste. So they have tended to slowly recede into the shadows of history no matter how enriched or powerful the expression may have been. This has been known to happen in history; when quality experienced in a particular age is replaced or substituted by another that may be of a lesser quality or of lesser worth if assessed in a longer historical perspective.
In retrospect, it can be said that there have been great periods of art activity followed by a mediocre one. Every change may not be an incremental improvement on the previous one.
Ustad Akhter Hussain made the decision to leave his ancestral abode Patiala and emigrate to Pakistan in 1947, and his two sons — Amanat Ali and Fateh Ali in their teens — survived sitting on top of a train carriage to resume their music on reaching Lahore safely. Hamid Ali Khan was born in Lahore after 1947. They have carried the burden of their traditional raagdari for the past seven decades. From among the gharanas teaching line, Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan went to India while Ustad Barkat Ali Khan stayed back and died in Lahore.
Though Patiala Gharana has been more adaptive with the singing of thumri, kaafi, ghazal geet and film songs, the younger generation or the youngest generation is coping and squaring up to the dilemma of how to keep the essentials of their musical expression intact, while also a part of the mainstream musical expression. This may be a difficult balancing act to maintain as many in the past have found to their peril. The present generation of Patiala Gharana musicians deserve all the help and best wishes, especially from those who mean well for them and music.