Understanding abhangs

Tukaram Ganapathi Maharaj.  

Everything is vintage Marathi: costume, headgear, the tilak not to talk of his entourage and orchestra. Tukaram Ganapathi Maharaj can pass off for a rural Marathi vaarakari, a mendicant bard of sorts. But then, there's a surprise in store for you. The Maharaj is a Tamilian from Kadayanallur. His discourses on Lord Vittala of Pandharpur are in chaste Tamil while the abhang that follows is in pure Marathi.

His recent three-day stage show at Keyes High School as part of the year-long celebrations of Sri Rama Navami Cultural Festival Committee, gave us a glimpse into the Abhang tradition of Maharastra. Compositions of saints Gnyandev, Namdev and Tukaram rendered in native style lent an air of authenticity to the entire show.

Vaarakari means do it often, which in turn is what the saints advocated. Sing the praise of God (namasankeertan) as often as you can. There are many singers who render the abhangs within a classical framework – with raga, tala, etc. It is meant for the stage. I follow the principle objective of abhang as envisaged by the saints of yore. That is, to sing about the lord in simple terms so that the most illiterate could appreciate and participate. In rural Maharashtra, we find the labourers, the rickshaw-pullers and other sundry crowd gather around the abhang singer and enjoy the songs with devotion. To that extent, they get it by heart sometimes. The saints precisely aimed at reaching out to the common man,” the Maharaj elucidated about this ancient tradition.

He began his abhang with Ramakrishna Hari refrain and ended with it while he interspersed it with Sundara the dhyana… and launched into the Vittobha-Rakkuma namavali. Even before we enjoyed the authentic abhang in full, he would undertake a discourse on the spiritual essence and philosophy underlying the abhang.

“That is exactly the nature of an abhang programme. It is not essentially a music performance. It is bhava sangeetham where the meaning overtakes the technicalities of singing. We give more prominence to the bhakti aspect,” he says disarmingly.

The nalage dandana, nalage mundane, nalage panchagni sadhana.. and Eka tatwa naama, Eka ekachi hridaye.. kadha triveni sangamam.. and such others bore the stamp of simplicity and a rusticity that had an earthy appeal. While Gnyaneswar advocated the path of mukti through praise of the Lord Vittobha as the pivot on which the world moved, Sant Namdev had a personal identification with God while Tukaram realised the illusory world and the ultimate truth in the Lord of Pandharpur. The abhangs accordingly speak volumes about the universality of worship through mere chanting of God's name. Discrimination in terms of caste or creed is non-existent in the vaarakari tradition which is a gateway to God.

The abhangs as sung by Ganapathi Maharaj are a north-south blend of music, propagated by Satguru Swami 300 years ago. It was surprising to know that abhangs made inroads into villages deep down southern India and to this day, the tradition is being preserved and practised in its pristine form.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 2:09:17 AM |

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