Varanasi has been the creator of so many things the glory of which the nation basks on even today. Whether it is spiritualism, mysticism, or religious knowledge, the city has given it all to the people generously. Such vast is its treasure trove for mankind that even after distributing its pearls of wisdom, knowledge of ayurveda, and ethics of life with both her hands to the world, it never diminishes. One such greatest gift of Varanasi to India is music. If one embarks on tracing the origin of Indian classical music, he or she will only find it here.
Music and Varanasi have an old, deep, and strong relationship. In fact, music has become the identity of Varanasi. The fact that Lord Shiva established this city is an obvious indication of the birth of music here. Lord Shiva being an admirer and practitioner of music and dance forms, music gain prominence here since the Vedic age. The holy and old scriptures provide reference to this fact. The legacy of Lord Shiva was carried forward by Vishvamitra’s and Mahagobind’s son Renu. Since music and dance forms were one of the styles of prayer to appease God, nymphs, gandharvas and kinnaras performed them in the temples. This kind of devotional act was adapted into tradition by Saint Chaitany and Vallabhacharya.
The findings of the terracotta figurines in dancing styles and performing on musical instruments during an archaeological excavation widely and loudly claim the special bond between music and Varanasi. Music not only spread during the Vedic times, but also in the medieval period. This was the period when the Vaishnava Bhakti practice was at the peak. Revered saints like Surdas, Tulsidas, Kabir, Ravidas, and Meera took this bhakti movement to a new level with their devotional singing and music.
The tradition of Varanasi music gained its momentum even during the monarch rule. Whether the city was ruled by a Hindu king or a Mughal emperor, music never lost its soul. One of the famous styles that are still practiced today that came to life during the 16th century was the ‘Dhrupad’ style. This style of singing became the pride of the royal palaces. It was also served as the base form for several styles such as Dhamar, Chaturange, Hori, and a couple of others.
The medieval period proved a boon for Varanasi music. This period saw the existence of Banaras Gharanas. Pandit Ram Sahai was the exponent of tabla who started the gharana system. This gharana produced several noted musicians. Kishan Maharaj, Samar Saha, Kumar Bose and Samta Prasad took the reputation of the Banaras gharana to an extreme level.
The soil of Varanasi had produced several noted vocalists, musicians, and dancers for ages. Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, and Birju Maharaj are those few legends who entertained the world with their art form. Varanasi offers nourishment and a rich environment to aspirants of music. Several noted gharanas in the city still follows the guri-shisya tradition.
Music has no religion and boundary. It accepts all with open hearts and assimilates into itself. Since Varanasi has such an old and deeper music tradition, many music academies have been formed here where students from the corner of the world enroll and learn Indian classical music.