By C T JOSHI, Senior Journalist, Bengaluru
It was a “modern day miracle”, brought about not by traditions or superstitions or by any unknown or supernatural power. But by the complex and incomprehensible human mind. And those involved in it were the two extremes of that mind. One at the height of human development and the other at the paataala of human degradation.
Bhimsen Joshi is the doyen of our Hindustani music. He was once driving to a North Indian city for a music concert. On the way at a deserted, God-forsaken place, he and other occupants of the car came across a road block. No sooner the car stopped than a gang of dacoits descended, as if out of the blue, and surrounded it. Just then the gang leader, a tall, hefty and ferocious-looking fellow, happened to peep into the car and see in it musical instruments like tabla, tanpura and harmonium. When he found that it was Bhimsen Joshi, who was travelling, there was an unbelievable, unimaginable change in his attitude. From a frightening tiger to a pet lamb. He happened to be a music buff and, lo, a great fan of Bhimsen Joshi.
Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi
He prostrated before the musical legend, took him to his den, showered hospitality on him and his associates. He requested Bhimsen Joshi to sing for him. Bhimsen Joshi obliged and treated the dacoit to a sumptuous musical feast. The dreaded dacoit offered presents to his unique guest and gave him a warm, respectful send-off.
And as a parting gift, he gave Bhimsen Joshi a letter and said the letter would spare the singers from harassment or worse from other dacoits they were sure to encounter on their onward journey. The singing party did encounter them, but reached its destination safely. Thanks to the letter.
Indeed music has performed many a miracle in the past too. Two such incidents of the yore worth recalling relate to two of our legendary musicians.
Tansen was the celebrated court singer of Mogul emperor Akbar. He was asked by Akbar to sing the rare Deepak raaga. It is said that any one singing it would suffer from scorching heat because, as its name suggests, the raaga would generate unbearable heat in the singer’s body. But no. Tansen had no option but to sing it. After all the King’s bidding. Then his body cooled down when another raaga with cooling quality, Megh, was rendered.
Swami Haridas was Tansen’s contemporary, also a great musician, though not as well-known as the other. He was bed-ridden with severe knee pain. His favourite disciple cured him of his ailment by the sheer power of music.
It is not known whether these are true or not. May be true. But what is undoubtedly true is the potency of music.
Plants have grown. Cows have yielded milk. Wounds have healed. All by the power of music. Experi-ments to this effect have been remarkably successful.
Another “modern miracle”. A young boy was suffering from a terminal disease. He was a budding guitar player. As his end became imminent, he could not bear the agony. And music came to his rescue.
Ravi Shankar and Allah Rakha
Just at that time Ravi Shankar, the Sitar maestro and Ustad Allah Rakha, the table wizard, came to his town for a concert. On the request of the boy’s mother and sister, the musician duo came to the boy’s house and gave a soulful performance. The boy had a peaceful end. It shows the greatness not only of music, but of all great musicians too.
Music not only heals, but bonds too. Take again Bhimsen Joshi. He is a bridge, so to say, between two great peoples—Kannadigas and Maharashtrians. Born in Dharwad District of Karnataka, he made home in Pune, Maharashtra’s cultural nerve-centre. (Incidentally Dharwad District is the birth place of five of the greatest Hindustani musicians. They are: Bhimsen Joshi, Sawayi Gandharva, Gangubai Hanagal, Basavaraj Rajguru and Mallikarjun Mansur).
Not only was Bhimsen Joshi given the country’s highest award Bharat Ratna, but was also honoured by both Karnataka and Maharashtra Governments with Karnataka Ratna and Maharashtra Ratna respectively. The only instance of its kind — of two linguistic groups honouring the same great son of the soil.
Ustad Bismillah Khan
Another musician of international fame Bismillah Khan was a bridge between two communities. During his lifetime he used to offer early every morning the very first prayer of the day at God Vishwanatha temple in Varanasi, through his shehanai recital. This temple is one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus.
We will round off with another musical genius of present-day India. M S Subbalakshmi represented universal brotherhood. It was a rare honour for the country when she was invited by the United Nations to sing at a concert organised by it.
M S Subbalakshmi UN Concert
And Karnataka has every reason to feel proud. At the UN concert, Subbalakshmi sang with fervour a very famous Kannada bhajan–Jagadoddhaaranaa aadisidalu Yashodaa (ಜಗದೋದ್ಧಾರನಾ ಆಡಿಸಿದಳು ಯಶೋದಾ), written by Purandara Dasa, the great saint-singer of Karnataka. The unfortunate part is that most Kannadigas are themselves blissfully unaware of this distinction.
Again, Purandara Dasa stands for all the ennobling qualities of music. Hailed as Pitaamaha (Grand Old Man) of Karnatak music, he is one of its earliest pioneers. As such, along with Thyagaraja, Muttuswami Dikshitar, Vasudevachar, Veene Seshanna and a host of other giants of Karnatak music, Purandara Das has played a major role in bringing closer all the regions of South India. The result is there for to all see. Despite several diversities, all of these regions resound with Karnatak music.
And it has gone not only beyond these regions into other parts of our country, but also beyond India’s boundaries. Truly it is said the real musical genres know no bounds of country, language or caste and community. They are eternal, universal.