The Enigmatic World of Mukul Shivputra by Chinmoy Khaladkar

by Chinmoy Khaladkar

For a long time I wanted to write a perspective about Mukul Shivaputra’s art and the evocative world which he creates. I have been listening to him since 1987 when I was a teenager and just started listening (seriously) to Indian Classical Vocal. Perhaps I can safely say that I was one of the many witnesses who witnessed his evolution as an artist. Mukul and I have known each other for many years now and hence I can also say that I have had a glimpse in an enigmatic world of an artist. He has been rather generous in opening this window for me and many of his other friends. It is necessary to share this information. However being a friend of an artist of his calibre, I may not be as dispassionate as I would like to be. I hope that the readers will pardon me for the same.

Now let us first start with some mundane things. Mukul was born in 1956, He received an impeccable Talim from Kumarji. He also learnt rudiments of Dhrupad from K.G.Ginde. He also went and learnt with Deodhar Guruji. He learnt Carnatic Vocal from no less than M.D. Ramnathan. He learnt Pakawaj from Arjun Shejwal. He learnt Sitar by himself and plays the same very delicately. He also picked up many languages. Kannada was the mother tounge. Mallyali as his male dai (Kanna) was a keralite. He knows Hindi, Malwi, Brajbhasha, etc but he studied Sanskrut systematically. He also studied philosophy.

His esoteric art as on today is a combination of these facets. He is a composer par excellence. The readers may have only known him as a composer of his own compositions in “SOTA”, but I have also seen his other Sanskrut compositions. He is the only person to compose a Sanskrut hymn on ArdhaNariNateshwara after Aadi Shankarachrya. The composition is so difficult that it took me couple of months to understand its philosophical implications and the imagery. (This is despite the fact that I am proficient in Sanskrut ). He has a deep study of philosophy and history. I need not tell the readers about his penetrating intellect. Like Kumarji, he is a classicist by training, an innovator by temperament, a poet by feeling and a thinker by inclination. It is this clash (and not a synthesis) of these identities which symbolizes his Gayki.

But still how would one gauge the world of an artist like him? This is the question and the problem also.

Let me start with a methodological problem first as it is very difficult to write about Indian Classical Music. Life of an Indian classical musician has never been easy to document under the best of the circumstances. There are several reasons for it. Main is the nature of the art itself. Indian Music is a largely a process than a finding. It does not conclude at any stage. It is difficult also to scholasticise the art without forfeiting its essence. It has several social values and inherited paradigms in it which do not belong to the art but to the society in which it lives. This poses another formidable aspect. It is because of the very nature of the art itself, a nimbus of unreality always hovers over the lives of Hindustani Classical Musicians. After passing of the musician, it takes on a muted glow of a fable. This is because of the nature of Raga itself........ The way the Ragas of Indian musical inheritance are ordered and the way they play their part in Hindustani Classical Music. For the artists, The Ragas are organic entities. They are alive. They are to be invoked. They are never static. They grew and reborn every time any one sang them. And that power of regeneration that lay hidden in the scales of the Ragas was the mysterious fire of their inner life also. They have a certain kind of life in them. So that inheritance of the Ragas is not a science or art for they being alive, transcend both the art and the science.

Hindustani Classical musicians always live their lives almost submerged in the world of Ragas. Now if one examines their lives exclusively along their lengths, in the realm of sequence alone, the meaning of their lives is vastly diminished. It is in the breadth of time that these lives are best measured for it is there that meaning is deepened and subtly layered across each life. Measures of a linear passage are meaningless in the life of a musician who lives with certain timelessness as part of the calendar of his existence. It is in this perspective, that the historical part of a Hindustani Classical Musicians life is trivial and inconsequential in the context of the inner journey which is the true content of a man. It is like one can see the end of glacial age when the ice is said to retreat into streams, rivers and oceans and the covered land stands revealed freshly shaped and sculptured ready once again to unfold a new history and a new mystery.

Mukul is a distilled essence of our parampara which is there since many hundred perhaps thousand years. Unless you have a perspective (or the bird’s eye view) of the parampara and the perspective of the philosophy out of which this parampara has arisen, one will not be able to fully comprehend the basis of (his) art.

When he sang at my residence, I made a small introduction to various distinguished people who had gathered from all parts of India.

This is what I told them “आपण सर्व जन  हे कार्यकारण भाव आणि कालानुक्रम या वर जरुरी पेक्षा जास्त भर देणार्या शिक्षण पध्हतिचे बळी आहोत . या पध्हतिला कलाकारांचे आकलन होत नाही .” we are always in the search of the “ turning point” or the” moment of enlightenment” in the lives of these artists. Unfortunately all the biographies of the yesteryear artists also confirm the same belief.

But how would one understand his art (or an artist’s art) with such a thinking process like ours? The answer is that your canvass as a listener has to be wide enough to assimilate and grasp the experience. The art of listening (even in everyday life about mundane things) seems to be at its nadir. Nowadays we have to make a conscious effort to hone this art in the otherwise noisy and fast world which hardly has time for anybody or anything.

In case of Mukul over the few years what I have noticed is that Mukul’s music constitutes (and gives us a glimpse of) only 10% of his personality and hence is unique.

Let us analyze a few of his concerts and his approach towards the music.

However his essential perspective of rendering a Raga is always that of distilled Kumarji. Unless first we understand what Kumarji’s approach was we will not be able to understand what evolution one can witness in Mukul’s Gayki.

Here is what Kumarji’s contribution to the world of Hindustani music was. (Taken from my another article which I had written about Kumarji):

It was Kumar who brought back Taanpura in Indian Classical. He pointed out to his listeners the pivotal role it plays in the very pith and grain of the Classical vocal. He made Tanpura perform a function that enables it to enhance tension, add piquancy and offer resolution. In the other words, in his world of Khayals, it is no longer rendered as a mere background accompaniment.

The most remarkable evolution was about Swara. Kumar actually realized that every swara was in principle a Shadja. This laid a foundation of a thought that this Shadja, as its name implies, had six different regions encapsulated within it. And with a relentless pursuit, Kumar was able to cultivate a vocal access towards all of these six regions. This imagination that to imagine every Swara of the scale as about an inch broad, the six regions within it and the realization that it is in this region that the elusive power of Swara resides was an extraordinary level of intellectual and musical intelligence. Even to be able to conceptualize existence of such a region within every note bears testimony to the aforesaid fact.(Nothing to do with Shrutis) We come to know of it when we hear him singing….that region just beneath his voice and those nearly inaudible intimations lurking within it that throbbed with life which is the essence of Swara.

That is how he knew every Swara. And then emerged an understanding of Raga. With this perspective towards Swara, Kumar always viewed a Raga as an organic entity having life of its own. He became aware that they are never static. They grew and were reborn every time when you sing them. You have to invoke them. And this power of regeneration lay hidden in the scales of the Ragas was their inner life. And then (must have) emerged the perception of the fact that how to embark on this journey of exploring the realm of Unknown with the help of 12 tangible Swaras.

Then came the Bandish. On this background, if we see any Kumar rendering after 1960s, it tells you about his mooring and an understanding of it as a lone factor having a nearly objective existence in the ocean of Ragas. He understood that the Bandish has always been in a certain sense given the impression as though it had merely happened. And it is because of this quality that the Bandish gives the feeling of becoming rather than a fully structured composition, a musical artefact. He perceived its tough, literary and musical core hidden like a filament; within a musical DNA that holds the Bandish as real as any objective.

In Kumar”s gayaki two different landscapes are seen; one is of the Raga, and the other is the lyrics of the Bandish. Both these landscapes are vital to his art. He never used all the techniques of expression and the vocal resources that he possessed to exhibit the command of the art but often restricted himself to the needs of the Khayal he was singing. At no time or occasion when he sang does the listener get the feeling that he has sung himself out of the Raga. He stops singing when he has said what he wants to say in that khayal, for that time. Kumar had always adopted the technique of telling you of the words of the lyrics of the Bandish while he is introducing Raga----- one word here, another there---- and let the composition begin to form, tasting the feeling of the Raga against each single word of lyric till a stage is reached when the entry of Tabla and beginning of singing of the Bandish seemed revelatory, like a prophesy.

This takes us to Laya. There were two main reasons for Madhya-Laya. One was the fact that it was completely natural (Naisargik) Laya. Second was that he considered the prevalent Vilambit and its pacing irrelevant for the musical content and the intentions of his Khyal .It was this belief that this Laya would be the key to open the throbbing universe of the chosen Bandish of the Khyal gave his rendering a different dimension altogether. His breath was also sufficient for his musical needs. The pauses were a waiting in order to make it sure that a lyrical and a musical idea which he wanted to convey had duly registered in the minds of his listeners. A silence was to show us as to what were his needs in the world he had chosen to create as well as the contours of his world at the point of time.

It is on this background; now let us see how Mukul has carved out his niche with the help of several concerts which he rendered over a last few years. It is only in last few years his approach seems to have crystallized his aesthetics.

In one of the concerts in Delhi in 2005, he sang Nayaki Kanada. The Raga has been extensively sung by the performers and been heard by us. Mukul’s portrayal was markedly different. The Bandish which he chose to sing Bada Khayal was an old one from Gwalior. A paramparik one. “Naina Nahi Mane” . Mukul showed as to how this Raga must have been originated. In other words, The Mula Strota (Mula Pravaha ) and the thinking process . How this raga has arisen out of the SARANG ang though it belongs to Kafi Thaat. He started his Aalapi and showed MEGH in avaroha. He showed MADHMAD SARANG in aaroha. He showed as to how these two combined in order to become a variant of SARANG known as BADHANS SARANG. Even by showing a fleeting Dhaivata otherwise completely alien to Nayaki) and taking this aalapi further he actually vocally showed the transformation of Khula Madhyam of SARANG into the Madhyama of Nayaki Kanada. As to how Ga MA Re Sa (Kanada Ang ) was incorporated in SARANG pravaha as to arrive at Nayaki Kanada. He even showed its Komal Gandhara in aaroha and its samvad with Madhyam and Komal Nishad in different manner than that of which we are accustomed to. The Jod he sang for Nayaki was Suha. Tu Hai Mohhmad Sa Darbar in Drut Ekatala. However he kept it distinctly away from Sughrai by showing Mukta Madhayam . His nyasa on the same and use of both the nishadas was an unusal Suha. He also sang Khambavati, Tilak Kamod and Kausi (popularly known as Jog-Kauns) which I will explain in detail later. But suffice to say that his thought process continued during the same.

In another concert he sang Shyam –Kalyan . He showed as to where exactly Kalyan becomes Shyam. It was in a novel manner he established the Teevra Madhyam of the Raga. He rendered three Bandishes. A Bada Khyala in RASIYA MHARA , Jod was a drut Ek Tala AISO TUMHI SAN and a drut Teen Tala SAWAN KI SANJH. Normally whatever Shyam-Kalyan that is heard or rendered by the performers goes like PaGa Ma Re Ni Sa, Ni Sa Re … what is actually shown is Kamod Ang in the same. It is sung or played as Shyam Kamod. Any recent recordings by almost all the artists bear testimony to this fact. Mukul in his rendering showed the hidden Gandhar with such a delicate swar lagava that Kalyan and its teevra Madhayam was established on the backdrop of the same. It showed an extraordinary sensitive Shyam Kalyan, which in fact is being tried to explore in this Kalyan by our Purvasuries.

His Kausi has always been delightful and it is not Jog-Kauns as rendered by all other artists. But there is an interesting tale which hangs by Kausi.

According to Kumarji, Jagannath Buwa (Buwa for short) concieved this delicate raag swarup on the backdrop of swaras which are related to Malkauns. He told it to Kumarji and sang the seed of conception when both of them met at Kolhapur. Kumarji requested him to compose the bandish and exclaimed it to him that this seed can flower only if there would be a bandish which would give an identity to the asfut (marathi word) rag swarup.

Thereafter Buwa composed Sughar Bar Payo and Peer parayee. He narrated this to Kumarji and also told him that he had a name i.e.Kausi in his mind for the aforesaid raag swarup. Kumarji did notation of this raga and rendered it for the first time in 1946 in the concert at the home of Aabasaheb Mujumdar.If the legend and the story as it goes is correct, then the first sum of the raga took the listeners by complete astonishment. Everybody was wonderstruck. There was curiosity about the raga.

However Kumarji took ill and was absent from the music scene from 1947 to 1952. In the interregnum, other disciples of Buwa requested him to teach this srujan to them. Various discussions took place and various opinions were formed. It was analyzed that it contained Jog and Malkauns or Chandrakauns . Hence it was named Jog Kauns. However the basic problem was different. All the gunijan including Buwa could not, perhaps, follow Kumarji’s prastuti (rendition) of the same. However, Buwa knew that whatever was rendered by Kumar was the Kausi which he had in mind. But it seems that he could not; perhaps render the seed of conception which he had conceived and told Kumarji.
When Kumarji appeared on the scene again , at around in 1952, Buwa requested him to render his creation. As the story goes, Kumarji was upset because he believed that people made Buwa believed that Kumarji would not rise to sing again because of his ailment and his creation would be lost forever. Kumarji also believed that this understanding led Buwa bifurcate his creation as Jog+Chandrakauns and it reached various disiples as Jog-Kauns.

Mukul told me that Kumarji was so upset with Buwa that he never sang it for Buwa. After Buwa’s demise,Kumarji used to sing this “Kausi” in the concert as Buwa conceived it. The compositions were same. Kumarji also composed a bandish which one is able to find in Anoop Raag Vilas. It was “See Seri Sehara”, later popularized more by Vasantrao Deshpande.

Kumarji’s explanation of Kausi to Mukul proceeds on different lines altogether, Kumarji told Mukul that Buwa had immense love for Bhairav. He always had an inclination to see any creation of his through Bhairav. His raag nirmitee also used to be born essentially through Bhairav medium. (An explanation here is utmost necessary. Bhairav is a vast raag. It is not a Bhairav which we are normally accustomed to listen to. It also contains other shades of ragas i.e. Vibhas, Malaharee etc.) Hence as per the explanation, Buwa basically conceived Kausi from Sa Ga Ma Pa dha Ni Sa of Bhairav. He thought of Malkauns and “grafted” Komal Gandhar and Komal Nishad and composed the Bandish. Kumarji had a notation of this concept and this Bandish with him as was narrated to him by Buwa at Kolhapur in 1944. Hence one finds that Kumarji used to render it with a complete difference. Use of Shudhha rishbha, Both Gandharas, use of both Dhaivatas and use of both Nishadas (Aarohi shudhha Gandhar,shudhha Nishad, avarohi komal Gandhar and komal nishad along with a shudhha rishabha of Kanada that) gives this raga a conceptual realm strikingly different from Jog-Kauns.

If one listens to this critically, one may say that it is a Kausi Kanada of two Gandharas and two Nishadas. At least kumarji’s rendering of Kausi confirms it.

Mukul sings this Kausi only. He also has composed a beautiful bandish “ Kaliyan Hee kaliyan saurabh chhayee”. It is in Madhya laya trital.. I believe that this should clear the notions about Kausi and Jog-Kauns.

These three instances are only sign posts to let the readers know that what are his moorings and what are the pathways on which his journeys are taking him. His approach towards the Ragalapti has undergone a considerable change over the years. Let me narrate the latest and a curious event and end this write up.

In Pune, very recently, he rendered a very forceful Kalyan. It was something alien to his Gayki which I have been listening to till now. In my entire listening experience, I found it little different that he rendered it the way which was perhaps alien to his aesthetics. A little before Ahmedabad concert and Lecture Demonstration, I requested him to render a couple of things which otherwise he does not render. However he told me that he will be definitely rendering Kalyan and the same Bandish again to start the concert. I knew that he had something in his mind. I met him in Ahmedabad in the morning and we chatted a bit. While leaving he just exclaimed (as if he read my thoughts about repeating Kalyan) that what he rendered in Pune was Raga called Kalyan and here he would be rendering Raga Kalyan. Looking at my puzzled face he went on to explain that Kalyan is the feeling in the Raga and this could be produced by variety of ways and means.

What he rendered that evening was a very delicate Kalyan. He started with an extended aalaps as usual and used the words “Salona Re Baalam” as a key to open the giant throbbing interior universe of Kalyan. Once the Bandish emerged, Idioms after idioms, he relentlessly kept Kalyan’s inner heat till he could show those glowing Gandhars and Rishabhas and could make us watch him sitting in their glow. Jod, which was a mystic Tarana was as if life itself coming to an end with the promise of another birth.

This is a meek attempt to capture his Khayal in words and the world which it evokes. (I have not written about his thumaries, tappas, taranas, lavanis, gazalas, Dhruva-pad and all other genres wherein he is remarkably proficient). However, whatever words you use, they are futile for they cannot capture the magic of his elusive music which is extraordinary agile. For it captivates you ,it appears at once full of weight and quick moving like a drop of Mercury which is difficult to grasp. It eludes you easily and once it does so there is nothing which you have grasped.

Our generation hoped that Kumarji will be there to show as to what will be Indian Classical music in 21st century. But he was gone in 1992. After him, today it is only Kishoritai and Mukul who are the torchbearers of this.

Gao, Bajao and Rizao are three keywords in Indian Classical Music. Rizao signifies the magic which a performer recreates. It is that touch of “ADBHUT (अदभुत)” which touches the lives of the listeners and make them forget the physical world. For a memorable concert what is needed is zankar of 4 Taanpuras. We can see two of them on the stage. The third one is in the mind of a performer and if the resonance of all the three isreflected in the mind of A listener, then he feels that the artist is rendering the Raga for him. We can certainly feel this in Mukul’s music.

Musicians normally live very lonely lives, shut off with their Tanpuras figuring out the vast expanses of the inner landscapes of their lives in their Ragas and Bandishes. The journey once begun never truly ends. It is to the end of every life that this journey is directed. What it needs are courage and rapt belief. Mukul’s life and the enigmatic world which he has created certainly personifies this.

New Delhi, 2012

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