Shashwati Mandal Paul, a fine musician of the Gwalior gharana, attributes her sadhana to her mother and life-time guru
Shashwati Mandal Paul’s music is yet another assurance that classical music continues to be preserved in its elegant space defined by harmonious refinement and genuine expressions. A fine representative of the oldest khayal tradition namely the Gwalior gharana, Shashwati has inherited the musical lineage of her grandfather Gayanacharya Pandit Balabhau Umdekar, an illustrious court musician of Gwalior. His daughter Kamal Mandal, a severe task-master, handed down the legacy to Shashwati, whose singing embodies authentic characteristics of Gwalior gayaki. Singing onstage at seven, the prodigy had no option but to continue practice rigorously under maternal surveillance, tanpura in one hand and a japa-mala in the other. Interestingly, the bead-chain functioned as a device to keep count of taans while practicing note sequences and aakaaras.
Evening lessons in raaga at Chatur Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, her grandfather’s music school in Gwalior, also meant a pastime amidst senior students. Here Shashwati absorbed bandishes — Malkauns or Yaman, she knew not – even as she kept toying with a violin or sitar or tabla. At the Tansen Music Samaroh, Shashwati recalls how she would be forced to sit up the whole night listening to stalwarts. The sleepy-eyed girl enjoyed no concessions, motherly tenderness would take a back-seat and she would be nudged and compelled to listen not just to khayal, but dhrupad and instrumental music as well. There was no option but to ward off sleep and brave the cold night weather, and mummy would of course buy the kids tea and eats and promptly take them back to the pandal.
Kamal Mandal believed that academics and livelihood issues mattered as much as art in a middle-class family. That meant no escape from science and geography and Shashwati excelled in academics too.
Shashwati’s musical journey marks an interesting study mapping the process of music-learning. The time-tested virtues namely perfection in the matter of basic swara — laya patterns in their unending permutations and combinations and unceasing riyaz remained the utmost concern. Shashwati spent considerable time equipping her voice and subsequently the focus shifted towards weaving crystal-clear fast-paced tans, the swaras pronounced and well-defined. Notation is vital to a composition; complete knowledge of the notation including the kann-swaras becomes essential to acquire and preserve the authenticity of a bandish. Any variation or interpretation needs to be based on a precise understanding of the original, feels this faithful exponent.
Raga-anga being a prime feature of the Gwalior idiom, assimilation of an array of bandishes lends certain wholesomeness to one’s understanding of a raga. A discerning mind and a ‘total music culture’ are essential to be a complete musician. ‘One has to know the rules to break them,’ she quips. Shashwati makes sure that constant practice continues amidst a busy job, care of two children and domestic demands thanks to her caring husband sensitive to her inner calling. She recalls Malini Rajurkar’s words that the usual tendency is to practice and hone what one already knows but one’s riyaz should be addressed towards what one cannot handle. This demands deep contemplation and a rigorous execution of one’s musical ideas. The inner riyaz assumes larger significance than the physical riyaz and intense listening plays an instrumental role here. Acute grasp of subtleties like the position of swaras, improvisation of phrases, taankari, laya variations, stress and kann-swaras helps a creative absorption.
Shashwati attributes her sadhana to her mother and life-time guru who steered her towards other gurus to enable her accomplish a rare finesse. Young Shashwati could access treasured musical material at home, thanks to her musicologist grandpa.
A HRD Ministry scholarship took her to the legendary Pandit Balasaheb Poochwale for a disciplined training in khayal and tappa. Her learning phase with Poochwale was one of revelation: Ratanjhankar, Shankar Pandit and Raja Bhaiya-the musical geniuses were all present in that tradition. “I was simply fortunate,” Shashwati recalls. Pallavi singing from Carnatic tradition also formed part of her training then, for the sake of pronounced gamakas. Poornima Choudhari’s insightful tutelage enriched Shashwati’s world with the rich Banaras-ki-thumris in their precise form — khatkas and murkis had their place but no unnecessary embellishments and overplaying were allowed. Guru Madhup Mudgal, a fertile mind with a fine ability to communicate subtle aesthetic details elevated Shashwati’s grasp of music. Kumarji’s vocalism and the intensity of his notes demonstrated to Shashwati that no amount of technical soundness can guarantee vibrancy to music. At the point when infusing life into her musical expression and engaging herself with the swara became the critical concern, Shashwati sought the dhrupad tradition from which in fact, Gwalior khayal gayaki evolved. It is to the Gundecha Brothers that Shashwati turned for a brief period. Ghazal taleem from Sarbath Hussain of Bhopal lent her an additional dimension.
The power and resonance of Shashwati’s voice, the intensity of notes that flow in the form of thunderous taans, the gamaks, kampita andolans and the scintillating murkis that lend a rare beauty especially to her tappa, the dancing quality of her pronounced notes, every aspect contributes to a dynamic whole, meditative, genuine and soul-filling.
An articulate Shashwati reads and listens to Osho, listens to Kumarji and tries to understand life through music and believes that creativity cannot be wholesome without a thought process.
Shashwati resides at Bhopal and serves the AIR as an A-grade artist.Her CD ‘Tappa Journey’ earned Top of the World status in the Autumn Edition of Songlines Magazine published by the UK based Senseworld Music Company.