Madhava Bhat is pioneering Carnatic music whistling in the State

Some trends are indeed amusing. If someone whistled at others, it would be scorned at. When it comes to films, people would enthusiastically join in the whistling — think Ye shaam masatani's unforgettable tune by Kishore Kumar. Now how about somebody sitting on a serious platform of Carnatic music, surrounded by the traditional accompaniments like the mridanga, violin and morsing, whistling Natta raga at a kutcheri?

In the last two decades, a handful of Carnatic whistling artistes have stormed the classical music scene in Hyderabad, Chennai and New Delhi.

“If you bring music in your whistling, it is pleasant. If you mould it to suit a classical genre, the effort behind the presentation is appreciated,” says Carnatic whistle artiste C.N. Madhava Bhat of Sagar.

Mr. Bhat, the only serious such artiste in the State, was overwhelmed with the thundering response he received at the BTM Cultural Academy's Aradhana Sapthaha concert here last week. Nearly 90 minutes into his performance, which included whistling in Kalyana-Vasantha, Sindhubhairavi and Bageshri ragas, handling kritis and swara prasthara, he hadn't taken a drop of water.

Intense training

Intense vocal training from his father Narahari Bhat helped him, Mr. Bhat says. “I am basically a farmer, we own arecanut farms in Sagar, and whistling was a passion. The more people appreciated my whistling, the more determined I was to take it up in Carnatic style.”

It took hard work to perfect the art. “It took me rigorous sessions of practice to adapt to the lyrical bhava, as trial and error sessions with lip and tongue movements and inhale-exhale exercises improved my oral duplication week after week in whistling. When I was 12, I even participated in a Tyagaraja Aradhane in Sagar,” he says.

Vocal and whistle

Mr. Bhat, who trained under R.K. Padmanabha too, often alternates between vocal and whistling in his concerts. “After I learn a kriti or a raga from RKP, I practice the same in whistling too,” the artiste says.

“Breath control in conjunction with tongue and lip movement is paramount, as it doesn't stop with just blowing; your mouth is occupied for raaga and sahitya bhava and for the right kind of pitch. Only the maadhurya is like flute, but it involves much more as we have to sustain long notes, bring in gamakas and brigas, and maintain continuity for hours,” he says.

Well-received

Did his parents approve of his whistling? “I have never seen any displeasure in them. In about 300 concerts that I have performed, Udupi Krishna Math and Temple and Shringeri Math are places where I have received appreciation from the seers quite regularly.”