Raag Taal Gharana Music

Why Pt. Shailesh Bhagwat chose the shehnai

Shehnai exponent Pt. Shailesh Bhagwat

Shehnai exponent Pt. Shailesh Bhagwat  

Pt. Shailesh Bhagwat on how his guru Ustad Bismillah Khan made the instrument his life’s calling

“He gave a purpose to my life by making the shehnai an inseparable part of it,” says Pt. Shailesh Bhagwat talking about his celebrated guru Ustad Bismillah Khan. “For 40 long years, I followed him like a shadow. Learning was just one part, I loved doing all the sundry jobs while travelling with him for concerts such as carrying his bags, tidying his room and arranging his meals. I also stayed in his house, my gurukul, in Benaras. I just wanted to be with him and gain as much I could musically,” says the Mumbai-based Bhagwat, who as a young boy played the flute before taking up the shehnai.

Fascinated by its sound, he initially trained under shehnai exponent Pt. Aurangabadkar and sitar artiste Maruti Patil.

“I was more thrilled that I had chosen a rare instrument. But soon became so passionate about it that whenever Babajaan (Ustad Bismillah Khan) visited any part of Maharashtra for a performance I never missed meeting him and would fall at his feet, unperturbed by the reaction of the people standing around, to accept me as his sishya. Ustadji would reprimand me and send me away saying shehnai is not easy to learn,” laughs the veteran shehnai exponent.

Pt. Shailesh Bhagwat with his Babajaan Ustad Bismillah Khan

Pt. Shailesh Bhagwat with his Babajaan Ustad Bismillah Khan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Refering to the challenges of mastering the instrument, he says the shehnai is the most difficult of wind instruments. And what made Ustad Bismillah Khan synonymous with it was his ability to integrate it seamlessly into the classical tradition. He produced raags in their purest form, an art he learnt from his father Paigambar Baksh Khan, grandfather Rasool Baksh Khan and uncle Ali Baksh Khan. He popularised the instrument globally. “He added to the technique in his own distinct way. He believed in the logical badhat (progression) of a raag and improvised it in the gayaki ang. He would explore the raag, showcase its full expanse before moving on to embellish it with taans. I follow this method,” explains Bhagwat even while ruing about the mangalvadya losing its presence on the concert stage with few opportunities and fewer learners. “It is now heard only in some temples and during auspicious occasions. Babajaan would be pained to see from above how the instrument, whose fortune he changed, has lost its position in the music world.”

Besides the technique, Bhagwat has inherited a vast repertoire of raags from his guru. At concerts, he often takes up rare ones, such as Shivamat-Bhairav, Shahana-Bahar, Hans-Narayan, Kirwani, Hanskinkini and Meghranjani.

Like his guru, the tunes from Bhagwat’s shehnai also have an emotional appeal. “Babajaan would say, ‘dil se bajaoge toh dil ko chuyega’ (if you play from the heart it will tug at the heartstrings). He had a broad perspective of art and life. Though a devout Muslim, he had a deep spiritual connect with the Ganga and Kashi Vishwanath temple. He refused to leave the Shiv-nagari Kashi for anything. Jaati aur dharm se sangeet ka koi lena dena nahin hai (music has nothing to do with caste or religion). No wonder his music could bind hearts and minds. He also had a generous approach to creativity and would tell his disciples to imbibe the best from all gharanas. He never took any money for teaching me, instead would buy me clothes and delicious food. To take forward his musical vision, I have been wanting to teach interested youngsters, but there hardly are any takers.

“Even today, when I go up on tstage with the shehnai in my hand, I send silent prayers to Babajaan for making me a fine artiste and a better human being. He introduced me to the great blend of swar and sanskar,” says Bhagwat.

Shailesh Bhagwat will perform on October 20 (6.30 a.m.) at Pancham-Nishad’s Pratahswar concert at Ravindra Natya Mandir, Prabhadevi, Mumbai.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 7:02:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/why-pt-shailesh-bhagwat-chose-the-shehnai/article29724863.ece

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