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When ustadi met panditi

Updated on: 02 June,2019 07:08 AM IST  | 
Ekta Mohta |

Musicologist VN Bhatkhande deserved the honorific of Pandit: if not for being a great singer, then for being a great scholar. A new lec-dem will tell us why

When ustadi met panditi

Ramdas Bhatkal will be accompanied by his students, Pranati Mhatre (left) and Sarangee Ambekar, at the lec-dem. Pic/Ashish Raje

In the early 20th century, when classical music lovers attended concerts, they saw magic. But music scholar Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936) saw a yawning gap. Until that point, Hindustani classical music was an oral tradition, passed down from teacher to pupil, as Chinese whispers in the air. A trained lawyer, Bhatkhande understood that everything needed to be on paper. He travelled across the country, to musically-rich centres of Gwalior, Jaipur, Baroda, Lucknow and Madras, and corralled bandishes. He studied ancient texts and "documented and analysed" performing traditions. As ustads and pandits sang the notes of a raga, he took copious notes.

His life's work resulted in the four-part series, Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati, the first modern treatise on Hindustani classical music, which looked at the science behind the art. According to Ramdas Bhatkal, the 84-year-old founder of Popular Prakashan, who took up singing as a 50-year-old, and will be presenting a lec-dem on Bhatkhande at the NCPA, he did a lot more than that. Bhatkhande laid the seed for democratising Hindustani classical music, much in the way his peers, the freedom fighters, were laying the seed for democratising Hindustan. Bhatkal says, "I think Bhatkhande tried to make gharanas comparatively irrelevant. In his big tome, he doesn't talk about gharana; he talks about ragas, thaats and singing. Gharanas are restrictive and repetitive. They were probably necessary at one point of time as they preserved a lot [of traditions]. But, that was not the approach of Bhatkhande and his followers."

Musicologist VN Bhatkhande
Musicologist VN Bhatkhande

Bhatkhande wanted music to reach more ears, which meant breaking down hollow barriers. "When you're thinking of spreading music, that strict gharana discipline is difficult. Earlier, a person from one gharana was not even allowed to listen to others. In fact, today, partly because of the influence of Bhatkhande and [Vishnu Digambar] Paluskar, every musician tries to learn from different gharanas. For example, Gajananbuwa Joshi and Jitendra Abhisheki, who deliberately tried to superimpose another gharana after receiving taleem from one gharana." The open attitude breathed fresh air into the protected system, and readied the path for his peers and students to carry the torch forward. "All bandishes used to be only on bhakti. That changed when the influence of Faiyaz Khan and the Rangilas came in. Earlier, the words were not relevant. But in [SN] Ratanjankar's bandishes, and he has 700 of them, there is such great literature and reinterpretation of the traditional themes. In that process, even the elements, like swaras and vyanjanas (vowels), became important. Other gharanas started using bol-aalaap and bol-taan. So, there was a sea change. It was not conscious, but it happened; it became more liberal."

For this, Bhatkhande looked all over the map for knowledge systems. "Bhatkhande did not borrow much from south Indian (Carnatic) music, but he borrowed from south Indian musicology. And, Ratanjankar went further and adapted many south Indian ragas to the north Indian idiom. So, you will find that the bandishes of today have themes that were unheard of. One of my gurus, Dinkar Kaikini, has a bandish on man's conquest of the moon. And, in my own humble way, I have a bandish on my obsession with Gandhi." Despite the transformation, the guru-to-shishya transfer of knowledge remains unbroken. Bhatkal's guru was SCR Bhatt, who was a disciple of Ratanjankar, who was tutored by Bhatkhande and Khan. "Ratanjankar inherited the panditi tradition from Bhatkhande, a great scholar, and the ustadi tradition from Faiyaz Khan, the [great] performer. Ustadi and panditi merged in Ratanjankar, and then continued." Which is why, Bhatkal will be presenting bandishes from all three, along with Kaikini and Chidanand Nagarkar, at the lec-dem. When we leave, the publisher in him tells us, "A good heading for this [story] would be 'Ustadi meets panditi'." So, much like Bhatkhande did, we take Bhatkal's words and note them down.

What: Bhatkhande Parampara: A lec-dem by Ramdas Bhatkal
When: June 14; 6.30 PM Where: NCPA, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point
Entry: Rs 100
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