On the middle road

HYDERABAD: As musician Uttara Chousalkar arrives at Lamakaan, Banjara Hills ahead of her Baul gaan, she takes some time to soak in the ambience. She then sets out to ask the caretakers to ready the stage, double-checks her body-mic and plans positions for her performance before a conversation with Friday Review.

“When it comes to the musical aspect of Baul singing, extensive preparations end up being failures. The form is meant to liberate your soul, take you into a meditative space,” Uttara shares. Baul essentially means madness (in devotion), originating from the word Baula. There’s a catch here with the form (that doesn’t demand a structure) where one plays the iktara, khol drum, sings and dances to poetic verses all at once. “You’ve to take the middle road between wild abandon and being earthy because things tend to get wild if there’s no connect with your present.”

She gives interesting examples to explain the intricacies of the form. “The tone of the poetry may change, depending upon the particular mood, day and the mind. We were all brought up with a small tale about the performance of a famous Baul stating the form’s essence, few years ago,” she gets us engrossed. The tale goes that as the musician was singing and dancing, drenched in spiritual ecstasy, he had the audiences so engrossed that they didn’t even notice the lack of strings in his iktara. His intensity was such! . When one of them garnered some courage to point it out to him after the performance, he responded, “How does it bother you? I could hear it mentally.”

Uttara says that a great deal of Baul gaan deals with mysticism. Uttara, a Mumbai based Maharashtrian, with her guru Sushilaji Pohankar hailing from Madhya Pradesh, explains the reasons behind her initiation into several forms of music. “My guru, having travelled to many villages in her quest for absorbing newer cultures, music forms found that most of our ragas originate from folk music. She told me then, ‘I’ve given you a foundation, it’s for you to make use of it and welcome music from several other sources too,’ she underlines her motivation behind launching into bandish, mehfils and Baulgaan.

Having attended Parvathi Baul’s concerts at Ruhaniyat (a Sufi festival) for a decade, Uttara knew all the poems by heart and recognised the veteran’s musical progress each time she performed. She got more curious when English words like hospital, junction, company dovetailed its way into the form over time. “When Parvathiji was on an eight-day retreat to Kerala, I was happy to have learnt its nuances from her. The atmosphere was entirely spiritual but I’d arrived there with academic interest.” She knows quite a bit of Bengali, Gujarati, Telugu, Hindi and is proficient in Marathi. As Baul gaan relies on right pronunciation and bhava, this facet gives her an advantage. “I make sure I know the meaning even if I’m not perfect in the language. A native speaker shouldn’t feel I’m an outsider,” says the artiste whose priority is to keep the rasikas happy.

Uttara has also started a music fest, Krushna Nath, where she alongwith her counterparts narrate the life story of Krishna in different languages and musical forms. “Trust me, religion is not the focus here! There’s a qawwali that celebrates Krishna too,” she clarifies. Baul gaan (Vaishnavism) is essentially about Radha pining for Krishna. A fable also says that the initiator of the form, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a Lord Krishna in body and Radha in soul, as revealed through a dream to his mom. There are Buddhist, Sufi and tantric paramparas in Baul gaan too, but Uttara makes an honest claim that she’s only a novice.

Her academic inclinations (she holds a Ph.D in ‘mehfil singing-its transformations over the years and its cultural influences’) hold fort, whenever she’s in need of a direction. “The theory teaches you aesthetics, respect different cultures, to be more presentable as you perform. It allows you to respect a structure, gives you insights on what to do when an audience gets restless. It’s more like respecting the diktats and yet carving an identity for yourself. See Pandit Ravi Shankar ji or Ustad Bismillah Khan who’re pitch perfect at that. Music is entertainment but the soul has to reach the rasika,” she signs off.

An interactive concert

In a white top and a free-flowing red costume, Uttara’s Baul gaan, despite the Bengali poetry, succeeded in reaching out to people sans any language barriers (she spoke in English). The poems dealing with the love that Radha had for Krishna, her chastity, as well as Lalon Fakir’s hymns banishing the caste system, the elaboration of bhakti (madness), the cycle of life and death, the concert was wholesome. The vocalist’s attempt to interact with the audience consistently brought liveliness to the atmosphere and ensured the concert was communicative. The crowd also joined her in the naam sankirtan at the end.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 2:16:41 PM |

Next Story