The reclusive maestro
Pandit Pandharinath Kolhapure is one of the eight rudra veena players in the country who, without much media attention, is striving to revive people’s interest in the instrument, writes Ekta Alreja Kapoor
His eyes light up at the mere mention of veena and his tone gathers urgency as he laments on how the Indian musical instrument is fast becoming a part of history textbooks. For octogenarian classical music maestro Pandit Pandharinath Kolhapure, it has been a long struggle to get back this favoured accompaniment of Goddess Saraswati the place it enjoyed in the past. For years, Kolhapure has practised and taught finer nuances of classical music to his disciples — his daughter Padmini Kolhapure, Asha Parekh, Juhi Chawla and Devaki Pandit being some of them — and has a vast reserve of knowledge on veena.
“Raag Ragini bandhan aur unke gaane ke daira bilkul badal gaya hai,” he laments. “The style of singing which was followed 25 years back is not being followed as it is meant to. Television has changed the rules, taking liberty and affecting the structure and style of singing,” says Kolhapure, who is a proud owner of a 120-year-old veena passed on to him by his father. This veena originally belonged to Murad Khan. He also runs a trust called ‘Veena Vardayani’ where he imparts knowledge on how to play the instrument. Lately, he has been following up with Mumbai University to work out a programme to revive veena.
Kolhapure’s music education began as soon as he turned 15. At an age when most children were spending time with their friends, Kolhapure was working hard on learning the art of playing rudra veena. He began his career with a performance at the All-India Music Conference in Baroda in 1942 and he hasn’t looked back since. “I learnt to play rudra veena from my father Pandit Krishna Rao Kolhapure, who was a well-known musician of his times,” says Kolhapure.
Making the Gwalior Gharana and his father proud, he gave an enthralling performance at the Bombay station of All-India Radio (AIR). “It was in 1946, which is when my father and I came to Mumbai. I only grew since. I became one of the artists at the AIR. At that time, there was no slot for classical music on television,” says Kolhapure. In Mumbai, his tutelage began under Prof BR Deodhar and Pandit Kumar Gandharva and now he has various disciples who have made it big.
DEATH OF TRADITION
Indian classical music has lost its charm among the youngsters today. If it was years of riyaz and vast reading that made a classical singer out of a learner, technology has impersonalised the nature of the learning process. “In those days, it took at least 12 years of riyaz to make a classical singer. But these days, people really don’t need a guru. They learn from cassettes or television. Not that there is anything wrong in it, but as a result the guru-shishya parampara which we followed has died,” adds Kolhapure.
Those were the days when a shagird would tag along the guru to learn his ways. “It doesn’t happen anymore. We stayed at the guru’s place, ate there, slept there and learnt everything from him. It was like taking care of your guru’s needs to receive the vidya. For a shishya his guru was the best. He would learn only what his guru had to teach him. This is not to be seen anywhere. These days there are books that provide you with all the information that you need,” says Kolhapure. The young are losing interest, rather there are not many who have cultivated the interest in the first place. They would any day prefer a fast number over a classical song. “During my performances, I only see people aged between 50 to 60 years in the audience,” says Kolhapure.
A large part of the blame goes to lack of promoting classical music within the country. Times have changed since music maestros like Kumar Gandharva chose to remain in India and promote their music from here. It, however, took somebody like Ravi Shankar to venture out and promote his music abroad — an effort that paid him and the art immensely as he won many an international patronage. The same was the case with Ali Akbar Khan who won worldwide acclamation.
REVIVAL OF THE ART
Apart from the other efforts that Kolhapure has undertaken to conserve the art, he has written three books on the teachings of some of the finest classical musicians the country has produced. His book, Gan Yogi Shiv Putra, is a vivid commentary on the life of his guru, Pandit Kumar Gandharva. His other book, Shubd Suranche Bol Rudra Veeneche, is an account of his own life and his father’s teachings and the third, Sadarang, is based on Niyamat Khan, a renowned 18th century singer and the creator of Khayal Gayaki. “In Shubd Suranche…I have written all about rudra veena, the intricacies of what the instrument is and how it is played. The book on Niyamat Khan will take you back into the world of music which existed 25 years ago. A lot of research has gone into this book. Now, I am planning to look into Dhrupad. Conservation of our heritage is a responsibility that we must all shoulder,” says Kolhapure.
Kolhapure has had quite a few celebrities among his disciples. Juhi Chawla, Asha Parekh and his own daughter are only a few. Devaki Pandit, a famous Maharashtrian playback singer, has also learnt music from him. But it is Chawla who is his current favourite.
“Juhi is very sincere — something I had not quite expected. She has innate talent and is hard working. She has been learning music for the past five to six years and now I can confidently say that she can perform khayal gayaki in any of the mehfils. In fact, we had once invited her to sing at one of our concerts but the word got out and it attracted a lot of media attention. Now, this is something I disapprove of. We only want audiences who understand and appreciate classical music. Cheap publicity is not our way to make it popular,” says Kolhapure.
Chawla, too, is all praise for her guru. “Though my lessons with guruji don’t happen as often as I would like them to be, my quest for music continues. I can recall that first time when I heard him sing, it was a soothing voice flowing with the strains of a tanpura. Listening to that controlled, unrushed, peaceful voice made me realise that this was the kind of music that I so wanted to learn.”
Parekh is another not-very-regular disciple who has been learning music from him for the past one year. Much as she would like to fall into a routine, busy schedules have not been going in her favour. “I am lucky to have a great artist as my guru. I was a very besura singer when I started out and used to shy away from any kind of singing. All credit goes to him for teaching me the finer nuances of music,” says Parekh.
His own daughter, Padmini Kolhapure, however remains his most ardent admirer and a faithful disciple. “The atmosphere in the house was such that I started learning music when I was really young,” says Padmini. She, too, feels justice has not been done to promoting our classical music. “My father believes in the classical medium and it must remain the way it is. There have been many compromises. Since classical music does not pay you very well, people have switched to fusion, Indo-western as they like to call it. I still believe that original form is something that one must learn in order to become a good singer. It serves as a right base and that is how you get your hold on different surs,” says Padmini — a point that her father and several other maestros has been trying to make for a long time.