There perhaps exists only a few expanses in the artistic sphere of the world that are as diversified as the range that Indian music encompasses. There are such variations and such depths in the many croonings that Indian music is so adept in that to master all facets of the same is a task less accomplished. Naturally the greatest musicians of India are so versatile in their words and in their melody that you find elements of different genres coming together for an accentuated musical experience- one that feeds the soul and soothes the mind. For years, India as a culturally rich and vibrant country has been perpetuating its advocation of the arts, be it music or dance, drama or poetry. Today let us have a look at some of the greatest musicians that the country has ever produced-
Revered as Gurudev and celebrated as Kabiguru, Rabindranath Tagore’s is a mutifaceted personality that had him exercise his influence over a wide array of artistic creativity. Be it in his literature that encompassed poetry, prose and anthologies, his many works of art and also his songs, Tagore’s exponential command over multiple facets in life and of the world portrays him strongly as a versatile artiste. His music stands out however in their very path breaking essence, and are so diversified in dimension that his songs have been catalogued distinctively as Rabindra Sangeet.
What makes Tagore the most wholesome and among the greatest musicians of India is that his prowess spawned over all facets of making delightful music. Be it penning the lyrics or composing the tune for all of his songs, Tagore exhibited a brilliance like no other. Binding together elements of Indian classical music and folk pieces to suit the western tunes entailed with precision was Gurudev’s own way of spinning music. Characterised by a distinctive rendition that led to the emergence of six new taals, the Rabindra Sangeets are a unique blend of power and emotions, of seamlessness and pauses, of hymns and incitation, of creation and recreation. Diverse yet binding in its many elements, the songs of Tagore continue to carry his legacy as songs for the soul even years after his demise.
M. S. Subbulakshmi
As a musician well ahead of her times, the iconic M. S. Subbulakshmi has to her credit numerous firsts. She has been the first musician to have received the Bharat Ratna award, the first Indian musician conferred with the Ramon Magsaysay Award and also the first Indian to have performed in United Nations General Assembly in 1966.
The Queen of Carnatic Music who started out with her first performance at the tender age of 13, Subbulakshmi’s renditions remain steeped in devoted spirituality. The composure and melody in her voice mesmerised legions of her fans with spellbinding croonings, while bestowing her with a host of sobriquets. From transcending boundaries to shattering stereotypes, Subbulakshmi did all she could in her capacity as a true artiste to make music a medium of ushering in peace and modernity.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan
A phenomenal sarod player tracing his roots to a family who claimed to have invented the sarod, it’s explicit where Ustad Amjad drew his musical geniuses from. His exploits with the traditional Indian instrument not only earned him laurels in the country but also abroad. Khan’s musical influence has been so widespread that an U.S. state Massachusetts had proclaimed 20 April as Amjad Ali Khan Day in 1984.
The world’s most prolific composer and the all-time greatest film-music director of India, there isn’t any way that veteran Ilaiyaraaja would not feature in the list of not only the greatest musicians of India but also of the world. His brilliant drawings of traditional Indian folk elements to fuse with the classical music technicalities of the west has led to the emergence of a genre of music that is diversified and manifests in a class of its own.
Whether be it his fluency in the language that music speaks through or the innate ease with which he composes masterpieces in surprisingly short periods of time, Ilaiyaraaja does justice to the title he has been bestowed with- Isaiginani, meaning the musical genius. He has also been conferred the prestigious title of Maestro by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he had been the only Asian to have composed a full symphony. With such phenomenal musical pieces to his credit that are testament to his sheer brilliance, Ilaiyaraaja’s competence in and command over his trade stands unparalleled. Even in his own claim to be the only musician in the world to have composed a song in the ascending notes, we only witness the tremendous musical repertoire that this genius is so adept in.
It is some business to lament over that a musician as enigmatic as the late Annapurna Devi has been known only as the first wife of another musical legend- Pandit Ravi Shankar. But this doyenne of Indian classical music has more faculties to justify her shots at fame. One of the first of the women musical ustaads, Devi has also received the highest award bestowed for performing arts in India, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. Reclusive yet legendary, Annapurna Devi’s life long sabbatical from the stage owing to husband Ravi Shankar’s disconcerted demeanour however could not hamper her musical geniosity in any way. Her prowess in the world of music still stands unrivaled as she still remains the only bass sitar player to have been a Sangeet Natak awardee.
Pandit Ravi Shankar
Sitar maestro and the king of Hindustani classical music, Pandit Ravi Shankar is one of the greatest musicians of India who had indeed been instrumental in popularising the sitar and along with it, the many elements of Indian classical music in the world stage. With five Grammy awards in his decorated list of achievements, Pandit Shankar’s influence on some of the world’s greatest musicians is no matter of surprise. In fact George Harrison, the then guitarist of the iconic band Beatles was so taken with Shankar’s exemplary exploits with the sitar that he incorporated many elements of this influence within his own.
Th nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar is one of the most admired and celebrated musicians of India. The most recorded artist in history as per the Guinness Book of World Records, Mangeshkar has to her credit a slew of accolades and awards, in recognition for her remarkable contribution to the Indian music industry. Besides her many Hindi chartbusters, Mangeshkar has also crooned some equally classic Bengali songs. The name behind some of the most soulful hits and also some of the most croon worthy numbers, Mangeshkar’s stature as a musician of repute manifests also in France honoring her with the Officer of the Legion of Honour award.
Ustad Bismillah Khan
The shehnai maetro of India, Ustad Bismillah Khan’s musical explorations dwells on the complexities of evoking tune out of an instrument rather than the eloquence of rendering lyrics to prove that music indeed needs no language to appeal to the soul. What grants this legendary exponent of the Indian folk instrument shehnai such a revered place among the greatest Indian musicians is indeed his fluency with melody. Soulful and stirring, Ustad’s renditions of the shehnai are so ingrained with the elements of Indian classical music that he is unanimously credited with bringing the shehnai back to life in the greater echelons of the Indian musical scene.
It’s nothing other than sheer brilliance that one of the most prominent flutists of India Hariprasad Chaurasia has to his credit no musical legacy to prod him on. Instead it’s his own talent and pursuit of music that has rendered him no less brilliant as any of the other virtuoso of the country. It’s indeed a blessing for the music fraternity as a whole that the melody that flows out of Chaurasia’s flute has been mesmerising the world more than for half a decade. Pupil of the elusive legend Annapurna Devi it is no surprise as to wherefrom Chaurasia derives his musical brilliance from.
A. R. Rahman
Nowhere in the realm of popular Indian music has western elements been synced so effortlessly with the traditional Indian derivations as has been by A. R. Rahman. The living legend as he is known, Rahman has to his credit two Grammys and two Academy awards and is also one among the best selling recording artists in the world.
Rahman had been named one of Tomorrow’s World Music Icons in 2011, and his style of music is such that instantly has you in its charm. He is as mainstream as he is artistic, and the Mozart of Madras is one of those musicians who has virtually revolutionised Bollywood with his compositions. There’s something so enticing about his music, both in zest as in melancholy that instantly stirs up your heart and soul. Indeed A.R Rahman has to be one of the greatest musicians of India through all times and ages.
Another musician credited for popularising one of the Indian classical instruments santoor is Shivkumar Sharma. One part of the famous Shiv- Hari musician duo of Bollywood, Sharma’s mainstream exploits with the santoor are equally laudable. With numerous national and international awards in his kitty, Shivkumar Sharma is indeed one of the best musicians to have emerged from India.
The youngest tabla maestro and also the youngest percussionist to be awarded with Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, Zakir Hussain is yet another Indian musician to have won the Grammy when he claimed the award for the Best World Music Album in 1992. He executes every beat on the tabla with such finesse and precision that instantly strikes a chord with his many ardent admirers who find perfection in his renditions. As one of those musicians of India who enjoy equal adulation from all over the world, Zakir Hussain is a legend in his own right.
He has been dubbed the Gazal King and to good measure. Not only was he instrumental in reviving gazal as a genre of music but he also delivered such soulful renditions that are elixir for the heart. He has been the most acclaimed gazal singer, and also the most successful of them all. Singh’s voice resonates with such depth through his numerous numbers that can make you feel pain and remorse, joy and emotion with panache. His works have spanned extremes and has been so varies that lends greater recognition to his music redefining exploits. With melody permeating his words and a voice laced with the intensity of yearnings, Jagjit Singh is a name unparalleled in Indian music.
R. D. Burman
R D Burman, one of the most influential directors of the Indian music industry, had redefined melody and rhythm for a huge doyen of music enthusiasts. The illustrious son of composer Sachin Dev Burman, R D Burman or Pancham da as he was fondly called, was definitely a maestro in his chosen field of expertise and had gone on to compose the score for 331 films. For someone who had revolutionized music in Bollywood with his many experimentations and in drawing elements from many genres, Burman’s songs continue to hold appeal, both in their originality and in their many reprised versions. With such influence exerted through his music, it is obvious that he remains one of the greatest musicians India has ever produced.