Famous Musicians of India music

It’s Time We Stop Associating Great Music With Greater Whims!

The world of Indian Classical Music had (and has) musicians full of whims. These whims vary over a wide range of notoriety – from as harmless as expecting the host to feed them Sabji they liked to as nuanced as expecting a host to provide them Nivea cream right before the concert begins at 7 am when all the shops are closed. These whims are often substantial topics for long discussions among musicians, hosts, and people who are madly in love with Indian Classical Music and I often sense an urge in young musicians – one day, I will be such a good performer that my hosts and audience will also tolerate my whims as they did with these great maestros.  

In one such discussion, the topic of our discussion was a great musician with great whims. Mundane and insignificant whims were already covered and someone had to raise the bar. 

“You know what, once she actually slapped her Tabla accompanist on stage in middle of the concert because he didn’t play the correct theka!” Said one of the participants in this discussion over the coffee. 

“Yes, that actually happened. It is not good but when I heard her Yaman, I was like, everything is maaf for you,” said another member of the party. 

The discussion went on but I could not stop thinking about this accompanist as well as the main artist who slapped him. More than that, I kept wondering about the whole ecosystem where all of this is considered to be okay. 

Whims of an artist – especially the atrocious like the one mentioned above do not make their art less great but at the same time, greatness of art cannot be an excuse to accept such actions. An artist in position of power and authority doing this and an accompanist who is probably in a state where he has no option than to accept this kind of behavior represent that the system is not healthy. 

An artist, especially a musician who weaves subtle web of notes and can tap into the most sensitive core of the audience, how can she or he be so insensitive? Such behavior certainly indicates unaddressed issues – like trauma, prejudices, suppressed feelings, unexpressed anger accumulated over years and years. Isn’t it sad that there is no ecosystem to address and resolve such deep rooted issues? 

Being a musician is a tough task, especially for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is tons of handwork without sure returns. By the time a musician becomes famous, he or she has already gone through a lot – I am specifically talking about the era when instant celebrities did not exist. Most of the musicians have been forced through brutal hard work in their childhood by their musician parents who often looked at their future generation as a way to the glory they themselves dreamt of. As a result of this all, addictions, stress, mood swings, whims are common among musicians. I am not justifying the whims but just trying to explain why they exist. 

Unfortunately, with artists, these issues are not identified and resolved. Imagine an IT project manager who slaps his junior team member. We would not give excuses and justify the whims stating very high performance by the manager. We would take action and more important than that, we would provide required help to that person so that his or her behavior can change. Why don’t we do that with musicians? Why no-one tells a musician that he or she needs help? 

When a musician excels in his or her art, that same greatness is transferred to the personality of the musician. When I remember the incident of this musician slapping her accompanist, following possibilities come to me – she was trying to go very deep in her exploration and the accompanist playing wrong theka acted like a speed-breaker in her exploration within and out of anger, she slapped or she could not tolerate incompetence of this level from a musician who was part of her performance or it was just a whim – to show how great artist she is and how the world – including her accompanist does not deserve the great music she produces. 

No matter what might be the reason, none justifies this kind of ghastly act. The purpose of writing this article is not criticizing someone but to clearly state a problem with music ecosystem – musicians do not have a support system where issues are brought to their notice and help is provided. More important than that, often, musicians consider themselves ‘above the notch’ and are themselves okay with their whims. Accompanists, especially in old days, were solely dependent on main artists and bringing up these issues would have lead to unemployment or lack of opportunities. Hosts and organizers are thirsty for good music and often do not care about these issues with the artists. 

How do we solve this problem? First of all, it is very important that awareness about mental and emotional well-being is created among the artists. We should stop equating greatness of art with greatness of whims. As a community, artists including accompanists, hosts, organizers and audience should openly talk to the artists about the issues that they observe and should offer required support as per their capacities. 

When musicians gossip together, everyone discusses these issues which means that these issues do not escape the observations of fellow musicians, hosts etc. The problem is lack of healthy communication among artists about these challenges. 

Famous Musicians of India

Dear Indian Classical Musicians, Either Use a Tanpura Or Disassociate With Your Lineage!

In an ecosystem running on blatant lies and dogma, someone has to call a spade a spade. I am on that task today. If we make a list of fields where pride of tradition and culture of telling majestic stories of tradition and lineage prevails, Indian Classical Music would be in top five if not on the top. Sadly, students of music pickup myths and anecdotes much faster than actual music. It’s not a coincidence that musicians (even senior ones) these days enjoy telling stories more than presenting quality music.

While there are many things to talk about, today I will be focusing myself on Tanpura. Everyone calls it the foundation of Indian Classical Music but very few actually end up using it. Look at this pic of Mogubai Kurdikar. Clearly, she is old. At this point, she has stopped performing as well. She had mastered the notes to such an extent that she actually did not need a Tanpura when this picture was clicked. But still, she is using one 🙂

Photo credits : I am really not aware. Please let me know and I will put the name here.

And then, here is one more musician who had stopped performing at an early stage of her career but had influenced (and even taught I guess) three giants : Lata Mangeshkar, Kishori Tai and Kumar Ji. She is Anjanibai Malpekar. Again with a Tanpura at very old age!

I have heard that Kumar Ji had a basic rule : He would not accept a concert if he could not manage a pair of Tanpura. Ustad Amir Khan often ditched the tradition of using two Tanpuras and instead used three. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was so particular about javhari of his Tanpura that he started using a kurta made using the thread which was his preferred thread for adjusting javhari.

Well if you think that only vocalists used Tanpuras, I have got some pictures of instrumentalists using Tanpura :

Photo Credit : Raghu Rai. To know more :

Not one, two. Three Tanpuras. That too, full scale Tanpuras. Not the Tanpuris.

It seems as if today’s musicians are so seasoned and have mastered such a grip on swaras that they don’t need the crutches of Tanpura. Poor Mogubai, Anjanibai, Kumarji, Ravishankarji Ali Akbarji and probably all other such maestros…practiced music for so many hours a day for so many years and could not reach the stage today’s many young musicians have reached.

I am not getting sentimental about Tanpura. I am not putting it on a pedestal. As a student of vocal music, I have seen quality of my own music go down when there is no acoustic Tanpura. As a listener of music, I have seen quality of music of many musicians (including today’s senior maestros) dwindle down considerably when they ditch an acoustic Tanpura. Of course, there is considerable audience for mediocre music. I am not talking about music that wins claps but music that leaves a lasting impact.

Why is Tanpura so integral to Indian Classical Music? First of all, Indian Classical Music is not static. The ability of taking birth in that very moment is integral and inseparable attribute of Indian Classical Music. An acoustic Tanpura, which actually gets tuned slightly different every time you tune it is the living canvas. We need not only a canvas but a living one. Electronic Tanpura is indeed a canvas but a dead one.

Look at it this way – can one compare the taste of home cooked fresh food with ready-to-cook packaged meal?

If you spend hours tuning the acoustic Tanpura and carefully listen to it, you would start noticing the interferences that emerge out of electronic Tanpura and would not primarily depend on it as your canvas.

The mental state in which an artist has to go to tune a Tanpura is pre-requisite to present authentic music. If you just casually sit on stage, turn on your electronic Tanpura and start, you are not doing your pre-concert homework. Athletes need warmup before they actually do the drill. A musician needs to dive within his or her own sonic and emotional sensitivity which is essential for sharing it with the audience. When artists use electronic Tanpura, they are sidetracking this important phase of the performance which reflects very much in the quality of the music that they present.

Most of the musicians know this. They know that the Tanpura is their playground. Many musicians are performing sitting in their houses because of the lockdown; still, they find it difficult to use an acoustic Tanpura. If one can invite accompanists for Tabla or Harmonium, getting a Tanpura player is not that difficult.

As a rule of thumb, if I and Dakshayani do not see an acouctic Tanpura, we just walk out or in these days, close the tab. Listening to an archival recording is much better.

Famous Musicians of India

Pt. Sharad Sathe: A Life In Music

“We have been coming to your place frequently. Now it’s your turn.” I proposed.

“Yes, of course. How about sometime in the next month?”

“Yes, works very well with us. Shall we plan a dinner?”

“Not just a dinner. I want to sing at your place; and of course, dinner after that!”

I was having this conversation not with a friend, but with one of the senior most masters of Indian Classical Vocal Music, Pt. Sharad Sathe. Sharad Kaka’s simplicity, his rigour to sing and share the treasures he had was unmatched. I knew him only for a short span of last couple of years of his life. His generosity, energy and enthusiasm always amused me.

Many musicologists, music critics and musicians have written at a length to describe his rich Gayaki and his refined aesthetics. While it is imperative to talk about his music, it is equally essential to talk about his persona and some values he firmly believed in and lived up to.

What I admired the most about him was his generosity; he never held back anything. We used to meet him often as we had initiated a project to document his life and publish it as a biography. In one particular meeting, I asked him whether there were any recordings where he spoke about music and theoretical aspects of it. He immediately got up from his chair and got a handful of CDs and DVDs. Not all of them were talks and speeches. Many of them had his concert recordings as well as some studio recordings. Without even checking what recordings the CDs contained, he handed it all to me.

In many of his baithaks that we attended, he always obliged to the farmaish of his students and chahetas.

Two years ago, we hosted Sharad Kaka at our place in Baner. After singing a full length Chhayanat and two other short Ragas, he took interval. In the interval, I and Dakshayani were running across; managing tea and coffee for everyone. After his tea was over, he was trying hard to locate both of us in our apartment, which was crowded with more than 60 odd people. It was only when both of us were settled, he began singing.

“The hosts should enjoy the concert first!” He said with his gentle smile. The kind of alertness and sensitivity that he had at the age of 87, that too in the midst of a concert, was truly unique.

During one particular meeting that we had at his place, by mistake, I told him about my concert happening in the city the next day.

“Both I and Sunetra will definitely come to listen to you tomorrow.” Sharad Kaka said when we were about to leave and I realised what a grave mistake I had committed. He was so full of excitement and energy that I was pretty sure he would be coming.

“You are most welcome to attend but honestly, I do not think I sing that well.” I told him humbly.

“Let me at least listen to you!” he said with twinkle in his eyes.

I was sincerely praying that Sharad Kaka either forgets about the concert or gets busy in something. I honestly did not want him to take all the troubles to listen to my immature singing.

The next day, while tuning the Tanpura in green room, I was hoping he would not come. When I reached on the stage, I missed a heartbit when I saw Sharad Kaka and Sunetra Kaku sitting in the front row.

I sang and in the interval went to him, touched his feet and requested him to forgive the mistakes.

“Not at all. You sang really well!” I thought he must be saying this just for the sake of it.

After the concert, I reached home and as a daily ritual, checked my email. On the top of a few mails from my clients, there was an email from Sharad Kaka appreciating my singing and our sincere efforts to take music to more people. He also insisted that I invite him for all future programs.

Of course, my music was nothing close to deserving his praise. But I was touched by his attitude, his openness and the way he encouraged me to continue my Sadhana.

I had invited him for the launch of The Kabir Way, which happened almost two years ago. He could not come for it as he had a concert the same evening. To my surprise, in his next concert, he had come prepared to sing a composition of Kabir in Raga Jaunpuri, just for me. Just to clarify, I was not the only one for whom he cared so much. He had such intimate bonds with many of his chahetas and in each of his concerts, he tried his best to sing something to which they could specially relate.

In one of our meetings with him, he showed us the diary in which he had written compositions which Prof. B. R. Deodhar had taught him. He had meticulously noted the date on which it was taught to him and also the source from where Deodhar ji had received that particular composition. Not to mention, all of this was written in his beautiful handwriting.

I have not seen any musician being this particular and meticulous. He communicated efficiently and promptly on emails which many young musicians find difficult.

“I want to come and see the work that you do at municipal schools.” He would say this quite often. Most of the venues where we operated were not easily accessible. So, we always hesitated to take him there.

When he came to know about we organising a workshop by his daughter and accomplished Bharatnatyam performer Smita Mahajan, he declared that he would definitely come. The workshop was organised at a municipal school in Yerawada and the venue was on the third floor.

He came, climbed up the floors slowly, at his pace and attended the workshop.

We were fortunate to host him second time at the place of his disciples, Alhad and Alok Alsi. It was quite a scene to see audience of fifty people singing along with him when he approached the Sam. He needed no time to create the magic through his music. In each of his performances that we attended, he not just sang; rather, he tried innovating in situ. A few times, he would find it difficult to sing a phrase that occurred to him; but he would not give up. Again, with twinkle in his eyes, he would sing the phrase, to his satisfaction and the audience’s delight. A few times, while singing a difficult fast-paced composition, though the audience was mesmerised, he would not be happy with his own singing. I have seen him apologising with an open heart when something like this happened. Probably it was this honesty and sincerity to present best music which took his art to the level it was.

Pt. Sharad Sathe performing in a private concert.

Pt. Sharad Sathe’s life and his musical journey clearly highlight his simplicity and integrity, both things disappearing fast in today’s landscape of music and art.

Famous Musicians of India

Interview: Tabla Maestro Nishikant Barodekar

For a long time, I wanted to interview this radiant and joyful Tabla Maestro, Nishikant Barodekar. I heard him first when he accompanied Rakesh Chaurasia at a concert in Pune. What a coincidence it was! I, my wife Dakshayani, Rakesh ji and Nishikant Barodekar- all of us came out together from the parking area. As Rakesh Chaurasia is a good friend, we exchanged a few words with him. After this brief conversation, Rakesh Chaurasia and Nishikant Barodekar went to the green room and I and Dakshayani to the auditorium!

Mandar and Dakshayani with Nishikant Barodekar
Mandar and Dakshayani with Nishikant Barodekar

At that time, I was unaware of the fact that Tabla Maestro was Nishikant Barodekar, grandson of the great Kirana Gharana vocalist, Smt. Hirabai Barodekar. It took us almost three years to meet in person after the concert that day!

Anyway, meeting Nishikant Barodekar was a totally new experience. Nishikant conveys certain things very clearly- he is humble, calm, devoted to the purity of his art and is well aware of his role in the world of music- not only as an artist but also a person and more importantly, as a teacher.

For almost one and half hour, Nishikant Barodekar took us on a ride, touching various aspects right from music, riyaz, spirituality to his observations about the young generation. Though he hails from a musical family, his musical journey was as tough as anyone else’s.

“For three years, I used to travel every day to Mumbai to learn Tabla from Abbaji (Ustad Allarakha) and come back to Pune. It was after three years of testing, that Abbaji asked me to stay at Mumbai”, humbly Nishikant unfolds the efforts which he has taken to master the art.

Nishikant started learning vocals and had to switch to Tabla due to some reasons. Under the initial guidance of Ustad Ghulam Rasool Khan, he began his Tabla lessons and was awarded national scholarship for three years. After this initial study, later he was accepted as a Gandabandh disciple by Ustad Allarakha.

“Ustad Allarakha was a great artist and had very simple personality. Ammaji (Abbaji’s wife) looked after us like mother. She always ensured that we are not hungry even if we were practicing late in nights.”

In this digital age, where many students of music meet their teachers only through Skype, the point made by Nishikant makes us realise that somewhere, the love and intimacy between Guru and Shishya is spiralling down.

When we asked him about who his favourite artist is or who are the artists he likes to listen to, he opened up his wide canvas.

“I am listening to all the great artists right from my childhood. Hence, there is no comparison. I just learned to pick up good things from each one of them.”

Nishikant Barodekar is a seasoned artist and his contribution to the field of art is significant. He has accompanied greatest of the great artists including Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Vilayat Khannad many many more. He is a teacher passionately sharing his art and knowledge with students. Nishikant also conducts workshops regularly.

“How is your experience with the young students who learn from you?”

“Well, there are lot many distractions which keep them away from focusing”, he tells.

“When we were kids, television was the only entertainment and distraction. Today, life is so fast and there are so many things to keep you away. But in spite of that, due to this, the speed of understanding and grasping has also improved.”

Nishikant Barodekar is a devotee of Satya Sai Baba and teaches Tabla at Music College at Puttapurthi. I appreciate his concern about music and his art which is not limited only to performing in concerts but also stretches to openly sharing his knowledge with students.

Meeting Nishikant Barodekar has left behind many impressions and has given us many things to reflect and contemplate on. He has invited us to Puttapurthi, and we are much excited to see the place and the work which he is doing over there.

After a long chat and filling dinner, we got up. I was a bit upset as hotel management insisted on visitors picking up their plates and keeping them at the washing counter.

“This is very similar to our place (Puttapurthi). Here at least you do not have to wash your plates!” commented Nishikant, with twinkle in his eyes, gauging my anxiety. We came back home with memories which will be cherished for long!

Visit Indian Classical Music Section 

Read Interview with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia

Read my entry on Ustad Zakir Hussain

Famous Musicians of India

Rahul Sharma and Mukundraj Deo at Swarjhankar Festival Pune-2015

Swarjhankar Festival 2015
Swarjhankar Festival 2015

I wanted to attend this performance by Rahul Sharma, a genius in his own right and son of godly Pt. Shivkumar Sharma but I had my own concert in Pen, a small town near Mumbai. In all, I was late by almost 20 minutes for the show.

Swarjhankar Festival takes place on an open ground, the same place where Sawai Gandharva Music Festival takes place. As the show was in open ground, while walking on the road, I could hear the Jhala being played by Rahul and I was quite surprised and delighted to know that he was playing Raga Charukeshi. Pt. Shivkumar Sharma had played Raga Charukeshi just a couple of weeks ago in Sawai Gandharva Music Festival. It of course takes a lot of courage for a young artist- to perform the same Raga which his father had performed  a few weeks ago in front of almost same crowd.

Rahul Sharma
Rahul Sharma

And without any doubt, Rahul did it fabulously. Charukeshi is a Raga which Hindustani Vocal Music has adopted from Karnatic Music. It has a very subtle flavor which needs to be extracted in a subtle way, in a right quantity. As I had imagined, Rahul Sharma explored the Raga and took out its mood and flavor in best possible way.

Rahul Sharma was accompanied by Pt. Mukundraj Deo on Tabla. Last time I had listened to his Tabla at Barkha Ritu along with Rahul Sharma. I liked the way he accompanied Rahul; without affecting the mood of Raga and the entire concert.

Looking forward from more such performances from Rahul Sharma and Mukundraj Deo!

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Famous Musicians of India

Concert Review-Dr. N. Rajam Live in Pune

Violin is an instrument which is quite difficult to try one’s hands on. When played with utter mastery, violin can paint varied moods of different Ragas. N. Rajam is a name synonymous with violin. She and her next two generations skillfully play this instrument and have created a distinct place in the world of Indian Classical Music.

Two days ago, I attended a concert by Shrimati N.Rajam. It was not the first concert by her which I attended. Two years back she had given a wonderful performance along with her daughter Sangeeta Shankar and two grand daughters. N. Rajam had played Raga Jog there. The performance was a unique example of coordination between four classical performers without damaging the melody. These four artists together had sculpted out the beautiful persona of Raga Jog.

The concert which I attended two days ago, was a free concert organized at Garware College. It was a two days music concert featuring four artists. I could attend one artist each day- N. Rajam on first day and Sarod maestro Vishwajeet Roy Chowdhury on the second.

Audience listening to the performance of Dr. N. Rajam

I was quite curious about which Raga N. Rajam would choose to open the concert with. She announced that she would be starting with Raga Miyan Ki Malhar. I have listened to different renderings of Miyan Ki Malhar by different artists on different instruments. This was the first time I was about to listen to it being played on violin.

N Rajam is quite famous for playing violin as per the Gayaki Ang (similar to the way vocalists sing.). She started with a composition in Vilambit Ektala (slow12 beats cycle). It was one of the finest vilambits I ever heard in Miyan Malhar with all the nuances of the Raga captured very well. It was very delicate and at the same time roaring as the clouds are.

The vilambit composition was followed by a drut composition. Though played with equal mastery, it could not do justice to the flavor of the Raga as much as the slow composition did. Respecting the request made by audience, she played a dhun and then finally concluded the concert with Bhairavi.

Mr. Pathak accompanied Dr. N. Rajam on tabla. Mr. Pathak is a disciple of the great Pt. Kishan Maharaj. Though he thrilled the audience with his art, I was expecting much more. Mr. Pathak has good Riyaz and command over the instrument but I could not find the gentleness and patience in his playing which one finds in Kishan Maharaja’s style of playing.

Famous Musicians of India

Milind Sheorey – The Divine Confluence

When I listened to Shri. Milind Sheorey for the first time, I remembered what Pt. Shivkumar Sharma said in ‘Antardhwani’, a documentary made by national film archives exploring the journey of this Santoor Maestro.
He says-

A Guru should not look at sculpting dozens or hundreds of disciples. Even if you are able to create one or two disciples who can understand the music of  Guru and then add something of their own to it, that is more than enough.

As my observation goes, this is quite true. Musicians cannot be bulk produced. At the same time, three factors play their role simultaneously. The first is disciple’s hard work- both as a musician and a human being, second is finding a Guru and the third and the last is the divine grace.
I feel, when all these three factors work out together positively, a great musician is born. It is quite clear that rarely something like this happens. It happened with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, it happened with Pt. Nityanand Haldipur and yes, it is happening with Shri Milind Sheorey.

Gurumata Annapurna Devi- The river of knowledge

Gurumata Annapurna Devi, who is taking efforts beyond human capacity to transfer the treasures of knowledge which she has, is very lucky as far as getting disciples is concerned. I could meet and have a discussion with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pt. Nityanand Haldipur. During our discussions with both the artists, we realized the tremendous efforts taken by Annapurna Ji and also the two disciples. Listening to Shri. Milind Sheorey made me realize that the chain does not end with these two artists.
Though Milind Sheorey learned music from same Guru, his style is very different than his two Gurubandhus. As Nityanandji had rightly said, Annapurna Ji crafted each disciple considering his personality and skills. As it is said, true Guru never forces his knowledge own disciples but tries to understand each disciple and cultivates him accordingly.
Being accepted as a disciple by Annapurna Ji is in itself a big thing- it certifies that you are honest with your art. Being accepted by a godly Guru is a difficult thing to happen. But, being with such Guru and trying to manifest her dreams is even more difficult. When a demanding Guru and a hardworking disciple comes together, the third factor has to come into the picture- the grace of the god.

Miilnd Sheorey and his Music

It is quite visible from Milind Ji’s performances that he plays Ragas which are generally not played on flute. It is a feast to listen to Ragas like Shuddha Kalyan, Puriya Dhanashree on flute which are generally played on string instruments. As one can imagine, the task is not that easy, I would say, it is not at all easy. Flute is a very different kind of instrument as compared to string instrument where the show is managed by artist’s breath.
Before this, I had listened to such ‘non flute’ Ragas being performed on flute but one could easily make out that something is missing and not fitting. When I gave a try to Milind Sheorey’s rendering, there was nothing missing. It had superb blend of stable breath, correct approach to play the notes, immense continuity.
I am sitting here, close to Annapurna Ji’s house, listening to Puriya Dhanashree, played by Shri. Milind Sheorey. It is a perfect evening, with winds blowing without any control and sea roaring. Milind Sheorey has reached to some different height, and his music is accommodating enough to take me also there, with him. The sun is about to collapse in the sea and the curtains are dancing. So are the notes, though a bit constrained by the rhythm.
Osho says music should bring you to your origin. It should make you look inside. That is what happening. At this time, I am experiencing the three factors pouring in- the hard work of this disciple, the perfect Guru and yes, the grace of the almighty, blowing around as wildly as these winds.

You can further read this article talking about Pt. Kumar Gandharva

Please enjoy this rendering of Raga Kedar by Milind Ji-


Famous Musicians of India

Ustad Zakir Hussain : Music hijacked by the divine

I have interviewed and written about many artists on this website till date. This is first time when I am writing something about Ustad Zakir Hussain. I have countless memories which resonate with divine music of Ustad Zakir Hussain. Infinite impressions are created both by his music and his being. As I have many times said, an artist is not only his art but a lot more than that. Zakir Bhai, in true sense has a lot of this ‘lot more’.

zakir bhai
Zakir Hussain, through his music, has helped me many times and I am very much sure that I am one of the countless persons who are knowingly and unknowingly helped by his music. Through his music, I have learnt many lessons and learned a better way to live my life. One might wonder how listening to a Tabla performance can teach someone so many things. But yes, if the music is hijacked by the god, it can even wake up the dead.

Zakir Hussain and other Tabla players

Though I do not like to compare artists, I always like to discuss what makes the tallest peak ‘the tallest’. Undoubtedly, Ustad Zakir Hussain is the tallest peak in world of Tabla today. I have attended many concerts where Tabla was either a solo instrument or an accompanying instrument. These concerts were given by different Tabla players, Zakir Hussain being one of them. Keeping my eyes open helped me to learn many things about him which in my opinion differentiate him from the others. I will share them one by one.

1. Understanding music of the main performing artist

Ustad Zakir Hussain has tremendous understanding (sometimes even more than the main artist himself!) of the way artist he is going to accompany performs. If you listen carefully, other Tabla players play in same way every time, with every instrument and everty artist. On the other hand, the way Zakir Bhai plays changes with the artist, changes with the instrument. The way he accompanies Santoor is different than the way he accompanies Sitar or flute. In order to attain this level of performance, the accompanying artist has to have a deep understanding of the instrument and also the artist. On this front, he is beyond any parallel in today’s world.

Ustad Zakir Hussain

2. Thorough knowledge of sound system and acoustics

As we do, artists also tend to avoid the technical part- acoustics and sound check. My experience tells that Zakir Hussain has in depth knowledge of sound systems, acoustics and other technical things. In all the concerts I attended, Zakir Bhai religiously did the sound check, paying attention to the finest of the details. As a result, each of his concert is supported by highest quality of sound.

3. Humbler than the humblest

I respect Zakir Hussain for his humble nature. His humbleness is not borrowed. It is not for show. He is humble. It is very natural in his being. I have always seen him respecting old and learned people, forgiving organizers for small mistakes. I remember one of my friend telling me his first-hand experience where after a concert, Ustad Zakir Hussain lifted the Chappals (Indian type of footwear) of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and brought them to him. In fact, his understanding of music of other artists also comes from this humble nature.

Zakir Hussain as an accompanist

I look at Zakir Hussain as best accompanying artist. I also remember the lit up faces of many music lovers when they came to know that the particular artist was being accompanied by Zakir Hussain. As already discussed, he has good understanding of different instruments and artists and he performs accordingly. Is that the only thing which separates him out? No, and the list is very long.

1. Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain


If someone asks me about which concert would be my highest priority concert, it would be this combination where Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is accompanied by Ustad Zakir Hussain. I remember a concert by these two great artists where Pt Shivkumar Sharma said that accompanists like Zakir Bhai are rarely born. The music of Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is meditative. His strokes and patterns are meditative. If the accompanying artist is not aware of this fact, his strokes tend to disturb this meditative quality of the music. The legacy of Zakir Hussain rests in the fact that his Tabla always adds to the meditative quality of music and it never disturbs it.

Accompanying Pt. Shivkumar Sharma is one of the most difficult task as the artist has to be highly attentive. Many times, a clear stress can be observed on the faces of artists accompanying him when they realize that they have lost it!

  I still remember a concert which took place around three years ago, at Ganesh Kala Krida Manch, Pune, where Pt. Shivkumar Sharma was accompanied by Zakir Hussain. The theatre was full, with not a single chair empty. It was the last part- the climax of the concert, very end of fast composition in Raga Puriya Kalyan.

At that point, where both the artists could not afford to stop for even a fraction of second, one stoke of Ustad Zakir Hussain slipped a bit. Hardly anyone of thousands of people noticed it- it was a very subtle issue. The greatness of Zakir Hussain is, he touched his right ear even at that moment.

I appreciate this honesty, of accepting one’s mistake, so small that no one can even notice it. On the other hand, I have seen many famous Tabla players going out of rhythm with a wide smile on their faces- to pretend the crowd that they are playing with rhythm and nothing has gone wrong.

2. Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Hussain

Once, I had this opportunity to listen to Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and the accompanying artist was Zakir Hussain. I could not attend the concert as I had to visit another city. But, I have an album, named Posession where Hariji and Zakir Bhai perform together at Osho Ashram (Now Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune). The album has Ragas Hansdhwani, Puriya Kalyan, Kala Ranjani and Pahadi.

This album possession truly shows what Zakir Hussain is. His Tabla talks with the flute. One can feel that both the instruments are having a conversation with each other. Infinite number of times I have listened to all of the recordings but still, they are fresh and they are alive.

3.Ustad Zakir Hussain: The king of Humor

Zakir Bhai is one of the most lively and humorous artists. His humor is pure, fresh and innocent. I have many impressions of his humorous behavior left on my heart. I remember a concert where the anchor was praising him without any limits. Silently, Zakir Bhai left his seat, stood behind the anchor and made him horns with his hands!

In another concert, where Niladri Kumar was frustrated while tuning his instrument (and which was not getting tuned), Zakir Hussain called him and asked him if he needs the hammer to tune it.

Zakir Hussain as a Solo Tabla Player

Playing Solo Tabla demands an altogether different judgment and RIyaz compared to playing Tabla as an accompanying artist. If you have to be best at both, you have to be Zakir Hussain.
Everyone has his own purpose behind watching or listening to any art form. What is my purpose? What am I looking for when I attend a concert? During a concert, if the artist is divine enough, there comes a time where the controls of the performance shift from artist to the divine. This is what I call as ‘hijacked by the divine’. This transition is something for which the artist performs. I can experience this transition in Zakir Bhai’s music. Whenever I go to a concert, I am waiting for this transition- it may happen or it may not. When Zakir Hussain is performing, it always happens!

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Pt. Kumar Gandharva- The purpose behind a Tarana

Pt. Kumar Gandharva- The musician who made a difference


Kumar Gandharva

Pt. Kumar Gandharva- The purpose behind a Tarana

Note- Tarana is a type of composition which generally does not carry any meaning. As per the trend goes, Taranas are sung in a fast tempo.  

Many times, it is seen that listeners as well as vocalists are not aware of purpose behind different types of compositions that are being sung. Ideally, everyone should do what Pt. Kumar Gandharva used to do- contemplation. I really like the way this maestro, Kumar Gandharva has put forward his original thoughts on different aspects of Indian Classical Music, Tarana not being an exception

I often used to wonder, why Tarana is sung in any particular Raga. It is made up of syllables which carry no meaning at all. What people generally think is, it is some kind of adventure in Classical Music. For casual listeners, Indian Classical Music is very slow, boring and monotonous. I know many of my friends whose interest levels suddenly boost up when any artist says that he will be performing a Tarana. Generally, Tarana is thought to be the athletic part of classical music, unfortunately, not only by casual listeners but even by the many of the most famous musicians.

Pt. Kumar Gandharva singing a Tarana Courtesy- FiIms Division (Hans Akela)
Pt. Kumar Gandharva singing a Tarana
Courtesy- FiIms Division (Hans Akela)

While listening to Tarana sung by different artists, I used to feel unsatisfied. The constant fight with rhythm and notes used to seem senseless. I remember a concert, where Pt. Mukul Shivputra had sung a Tarana in Bhairav Raga. It was an early morning concert organized on the birth anniversary of Pt. Kumar Gandharva in Pune. It was first time when I listened to a Tarana in Madhya Laya (medium tempo). Otherwise, it is always performed in Ati Drut Laya (Super fast tempo). I enjoyed that Tarana a lot. It had conveyed something- which was beyond words.

Still, I was looking from some statement or document written by some authority which explained why Tarana is sung or what is the purpose behind singing Tarana. They say, when you are searching for something seriously, you get it.  Last week, I had ordered for myself a copy of ‘Hans Akela’ , a documentary made on Pt. Kumar Gandharva. This documentary was directed by Jabbar Patel. Somewhere in this documentary, they have mentioned what thoughts he had about Tarana. As he says,

‘When singer sings everything, and still wants to say something more, something which he could not convey through the compositions sung, he sings Tarana- which has no meaning. ’

– Pt. Kumar Gandharva

 I found this explanation very relevant, authentic and having some experimental value. Pt. Kumar Gandharva has sung his Taranas in same way. They convey something which the words cannot.  

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Pt. Mukul Shivputra and laughing Pt. Kumar Gandharva

Famous Musicians of India Personal Interviews Pt. hariprasad Chaurasia

Enlightening Interview- Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia

Dear Readers, a few years ago, I got a chance to interact with Pt. hariprasad Chaurasia for around one hour. As all of us know, Hariji is a towering figure in the world of Indian Classical Music. Apart from that, he is a very nice human being, trying to spread flute and music around the world. During this interaction, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia touches different topics- from his Guru to Osho. He also talks about his Gurukul, other musicians and the young generation taking the responsibility to carry forward the tradition. Presenting the first part of the interview.
Mandar- Our generation knows flute only as an instrument. But it is something beyond that. Can you please tell us something about this divine instrument, flute?
Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia- Flute is the only instrument in the world which is associated with lord Krishna, made by the lord himself. In case of other instruments, you have to the factory, you have to buy and you have to choose. In case of a flute, you need not go to any factory. You have to go to the forests and get a bamboo. You have make holes according to your fingers and your breath. Flute is the oldest instrument; It is just a hollow piece of bamboo. There are no strings, no skin and no straining. In a way, it is the purest instrument. In case of other instruments, you have to tune the instrument to get the proper sound. In case of a flute, it is absolutely reverse. You have to tune yourself according to the flute. In case of other instruments like Sitar etc., you just have to tune it and play it with some practice. It is not the case with flute. You have to tune your entire breathing pattern according to it. It may take one day, one month or even years. So, it is the most difficult instrument.

Mandar Karanjkar with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia. At Vrindavan Gurukul, 2011.
Mandar Karanjkar with Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia.
At Vrindavan Gurukul, 2011.

Mandar- What do you exactly feel when you are playing the flute?
Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia- Just like sitting and playing the flute. Music is certainly like a prayer and god also does not understand English or Hindi or Marathi or any other language. But, he understands my language.
Mandar- How is music connected to spirituality?
Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia- It is very closely connected to spirituality. It is a form of meditation. Particularly, flute helps you to regularize your breath. It is Pranayama. It takes care of your devotion and health both at the same time.
Mandar- Can you please tell us something about your Guru?
Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia- Shrimati Annapurna Devi is my Guru. She is my mother, she is my teacher. She is everything for me. She is more than a goddess.
Mandar- What was your schedule like when you were a student of music?
Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia- My lifestyle was just as usual. I just used to play as a prayer. There was not any fixed schedule or time. It just depends. It was just like Pooja. You do it when you wish like doing it. You do not have to find a fixed time. Whenever you feel like doing it, you do it.
Mandar- It is said that music is a way of worshipping Nadbrahma. Have you ever experienced this vibe of Nadbrahma?
Panditji- Everyday! When I sit with my instrument, I feel it. When I play the flute, I feel the vibe. And remember; only when I feel it, my audience will feel it.
Mandar- In Indian Classical Music, there are hundreds of Ragas, for each and every human mood. What were then your inspirations behind the inventions of new Ragas like Haripriya and Kalaranjani?
Panditji- I thought about creating something new for the young generation. You know, sometimes, young generation wants to listen to something new, which is not written in any books. So, I wanted to create something for the young generation.

Mandar- Which is your favorite raga?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia– All are my favorites. It depends on ones mood, mindset and also the timing. But to be honest, all are my favorites. Like you have ten children. You cannot say that I should love this one only and not the other. The useless child we love the most!

Mandar- your latest Album was Kirwani- The message of the Birds. It was praised a lot by the listeners in India and abroad. Can you tell us something about this album?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – (Laughing) Yes! You, know, Kirwani is a south Indian Raga. But these days, we north Indian Artists also play this Raga. What I observe while playing this raga is that, it is appreciated very much by the people in Europe or you can even say in the entire west. They have similar notes in their music also. So, they just love it. When we play it in the Indian way, they love it even more! Also, I have noticed that people outside India understand and appreciate this raga even better. So, no wonder, the Album was a hit!

Mandar- Are there any activities other than music which you love to do?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – I do not have time to do any activity other than music. (Satirically) I would love to do some business so that I can earn money and become rich!! Whatever time I get, I spend it here, in my Gurukul, with my students. I try to make them musically fit! Whatever I have, I give it to this Gurukul. Many people are helping this Gurukul. Students do not have to pay anything here for accommodation. The supporters are working hard to earn their money and they give it to the Gurukul. So, I have to take care that it is being utilized properly.

About His Gurukul

Mandar- What is your vision behind this Gurukul?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – Because I love my teacher, I love my Guru. My teacher’s father had even a bigger Gurukul at Maihar.

Mandar- Are you talking about Ustaad Allauddin Khan?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – Yes, Ustaad Allauddin Khan, Annapurna Devi’s father and Guru. They used to have a great number of artists and students there. These students used to play music, sing music, write about music, and think about music. They used to compose new songs. There used to be many festivals arranged there. Various artists used to come and play. So, everything was just musical!  So many activities were going on there. So, I thought, that I should try. I should just see if I can also do it, if I can do something. And yes, god is there. He is helping me. When god is there, many people come forward to help you. To help us, many people came forward. Mr. Rajeev Gandhi came forward to help us and he helped us a lot! Mr. Ratan Tata came forward. I cannot think of even one inch of land to buy here in Mumbai to make this kind of Gurukul. It is so costly.  But when god is there, one need not worry.(Laughing) God must I have loved my business and the way I do it!

Mandar– Your favorite musician?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – Every musician I like very much. They are doing really very well. You know, everybody is doing his part in this world of Music. No one is the whole. I am doing my part of music; other artists are doing their part of music. I have something to tell. So, that is my part of music. Others are also having something to tell, that is there part of music. And I love the whole music. So, I love the each part.

Mandar- What are your views about the approach of young generation about the music?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – They are really very very hard workers. They try to do something, they try to learn something. They try to learn as much as possible, through the books, through the teachers. They are thinking wonderfully about music, they are writing thoughtful articles about music, they are composing very well. We were just dumb! They are very sharp.

Hariprasad Chaurasia on Osho

Mandar- Can you tell us something about Osho, who was a very intimate friend of you?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – What can I tell you about Osho? He was not one, but he was many He was the best speaker in the whole world. He was the best philosopher I have ever seen. He used to play flute very beautifully. I have not seen a person having so much knowledge of all kinds of activities going around. Very calming and down to earth. There was a time when were friends, when nobody knew him, he was not famous. But then, he became internationally famous, everybody knew him. But, he wanted to keep the friendship with me which we had earlier. He did not change, his love did not change. So, I used to come often to Pune to play for him, to record for him. When he left this world, when he left us, I do not go there anymore. It was he for whom I used to go to Pune so often.

Message for Young Generation

Mandar- What is your message for the young generation?

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia – It is the time they must do something about music; not by playing only, but also by listening, thinking, involving themselves in the world of music. There are many young people interested indie and outside India. So, it is now duty of teachers that they must take some time for the younger generation; they should put some efforts to create interest in the young generation about the music. So, it is your responsibility to take out not much but at least some time for the music!