Feeling alone matters here

Rahul Deshpande (sitting) and Jayateerth Mevundi. Photo: K. V. Srinivasan  

When classical musician Jayateerth Mevundi ended his abhang presentation with ‘Theertha Vitthal,’ to a unique calligraphic backdrop on stage, and a standing ovation at Kamaraj Arangam, Chennai, recently, the audience, that included Ranjani Gayathri, still remained transported by the full-throated voice range and the words “Vitthal Vitthal” that never failed to resonate.

Along with Jayateerth, who is an inheritor of the Kirana Gharana style of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, was the other singer Rahul Deshpande, grandson of the legendary Maharashtrian musician, Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande. It is easy to decipher from Rahul’s charismatic personality that he is into classical music, acting, singing, and TV shows.

In the midst of backstage props, the two singers spoke to The Hindu when INGA Foundation and Pancham Nishad presented them along with Ranjani and Gayathri in ‘Bolava Vitthal,’ a concert of abhangs and devotional songs dedicated to Lord Panduranga.

They were on an eight-city tour for ‘Bolava Vitthal,’ and having just performed in Hyderabad, Jayateerth was excited. “We were in Hyderabad. We did not know that they would listen to Marathi devotional-based music such as abhangs. It shows those who like abhangs will listen to them no matter what the language.” (Their tour, which began in Nashik, included Bangalore, Satara, and Kolhapur before ending in Goa on July 8).

Discerning audience

Performing for the first time in Chennai, Rahul Deshpande expressed affection for the discerning listeners of the city. “They are very religious when it comes to classical music. We see more of the younger generation here, attending classical music and dance recitals – it’s not the same in our state,” he said.

Initially influenced by Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Rahul naturally swayed in the direction of his grandfather’s style, learning complex ragas, its bandishes, thumris, dadras and ghazals. He has also featured in the TV show, ‘Saregamapa’ little champs. Rahul is now working wonders with Natya Sangeet (music in drama) in hometown Pune.

He is producing and acting in yesteryear musicals such as ‘Sangeet Sanshay Kallol’ and ‘Sangeet Maanaapamaan,’ widely appreciated by audiences for the music and comedy. Rahul continues to stage these plays to a full house every time.

For Jayateerth, the journey began two decades ago when he landed in Pandit Shripati Padegar’s house for training. Padegar was Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s disciple. Today Jayateerth effuses promise for the Kirana Gharana, which is known for abhangs and the highest quality of alluring classical rendition.

twelfth to the 19 nineteenth centuries, great saints from Maharashtra —Dyaneshwar, Tukaram, Gora Kumbhar, and Janabai sang abhangs devoted to Lord Panduranga.

Are abhangs then crossing boundaries of language and territory?

According to Rahul, music does not recognise boundaries. “A musician practises and performs with devotion and that’s all that matters,” he is emphatic.

Jayateerth intervenes, “For instance, Kannada audiences listen to Kannada songs, but they also ask me to sing “Theertha Vittala.”

Why do people throng to hear abhangs? “They come for the feeling,” smiles Jayateerth. “They listen with equal interest when I sing ‘Bhagyada Lakshmi’ in Kannada.”

Rahul feels it is the richness imbibed from 700 years of lakhs of people singing and dancing impervious to everything as they throng in thousands at the Vitthal Temple. “The devotees don’t realise that they are walking. There is a rhythm in this whole experience. The abhang has become enriched by such experiences.”

Does an abhang differ when sung by a South Indian musician? “Pronunciations change. Why, I’m from Karnataka and my pronunciation differs from that of the Marathi singers.” Feeling and devotion are important, as is presentation, Jayateerth stresses.

Agrees Rahul. “Whatever is good is acceptable,” he says. “For example, we had a full crowd at Shanmukhananda, Mumbai, for the abhang concert. What matters is that (day’s) specific performance.”

The duo would like to see more positive influences on the music scene. “More and more youngsters should listen to classical concerts. I feel the taste is acquired,” says Rahul.

Nods Jayateerth, as he feels strongly about the dearth of learners today. “A famous music institute brought in a leading violinist as professor, but hardly two students came to learn,” he says in a voice tinged with sadness.

(Renuka Suryanarayan, formerly a professor of journalism at the California State University in Los Angeles, is a trained Carnatic vocalist.)

Family tradition

Shashi Vyas, man behind the show, goes into raptures talking about ‘Bolava Vitthal’ and the artists who make it possible. “I belong to Pandharpur,” he begins and things fall in place. “Ashada Ekadasi is observed with great fervour there and the first day belonged to my ancestors.”

The urge to contribute to this culture resulted in a concert series, now in its fifth year. A music festival, or rendition of abhangs, was not a new concept. But where Vyas’s initiative differed was it had a structure. The artists travel across the country, the itinerary different every year. “But Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore have been constant. Goa has joined this list after the overwhelming response we had this year,” says Vyas. And the abhangs are not repeated.

“It has attained the status of a brand,” informs Vyas. Our Mumbai concert at the Shanmukhananda Hall recently was attended by 3,000 people. Kishori Amonkar was the first to perform for ‘Bolava Vitthal,’ to a houseful audience. We have not looked back since.”

Does he find enough artists, well-versed in abhangs? “Yes. Barring Delhi and Kolkata, there are artists everywhere willing to perform for Pancham Nishad. Jayateerth Mevundi and Rahul Deshpande are permanent performers. Abhang is Karnataka’s gift to Maharashtra, which has nurtured the genre. If Namdev propagated akhandnama, Tukharam is the only Hindu saint featured by Time magazine for advocating the worship of Nature…,” says Vyas, who has given up a career as a chartered accountant to pursue his passion.


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Printable version | May 11, 2021 1:44:01 PM |

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