Fifty Shades of Yaman

Every student of Indian Classical Music, at the very beginning of his student life, learns Raga Yaman. Similarly, every performing artist, sometime or the other has played or sung this Raga during his career as a musician.

In the world of Indian Classical Music, Yaman certainly has a spot which can hardly be taken by any other Raga. As a student of music, I was exposed to this Raga at a very young age and since then, have been listening to its renderings, by different artists.

Though considered as one of the simplest Ragas, presenting Yaman in a concert is a tough task.

I personally feel that Yaman is a multi-faceted Raga. It has multiple dimensions and multiple personalities hidden inside. Not every Raga is like this. For instance, consider Malkauns. Though Malkauns has a wide canvas, its personality is very well defined. In spite of artist and her creativity, the persona of Malkauns remains quite fixed. May be this is the reason why even beginners can also easily identify Malkauns when it’s being played by some artist- the persona is unique, well defined and hence, easy to grasp.

Yaman is not like that. Though it has well defined notes and patterns, artist has wide freedom to construct the personality. We cannot have fifty shades of Malkauns but we can certainly have fifty or even hundred shades of Yaman.

I have been listening to Yaman for quite few years and many times, heard it live, from different artists. What I realized is, though Yaman is capable of casting its fifty shades, artists fail to build a personality out of it. Listening to most of the renderings of Yaman, one realises that artists get caught in the shades, without being able to build a persona on any one dimension.

Is it necessary to build a persona? What is wrong if someone exposes the audience to different shades of Yaman instead of building on any one particular shade?

While exposing audience to multiple shades is not wrong, not building a persona clearly indicates the lack of understanding of the Raga and its nuances.

Every Raga is like a person and every person has a personality. We love a person because of his personality; if the personality is missing or not defined, it becomes difficult. Same with a Raga. A Raga has to have a personality. In case of a Raga like Yaman, artist has to explore different shades or the different facets of the personality and then build one in front of the audience; the one that the artist likes the most.

Sometimes, a person we know very well behaves strangely, in an absolutely unexpected way; this makes the relationship interesting. Similarly, an artist, though he is building the Raga around one particular facet, skilfully introduces some other shades, making the Raga even more interesting and unpredictable.

Out of all the Yamans that I have heard, I liked two renderings the most. First is Pt. Kumar Gandharva, who builds a very nice personality and makes it more interesting using his creativity and unmatched imagination.

The second one is Yaman by Pt. Nityanand Haldipur. Out of all the Yamans I heard, his one has the best personality- sober, humble yet graceful.


Jhinjhoti- The song of hopelessness

Sometimes I just wonder about some Ragas and moods they create. There are more than hundreds of Ragas in Indian Classical Music, each different from the others. I wonder what led to creation of so many ragas. Some say Ragas were ultimately created by picking up some phrases from folk music which sounds quite reasonable. But I don’t think this is true for all Ragas. I feel some ragas are indeed created by some persons, saints or meditators to be precise and then these tunes came into folk or classical music.

What makes me think so is the feelings created by these ragas. A common man is far from feeling these emotions and hence a raga portraying these emotions won’t come from him.

I think Jhinjhoti is such a Raga. I listened to it first time when I was a tenth standard student. I had purchased a cassette in which Pt. Kumar Gandharva had sung this Raga.

“Its so boring and sad kind of raga”, I had muttered and had almost concluded that I wasted my money on this record. Many of my friends who are learning Indian Classical Music often do not take troubles to listen to this Raga as it is utterly sad and boring.

I remember those days when I was a heavy meditator, somewhere around first or second year of engineering. I happened to listen to Rasdhara, an album where Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia have played Raga Jhinjhoti together.

During those days, I had started to realize that I need to find my own way. Rather it was a beginning of the journey within. During those days, for the first time I had tasted the situation where one does not have any hopes. It was rather a state of hopelessness but quite different than usual hopelessness. The Jhinjhoti played by Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia together was a perfect potion. I remember watching people running on a narrow street right from my balcony while listening to Jhinjhoti played by these two stalwarts I still remember the way I saw it- utterly mechanical, running blindly behind their hopes or even for satisfying others’ hopes. We are hopeless when some hope which we projected does not get fulfilled. Hope is the engine which keeps our lives moving. And when certain hope is not fulfilled or destroyed, we become hopeless. This hopelessness lasts until we find a different set of hopes.

The hopelessness which I faced at that time was quite different, it was a state where you realize this complete cycle of hope and hopelessness. At that time, you are totally stagnant- as the engine to pull you is missing. Raga Jhinjhoti rather sings out this state of ‘no hope’. Those who have not tasted this kind of hopelessness find it sad and boring.

Since that point, Jhinjhoti is not boring, but a companion on the way. I met many versions of Jhinjhoti so far, some resonating with my understanding and some not.

I could feel this flavor in the Jhinjhoti played by Pt. Nityanand Haldipur. It makes you silent- taking you away and making you a witness to your own mind and your own hopes. It rather reminds me of the sea outside Guruma’s house, having infinite turbulence and energy but still without any hopes.

Another Jhinjhoti, the one to which I am listening while writing this article is the one sung by Pt. Kumar Gandharva, the same which I had found boring a few years ago. At that time, I was certainly a guy who had many hopes and wanted to fulfill them. It is quite reasonable that I refused to enjoy Jhinjhoti at that time. I think the correct time had not yet come at that time.

I have listened to Jhinjhoti played or sung live by many great artists. Not all of them pitch the same flavor and I do not expect them to do so. But when I listen to any rendering of Jhinjhoti, I always see if this intangible ‘hopelessness’ pours out of it or not, but I certainly do not ‘hope’ that it should always exist.

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. Kumar Gandharva- The musician who made a difference

Whenever any famous musician from the world of Indian classical music is questioned about the quality of newcomers in the field, the answer we get is very positive. Almost all of them say that the young musicians are doing very good. If someone listens to some records of pt. Kumar Gandharva and then gives a thought to this question raised above, he will get depressed. Yes, there are many maestros listening to whose performances can make us doubtful about the  quality of new generation of classical musicians. But to compare with, I chose Pt. Kumar Gandharva. Certainly, there are reasons for the same.

For last many decades, the word innovation has been dominating every sector. Right from manufacturing to education, every field has been changed and affected by this word innovation. Though classical music is there for hundreds and thousands of years, many innovations have taken place into the world of classical music. These innovations are not ordinary innovations as they have not damaged the crux of classical music. If we make a list of all the creative and innovative musicians, certainly Pt. Kumar Gandharva has to be there in the list.

Pt. Kumar Gandharva made a difference in many ways- right from the quality of music to living life as a person. He practiced music when the field was not as glamorous as it is today. He performed, when artists were not paid as much as they paid today. Sound systems, infrastructure, publicity and hospitality were in much poor state at that time as compared to today’s scenario. But still, one can find peace in his music which is hardly visible today. Yes, he made a difference.

The other aspect of Pt. Kumar Gandharva which separates him from others is his capacity to experiment. While listening to his performance, one suddenly realizes that the canvas occupied by seven notes is infinite. He had the power to sing one line in infinite ways- each one of them being equally enchanting and equally creative.

By doing this comparison, by no way I am trying to say that all the artists from the young generation lag behind. But I will surely say that we have a lot to learn from Pt. Kumar Gandharva. As a student of Indian Classical Music, when I am learning any Raga, I listen to its rendering by different musicians. When I say musicians, it includes both vocalists and instrumentalists. In case of every Raga, I without fail listen to its rendering by Pt. Kumar Gandharva. He always has some different story to say. He opens up many new dimensions in that Raga totally unexplored by others. There are many musicians who have made a difference, but in case of Pt. Kumar Gandharva, the difference is huge with unfathomable impact.

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Pt. Kumar Gandharva : Famous Musicians of India

Lady Gaga, in her concert in India had said that she reads books by Osho and also she likes the concept of Rebel put up by Osho.  Lady Gaga also said that her journey has been that of a rebel. I am not right person to tell if Lady Gaga really had a rebellious journey or not; but if someone asks me about Indian musician, who was genius and also, who was a rebel, the name which will come to my mind is Pt. Kumar Gandharva.

Pt. Kumar Gandharva

Among all the famous musicians of India, certainly, Pt. Kumar Gandharva had a different fabric. One realizes this fact every time he listens to Pt. Kumar Gandharva. According to me, he was a real rebel. Pt. Kumar Gandharva , with his talent beyond all the limits, challenged, modified and renewed many conventions. Pt. Kumar Gandharva was certainly not a blind singer. He was a genius with highest level of awareness. He developed his own style to suit his voice, his musical thought. Pt. Kumar Gandharva can be said to be a ocean in himself.

I am not fortunate enough to see him performing. But yes, we have many of his concert recordings. Each of them is a masterpiece. One more thing which I like about Pt. Kumar Gandharva is that his music is for patient listeners. If you are not patient, you cannot listen to him. But for patient, aware listeners, his music is like ocean of insights, beauty and eternity.

I am also touched by the simplicity of Pt. Kumar Gandharva. He is an artist without most common attitude problems which artists have. Among all the famous musicians of India, certainly, Pt. Kumar Gandharva has created a unique place which is very distinct from other artists.


Pt. Mukul Shivputra and Laughing Kumar Gandharva

To welcome the rains, a wonderful concert by Pt. Mukul Shivputra was organised at Bharat Natya Mandir, Pune. It is a rare chance to listen to Pt. Mukul Shivputra. He had given a glimpse of his divine voice and unmatched rendering to the music lovers of Pune in a concert organised at Yashwantrao Chavan Natyagruha on the occasion of birth anniversary of Pt. Kumar Gandharva.

Without much publicity, the concert was flooded with listeners with no tickets remaining. The typical crowd of devoted listeners reminded me of concerts of Pt. Kumar Gandharva.  The stage was decorated simply with a few flower garlands and a photograph of Pt. Kumar Gandharva, laughing.

Concert started with no formality. Pt. Mukul Shivputra had come with a determination of quenching thirst of his listeners. He was rendering each note of the Raga in unique way. Hall was full of matured crowd. It was a perfect occasion to go inside- divine notes, a genius at his peak, a mind at the bottom of its depth.  Pt. Mukul Shivputra was creating magic. The notes were resonating in the atmosphere. Their aura was getting multiplied and among these tides of notes, I was caught.

A few years ago, i used to feel sad about Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Pt. Mukul Shivputra. That day, I laughed. Pt. Mukul Shivputra is beyond the mundane, because music he creates leaves mundane behind. Let him be anywhere; his music will always keep him above the normal world.

It was a satisfaction to listen to Pt. Mukul Shivputra. A soul of waves was dancing in the waves of music. The music he created waved hundreds of his listeners.

That day, I was laughing, Pt. Kumar Gandharva was laughing looking at his son going deeper and deeper in the ocean of music, and Mukul, he had gone far ahead of us……..

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