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He brought music to the masses

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He brought music to the masses


Sunday Chronicle, August 21, 1949

The article as it first appeared in The Sunday Chronicle, August 21, 1949.

The article as it first appeared in The Sunday Chronicle, August 21, 1949.

THERE might have been hundreds of musicians of varying qualities in the field of Hindustani Music. But none amongst them inspired more profound admiration in the minds of the masses in recent years than the late Gurudev Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, whose death anniversary falls on the 22nd of August. It is to his life and times that we should turn to fully understand and appreciate the great work done by him.

In the days of your, musical concerts were held before small gatherings in aristocratic homes. Public concerts were not in vogue. Musicians generally belonged to the lowest classes and as time went on, music itself came to be looked upon as a degraded profession. The political subjugation of our country was marked by decadence in every sphere of our life. To start with, there was the elimination of the old nobility. Art thrived on state patronage and music was no exception to this. The native princes were slowly losing ground and they became indifferent to our art and culture. The rising middle class, on the other hand, still thought of music as a luxury of the princely order. Music had thus a raw deal at the hands of both the ignorant populace and the indifferent foreign rulers.

It was at this stage that Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar appeared on the scene. He was an exponent of the famous Gwalior School of Hindustani Music and had made his mark as a musician on a very high order. Panditji was convinced that in the absence of private and state patronage and with characteristic far-sightedness he set upon the work of redeeming music from this catastrophe.

Uphill Task

'The unremitting labours of Pandit Vishnu Digambar were largely responsible for the revival of ancient music on modern lines.'

‘The unremitting labours of Pandit Vishnu Digambar were largely responsible for the revival of ancient music on modern lines.’

This indeed was an uphill task. It was beset with many impediments. Panditji was a Brahmin. The bigoted Hindu shuddered at the very thought of a Brahmin taking to music. There were occasions when Panditji’s forbearance was put to severe test. But he had the zeal of a missionary; he had a mission to fulfill in his life time. Panditji braved all threats of “ex-communication” by his co-religionists and took to the life of a roving missionary.

The ignorant masses were aliens to their own art and culture. Panditji’s mission would have been of no avail unless the artistic sense was revived in the vast uncultured populace. That was why at the beginning, the permeation of music among the masses was bound to be slow.

Panditji started “Jalsas” (public music concerts) for them, and made them the democratic patrons of the art. The success of his countywide missionary movement soon became evident. The vast number of music institutions known as the “Gandharva Mahavidyalayas” all over Northern India, are monuments to his great work.

He also aroused our educated middle classes from their apathetic attitude towards music and instilled in them a desire to learn and cultivate it.

Devotional Music

Pandit Vishnu Digambar was a saintly musician. He preached the Gospel of Music through the devotional aspect of his activity. He had for his pattern distinguished predecessors like Tulsidas, Surdas, Haridas Swami and Mirabai, who shed refulgent glory in their respective periods by their devotional music. Panditji drew his spiritual inspiration from them and ably carried on their tradition. He was famous as a composer but he always sang well-known ‘bhajans’ composed by the ancient saints. His melody was lyrical and the songs that Panditji sang were full of Supreme.

“Raghuvar tum to meri laj
Sada sada main sharan tehari
Tum bade Garib Nawaz…
Patit udharan birud teharo” (Tulsidas)

Then again,

“Mori lagi latak Guru charanon ki
Charan bina mujhe kachhu nahin awe
Jhooti Maya sab sapnon ki…” (Mirabai)

Such devotional songs were a source of delight to the masses. Panditji’s music had a universal appeal among them. The reasons were obvious. The masses represented an enslaved nation. They were subject to untold miseries . With their defeatist outlook they felt they had nothing to look forward to in this worldly existence. Their darkened souls naturally found solace in spiritualism and devotionalism. Panditji wandered from place to place calling on all to put their faith in a merciful God-

“Ankhivan Hari darshan ki pyasi
Dekhyo chahat kamal Nayan ko Nisdin rahat udasi…..
Tume re daras bin le ho karavat kasi” (Surdas)

For he is the creator of this world: all are equal before him:

“Racha Prabho tune yeh
Brahmananda sara”

That is why happiness lay in surrendering all and taking refuge in him:

“Sadho man ka maan tyago
Kama krodha sangat durjan ki tate ahanis bhago….
Sukh dukh donon sama kari jane aur maan apamaana” (Guru Nanak)

Panditji’s devotional sentiments had the humanizing effect on the minds of his listeners. Needless to say that his songs soon came to be sung in every Indian home.

Realisation Music Through

Panditji had drunk deep in the music lore of the ancient times. His outlook on life was philosophical. To him, music was a kind of Yoga. His “Swara Sadhana” was a combination of Yogic and Vocal exercises. Panditji believed that music had a divine origin, and that by persistent and systematic practice of this musical Yoga, one could have the Divine revelation of the “NAd-Brahman.”

Mahatma Gandhi had great respect and admiration for the late Panditji and his art. The famous song “Raghupati Raghava Rajaram” highlighted many a session of the Indian National Congress in those days of “tremendous sacrifice and austere conflict.” When Panditji rendered the “Ramdhun” in a serene voice, the whole congregation of thousands of men and women stood up spell-bound along with Gandhiji and other leaders.

Distinguished Disciples

Panditji’s popularity spread far and wide in the country, and many young disciples gathered round him. Most of this disciples have been zealously conducting the music academies established by their ‘Gurudev’ Pandit Vinayakbuwa Patwardhan, Wamnrao Padhye (Kolhapur), V. N. Thakar (Alahabad), Sangeet Martand Pandit Omkarnath Thakur and D. V. Paluskar (Panditji’s son) are known to the music world of today. Among his disciples may be mentioned Prof. B. R. Devdhar, Narayanrao Vyas and Shankarrao Vyas.

The unremitting labours of Pandit Vishnu Digambar were largely responsible for the revival of ancient music on modern lines. He evolved a compact System of Nation, which is capable for recording old classical songs in a remarkably precise and clear manner with all their ascents and descents and rhythmic variations. The songs thus notated become complete units of continues performance of Hindustani Music.

Popular Appeal

Panditji’s greatness should be evaluated not only in terms of his contribution to the art of the music but also in the context of the services that he so selflessly rendered to the masses. In a way, his life and work have a greater significance in our own times. We are a free people. These are not the days of private patronage. In the changed context of our freedom, both the artist and the masses owe a duty of their common cultural heritage. The artists would do well to shed their lifeless virtuosity and “touch-me-not” complex, and look to the masses for patronage by considering themselves as public servants. It is quite possible that the aesthetic sense of the profane masses cannot be expected to posses that degree of fineness which a cultured mind is generally supposed to possess. But that does not mean that the artist should pander to the test of their patrons by chief music. By remaining true their art and tradition, the artist should try their best to adapt it to new circumstances, give it a new life, and help the masses improve their artistic standard. Then only will their art have a popular appeal. The masses to, for their part, should treat their ‘Protégé’ as their own and appreciate its services. That way lies the preservation and progress of our artistic heritage.


1 Comment

  1. Wonderful and very informative article !

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