I wonder if anyone’s ever done any extensive studies of how classical music has dealt with the political communal tension between south asian communities—if it has helped unify or divide in any way, or has been an impartial swede. I was sitting in maninder’s tabla class one day, and some dude started asking about how muslims and hindus “deal with each other” in the music, implying that the hindu/muslim tension that arose out of partition somehow translated to hindus and muslim tension between musicians and artists. Both maninder and I seemed to answer the same: that religion, and regional politics always seems to end up mute points when it came to music. Indian classical music has a long tradition of brahmin musicians taking muslims as their teachers, and vice-versa. Ravi Shankar, a hindu, received training that turned him into the amazing musician he is today from Ali Akbar Khan’s father, Allaudin Khan, a muslim man. And a series of the most memorable jugalbandis (duets) that have ever taken place have been with Ravi Shankar on sitar and Ali Akbar Khan on sarod, between a hindu and a muslim. Although these examples highlight religious harmony more than the geographic, political harmony so many of us are wishing for, it does speak a bit about how music has the power to make some political differences seem petty, through showing equality of ourselves as people, regardless of the differences in what we claim ourselves to be.
I started thinking about this after reading this article about a visually challenged Pakistani girl who mastered Dhrupad, with the desire to use music to bring Indian and Oakistan closer together.
”Music in the real sense of the term has tremendous significance in the lives of human beings even in the present day set up. Music has a soothing effect and is highly effective in releasing tensions, stress and strain… Moreover, music has an ennobling quality. It helps to foster peace of mind and harmony among people. It helps to transcend communal barriers. You will agree that most of the luminaries of Hindustani classical music happen to be Muslims. Where would you find such an example of communal harmony?” Pt. Debu Chaudhuri