A Great Evangelist: Book Review
By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Times of India, July 2, 1972
PANDIT VISHNU DIGAMBER PALUSKAR (1871-1931) was the first musician to bring traditional Indian music to the masses- the music that had long remained the exclusive preserve of the rich. This he did in the true tradition of a missionary. He undertook extensive tours and started jalsas (public concerts) for the rank and file.
He opened music schools all over northern and western India to facilitate mass education in music. He evolved, for the first time, a system of notation to facilitate scholastic instruction in music. He trained his students not only in vocal and instrumental music but also taught them to repair instruments. Keenly alive to the importance of good publicity, he ran his own printing press, conducted a journal and also kept the people informed of the activities of his institutions through the columns of newspapers and periodicals.
All this and much more forms part of professor Deodhar’s illuminating biography of the great evangelist. The book, based on authentic sources, narrates several little-known facts of Panditji’s life, the time he lived in, the social, economic and political factors that impelled him to undertake his arduous mission and the impact of his work on posterity.
Written in a style marked by forthrightness and simplicity, every page of the book makes absorbing reading. As the narration unfolds itself, the reader is moved by the inspiring saga of Panditji’s devotion to his cause.
Professor Deodhar had the privilege of intimate association with Panditji as his disciple for many years. Yet the author betrays no partnership anywhere in his writing. He is candid and dispassionate in his approach. All this adds immensely to the value of the book.
Superbly got up, the book carries a portfolio of rare photographs. Published with the grant-in-aid of the Maharashtra State Board of Literature and Culture to commemorate the birth centenary of Panditji, the book makes a significant contribution to musical literature.
Panditji’s life and work have great significance even now. Scholastic education in music has now reached university standards in India and Panditji was the pioneer who made it possible. For this reason, the book deserves to be read even outside Maharashtra, and the author will do well to have it translated into English and other languages.
The violin is probably the only Western instrument so far to achieve pride of place in the galaxy of our concert instruments. The facility it affords to play the gamakas, meends and other melodic subtleties and refinements has made the violin inexorably Indian, both as a solo and accompanying instrument.
The tremendous vogue the violin enjoys in the South is well known. It brings to mind the impressive line-up of master-players like Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu, T. Chowdiah and M. S. Gopalakrishnan, to name only a few. There are fewer exponents in the Hindustani tradition, but no less eminent at that. One of them is Pandit Gajananrao Joshi. He also enjoys the rare distinction as a noted vocalist, having learnt from many veterans of the Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur gharanas. His recitals, vocal and instrumental, are marked by a characteristic note of individualism.
The book under review, published on the occasion of Panditji’s sixtieth birthday, purports to be his autobiography. I say ‘purports’ for the simple reason that it cannot be called an autobiography in the usual sense. The autobiographical narration runs into a mere 43 pages. The remaining 99 pages contain a series of gat compositions innovated by the author and set to different ragas and talas.
The autobiography part, written in a simple style, makes interesting reading. However, because of its brevity, it strikes the reader more as a summing-up of an eventful, professional career. One senses quite a few missing links, too. A more detailed account of the life-story could make it more absorbing.
The gat compositions are highly instructive. A budding violinist will find them indispensable to his pursuits. Panditji, as a vocalist, also owns a rich repertoire of cheezas (vocal compositions). Inclusion of these songs in the book could make it more useful.
And finally, the editor says that the notations adopted for the gat compositions are based on the Bhatkhande system. They are not. If anything, they present a rather confusing mix-up of the Bhatkhande and Vishnu Digambar system, which are radically different from each other.