Call of the sitar

Pandit Rajeev Janardan Photo: V.V. Krishnan   | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

“The sitar is an instrument which talks, sings, emotes… Nothing can capture the attention of an audience better than a sitar. It is a complete instrument. The sitar called to me and I answered its call,” says Pandit Rajeev Janardan, whilst describing the start of his affair with the instrument; a liaison which began when he was 12 years old.

“I was learning Hindustani vocal when I was six but my voice cracked at 12. While singing in front of violinist M.S. Gopalakrishan, he suggested I learn a musical instrument. I must have sounded bad. The school in which my brother, Shailendra Janardan, learnt the violin also taught the sitar. When I heard the sitar, that was it. I knew this was an instrument I wanted to learn. I started off learning the tantra style from Ramayan Prasad Chaturvedi and Shiv Balak Tiwari but I felt there was something lacking. The instrument did not speak to me. That is when I went to Bimalendu Mukherjee who taught me the gayaki style.”

A job at 19

He goes on to recollect how at the age of 15 he won the All India Music competition and how at age 19 he became a B grade artiste of All India Radio (AIR). “My first post was in Jagdalpur, Chattisgarh. There I had access to a vast collection of old music recordings and was also able to interact with some great artistes. I would practise the sitar to the recordings. In a way, apart from Guru Bimalendu Mukherjee, AIR is also my guru. It provided me an excellent musical environment and a place for me to do riyaaz. I remember how I would play the sitar at the studio late into the night. Several times I was locked in by accident. The guards were then careful when they closed the door. Practising hard in those early days, I was able to create my own style,” says Rajiv, who is now an A grade artiste.

His style of playing the sitar, he goes on to say, is a blend of the gayaki ang (vocal style) and tantra ang (instrumental style). “Many know the tantra style through Pandit Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka, and many would recognise the gayaki ang through Pandit Vilayat Khan's works. Mine is a fine mix of both.”

Belonging to the Imdadkhani gharana, his is a free style with a medium paced aalap and fast paced ‘ulta jhala' and ‘ati jod.' A traditionalist at heart when it comes to music, he is not too fond of fusions. “I dislike music where it is not a dialogue but a monologue that happens on stage. Monologues happen when the musicians are unaware of the kind of music the other plays. I do do fusion but then it is between artistes who understand and are aware of the other's works.”

He goes on to give a demonstration of what he means. And for a while, I felt like I was in a royal hall of yesteryear, as Rajeev played the sitar and his disciple Shrinka Agrawal, with ghungroos on her feet, highlighted the beat. He says: “This is a new piece we have come up with. My wife, Kamala Shankar, plays the slide guitar while I play the sitar, and Shrinka highlights the rhythm with her ghungroos. We are also planning musicals, which will help people to better acquaint themselves with the different forms of music.”

Trained in the surbahar, rudra veena and the tabla, Rajiv is into promoting these ancient musical instruments through his organisation, Swar Saraswati in Delhi. Run by Shrinka, Swar Saraswati trains 45 underprivileged children from slums in and around Vasant Vihar in Delhi in music and dance. He also teaches music in the traditional guru-shishya style in Delhi. Music, says Rajeev, is his mission.

Back to his roots

T he artiste, who has Kerala roots, plans to hold classes in the city. “My parents, K. Janaradan and V. Nalini, belong to Kerala. I was born and raised in Madhya Pradesh, where my father was working. My memories of Kerala are of the occasional trips we would take to Pathanamthitta. I want to reconnect with the State and this is a step in that direction. I intend to spend two or three months a year and hold classes in the city. It is also a way for me to popularise traditional music instruments such as the rudra veena, the sitar and the surbahar. I teach the rudra veena to Tai Situpa (a well-known Buddhist spiritual leader). He now wants all his disciples to learn a musical instrument.”

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 8:16:55 PM |

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