Song of Surrender

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Let's bring the gurukula back

By Nagaraj Havaldar

(As part of Sruti's policy, honorifics and titles are avoided as far as possible, even when the writer or artist employs them as a mark of respect to their seniors. This blog post is no exception).

Guru Brahma  guru  Vishnu guru  devo  Maheswaraha,
Guru  sakshaat  parah  Brahma tasmaisree gurave namaha.

Shishya Sawai Gandharva and Guru Ustad
Abdul Karim Khan
This verse explains in its totality the importance of the guru in learning. The term guru means not just a teacher. It envelopes a huge canvas of different characters like a mentor, friend, philosopher, guide and so on. In the context of the Indian classical art forms, the gurukula plays a vital role. As a student of history, archaeology and Hindustani classical vocal music, I am convinced, both culturally and historically, that there is no substitute for a guru and the gurukula.

We  all  know  that  Indian  classical  music  is  mainly passed on across generations via the oral tradition. We do have a few texts on music and musicology, but solely by studying them in depth on his own without the proper guidance of a guru, I am sure nobody can become a performer.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the doyen and founder of the Kirana gharana, started the Arya Sangeetha Vidyalaya, during pre-independence days. He had no fixed financial support from any quarter, but his zeal to spread and impart music was such that he would take a seven year bond from the student committing him or her to stay under his tutelage. As a result he could produce gems like Sawai Gandharva, Suresh Babu Mane, and Hirabai Badodekar. Sawai Gandharva in turn trained all time greats like Gangu Bai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi and Firoz Dastur, to name a few.

Guru Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Shishya Mysore
Karnataka is one state in India which has produced great musicians from both the Carnatic and Hindustani systems. The Wodeyars of Mysore, who were benevolent rulers,  were  directly  responsible  for patronizing both the systems. Mysore Vasudevacharya, as a young student, was sponsored by the kings with a scholarship to go and learn from Patnam Subramanya Iyer in Tamil Nadu under the true gurukula system. The rigour of his training with local gurus had been obvious.

Before Vasudevacharya   started   learning   from   Subramania Iyer,  he  was  auditioned and thoroughly interviewed with regard to his previous learning. Despite knowing what ragas the student had already learnt, Patnam again started teaching him the raga Begada.  Vasudevacharya thought that as it was the first day of learning, the guru had refrained from taking him to the unknown territory of a new raga.

But  as  days,  weeks,  and  months  passed,  Vasudevacharya's individual training continued in raga Begada, though he was also allowed to learn other ragas when the guru taught other students like Tiger Varadacharya. As a young, exuberant, passionate and willing student, Vasudevacharya, however, was keen to learn some less sung and complex ragas during his individual sessions. He also expressed his apprehension that, when he was to go back and give an update on his learning, he would have to present something new to the king and the court musicians in Mysore in order to renew his scholarship. But the guru emphatically said that the sishya must go and present Begada which had taken a new dimension and a path by now. Basically he had imparted the methodology of developing a raga through Begada.

My guru Pt. Madhava Gudi's 28-year long association with his guru Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was a unique chapter in the history of Indian classical music. In our university education, ten years of schooling, two years of Pre University, three years of undergraduate study, two years of Masters, and four years of intense research can fetch a student a doctorate. This is 21 years of schooling and learning in different institutions, under different teachers. In the case of Madhava Gudi Ji, he always felt incomplete about his learning and conceded that he would not be able to sing a few ragas as exquisitely as his guru did. His story of learning from Bhimsen Ji began on a different note altogether. After an intense audition, Bhimsen accepted to teach the young Madhav at the age of 16. Madhav Gudi was a shy and innocent lad  never dared to ask his guru any question or request him to teach a particular raga or bandish. It so happened that as he started living under the true gurukula system with his guruji, he also took part in mundane household chores. He would drop off the children at school, bring vegetables from the market, and iron the guru's clothes for the concert. Madhav ji also had the privilege of being a permanent tanpura saathi of Bhimsen Joshi. This routine continued for almost a year and a half without any direct  taleem being imparted. The guru was happy that the disciple had become an integral part of the family but the sishya was worried about not being trained.

Shishya Madhav Gudi and Guru Pt. Bhimsen Joshi
One fine day Madhav gathered all his courage and asked Bhimsen, "Dear guruji, it has been close to 18 months since I came here. But for doing some chores, playing the tanpura and being with you (a privilege) I feel that my taleem has not started. May I ask you why this delay sir?" Chewing his pan, Bhimsen Joshi said, "Dear Madhu, who has delayed your learning? It is you, who were happy, busy doing the mundane chores. If you had asked this question just ten days after your arrival into my gurukula, I would have started to teach you right away. Please introspect; it is you who delayed the learning process, not me". My guru Madhava Gudi always said with absolute gratitude that, after this incident, his learning was 24/7. He even recalled learning a bandish in a car, with Bhimsen Joshi using the horn as both a drone and a metronome.

These gurus had a method, a vision of their own. It may look eccentric and strange to us, but they did produce great musicians who carried the tradition forward and passed it on to the next generation.

I had the good fortune of learning from Pt. Panchakshari Swami Mattigatti, a disciple of  Pt. Mallikarjun Mansoor under the true gurukula order. Mansoorji and Mattigattiji had a strong bonding over twenty years. The guru was available to the sishya for any query on music even in the middle of the night. He did not allow the sishya to write down the bandish. He would teach the sthayi or the first half of the composition), ask him to memorise the words and the tune, and then teach the antara or second half of the composition. Mansoorji would even give a surprise visit to Mattigatti's room to have a random check of whether he was doing his morning riyaz.

Guru Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur and Shishya Panchakshari Swami Mattigatti
Despite this kind of a musical association, Guruji was a man of few words. The two of them never had a routine conversation about anything other than music. Once it so happened that Mansoorji had a concert in Dharwad, his hometown. As the concert  venue  was  not  too  far  from  the house, they loaded the instruments in a tonga and guru and sishya walked behind it. After a few steps, the disciple noticed that Guruji's dhoti had a big hole. The student was in a dilemma whether to tell this or not to Mansoorji. Mattigattiji finally gathered all his courage to inform Mansoorji that his dhoti had a hole in it. As if he had anticipated this question, Mansoorji, said, "Hey Panchakshari! Tell me who is the singer? Me or my dhoti?" He then said imperiously, "Just tie a knot to cover the hole. Let's go and sing." Mattigattiji would always recall that Mansoorji gave an immortal concert that night.

It is the need of the hour to establish a true gurukula, to invite gurus of this nature and stature to propagate, preserve and promote our classical music. For all his strict tutelage under his guru, Mattigatti Guruji was a compassionate teacher. I was fortunate that he often stayed with us in Bangalore for a week or ten days, taught all the rare bandishes and ragas of the Jaipur school. This process continued for a period of eight years from 1996 to 2004. He was kind enough to allow me to record the classes. He had the vision to involve my young sons Omkar (vocalist) and Kedar (tablist) to be a part of my learning.

Mattigatti Guruji once accompanied me to the studio for a live broadcast at AIR Bangalore. At the last minute, we found out that the second tanpura player was unable to make it in time. I was about to cancel the live broadcast, but without a second thought, Guruji offered to play the tanpura for me. I fell at his feet and requested him not to do so. But he said, "I am only concerned about a good live performance. I will do anything for that, even if the singer is my disciple."

These are a few of the many great masters who stand as pillars of strength and reference for future. This kind of learning in Gurukula enables the student to imbibe everything about the music, the tradition, the Gharana, the pedigree and so on. Right from the way of tuning the tanpura to selecting a raga and what to sing for which occasion and other nuances can be inherited only by such a long and in-depth interaction and association with a guru. This is only possible under the Gurukula tradition. We can safely infer that this is true of Dance, Sculpture and other art forms too

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