Tarana and Amir Khan Saheb- timeless art

A few days back (April 23rd, 2014) I posted this link


to- my facebook page

just to save it for my own reference for later on. Now am doing with same by putting it down on my blog, for perhaps at that time this idea did not occur or the blog itself was not in place.

Amir Khan Saheb was among the greatest of musicians of the Indian subcontinent. To the extent that though it is decades that he passed away, his music is still as fresh, as deep, as mesmerizing and standing equally as tall as it may have during his time, or is it that in the passage of this time, he has become bigger? Not sure about it.

The interview that I am sharing here was recorded by the BBC Radio. He talks about the tarana as a form of song in particular and what got me saying ‘wow’ was that till I heard the interview I did not know that the words used in the tarana had any meaning, for according to what I had heard and been handed down to me, it was some meaningless phraseology utilized by musicians. Yes, in the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, where I was once a student (in 1997-8 perhaps in the MA class then) I was told that the original phrase had been ‘om anant hari narayan’ and that was turned around to meaningless words- nom, tananana, dere, tom, etc etc etc…and I believed it! This interview clarifies the meaning of the tarana and where it germinates from. Of course we all know about Amir Khusro as the father of the form.

That brings me to the fact that I was just discussing with my own guru, Madhuriji about tarana and I wanted to learn something in Hamsadhwani…and guess what she said? “No there are no taranas going around in Hamsadhwani!…except for the Indore gharana one!!”

I could not believe it. Wow! I thought Amir Khan was the only one who created a tarana in Hamsadhwani…and wonder of wonders, I heard Kishori (ji) Amonkar singing it. That is one musical great saluting another. When I discussed this with someone, they said that she does that, she sings whatever bandishes she likes. That is I think another sign of greatness, and something we all younger lot can take a leaf from as well. (then why the hell should I also not sing the same?!)

Anyhow, I did not learn the tarana in Haunsadhwani/Hamsadhwani, but in Puriya Dhanashri, this morning at 11am 🙂

Timelessness of daily living

I just sat for a few minutes of meditation awhile back. Within a few minutes the rain came pouring down, and with my closed eyes I experienced it. And I did. I suddenly felt that in that brief torrent, I heard the ocean, then the river, and then the rapids of the river, also the waterfall.  how timeless it all felt suddenly- as though I was someone always meditating and listening to the crashing waves close by. My mind went into a strange twilight zone and a sudden timelessness, I was no longer there where I was ONLY- I was also somewhere else! I was a hermit with a flowing beard (which I identify as my higher self), I was a soldier facing the river trying to cross it on horseback- where the river flowed, I have no idea. I was not a body after all, just a mind, just a consciousness watching the play of the mind.

I opened my eyes and realized that only a few minutes had passed actually- but somewhere my taut nerves had relaxed and I felt connected to that deep cosmic timeless zone that I had experienced long back, in moments of ecstasy that had put me in rapture, for I could not contain the joy of finding such a fount of silence, within me and also see its connection with the cosmic, or the continuum of the two.

I do not know what the cosmic is by the bye. It is certainly not something that any religion can explain, neither I want the explanation another mind can offer. Either one would experience it or one would aspire for it, s/he who knows of its appeal or presence. Nothing for the sense to perceive or engage with- it is in the domain of consciousness. Oh yes, many can alter their consciousness and see its play…but it is a great trick and not easy to negotiate.

But I must say that in that momentary experience I felt recharged in a matter of moments. Even in the past this had transformed my music, making it more serene, placid and non worldly, for it did not really bother itself with rewards and visibility that we as artists yearn and aspire for, by way of recognition and concerts. May be I too aspired for the same, or still do, but this connection to the internal river of timelessness simply does not make me ambitious in the least. I just create my art and then leave it. Of course I am deeply hurt that I do not get invited to perform or showcase the art the way I ought to. But instead of pushing my art and work forward if I engage my mind in research all the while, who will take me for the artist that I am.

So that brings me to the question- what is timeless within the arts? What makes for great art? One person can be a great artist, and not really an artist known to the public and one can be shallow yet have a fan following in millions. The mind gives its own answers sometimes.

I thought to just hear the sound of this rain- it is a timeless sound, and it comes from all sides- rivers, water falls, oceans and even big lakes. the greatness of art does not lie in the moment but in time- for that is where it belongs. At present there may not even be people around who can judge the true merit of an artist, his/her mind, craft or anything, or the artist may be in a situation where the art itself does not get out, and get its due.  Thinking about Van Gogh and Mozart remind me only of lives of people suffering immensely and living lives of social misfits and possibly ignominy. And what about the ones who were considered great in their times? How many of them stood the test of time?

In the march of history lies the destiny of great art- they were creating art for the sheer love of that expression and as a communication of their soul’s angst, not to pander to the lowest common tastes of the masses. Automatically someday the art got noticed, but the artist was gone. The soul got attention, while the body had already perished. So many even lived in great poverty. When I think of Kabir, what he said six centuries ago seems to hold water even today- is that not great poetry, which when I sing in my 21st century voice, also seems to communicate my present reality or the reality of the times we live in.

The timelessness of our art lies on the same timelessness of life, if we can join the two dots together – for that is where we will see all great art lying also, even if we remain invisible or unseen as artists. We can take heart that we are doing good work, with recognizing the universal in the personal, living our daily affairs yet also living in history…we are nothing and yet history lives through us, time moves through us.

This photo here was taken by me in Bhaktapur in Nepal…it is a village square which is full of old style temples of the Hindus and Buddhists. There is a certain uncanny feeling one gets while in this place- you suddenly are surrounded by such old forms and structures, that you think that you are living in the pages of a History book or a plot of a movie. It is almost eerie. But there is a certain timelessness there. in choosing this picture to go with this post, I just wanted to focus on that- timeless art.Image

Music pedagogy- the pathway that isn’t

I recently got an email with this content-

On a Mian Ki Todi

“ Salamat Ali Khan was initiated into classical music together with his elder brother Nazakat Ali Khan under the able guidance of their father Ustad Vilayat Ali Khan at the tender ages of five and seven respectively. They were initially taught the basis of dhrupad but later concentrated on learning khayal due to its increasing popularity. It was only after two years of training that they made their debut at the prestigious Harballabh Mela in 1941. They performed raag Mian ki Todi and were highly appreciated by both the audience and musicians present, these included Ustad Abdul Aziz Khan, Pandit Krishanrao Shankar, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Ustad Umeed Ali Khan, Ustad Tawakkal Hussain Khan, Ustad MalangKhan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Ustad Salamat Ali Khan recalled the performance in his autobiography; “we were so small that we had to be lifted onto the stage” ( courtesy : Sadarang Archives) 

Mian Ki Todi by Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIwiWUSGqIM

As music pedagogy has been one of the foremost areas of my concern, and should I say brooding, this story is another testimony about how there are NO PATHWAYS for learning music in the Indian subcontinent, neither for achieving any level of learning or proficiency. People become great not necessarily because they are truly great or gifted, but by virtue of birth, family connections and the push their families, environments and connections create for them. In this anecdote the person cited says how within two years of learning they were pushed on the stage by an over-enthusiastic parent and perhaps thereafter lapped up due to sheer novelty of a child/children singing.

Contrast this with my own learning, years of practice and hard work, and innumerable meditations and khyals of my own (http://merakabir.blogspot.in/2014/05/todi-and-kabir.html)   and the fact that despite this much effort since there is nobody there to push someone like me to the stage, I would perhaps never really get there, for in these many years of whatever I have been doing, the punch and the verve it requires to get out and get there, has simply vanished from my system and neither am I afflicted by the modern disease of fame. I only want to be heard, which is the due of every artist who has worked for years on their music, but anyhow that is not for me to determine. But then this is how destiny works in a poor, backward country like India- you gotta have connections, or languish with your music in solitude!

In other words, and this brings me to the subject of this blog- there is no fixed path that a musician can take which would lead them to either learning or creating a vocation in music. You can start at seven and become a celebrity by 13, start at 39 and become great by 45…who knows, or die unheard by anyone. In this kind of uncertainty music naturally suffers, for it is dependent on the chance of all these factors coming together, and they are not likely to come together very frequently for a lot of people, except for those whose parents are already in the field and they would create un-natural advantages for their own progeny over their disciples.

Put it differently, the field of classical music teaching is nearly bereft of a proper method, which can be propagated across a whole subcontinent- wow! what a huge loss. No doubt there are many teaching institutions and shops proliferating- but a place where research, teaching, training and interdisciplinary inquiry is happening is just not there. And that is where my heart lies.

Nat Bhairav and deeper waters


Today I began my new innings in learning music once again, after a break of nearly a decade, in the course of which much musical work was done- including writing, research, performances, albums, lecture-demonstrations, dialogues on music, workshops, advocacy about music pedagogy and music therapy.

But this, my own new beginning is like the start of a new chapter all over again, and I began it with Nat Bhairav (nat means acrobat in Hindi actually). This is a befitting raga to begin with for it is new for me, I have grown over the years as a student and as a learner, and something new is the best place to begin and then re-visit the old friends of the past.

In this span of time, from the time where I stopped learning with aunty in 2002-03, I learnt till about 2005 with Amarjeet didi, the rudiments of the Indore gharana gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan, which was codified by her own guru, Pt. Amarnath. But Khan saheb’s style is so beautiful and serene that the grip it has on the consciousness of millions even decades after his demise is something quite remarkable and unsurprising. Who can decode it apart from the ones who train in his style?

The pity is, and I learnt it with my communication with Sudip, which was a confirmation of my earlier communication with Bindu didi also, that not all the students of Pt. Amarnath or even  Amarnath-ji himself  taught identically. So every student would have something different in his/her repertoire in the name of ‘gayaki’.  Indeed when I had shared with Bindu what didi had taught me, she immediately pointed out that there was a missing link, which she provided.

Wow! That is quite sad indeed and funnily enough most musicians in our times say that they are inspired by Ustad Amir Khan, which implies they are either singing his compositions or trying to copy his style of singing, which nobody can. Reminds me how a few months back (certainly over 12) I heard Gokulotsav-ji Maharaj, who said he was inspired by Ustad Amir Khan also! But his gayaki was such a far- cry from Khan sa’ab, that I could not sit through to hear him even for the first raga, though he is such a great scholar of music, with nearly 5000 compositions of his own!

I have been toying in my inquiry for years what is it about Khan saheb’s gayaki that makes it so unique and why nobody else could produce its replica, even though people can copy the style. The feeling I have is that there is a philosophical difference in the manner in which Khan saab approached his music and how those who followed him did. Perhaps this needs a longer discussion than a blogpost…and may be in one of my future writing on music, this would be a subject to work on, within the larger framework of bhakti music.

So anyhow, coming back to Nat Bhairav, I would be learning with Madhuri aunty over the skype and hopefully intersperse this with going and spending some time with her, in her home in the future, the manner I did in 2008 and 2011, a few days at a time. That intense learning is a great experience. But learning at home also has its own advantages, which is saved time and effort. So back again to being a student- feel good about it, because hopefully this time around, the learning would be goal oriented, unlike the past where it was almost recreational or maybe an escape to get out of home, and from my illness, which would choke me constantly. I have written about it in the paper Making Song, Making Sanity (coming soon, in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy)

So here we go again, another life, another chapter, another level of musical training, after the first three decades of engaging with music at numerous levels- another nosedive into deeper waters. Insha’allah.

Kabiri Bhairav – encountering a new raga and a great musician

This is a blogpost copied from my Kabir Blog- http://merakabir.blogspot.in/

It is unusual for me to write so early in the morning, that too on my blog. I think from last evening or perhaps last few days a lot of ideas were tossing in my mind and I had to put them down on paper lest I lose them before long. So I opened another blog of mine on wordpress to write and then my email to check for new mail. Someone I know, had sent a beautiful email (which he sends to a whole lot of people everyday, with a different artist’s music) about Dhondutai Kulkarni.

I mostly do not listen to anyone’s music in the morning due to my own riyaaz, but I just turned this one, because I was inquisitive about this doyenne, who I had read long years ago about, in a book by C.S.Lakshmi; and her austere spirit had struck a chord in me then. It did again just now, when I heard her voice for the first time. As I write this I can feel goosebumps, on me. The singing is so clear and powerful, like what I have not heard in an extraordinarily long time (also partially because I do not listen to a whole lot of people, thanks to my own immersion in whatever it is). I felt that her singing is so strong, clean and uncontaminated, with no desire to show anything off- hermetic is the most befitting word actually, that one can actually learn this raga with her, just by listening. After the music started playing and I had not then seen the name of raga, because I was busy writing the other blogpost, I could hear the strains of Ahir Bhairav, though not exactly…and viola, I also discovered the new raga Kabiri Bhairav, that naturally enough I would have liked to learn, and I had encountered recently in my attempt to learn Nat Bhairav.

This is a strange coincidence today, because after a span of eight-nine years I am hoping to start learning with my guru once again, over skype! This is to remain in touch with newer compositions, add new ragas to the repertoire, as well as brush the ones from the past and further churn into the ocean of knowledge. Funny how all this came together today. Also my Golden Retriever- Ginger’s birthday. On the whole a nice convergence of musical threads from various directions.

I am sharing here what the email shared with me about Dhondutai, as well as the music that is playing as I write this post. Thanks GKrishna, for this email.

“Namita Devidayal writes about her teacher, Dhondutai Kulkarni :

Dhondutai Kulkarni, a Hindustani classical singer of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, who died at 87 in Mumbai on Sunday morning, closed the chapter on a world in which music was not about performance or fame, but was as unconditional as breathing.
Dhondutai was born in Kolhapur in 1927 to a school master who defied the strict social norms that dictated the lives of Brahmin girls and pushed his daughter to learn music from Bhurji Khan, the son of Alladiya Khan, then the court singer in Kolhapur. She became well regarded as a child artiste and performed regularly on the radio. She later learned from Laxmibai Jadhav, also from the same gharana.
When the formidable Kesarbai Kerkar announced that she was finally willing to teach someone, she chose Dhondutai to be the lucky one who would inherit her rare ragas and inimitable style. Dhondutai’s father sold his house in Kolhapur and moved to Mumbai so that she could learn from Kesarbai and pursue a career in music.
Dhondutai was known for being a purist and for her repository of rare ragas. She was especially fluent in the Jaipur gharana’s compound ragas such as Lalita-Gauri, Basanti-Kedar, Bhoop-Nat and many others which, she said, had to be braided together so that you couldn’t tell where one raga began and the other ended. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990.
Fiercely independent, Dhondutai insisted on staying alone in flat in Borivli, in Mumbai, with only her gleaming tanpuras as companions. She continued to teach until the very end, for she was committed to ensuring that the gharana’s legacy be passed on. When she taught, she offered much more than musical nuggets. Along with voice culture, her students were recipients of her nuggets of wisdom. “These days you all teach your children how to win, but you should also be teaching your children how to lose, else their training is incomplete”. She was not blindly enamoured of modernity, saying, “the flickering flame of a diya will always give you more joy than a thousand powerful electrical lights”. She lived for two things – music and spirituality and the two were inextricably linked.
There was an other-worldly quality about her. She believed in, and saw things, that most others did not see, introducing her students to a dimension of life that was invisible to most people, like blessings and moondust, like those unseen notes that can never be written, which only a guru can teach her student, person to person. That is why, she firmly believed that the guru-shishya tradition can never really be replaced or modernized, or sentenced to the alleged efficiency of technology. She was very suspicious of the instant coffee fame that dictates the performance world today and never compromised her musical integrity in pursuit of worldly success. Fame, she believed, was more to do with luck than with an artiste’s true worth.
I first went to her, some 35 years ago, and she gradually transformed a reluctant student into one completely mesmerised by the magic of Hindustani classical music. I remember how, many years later, someone asked me whether I knew the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana’s secret two-note taan. I immediately challenged Dhondutai. Why hadn’t she taught this to me? Was I not worthy of the gharana’s most priceless gems? She just laughed and said,“But it’s one of the first things you learned. Think about it.” She then left the music room to make tea, leaving me strumming the tanpura, baffled. I scrolled through the entire musical database in my head to try and retrieve the two-note taan. Finally, she came back and said, “Come on, sing it!” I couldn’t. Then she revealed it and I realized that I had been singing it all my life, but without the hubris of knowing that I was.
Dhondutai is survived by a brother and his family in Delhi and a sister’s family in Jabalpur. Her musical family was far larger and includes many devoted students, fans and people like the late Azizuddin Khan, grandson of Alladiya Khan, her close friend and teacher, whom she would call if she forgot the second verse of a composition. She never got married because she believed you could never have more than one master. Hers was music.
Audio Track: Rag Kabiri Bhairav: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEv_NDkOpog

Dhondutai Kulkarni with her sister Shakuntala- Back row. Front row, Baba, Baba Bhurji Khan (her Guru)and his father Ustad Alladiya Khan