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The history

Early chronicles
A single string
A new system
A prime influence
The whisper of the soul
Traveller’s tales



Ragini Kedar,
Hyderabad,
towards 1750,
Kolkata,
the Indian Museum
(detail)
 

A prime influence
 
 

The apotheosis of the Indo-Persian culture went hand in hand with the golden age of the Mughal Empire in the Subcontinent.
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Hussain Quli presents prisoners of war
to Akbar, close up of the bin player
Naubat khan, illustration from the Akbar-nama,
Mughal school, towards 1590.
 
Akbar (whose reign extended from 1556 to 1605) was not only the founder of an extraordinary empire but also a monarch besotted by art and passionate about music; he was incidentally an excellent naqqara (kettledrums) player himself.

Abul Fazl Allami, his historian and biographer, describes the pomp and splendours of a ceremonial court where multitudes of musicians stayed and intermingled: Indians, those originally from Iran and Central Asia. It was in this context that the vocal art form, dhrupad, flourished: composed with lyrics in regional languages, it was accompanied by the rabab or the vina.

This musical genre reached the summit of its glory during the Mughal period and would remain prominent until the second half of the 18th century, the age that heralded the development of khyal singing.


Under the reign of the emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan, the bin often accompanied dhrupad vocalists. It also frequently featured among instrumental ensembles along with the rabab, tanbur, dholak and various types of fiddles, during festivities and grand celebrations.


But it was also played in private, as exemplified in this painting by Manohar, who depicts here a favourite pastime of princes within the closed doors of the zenana (women’s quarters). A young woman stands deferentially, playing a bin whose tailpiece is made of ivory as are the three pegs and the cover adorning the upper end of the tube. Two other musicans accompany her: one woman beating time with her hands, while the other plays the dholak. The tradition of the vina had been firmly ingrained in the South Indian musical culture since very long. Innumerable texts and musical treatises describe the instrument and explain playing techniques.

Prince in the seclusion of the zenana, by Manohar,
Mughal school, towards 1605-1610

  View image in bigger size (68 Ko)
View image in bigger size (68 Ko)
Lady listening to music,
Deccan, towards 1680-1700
 
The term rudra vina appeared for the first time in 1550 in a South Indian tome written by the musicologist Ramamatya.
The instrument comprised four melodic strings and three supplementary strings that acted both as drone and rhythmical strings. Quite like the kinnari vina, the rudra vina was an instrument that featured largely in contemporary iconography – in its wide variety of forms.
 
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