Tete-a-tete – An interview with Shyamala G. Bhave

Music that lives in the minds and hearts of all — that is the music of Shyamala G. Bhave. Bearing the hallmarks of creativity and quality, every composition being different, her music is an amazing amalgam of the rich traditional Gwalior Gharana and her own style. Born on 14th March 1941 to musicians of high repute, Shyamala G. Bhave hails from a family of artists. For all her skills in music, she credits her father Acharya Govind Vittal Bhave and mother Vidushi Lakshmi G. Bhave. The style of music she learned is original, strong and beautiful; much of her learning was by observing her parents teaching others.

Shyamala G. Bhave imbibed Hindustani music from her traditional family and learned Carnatic music from B. Doreswamy and A. Subba Rao. Her father trained her in playing harmonium and Mrs. Dias taught her the piano. Her first performance is traced back to the age of 6 years when she performed at Maharashtra Mandal, Bangalore.

Apart from music, she also acquired the academic qualifications of B.A. (Hons) and M.A. (Music). her place of stay has a beautiful ambience; goddess saraswati carved in marble stands out signifying what a hallowed abode of learning her home is.

She has been conferred the titles State Rajyothsava Prashasti by the Government of Karnataka, Karnataka Kala Tilaka by Karnataka Sangeeta Nritya Academy, and Ubhaya Gana Vidushi by the late Sir M. Vishweshwaraiah. She has been conferred a Doctorate by Houston University, U. S. A and many more. She has traveled all over India and abroad, popularizing Indian music.

She is currently the executive director and principal of Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalaya founded by her parents in 1931.

Drishti brings to all its readers the “Light of music” giving you an insight into the sparkle created by Shyamala G. Bhave. She has certainly kept the past alive, consciously preserving it in some of its various forms.

Your father Pandit Govind Vittal Bhave and mother Lakshmi G. Bhave were exponents of Hindustani music and were the first to start in Bangalore a Hindustani school of music–“Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalay” way back in 1931. What can you share with us about this?

Saraswati Sangeet Vidyalay was established on Nov 5, 1931. My father was a Maharashtrian. His Guru, Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, wanted his students to spread all over India to popularize Hindustani music and begin teaching. Thus my father came down to Bangalore. My mother belongs to Gadag (Karnataka) and is from a theatre background. My mother hails from a family of priests. So their union was a perfect blend of Music, Theatre, Sanskrit, Culture. He always followed the guru-shishya parampara and many students used to stay with him. He taught not only music but also academic education to his students. He had many students who are today some of the finest singers of India.

One special feature was that there used to be a lamp lit for 24 hours in our house where students would come and offer their prayers to God and then begin their music lessons. As a family tradition that is being followed even today.

Yours is a family of musicians; has that helped you to achieve what you are today?

To a large extent, yes. I grew up with people who are some of the finest singers of India today, as they all came to my father to learn music. That helped me develop and maintain good relationships with them that continue even now. Saraswathi Sangeet Vidyalay was already established by my parents; so it was all there and I have been taking care of their legacy with the same shraddha even today.

Can you tell us something about your students?

I have trained over 2000 students. Fortunately or unfortunately most of my good students have settled abroad in various parts of the world. Here I have a beautiful set of students who sing classical music, light music, sugam sangeet, and devotional music and are good instrumentalists. We have our own instrumental orchestra called Gandhara Mandakini. We sing in nine languages.

Karnataka region has the unique distinction of fostering both styles of Indian music. What are your comments?

In India Karnataka is the only state which encourages both styles of music, a very positive feature. In the border areas of north Karnataka like Gada, Belgaum, Hubli people prefer Hindustani as there is a greater influence of Hindi and Urdu in those places with the Muslim community being larger. But in the southern part, i.e. Mysore, Bangalore, etc. the Carnatic sangeet parampara is very popular. Bangalore as the capital of Karnataka has welcomed both the styles of music in a very open manner. Both the styles of music have a very original quality.

In Bangalore why do we find more Carnatic music lovers?

Bangalore still tends to prefer Carnatic music because of the influence of the regional language–Kannadigas, Tamilians, Telegus, Malayalees are more in number here.

Can you tell us a little about your style of music?

Initially my music base in Hindustani was Gwalior Gharana. This is a very beautiful style of singing. But I have developed my own style. My music is very creative: this may be because I know both Hindustani and Carnatic music well and am very familiar with their advantages and disadvantages.

How would you compare both the styles of music, Hindustani and Carnatic?

Hindustani music is more creative than calculative; it is generally taught orally, but the Carnatic system of music is notation-based. There is no lipi in Hindustani because it is (Khayal ki gayaki) music of the imagination. Whereas in Carnatic music even if ten persons sing a song individually, the music sounds the same.

Can you enlighten us about the notation-based system in Hindustani music? How and when did it come into use?

In Hindustani music, the notation-based system came much later. All the credit for the system should go to the two Gurus Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and lawyer and scholar V.N. Bhatkande. V.N. Bhatkande who was teaching at Lucknow University was a singer himself but was noted for his pioneering work in compiling and publishing compositions. He devised a notation system for all his compositions. He concentrated on notation-based work and following a systematic way of learning.

Can you explain the concept of Gharanas? How many Gharanas are there in Hindustani system of music?

The concept of gharana is very strong in Hindustani system of music. Gharana is derived from the Sanskrit Graha or home. Gharana denotes family ties, blood relations, common caste or heritage and living under the same roof. Thus, in music, gharana denotes direct descendants of a master musician, who have trained under him and imbibed the style of their emergence. There are 5 prominent gharanas in the Hindustani system of music: Gwalior, Agra, Kirana, Jaipur, Patiala. Each gharana is known for certain characteristic features.

Gwalior: It is one of the oldest gharanas, where complete compositions, which are called Bandish, are sung. That is, Ashthayi (Pallavi) and Antara (Charana) are sung with correct meaningful words. The rise of the Gwalior gharana started in the reign of the great Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605). The favorite singers of this patron of the arts, such as Tansen, first amongst the vocalists at the court, came from the town of Gwalior. This Indian classical music school has counted in its ranks numerous dhrupad poets and musicians, who have invented a great number of poetic styles and ragas.

Singing Taans in Aakars in the higher speed is common in this gharana. Taans are similar to singing swaras in Carnatic music. There is a lot of melody and emotion in this style and the style of singing taans is straight without much complication.

Agra: This system of music is creative as well as calculative. The raga is also meant to create a mood in the listener. The distinctive features of the style are the melodic fluidity and complexity of the compositions associated with simple and sober poems. The concert is generally divided into three parts: the ‘great’ Khyal which contains a short Alap presenting rapidly the notes of the raga, then a poem sung and developed with improvised phrases, and finally the ‘small’ Khyal which following on at a rapid tempo. Bol Taans sung in Alap style are very popular in this style (Bol Taans are similar to Neraval creative to such an extent that the Teka (Tala) will be going on but the singer uses lots of twists in his Taans and yet lands to the exact Teka.

Kirana: This style is popular for tremendous breath control as here singers can sing even four Avartana at a time in one breath. Here while singing a Bandish (composition) one emphasizes on the first line of the composition; one does not sing Antara (Charana).

More emphasis is given to the clarity of pronunciation.

Jaipur: This is a very difficult system of music. The exclusive feature of this gharana is that they never sing a composition in a single raga; they always combine two ragas together to sing a composition. The meanings of compositions here are very beautiful. They sing most often in Vilambhith Teentaal, Dhruth Teentaal and Madyalay Teentaal. There are very few artists who sing in this style.

Patiala/Mewar: A beautiful Taan system is followed in this style. Compositions in this style sound more like light classical and are based more on Srinagara. Compositions of these gharanas are used for classical dances especially Kathak.

What do you perceive are the limitations in the Hindustani system of music?

Musicians in those days were illiterate and hence no attention was given to the lyrics of music. Even after learning music from gurus people never gave a thought to it. Lyrics could have been worked on with the help of scholars to make a composition more meaningful and to sing correct sahitya but no efforts were made in this regard. Hence we can say that Hindustani music is more raga-based. Carnatic music is sahitya-based.

Can you tell us something bout the Dhrupad style and why it is dying?

It is believed that Dhrupad originated in the 15th century. Mythologically there is a story, which says that Lord Eshwara was performing his dance for compositions in Dhrupad Dhamar. There are very few exponents of this style today and it is slowly dying. The language of lyrics is usually Sanskrit or Brijbhasha. This style of singing is very grand and heavy. It is therefore suitable for male voices. The famous composer Tansen popularized this style. This is a very calculative style of music with very little Sahitya and with difficult patterns and it is not very melodious. As the popularity of the Khyal (imaginary singing) style increases, it is gradually replacing the Dhrupad style.

What is Khyal singing that is b ecoming popular day by day?

Khyal emerged after Dhrupad around the 15th century. Khyal means thought or imagination. It is the most popular classical vocal form today. The mood is generally romantic or devotional. Khyal doesn’t follow only one preconceived poetical structure, or a particular Taal but is based on various musical improvisations. There are two types of Khyal, the Bada (big) or Vilambit Khyal and the Chota (small) Khyal or Dhrut Khyal.

You are widely accepted as a Hindustani vocalist rather than a Carnatic one; your comments?

People generally do not want to accept me as a Carnatic vocalist because, yes, comparatively I have sung more Hindustani compositions and given more concerts in Hindustani music. I give separate Hindustani and Carnatic concerts and do justice to both the styles, singing with equal purity.

You have been conferred the title Ubhaya gana. What does Ubhaya gana mean?

Ubhaya gana is a single-artiste-jugalbandhi and a compare-contrast-blend experiment of both Hindustani and Carnatic music, which I sing in a concert. Ubhaya gana is expertise in both styles of music.

Sir M. Vishweshwaraiah who is an engineer by profession and not a musician conferred this title on you when you were 12. But this is a title you carry even today despite getting state awards, why?

Sir M. Vishweshwaraiah was a connoisseur of music and a good listener. After listening to my concert where I sang both Hindustani and Carnatic music, he gave me this title. He was a very good friend of my father and he had taken a promise that I would always use this title. Personally I feel it is a very special title and therefore I always use it.

The Hindustani system of music has a number of time-based ragas. Today when the demands of people as well as organizers are increasing is it right to stick to such concepts?

Well, we follow the time theory of ragas, i.e. that every raga can be performed only at a certain time of the day or night. It is parampara and we do not want to change it. We definitely believe that time-based ragas create the atmosphere of that particular period of the day. Of course this requires artists to be extraordinarily good at creating that kind of atmosphere.

What is your contribution to the field of music?

My own style of music is often called the Shyamala Bhave’s style of music. I have had the good opportunity of being exposed to both Carnatic and Hindustani styles and could understand the advantages and disadvantages of both the styles and adapt to these styles. I am very particular about the lyrical part in my compositions and give a lot of importance to sahitya, bhava, voice rendering and voice culture.

When I was Chairman of Karnataka Sangeeta Nritya Academy, we had worked on a series of books Namma Kalavidaru which give information about the contributions of artists in the fields of music and dance. Of course the boooks on Carnatic musicians were not ready when I reached the end of my tenure; they are still not complete.

Having composed over 1500 compositions comprising classical Bandish, devotional songs, Bhavgeeths and folk music, and having trained over 2000 disciples, I have always worked on popularizing our classical music.

Didn’t you want to have a family of your own?

I never said no to it but the situation was very different then. My father passed away when I was very young and I had a younger sister and mother to take care of and I had already started performing then. There was poverty at home and I had to take care of my family. I did not have a normal, enjoyable carefree childhood–I would spend most of my time preparing for and performing in concerts. I never wanted to leave my mother and nobody wanted to be a mane aliya (ghar jamai). As i grew up I had gone ahead so far in the music field that when I looked back it was too late to think of a family of my own..

What do you think of the musicians of this generation?

Artists of this generation are fantastic. They attend concerts and genuinely repsect art and artists with broad-mindedness.

Any words of advice for aspiring musicians?

After a child is born parents wait patiently for years giving a good educaton to their child to see him stand on his own leg. In the same way one has to wait even in music and should not be too performance-oriented in the learning stages. There are three stages for any student in music–Learning, Development and Practice. Theoretically a student has to give more time to the practical aspect of music.