Shyamala Bhave has been running the Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya at Nehru Circle for close to 60 years

Back in 1930, when renowned singer Shyamala Bhave’s father Govind Vithal Bhave set up the Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya, Nehru Circle in Seshadripuram wasn’t the traffic-jammed creature it is today.

“There were no roads,” she recalled in an interview at her home, which doubles as the premises for the vidyalaya.

“Not even the Railway Bridge opposite. The area was called the ‘American Colony’, because foreigners stayed there.”

Govind Vithal Bhave had studied Hindustani classical music under one of the giants of the field: Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (known today for introducing a widely used notational system for the largely oral body of knowledge that is Hindustani music).

The request

After Govind Vithal Bhave had completed his musical education, Paluskar didn’t ask for a fee; instead, he requested his students to travel to different parts of the country and set up a school for Hindustani music that would popularise the art form.

Starting young

So it was that in 1930, Govind Bhave came on a South India tour, and decided to set up the school in Bangalore.

By 1953, Shyamala had established herself as a performer, and began to run the school full-time. She comes from a family immersed in Hindustani music; by the age of six, she had performed on stage.

Today, the road that houses the Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya bears Govind Vithal Bhave’s name.

The school offers vocal and instrumental lessons in both Carnatic and Hindustani classical, in keeping with Shyamala’s own expertise in both forms. Devotional and light songs in various languages are also taught.

Induction

Every room in the Bhave household acts as a classroom for the vidyalaya. Children below the age of 10 are typically first inducted to group lessons; older students receive individual training from the veteran musician herself. “A raga is taught in the typical Gwalior style,” she said.

Five compositions are taught per raga; once this is completed, other compositions set to the same raga are taught (such as devotional or folk songs). This helps them sharpen their skills and understand the raga, besides expanding their repertoire, she said.

Every year in November, the school celebrates its anniversary: students get an opportunity to perform on stage during these occasions.

Not full-time anymore

While there is a steady influx of students, the vidyalaya has definitely seen a change in those who come seeking music instruction. Earlier, in true ‘guru-shishya parampara’, a student would learn music full-time, and often live in the teacher’s house and perform various household tasks in return for learning music, she said.

Today, of course, such a model is unlikely to be practiced. But beyond that, there’s a manifest impatience that troubles her deeply: she compares the process of learning music to a child being born. “You have to wait. You can’t have things instantly. One can’t expect the rice to be done the moment you turn on the cooker,” she says.

Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya is located at Swarsatkar, 114, Nehru Circle, Acharya Govind Vithal Bhave Marg, Seshadripuram. Call 23443900.

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