Two Great Visionaries of Indian Music: Prof. Sambamurthy and Pandit V.N. Bhatkhande

Ashok Madhav –

Tireless efforts of the two men, who are responsible for revolutionizing Indian classical music are Prof. Sambamurthy and Pandit V.N. Bhatkhande.

First let us see the contributions of Prof. P. Sambamurthy (1901-1973). He had a modest life to begin with. Despite this, he had his musical training- in vocal, violin and flute from Boddu Krishnaiah, Doraiswamy Iyer, S.A. Ramaswamy Iyer and Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar. Further, he undertook formal training also in Western music in Germany.

Prof. Sambamurthy visited many small towns and villages all over South India including Tamil nadu, Karnataka, Andhra collecting information on various music composers, musicians and also the technicalities of Carnatic music. At Tanjavur District alone, he visited at least 60 villages to get the information on musicians. He published 50 books on different aspects of Carnatic music both in English and Tamil to benefit the music lovers. His noteworthy contribution consists of books on South Indian Music in 6 volumes, Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Moorchanakaraka melas and Amoorchanakaraka melas, Variety of tala structures, Great Composers of Carnatic music and many more. His books have been used both in the Universities as texts and as reference guides. He has composed many kritis , one among them being on Saint Tyagaraja.

“The role of Prof. Sambamurthy as an outstanding musicologist supersedes any other aspect of his genius, observes Prof. SR.Janakiraman. He remarks that Prof. Sambamurthy deserves to be ranked alongside of the great treatise-writers in music like Bharatha, Matanga, Ramamatya, Venkatamakhin, Tulaja and Govinda of the past all rolled into one. He is the architect of many concepts in musicology. He was the torch bearer and pioneer in formulating a thematic scheme of study of musicology. Sangeeta Sampradya Pradarshini of Subarama Dikshitar throws considerable light on the study of raga lakshanas in great detail. Prof. Sambamurthy followed the lead of Subbarama Dikshitar and expanded the subject exhaustively. He is the Sangeeta Sastra Pitamaha of the 20 th century. Further, he hails him as ‘Ashadeera dooradesamulanu prakasimpajesina sangita sastra sikhamani’.

He was a Professor of music at Madras University. He was also associated with several universities like Venkateswara University, Tirupathi, Mysore University, Benares Hindu University, Central College of Carnatic Music, either as a visiting Professor or as an advisor.

Originally, he was trained as a lawyer with a degree in Law. But his passion for Carnatic classical music was so much that he never practiced law. He passed away when he was 72 years old. He was awarded Padma Bhushan, Sangeetha Kalanidhi from the Music Academy and Sangeet Natak Akademi fellowship.

On the contrary, Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860- 1936) did much to systematize Hindustani music against all odds. In his early years, he learnt vocal singing and playing on veena and flute from various teachers - Raojiba, Belbagkar, Ali Hussain Khan and Vilayat Hussain Khan. Later on he enrolled himself in a college and graduated with a degree in law and practiced law for a brief while.

He travelled to several North Indian cities like Pune, Baroda, Ajmer, Gwalior, Agra, Rampur, Benares etc. and he met with many music ustads and pundits, collected enormous data and like a modern Venkatamakhin, he devised a unique system to classify Hindustani ragas. There were pockets of music schools all over the North India practicing their own styles of music. There were hardly any communications between different schools. The Hindustani music has been undergoing drastic changes over the decades and the music documented earlier has become obsolete.

Prof.Bhatkhande also went to many South Indian towns and cities like Tanjavur, Tirunelveli, Madurai, Bangalore, Mysore, Chennai etc. With the information collected from both North and South Indian centers, he devised “Thaat” system of classification of Hindustani ragas similar to the Venkatamakhin’s Melakarta system of Carnatic music. Prof. Bhatkhande gave a broad base and put in almost 90- 95 % of the existing Hindustani ragas of his time under the “thaat" system. Prof. Bhatkhande defined ragas the easy way to understand and composed several bandishes (similar to small kritis) to explain arohanam and avarohanam of the ragas. Before this approach, Hindustani music was practiced in different centers in various ways with no reference to each other.

Prof. Bhatkande is to the North, what Venkatamakhin is to the South, in revolutionizing Hindustani Sangeet. Scholars have eulogized his pioneering efforts. He published several books on music to bring an order. His monumental work is “Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati” in 4 volumes. He also prepared a valuable treatise, the Hindustani Sangeet Kramik Pustak Maalika as text books. These books have become standard texts in many Universities. He held Professorship in a few Universities. He established Colleges of Music in Lucknow and Gwalior. He died in 1936 and he was 76.

India has many musicians, a few composers and a fewer musicologists. When the westerners are eager to learn Indian system of music, and if authoritative books are not available, music cannot get its proper exposure. Musicology as a discipline should not end with Prof. Sambamurthy and Prof. Bhatkhande alone.