Recently I have received several requests from potential students of this
wonderful, endangered instrument for a sarangi to study on.
Unfortunately, many of the the best old instruments are lying unplayed in
several European and Indian collections. The traditional makers of this
instrument have mostly died or retired without passing on their craft due
to many sociological pressures of which you're likely already aware (not
to mention the assault of the whining harmonium).
If you know of a (preferably old) instrument currently not being played I
would be willing to buy it to pass on to aspiring students in search of an
instrument. Recently I have built a new sarangi and am capable of any
repairs necessary to refurbish an otherwise good instrument.
Please help to preserve this beautiful but threatened music.
Anyone with information or simply interested in sarangi please reply
directly by email to:
or check the Toronto Gharana Website at:
Thanks, Eric Parker
>I am a student of sarangi under Aruna Narayan Kalle, daughter of Pandit
>Ram Narayan for the past ten years.
Can you make it to the 'sam' after all these years or is that also
an endangered beat?
>Please help to preserve this beautiful but threatened music.
Yes, we will stand by while the Parkers, the Smiths, the Schmidts
and the Quatroccis preserve every endangered (in their febrile
imagination) Indian artifact. If you have the time, consider
lending a helping hand to the cause of Tibet's endangered species
as well. Making a film or two on Mr Lama is not enough, you know.
Mr Parrikar's defensive attitude aside, those looking for good instruments
are not all 'outside the culture'. Quite simply good sarangis are very
>Mr Parrikar's defensive attitude aside, those looking for good instruments
>are not all 'outside the culture'. Quite simply good sarangis are very
Family feuds aside, is the loss of popularity of sarangi anything to do with
its swara-sAhiti name?
> I feel that it may
> be better to commission the making of sarangis than buying existing ones.
To the extent it is possible I agree and have commissioned several sets of
pegs, skin, bridges, etc for repair work. However I have not seen a new
instrument that approaches the quality of the instruments from the first
half of this century.
> I am interested in your comment on sociological pressures. Please elaborate.
> Are you referring to the fact that our spiritual music was misused and
> therefore it got a bad name? Are there other factors that I am not aware of?
The subject is huge and complex but a couple of comments:
The tightly knit structure of hereditary musical training has now all but
passed. The majority of music students today come from 'non-musical'
families. In the not too distant past it was courting social suicide for
an upper class individual to seriously take up music - let alone sarangi
and its associations with the naach, baijis and tawaifs.
It seems clear that the harmonium with its relatively neutral sociological
baggage could be taken up by a middle or upper class, non-hereditary music
student much more easily than could the sarangi. This has undoubtedly
democratized the music but there have been casualties.
(Now my anti-harmonium self rears up)
The fact that the harmonium is technically easier to play simply sidesteps
the issue. The fact that it uses an intonation system which is
intrinsically antithetical to Indian music in general and the tanpura,
human voice and other natural harmonic instruments in particular seems to
be of little concern to anyone today. To learn to sing with a harmonium
must destroy intonational nuance or, at the very least, actively
The debate as to the antiquity of a solo sarangi tradition aside, it is
clear that the majority of sarangi players in the past have been primarily
accompanists. The fact that the harmonium is overwhelmingly the most
played "Indian" instrument today makes it unlikely that the tradition of
sarangi vocal accompaniment will survive much longer but hopefully the
solo tradition will.
What do you mean by misused and bad name?
: > I am interested in your comment on sociological pressures. Please elaborate.
: > Are you referring to the fact that our spiritual music was misused and
: > therefore it got a bad name? Are there other factors that I am not aware of?
: The subject is huge and complex but a couple of comments:
: The tightly knit structure of hereditary musical training has now all but
: passed. The majority of music students today come from 'non-musical'
: families. In the not too distant past it was courting social suicide for
: an upper class individual to seriously take up music - let alone sarangi
: and its associations with the naach, baijis and tawaifs.
You've hit the nail on the head, with the comment about Sarangi and it's
association with women pertaining to the oldest profession! This has to be
the major reason for the decline of the Sarangi.
While the majority of students come from non-musical families, why hasn't
that affected the sitar and even sarod? One can pick up a sitar in most
parts of the world and it's doing quite nicely in terms of number of
My perception has been for a long time that the Sarangi's association
with the less than desirable elements viz women of the oldest profession
have lead to it's downfall. Amir Khan after all, was from a Sarangi
gharana and yet could not even tolerate it's accompaniment to his singing.
The other major problem I think is economics. I once asked Ustad
Salamat Ali Khan why he has always had a harmonium since the end of
the 1970's and onwards, on his international tours. His response was that
it was too damn expensive to have one additional person, a Sarangiya, tour
Sajjad Khaliq / Hamilton / Ontario / Canada
>(Now my anti-harmonium self rears up)
>The fact that the harmonium is technically easier to play simply sidesteps
>the issue. The fact that it uses an intonation system which is
>intrinsically antithetical to Indian music in general and the tanpura,
>human voice and other natural harmonic instruments in particular seems to
>be of little concern to anyone today.
Every Indian musician worth his salt ACTIVELY knows and acknowledges
the deficiency of the harmonium. In particular, aspiring vocalists
are enjoined from using it as an aid in the formative stages of
their intonational development. You must be very busy saving the
sArangi to have noticed all this.
>To learn to sing with a harmonium
>must destroy intonational nuance or, at the very least, actively
You have a remarkable knack for stating the obvious. Here's
a freebie for you: I have here in America seen lots of biologically
'advanced' students who have never been near a harmonium but
who show no nuance whatsoever, intonational and otherwise.
They (Every Indian musician worth his salt) all pay lip service to the
deficiencies of the harmonium but I have seen very little ACTION on their
It's the 'what to do?' syndrome once again.
"ACTION" to what end?
Espousal of the harmonium _as an instrument for accompaniment_
and the resulting disregard for sArangi in that role have not
translated in practice to adulteration of intonational stringency
except in a negligible number of cases (of which the bongsqueak
AjoyC is a prime example). There are compelling reasons for
deploying the harmonium in the supporting role but that is
another story (and has been discussed here in the past).
Amir Khan, Mallikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen Joshi, Jitendra Abhisheki,
C.R. Vyas - all these fellows employed the harmonium extensively for
support. Tell us what in their intonation falls short for that fact.
There are several young vocalists today weaned on harmonium
support. They may show up severely wanting in other areas but very
rarely do their problems stem from their having used the harmonium
This is a non-issue really, often brought up by those who wish
to sound more intelligent on the topic than they are.
The harmonium is no good for learning to sing. Of course!
But as a vocal accompaniment it is fine. Why? Because the
role of the melodic accompanist is not the exact duplication of
vocal intonation, but rather the replication of the singer's melodic
gestures. In a sense, it is the most sensitive and thoughtful
form of daad -- for a fellow musician to respond to a singer by,
in effect, saying: "I heard every note of what you just sang!"
Very well put by Warren. I would go on to say that a superior accompanist
occasionally uses the main musician's gesture as a base to offer his own
melodic possibility - rather like saying ' yes I hear you but how about
WARVIJ wrote in message <19990301184547...@ng109.aol.com>...
>It would appear to me that harmonium usage damages our sense for shrutis and
>may be doing so slowly over time. As for cost of an additional musician, ie a
I disagree. The harmonium has been in use as an accompanying instrument
for at least 75 years, if not more. There is not any evidance of
damaging our sense of sruti. In my opinion, all the audiences are
aware of what harmonium can and cannot do, and its limitations
do not play adverse part in enjoyment.
In article <7bd1qr$1h7$1...@mohawk.hwcn.org>,
-----------== Posted via Deja News, The Discussion Network ==----------
http://www.dejanews.com/ Search, Read, Discuss, or Start Your Own
: At least two persons on this thread have said the saara.ngii is not
: extensively used for accompaniment these days to avoid the cost of "an
: additional musician", and one of them has even quoted Salamat Ali Khan to
: this effect. But if the saaran.ngii REPLACES the harmonium, how does it lead
: to an addition to the party?!
In the case of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan at least, replacing the Harmonium
with a Sarangi reduces one "body". The Harmonium is played usually by one
of Salamat Ali Khan's sons, or sometimes if available, by a local person.
However, in TV appearances Salamat Ali Khan reverts to Sarangi
It's quite obvious that almost anyone with a basic knowledge of Indian
Classical Music and reasonable practice, can provide Harmonium
accompaniment, but the Sarangi requires a fully trained instrumentalist,
which comes at a cost.
No, I think probably violinists are just a hell of a lot easier to find than
sarangiyas (this is true for both the players and the instruments).
other slime-sack, assolanand/compana of toronto gharana trying to be "the
only preserver" of indian music by stealing from collections in india?!
Absolutely true. I would cite Purushottam Wallawalkar's
sangat for Bhimsenji in this regard; there is often a sense
of his providing, as it were, footnotes to Panditji's melodic
Arvind Thatte is another superb accompanist who has
comments of his own to make. I also strongly approve
of his personal conduct and the way in which he has
worked to enhance the dignity of his instrument and
I must say, however, that I find Jalgaonkar's work to
be quite uneven. Some of the time he appears superbly
responsive, while at others he strikes me as noodling off
in his own dimension, oblivious to what the singers are
doing. These are not 'footnotes' or commentary; they
are irrelevant interjections.
First off, watch your apostrophes (or should it be apostrophe's?).
Second, with regard to the material I have omitted (not
wanting to read it a second time): such vehement and intemperate
outbursts do all of us a disservice. Let us strive for a happy
medium in which constructive criticisms and thoughtful
rejoinders create a more gracious atmosphere than that
engendered by name-calling and personal abuse. Further,
the abusive terms are hardly euphonious or creatively chosen,
and thus demonstrate merely a lack of tayyari in the use of
insulting rhetoric -- the whole reflects badly on you, and,
as well, on this forum.
> Amir Khan, Mallikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen Joshi, Jitendra Abhisheki,
> C.R. Vyas - all these fellows employed the harmonium extensively for
> support. Tell us what in their intonation falls short for that fact.
As a accomplished harmonium player, you should know and should educate others
as to how these stalwarts can present their music "despite" harmonium
acoompaniment. Most of these artistes have specially prepared harmoniums
specifically tuned for their voice range. The accompniment artists themselves
great musicians, adjust the out-of-place notes on their harmonium by changing
the air-pressure and pumping action, to either change the sound produced
slightly to match the proper note, or otherwise reduce the volume to make that
note less obtrusive, or omiting that portion altogether if none of the above
On the other hand Sarangi and violin accompniment has to have really high
degree of knowledge of the exact notes for a particular melody (Raaga), and
also highly skilled to bring about those notes flawlessly with other
intricacies music itself. This is a high order of requirement. There are
simply not enough people to have that kind of penchant, perseverance,
dedication to persue this fine instrument.
Previously, due to V.B. Keskar's personal interest, All India Radio had
banned harmonium . This forced them to find and develop many Sarangi
artists. I wish that had continued.
> There are several young vocalists today weaned on harmonium
> support. They may show up severely wanting in other areas but very
> rarely do their problems stem from their having used the harmonium
> for accompaniment.
> This is a non-issue really, often brought up by those who wish
> to sound more intelligent on the topic than they are.
awaghe vishvachi maaze ghara.
prema ThewA dwesha soDA.
visarUna dharma jAtI deU ghAsa bhUkelyAlA.
Very astute observations. I agree entirely. Of all the accompanists that I
have observed, Arvind Thatte, in my opinion, is the most accurate and least
intrusive. He will add his 'commentary' or 'footnotes' only when he senses
that the singer wants him to do that.
> The other major problem I think is economics. I once asked Ustad
> Salamat Ali Khan why he has always had a harmonium since the end of
> the 1970's and onwards, on his international tours. His response was that
> it was too damn expensive to have one additional person, a Sarangiya, tour
> with him.
I do not get the logic! Why would they not have Sarangiya IN PLACE OF,
rather than IN ADDITION TO harmonium accompaniemnt? Does it mean that no
matter what, you have to have harmonium for accompniment?
> Sajjad Khaliq / Hamilton / Ontario / Canada
awaghe vishvachi maaze ghara.
"Do not sing yesterday's Yaman"
And I will add (more for the sake of a rhetorical
whirligig than for any other real reason) that
Thatte's 'commentary' is always interesting,
rewarding, and exceptionally musical. He also, of
course, has carried out exceptional research
in the science of tuning; his instruments, small
and unprepossessing though they may appear,
have a resonance and timbral richness far beyond
those of mortal harmonia.
> > sarangi player - it is certainly a factor. However violin accompaniment
> > survives in the South. Is it because of (generelly) more sophisticated
> > audiences?
> No, I think probably violinists are just a hell of a lot easier to find than
> sarangiyas (this is true for both the players and the instruments).
Excuse me, this thread is all very interesting and revealing but my
original request was simply an attempt to find some good sarangis for
aspiring students (whatever their race) on which to learn. That request
It is also very important to note that Dr. Thatte is a
student of Pt. Jasraj.
Once after a great concert of Malini Rajurkar with
Dr. Thatte on harmonium, a friend of mine and myself
were discussing whether Malinitai and Thatte must be
giving daad to each other after discussing some
interesting theorem in mathematics just the same way
they do after an interesting taan! With Malinitai being
a maths graduate and Thatte being a Dr. in maths!
> I don't know you, yet, and you certainly don't know
>me. You don't know what you're talking about, unless
>you're Parricurr's lapdog.
My my, such anger and rudeness! Calm down Senhor, shit
happens, IDs get unmasked, blame it all on Uncle Deja.
Good Italiano recipes, btw, in that post. Now it is
time for you to get another ID ("deepak raag," we
know about; does that ring a caampaana, errr, I mean, bell?).
>>To learn to sing with a harmonium
>>must destroy intonational nuance or, at the very least, actively
>You have a remarkable knack for stating the obvious. Here's
>a freebie for you: I have here in America seen lots of biologically
>'advanced' students who have never been near a harmonium but
>who show no nuance whatsoever, intonational and otherwise.
dude, more observation, please: it's that little twitching of the ear that's
telling. and it only twitches when they pull out their charge card to buy
madonna c.d.'s (!)
since you refrain to answer privately, please explain here in public why you
still haven't returned the casettes you borrowed from me one and a half year
ago. And please, no empty words and promises this time!
(With excuses to Warren.)
----- w...@djo.wtm.tudelft.nl -----
Arwind Thatte, one of the leading Harmonium players of India, is a
reputed accompanist and fast emerging as a soloist. Born in a family of
music lovers, father and elder brother being Harmonium players, he
started playing Harmonium at the age of six. He is a self taught H
armonium player; but also learned Tabla under the guidance of late
Pandit G.L. Samant and vocal music initially in Bharat Gayan Samaj, Pune
and then under Suhas and Sudhir Datar, Pune and has been a disciple of
Pandit Jasraj since 1981. He had accompanied great vocalists like
Mallikarjun Mansur, Vasantrao Deshpande, K.G. inde, Kumar Gandharva,
Bhimsen Joshi, Jasraj, C.R. Vyas, JeetendraAbhisheki, Kishori Amonkar,
Malini Rajurkar, Prabha Atre, Parveen Sultana, Laxmi Shankar and Shobha
Guau, to name a few.
Besides his music career, he has brilliant academic achievements to his
credit. He did his M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Mathematics, but left his bright
career in Mathematics to pursue his love of music. In 1982, he stood
first in the All India Radio Harmonium solo competition and in 1993
received the first Kumar Gandharva Award sponsored by Shree Ram Pujari
Foundation of Solapur, for his contribution to Indian classical music.
Even though he has accompanied many prominent artists on the compact
discs this is his first solo compact disc.
>The accompniment artists themselves
>great musicians, adjust the out-of-place notes on their harmonium by changing
>the air-pressure and pumping action, to either change the sound produced
>slightly to match the proper note, or otherwise reduce the volume to make
>note less obtrusive, or omiting that portion altogether if none of the above
Always thought those 'harmony' guys are buttering the bread...:-) Despite the
weaknesses harmonium is still used in training and one sees that as a safe
strategy to muff the ear-piercing amateur voices.
>On the other hand Sarangi and violin accompniment has to have really high
>degree of knowledge of the exact notes for a particular melody (Raaga), and
>also highly skilled to bring about those notes flawlessly with other
>intricacies music itself. This is a high order of requirement. There are
>simply not enough people to have that kind of penchant, perseverance,
>dedication to persue this fine instrument.
Actually violonists accompanying vocalists have slightly lesser constraints.
Solo violonists further have the advantage of impressing their audience about
the adaptability of the *western* instrument for ICM no matter how many notes
go out-of-sruti. May be if the violonists used sArangi for tuning before the
audience (most concerts skip this part) there will be something to talk about.
the original heading of this read "Copied from Arvind Thatte's
CD Notes." A computer hiccup swallowed the last 2 words.
Upstarts in Indian music, particularly in the Americas, have one
attribute in common: the determination to be thought of as
"knowledgeable" and "deep" in the music (the emphasis being on
'determination') without there being a shred of evidence of the fact.
That will-o'-the-wisp they pursue with all the zeal of freshly
circumcised converts. The recent squirt about "intonational nuance"
alongwith some vague noises against the harmonium couched as
revelations, prefaced by a declaration to the effect that the pup
had laid down 10 years of his life scratching the sArangi, must be
seen in that context.
Below, I present some excerpts from the proceedings of a seminar
organised sometime in the late 60s/early 70s by the Sangeet Natak
Akademi to debate the ban imposed on the Harmonium by the AIR.
Accordingly, a panel of experts known to hold divergent opinions
was invited to present their respective arguments, which were then
summarized in the Akademi's quarterly Issue. Several years ago,
upon my request the Issue was copied in its entirety and sent to me
by Daniel Neuman, then at the University of Washington at Seattle.
Some of the papers presented were rather pedestrian I thought (like
the one by S.N. Ratanjankar), others had interesting points to make
(for instance, the one by Jnan Prakash Ghosh on the "Harmonium as a
Solo Instrument"). Items from the three papers culled and posted
below struck me as germane to the ongoing thread. If anyone is
interested in the full transcript, contact me by email (serious
inquiries only). The paper by P.V. Subramaniam struck as forceful and
effective and I did not know at the time of reading that he was
none other than Karnatak music's l'enfant terrible - Subbudu. Vamanrao
Deshpande presents his case as well.
Finally - does anyone have the harmonium recordings referred to
Sangeet Natak Academy
Quarterly Issue, April-June 1971
Harmonium and Karnatak Classical Music
Prof. P. Sambamoorthy
...The Harmonium did not develop in India, even though instruments with bellows
have been used as drones. It is a foreign instrument. It is not used even
in Western countries for playing serious music. When the Harmonium came to
India early in the 20th century, it became popular with a number of people.
It readily found a place as a theatrical accompaniment. Even novices were
able to play upon it without much practice. The reeds were there, readily
tuned for being played upon. The drone coupling and the facilities available
for playing simultaneously in two octaves also contributed to the popularity
of the instrument. It was ere long recognized that it was not possible to
play certain types of Classical South Indian Music upon it. It was found that:
1. The delicate srutis characteristic of ragas like Gaula, Saveri, Begada,
Neelambari and Kuranji could not be played upon it;
2. Graces like Kampita gamaka, characteristic of ragas like Dhanyasi,
Ananda Bhairavi, and Atana could not be played upon it. Graces like Ullasita,
Vali, and Leena also could not be played;
3. In some ragas the same note was rendered with a slightly augmented pitch
in the Arohana and with a slightly diminished pitch in the Avarohana;
(a) Gandhara in Todi, (b) Dhaivata in Kambhoji and Sourashtra and (c) Nishada
in Surati may be cited as examples.
On the Harmonium, there was only one key for playing a note.
There were skilled performers on the Harmonium in South India like
Harmonium Kandaswamy Mudaliyar, and Pondicherry T. S. Rama lyer, who by
resorting to clusters of Anuswaras around the concerned notes, managed to
give the impression, approximating to graced utterances or those notes.
In their concerts, they avoided compositions with intricate gamakas and
played Kritis in madhyama Kalas in ragas which were mostly derivatives
of Kharaharapriya, Harikambhoji and Sankarabharana melas....
After Prof. Sambamoorthy had read his paper, there followed a discussion
in which Dr. Raman enquired,
"I would like to know whether there is any possibility of improving the
construction of the Harmonium so that you can introduce reeds in such a
way as to cover up as many notes as possible in the musical renderings of
Karnatic music. If that could be done to a certain extent, the Harmonium
can satisfy, I mean though not fully, near fully, or something like that -
to render some of tht Classical Music in an improved way. I would like to
know whether such improvements could be done on the Harmonium."
THE HARMONIUM IN LIGHT AND
P. V. Subramaniam
Even for a country so inured to borrowing from abroad - money, technology
and forms of expertise - it must be something of a shock to be told that
at least a few of its latest fads and prejudices are in fact imported.
Harmonium, it is true, has been adapted to our music from the West.
So is the Violin. The latter at any rate is Western in origin although
other forms of stringed and bowed instruments were in vogue in ancient
India. But the European Harmonium, perfected by Alexander Debain in Paris
130 years ago was itself a modification of the ancient Chinese Sheng.
Thus the free reed instrument travelled westward first before returning
to the East to find much favour in India.
This brief defence of the much maligned key-board instrument is not to
sing its praises but to bury a prejudice. All I seek to stress is that:
it has established itself as a popular instrument; has helped the
initiation of laymen into the tonal mysteries and outlines of classical
music and has been a faithful aid for ailing voices. All I ask is that
it be reckoned as one of the many varieties of our musical instruments
and not treated as an outcaste. I plead for an immediate ban on this
form of untouchability.
The Harmonium has been in exile from the infamously chaste precincts of
All India Radio for over three decades. An eccentric former Controller of
Broadcasting was instrumental in pushing this instrument the Harmonium
out of vogue? No. On the contrary it is ubiquitous. And the street singer,
long before the days of K. L. Sehgal, has been lugging this bulky ornament
strung round his neck.
Yet prejudices die hard. Even an invitation to discuss its merit as a
producer of musical notes is couched in hesitant and condescending
phraseology. I have been asked to consider the claim of the Harmonium
to be a poor relation of other hallowed musical instruments.
But I would be doing injustice to my views if I dwelt exclusively on
the place of Harmonium in light and semi-classical music. I have enlarged
the context and shall consider the status of the Harmonium in our music
as a whole. I shall not be a party to the artificial fragmentation of
our music and its subjection to a hierarchical caste system.
Let us first consider the attitudes of some of the purists of classical
music: Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Begum Akhtar and Lakshmi Shankar.
Why do they favour the Harmonium as an accompaniment? Does not the richness,
range and tonal variety of their voices find a counterpart in the notes
of the Harmonium?
If one divests oneself of prejudice the answers are apparent. The maestroes
prefer the Harmonium because its notes are flawless, unsagging and constant.
Amir Khan is so allergic to the sarangi, especially to its unmusical
behaviour in fast tempo, that he does not allow it in his concerts. The
Harmonium not only provides a sound base but it also helps muffle minor
blemishes of tone of the vocalists.
One reason for the bias against the Harmonium is that whenever it is
mentioned the detractors have in mind only the primitive instrument of
three or four decades ago. It is not realised that as in the case of other
aids to music the Harmonium has undergone great refinement. Today's version
of the Harmonium is capable of providing a whole range of tonal excellence
unavailable in other musical instruments. This point needs further
driving-home. A first-class Harmonium has four sets of reeds, each covering
34 octaves, encompassing, sub-bass, bass, medium and female. The instrument
is larger and has built-in gadgets to filter the air through two compartments.
The merit of this arrangement is that when air is blown in it does not
strike the reeds aggressively. From the air-tight compartment wind emerges
softly through the reeds when the key is pressed.
Let us look at the reed-board. In the old days the instrument was equipped
with a single piece reed-board. This made the sound it produced strident
and harsh. Present-day Harmoniums have three-reed-boards joined together
with provision for air-release in a zig-zag fashion ensuring softness of
tone and melody. A good Harmonium today costs as much as a thousand rupees.
There is another feature. Two octaves of the scale can be operated at a
time without any effort, by merely pulling a stopper. There has been a new
invention, of late. A small spring sticking out of the left-hand side of the
bellows can be operated to make the second or third octave sound simultaneously,
while one is using the first one. Thus an orchestral effect can be added
to the playing, something which few other instruments allow. This is
possible to an extent with the veena if two strings can be harnessed
simultaneously. But it is something of a feat to be attempted only
sparingly because of the effort involved.
The recurring burden of complaint against the Harmonium is that it cannot
yield gamakas which are so essential for classical music. But do other
instruments more favoured yield gamakas? Does the xylophone, allowed in
the A.I.R., yield gamakas. Can Jain Kumar Jain, who plays the jalatharangam
in A.I.R. programmes produce a single gamaka?
Let us turn to light and semi-classical music, the genre assigned to me.
The Mandolin is often heard in light music programmes of All India
Radio. I fail to understand the gamakas the Mandolin is capable of
In the far South, before the days of cant and dilettantism, Perur
Subramanya Dikshitar, the Harmonium Wizard, used to accompany the great
classical vocalists. A stolid and respectable body like the Sangeetha
Nataka Sangam of Madras honoured him two years ago. Dikshitar played on
a highly sophisticated Harmonium. There are many gramaphone records
testifying to his instrumental excellence while accompanying a maestro
of the calibre of Palladam Sanjivi Rao. These records have also been
broadcast over the Radio. The heavens have not fallen. They are in one piece.
The late S. G. Kittappa, for many years the lone star of the Tamil stage
had for an accompaniment his brother, Shri S. G. Kasi Iyer, on the
Harmonium. His rich, sonorous and pliable voice could be matched by notes
which could be coaxed only out of the Harmonium. All other instruments
were unequal to the vocal challenge. To dismiss Kittappa as a stage singer
would be doing injustice both to his music and to his artistic genius.
It is said that the great composer Gayaka-sikamani Muthia Bagavatar used
to test his own competence with Kittappa's vocal chords. The flashes of
musical variations with which Kittappa illuminated Karnatak music
compositions, classical, semi-classical and light, attracted admiration
and emulation by great stalwarts like Violin Govindaswamy Pillai,
Nadaswaram Rajaratnam Pillai and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar. These masters
were regular first-nighters at his stage shows.
All Music Directors of the Indian films are harmonists. The precision
of the Harmonium key-board offers a sound and ready-made musical base
for the composer. He is able to conceive of the notes more easily by an
instant, involuntary reflect action. The Harmonium was an indispensable
aid to the teaching of notes of the scale. Two of the maestroes of Karnatak
music - Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and Alathur Sivasubramanya Iyer - had
great harmonists as their guru. Maharajapuram learnt his art from
Palani Rangappa Iyer, Alathur from Venkatesa Iyer, also of Alathur.
One can go on piling evidence in favour of the Harmonium but it will only
be to labour a point which should have no difficulty in going home.
The unmistakable internal evidence is that in classical music the
Harmonium has been used with striking success. The maestroes of yester-year
did not quarrel with its tone or with its supposed cheapness. The external
evidence is that it is immensely popular. To dismiss both in order to cling
to a prejudice is to argue against the overwhelming testimony of classical
as well as the so-called light and semi-classical music.
And when I plead for the restoration of lost status for this prodigal
instrument please let me make it clear that I have in mind only its refined,
soundly tested and standardised form. I do not know if the Indian Standards
Institution is concerned in this but I feel it should be. It should
scientifically test the frequency of the Harmonium notes, take voice
(or is it tonal?) prints of the tones of the Harmonium and certify
its quality. Put through the scientific process of test, I am sure,
the Harmonium will come out creditably. I wonder how many of the
others on which we have conferred high-caste status can yield precise
notes on which the I.S.I. can put its stamp.
HARMONIUM AS ACCOMPANIMENT FOR
HINDUSTANI CLASSICAL MUSIC
V. H. Deshpande
I must indeed congratulate the Broadcasting Directorate on arranging
this Symposium at which they have taken care to see that all shades of
opinion are represented. Further, it is also very creditable on their
part to have conceived the symposium to embrace all the various aspects
of the subject. What is most praiseworthy is that they have designed
the symposium so as as to treat the subject separately with reference
to the Hindustani and Karnatak styles.
Let me assure you that in Maharashtra this has been a burning subject
on which there have been several meetings, symposiums and seminars and
almost every one of the performers is agreed that the ban on the
Harmonium should be lifted forthwith.
When I say that the issue is controversial, I mean controversial in a
very limited sense. It is controversial only in the four corners of the
Broadcasting stations in the country and in a small coterie of orthodox
academicians, who refuse to listen to the counsel of reason and logic
on behalf of the performers. Besides, this is only an artificially created
controversy in the sense that the Harmonium has been a uniformly accepted
instrument for accompaniment since the time it first came into use and
it was only at the initiative of the Department (and not of the musicians)
that its use was banned.
Ours is indeed a musically backward country where academicians tend to
remain cut off from the practising performers and the performers, who
only sing and please cannot or do not think or speak. They simply avoid
the company of the academicians! It is in these peculiar circumstances
that I have made bold myself to come here and put forward their point
of view which is incidentally also my own view on the subject.
Let me at the outset raise a fundamental question viz. what is the
of an accompanying instrument? I submit it is to create a musical
atmosphere, and inspire the artiste by bringing him into his best
singing mood. Further, the accompanying instrument must keep the
continuity of singing to heighten the musicality of the performance
and make it more more entertaining and in effect more pleasing. This it
is expected to do by following the main artiste closely with or without
a little time lag and also at times being played independently in the
interludes, generally calculated to excite and inspire the principal
to do better than before. I dare say that the Harmonium by its powerful,
constant and sustained notes not only abundantly satisfies all these
requirements but satisfies them in a far greater degree than any of the
stringed instruments like Sarangi, Violin, Dilruba, etc. The sound of
the Harmonium is so overwhelmingly powerful and pleasing, both to the
performers and to the audience, that it gives it a decisive advantage
over all other accompanying instruments. The advantage is so great that
it alone is enough to overcome whether imaginary or real.
This is the paramount reason why the musicians, the most outstanding or
mediocre, seniors or juniors, or good, bad, or indifferent, have all been
uniformly using the Harmonium as an accompanying instrument for Hindustani
music. Even the worst enemies of the Harmonium and the most vocal advocates
of its ban have been using it in their own concerts! (Then probably they
cease to be its critics and become performers; and rightly so!). During all
the fifty years of my musical life in Bombay, Poona and elsewhere in
Maharashtra, I have not seen a single exception, except one, solitary one,
by the late Alladiya Khan.
One important thing that is said against the Harmonium is that it drowns
the defects of the artiste. If this observation is correct, it is a very
curious charge. If the defects are serious why was the artiste at all
called by the A.I.R. to broadcast? And again, why this insistence that
the defect must not be masked, but must be made evident and glaring to
Also, what is meant by drowning? Is it masking of the singer's sound by
a more powerful sound? In such a case, the harmonium-player ought to have
common sense enough to regulate his bellows to suit the amplitude of the
Another important point on behalf of the artistes. The artiste has spent
years after years in cultivating his art and is entitled to be trusted
to know what is good for himself. Why should he not be given the freedom,
to choose what is good for himself? I submit this is an important question,
viz., the Freedom of the Artiste. He is certainly anxious to earn the
appreciation of his listeners and his stake in the success of his programme
is personal as against the impersonal interest of the AIR staff. I for one
feel, that the Broadcasting authorities should go all out to tell the
artiste "Choose whatever accompanying instrument you like, but give us
your very best performance". It is a great pity that the authorities
deny him this most obvious facility to enable him to give a well-dressed
The objections to the Harmonium are more imaginary than real in the sense
that there is a satisfactory answer to every one of them. It is,
course, true that generally the Harmonium is based on a tempered scale and
yet it is now more than thirty/forty years since the Shruti-Harmonium
giving a 'just' scale of all the twenty-two Shrutis has been available
against a simple order. Besides, every musician can tune it to his own
particular pitch. Even an ordinary 'Tempered' Harmonium can also be so
tuned. It is similarly true that the Harmonium employs fixed notes and
that it falls short when the principal is singing the oscillatory komal
rishabh/dhaivat of Bhairav or komal gandhar/dhaivat of Darbari Kanada
and the like; and yet a seasoned player can easily catch the spirit of
these by his deft control of the bellows or subtle, slight touch of the
adjoining notes. (If an amateurish player does not feel equal to the job,
he can just give the drone of the shadja-pancham notes and that will more
than compensate for his not being upto the mark). It is true that the
Harmonium ought not to be used at the time of practising lest the artiste
might blur his sharp sense of tonal accuracy; and yet there has not been
a single instance to my knowledge that even one of them has used it for
this purpose! At the same time, there has also not been a single instance
where he has not used it in mehfils. Even the best of them and respected
throughout the country for their extra-sharp sense intonation and use
of subtle tonal nuances like late Khansaheb Abdul Karim Khan and late
Narayanrao Balgandharva have never been seen even once without the
Harmonium accompaniment. And the Harmonium they used was not even the
Shruti-Harmonium with a 'just' scale, but only fhe ordinary Harmonium
with a 'tempered' scale. The truth of the matter seems to be that nobody
has become besur by using the Harmonium and nobody who was already a
besur has become surel by discarding it (otherwise we would not have
come across so many out-of-tune artistes on the Radio) and even assuming
for the sake of argument that the rejection of the Harmonium may improve
his tonal accuracy...
...Sarangi is extolled as the most suitable instrument for accompaniment
in preference to the Harmonium. May I take the liberty to point out, that
it is meant essentially for female musicians and especially for
light-classical varieties such as Thumris and the like. It is not at all
suitable for powerful manly voices of male performers. It is far too
delicate and effeminate for them. Even the stalwarts like Abdul Karim
Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Alladiya Khan, Nissar Husain Khan, Vilayat Husain
Khan, Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale, Sawai Gandharva, Vazebuwa of the olden times,
or Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva, and all others of the present times,
have hardly ever been using the Sarangi Accompaniment. In contrast, however,
they have been invariably seen with the accompaniment of Harmonium.
This indeed is the evidence of outright rejection of the erstwhile and much
extolled sarangi and unqualified acceptance of the much maligned Har-
monium. I do not think that anybody can get away from this by saying
that these are only the vagaries of the great ones not to be followed
...It is said that Sarangi can reproduce the exact tonal nuances and
meends and gamaks. This is alright only if the resonating strings allow
it to remain in accurate intonation. But let me ask, whether exact
reproduction is at all necessary for an accompanying instrument, whose
role is only complementary? Besides, classical music is not all meend
and gamak, which is only a part of it - may be an important part. But,
the rest of tht time, the sarangi even if it is perfectly tuned, must
foist the meend and gamak even when it is not wanted and perhaps mar
the performance to that extent by its unwanted, inopportune use.
Further, apart from the meaning of the word-text of the chiz, the words
have their own independent sound-form which accentuate the contours of
the raga and consequently of the performances; and yet the sarangi is
inherently incapable of producing even a remote semblance of these.
Besides, every one or two seconds, the bow of the sarangi must turn to
the left or to the right and must cause some minimum disturbance
to the melodic flow which has simply to be tolerated. Harmonium
can avoid this disturbance altogether. Then again, while the principal
is singing alaap in a slow gentle, leisurely way, the sarangi must give
the unavoidable impression of a fast movement by reason of the inevitably
swift movements of its bow. And worst of all when the artiste is singing
taan-phirat, sarangi invariably becomes outrageously out-of-tune. I am
not at all finding fault with the veteran Sarangi-players. But these are
the inherent limitations of the instrument itself and no amount of
virtuosity can overcome them...
> However violin accompaniment
> survives in the South.
Where, in so far as displacement is concerned, I would have thought that
the displaced instrument was the veena.
Was the sarangi played in the South? Was there an equivalent?
N i c k
Mr Parrikar opening with his usual pompous but, in this case, self
referential exhortations has perhaps, just this once, done something
useful. Thanks for the reprint on the harmonium ban - been looking for it
One strange tidbit is that there was a British officer in India during the Raj
who invented a "shruti harmonium" that apparently conformed to the shruti
system but hardly anyone was interested and it faded into oblivion! I can't
remember much more about it, but a fair amount of detail can be found in a book
"Indian Music and the West" which came out within the last couple of years.
And regarding the following in the text:
>Guau, to name a few.
1. a "stet",
2. a "qwerty" problem for Gurtu, or
3. there really is a Ms. Shobha Guau
>Finally - does anyone have the harmonium recordings referred to
I havent heard any of them. I guess S G Kittapa's recordings should
be available. Subbudu himsef is supposed to be a very good harmonium
player. I know that he had sometimes accompanied Swami Haridas Giri
during the bhajan sessions. I also remember seeing a tape (released by
Sangeetha?) which featured Subbudu and another gentleman. I guess
Subbudu played the harmonium in this tape. Anybody else seen this tape?
With Warm Regards,
: I do not get the logic! Why would they not have Sarangiya IN PLACE OF,
: rather than IN ADDITION TO harmonium accompaniemnt? Does it mean that no
: matter what, you have to have harmonium for accompniment?
Sorry, but I don't quite get your logic!!
Harmonium accompaniment, at least in the case of Salamat Ali Khan, can be
provided by one of his sons, a shahgird or a local, wherever he may be
performing. So it does not add another body, at least in terms of
splitting up the money received. A Sarangiya, necessarily has to be
someone outside of the family who has to be paid, and reasonably well.
Again, the reasoning that I am giving is as stated to me by Salamat
Interestingly, I've heard that Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (Patiala Gharana)
performed in the UK to his own harmonium accompaniment recently (rather
like the ghazaliya's).
While we're on this topic, what's the logic of some sitarists these days
performing with the use of "Drone Box" or Shruti Box, and even Surmanadal?
Can't see (or hear) how this enhances the music.
While my own preference in vocal accompaniment lies with instruments capable of
rendering gamak, meend, etc. I consider Dr. Thatte the most musical of
harmoniumists(?) I've had the pleasure of hearing.
> It is also very important to note that Dr. Thatte is a
> student of Pt. Jasraj.
In fact, it's totally irrelevant that Arawind learnt classical vocal from
PJ for a few years in the mid-to-late 80's. Arawind has always underscored
that he is completely original as far as harmonium is concerned. He taught
himself to play the harmonium and has developed a uniquely original style of
playing harmonium solo. If you have listened to harmonium solos by, say, Appa
J or Pt Manohar Chimote etc. and listen to Arawind's CD or audio cassettes
released by Alurkar (Pune, India), you will know what I mean. Arawind
doesn't accompany PJ or take vocal lessons from PJ any more. But again,
that's irrelevant to this thread. Regards, Ashwin
Sharad echoes my exact sentiments. One wishes Arawind were more of a
showman (I have suggested to Arawind several times to make eye contact with
the audience, interact more with the vocalist etc. but Arawind has stayed on
the straight and narrow and refuses to 'Jalagaonkarize' himself) just so that
those who come to "see" a concert can also appreciate what a genius he is.
> And I will add (more for the sake of a rhetorical
> whirligig than for any other real reason) that
> Thatte's 'commentary' is always interesting,
> rewarding, and exceptionally musical. He also, of
> course, has carried out exceptional research
> in the science of tuning; his instruments, small
> and unprepossessing though they may appear,
> have a resonance and timbral richness far beyond
> those of mortal harmonia.
Arawind is an original thinker when it comes to harmonium. Those who listen
to his harmonium solo will surely be dazzled by his wizardry (it's
mind-boggling to hear him play a tappA on harmonium), but he knows that the
audience is not yet ready for his brand of harmonium solo. Most of the
harmonium solos feature the gAyakI style, i.e. 'play harmonium as a singer
would sing that rAg' but Arawind plays the traditional AlAp-jOr-jhAlA
followed by a vilambiT and DrUT to showcase harmonium as a classical musical
instrument in its own right. He has developed a way to simulate a meend and
he carefully stays away from the gAyakI style he must follow while
accompanying. His custom harmonium is of course, a work of art (of science,
Arawind conducted a few lecture-demonstrations in Pune (almost 2 years ago)
on harmonium as a solo musical instrument and all of them were huge
successes. They went on for over 3 hours each with an enthralled audience
generally asking intelligent questions and Arawind answering them patiently.
It was perhaps the first time that a lec-dem on harmonium solo not only
filled the auditorium but overfilled the parking lot & caused a traffic jam
when the crowd spilled over to the road !
Arawind thinks, correctly, that it is quite a task for him to persuade the
audience to think of the harmonium as a solo instrument and not something
that just 'imitates the singer entertainingly now and then'. I highly
recommend Arawind's harmonium solo CDs (one published by Neelam Audio &
Video, I think) and audio cassettes (one published by himself, two others by
Pt Manohar Chimote also has a unique style of playing harmonium solo on his
modified harmonium (which also has a swarmandal placed at the top), but,
probably because I am still too 'closed' in my expectations from a harmonium,
don't find his work as appealing or cerebral as Arawind's.