UNESCO Declares Gwalior the ‘City of Music’

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What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in the News?
  • Gwalior’s Musical Past
  • Famous Musicians Associated with Gwalior Gharana
  • News Summary

Why in the News?

  • The city of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh has been added to UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network (UCCN) for its strong commitment to harnessing culture and creativity.
  • Kozhikode from Kerala was also among the 55 new cities to join the network.

Gwalior’s Musical Past

  • All the music gharanas of the country have their origins in the Gwalior gharana.
    • Gharana in Hindustani music is a community of performers who share a distinctive musical style that traces to a particular instructor or region.
  • Before Hindustani classical music was divided into various gharanas, Gwalior emerged as the first proper gharana of music.
  • Hence, the Gwalior gharana is considered the most ancient and ‘Gangotri’ (meaning origin) of Khyal raga.
  • Khayal singing, as we know it today, emerged from dhrupad under the aegis of Gwalior gharana while incorporating the elements of qawwali.

Famous Musicians Associated with Gwalior Gharana

  • Gwalior gharana music has thrived under the patronage of the erstwhile royal families of Gwalior such as Raja Mansingh and Scindias.
  • Raja Dungarendra Singh Tomar:
    • Raja Man Singh’s great grandfather Dungarendra Singh Tomar, a musician himself, attempted a revival of Indian classical music through academic interest and patronage.
    • He is known to have gifted two music treatises in Sanskrit – Sangeet Shiromani and Sangeet Choodamani – to his friend and Sultan of Kashmir Zain-ul-Abdin.
    • The treatises comprised detailed discussions on music and musical instruments.
  • Raja Man Singh:
    • Dungarendra also composed Vishnupadas (songs in praise of Vishnu) with a unique style of singing that he passed down to Man Singh, who ascended the throne in 1486.
    • It’s also believed that Man Singh invented dhrupad, in a classical genre sense.
    • Raja Man Singh’s Horis and Dhamars also became quite popular. The king would take advice from Sufi saints, who were often musicians too.
    • In an attempt to popularize Indian music, he replaced Sanskrit songs with those in simple Hindi.
    • He also wrote Manakutuhala (Quest for Learning), considered the first treatise of music in Hindi, helping a wider audience to understand high art performed in kings’ courts.
    • This made dhrupad more accessible, which now comprised Vishnupadas sung in ragas.
    • The king also built huge music halls in his palace and held regular music sessions. His music was also popular among Sufis as well as Muslim Sultans.
  • Tansen:
    • Mian Tansen born as Ramatanu to a poet and musician was one of Gwalior’s early proteges.
    • At the beginning of the 16th century, he trained under Swami Haridas, who practiced dhrupad but the poetry was dedicated to Krishna instead of Vishnu.
    • Tansen understood and honed the Gwalior gharana style under the famed Sufi saint Mohammad Ghous and was the court musician for King Ram Chandra Singh of Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, for many years.
    • The story of his musical brilliance and knowledge travelled and Akbar invited Tansen to be a part of his court musicians in the Mughal court.
    • A Vaishnava musician, he first refused, but after Ram Chandra insisted, he go, he joined the court at the age of 60.
    • Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari mentions 36 imperial musicians, out of which 15 were from Gwalior.
  • Baiju Bawra:
    • Baiju Bawra was born in Uttar Pradesh.
    • He had shifted to Gwalior to work as mentor of music for students in Gwalior and was patronised by Raja Mansingh.
  • Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan:
    • Born in 1888, he was a court musician in Gwalior but in the early 20th century, when music conferences became popular, he was one of the most popular artistes to perform at these baithaks and was known for very fine musicianship.
    • He trained many significant musicians, including his son and foremost disciple Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Pt Bhimsen Joshi for a few months, among others.
  • Other Famous Personalities:
    • Haddu Khan’s son Bade Inayat Hussain Khan (1852-1922),
    • Vasudeva Buwa Joshi,
    • Balakrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar (1849–1926) who taught Vishnu Digambar Paluskar who later founded the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya which continues till today,
    • Famed educator BR Deodhar and Pakistani singer Farida Khanum among others.

News Summary

  • Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, the birthplace of the famed Indian classical singer Tansen, has been declared as the ‘Creative City of Music’ by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
    • Gwalior hosts one of the biggest annual music festivals of India, the Tansen Sangeet Samaroh.
    • It is the city of legendary musicians like Tansen and Baiju Bawra, and the birthplace of Dhrupad music form and Gwalior gharana.
  • Kozhikode in Kerala is the second city in India to figure in UNESCO's list of 55 ‘Creative Cities’ as ‘Creative City of Literature’.

Q1) What is the UNESCO definition of cultural heritage?

Cultural heritage includes artefacts, monuments, a group of buildings and sites, museums that have a diversity of values including symbolic, historic, artistic, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological, scientific and social significance.

Q2) What is UNESCO Creative Cities Network?

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network is a flagship city programme of UNESCO launched in 2004 to promote cooperation among cities which have recognized culture and creativity as strategic drivers of sustainable urban development. As of 2022, there are almost 300 cities from around 90 countries in the network.


Source: UNESCO declares Gwalior the ‘city of music’: a look at its illustrious musical tradition