Indian Classical Music: A Geographer’s Question by Snigdhadeb Sengupta – Part 2


They never left their music behind

We were talking about people travelling to new lands, carrying their music with them, adopting new traits, assimilating them with the old ones and passing them on to the next generations. Now we take a closer look at what geographers had to say in this context. It is wonderful to see how works of geographers in connection with agriculture or some other socio-economic phenomenon may be applied in explaining the diffusion of traits in Indian Music.

People usually migrate in search of livelihood. This is what Perpillou (1977) had to say about the motives of migration –

“One of the first motives of emigration seems to be economic. Man’s need to have fresh land to till and to rid himself of numbers that are too great for the resources of the country constitutes the most urgent material cause of movement.”

People from Central Asian Steppes started coming to India, lured by the fertile north Indian riverine plains. Naturally, they brought their culture along and the cultural diffusion got started. Significantly, existence of the Silk Routes may have facilitated the movements of immigrants from Central Asia and Persia. As the immigrants moved, so did their music.

Figure 1: The Silk Routes

Persian and Middle-Eastern melodies resemble Indian Ragas

Persia, definitely, was a major influence on our music. We still regard Amir Khusrau as a father figure in our musical traditions. We continue to sing and play his compositions. We also find folk melodies from Iran, Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the Middle East resembling Indian ragas.

Figure 2: The early Persian Empire (currently Iran)

Indian Classical Music – How did the face to face Guru-Shishya tradition happen?

We have generally perceived our music as a Gurumukhi discipline, something that is passed on by the guru (teacher) to his/her shishya (disciple). Here, the process of cultural diffusion necessarily requires a face-to-face interaction between the guru and the shishya. Let’s review what Chapman (1979) said.

“Diffusion may require direct physical contact between a carrier and a receiver. …Patterns which reflect the exchange of information by word of mouth tend to spread in centrifugal fashion from a point of origin.”

Indian Musical traits transmitted through the generations in a guru-shishya tradition therefore essentially required direct contact between the transmitter and the receiver.

But, the spread was not exactly centrifugal. It was rather in a particular direction. Why did that happen?  Let’s explore in the next part.



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