His own beat

07dfrDhaneswarSwain.jpg   | Photo Credit: 07dfrDhaneswarSwain.jpg

The supreme development and rise of THE Odissi mardal as an individual instrument and resourceful musical means with a supporting grammar has an immensely significant place in the musical history of India, all due to the pioneering efforts of 60-year-old Guru Dhaneswar Swain, who has been declared a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2013 for the mardal in the category of Dance Music. (The award ceremony will be held later this year.) The second after his teacher Guru Banamali Maharana to receive this prestigious award in mardal playing, Swain was exhaustively trained under the late Guru Sinhari Shyam Sunder Kar and has just retired from the Mardal Department of Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyala and now teaches at the gurukul of Professor Ramhari Das, a long time friend.

Adorned with innumerable awards, Swain has many research articles to his credit modifying certain aspects of typical Odissi musical phrases and patterns prevalent in the villages. Widely travelled across the world with his brilliant rhythm compositions and accompaniment, he has infused deeper expressiveness for the recitals of the best of Odissi dancers and singers. For the first time, a CD “Vadya Vani” on the Odissi mardal, composed, directed and also played by him, accompanied by mridanga and khanjani, has been released. The virtuoso from village Nahantara, Nimapara in Puri district, shares his journey and efforts.


Why mardal?

I started my musical journey from the Odissi Sankirtan Mandali of the Bhagabat Toongi (a socio-cultural-religious gathering) in my village. I was around eight and used to go every evening to hear the kirtans where they sang the Ranighat kirtans, prevalent only in the villages. A guruji used to come to teach the groups and I used to learn by hearing them. Soon I started singing bhajans, champu, chhanda, janana in the kirtan mandali and was very good at it but had a female voice! Here my older cousin brother Brahmarbar Swain used to play a small mardal with Odissi songs in Ramleelas and baithakis. He inspired me and I started training under him. The only traditional instrument in the village used to be the mardal. So I played it and also sang in cultural functions, parba-parvani, in kela–keluni and swangs. We played while standing by hanging the instrument (even the harmonium) from the neck.

So you started with the small mardal…

In Orissa now there are lots of mardals of different sizes. The sangeet mardals started in 1970 from the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalay according to the requirement of the tunes and are now made according to the shastras. The small mardal could not be tuned and had single pitch used for keeping the rhythm with which people just sang. With time things have changed. The mardals you see now are well designed and technically improved versions and tuned to the required musical scales. The one I play is made according to what is prescribed in the shastras.

Who was your first guru?

In the village I had no guru. After matriculation in 1970 I came to Sangeet Mahavidyalay with only 10 rupees and told my father (who also used to act as the raja in the village jatras) that I shall start my future from here with the mardal and there was full encouragement from him. With his blessings I arrived in Bhubaneswar and the renowned Guru Singhari Shyam Sundar Kar was my first guru. From Singhari Sir I learnt detailed techniques of mardal playing beginning from how to hold it. With Guru Banamali Maharana I developed and codified it.

You must have struggled a lot

A lot. Till date, there is no book or notation of mardal. We use only traditional “bani’ from villages. I had neither proper food nor place to stay in, not even a cycle and had to walk long distances. After my post-graduation in mardal (we were the first batch), I went to work with Sonal Mansinghji for a year but was not happy in Delhi. Lord Jagannath called me back to Bhubaneswar and I got the post of assistant professor in the Mahavidyalaya, and today everything is fine.

Talk about your pioneering work on giving the mardal an individual identity

I used to think that mardal was only an indispensible accompanying instrument for Odissi dance and music. But it was Guru Gangadhar Pradhan who motivated me to play it as an individual instrument and in 1983 gave Sachidananda Das and me a break to play a duet in his Konark Natya Mandap Festival. There was a lot of appreciation and people realised its importance as an individual musical instrument which came into the limelight. Since then there was no looking back. I got lots of offers for solo recitals, and this all due to the late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan. The solo we play today has a “dhara” or “pranali” or rule. First the jaman (uthan), then chhanda prakarana (similar to peshkar in tabla), then ragad. We now use 15 to 20 talas. This division, grammar and nomenclature is from Sangeet Mahavidyalaya and I have a major contribution in it. Banamaliji and Sachidananda also contributed in its making. My book on mardal playing is soon to be released. The future for mardal students is very bright and I take them to play the instrument in different places. The mardal is a paramparic (traditional) instrument and parampara is our past, present and future. I respect it as we got everything from parampara. So the mardal will definitely get its identity as an individual instrument. But will you believe, till now I had only one solo programme on All India Radio and Doordarshan. I tried a lot but failed!

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 7:56:11 PM |

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