A song and a sermon


The art of narrating and singing with rhythmic accompaniment over a large-sized copper pitcher, known in Gujarat as `Maha Bhat', was established almost a three and a half centuries ago by the Aakhinyakaar, Premdas. The Aakhiyankaars are the village bards who travel all over the region by entertaining, and, at the same time preaching their large rural audiences. Dharmiklal Chunilal Pandya belongs to the line of Aankhiyaankar Premdas, the founder of the art of `Maha Bhat' and at present he is the last survivor of this ancient art. There was a proposal in the Sangeet Natak Akademi to set up a workshop under him to train young aspirants to preserve the art of `Maha Bhat'.

The technique of tapings on the copper pitcher is done in almost a similar manner to that of being done on the Carnatic earthen `ghatam'. The only difference being that while on the latter it is done with the bare palms and the fingers, whereas for the `Man Bhat' the same is done on the copper pitcher by wearing metal rings on the fingers.

It was nice to attend to Pandya's `Man Bhat' recital this time again after having done so nearly a couple of decades ago when one had the delightful experience of hearing him for the first time at the Sangeet Natak Akadmi's Folk Music Festival presented on the lawns of the Rabindra Bhawan. Incidentally, Pandya is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and has been regularly performing all over India and abroad.

Sporting a colourful (red) Gujrati turban, Pandya commenced his performance with the chanting of Sanskrit hymns and a little later followed it with a discourse to the audience with references to Surdas, Tulsidas, Mirabai, Sant Tukaram, and, quite often to the celebrated bard of Gujarat, Narsi Mehta, the author of Mahatma Gandhi's favourite bhajan `Vaishnav Janto'.

However, the actual performance with tapings on the pitcher seemed rather sparse on this particular occasion as compared to his memorable performance at the earlier SNA's Folk Music Festival at which he had enthralled the large audience with his lively performance mostly by singing and the tapings on the copper pitcher. One still recalls with nostalgia his at-length renderings of the episodes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata with his enchanting `Maha Bhat' performance, singing with full gusto and lively renderings of rhythmic sequences on the copper pitcher.

In this evening's recital his soulful renderings of the bhajan, `Bhaj Radhey Govind' in raga Brindavan Sarang and `Radhey Krishna-Rashey Shyam' in Raga Todi were the most appealing items. The songs `Nand Nandan Krishna' and `Jaagey Mere Bhag were also sung with good melodic and rhythmic charms. Probably, his advanced age now accounts for the `less singing-more sermonising' in his present renderings of `Maha Bhat'. He had excellent accompaniment on the harmonium, tabla and manjira by his son and other kin.