Interview Eminent Hindustani vocalist Sulochana Brihaspati discusses music matters on the occasion of her 70th birthday. MANJARI SINHA
The senior musician, musicologist, author and guru Sulochana Brihaspati is being felicitated on her 70th birthday on November 9. A recipient of prestigious awards like the President’s Gold Medal — that was given to her by India’s first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, — besides the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Tansen Samman and many more, she is a fount of knowledge of music and related arts. Here she talks about her long musical journey and the Rampur Sadaranga Parampara to which she belongs.
You were brought up surrounded by music…
I was born in an orthodox Maharashtrian Brahmin family where music and Sanskrit shlokas were essential to daily life. I started my training under my elder sisters Kalindi and Saryu Kalekar (V.C. Khairagarh Music University), before Pandit Vasant Thakar took over and I joined the Prayag Sangeet Samiti. I was just 16 when I stood first at the first AIR music competition and received the gold medal from the first President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad. I continued music under Pandit Bhola Nath Bhatt while doing my postgraduation in English literature at Allahabad University where I was privileged to study under some of the greats like Raghupati Sahay (Firaaq Gorakhpuri), K.K. Mehrotra and Harivansh Rai Bachhan, et al.
The Government of India scholarship furthered my musical training under Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan of the Rampur gharana at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Delhi, where stalwarts like the senior Dagars, Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan, Pandit Shambhu Maharaj, et al were great inspirations. I stayed back in Delhi and started performing at All India Radio where the chief advisor was Acharya Kailash Chandra Deva Brihaspati, the renowned musicologist, composer and musician of the Rampur Sadarang Parampara, who took me under wing and started training me as an experiment to test his scientific approach to this age-old tradition.
After our marriage he started afresh, right from the sur ka lagaav (voice culture) to the Mandra sadhana (vocal training in lower octaves) in the basic ragas like Bhairav (a morning raga) and Yaman (an evening raga). He realised that most of the traditional bandishes (compositions), being wrongly practiced over the years, had either lost the meaning or sahitya or failed to define the raga-roop. Being a gifted vaggeykaar (composer with equal knowledge of ‘vak’ or language and ‘geya’ or music) with an integrated knowledge of tala, chhand, raga-roop, he composed meaningful bandishes depicting a clear-cut chalan (elaboration) of the raga, using the pseudonym Anang-Rang.
Do you sing only ‘Anang-Rang’ compositions?
No, I also got hundreds of compositions from Pandit Bhola Nath Bhatt and Mushtaq Hussain Khan comprising Khayal to Thumri, apart from my own compositions. The SNA had organised a special programme based on my musical compositions of poetry by Tulsidas where I’ve used alap shaili (style) for Mangalacharan, Drupad, Dhamar, Khayal, Bhajan, etc. in different raga-raginis. I’ve also composed Gita Govinda Dashavatara by Jayadeva in 10 different ragas.
Please tell us about the Rampur gharana
First of all let me clarify that mine is not the Rampur-Saheswan gharana as wrongly related by some.
It is the Rampur Sadarang parampara where there was a lot of adaan-pradaan (give and take) amongst the poets, musicians and musicologists.
It was the seat of Hindu-Muslim solidarity where Hindu shastrajna (scholars) like the veena vidwan Pandit Dattaram exchanged views with Bahadur Khan and Wazir Khan, the guru of Ustad Alauddin Khan.
There were Urdu poets, Sanskrit scholars, musicians like Gaya Prasad Pakhawajee, the guru and father of Ayodhya Prasad, Maseet Khan, Dabeer Khan and others in the Rampur durbar enriching this tradition.
What are the special features of this gayaki?
The Rampur Sadarang parampara is based on the Been style, hence the alap and behelavas follow the Been-ang. The harmonium is never taken as an accompaniment because it cannot provide the shades of shrutis to notes like the Komal Gandhar of Darbari Kanhara. The sarangi, which is closer to the human voice, serves as an accompanying instrument instead. There is a distinct vocal intonation that gives life to the meaning of a particular composition bringing out the artha-bhava , tala-chhanda which is beautifully described in this composition of Bageshree — “Lagat baan jyon nisaan pai ree. Artha-bhava, raga-tala hilmil, rakhi kan-man magan karahi nisdin…”. The rhythmic aspect of the Sadaranga parampara combines the techniques of the Qawaal Bachhon Ka gharana, like the taan, palte, khatka, zamzama, together with the specialties of the Kalawant tradition that involves the Dhrupad techniques. The khayals of this tradition comprise just the sthayi-antara and leave out the sanchari abhog prevalent in Dhrupad; hence these are also called langra (lame) dhrupad, but they strictly adhere to the parampara. We don’t call ourselves a ‘gharana’ that sounds as if confined to the four walls of a ‘ghar’ but call it ‘parampara’ that flows like a river.
How do you see the future of classical music?
The future is secure in the hands of musicians who pursue it seriously, although the reality shows are misleading the youngsters towards shallowness of worthless glitter, misusing even words like gharana. Both the teacher and the taught should take it seriously, because music is a reciprocal vidya based on shradha-vishvaas (devotion and mutual trust) of both the guru and the shishya who need each other. They should not compromise with the values our classical music stands for.