Song of Surrender

Monday, 15 October 2012

Who's who in Indian classical music

By V Ramnarayan

V N Bhatkhande (1860-1936)

Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande. A name synonymous with the renaissance of Hindustani classical music. He is universally acknowledged as the person responsible for codifying the raga system and collecting and recording thousands of classical compositions for the benefit of posterity. He was also a tireless organiser of music conventions all over India, thus earning the title Father of Music Conferences, stating once that “the mighty mansion of music should become accessible to all—rich and poor, high and low, girls and boys—irrespective of age and social status.”

Born on Gokulashtami day in 1860 into a middle class Maharashtrian family in Balukeshwar, Bombay, Vishnu Narain showed early signs of musical talent. His family, steeped in culture, spotted it and encouraged him to pursue his interest in music. Called Gajanan at home, he first learnt music by osmosis as much as organized lessons, from his mother’s lullabies and bhajans. Music was not considered respectable in the India of his time, and Gajanan learnt to play the sitar secretly—from Vallabhacharya Damulji and Mahantr Jeewanji Maharaj. His father’s reaction a couple of years down the road on unexpectedly being part of the audience in a recital by Gajanan was surprisingly encouraging. He only wanted his son to focus on his studies at school, while still pursuing music.

Continuing to study music through his student years, graduating in 1885 and completing his law degree in 1887, he became a successful lawyer practicing in Karachi and Bombay. He gave up law to concentrate on music when his wife and only daughter died. He did so in 1910, when he had saved barely enough money to sustain himself.

Bhatkhande heard most of the great musicians of the day at Gayan Uttejak Mandali, where he made friends with musicians who taught him.  Determined to reawaken “the sense of history and pride among people” and reconcile the theory and practice of music, he started touring India’s important centres of music including the south.He had extensive discussions with musicians and teachers all over the country. He spent countless hours at libraries studying ancient treatises on music. Throughout the period he maintained a diary containing detailed accounts of his meetings and research. He started publishing several books based on his researches. Hindustani Sangeet in many volumes is his best known work.

By now Bhatkhande was very well known and the heads of princely states like Gwalior, Baroda and Rampur started supporting him in all his activities. They sent students to him in a steady flow. He was the architect of many music schools and colleges in Bombay, Baroda, Nagpur and Gwalior. At the instance of Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengal government appointed him to a committee of music experts and Madan Mohan Malaviya invited him to draw up the curriculum for the music department of Benares Hindu University.

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