Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Riyaz and Ragas

By V Ramnarayan


The three-day annual ITC-SRA seminar at the Experimental Theatre at the National Centre for Performing Arts at Nariman Point, Mumbai, has become a pilgrimage destination over the last few years.

It presents an opportunity to listen to the accumulated wisdom of many a senior ustad, vidwan and musicologist of varying description, while offering refuge from the daily grind.

If it is a busman’s holiday, I am not complaining, for under the expert stewardship of Arvind Parikh, musician and chairman of ITC-SRA's western India chapter, the seminar manages year after year to throw up topics of considerable discussion and demonstration of musical nuances in painless, often rewarding doses.

This year, the topic was Riyaz in the practice of Hindustani music. On the opening day, Ustad Zakir Hussain, spoke of being woken up as a little boy at 3 in the morning by his father, the great tabla wizard, Allah Rakha, and not understanding the meaning of it all, until years later.

He confessed he was not the most disciplined person when it came to riyaz, but also that he was practising in his mind and in his fingers all his waking hours. Like others that spoke after him, he said imitation, even of your guru, while the best form of flattery, did not make you a musician.

Lifetime achievement awardee Sangita Kalanidhi Umayalpuram Sivaraman endorsed his views on riyaz, stressing the contribution of sadhaka to sadhana.

Vocal maestro Ajoy Chakrabarty recalled with gratitude the contribution of a ‘tyrannical’ father who often threatened to kill him if he did not practise or get it right in practice.

He also gave the audience glimpses of his methods with children at his Shrutinandan, where in addition to his role at ITC-SRA, he designs interesting exercises for his wards to master the fundamentals; his demonstration of his innovative paltas aimed at developing absolute control over swara and swarasthanas took your breath away. He proudly displayed the prowess of two of his disciples who accompanied him on stage all through.

Fellow Bengali and ITC-SRA colleague Buddhadev Dasgupta, the eminent sarodist, did the same with a star pupil, whom he surprised with new swara combinations he composed on the spot for him to replicate on the sarod. 

Both these champion musician-teachers applauded the systematic training methodology of Carnatic music while ruing the lack of it in Hindustani music, but overwhelmed the audience all the same with the brilliance of their own methods of riyaz.

The dhrupad duo of Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha and their gurubhai Uday Bhawalkar came together to take us on a journey of discovery in the rigours of dhrupad training. 

Devotion to the guru was evident in everything each of the ustads said of their own teachers, their deep respect shining through the many recollections of the love (if often tough) and care with which they were taught. 

Invariably, it seemed, the guru was happiest when his shagird excelled him rather than grow up into a carbon copy.

In a session entitled ‘Reviewing the Fundamentals of Hindustani Music’, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Uday Bhawalkar and the Gundecha Brothers all but agreed that in the midst of our hectic schedules, traffic snarls and the inevitability of concerts being held ‘between 6 and 10 pm,’ it was time to do away with the time-honoured time theory, but who was to bell the cat? 

‘Come to Chennai,’ I tried to tell them. ‘We are not fussy about what raga you sing when. When Hindustani music concerts are rare enough here, how can we otherwise listen to morning and afternoon ragas?’ 

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