In Conversation with Pt.Ulhas Kashalkar:
The idea of the Gharana is central to Khayal Gayaki in Hindustani Sangeet. It has been discussed by Guru’s and their Shishya’s, by connoisseurs, and written about in fair detail by social historians and ethnomusicologists who write on Indian music. When they appeared in the late 19th - early 20th century, they were an important point of artistic identity that indicated a comprehensive musicological style and perspective. And the system was a direct result of the patronage in the courts of medieval India as is evident from their names – Gwalior, Jaipur, Patiala, and other princely kingdoms.
The interest of the patron in turn was closely linked to how popular music became in a region. For instance there is often a sense of awe amongst followers of music on why Dharwad in Karnataka was such an important centre for music, which has produced some of the greatest vocalists on the Indian terra, the reason is the patron. Every year during the Dussera celebrations a ten-day music festival was organized by the Wodeyar King of Mysore. This festival saw important artists coming form all over India. And given that the journey was long and tiring, it was not uncommon that musicians who came to the festival settled down here for many months, something the local audiences encouraged. Also Dharwad belonged to the Bombay Presidency before Independent India and so closely was connected to Marathi culture. The third reason was the tradition of musical dramas in this region, again a contribution of Maharashtra. All the prominent musicians of this region took part in these dramas and this formed a major part of their own learning experience in the realm of Indian classical music. So the assimilation of musicians in one space wasn’t just a coincidence or providence.
These Gharanas, usually tightly structured kinship groupings, monopolized the production of professional musicians until well into the 20th century. An important aspect of this tradition was the gurushishya parampara that embodied the living and learning relationship between teacher and the pupil in a very personalized manner in the oral tradition. Although notation of the cheez also came into practice more concertedly around the same time, there is little documentation of what was handed down to a student in class in this seena-ba-seena style of instruction.
But what we know as classical music today has gone through a veritable metamorphosis over nearly four centuries and continues to adapt and evolve even today. Through this period it has undergone several transitions – redefining audiences, their expectations. Post Independence in 1947, non-hereditary musicians too started gaining importance as performers, given the social respectability that music had begun to achieve professionally. This also led to major changes in the Gharana system, a process that in fact continues apace. For one, the reasons behind the emergence of these groupings are perhaps less significant today; this is not to take away from their musical contributions
However to a connoisseur the Gharana is a very important vantage point to judge the presentation of the vocalist even today. The importance of highlighting stylistic characteristics can be done in various ways - through the choice of the Raag, the Bandish, the Badhat and so on. If these were some of the reasons that Gharanas became established in different parts of North India one could then ask how relevant these remain in today’s time? Do we need these systems of stylistic perspectives and music or can music become an amalgamation of different Gharanas as long as some key elements of Alap, Bandish, Taan etc. remain the same?
In an in-depth conversation with one of the best known names in Khayal Gayaki in India today, Pt.Ulhas Kashalkar, the answer in no uncertain terms was a yes. While many practioners, connoisseurs and listeners would agree with this, Panditji with years of Taleem and Riyaaz goes on to explain why. It seems poignant to speak with this doyen of Khayal, since it is the centenary year of both his Guru Gajanan bua Joshi and that of an important influence in his musical journey Pt.Mallikarjun Mansur. Gajanan Bua and his peer Mansurji learnt with the legend Bhurji Khan around the same time. Although Gajanan Bua learnt in three Gharanas namely Jaipur, Gwalior and Agra but was known for his Gwalior Gayaki. Ulhasji spoke about his Guru, his Taleem and the reasons for the ease with which he traverses several Gharanas.
Panditji, Taleem, is really the corner stone of any artist’s existence. I think it combines with Riyaaz in defining the musicality of an artist. Where did it all begin?
I first started to learn with my father. He was an advocate who sang out of interest, shauq se. This was in the Yavatmaal District in Maharshtra. I then went to Nagpur University to do an M.A in Music. Here I learned with Pt.Rajabhau Kokje. And having done well thus far, including a scholarship from the Ministry of Culture and winning several competitions, I felt the need to pursue my music seriously, that I needed intensive Taleem. At this point I went to Pt.Ram Marathe who had learned in both the Gwalior and Agra traditions, in fact he sang different kinds of music. So I received Taleem in both these Gharanas. After learning with him for some time I went to Gajanan Bua.
This is the centenary of Pt.Gajanan Bua Joshi…And you are one of the most important torch-bearers of his lineage. Tell us about your taleem with him.
Yes indeed it is his centenary. Guruji came from an impressive lineage of musicians. His grandfather, Manoharbuva, was-a leading exponent of dhrupad and dhamar, while his father, Anantbua Joshi was an outstanding disciple of Balkrishnabuva Ichalkarnajikar is said to have brought the khayal from Gwalior to Maharashtra.
I am very indebted to him for the time he gave me and the effort he spent in teaching me. I think that was a very important aspect of learning under him. He would not merely instruct he would spend a lot of effort and time with his students to ensure that the taleem was thorough. I myself went to him when he was quite old, nearly seventy. But for him taking on a disciple meant complete devotion to the disciple – you may be a good shishya, but it is also very critical, very significant that one should be able to find a “Guru” (not just a teacher). I was very fortunate that he agreed to take me on as a student. Probably also why he has had many disciples who have done well, many good students – Padma talwalkar, Jayashree Patnikar, Shubhada Paradkar, Madhukar Joshi, both my brothers also learnt with him. Also Shridhar Parsikar a very capable artist learned to play the violin from him.
He was not only a very accomplished singer but also a very skilled violin player. He had evolved his own style of violin playing quite distinct from any other that we know.
An important landmark for any artist is finding a Guru- it is challenging to be a dedicated student no doubt even if we may be willing to be good shishya, but also finding a guru in itself is not easy…
Absolutely! It is very difficult to find someone who can understand you, invest in you and commit himself to teaching you. Gajanan Bua would treat his students like a mission. He was willing to share everything with them. And also what he believed was in completeness, not leaving something halfway through. I was introduced to him through my borther who was learning from him, so he knew me already. But he was already quite old, nearly seventy, so he was hesitant to take me on. At that age for someone who took on a student with great sincerity, it was difficult for him to say yes, understandably its not easy to teach nuances of Raagdaari and taankari…. But it was my good fortune he agreed. He must have taught me some hundred to 150 raags.
And he himself had learned from several Gharanas…
Yes he (along with Mansurji) learnt in the Jaipur style with Bhurji Khan Sahib, with Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan in the Agra and Pt.Ramakrishnabua Vaze in the Gwalior Gharana. I have been able to sing all the three Gharanas thanks to my Taleem with Guruji. Each one of the Gharanas is a different approach and style and to be able to sing them one needs to have an understanding of the basic tenets.
So from the time when these were fairly tight compartments, where there was even a difference in the quality of the taleem handed out to immediate family vs. women students (like the Bai’s for instance) this is quite a change that one sees in the parampara….
I believe it was common practice to borrow, adapt even incorporate changes. My Guruji’s strength was that he retained the fragrance of each of the systems and followed them sincerely in his singing. And his was not an exceptional situation at all. Take for instance Bhaskar Bua Bakhale. He died very young, but even within the age of twenty two he had Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur with him. Also the borrowing within these systems lead to new formations – Jaipur-Atrauli. Even the Guru would suggest that the Shishya could go and learn from some other Guru who would have certain Bandishes or Unvat Raag or some such thing that would be additional or advanced understanding of another Shaili.
If I learn from several people I can also mix up singing styles, evolve my own, these are sanctions that musicians have. For instance Mallikarjun ji sang Jaipur but was very trained in Gwalior as well. Mogubai learned mostly from Alladiya Khan Sahib but also brought in Agra elements like Bol-Baant into her singing; Kesarbai was influenced by so many people Baskarbua, Bande Ali Khan sahib; it was a given that all these popular performers learned from many Ustads. It was a given thing that students moved around to learn the nuances and details of various Gharanas. I myself have only benefited from this. For one thing I heard so many artists. Sharad Chandra Aarolkar in Gwalior, Latafat Hussain Khan and Sharafat Hussain Khan in Agra, very little of Mogubai, Nivritti bua Sarnaik – I have heard them all live; they have all influenced me. They gave me a perspective, added to what I learned; I could understand the strong points of their singing – Balasthan.
Somehow now this system is being interpreted differently in a more limited way – as if to say that incorporating new stylistic elements means breaking or moving away from a tradition. Not true at all in the old times or even in the manner we have learned or been encouraged to perform. Len-Den amongst and between Ghranas is common.
But given the changes that are taking place in the world of Khayal Gayaki, the influences of technology and the greater listening exposure that it brings to students, the changing performance formats- shorter more auditorium based concerts, how relevant is the Gharanedar Gayaki in today’s milieu?
Gharanas are a body of principles; for eg. In Jaipur you will see long phrases that require breath control; these phrases are closely linked to the taal, highlighting every maatra, which could be on the beat or off beat; in Gwalior one avartan is a unit; anvat raags get sung much more, aakar is important, the taan is different, the bol is treated differently; in Agra you hear the nom-tom. Every Gharana brings with it a fragrance, has its own Khushboo – the nom-tom is beautiful and so is the aalap! You cannot be judgmental in these things – one is more superior than the other and so on. Ultimately the music has to be “ranjak”, attractive. These are important principles which one should adhere to, but that does not mean that one cannot borrow and adapt, that is inherent to classical music. They are important in that give you a framework within which you locate your music.
It is one thing to learn from different styles to know what their specific characteristics, but then you are also singing in a chosen Gharana – Mansurji for instance was trained in Jaipur and Gwalior and knew both styles but chose to stick to Jaipur…
Yes. But you will see elements of Gwalior in his singing – his aalap in Yaman for instance. See, importantly the singing has to be attractive. If the singing is not impressive then what is the use of where you have learnt.
How did Mansurji impact your singing?
I did listen to a lot of people but Mansurji was one of my absolute favourites. I had heard him live very often, I have met him personally I heard a lot of his LP records- Bahaduri todi, Jaunpuri, the mellifluousness of his voice, the tayyari in Taankaari; Jaipur Gayaki is so attractive and with his brilliance I enjoyed it even more, he was really my ideal. I was completely in awe, so much that if my Guru had not said yes to teaching me I would have gone to Mansurji and requested him to teach.
The thing about Khayal is that while it is an improvisatory genre it is also about how much and how well you can learn, at to an extent also memorize, yaad karna. So how does an artist evolve a new experience with the raag – of abstraction, of improvising, of moving beyond what has been learnt….
Now that takes a long time. Yes you go to a Guru imbibe, learn, memorize as much as you can; it is also very important to listen to a lot of music – of other Ustads, of other performers; of how they learned and what they have changed or brought in; people who deeply inspire you- and if they learn in another Gharana, then what is it that can be imbibed from them into your singing. It has to be natural, it has to happen on its own, it cannot be forced, your music and Sadhana has to take you there. In the process you can also leave behind what you learn from your own Guru. But it takes time. But when an artist gets to that point then you can evolve something that is your own, maybe even reinterpret a Bandish or change a Mukhda. This would be allowed then - uska haq ban ta hai.
But do you think in the present avatar of the Guru-Shishya Parampara, in today’s time, there is still potential for this transformation? What can sustain the interest? In your own case you took up a small room in Dombivilli near your Guruji’s house and you were eternally in his house either learning – or listening to other people learn..
Well of course times have changed. It is difficult these days to follow something with patience and rigour with so many other possibilities. But there are a handful of competent students who find ways of pursuing this passion. They find scholarships or there are even some institutions like SRA where I teach – it is a Gurukul system, some private ones as well where young people are able to do their training. But it will take time, it will have to be seen if these institutions can give competent or even brilliant performers. That is going to take some years before we see the results of these efforts, maybe another ten-fifteen years. The most important thing for me in this is to be able to provide a right atmosphere – I might have taken a room, somebody else might have stayed in a hostel – but the important thing is the music that filled the atmosphere around us. If you are listening to your Guru, other contemporaries, other students who are also learning, you are also thinking and living in that world. That should be made available to any student - that is motivating and inspiring. In my case for example, I would go learn in the morning, come back home do my own Riyaaz, go back to him again either learn or listen – this would happen three to four times in a day. Even Riyaaz each student has his or her own capacity – people it is said did eight hours and fifteen hours of practice. I cannot make any such claims about myself, I did sit for practice three to four times a day.
That is why I believe that children who go to music schools and colleges are not able to imbibe so much, it is not possible in that temporary situation – you learn for an hour and come away till your next “class”. Maahaul Zaroori hai.
Panditji, there is a lot of concern about the status of Classical music in India today, what are your thoughts on this?
So many programs are happening even today. There is no dearth of platforms. In fact I think the opportunities are increasing. Its true that the patronage is challenged, and artists need more support, but the number of programs has not gone down at all in my opinion. In fact even earlier there were not very big audiences; it was never running into thousands! And in today’s time we have fairly big crowds even today at important festivals like Sawai Gandharva or Dover Lane. I think we know this is niche singing and not worry so much about what will happen to it!
Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar:
In a day and age when eminent musicians of the older generation apprehend the gradual decay of our grand tradition of Indian Classical Music, Ulhas Kashalkar’s voice and music is an abiding reminder of the strength of this great art.
With a captivating voice and the gifted ability to blend the three gayakees (Gwalior, Agra & Jaipur) with authenticity and aesthetic excellence, Ulhas ji is one of the greatest vocalists in our country.
Ulhas ji is the recipient of several awards such as the Padma Shri, The Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and has been conferred with titles such as “Raag Rishi”.