Gwalior's Rise to UNESCO's 'City of Music' : The Melodic Heart of India




The city of Gwalior is widely known for its strong commitment to harnessing culture and creativity, but Indian music history would be incomplete without mentioning the Gharana that originated here. The city's past, marked by the patronage of music, has played an influential role in the rich, distinctive style of Indian Classical music that flourished from the Mughal dynasty to the present day.

The Gwalior Gharana, also known as the melodic heart of India, is home to legends of music, including the pioneer of Indian classical, Ramtanu Pandey (Mian Tansen), Ustad Nathan Pir Baksh and Ustad Nathu Khan (Founders of Gwalior Gharana) and Bhaiya Ganpatrao Shinde (Scindia) (1852-1920), a pioneer of solo harmonium playing in India. 

Ganpatrao Shinde introduced the technique of scale changing (Shadja-Ch?lan) and the combination of various Ragas (Raga Mishran). He developed a new method of improvising Thumri, which was later popularised by famous Thumri singers such as Gauhar Jan, Malka Jan, Moujuddin, and Pyara Saheb.

Recognising the legendary contributions of such great maestros, Gwalior has now been designated as the Creative City of Music in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). As the epicentre of a distinctive music style, Gwalior has ascended to a state of high order and enormous prestige. 

But the road to the city of music has much more to be accounted for. 

The Legend of Mian Tansen

Mian Tansen, one of the most celebrated figures in the history of Indian classical music, lived during the 16th century and served as a prominent musician in the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Born as Ramtanu Pandey in 1506 in Behat, Gwalior, Tansen's real talent flourished under the guidance of Swami Haridas, a revered figure in the realm of Indian classical music and spirituality.

Tansen's exceptional skills caught the attention of Emperor Akbar, who invited him to join his court. Tansen became one of the "Navaratnas" (Nine Jewels) of Akbar's court, a position that brought him immense prestige. Tansen is credited with composing numerous ragas, some of which are considered his original creations. Tansen is widely known as an instrumentalist who popularised and improved the plucked rabab, an instrument of Central Asian origin. He is also associated with the development of the Dhrupad style and contributed significantly to the codification of the classical music system.

The Legendary Tansen Samaroh

To honour the immense legacy of Mian Tansen, Ustad Alauddin Khan Kala Evam Sangeet Academy and Department Of Culture, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh conducts an annual festival, the Tansen Samaroh. Legends from across the world pay tribute to the maestro of music and enthral audiences with their performances. This year, Gwalior celebrated the 99th edition of the festival and created a Guinness World Record with more than 1300 tabla (most famous percussion instrument of North India) artists mesmerising the atmosphere of Gwalior Fort with a synchronised ensemble of Vande Mataram.

The synchronised beats of the tabla started from the premises of Taal Darbar and reverberated throughout the entire Gwalior Fort, creating a dome of melodies that encompassed the entire area.

This year will mark a historic milestone for the Tansen Samaroh as it will celebrate its 100th edition, featuring performances by some of the most illustrious artists of Indian classical music. 

The Gwalior Gharana 

The Gwalior Gharana is one of the oldest Khayal Gharanas in Indian classical music, with its roots tracing back to the 16th century. This Gharana played a pivotal role in the evolution and popularisation of the Khayal style, a form known for its improvisational freedom and intricate vocal techniques. 

The Gwalior Gharana is renowned for its simplicity, clarity of swaras (notes), and well-defined structure of ragas. It emphasises the importance of mastering the basics, with a strong focus on perfecting the pronunciation of notes and maintaining the purity of ragas.

The Magnificence of Gwalior

Gwalior has always been a prominent tourist destination in Madhya Pradesh, primarily known for its invaluable contribution to the nation's heritage, culture, and historical significance. It is renowned for the magnificent Gwalior Fort - a pearl among fortresses that lies atop the Gopachal hills or Gopachal Paravat.

The Gwalior Fort comprises an array of attractions, including the Man Mandir Palace, Gujari Mahal, Sahastrabahu (Saas-Bahu) Temple, Teli ka Mandir, Jain Temples, and much more. All these monuments feature traces of historical significance, narrating tales of bravery and sacrifices from past eras.

Apart from these magnificent monuments, Gwalior is one of the prominent destinations in Madhya Pradesh that promotes and supports the noble initiative of Responsible Tourism, with an array of homestay, gramstay, and farmstay properties conveniently located in and around Gwalior. It also offers the facilities of luxury stay properties for a royal experience with Krishnayan Heritage Homestay and Dera Haveli Homestay. 

Whether you are a music enthusiast, a history buff, or a traveller seeking authentic cultural experiences, Gwalior offers a journey through time with its magnificent fortresses, vibrant festivals, and soulful music. The city's commitment to preserving and promoting its artistic heritage ensures that Gwalior will continue to be a beacon of inspiration and creativity for generations to come.

So, come and immerse yourself in the melodies of Gwalior, where every note tells a story and every monument sings the songs of a glorious past. Experience the magic of a city where music is not just an art form but a way of life.