Art Talk: Indic Music Traditions and its Effective Pegagogy

By Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth

Art talk was held on February 8, 2020 at the Sudharma Auditorium, Chinmaya Vibhooti and the panelists were Pandit Rupak Kulkarni (disciple of Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia), Pandit Abhijit Banerjee (disciple of Pt. Jnan Prakash Ghosh) and Vidushi Manjusha Patil (disciple of Pt. Kane Bua and Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar).

Speaking during the talk, Shri Swapnil Chaphekar, Moderator said: “Art talk is an important part of Naada Bindu Festival and we seek to learn from the performing artistes of NBF. This time it is different. Gurus have been invited specially for the Art Talk. Indic Academy’s Center for Soft Power and CNBG have jointly organised this Art Talk.”

“We are in a Gurukul situated in an Ashram, Chinmaya Vibhooti. In both Sangeet and Adhyatma, the Guru plays a very important role. In today’s world, people like to learn on their own from the internet. Some are even successful. What is it about classical music, that it is called Gurumukhi Vidya and the Gurukul style of teaching, as well as the Guru, are so important?

There will be some music during this session, and I request Manjusha tai to sing a Bandish which talks about the importance of the Guru. This will be a good beginning to this Art Talk.”

Manjusha Patil: We are no one without the Guru. I will sing a Bandish taught by my Guru. All of us are students even today and learning continues forever.

Marva Bandish - लागी लगन गुरू पायी, सकल जगत बिसरायी, प्रगती दिव्य दृष्टि ज्योत, अगम निगम समझ आयी | गुरु दायाल गुरु कृपाल, प्रेम रूप मगन भये, मारग पर कर धरकर, जोग जुगत गुरू बतायी |

Swapnil Chaphekar: अंतरा - मारग….. Please let us know the place of the Guru.

Manjusha Patil: My vyaktitva (personality) and sanskār (culture) is because of my Gurus. I was 12 when I got to sit at his feet and learn from him. I stayed with him for 13 years and learnt music under the Gurukul paddhati. We used to sit up at night and sing.

Swapnil Chaphekar: If not for a Guru, is it possible to learn the Flute or Tabla?

Rupak Kulkarni: Nothing is possible without the Guru. We need to sit in front of him, watch him, watch how he teaches, how he plays an instrument or how he sings. This needs to be copied. Later on, one needs to work on improvisation. Till the time the Guru doesn’t show the way, we will not be able to learn music. Just as the Guru selects his disciples, the disciple also selects his Guru. There is a beautiful samvād between them. The Guru is on the lookout for a worthy disciple and vice-versa.

I have been lucky to have been born in a musical family. My father, Pt. Malharrao Kulkarni, was himself a good flautist as well as a good teacher. I started learning from him from the time I was four. At age nine, I automatically started playing the Bansuri. Generally, it is difficult to blow a Bansuri, but in my case, I was able to play without any issues. My father noticed that and felt I should learn from a better teacher, namely Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. He took me to Pandit ji and my lessons with him began when I was 11 years old. My father told me to do whatever my Guru would tell me to do, and not do anything that wasn’t told. For 5 years, I learnt Raga Bhairavi from him. This is also a student test to see how much patience he has. That patience pays back till date! After that, for 2 years it was Yaman and another 2 years, Gurjari Todi. It is my firm belief that if we do what the Guru instructs, even the Lord is on our side.

Abhijit Banerjee: There is a saying in Hindi, "पानी पियो छानकें, गुरू लो चूनकें." Before going to a Guru, we must decide as to how much Samarpan we can do to him. We should only go to such a person to whom you can fully surrender. Once you do, you shouldn't think of anything else. You should devote yourself fully and only then will your path be easy. Don’t make YouTube, Facebook etc. your Gurus. Indian classical music cannot be learnt without living with the Guru. Not only his music, but his thoughts also makeup your musical personality. We all did this. We spent entire days with the Guru and not just spent one hour a day with him.

Rupak Kulkarni: About Gurukul - When I went to my Guru, he didn’t have a Gurukul. He was himself busy with concerts and also in films, where he played his flute a lot. So, he used to take me wherever he went on his tours, all over the world. I used to observe his actions, his thoughts and got to learn a lot. I also stayed in his room!

Swapnil Chaphekar: So, living with and observing the teacher, and accompanying him during concerts, are all a part of learning. This is a very important element of Taleem, training. All your Gurus are/have been performers. It is said that music is an innovative (प्रयोगशील) art. It is said, students' focus is drawn towards presentation. I request Manjushaji to sing this bandish, the words of which describe this fact.

Manjusha Patil: सुर संगत राग विद्या संगीत प्रमाण, जो कंठ कर दिखावे, वा को जानिये गुणी ज्ञानी |

Swapnil Chaphekar: The emphasis is on "जो कंठ कर दिखावे, वा को जानिये गुणी ज्ञानी |"
So, what is the place of Shastra in this art? Does Shastra go hand-in-hand or is one more important than the other?

Rupak Kulkarni: Both Shastra and Kala go hand-in-hand. Every Raga has a personality and follows certain characteristics. This we learn from the Guru, making the impact of the Raga good.
Manjusha Patil: Shastra is taught first. Kala follows. My Guru would show me all the phrases of the Raga and make me understand fully the structure of the same. Aesthetics come only after the basics have been learnt.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Is Shastra like the grammar of music?

Manjusha Patil: Yes. It shows you the boundaries of the Raga.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Did you get scolded for faltering in Shastra?

Manjusha Patil: I got scolded everyday. Many times I was told to leave and go home. However, when he saw me cry, he would treat me like his child and tell me to take out the Tanpura! This love only can come from a Guru.

Swapnil Chaphekar: (To Abhijit Banerjee) - Has your Guru scolded you? If so, what was the emotion behind it?

Abhijit Banerjee: The real reason for his displeasure is that you are not able to do what he is trying to teach. It is because you haven’t practised enough at home and you are lying, saying that you did. He understands this. My Guru used to scold, but he was a very gentle person. His scolding also used to be 'gentle'. He would say, "Do some other work in the house now, you are not eligible to take lessons. You are only eligible for house work. Why waste my time and yours with the Tabla?" We used to be very scared of him. This is probably because these Gurus were 100% honest to us. They were ready to give everything. So, our fear used to be that of not being able to receive everything that he was giving.
About Shastra – Yes, it is important. However, in performing arts, performance comes first. After you have reached a height in performance, if you move away slightly from Shastras, it wouldn’t matter so much. A lot of Ragas have been modified over the years. These changes have also got included in the Shastras. According to me, Shastras are very important for students. Once you begin performing, over the years of contemplation, new thoughts may arise, and may be implemented in performances, only to get included in the Shastras. I am a Bengali. In Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore, in all his writings, deviated from the Shastras of those times. Today, his literature is considered as Shastras.

Swapnil Chaphekar: So, we could conclude saying that for students, Shastra comes first and when you actually become a Kalākār, there are some liberties that you could take with the Shastras.
Is there a story about the genesis of music? How did instruments get created? We hear a lot that music came from the Vedas. Is there a story about the genesis of music, etc.?

Manjusha Patil: Vocal music comes from Samaveda. Each note came from the mantra recitation of the Veda. This is what I have been told by my Guru.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Lord Sri Krishna is seen with the flute. This is from the Puranas. However, the flute would have existed even before that. The archeological department is said to have retrieved flutes made of birds' bones, too. Can you share your knowledge about how the flute came into existence?

Rupak Kulkarni: Bansuri is the most natural instrument in the whole world. The name implies the meaning - Sur that emanates from the Bāns (Bamboo). During Sri Krishna’s time, the Bansuri may have been in its raw, simple form. It is said that when hurricane hit the area, bees would drill holes into the bamboo and take shelter inside. There would be a sound through this when the wind blew. Someone who noticed this would have cut the bamboo and made a flute out of it. It must have been this kind (showing a small basic flute) of Bansuri, and mostly folk music was played on it. While this is a very old instrument in the Hindustani music field, it was introduced about 80-90 years ago. It is used in this form (showing the professional E Scale Bansuri) now. Ragas can be played well on this Bansuri.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Now that you have held the Bansuri, may we have the pleasure of listening to it?

Rupak Kulkarni: (using the very small flute – plays a folk tune). It is possible that this high-pitched flute was played then, as there were no microphones used. The sound must have been carried far and wide when Sri Krishna played it. Then the more professional Bansuris must have got made. There are as many Bansuris as there are Swaras - 12/OR/There is a Bansuri for every Swara that we have. There are bigger ones made for base notes to be played, smaller ones for Madhya Saptak and even smaller ones for Tar Saptak (Playing a tune on the Madhya Saptak flute). The biggest ones are used for classical music. In this, the base, middle and higher octaves sound nice.

Swapnil Chaphekar: You just played a folk tune in 'Maand.' We are going towards classical music. Could you please play some classical music?

Rupak Kulkarni: It is also believed that a lot of Ragas got created from folk music. I would say, what was played as Pahadi in folk music became Bhoop, as the Swaras are the same in both. (Playing Bhoopali). Even in the playing of the Bansuri, there have been changes that have taken place. Panna babu (Pt. Pannalal Ghosh) brought the Bansuri into classical music. He played it in the Gayaki ang, i.e, Khayal ang. My Guruji later introduced the Dhrupad ang in his playing. Today, both the styles are played. (plays Bhoop in Dhrupad style). I would like to say that the smallest flute is high-pitched, and can be compared with a child. The middle-sized flute can be compared with a youth and the base one with a mature elder.

Swapnil Chaphekar: When you played the Bansuri, the Sur was Krishna and all of us, Gopis!

(To Abhijit Banerjee) – How did the language of Tabla develop, and what was the genesis of the Tabla?

Abhijit Banerjee: A lot of views are there on this. In the Natyashastra it is said that the student, Swati once went to a lake during his Gurukula days. Indra had sent a heavy shower to create the lake. The water drops falling on the lotus leaf created sounds that had the treble and base effects. He requested Vishwakarma to create an instrument replicating such sounds. Vishwakarma thus created the Mridang. This is as per the Natyashastra. We have also heard that the Damru in the hands of Lord Shiva is the oldest Talvadya of India. Some others say that Allauddin Khilji broke the Pakhawaj into two to make the Tabla. We find an instrument even today in the Middle East, called Tablah, which looks different. Some believe that an instrument like the Tabla is also available in painting/sculpture form in Harappa/Mohen-jo-daro. So, it is not that it has come here from the Middle East. Only, the structure of the instrument has changed now from what it was earlier. The black portion on the Tabla and other Indian percussion instruments is something you won't see in any other country’s instruments. This helps us to tune the instrument to a desired scale. No other instrument of the world has this beautiful sound as the Tabla. The Dholak, Pakhawaj etc, have this, too. Because of this sound, you can have a Tabla tarang with Tablas of different scales. We pay obeisance to whoever created this instrument. Wherever in the world we go with this instrument, we are able to get the upper hand - not because of us, but because of the instrument.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Can you elaborate on the language used? We often get to hear the Tabla, but not its language…..

Abhijit Banerjee: Some people feel there are 7 syllables and some, 9, used for playing Tabla (Playing the syllables). This language has come from the Pakhawaj. The dimension has grown while being incorporated on the Tabla, as the resonance generated by the Tabla can’t be done on Pakhawaj. That is how people like the Tabla, and I love playing it, too. (Plays Tabla demonstrating the language, Bhasha).

Swapnil Chaphekar: Melodic instruments cannot combine with words to convey a message. However, many Vaggeyakars (those who create Bandishes (Compositions) - 'वाच्यं गेयं च कुरुते - they pen the lyrics as well as set the tunes, unlike in films where the composer is different from the lyricist) have used poetry to convey the valuable messages through music. In our culture, Bhakti is the most prominent. While pursuing music as a Sadhana, in itself is a philosophy, many such composers have brought in philosophy in their compositions.

May I request Manjushaji to sing such a composition filled in Advait Vedant - Raina Ka Sapana (Raga Lalat).
Manjusha Patil: रैन का सपना कैसे कहूं री | सोवत सोवत आँख खूली जब माई अपना कोऊ न पायो अपना ||
जोड - भवदा यारदा जोबना, दूजे नजर नही औंदा | अलफ मीम बीच फरक न कोई, अहमद बन बन औंदा |

Swapnil Chaphekar: These bandishes talk about Maya and Nityaanitya Vivek and in the other composition, it talks about there being no difference between Jeevatma and Paramatma, and also दूजे नजर नही औंदा - Advait.
We salute the composers of these two bandishes. Let me ask Abhijitji whether Bhakti can be expressed through the medium of Tabla also. Have there been any such experiments to convey Bhakti through the syllables of Tabla?

Abhijit Banerjee: There have been experiments done. I am from the Farukhabad Gharana, where this is not done, but in the Banaras Gharana, we find many Shivji, Ganesh Parans, etc. Pt. Kishan Maharajji used to play a lot of Ganesh Parans. In the Jaipur Gharana, such compositions are used for dance. While words can be enacted in dance, the Tabla cannot express words. However, by playing Tabla for dances, the Banaras Gharana, specially, has introduced a lot of such compositions while we play. Here is one small Ganesh Paran (Demonstrates on Tabla after reciting)
गणानाथ गणपति गणेश लंबोदर सोहे
भुजाचार एकदंत चंद्रमा ललाट राजे
ब्रह्मा विष्णु महेश ताल दे
धुरुपद गावे अति विचित्र
गणनाथ आज मृदंग बजावे...
Since the Tabla’s language is limited, only so much can be done to express the emotions and words.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Thank you. Such compositions are rarely heard. Now we will go back to the music education system. We have seen some history, seen the importance of Gurukula. In today’s world, what do you think about Gurukula and the music education system?

Rupak Kulkarni: Today, the certificate has got a lot of importance. Wherever you go, you are expected to show the certificate to prove your credentials. I am very proud to be associated with Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth as there is a perfect blend of University curriculum and Gurukul. In other Universities, music is taught daily for an hour or two. Here, the students stay and learn from the Gurus and Assistant Professors almost the entire day. Students also learn to do Seva. In the earlier Gurukulas, there would be no certificate showing that the students had completed his education there. So, anyone could claim that he has learnt from one or the other Guru without any proof.

Manjusha Patil: I agree. Music as we said, is Gurumukhi Vidya. Without a Gurukul, this kind of knowledge transmission is not possible. You can create a musical environment by taking music class in schools and colleges. However, Taleem can only take place in a Gurukul and not in a 45-minute class. We are very fortunate to be teaching here. There is a unique combination of spirituality and music here. These are not exclusive of each other. This is the right place for a Gurukula to thrive. We could as well teach on Skype. However, even when we do, we insist that the student visits us once in 6 months to learn face-to-face. Teaching can happen through the eyes, and distance doesn’t help such learning.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Even the aura of the Guru has a big place in learning, isn’t it?

Manjusha Patil: Yes. The atmosphere in a theatre is different from that of a baithak. Similarly, the students should be in front of us so we are able to teach effectively. The teacher and the taught have to become one for knowledge to flow.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Is there really a demand for the Gurukul, or are we making an orthodoxy-based claim?

Abhijit Banerjee: I am not orthodox. I travel a lot to various countries. Even there, there is something called a Conservatory. It is almost like a Gurukula, not a University. Note one point – No performer can be produced from a University. However, there is a lot of importance for the piece of paper. Today I may need to prove that I am Me. This is the value of the certificate. It is also not true that every student getting out of a Gurukul will become a performer. Their destiny and talent will decide that. But someone doing only a University course has no chance of becoming a performer. The atmosphere that has been created here at Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth, is unique and not available anywhere in the world. We three have given so much. We come regularly giving up everything else, as we really believe that something good will happen here. We should continue the good work here as we can show the world that here is a model which follows the Gurukula model, and has the University stamp. The students leaving from here will be performers and only theoreticians!

Swapnil Chaphekar: One question with the audience in mind – Today, a lot of music can be heard on TV and social media. It is not that some music may be authentic, but because it gets played so often, it gains the stature of being authentic. For eg, when people listen to anything that Jagjit Singh sings, they assume it is a Ghazal, even if he has sung a Geet or a Nazm. Similarly, if there is a little sargam or alap, it is taken to be as the true form of Classical music. Under these circumstances, what is our role?

Abhijit Banerjee: I will answer this first. This is the worst thing happening to today’s children. They are addicted to their phone and don’t do anything else including playing in the ground. They should do the 'Ganda bandhan' with YouTube and not come to us. Nothing concrete comes out of this. You only get some exposure. Some people record themselves while doing Riyaz and that is put up on social media! Only when a student comes out of such fixations, can he do something worthwhile in music.
The Guru also should be able to tell the student that he can perform only after he has reached a minimum standard. Even students should realise this. If his father says that he is doing so well, the student’s mind accepts it and even when he is not capable of teaching, starts teaching. This happens more abroad. Students learn a bit here and go there and start their school, teaching incorrectly.

To give an example of how a Guru judges the level of his students. My Guruji would bring his book of notations and tell me and a couple of other students to write down anything from this book. Other students would be playing what was taught; but were distributed that they didn’t get the notes. After a few days, when he once walked out of the room, the others came and asked me to share the notes with them. I opened the book and gave it to them and just then Guruji walked in and saw what I had done. He said, "There was a reason why this was not shared with them. If they plainly copied the notes, they wouldn’t be able to play correctly and would distort the notations. They will end up teaching wrong notations to others and you will be responsible for this. It is not that I don’t love them as much as you." Every student is the same for the Guru. But everyone should stay within their limits as per their eligibility. If the 'bols' are shared with him, you will be responsible for the distortions from generation to generation. One should only perform after one has reached a standard.

Manjusha Patil: Students think they have reached perfection, and immediately upload their recordings on social media. At least they should check with their Gurus if they can upload it. They don’t even ask. The effect will be that the next generation will get wrong inputs. At the Gurukul in Sangli that I have started in my Guru’s name, we take a session for the audience. There are a lot of 'Kansens' in the audience. It is because of the 'Kansens', that the 'Tansens' can thrive. All Rasikas have a good ear, but we should make sure that they hear something nice. They should be educated about real Sangeet. I tell musicians of my generation to speak about this wherever possible.

Swapnil Chaphekar: (To Audience) Please make sure you understand authentic music by attending music appreciation workshops, wherever you can. You will be able to enjoy good music better when you know it better. What is the ultimate goal of Kala?

Rupak Kulkarni: The first 'Sa' and the last 'Sa' while stopping, should be in Sur. And everything in between, too.
Manjusha Patil: रंजयते इति राग: - To make the audience happy, and to revel in आत्मानुभूति is the purpose Kala. I would like to be a Vidyarthi till the end.

Abhijit Banerjee: I feel the goal should be समर्पण. Surrender to the Lord, and He will take care of the rest. Stay happy and it will radiate on to others. This doesn’t happen through an effort to make someone happy, but only by Surrender.

Swapnil Chaphekar: Thank you all. I would request you to perform something together.
Manjusha Patil Sings…. एक सूर चराचर छायो…...