Saturday, May 06, 2006

Revisiting a palace, a tomb and lessons in Hindutva

Two monuments. One a tomb in Baroda, the final resting place of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan who tracing his lineage back to Tansen was one of the greatest of Hindustani classical music. The other, a magnificent palace in Mysore, built during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. Two monuments, miles apart in every way, but inextricably linked to teach us a very important lesson for the future of India.
I haven’t visited the Ustad’s tomb, but walk around the Mysore palace as I have done so many times and you will have no doubt that it was built by and for a Hindu king. Despite it being a breathtaking melting pot of Indo-Saracenic architecture designed by an Englishman called Henry Irwin. Despite the fact that the two main durbar halls are called the Diwan-e-Am and the Diwan-e-Khaas, there is no doubt that His Royal Highness Nalavadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar Bahadur IV, in whose reign this palace was completed in 1912 was a very Hindu king. Despite the fact that there are no less than 8 temples in the palace grounds, of which the Sri Prasanna Krishnaswami temple was built by this king’s grandfather because he felt that there was no temple dedicated to the Lord Krishna to whose vamsa, the Yadu vamsa, the Wodeyar dynasty traces its decent. The fact that the fabulous golden throne, which according to one version once belonged to the Pandavas, has a benediction that refers to the blessings of the Goddess Chamundeshwari on the monarch. And that lining one part of 155 ft wall of the awesome Diwan-e-Am is a series of 8 exquisite life-size paintings depicting the 8 avatars of the Goddess. And that all across the palace are stunning visual celebrations to her and other Hindu gods and goddesses.
But wait a minute. What is this? Under each of the 26 magnificent wall frescos all along the Peacock Pavilion that depict the splendour of the Dasara and the royal birthday processions are the names of the key figures of the maharajah’s durbar. Meticulously and painstakingly written in black ink and the yellowing originals lovingly preserved and framed in glass. What intrigued me was that amidst the Urs and the Raos, the Swamys and the Chettys, amidst the Ayyas, the Annas and the Appas – expected in the court of a South Indian king - there were liberal sprinklings of Abduls and Peer Sahibs and Baigs, even a Parsi called R. N. Boyce. (The imposing Commandant of the First Battalion of the Mysore Infantry is a Major Rana Jodha Rang Bahadur, his second and third in command Captain Mahomed Isshook and Lt. M. Jamaluddeen.) Amidst with a Arthashastra Visharada, a Sangeeta Sastraratna, a Rajasenabhushana and a Rajasevadhurina, grand titles of honour bestowed by the Maharajah on the most illustrious members of his court were a Siddiq-ul-Mulk, a Durbar Bakshi, an Arzbeg and a Huzur Bakshi.
So what was a Hindu King - and that too one whose dynasty had been so rudely interrupted by a Muslim – none other than Haider Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan – doing with so many signs of what our present day defenders of Hindu faith call “pseudo-secularism” in his court? Why was one of the most important posts in his durbar called “Huzur Secretary” and why was the administration of the affairs of the royal ladies called the Zenana Samukha, when the palace library was called the Saraswati Bhandar, the elephants and horse housed in the Ashwashala and Gajashalas and the armoury kept in the Ayudhshala? It is a well-known fact, that of all the king’s Diwans (a total of 12 during his reign), the one who shared the closest rapport with him was Sir Mirza Ismail, on whom he conferred the title on Amin-ul-Mulk. But one Muslim does not a secular make and do we not have our own token not one, but 2 - Sikander Bhakt and Mukhtar Naqvi Abbas -in the BJP?
But I was intrigued enough to want to investigate further and I did. And so I plunged into whatever documentation I could find about Krishnaraja Wodeyar and his court. There were enough examples he was perhaps one of the most enlightened and progressive monarchs of his time was evident. But, in the archives of the records of the Palace administration, I found this letter, addressed to the Maharajah:
“It has been the great good fortune of Your Highness’ petitioner not only to have been cherished and protected in this royal court, but to have been bestowed the high favour of a title at the hands of your Gracious Highness…..”
The title was “Aftab-e-Sitar” bestowed by the maharajah on the writer of the letter, one Barkatullah Khan. Palace musician from 1919 till his death in 1930. One of India’s great sitar players, one time guru to Kesarbai Kerkar and to the father of Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan, the greatest exponent of the Seniya sitar style in recent times. (Many years later, it was this same title that was conferred on Ustad Vilayat Khan by the late President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.) And as I researched further, unfolding in front of me was Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s and the Mysore court’s astonishing and unwavering patronage of Hindustani classical musicians. Many illustrious members of the Agra Gharana including Nattan Khan and Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan who was a guest of the Maharajah in Mysore for 10 years. The legendary Abdul Karim Khan whose shisyas include Sawai Gandharva, Roshanra Begum and Hirabai Barodekar. (It is said that though a devout Muslim, the Ustad would write '"OM TATSAT SAMAVEDAYA NAMAHA on his musical works and was perhaps the first North Indian musician to study Carnatic ragas and incorporate several of them into Hindustani music.) And Gauhar Jan, one of the greatest exponents of the thumri, the khayal and the ghazal, the toast of Calcutta where the saying went that “Calcutta without Gauhar was like a bride without her Shauhar (Husband)!” And the first Indian singer to have recorded her voice. She became a Mysore Palace musician staying on till her death in 1930. (Incidentally, Gauhar was actually an Anglo-Indian, born Angelina Yeoward, of Armenian-European-Jewish-Christian parentage.)
And this in the court of a king with a long tradition of patronage to Carnatic music where famed Carnatic musicians like Mysore Vasudevachar, Muttiah Bhaghavatar, Veene Sheshanna, T. Chowdiah and Bidaram Krishnappa flourished as court musicians.
In today’s terms, we would say this was just the gracious patronage of a Hindu king of Muslim musicians. But to the Maharaja, it was simply the appreciation and nurturing of another beautiful avatar of India’s great musical tradition. Just as for the musicians, it was an opportunity to perform before another great connoisseur and patron of their music.
And so it was many, many years ago one cool, soft, velvety Navratri night in Mysore, sitting in the magnificent Diwan-e-Am, ablaze with thousands of fairy lights that Faiyyaz Khan performed at Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s famed Dussera celebrations. It was a jugalbandhi between him and Ustad Hafiz Khan, the palace musician at the time. So enchanted was the Maharajah by the Ustad’s performance, that he bestowed on him the title of Aftab-e-Mausiqui, by which title the Ustad was thereafter known by.
And so in Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s beautiful garden bloomed many flowers, and he gave each its own special name to honour its uniqueness. An Aftab-e-mausiqui blossomed next to a Sangeetha Kalanidhi, an Aftab-e-Sitar spread its fragrance next to a Gayaka Shikhamani. While one filled the air with the beautiful, plaintive notes of “Babul Mora” in Raag Bhairavi - it is said that K. L. Saigal once approached Ustad Faiyyaz Khan to be his guru -, another praised the Goddess Chamundeshwari with 108 exquisite kirtis.
On March 31, 2002, during the frenzy of the post-Godhra riots, the tomb of Ustad Faiyaz Khan was desecrated and wreathed with burning tyres. But what was defiled was more just the memory of one of India’s greatest musicians, who under the pseudonym "Prempiya", composed songs called cheej, many of which are now inseparable from the celebration of Hindu festivals like Holi. Nor was it, as many would say, the despoiling of the great tradition of secularism in this country. To me, it was desecration of a great tradition of Hinduism lived out so beautifully by a Hindu king who, even while glorying in the vast, infinite landscape of his Hindutva, had room enough for one and all.

May 2006 - the ghosts of Godra seem to be back to haunt us again in Vadodara. As Dylan said, "when will we ever learn?"


Anonymous said...

The real badshah is rajesh khanna and is greatest and supreme of all actors

Raja Swaminathan said...

This is excellent - every Indian should read this !

Vinay said...

What a beautifully written piece which is so well researched !