Pari Khana with the Marmari Pul fronting it

One of the most fascinating structures in the Qaiserbagh area of Lucknow is the erstwhile Pari Khana, the building the housed the numerous courtesans in the service of the Nawabs of Avadh. In its time it must have been home to much music and what is interesting is that it continues to do so even now, the Bhatkhande Music Institute Deemed University being headquartered here. And that institution has a story that bridges both the Hindustani and Carnatic systems.

Postage stamp on Bhatkhande

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860 -1936) remains a landmark figure in the world of Indian musicology. A resident of Bombay, he was trained in music while young and retained sufficient interest in it even after reaching adulthood, when he qualified in law and set up practice at the High Court of Bombay. Circumstances so arranged themselves that he could soon devote his entire energies to music, his wife and daughter passing away thereby freeing him of the necessity of earning for a family. It was then that he began to ponder over the fact that Hindustani Music did not have a structured curriculum of teaching and remained largely an oral tradition.

Bhatkhande travelled far and wide across North India, collecting information on the way music was taught in the various gharanas. He then moved south, coming to Madras in 1904. He had established contact with Thirumalayya Naidu, a local connoisseur. Having met up with Naidu at the Cosmopolitan Club, he attended a concert performance by Bangalore Nagarathnamma at a Sabha in Ramaswami Street, George Town. Bhatkhande’s account of her performance remains the only review of a concert by this redoubtable artiste. It was however his subsequent interactions with other names deep down south that had a greater impact on him. He travelled to Ramanathapuram to meet ‘Poochi’ Srinivasa Iyengar. He came to know that Subbarama Dikshitar had just then published his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini and went to Ettayapuram to see him. In Madras he met Thiruvottiyur Tyagier and Tachur Singaracharya among others. The interactions were not altogether as fruitful as Bhatkhande would have wished, language being a great barrier. In his daily jottings, published later by the Indira Gandhi University at Khairagarh, as Meri Dakshin Bharat Ki Sangeet Yatra (My Musical Journey in Southern India), Bhatkhande noted that while all the musicians he met came across as great and saintly personalities, they were unable to explain much of what they practised to him.

He did manage obtain valuable manuscripts – the Chaturdandi Prakasika of Venkatamakhin and the Svaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya. These, and the observations he had made while touring North India, along with other manuscripts, helped him classify Hindustani ragas under a system of ten thats, rather like the melakartas of the Carnatic style. He wrote extensively on Hindustani music and his four-volume Hindustani Sangeet Paddhathi is even today the standard text for the North Indian style of classical music. Bhatkhande also began organising All India Music Conferences, which focused on Hindustani Music.

In this he was greatly supported by Rai Umanath Bali, a prominent Taluqdar of Avadh. It was the latter’s dearest wish that a college for Hindustani Music be established in Lucknow while Bhatkhande preferred Delhi for its location. The two argued over it for nearly a decade before the latter was finally won over in 1922. The 4thAll India Music Conference was held in Lucknow in 1924 and a resolution was passed for the setting up of a music college in that city. The music-loving Nawab of Rampur threw his weight behind the setting up of the institution. This became reality in 1926, with syllabus fashioned by Bhatkhande. The All India College of Hindustani Music was inaugurated at the Pari Khana by Sir William Sinclair Marris, the then Governor of the United Provinces. Six months later, the college was named after him.

Rather interestingly, this was to have an impact in Madras. It was in 1927 that the All India Congress Session was held here with a music conference being held in parallel. That saw the birth of the Music Academy with one of its mandates being the setting up of a Teachers’ College of Music, “on the lines of the Marris College”. The Queen Mary’s College, which had offered music as an elective course with no theory classes for over a decade, began to offer a two-year intermediate course from 1927. Two years later, the Music College in Chidambaram, now a part of the Annamalai University began functioning. That institution too borrowed from the Marris College pattern.

It was only in 1948 that the Marris College changed its name to give credit where it was due – becoming the Bhatkhande Institute. This scholar, intrepid traveller and seeker deserved his name being preserved for posterity. In 2000, the Institute became a deemed university.


This article appeared in The Hindu dated March 29, 2019 under the Friday Features section.