Living Traditions: 21 articles for 21st-century Indian classical music

Category Darbar Festival 08 August 2019

Welcome to Living Traditions - a new written collection by Darbar's George Howlett, exploring how music with ancient roots is adapting to a fast-paced, interconnected modern world. Expand your appreciation through 21 different perspectives on 21st-century Indian classical.

Darbar are committed to demystifying India's classical arts for a global audience. In Living Traditions we interview eleven of today's leading artists on how they create, think, and live, spanning Hindustani, Carnatic, Dhrupad, and dance. Also featured are ten in-depth essays covering various technical, social, and mystical dimensions of the music itself, examining how it manifests across diverse new contexts.

The articles are aimed at newcomers and connoisseurs alike, and can be read in any order. No previous knowledge is required - we go far in, but explain along the way, matching the words to the sounds using clips from our 13-year video archive (the 14th annual Darbar Festival is coming up later in 2019). Darbar does not believe in diluting or oversimplifying the ideas - to do so would be to disrespect our audience.

We prefer to preserve the depth and detail, and take more time in explaining when needed. All key concepts are defined inline, and linked through to dedicated pages from our separate bank of 80 short Educational Articles. We also have over 140 new Artist Pages, containing brief biographies and videos of our past festival performers. These great creative forms are for everyone - all you need is a willingness to abandon preconceptions and open your ears.

—Eleven Interviews: Indian classical masters in their own words

Ustad Shahid Parvez interview: ‘What you play spontaneously should be perfect’ - The sitar genius discusses musical purity, his hyper-disciplined childhood, and following the green light when improvising.

Ustad Bahauddin Dagar interview: ‘Dhrupad: flourishing branches, dwindling roots?’ - Reviewing the rudra veena master’s landmark solo performance in London, and delving into Dhrupad’s curious modern context with him afterwards.

Debasmita Bhattacharya interview: ‘It feels like nature is summoning you to play’ - Kolkata’s eloquent young sarod star discusses inspiration from the wind, music and gender, and the concept of raga as an illusion.

Dr. Trichy Sankaran interview: ‘For every rhythm there is a counter-rhythm’ - The master mridangist takes us through his life in music, covering Carnatic collaborations, cross-cultural teaching, and the rhythms of the ocean.

Dr. Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande interview: ‘I want the raga to befriend me too’ - The Jaipur-Atrauli vocalist and former atomic scientist talks lost ragas, visualising rhythms as warrior-heroes, and the limits of approaching music analytically.

Akram Khan interview: ‘Indian dancers place themselves in the shoes of gods as well as mortals’ - The trailblazing British-Bengali choreographer discusses classicism, the Mahabharata, and skipping school to dance in his garage.

Pandit Sanju Sahai interview: ‘My ancestors retreated to the jungle with their tabla’ - Sitting down with the Benares maestro over curry to talk jazz, turning down the Sugababes, and the many links between rhythm and food.

Begum Parveen Sultana interview: ‘Each raga is a mirror of all Hindustani music’ - The Patiala khayal superstar discusses her unique religious heritage, the power of physical expression, and how to lose yourself in the divine.

Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya interview: ‘Art will always claim surrendered lovers to itself’ - The slide guitar pioneer discusses self-designed instruments, hidden harmony in ragas, and the interconnectedness of the natural world.

Pandit Rupak Kulkarni interview: 'The only thing you need is to be in tune internally' - The bansuri maestro discusses therapeutic music, life with his guru Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, and the primal, divine nature of the flute.

Meeta Pandit interview: ‘My grandfather never allowed any student to copy him’ - The Gwalior vocal star discusses religious tolerance, changing teaching styles, and her recent book on the history of her family’s gharana.

Shahid Parvez and Ojas Adhiya enrapture in London for Darbar Festival 2018

—Ten Musical Explorations: Indian classical from different perspectives

Exploring Raag Chandranandan: Modern creations, metaphysics of raga - Ustad Ali Akbar Khan created Chandranandan in the 1940s, naming it hastily during a cigarette break and soon forgetting how to play it - but it is now regarded as a modern classic. What does its curious tale tell us about the nature of raga itself?

The power of threes: Hindustani rhythm's tihai resolutions - Breaking down classical tabla’s playfully angular rhythmic resolutions, and exploring why patterns of three have such a distinctive power to tell concise ‘stories’ in music, art, and literature.

How your favourite genres chime with Indian classical - Discover Indian classical music via styles you already like, through some surprising points of confluence. This article builds sonic bridges for fans of jazz, rock, blues, jungle, hip-hop, house, techno, ambient, minimalism, Western classical, and more.

Singing sculptures: India’s curious musical instruments - Examining the music and modern contexts of ten strange, beautiful instruments from India’s classical traditions. Features the surbahar, taus, chaturangi, rudra veena, sitar been, tabla tarang, jaltarang, sarangi, ghatam, and morsing.

In-depth Carnatic Primer: South India’s mellifluous, mathematical music - Carnatic music’s unique wealth of ideas deserves far more global attention. Here’s a detailed primer on South Indian classical music, featuring sounds and stars from the past and present.

Exploring Raag Malkauns: ‘He who wears serpents like garlands’ - Breaking down the origin and shape of an ancient, auspicious raga, fabled to have been written by the goddess Parvati to calm Lord Shiva’s murderous rage and still feared by many modern musicians.

Seven Days of Santoor: A primer on Hindustani music’s hundred-stringed box - The santoor’s icy sparkle is a comparative newcomer to Indian classical, arriving in the mid-20th century. Here’s a seven-part rundown of this uniquely captivating instrument.

Twelve Days of Tabla: A primer on the world’s most versatile drum - Hindustani tabla masters combine jaw-dropping knowledge and precision with a hugely imaginative approach to improvisation. This is a 12-part taster of North India's most astonishing drum.

The sitar from different angles (Pt. 1): Instrument basics, past masters - Examining the design, techniques, and history of India’s most famous string instrument, through the stories of great innovators such as Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee.

The sitar from different angles (Pt. 2): Modern players, global experiments - Tracing recent developments through the music of modern maestros, examining the rise of fusion, and looking to the future. Features Ustad Shahid Parvez, Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee, Mita Nag, and many others.

• George Howlett is a UK-based musician and writer, specialising in jazz, rhythm, Indian classical, and global improvised music. I studied Hindustani music under Pandit Shivnath Mishra in Varanasi, and now play guitar, tabla, and santoor in London. Recent releases include No Kanjira, a collaboration with Indo-jazz sax master Jesse Bannister - find out more at

Darbar Arts & Heritage believes in the power of Indian classical music to stir, thrill, and inspire. To find out more, get the Darbar newsletter, explore our YouTube channel, or sign up to the Darbar Player to watch extended performances in pristine HD quality.


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About Darbar:

Founded in 2006, Darbar Arts Culture Heritage Trust (Darbar) believes in the power of Indian classical arts to stir, thrill and inspire. Through digital connectivity, shared experiences and enrichment we ensure that one of the finest art forms reaches the widest possible audience.

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