Does the koel sing?

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Learned: Pt. Rajeev Taranath
Learned: Pt. Rajeev Taranath


It was an inner calling that made sarod maestro Pt. Rajiv Taranath give up teaching to pursue music.

“My guru is my soul and body, my playing fingers and my music” — a statement of true reverence indeed. Coming from Pt. Rajeev Taranath, a circumspective artist with a razor-sharp mind, it is no small tribute to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, sarod maestro of Maihar Gharana. He is being felicitated today, his 75th birthday, in Bangalore.

A learned and highly articulate musician with a fine sensibility, Pt. Taranath, a tall teacher, quit his English teaching profession in response to a deep inner calling.

Immense benefit resulted in the form of his music and his research as a Ford Foundation scholar on the ‘Teaching Techniques of the Maihar-Allauddin Gharana, a rare document of an artist’s engagement with his music-family. Excerpts from a conversation:

Excerpts from a conversation:

What is special about your gharana?

Unlike other gharanas which remain closed-door, teaching freely with openness is a major preoccupation with the Maihar. Allauddin Khan, the Paramahamsa-like saint-musician took to vigorous teaching. This can perhaps be traced to the difficulty he encountered in learning and the fact that Allauddin was compelled to choose the sarod in a veena-dominated tradition which confined its veena–teaching to its kin alone. But his ingenuity incorporated the possibilities of veena into the sarod, remodelling it for the purpose.

Several nuances of the veena came into sarod-baaj and later years saw the promotion of sitar, sur-bahar and sur-singar. Maihar which traces its lineage to Tansen’s daughter Saraswathi, was then the only school that taught women music.

In the context of our guru-sishya parampara you once mentioned the ‘mediation of the eye’ in western classical music. Don’t you think a guru’s role is equally vital there in guiding....?

Mediation of the eye is important there because of the system of notation. The journey is from note to note but nothing much happens between the gaps. It is in the movement between notes that one’s culture operates. Mimesis is the basis of our music-teaching. Our music fills up meends, gamaks, bols and these cannot be written down. ‘We clutch the guru’s imagination, his mind that is so private… a guru gives good active seeds... but can one teach creativity?’

What do you think is the ideal relationship between the artist and the accompanying artist in enriching a concert?

Let me take the sarod and tabla... Maihar Gharana. A hundred years ago, before Allauddin Khan, tabla would play just theka and little else... a fairly subordinate-following position. Allauddin brought tabla into the foreground and translated tabla-bols and grammar onto the sarod, making way for saath-sangath together and sawal-jawab in opposing-play. Ravi Shankarji took this consciously onward with Alla Rakha, the robust tala king. They went on to become a fabulous duo world-over. And then... Zakir Hussain. Being versatile, he almost becomes the main artist. He understands and constructs a style that empowers the playing artist ... really inimitable and unique.

About the legend Annapoorna Devi...

An extraordinary surbahar-sitar artist, an authentic Maihar musician, marked by a rare intensity and strictness. Flutists like Chaurasia and Nityanand Haldipur are some of her best products. Her metalanguage of teaching is very inclusive in nature but guided by a search for excellence. This also speaks for the centrality of our vocal music.

Literature has to communicate a message, representing truth and life but can we say the same thing about music?

The social projection of literature is more evident and literature uses the same material as non-literature does. In contrast is music — the medium of music and the arrangement of notes, the satisfaction it brings are not found outside the larger map of music. The koel doesn’t sing, but we think so.

The maestro, as T.S.Eliot says, lives at a conscious point where past and future are gathered. He has all the richness of the past, waiting to pass it on to the future, for his students to gather it all.



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