“Globalization and Indian Music : Role of Media” By Dr. N. Pattabhi Raman

Globalization is a term used to describe a process, which has made a great leap forward in recent times. It is not, however, a new process. Let me explain and place the matter in perspective.
Travelers; trade between the subcontinent and other countries; rule of Hindu kings abroad and the rule of Muslim kings, the French, the Portuguese and the British in India- all these have contributed to cultural impact across borders. These were the then media of transmission. As far as India is concerned, its culture was not replaced by alien ones; it assimilated external influences without, by and large, allowing its own prevailing cultural identity to be replaced or smothered. This assimilation, among other factors, has indeed contributed to the glorious diversity of our culture and to the multicultural facet of our national life.
The impact of Islamic/Persian influences on music in the North has been palpable, but not really so on music in the South. In the South, even Thyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar, two of what we call the trinity of Kamatak music, responded to the stimuli of British rule: Thyagaraja composed a kriti with the cadences of Western music, while Dikshitar composed 47 so-called nottuswaras, using the Western idiom. One of the latter has become famous as the ‘English Note’, thanks to a lilting interpretation of it by a leading vidwan [Madurai Mani lyer]. One of Thyagaraja’s disciples [Patnam Subrahmania lyer] also composed a song with intimations of Western music, using the March mode.
But neither in the North nor in the South has this kind of impact dethroned the underlying conceptual framework and thrust of Indian classical music- with its important ingredients like saptaswara, raga, laya and tola or even auchitya— or undermined the dominant position of melody vis-a-vis harmony.
In the last two centuries, a few European observers declared Indian music was pagan, while the missionary types condemned the dance then known as Sadir- and later as Bharatanatyam- as decadent, because they perceived as prostitutes the deuadasis, who were dedicated to god and who, under arrangements mediated by the temple with public approval, were provided a security blanket by patrons with a good social reputation. Society’s elite picked up and articulated this perception and, as a result, the dance attracted social opprobrium. Because of this blind acceptance of foreign perceptions of the country’s culture, a member of the social elite, none other than the President of the Madras Music Academy, said in his speech to the Academy’s annual conference in 1930, that Karnatak music had become decadent– this when Karnatak music had been taken to great heights by traditional uidwans and uidushisl
Fortunately, music escaped both the trauma and the onslaught of Western and imperialistic influence. Now I come to the recent times.
By about the nineteen seventies, many of our youth, exposed to Western life and movements, mainly through the print media, began imitating some aspects of life in America and its popular music trends. In 1971 or so, when I was working for the United Nations in New York, I came on leave to Madras and I was surprised to note that many of the brahmin boys had faddishly taken to eating chicken at barbecue parties—believing this was the modern thing to do!
Today, we have many television channels offering programmes like that of the MTV channel, as well as product commercials which project values and a way of life that are not consistent with Indian tradition– giving a new meaning and added strength to what is known as globalization. These have impacted pervasively on urban children, youth and young adults, nowhere more so than in Mumbai.
But don’t blame only the so-called ‘foreign influence’. Popular Indian cinema is equally responsible for the destruction of old Indian values and their replacement with a taste for vulgarities and obscenities. By and large, dance in the cinema is giving new expression to the good old chant of Hip Hip Hurray, while the music has moved away from traditional Indian paradigms. When kissing on the screen was censored, cinema producers and directors used various subterfuges to suggest lip-to-lip romance; now the hero traces the entire body of the heroine, from toe to torso to the top of the head, with his lips. The heroes of Indian cinema seem to be emulating the American President who said, “Read my lips!”
What all this has resulted in is, in general, the alienation of our children, youth and young adults from our cultural heritage, in urban as well as rural areas, but especially in the cities and towns. There is now a palpable disconnect between our young and manifestations of traditional culture and values. At SRLJTI magazine, we reached this assessment after searching for – and researching the underlying reasons for- the secular decline in the proportion of young people attending classical music and dance programmes. It is interesting that, despite this disconnect, the number of youngsters entering the performance arena of classical music and dance, has increased substantially during the 15 years or so, triggered, it seems, rather more by their desire to become ‘stars’, than by a passion to learn, excel in and make a personal contribution to the growth of these arts. There are exceptions, of course.
The disconnect is reflected variously . A large proportion of the young is indifferent towards our culture, a substantial percentage shows downright contempt, while even those who have respect for our culture are ashamed to disclose it publicly. SRUTI conducted a survey of some 500 youths in schools in Chennai and Salem not long ago. Virtually all of the respondents said they liked Indian music, but when asked to be specific, most of them said they preferred either Indipop or film music. Hardly a handful revealed interest in classical music.
That’s not all. Recently a young man told a SRUTI staffer, “I like classical music and I like also to attend classical music performances. But…, but I don’t attend any of the concerts.” Asked why, he explained, “Because I don’t want to be seen by my friends coming out of a hall presenting classical music!” Anecdote, yes, but very indicative of the alienation, which among other things, reflects a profound ignorance of our cultural heritage. .
A major reason for this alienation, which has well been underscored in the educational policy statement of the Government of India, is what is today fashionably called globalization.
This term is more apt when describing events and trends in international economics. It describes accurately the pressure on countries with underdeveloped economies, exerted mainly by the economically developed countries, especially by the United States, to dismantle instruments of economic protection and security, and open up their economies to transnational investments and banking, trade without restrictions, etc.
In the field of culture, globalization has had a more restrictive ambit. Our five star hotels import and feature foreign groups, which perform foreign music, but this practice has little influence on the vast Indian janata. However, the influence of what is presented on TV—Indipop as well as the MTV kind of programmes-and the recordings of these available on cassettes and CDs, have definitely impacted on that part of our young urban population, which although savvy in many respects, is generally ignorant of and indifferent to our culture and which embraces the popular aspects of Western culture. There is, in fact, a likely cause and effect link between the impact and the ignorance, though there are other factors as well contributing to the ignorance. There are today numerous groups of young persons not only identifying themselves with this type of globalized culture but also learning and performing these kinds of music.
The print media provides considerable space for these groups. It may be argued that the press is merely fulfilling its responsibility to report on what is happening, but it is a matter for regret that, at the same time, it has virtually abdicated its role in providing responsible coverage of classical music and dance. Even in earlier times, newspapers, with exception, generally paid inadequate attention to the quality of reviews and critiques of music performances and music recordings. However, now most of the leading newspapers in the metropolitan areas, with The Hindu’ as yet a notable exception, have cut down the space available to them and, worse, have begun trivializing the arts by focusing on the personality aspect and the lifestyles of the performing artists. Some say that this is due to ascendancy of accountants in the newspaper business, but possibly it suggests too that there is a need for the media Moguls to better understand the purpose, the thrust, and the contents of the manifestation of our cultural heritage, like classical music and dance, and to gain a better appreciation that culture too, not merely roti, kapda and makan, is a basic need of society.
It is not enough to bemoan these trends. It is necessary to act to reverse the trend and promote the concept– indeed the reality- that Culture is a basic need of our society. We should not forget that. If people of the world outside India have shown respect for the country over several hundred years, it is because of their appreciation of the civilization and culture of this country and the life and aesthetic values embodied in them. And we should not overlook that culture has served – and is still serving- as a fragrant glue helping to bond the people of this country as a nation.
All that I have said boils down to this: it is necessary not only to enhance the quality of classical music that is on offer today, but also to develop a new constituency for our culture, especially classical music and dance- consisting not only of rasikas who would attend live performances, but also adequately sensitized persons among movers and shakers in government, business, education and media.
I may mention that SAMUDRI- the Subbulakshmi-Sadasivam Music & Dance Resources Institute- which was established by the Sruti Foundation some three years ago, is taking steps to help reverse this trend. I should particularly mention a pilot project called ‘Discovery of India – Programme for the Youth’ which we have formulated and which we are about to launch. The aim of the pilot project is to develop a prototype for implementation all over the country, which would help to create and nurture the future constituency I mentioned just now.
Yes, there is a need to develop immunity to the adverse aspects of globalization, which has gained new meaning and significance in the field of culture, thanks to the stunning advances in information technology and mass communication. Mahatma Gandhi said once that we must keep our windows open to fresh breezes; I believe we must continue to do so but simultaneously we must work to develop inner strengths to resist undue and adverse alien influences.
Having said this, I must also say that, as far as I can comprehend the erosion of traditional values and of aesthetics in Indian classical music performances in the last couple of decades, cannot be directly attributed to globalization.
Let me be more specific. Speed in itself need not be unaesthetic, as has been demonstrated by the great Karnatak vocalist, the late G.N. Balasubramaniam who engineered a fast tempo as against mere speed. But today, both speed and the emphasis on the showy aspects to the detriment of the substantial, are contributing to the erosion I mentioned. This may partly be a reflection of the impact of the changes in lifestyle and the concomitant shrinking of leisure time, but I for one ‘believe that partly it also reflects a decline in the number of listeners who have a true appreciation of the values traditionally embodied in Indian classical music. This potentially adverse but indirect impact of globalization may affect Hindustani classical music also.
In other words, if music making has been affected, it reflects changes in the environment and the replacement of informed patronage by commercially driven organization of music performances. There has been a change for the worse not only in the profile of the audience but also in the motivation of those who organize or sponsor performances. If the former can be attributed to a combination of a change in lifestyle and the impact of globalization on the perceptions of the young about the value of our cultural heritage, the latter can be attributed to a paradigm shift in the support structure. There is a further catch here. At least insofar as Karnatak classical music is concerned, the sponsorship provided by companies reflects the nostalgia of executives in positions of power; once these senior persons are replaced by younger ones who have little respect for our traditional arts, even the sponsorship of the kind we are used to would likely decline.
If we wish to remedy this situation- nothing is totally beyond remedy- it is not enough to chant the mantra of ‘good old days’. In this connection, I may recall the versified words of the witty American poet Ogden Nash. He wrote, “Good old days that never were!” Nostalgia cannot be an instrument of policy; worse, it can blind us to the reality. I repeat. There is no point in merely criticizing or opposing the so-called globalization. Not all the adverse trends in our music are traceable to this phenomenon. Also, I believe- and I humbly put it to you- we must act and act swiftly and act purposefully with a proper understanding of the problems in all their dimensions.
Globalization may appear to be a Goliath, but if all of us little Davids put our shoulders to the task, we should be able to counter its adverse effects on Indian music and dance.

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