The future of classical music is not just bright, it is radiant, says Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar

Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

After offering prayers at Vittobha Devasthan in Mattanchery, Kochi, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, dressed tastefully in a white silk kurta, rushes away for a late night concert organised by ‘Shudh Kalyan’ at Kerala Kathakali Centre at Fort Kochi. His vilambit bandish in Gaudmalhar by Sadarang leaves an indelible impression on listeners. The stately music mesmerises the audience.

The smooth glides and clarity of taans in the Gwalior style leave the listeners spellbound. Ulhas Kashalkar has imbibed the best of all three gharanas: Gwalior, Jaipur and Delhi. “Most musicians before me, like Bhimsen Joshiji, did the same. He did not blindly follow the footsteps of Abdul Karim Khan or Sawai Gandharvaji. He took the best from his learning and developed his own style. The features of the gharana should be there, but you should explore further,” Kashalkar notes.

He says that his guru Gajananbua Joshi was a ‘gandaband shagird’’ of all three gharanas and used to sing ragas such as Alahiya Bilawal, Yaman, Hamir and Gaud Sarang in the Gwalior tradition, while he sang Savni and Jat Kalyan in Jaipur style.

“Gwalior gaayki progresses fast and the badhat is in phrases rather than in ascent in notes. There is heavy use of gamak and straight taans. Jaipur style has heavy accent on the beat and uses more akaar than bols. Agra style, followed by few these days, lays emphasis on laykaari, nom tom, bol alaap and a wide repertoire of bandishes,” the master explains.

Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar

Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Today, a name to reckon with in Hindustani classical music, Kashalkar was born in a small town near Nagpur and was initiated into classical music by his father, Nagesh Dattatreya Kashalkar, an advocate and musicologist. Before coming under the gurukul tutelage of Gajanandbua Joshi, he trained under Rajabhau Kogje, Prabhakar Rao Khardenavis and Ram Marathe. It was after a short stint as an official at All India Radio that Kashalkar joined as a resident faculty at ITC Sangeet Research Academy at Kolkota, a position he retained for over two decades during which his career as a performing musician also took off.

A recipient of Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Academy award, Tansen Samman and many more honours, Ulhasji, an extremely busy singer, is also a much-sought-after teacher, with students from all parts of the country, travelling to learn from him.

“You cannot compare modern learning methods to the Gurukul system, where people like me spent all our time with the guru, learning and practising. You mastered a raga and performed only when the guru thought you had mastered it. University music programs are completed within deadlines. However, institutions like ITC still have a traditional rigorous approach to teaching and learning. It functions as an organisation, yet follows the gurukul way.”

Kashalkar feels that with digital media, youngsters have access to an ocean of classical music to listen to, wide-ranging musicians and their music from the old times to the present, and, even now, there are learners who are dedicated and willing to put in years of practice. “The public connects to light classical music like geet and bhajan. However, appreciating pure classical music needs conditioning. Yet, it cannot be compared with the reach of Bollywood or popular music at any point of time,” Ulhasji observes.

How does he see the north-south divide in classical music and musicians being insular within their music zones? “It again is a matter of sanskar (culture). If you are mature in appreciating the nuances of Carnatic, you would like it. I loved listening to KV Narayanaswamy, Balamuralikrishna and MS Gopalakrishnan, who, as a violinist, used to be strong in his Carnatic ground, but, at the same time, he made interesting forays into Hindustani music. I have also come to like TM Krishna.” In Hindustani music, he has his favourites in Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Kumar Gandharv and Jitendra Abhisheki from the past masters, and Raashid Khan and Sruti Sadolikar from the present times. “The future of classical music is not just bright, it is radiant,” Ulhasji smiles.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 4:38:15 PM |

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