SPICMACAY, in association with the Classical Arts Club, IIT Madras, presented Pt. Bhuvanesh Komkali in a Hindustani classical music recital. He was accompanied by Sagar Patokar (tabla) and Abhishek Shinkar (harmonium). The hall was filled to capacity with students of IIT(M) and aficionados from within and outside the institute.
Komkali is the grandson of the legendary Kumar Gandharva and son of the brilliant, if maverick, Mukul Shivputra. Expectations were naturally high. An inheritor of an almost too great a lineage, Komkali faces unique challenges — his music must draw from and reflect Kumarji’s and yet must not be imitative.
“You talk of pressure? There is tremendous pressure on me,” he said after an engaging concert.
Kumarji was a groundbreaking musician, whose work in creating newer forms of expression was immense. And though new, they seemed to arch back to the music of the past that lives and breathes in the very soil.
Bhuvanesh sang Bihag around two compositions of Kumarji’s — the vilambit composition in Ektaal with an enticingly short mukhada, yeh mora. Much about a Khayal presentation hinges around the mukhada — its structure, its melodic setting, its words. Bhuvanesh’s rendition steered clear of imitating Kumarji, but did evoke that music. The alaap, especially, was refreshing with a leisurely unfolding of the raga. There were little flashes of Kumarji’s typical engagement — sudden, quick and powerful taans, the intense engagement with the sahitya — but they were an organic part of the development.
Phrases evocative of other ragas tread slippery paths — the re-sa phrase repeated quickly did evoke Sawani as did the phrase pa-dha-ga evoke Alhaiya Bilawal.
“But these exist in Bihag,” Bhuvanesh claimed. Have you heard a bandish in which a clear Shankara phrase occurs? Kumarji has sung this. My Guru Smt. Vasundhara Komkali told me that to understand Kumarji’s work, you have to go back to the tradition. Listen to the paramparik bandishes. Kumarji did not create new rules for ragas, he revived older images of the raga. In Prof. Deodhar’s School of Indian Music, where Kumarji was trained, he was exposed to many traditional compositions. He learnt many of them and even witnessed the creation of new compositions by great masters. Whatever comes across as different in his raga conceptions can be made sense of on revisiting traditional compositions.”
I point out that Kumarji arrived at his vision of Raagdaari and ragas after a unique journey of many ups and downs. How can another access that vision and own it?
Bhuvanesh agreed. “The way Kumarji sang Bihag, or any other raga, was because of his journey. It can never be mine. I have to only go by what my gurus taught me.”
It is not easy to be Bhuvanesh Komkali.
He presented Gauri Basant through Kumarji’s composition, ‘Aaja peri le gori ranga basanti chiraa,’ followed by another of his well-known compositions in Basant — ‘Ranga kesariyaa sira paagaa.’ His rendition evoked the charm and yearning of spring that brings with it new life and new love.
The last two pieces also drew from Kumarji’s oeuvre: he had collected folk songs of the Malwa region, absorbed those sounds into his music and made the nirguni bhajan his own. Today we can’t imagine another way of singing them.
‘Yaara ree rasiya,’ a composition with a distinct folk flavour and the nirguni bhajan ‘Avadhutaa gagan ghataa gaharaani’ rounded off the exhilarating concert. Komkali comes across as a thinking and talented musician well on his way to discovering his own voice. The two young accompanists were remarkable for their sensitivity and controlled energy.