Author: (Late) Ahmed Ghulamali Chagla

    The effects of Muslim influence  on the music of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent first began to be manifest in the days of Amir Khusru, the poet-musician-soldier who held office as a minister at the court of Alauddin (1253 - 1325 A.D.).  For the five and a half centuries following, Islam's cultural influence steadily dominated the aboriginal musical forms till their very character was changed and, it may be added, basically improved.  What passes for classical "Indian" music today is, properly speaking, a re-creation of the ancient Hindu system under the  influence of dynamic Islamic culture.

    It may well be asked: How could Islamic culture so very effectively change Hindu music?

    Inheritors of ancient cultures, the people of the so-called Middle East, were the people who first adopted Islam and gave expression to the vital Islamic idea that learning and culture recognise no geographical boundary.  The doctrine of the Unity of God implied brotherhood of man and to the people of the Middle East this doctrine was no more intellectual ideal.  Taught to revere the ink of the scholar as being more precious than the blood of the martyr and that they should seek knowledge "even unto China", medieval Muslim scholars investigated the achievements of all the national groups they could.  The results of their research were transmitted not only westwards to Europe by eastwards to the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent and beyond.  Like other scholars of their time those who turned to the study of music were philosophers, scientists, and the men of very wide cultural attainment.  In their studies they were, to say the least, without any professional prejudices and extremely understanding and sympathetic in their outlook towards all cultural achievements.

    The medieval Middle Eastern system of music gradually evolved out of the researches of such scholars and was a synthesis of ancient Iranian, Iraqi, Arabian, Egyptian, and Greek systems.  With geographical and racial limitations transcended, there was brought about a happy interfusion of different cultural values.  Truly has the Middle East been described as the crucible of ancient cultures.

    The ancient Hindus of the subcontinent had migrated from the common home of all the Aryan peoples, probably to the north or north-west of Afghanistan.  Like all the Aryan peoples, a form of music was an essential part of their rituals.  Thus the roots of the so-called Hindu music of ancient India lay outside the geographical boundaries of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, in that very territory which later came under Islam's cultural influences.

    When the Muslims came to the subcontinent they found in its northern parts a system of music in fundamentals much like their own but still in the diatonic stage of development and suffering from a kind of culture stagnation.  The Southeast Asian influence which had affected progress had worn away.

    In the Middle East countries, however, music had reached an advanced stage of development.  Chromatic scales had already evolved and were part of the Middle Eastern music system.  One can therefore well believe that when the famous South Indian musician, Gopal Naik, sang a classical song in the court of Alauddin, Amir Khusru was not only able to reproduce it but actually improve on it - probably by incorporating some extempore variations.  The words of Gopal Naik's song were unintelligible to Amir Khusru.  He therefore resorted to the expedient of using short musical syllables - sounds without meaning.  He called it a "Tarana".

    The Tarana or Tilana was probably the first innovation introduced by the Muslims.  In imitation of Amir Khusru's vitalising improvement, the slow Hindu ritual music began to be in faster tempos.  Intermezzos of syllables without meaning were composed and interposed in the set pattern.  A later development was the "Chaturang", a composition in four parts, one part being a slow movement and having words; another part was sung in a different tempo with meaningless "words", generally a mixture of Persian and Hindu songs; the third part in very fast tempo was a short "Tarana"; the finale was in syncopated time with syllables which normally denote drum beats.  This form, though little popular, survives to this day.  Together with the "Ragmala" (the 'rosary of melodies') wherein several melody-types are used in one composition by modulation, the "Chaturang" offers considerable possibilities of developments.

    Though primary steps, the "Tarana" and the "Chaturang" laid solid foundations.  Some extremely beautiful "Taranas" of the Moghul period are still in existence today.

    Amir Khusru and those who followed him devoted attention to the simplification and development of stringed and percussion musical instruments.  The Vina, an expressive but cumbersome instrument was improved into what came to be known as the Sitar.  The Sitar allows a far greater range, in fact almost anything can be played on it, and yet it is comparatively easier to handle and master.  A later improvement of the fixing of set of resonating wires to the Sitar was also a Muslim contribution.  It is significant that the bridge of the Sitar and the Vina is of the type that is found in certain stringed instruments of ancient  Assyria and Babylon.  It is possible also to trace the ancestry of the Vina to Assyria and Sumeria.  There is ample evidence of that.

    Among the bowed instruments in use in the subcontinent the intricate Sarangi - the "hundred coloured" - is a Muslim invention.  It is probably the most perfect and expressive melodic instrument devised and provides a vast range of very expressive tone-colours.

    The ancient Hindu two-sided temple drum Pakhāwaj was substantially modified and all the hardness was taken out of the tone.  Later it was cut into two and became  the pair of Tablās, treble and bass, as we know it today.  The treble tablā is tuned like a tympani to the key-note, and can produce a variety of beats, differing in quality from each other.

    Professor Raman's experiments go to show that the drumhead of the treble tablā is so loaded as to actually a harmonic series of overtones, impossible on the vibrating membranes used for the drums common in European music.  The tablā is a perfect drum instrument. 

    Muslim scholars also developed form, style, rhythm and melody-types.  Amir Khusru introduced Persian ghazal form and the irregular but extremely appealing Middle-Eastern rhythms which still go by the names "Ghazal", "Pashto", and "Mughlai".  He altered the ghazal form into the popular Qawwāli, which was later used with such great effect by Sufis in their work for religious revival among the masses.  This is a form which has not lost its vitality to this day.

    On the Classical side Sultan Hussain Sharqi evolved the Khayāl out of the ancient temple songs.  This is sung adagio to lento and is at once a simplification of the dhrupad style, giving as it does, full scope for the development of a musical motif.  The form and style of dhrupad singing is an offshoot of the ancient Hindu Prabandha which, during the reign of Akbar, was developed by Raja Mansingh into maestoso and grandioso style of singing.  Even this was done definitely under Muslim cultural influence.

    No trace can be found in any pre-Muslim Sanskrit works of scales or melody-types of chromatic extraction.  All vital changes in scales and melody-types which helped make the sub-continent music what it is today, were introduced by the Muslims.  The first improvements were the introduction of "mixed" (Mishra) diatonic melody-types wherein transient modulation was effected between two or more melody-types.  But as yet only diatonic scales were used.  Some of our most characteristic melody-types are of this kind.

    Later, melody-types were developed using augmented and diminished intervals and some very characteristic use of, what is called in Europe, chromatic harmony, was made. These are the real "classical" melody-types of the subcontinent.  Many of these are Middle Eastern in origin.  The principle was applied to even the pentatonic and hexatonic scales, resulting in some of the most beautiful transilient scales of chromatic derivation.  There is no evidence whatsoever to show that these melodies of chromatic derivation, which now bear purely Hindu names such as Bhairav and Ramkali were known before the advent of the Muslims.

    The Durbāri Kanhra of TānSen and Bilāskhāni Todi of his nephew are two examples of scales which have been made softer by tempering the inflected degrees.  Scientifically, all the flattened degrees are further reduced in pitch by the "Comma of Didymus" (ratio 81:80) and the sharpened degree - usually the sub-dominant - which is already sharpened, is further raised in pitch by a Comma.  This is not commonly realised and in modern unintelligent practice Bilāskhāni Todi is generally confused with Bhairavi (E - E mode) and similarly Multani is confused with Todi.  But the internal evidence of melodic progressions and harmonic analysis from the point of view of acoustic fact shows very clearly what the composer intended.

    Culmination of this development came during the days of the last Moghul Emperor, when Sadārang was the court musician.  His wonderfully expressive compositions, as also the compositions of TānSen and others of the Moghul period, still are the mainstay of most singers of repute today.

    As stated earlier, during the five and a half centuries from Amir Khusru to Sadārang, the Muslims changed the very character of the subcontinent's music.  With their rich heritage and vital ideas they gave to the subcontinent much that is true, good, and beautiful in its music.