Art

Looking back, looking ahead

The Ganakala Parishath -- an institution that was born with the intention to give impetus and promote the musicians of Karnataka -- turns 50. Musician R.K. Padmanabh, president of the prestigious institution, speaks of its journey and achievements

The huge arch in N.R. Colony -- by the side of the Rama Mandira -- is where Ganakala Parishath’s golden jubilee celebrations actually take off. Long queues spill on to the road; it is an indication that the main hall is full, and eager audience is trying to find space where large screens are beaming the proceedings. Tens of volunteers are patient at their job of crowd managing. Finding your way through the crowd, and on reaching the auditorium, the president of the Parishath, renowned musician R.K. Padmanabh, sits in a corner of the stage, intently listening to a lecture demonstration. That’s his place each day, intently absorbing every moment that unfolds on the stage. The auditorium is chock-a-block, you overhear – musicians and connoisseurs alike – saying that the16-day mega festival featuring 50 concerts, 15 lectures and more, is on par with what happens at The Music Academy, Chennai. “We have to be a role model to every other Sabha, whether it is execution, or remuneration,” says R.K. Padmanabh, going into the details of putting together this mega festival. An author of several books, including a memoir Nenapinangaladinda, the musician is a shining example of a believer in community living. “This space is for one and all, I just don’t believe in boundaries of any kind – caste, class or religion. There is no hierarchy, the purpose of the Parishath and my life is to propagate and educate. Sangeeta jnana vihinulaku, mokshamu galada…” he declares. Speaking of his book Vipra Vikrama, he says that one cannot claim Brahminhood just by one’s birth, it is what one becomes by his deed. “A Brahmin is he who loves everyone, that’s my belief,” says R.K. Padmanabh, as we settle down for a conversation.

Golden years (Clockwise) Vidwan M.Cheluvaraya Swamy, president of the 16th Musicians' Conference of the KGP being felicitated by Chiranjivi Singh, Secretary to the Departments of Information and Culture, January, 1986; Honnappa Bhagavatar, president of the Ganakala Parishat, I.M. Vitthalmurthy, Special Dy. Commissioner, M.P. Prakash, Minister, K.H. Srinivas, MLA, Dr. H.M.Nayak, Vice Chancellor of the Gulbarga University, Vidvan M. Cheluvarayaswamy, president of the conference, Vidvan Seshadri Gavai and Vidvan T.S.Tatachar (from left to right) seen at the inaugural function of the 16th Musicians' Conference; R.K. Padmanabha performed as part of the protest demanding improvement of roads in Arakalgud; singing at Rudrapatna on the banks of Cauvery Photos: Bhagya Prakash K. AND THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Golden years (Clockwise) Vidwan M.Cheluvaraya Swamy, president of the 16th Musicians' Conference of the KGP being felicitated by Chiranjivi Singh, Secretary to the Departments of Information and Culture, January, 1986; Honnappa Bhagavatar, president of the Ganakala Parishat, I.M. Vitthalmurthy, Special Dy. Commissioner, M.P. Prakash, Minister, K.H. Srinivas, MLA, Dr. H.M.Nayak, Vice Chancellor of the Gulbarga University, Vidvan M. Cheluvarayaswamy, president of the conference, Vidvan Seshadri Gavai and Vidvan T.S.Tatachar (from left to right) seen at the inaugural function of the 16th Musicians' Conference; R.K. Padmanabha performed as part of the protest demanding improvement of roads in Arakalgud; singing at Rudrapatna on the banks of Cauvery Photos: Bhagya Prakash K. AND THE HINDU ARCHIVES  

Here are excerpts.

Ganakala Parishath has turned 50. It is a great milestone for any institution. If you were to recapitulate these five decades, how would you do it?

It is indeed a great milestone. Ganakala Parishath (GKP) started in December 1969. The greater significance is that it was started by a team of musicians. One of the chief purposes to start GKP is to give preference to the artistes of Karnataka. Also, the general perception is that Carnatic music is for elite audience. But the idea was to take it to everybody, the common people.

The bylaw says that 80 per cent of the committee members have to be musicians, which makes it the only institution in this country that is run by musicians. The first music conference was held in 1970, with B.S. Raja Iyengar as the president. It introduced a special format, for the first time, GKP organised special lectures, demonstrations, etc. Until then it was believed that music is meant for a performance, and speaking about it was not regarded highly. But under the leadership of the musicologist, B.V.K. Shastri, the Parishath recognized the importance of such discussions. He brought great artistes S. Balachander, M.S. Subbulaksmi, Lakshmi Shankar, T.N. Krishnan, Prof. B.R. Deodhar, Siddarama Jambaldinni… it was a grand line up.

What was the trigger to found such an organization?

If you remember, in those years the Kannada movement was at its peak. Writer Aa. Na. Krishna Rao who was also at the forefront of the movement, apparently said: “What are you musicians doing? You never come together. If you do, it will be a revolution.” The surprise is that they came together: A. Subba Rao, H.V. Krishna Murthy, Anoor Ramakrishna, Honnappa Bhagavatar, Bangalore Venkataram, A. Veerabhadrayya, B.V.K. Sahstri, H.P. Ramachar, Raja Rao, L.S. Sheshagiri Rao, Tirumale Rangachar and V.N. Rao were the founding fathers.

Aa. Na. Kru was invited for the first conference and how happy he was! Hundreds of musicians from all over Karnataka had come together for a noble cause. “This was my dream, and I am so happy to see it realised,” said the elated writer. The institution was never financially rich, but rich in talent.

Looking back, looking ahead

What does it mean to you to head an institution that has such a grand history?

My association with the Institution starts long before I came into it formally. It is part of the emotional memory of every musician in the state, a legacy that our senior musicians have left for us. So it is a role that comes with tremendous responsibility. In 2001, I became the Experts Committee chairman, in 2002, I was conferred the Ganakala Bhushana, and in 2004, I was made president.

My vision and intense belief as the president is to take Carnatic music to the nook and corner of Karnataka. I have taken the annual conference to places such as Ramanathapura, Nanjangud, Holenarasipur, Siddapur, Tumkur, Gadag, Bijapur and Belur. The committee also targets audience of all age groups while it formulates its events.

The general attitude is what do villager’s understand? We ignore them and therefore fail to educate them. Why should someone know the intricacies of a form? Isn’t it enough that they have musical ears and a heart that is touched by its resonances? I believe that anything that is pleasing to the ear will be enjoyed. It has been the Parishath’s aim and mine too. I think it has been a successful run so far.

Many of the places that you mention, for instance, Gadag, Sirsi, etc are Hindustani belts. What kind of reception did Carnatic music have?

You will be surprised, I toured the entire state atleast ten times before the annual conferences were organised. I visited schools. I went to the Dharwad University too. We – the students and me -- engaged in a conversation, and I introduce Carnatic music to them. I even sing to them. When we organized the annual conference in these places, the halls were full. I abhor the divisiveness – we must be open to all forms of music. There is a Madras sambar and there is a Mysore sambar, both are sambar, isn’t it? They may have different flavours, so what? Both together form what we call Indian classical music.

Did you receive feedback?

Plenty. Someone from Siddapura wrote to me. The person admitted to switching off the radio when Carnatic music was broadcast, but after the GKP conference he had developed a liking. There are many such examples.

Looking back, looking ahead

In fact, there has been glorious examples of a give and take relationship between legendary musicians practising Hindustani and Carnatic. In fact, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan had discussions with Mysore Vasudevacharya and is also said to have taken lessons from Veena Dhanammal. He pays his tribute to the Carnatic tradition by recording Saveri and Kharaharapriya for the gramophone.

Absolutely. There are plenty of such examples. G.N. Balasubramaniam and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bhatkande used to attend concerts at the Music Academy, Palghat Raghu and Alla Rakha… there are many such. That has not faded away. In fact, now it is better. Hindustani musicians were a bit conservative and kept us at a distance, but now we are interacting and performing with each other. We meet often, and exchange ideas. Carnatic musicians, for the longest time, had not even met Gangubai Hangal, Pt. Jasraj or Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. Things have changed.

Since we are talking of interactions, one hardly sees Carnatic musicians attending each other’s concerts. It is a rare sight.

GKP is an aberration to that phenomenon. I am so happy that so many musicians are coming here. I have gone looking for artistes, and personally invited them. Under natural circumstances, they should come on their own. But somehow that doesn’t happen. It is also true that we are not generous enough to recognise the good work done by many. Honour their work, compliment it… treat them well. Atleast I believe in it. Everyday, 2000 people turn up here, musicians and non-musicians. Why? Because they feel welcome.

When you take your festival to remote areas, what is the audience composition?

All kinds of people. Let me tell you this, those who are serious about music never talk about caste. What is important to us is their art, I see goddess Saraswati in them, and I even fall at their feet, irrespective of who they are and where they come from. People of all castes and all religions come, and that is how it ought to be in the natural course of things.

You were a late entrant to music.

Oh yes, 1974. But I worked extremely heard. I could afford none of the modern facilities, not even fees. My journey, which was full of miseries, was an introspective one. In the absence of guidance, I devised my own methods to strengthen my voice, culture it… and I succeeded in it.

Once I became an accomplished artiste, I did not want to deny anyone the opportunity of listening or learning. I have trained thousands of students, and I have not taken money from anyone. Since I am self-fashioned, I fear none. I am not worried if they will call me for a concert or not. I will not mince words. Just the other day, I said that the Kannada and Culture minister has no culture at all. People can take it to him. The least is to know how to treat an artiste. I will never be wishy washy. I am under the huge umbrella of legends, as Tyagarja says in “Endaro Mahanubhavulu”. When you are part of such a great tradition, why fear anyone?

Looking back, looking ahead

Your book Nenapina Angaladinda is a stunning document of community living. There is this musician called R.V. Srikantaiah in your book, who walks and talks music till he dies.

His father Venkatarayaru was R.R. Keshavamurthy’s guru. Srikantaiah was faculty in a Chennai university. He was such a bright mind, but lost his senses in the late years of his life. He came back to the village. Young and foolish that we were, we threw stones at him. He would keep singing. The day he died, they had made him lie down on the stone pulpit outside their house. He was gasping for breath, but still singing, Rama Bhakti Samrajyam.That day it was amusement for me, but now it makes me cry. What great people! Even Chowdaiah. He was God to me, I used to wait endlessly to get a glimpse of him. Devendrappa was another phenomenally generous musician – he fed so many young boys and taught them music. They are inspirations, people who shaped my life.

Today there is an abundance of talent. But we are not producing legends.

No field is producing legends. That was a glorious period, it is over. We should not even compare it with anything. Music has grown immensely, new directions, new experimentations…that is the nature of the present.

But one thing I would like to say: do what you want, but leave tradition alone. Don’t tamper with it. Why should we fuse Quran with Bhagavadgita? Or Gurugranth Sahib with Ramayana? They are all great texts by themselves, they don’t need support, they can stand on their own. So, let’s not try to save tradition, it is best left alone.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 5:50:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/looking-back-looking-ahead/article30811009.ece

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