Music is supposed to be the soul of life. By virtue of being the oldest living city, Benaras has its own rich history and treasure of music. According to mythology, when Renu (son of Vishwamitra) and Mahagovind founded Kashi (Varanasi), they also brought with them the Aryan traditions and the Vedic culture. Lord Shiva is the presiding deity of Varanasi and is also considered as the lord of dance and music. According to the Puranic tales the Apsaras, Gandharvas and Kinnars lived in Varanasi and made the musical tradition of Varanasi a rich one.
Going back to history, we find numerous instances and examples of
dance, music and drama evolving in Varanasi. Excavations at Varanasi
have shown a terracotta figurine, in which two musicians are playing
percussion instruments. The literature of ancient and medieval times
also point out to a great tradition of music in Kashi or Varanasi. The
Bhakti movement in the medieval period also contributed to the
development of music in Varanasi. Great saint Chaitanya and
Vallabhacharya played an important role in the development and
popularity of music in Varanasi. Saints like Surdas, Kabeer, Raidas,
Meera and Tulsi also made rich and valuable contributions to the
devotional music and their Bhajans are popular to even this day.
Benaras also developed as a great center of Dhrupad style of singing.
In the 16th century, Govind Chandra ruled Varanasi and during his regime
Dhrupad was the royal music. With the development of Dhrupad, other
styles like Dhamar, Hori and Chaturang also grew. The Famous Assarwari,
"Ghunghat ke pat Khol" was made famous by the Nirgun singers
of Kashi while Meer Rustam (the Nawab of Awadh) patronised Music
Festivals like Jhoola, Jhoomar, Kajri, Birha, Dangal, Gulab Bari and
music festivals on boats. Over a period of time Tappa form of singing
also became popular in Varanasi and its main exponents were Shori Miyan,
Gammu Khan and Shade Khan.
Over a period of time, the Maharajas of Kashi or Varanasi also gave
patronage to music and that resulted in making Varanasi a great center
of music. Here, it's important to note the contribution of Maharaj
Prabhu Narayan Singh, who gave patronage to Bahadur Shah's court
Musicians like Waris Ali, Akbar Ali, Nisar Khan, Sadiq Ali and great
Ashiq Ali Khan. Ali Mohammad and Ali Bux, the sons of Basat Khan, were
considered the "jewels" of Kashi Darbar. Thus, a galaxy of
great musicians made Banaras a great center of music. Varanasi saw the
development of Banarasi Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Hori, Bhairavi, Kajri,
Tarana, Ghato and much more. Besides these major streams, lesser-known
forms like Tirwat, Sadra, Khamsa, Lavni, Chaturang, Sargam, Ragmala,
Kirtan, Qauwali, Kathagayan, Bhajan and Ramayan also developed at
Varanasi is also associated with many great instrumentalists. Sehnai
maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan is famous world wide while Sitar maestro
Pandit Ravi Shankar has earned wide acclaim throughout the world. Other
instrumentalists who have left their mark are Madan Mohan, Bhola Nath,
Pathak, Mannuji, Amarnath Mishra, Brindwan Das, Ramdeo and Subodh Babu
Banarasi music is a result of Banarasi lifestyle and culture. The great tradition of Banarasi music continues even to this day.