Eminent singer Pandit Gokulotsav Maharaj on music as a vehicle to attain inner peace
A triangle, any carpenter will tells us, is the strongest three-dimensional shape. Each side being interlocked with the other two, the triangle cannot warp.
For Pandit Gokulotsav Maharaj, renowned vocalist, this unbreakable triad is represented by nature, music and the supreme power. Swar (musical notes), says the scholar, who also plays the veena, mridangam and pakhawaj, is the perfect vehicle with which to reach God.
Gokulotsav Maharaj is a descendant of Vallabhacharya, the 16th Century founder of the Pushti sect of Vaishnav thought. Renowned for his mastery over Dhrupad, Khayal and Haveli Sangeet, Gokulotsav Maharaj sees music both as a performance and as a spiritual path but follows a rigid code to ensure that the sacred teachings he has inherited do not become merely ornaments in a stage career.
That is why, although he is well versed in the lesser known ritual music forms such as Samagan and Prabandh, he does not demonstrate these to a lay public. To select initiated disciples, however, he passes on the sum of his knowledge, and thus is confident that the knowledge emanating from the Sama Veda will remain in the world after him.
The Indore-based musician is in New Delhi for a performance at the India Habitat Centre’s Amaltas Hall this Friday, 7 p.m., along with his son and disciple Vrajotsav Maharaj. Panditji took time out to speak of music as a spiritual path in a worldly environment. Excerpts from the interview:
What is Haveli Sangeet?
These are songs from the Pushti tradition, also called the Vallabh sampradaya. We believe that God is pleased with service through music. Traditionally the Lord is awakened with the sound of the veena. Bhagawan (Krishna) loves cows. As soon as he hears the bells around their necks tinkling, he gets up. The veena represents the cowbells, as also the anklets of the cowherdesses. There are traditional songs, as when Yashoda churns the milk and sings. Hearing this, he gets up with alacrity, since he loves curds and buttermilk. In this way, the universal Supreme becomes the personal. We make the paalak (protector) of the world into the baalak (little boy). Everyone loves a little child! In Gujarat, the word for temple is haveli. When musicologists Dr Keskar and Thakur Jaidev Singh discovered this music being sung in ‘havelis’, they started calling it Haveli Sangeet and the term caught on. There are songs for different occasions, seasons and ceremonies.
Can Haveli Sangeet be sung in a concert?
Only some songs can be performed publicly. For example, ashray padas. We take an oath that we will never display certain kinds of knowledge before anyone except those who are removed from worldly preoccupations. Such vidya is only to be displayed for the entertainment of God and not for the general public.
What are the instruments used?
The Tandya veena and other ancient veenas, the sarangi, flute, daff, kinnari, the chhang, upang, tanpura, pakhawaj, dundubi, etc.
Are all these instruments still available?
Yes, all except a few types of veena.
How do you differentiate between music as a spiritual path and a professional engagement?
Pandit Ravi Shankar advised me to charge a fee for my concerts, because otherwise, he said, people would not value my music. But music is not my profession. My earnings from music go to charity. Otherwise we have businesses from which we earn. Gandharva vidya (music), medicine and other knowledge we traditionally inherit are not to be bought and sold.
You have created many ragas. There used to be a view all the ragas already exist.
People used to be offended that as a young man I started singing rare (aprachalit) ragas and also started creating ragas. But this was a natural progression for me, as I inherited ancient forms of music. We don’t do it to be considered ustads. Connoisseurs said when I created Adbhut Ranjani in 1974 that it was a complete raga in all respects. It came out of me naturally. I received it. Similarly I have created a number of other ragas like Divya Gandhari, Madhur Malhar, Bharat Kalyan, Sneh Gandhar, and others.
What do you ask of your disciples?
Don’t keep space for cheating and untruth in your life. Take what is called the straight and narrow path. The peace you achieve, the trance you can reach through pursuing music in this way is the greatest of all riches.