A musician’s musician

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Talent unlimited Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar.
Talent unlimited Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar.


Anniversary Ulhas Kashalkar was at his best singing Vilayat Khan’s compositions in Kolkata the other day.

Ustad Vilayat Khan was fondly remembered on his birthday in a warm baithak in Kolkata where Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar gave a mesmerising vocal recital. Which exhibited the creative genius of the ustad who not only composed wonderful Khayal and Thumri bandishes under the pseudonym Naatpiya but also created magnificent ragas like Saanjh-Swaraavali. Vilayat Khan, a vocalist by ‘heart’, very lovingly gave them to Kashalkar to do proper justice to his compositions which yearned for a Khayal singer’s virtuosity. But handling a raga like Saanjh-Swaravali was a different game altogether.

As is apparent from it’s name Saanjh-Swaraavali is virtually a garland of several evening ragas — Yaman, Kalyan, Bihag, Hameer, Kedar, Nand and the like. Each of these major ragas is known for its powerful character and vast scope for elaboration. At the same time, a little disorder turns a raga like Yaman towards Hamsadhwani! How can one delineate the ethereal beauty of such a complex raga? “There are many types of Mishra (mixed) ragas. Some have the aroha (ascending order) of one major raga and avaroha (descending order) of another, while some blend the poorvaanga (first half of the octave) of one raga with the uttaraanga (latter half) of another. There are ragas like Triveni that mixes three ragas; Patamanjari sports five ragas which may appear at any order. That is when the balancing act is put to test,” he explained.

Complex raga

“Saanjh-Swaraavali is much more complex than many of our Sankeerna ragas. But the bandish composed by Khan Saheb, like any traditional composition, holds the key to the arrangement of ragas. I simply follow the path as shown in the bandish. Yaman has the strongest presence in this. The essential phrases of other ragas keep coming, leave their fragrance and give way to another raga. No order is followed in showcasing them, yet all remain equally balanced during elaboration. A little more weight on one raga can be misleading,” he admitted. In that case taans can spell doom?

“On the contrary, it is very easy if Jaipur gharana’s taan-patterns are put to use. I do just that. In fact Khan Saheb has laced his faster bandish “Sakhi mori room-jhoom kar ayi” with a real intricate taan. The rhythmic variations too follow a complex instrumental style. I tried to absorb all that and moulded them in gayaki anga, naturally. After Khan Saheb showed me the way, I worked on it for almost six months before seeking his approval. He asked me to sing it on the occasion of his 75th birthday celebration. Apart from this he gave me many of his compositions in ragas like Kamod, Hamir whenever I called on him at his Princeton residence.”

And the heart-wrenching “Tum ho jagat ke data” that had compelled Khan Saheb to announce in public, “If you want Bhairavi, please listen to Kashalkar”! The thumri, as written and composed by him, exploited the upper tonic to the optimum. Taar Shadaj, if applied properly, can do wonders. “Log usi pe taaliyan bajaate bhi hai; besides the lyrics are very moving. These are the secrets of its emotive appeal,” concluded the singer.



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