Pandit Narayan Bhatkande-Father of Modern Hindustani Music

  • By Yojana
  • April 9, 2024
  • Know about the great contribution of Pandit Narayan Bhatkande to Hindustani Music and his standard treatises on Hindustani Music.


VISHNU NARAYAN BHATKHANDE, who moulded the' renaissance of Hindustani music, was born on August 10, 1860, which happened to be Janmashtami, the day on which his birthday is celebrated every year.


Although music was the breath of his being, Bhatkhande was by profession a lawyer. After studying at the Elphinstone College, Bombay, and the Deccan College, Poona, he joined the legal profession in 1887. Within a short time he made a name for himself at the Bombay High Court.


It was during his college days that he began his formal education in music. He learnt Sitar from Sri Vallabhdas and vocal music from Raojibua, a Dhrupad singer. Another of his teachers was Mohammad Hussain Khan, a younger brother of Inayat Hussain Khan. Bhatkhande’s scholarly bent of mind soon made him turn his attention from the practice of music to a quest of its sources. He studied such ancient texts as Bharata’s Natya Shastra and the Sangita Ramakara, besides standard works on Western music. 


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1962.


These studies led him to the conclusion that music as practised in our time had strayed very far from the precepts of the ancient texts, He found that even the scales and shrutis were at variance with the definitions. He felt impelled therefore to consolidate, sift and classify Hindustani music anew.


Anyone who sets out to build up a system has to be familiar with the work of best masters. Bhatkhande was up against many difficulties. The foremost singers and instrumentalists of his day had little theoretical knowledge and none at all of the texts. They were also capricious and highly individualistic. Used to court traditions, they were unwilling to part with their treasure. Reluctant to transmit their best even to pupils who lived as members of their families for years on end, would they share it with an outsider?


And with one who said he would ‘systematise’ what could really be attained with a lifetime service? 


These rebuffs only strengthened Bhatkhande’s resolve. Personal misfortunes, like the death of his wife and daughter, made him give up the law and devote his life to what gave him inner solace - the pursuit of Sangita, one of the divine shastras. This pursuit took him all over the country, even to the land of Karnatak music. He visited all the well-known libraries and private collections. He acquired from them ancient texts in Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and other languages. At the same time, he visited every musician of note in the world of Hindustani music. He lived at Gwalior, Baroda and Rampur to note down the Dhrupads of Tansen as rendered by Wazir Khan and Prince Sadat Ali Khan. 


This dedicated man then edited and published many of the texts and put down in correct notation, swara and tala, a large number of compositions which would otherwise have been mutilated or lost.


When he felt confident that his own knowledge and the material at his command were adequate, he sat down to the task of systematising the whole.


In doing this, he displayed an intellectual grasp, discipline, and indefatigability that were characteristic of the giants of our renaissance. He constructed a theory which had its root in the ancient texts, but which, at the same time, did not try to read a non-existent meaning into them. He frankly acknowledged where present practice differed from ancient ideas.


His first publication was a small booklet called Swara Malika containing set compositions in saragam, or solfa syllables, in various talas. The first of the series came out in 1907. Later, he published the Sanskrit text Shrimallakshya Sangeelam. This contains description and detailed theory of the various Hindustani ragas. He also published about this time, his first book on Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati which was an authoritative commentary on the prevailing raga music. These four volumes remain the standard treatises on Hindustani music.


The systematiser soon became teacher, for he realised that schools and colleges run on modern lines were essential if music had to be taught and propagated in an effective way. The Madhav Music College in Gwalior and the Marris College of Music in Lucknow owe their existence to him. He prepared a series of graded text-books, the Hindustani Sangeet Kramik Pustak Malika for use in schools and colleges.


Pandit Bhatkhande passed away on September 19, 1936 (Ganesh Chaturthi day), at the age of 76 with the satisfaction that his task had been accomplished.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, August 5, 1962 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


Also read

1. Four Basic Elements of Carnatic Music

2.  What is a RAGA

3. Padma Shri Awardee, Vidushi Aruna Sairamji enlightens on key differences between Hindustani and Carnatic Classical Music. 

4. Concept of Raga in Hindustani and Carnatic Music

5. Evolution and Synthesis of Hindustani Classical Music


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