Song of Surrender

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Arvind Parikh: A guru in the best Vilayatkhani tradition

By Meena Banerjee

Guru Pandit Arvind Parikh
Guru Poornima, which falls on the full moon day in the month of Ashadh, is widely celebrated by students of the Indian classical arts even in this era of drastically changed value systems. In the oral tradition of Indian arts, the guru who personifies wisdom, plays a pivotal role in the transformation of the sishya. It is he who transmits the knowledge handed down to him across generations by unravelling the mystery behind the scriptures and certain rituals or practices associated with the art. 

Pandit Arvind Parikh, a committed researcher and guru, has infused new life into this age-old Indian tradition. The auspicious occasion of Guru Poornima  stands for a special reunion for the ‘Parikh Parivar’ formed by his disciples. (Guru Poornima falls on 19 July in 2016). The celebration in August last year,  for instance, showcased the music by thirty of his disciples including two young talents representing the group of his grand-disciples at Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda.

After attending three such annual reunions in Nagpur (2013), Mumbai (2014) and at Baroda last year, I know that the disciples come from all over the world to meet at a chosen venue not only to offer their music, but also to get acquainted with other members of their extended musical family, to exchange melodic ideas and notes with all (more than seventy and growing), and to receive guidance from their guru in an unalloyed musical environment. As the seniormost disciple of the late Ustad Vilayat Khan and as the head of this family, Parikh takes forward the legacy of the Etawah Imdadkhani gharana through his disciples.

But this is not his sole occupation. He is the head of a very successful Mumbai-based business house. In the world of music apart from holding the positions as the President of the Indian Musicological Society, the coordinator of UNESCO’s International Music Council for the Indian subcontinent, the founder of Music Forum (Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi), the beacon of the All India Musicians Group (AIMG), the Chairman of the ITC-SRA Western Zone and a  trustee of SRA, he is a reputed musicologist and wonderful orator. The multifarious persona of this octogenarian sitarist reflects is reflected in his melodic thought-process and its practical application in life. His logic-based teaching methodology attracted even a legend like the late Begum Akhtar who insisted on becoming his gandabandh shagird (initiated disciple).

According to his disciples, all his days culminate  in music, despite his hectic schedules. Some of his students are established musicians in sitar, surbahar, shehnai and vocal music, some are striving hard to have a professional standing as musicians while some are pursuing music as a hobby. He encourages all of them to handle a parallel career, other than music, to be able to pursue their creative passion without monetary constraints. He has helped find suitable occupations for several of his proteges; but demands total dedication to music in return. For this he encourages his talented disciples to guide fellow learners independently.   
To make learning easy for all advanced students of instrumental music, Parikh has recorded more than 400 compositions that lay the foundation of the ragas they are set in. Different compositions show different angles of the raga with diverse rhythmic gaits. A comprehensive catalogue contains all the details. Moreover, some rare gat compositions played by Parikh, recorded and released as a CD album by IGNCA, Delhi, are meant for connoisseurs.

To inspire hard working students of this demanding art, he organises periodic close-knit warm sit-ins at his plush Mumbai residence. These help them get under the skin of stagecraft and the art of presentation.

The annual Guru Poornima event, organised by his disciples, arrives as the zenith of all this every year. During these two-day long soirees, I saw him sitting through the entire sessions of recitals – taking extensive notes. When asked why, he explained, "I am more of a bhakti-margi (seeker of divine bliss) than a gnan-margi (seeker of knowledge). I believe there are two main aspects of performance: baawat (content) and tareeqa (method of expression or skill). Since the latter rules the world now and lack of substantial content has reduced music to sheer excitement, I try to analyse each of my disciples to learn whether they are following the proper format."

Meena Banerjee with Arvind Parikh and a group of his disciples during Guru Purnima 2015 in Baroda
A presentation during Guru Poornima by Parikh at the end of the opening day was based on the ‘Musical Journey of  Ustad Vilayat Khan’. This summed up the corporal features of the Vilayatkhani baaj and its intrinsic spirit. That the natural exuberance of  youth mellows with the increasing load of experience is an accepted fact of life; but not at the cost of the raga’s inherent nature. Virtuosity is important as long as it beautifies the raga, no more no less; the raga is supreme. And this remained the core of the analysis of his disciples’ recitals.

"Gharana is nothing but specialisation", he summed up in his characteristic one-liner, "and this is mastered through deep familiarity with the instrument one plays. Many wonder  Tumba meetha ya haath meetha? (Is a good instrument the cause  of a good show or is it the artist’s mastery?). I would say, both. A good quality instrument with proper sitting posture, correct placement of both hands and fingers, appropriate understanding of acoustics and high standards of virtuosity – lay the foundation of a melodic storyline or content. A music presentation is like telling a story that unfolds gradually phrase by phrase before reaching the climax. This journey must evoke taseer (soulful emotion) which results out of introspection or meditation. To inculcate this is easier said than done. Music follows the traits of one’s inherent character. A lot of pruning and perming goes behind tapering an aggressive musician and a considerable push is needed to help an introvert to open up. After careful evaluation I often tell one student to become a little more of a sanyasi  or ascetic; and another to become a little more interactive, vociferous, even playful!" he added laughingly.

"All of this is but an instrument to divine bliss," he conceded, "but corporate sponsorships have converted our music into a commodity. The target consumer is of average taste and highly paid artists are catering to their tastes to justify their role as star entertainers! In my small way I am striving to stall this downward trend by passing on good values to my disciples – as handed down by our legendary maestros", confessed the guru with a sigh of contentment.
Parikh has good reasons to be contented because during the Guru Poornima soiree most of his disciples followed a delightful trend of playing longish introspective alap replete with lingering notes and loving meends. Having etched the features of the ragas so emotively, the jod and jhala segments, based on skill-show, remained very short. Varied taan patterns are this gharana’s forte. At this juncture, many resorted to aggressive showmanship – a natural bent of youthful exuberance; and then, the concluding  jhala that reverted to the soulful alap. This format does contain the delightful combination of both – soul-stirring emotion and titillating virtuosity.
After the Guru Poornima soiree the most important ritual is ‘Prasad’ in the form of a general analysis of all the participants by the guru. It is commendable, how efficiently Parikh handles all his disciples – with wit and humour-coated wise suggestions! Such open analytical assessment helps all his students, who enjoy the permission of their guru, to follow their role models but by absorbing and digesting the impact completely and ‘churning it into a perfect blend’. A perfect way to innovate fresh melodic appeal.


  1. Namaskara Meenaji for this beautifully articulated write up.
    Our pranams to Parekhji for his focused preservation of the true values of our music.Congratulations all involved in this, including Shruthi magazine for publishing such a lovely article.Reagrds.Dr.Nagaraj Rao Havaldar.

  2. panditji i want to be a part of your baithak series i have 4000 badishes of different gharanas