Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, in a recent concert, competently rendered the nuances of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana

The beauty of Indian raga music lies in the dialectic of freedom and restriction. Every performance is like the creation of a painting. When an artist paints, the size and shape of the canvas imposes certain restrictions on him and so do the media he chooses for creating his work. He has to express his creativity within the confines of the canvas. Yet, he has the utmost freedom to create whatever he wants. The same applies to raga music, where every raga offers a canvas of specific dimensions, and the musician has to express his creativity within the given parameters. To give a somewhat crude analogy, artistic freedom is just like the freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution that imposes reasonable restrictions on it. This special quality of our raga music enables different musicians to offer their individual versions of the same raga with varying degrees of artistic success, just like different artists making portraits of the same person and no two portraits looking like each other.

At a recent concert dedicated to music aficionado the late K. N. Mule, Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande opened her recital with the hoary and sombre raga Shree. This audav-sampoorna raga gives a wide berth to gandhar and dhaivat in its ascending movement while all the notes are used in the descent. It’s a raga in which meend is employed profusely and the emphasis remains on the coupling of komal rishabh and pancham. The character of the raga comes out clearly when the performer stays on komal rishab while executing the descending movement. The raga has a large canvas and, therefore, is very easy as well as very difficult at the same time.

Trained initially in the Gwalior style by Narayanrao Datar, Ashwini was essentially groomed by her mother Manik Bhide who, after receiving training from Datar, learnt from the diva of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana Kishori Amonkar for more than a decade. Though she never learnt directly from Kishori Amonkar, she imbibed her influences through her mother. Much later, Ratnakar Pai, a stalwart of the gharana, took her under his wing and explained the intricacies of the Jaipur-Atrauli style to her. A doctorate in Microbiology from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Ashwini has carved a niche out for herself in the contemporary world of Hindustani classical music.

Ashwini chose a traditional vilambit khayal, “Main kahan guru dhoondhan jaoon”, and followed it up with two compositions, “Guru bin kaun bataye” and “Eri ooto aisan gailo” in faster tempo. Shree is a haunting melody with a serious mood and, despite her technical competence, Ashwini was not entirely successful in invoking the spirit of the raga. However, the moment she switched to Bihagda, a raga intimately associated with her gharana, she emerged in a completely different persona.

Instead of the usual “Pyari pag haule”, she sang another traditional madhyalaya khayal “Aajko din shubh din” and was very impressive in her treatment of this variant of the more familiar Bihag. The introduction of komal nishad and the faint aroma of Khamaj are two elements that distinguish this raga from its parent Bihag. In Bihagda too, the gandhar is very strong. After dealing with the medium tempo Khayal with impressive virtuosity, she sang a drut composition, “Rain bina kaise kate”, with aplomb. She rounded off her recital with a Hori. Her disciple Poorvi offered vocal support.

Vinod Lele and Vinay Mishra provided competent accompaniment on tabla and harmonium respectively.

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