Monday, May 1, 2017

Making of soulful music ... talent, technique, talim or ....

(Lady with Tanpura by MF Hussain - picture courtesy Wikiart)

Do you often wonder why despite your musical talent and grooming you are not being able to win the hearts of the audience to the extent you would like to? Concert after concert, despite choosing the right composition and the right melody and putting up an impeccably solid performance you have still not won their heart.

Why is it so? You may think that it’s because you are not experienced or technically equipped enough to sway the audience. In all likelihood you are mistaken. Your talent, the training that you have received and hours of practice that you put in, have little or nothing to do with you being able to touch the audiences’ soul. Yes, it’s not about your technique and the improvisations that you do or the speed and dramatics that you display. It’s about who you are.

Sounds absurd and mystical? Well, step back and ask yourself, when you perform who is performing. Why are you performing? What is the motive behind your performance? You will see that it’s not you who is presenting the music. There is a mind-made concept of what you are, built brick by brick with your age old conditionings, seeking gratification of some unresolved needs that is presenting to the audience. Consider this to be like an insular coating on your true ‘being’ that can neither receive the life- force that your soul is incessantly emanating all the time nor sense and respond to the audience in the moment. And this comes in the way of expression of Swaratma – the soul of the melody.

If you truly want your musical expressions to seep through the senses of your audience and make a home in their hearts you need to dissolve this coating of your mind-made self and be able to make music happen. Like a hollow bamboo which makes music when wind of the Universal energy flows through it, you shall then become an instrument of the divine melody flowing through you. You will be a witness to the making of this music and how it enfolds and engulfs all those who are in the space where the music pervades, in a state of shared mindfulness.

This is possible. I have made it possible with a few who came with the restlessness to transcend the mediocrity of being just another performer. A few who were steeped in their reverence for and servitude to the sacred heritage of Indian music. They have come and seen themselves in the mirror that I have held for them and in seeing they have known that this is not who they wanted to be. They have been enabled to explore into their depths to uncover the past which is vitiating their presence and in discovering these contaminants they have got a glimpse of who they truly are. They, with me, have gone down the memory lane to look back at the moments when they were at their best and deconstructed these experiences to bring forth the immutable treasures that they carry and reconstructed a new musical reality for themselves. By going through such transformational experience, not only their approach to presenting music has changed but also the quality of rendition. It has become more spontaneous and soulful to the listener as much as more joyful for the performer. The music they present now is as I would like to term it ‘Swaratmik’.

Would you like to go through a similar experience too? If yes, write to me at or , and I shall be glad to accompany you in your transformational journey.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Posting guidelines

The following guidelines for posting may please be kept in mind: 1. All posts need to based on first-hand experiences, reflections and insights. This is no place for gyan, theory or any intellectual debate. 2. The experiences may be related to, besides Hindustani classical, light classical genres like geet, bhajan, ghazal, thumri, tappa and folk like chaiti, rasiya, jhumar, kajri etc. Any experience related to genres not rooted in Indian music like indi-pop or fusion may be avoided. 3. Swaratma is about integration of the swar (the note) with the atma (the soul, the Self). It is not one of the two. Therefore, technical / theoretical details of music and / or spirituality may be avoided. 4. While one can be and should be authentic and forthright in expressing ones experience, care must be taken not to hurt anyone's sentiment and more importantly not to express any bias or prejudice. 5. Use as many pictures (with captions) and videos as possible in the post. Needless to state, these should not violate any copyright. The posts may be within 800 to 1000 words length.

Friday, April 17, 2015

He grew up in the ocean of music

He was not born in a family of musician. He was born in the ocean of music.Ever since his early childhood days, the earliest that he can remember, music, pure Shastriya music, was an essential element of his growing up environment.

Baba, an ardent love of Hindustani Classical music, a connoisseur and also an honorary critic with the All India Radio, ensured the 'purity' of the acoustical 'vatavaran', so much so that his sisters had to really steal moments to listen to Vividh Bharati or Binaca Geetmala.

Every month there would be private 'jalsa' organized at his home, in Lucknow, by Baba and his friends which would sometimes even feature artists like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit V J Jog and Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakawa.

No wonder even at the tender age of 10 or so, he could prodigiously not just recognize the ragas but relate to them. He had no 'swar-gyan', yet could discern the difference between a Puriya and a Marwa or a Desh and a Tilak Kamod. Born under Shravana nakshtra, he was blessed with the an innate ability for conscious listening with which he would get straight to the essence of the ragas, intuitively, and build relationships with them.

By the time he was in his early teens, maddened by the elixir of the blissful strains of music, the boy was bubbling with the urge to let out and express the music that had by now become his sanctuary. So, one day, sometime in mid-seventies, driven by his explorative nature, he used his amateur carpentry skills and some elementary knowledge of physical acoustics to modify his sister's Hawaiian guitar to create what was the first version of Indra Veena. Despite all the scoldings and wrath of his elders, his joy of having found a vent for his passion was boundless. Very soon, guided by his discerning ears he was able to play Todi and Bihag.

This was the beginning of a new journey. A journey unto exploring the fathomless depths of Hindustani classical music. Shy and diminutive by nature, he had very few friends. Besides studies, which always took priority over music, he was lost in the world of listening to doyens from different gharanas and trying to reproduce the nuances on his self-created instrument, all by himself.In late eighties he got an Indra Veena professionally made and started performing in small private programs. He had no particular regimen for riyaaz. All the time he had for himself, it was meant to be spent in company with music - listening and re-listening, imbibing the essence, trying to reproduce and then listening again. There was a penchance for not getting it right grammatically, but getting it to express itself with all its beauty and 'alankar', in entirety.

He was coaxed into taking lessons for Sangeet Prabhakar and by mid-eighties he had completed it with distinction.

In late, eighties, he had the good fortune of playing for a few concerts at the Festival of India in Switzerland. And immediately thereafter, was blessed with a few months of tutelage at the feet of Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra in Ahmedabad.Very soon he realized the disconnect. On the one hand his performer self was tugging at the egoic strings to show off and on the other the devotee self was wanting to get drowned and dissolved in the ocean of music, to which he belonged. After spending endless nights of serenading with his first love, in pain and anguish, not able to compromise with his love for the Beloved, he took a call to relinquish the race for performance and settled down to play for himself.Even today, he is never lonely, though he might often be found alone. Al-one with his first love, drowned in the bliss of its sublime experience, in communion with Divinity.

Yours truly

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh 2013 - Day two

One of the distinctive features of Hindustani classical music is the time theory of ragas. Each raga is associated with one of the 12 time divisions across a 24-hour cycle called prahar. Not just because of the notes used in the scale but also because of its nature - the pakad and its key notes - the Vadi (king) and Samvadi (queen). Thus, while Bhoopali and Deskar have the same notes in their scale, the former is an performed in the late afternoon or early evening and the later in the late morning. So is it with Marwa and Sohini. While Marwa with the Vadi being Komal Re and the Samvadi being Shuddh Dha, is a Sandhi Prakash raga supposed to be performed during dusk, its close cousin Sohini  with Vadi Dha and Samvadi Ga is is associated with very late night / pre-dawn, the last or eighth period of day, roughly from 3-6AM.

Courtesy ITC SRA
No matter how accomplished an artist is, she is not expected to flout the time theory, and there is a reason. The root of Hindustani music is lies in Nature. The subtle sounds of nature, including the primordial sound of the Universe - Aum - has gone into synthesis of the ragas by the intuitive higher-selves of rishis and munis to ensure that they are, when performed, in perfect harmony with the universal vibrations at all times of the day and across all seasons. Moreover, human beings, as a part of nature also correspond / align to these temporal and seasonal vibrations through certain combinations of the seven chakras - each chakra corresponding to one of the seven notes. 

The first principles of dharma are expected to be followed to enable us be in harmony with the spirit of the Universe. And only when one is in perfect harmony with this spirit, the space of awareness in which the soul of music can manifest, gets invoked. 

When Pandit Vishwanath decided to sing Raga Marwa late in the night, it was therefore quite a surprise. Despite his mastery and attempts to be honest with the rendition of this rather difficult raga, it was not really gelling well with the overall ambiance - both his inner ambiance as well as the outer ambiance. That's why there seemed to be so much of attempt, so much of effort. A wonderful mellifluous voice that he is gifted with and his ability to connect to the primordial anahat nada came to his advantage to manage to hold the space. If only he had chosen a raga that was more appropriate to the time of  his performance.
Ronu Majumdar has made a place for himself in the heart of music lovers by sheer
hard-work and conscious effort to build a rapport with the audience. That evening too, in his rendition of Abhogi Kanada - a pentatonic raga that has been adopted from Carnatic music into Hindustani music he was quite industrious, I thought. After a brief meditative alaap where Ronu himself seemed to be communing with the cosmic principle, he, by design, got into performing to the gallery. And that is when he kept wavering from the center, working hard at times and at other times becoming an instrument himself, to regain his spontaneity. 

Hindustani music has inherent in it the inter-play of Nava Rasas - the nine emotions. Each raga, depending on its character, has pre-dominance of one or more rasa and a musician is expected to understand and appreciate that during rendition. To me, Abhogi, by its nature, has a tendency to arouse aggression (Krodh) and a wise performer would do well to tone down such forms of presentation which may accentuate that. I wish Ronu had considered this in his gatkari and tankari. He could have focused more on gamaks in the bass octave evoking more serenity than fast tankari in middle and higher octaves which stroked the adrenaline. May be he was trying to feed into the audience's unconscious craving for baser emotions and gather more applaud than on being honest with himself and the raga. Which could have enraptured the audience differently, in a space of expanded consciousness and stirred their soul. May be.  In his rendition of Vaishnav Jana To I heard Ronu coming back to his true, integrated self as his flute 'sang' this ageless bhajan with oodles of devotion and purity, despite the child like play he indulged in with Ram Kumar Mishra on tabla.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh 2013 - Day one

Despite his divine presence pervading the entire space in Sankat Mochan, physical absence of Mahant-ji - Late Shri Veer Bhadra Mishra - with his calm and serene demeanor was acutely felt. A subtle somberness hung in the air, even as everyone quietly went about doing what they were meant to be doing. It was as if we were still being guided by his spirit and were in our own ways acknowledging it. May his soul rest in peace.

The star attraction of the evening undoubtedly was Anup Jalota. Still carrying his inimitable style of setting up an atmosphere of a jivy satsang with his popular bhajans and his ultra popular applaud-drawing techniques of vocal elasticity, he kept the motley benarasi crowd in good humor.

The rest of the evening was staging newcomers and promising talents. 

Akash, an teenager from Bangalore made a brave and honest attempt with his flute to jam up with Bhaskarnath's shehani as they gradually unfolded the intricacies of raga Jog, with justified caution. Submitting to rigor and staying within the bounds to not risk contamination of a raga often brings out its essence. Akash and Bhaskar aptly displayed this ability and must say, even as budding talent, were considerably appreciate and applauded by a rather sensitive and sensing audience. 

The samaroh staged another flautist duo - two sisters - Suchismita & Devpriya - able disciples of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. It was their maiden stage performance at the sangeet samaroh which was obvious from the initial hiccups in exposition of raga Bageshree they experienced. The mystical energy of the space has the ability to hold those who surrender with humility. It happened with the two sisters soon getting centered and finding the notes mellifluously flowing out of their instruments. Influence of Hari-ji's style was unmistakable. And yet lacked the 'aha' that he left the audiences with, even a decade back. Is it about seasoning , maturity and sadhana? Or is it also about ones emotional location, one's intent and commitment to make music a passage unto the primordial silence, the un-struck sound of Aum?

While on the one hand the space comes with the compassion to hold and uphold the humble and honest, it is also can be ruthless in teaching valuable lessons to those get carried away with their performer-ship. The space has little consideration for lineage, school and heritage one comes from. What matters is the emotional location of the artist in the 'here and now'. This, for the nth time was experienced when Abhay Rustom Sapori - son of much loved and revered Pandit Bhajan Sapori took the stage. Choosing to play a rare evening raga Saraswati after mid night - a raga with a rather limited range for improvisation on an instrument like santoor with limitations of glide, was in itself a statement. The 45 min of alap and jor, though 'executed' with impeccable dexterity, left the audience with a sense of incompleteness. And the four compositions that followed were just an extension of the same display of dexterity - this time with tempo and rhythm. Choosing limits to display effort and technical mastery of transcending those limits could be a good way to tease the intellect of a critic but may not be the best way to home into a human heart and definitely not a sufiana way of loosing oneself in the ocean of divinity.

Where music is an offering to Divinity ...

... where soul meets the symphony, where devotion pours from dedication and where the cosmic presence serenades with human endeavor.

Shri Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh (SSMSS). If there is a Woodstock in India, it is this.

A five-day music conference, SSMSS started about 90 years back as as a part of a 9-day Hanumad Jayanti celebration, held in the pristine ambiance of  the Sankat Mochan temple, located in the holy city of Benares, India. What is unique about this event is that it is by design a mystical space for even the most accomplished musician to offer his / her music as seva of Lord Shri Hanuman - who is considered to be an embodiment of supreme talent, expertise and strength, even in the realms of music.

Legends in the Hindu mythology uphold Hanuman as the most accomplished musician, as certified by none other than the sage Narada. The story says that once Hanuman intercepted the sage's path to pay obeisances unto him. In return Narad said, "You will become expert in music.That was the only benediction left to be given to you". 

"How will I know that I am the best in music?" Hanuman inquired. "I am told that you are the best today. So favor me with the benediction that I will be more adept than you in music." "All right, I will sit somewhere and listen to you," said Narada.

Narada put his veena on a rock and sat down to listen to Hanuman singing. So magical was the spell of his rendition that it started changing the nature of things like the rock on which Narada had rested his veena. The rock melted in ecstasy and the the veena floated in the liquid. When he stopped singing the veena got stuck in rock which became solid again. Sage Narada had to concede that Hanuman was really the most magical musician to coax him to sing again, melt the rock and retrieve his veena. 

Here lies the essence of this unique mystical space. It is not a space for musicians to display one's musical prowess with pride and arrogance but a space to acknowledge with humility the epitome of infinite musical talent and perfection while offering one's music with honesty and authenticity.

Stalwarts of Hindustani music have come here to give haziri (voluntary attendance) in baba's ( Hanuman's) darbar (court) year after year over nine odd decades. They have lived the essence And in the process have created blissful experiences for themselves and the audience through their musical offerings, rendered selflessly.

I have been coming to Benares to experience the bliss of this samaroh in sweltering summers of the last 5 years. This year, after having stayed awake for two nights and listened to some of the most accomplished and even a few budding talents at the sangeet samaroh of 2013, I am beginning to get concerned about what seems to be a dilution of this essence. While the organizers have done a commendable job in painstakingly keeping the tradition intact over so many years, it seems some well-traveled musicians of today, smitten by the glory of their global fame, and even some who are trying to ape it as a part of their learning process are missing the point. They are visibly (and audibly) in a hurry to woo the gallery, more keen on demonstrating speed and gimmickry at the cost of the soul of the music - a natural outcome of the musicians' ego. But then there are those who either after a brief struggle to establish the prowess of their performer self, relent to the humbling power of the Cosmic Presence of the space or are consciously surrendered ab initio to this mystic power to allow the music to happen. The prevalence of this neutralizing power is palpable, sometime so overwhelmingly, that sometimes I find 'myself' completely immersed in the shapeless, nameless sea of silence amidst all the symphony. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A song is made meaningful and beautiful by you being enraptured by it ....

Here is a must read excerpt from Osho's lecture series :

"It doesn’t matter whether your voice is sweet or not, for song isn’t a commodity to be sold in the marketplace, but rather an expression of gratitude and happiness. A song is made meaningful and beautiful by you being enraptured by it, not by the quality of your voice. You can be so immersed in your song that you are no more, only the song is – the singer is lost, the song remains. It can happen so simply…. If birds can sing, plants hum and the waterfall babble, are you so useless that you can’t stand amongst them? Are you so incapable that you can’t compete with the stream or with the birds and the trees?

The fact is that you are frightened since song has been made into a sellable commodity. As a result, it is no longer a natural act in life but a product for the market, and you worry about making time for it and whether your voice is adequately trained. Music is already within, so it needn’t be learned. All you require is the courage and daring to be a little mad, and then the song will spurt out of you. No stream stops to learn music; it is a natural flow. Birds don’t go to college to learn music; they don’t worry about who says what; they are not anxious whether their song will sell; they sing with joy and abandon. Why not you?

Since we started selling our songs in the bazaar another calamity has taken place; we stopped singing and became audiences. We are passive: if someone sings we hear, if someone dances we look.

Think of how impoverished and wretched we have become. The time will come when someone will be happy and we will be the audience. What a difference between watching someone’s happiness and being happy yourself! Imagine looking on while someone is making love, and you don’t make love yourself. Do you see the difference? Can love be known by watching? No, it can only be known when you yourself love.”

The True Name, Vol 2 44