The name sells and the title also sells. People prefer an ornamental rank, a decoration, an award or a title as a prefix to their names. While an institution or an organization either confers a ‘doctor’ or grants a ‘General’, interestingly, there is no such uniform, institutionalized system of titling in the world of Indian Music.
In the olden days, in the traditional Indian music sphere, the patron-king/Nawab or the gurus of the gharanas Viz Kirana, Mewati, Gwalior, Indore etc conferred these titles on the deserving disciples. However, the process was tedious and time consuming. It also entailed years of tapasya and decades of dedication, such recognitions did not come easy. Age, a big-ticket award, lineage and public popularity were never the factors that could decide the eligibility of a musician for a title: It was purely meritocratic in nature. The epithets for male musicians are different from the lady musicians. While Pandit/Ustad/Vidwan describe a male musician, the lady musicians are referred to as Vidushi/Begum. While a Hindu musician was generally conferred with the title of a ‘Pandit’, for Muslim musicians, it was generally, ‘Ustad’. The differentiation doesn’t end there; there is inconsistency across classical genres, too. Just to learn about the difference, in Western Classical music, honorific nicknames like, “The King of Jazz” or “The king of Swing” or “The King of Rock” are often used to describe the musicians of stature.
In India, along with the titles, the senior most musician of a gharana also passed on the gold ornaments/bracelet/gold anklet etc to the most accomplished disciple who he identified as the torchbearer of their style of music. Such graduation ceremonies were the periodical ‘Sangeet Sabhas’ where a disciple, identified for an honour, would perform in front of the other maestros of that Gharana.
This system was prevalent almost till the 90s, but is not in vogue anymore. These days, many young musicians move around with self-bestowed titles to impress the audience.
However, since I do attend a good number of concerts myself, I have my own yardstick to measure the musicians. On a scale from Good-to-Great, if a concert is full with the audience at the start, it is a good concert. But, if the concert continues to remain full till the end, then, it is a great concert.
However, what differentiates a tyro from a maestro is one’s presence and performance on stage. Ultimately, in the world of music it is not the title, but talent that matters, from the start to the finish.
To put Machiavelli slightly differently, “It is not the titles that honour musicians, but the musicians who honour the titles.”
They are a breed unto themselves!