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The many moods of the khayal

Dense in content and committed to quality, the musical output of Pundit Ulhas Kashalkar, the khayal maestro, is simply delightful and reveals a profound sensibility.

Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar's interpretation of Yaman gave it an unusual robust quality.

BANGALORE WAS full of hindustani music on the evening of February 15: Pundit Ulhas Kashalkar performing at Chowdaiah Memorial Hall, Padmini Rao and M. Venkatesh Kumar at Gurunanak Bhavan and a host of much revered musicians at the all-night music festival in memory of Pundit Arjunsa Nakod. That probably explains a rather thin crowd at the Chowdaiah hall, an unusual feature for a Kashalkar concert. Ullas Kashalkar normally draws a packed house of highly expectant audience. He treats connoisseurs to real traditional music and authentic one at that.

A widely acclaimed artist, Pundit Kashalkar is an eminent exponent of the Gwalior, Jaipur, and Agra Gharanas - a rare accomplishment. Initiated into music by his father, N.D. Kashalkar, a well-known musicologist, he underwent rigorous training under masters like Pundit Ram Marathe and Pundit Gajananbua Joshi.

Khayal gayaki is his domain and with his consistent application and a highly discerning mind, he has preserved Gharana gayaki in all its beauty and subtlety. His masterly engagement with different gharanas was evident in his sincere, tidy rendering at the recent concert, which made his music a wholesome experience. Dense in content and committed to quality, the musical output was simply delightful and revealed a profound sensibility. Crisp phrases, winding stretches, filigree effect in taans - whatever the effect, he seemed to sing with great ease. His handling of complicated aavarthas won great applause and his acute sense of laya is generally attributed to his training under an able maestro like Pundit Gajananbua Joshi.

Defining gharana as a continuum, he highlighted the significance of guru-shishya parampara in the inheritance of music. What happens within the gharana is not a duplication of gayaki. In the private and open world of a gharana, individual artists live their musical selves. In his nearly three hour programme - call it a concert, a demonstration, or a presentation - Pundit Kashalkar brought out in a delightful manner the delicate nuances of the Gwalior and the Jaipur gharanas.

Khayal means vichaar or imagination, he defined. It is a conceptual break from the earlier dhrupad gayaki which had a deep set pattern of rendering. Gwalior gharana is said to be the first school to have evolved the khayal gayaki. Ragas such as Yaman, Hameer, Behag, and others, which have held the imagination of artists, and connoisseurs alike were popularised by the followers of Gwalior gharana. Jaipur gharana, on the other hand, employed rare ragas. Unlike Agra gharana which predominantly features nom-tom alaap, Jaipur gharana features broad akaras in its alaap.

Pundit Kashalkar demonstrated how a striking feature of Gwalior gharaana is the way in which the entire raga unfolds gradually through a very slow, lingering development. It is not a linear growth journeying from swara to swara, but a more holistic exploration that transcends a mere methodical approach. He brought out the beauty of behalava and also established how the elements of tappa can be perceived in the khayal here.

He chose the composition "Jiya maanath naahi, chainan aavaath nis din..." and the taans here, the seedi taans, employed the avaroh swaras, thus making the boltaans come cascading down, oopar se neeche. The Yaman tarana in madhyalaya was a treat really and the taans concenterating on dhaivat lent the Yaman raga a different kind of robust quality. Sung with a certain repose, the meditative mood of Yaman was well preserved throughout and was often marked by lyrical stretches.

To illustrate the nuances of the Jaipur gharana, he chose raga Poorva and Basant Kedar. His raga Poorva demonstrated the beauty of gamak and sarpagathi - the serpentine movement - captivating the audience with its beautiful element of melancholy. Is it the swabhava of the raga or the artiste's approach that evoked the mood or both, I wondered? Poorva is a less known raga and its musical scale is similar to that of Poorvi, a more familiar melody. Raga Basant Kedar presented a very artistic grafting of the ragas, Basant and Kedar, mingling a tender bandish with robust taans. What could have otherwise become just a heterogeneous yoking, was transcended by a highly imaginative blending of the two ragas, yet displaying their identity and distinct gunas. Mishra ragas with Nat, Bahar, Kanada, and others are common features in Jaipur gharana. The concert concluded with a soulful bandish in Bhairavi, "Karan Mori Laagire Kanhaiya".

With his mellifluous well-trained voice and a robust approach, Pundit Kashalkar made the concert a very memorable one for Bangaloreans. His innumerable performances and his teaching experience have undoubtedly honed his communicative skills to perfection. I kept wondering how fruitful and rich a lesson it would have been to students of Hindustani music, had Punditji chosen a common raga to delineate how it could be explored by the two gharanas.

He was ably supported on the tabla by Udayraj Karpur and Ravindra Katoti lent a highly motivating saath on the harmonium.

Their accompaniment exhibited an apt understanding of the vocalist's manodharma and enriched the total experience. Pundit Kashalkar has become an integral part of the Kolkata based ITC Sangeeth Research Academy, residing on the campus as a guru. For almost a decade now, he has engaged himself in imparting to learners of music the elements of khayal gayaki.

The recital was organised by a broad-based cultural organisation Sanskriti whose mission is to put individuals "in touch with the vast heritage of Indian art, culture, and philosophy in a manner which connects with contemporary life styles".


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