Pandit Shankarrao Vyas: His Life And Work
By MOHAN D. NADKARNI
The Bombay Sentinel, January 20, 1958
THE death of Pandit Shankarrao Vyas in December 1956 is a grievous loss to the world of music, coming as it did at a time when the older generation of giants in music was gradually dying out.
He personified in himself various aspects of musical activity. He was not merely a vocalist of repute or an acknowledged master in instrumentation. He was also a composer and a scholar of distinction.
Born at Kolhapur in 1898, Shankarrao Vyas joined Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, the great evangelist of Hindustani music who pioneered cultural revival in northen India in the early years of this century and founded the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.
The lad, who was one day destined to be one of the leading promoters of the institution, soon became the favourite of his master.
For during his studentship, young Shankar, with his talent and diligence, acquired the art of repairing musical instruments and tried his hand at several of them.
He also wrote a book on the subject of sitar-playing. While a student, he was specially sent to Lahore to manage the affairs of the music school in that far off place. It was a measure of the confidence Pandit Paluskar had reposed in the organizing capacity of his young pupil and Shankar did his job in a splendid way.
On completion of his studies, Shankarrao Vyas settled down at Ahmedabad and founded the Gujarat Sangeet Vidyalaya. He also founded another school of music affiliated to the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Besides, he played a leading part in popularizing classical music through the local National Institute of Education that was being conducted by Gandhiji.
The missionary movement initiated by Pandit Paluskar for the popularisation of music among the masses had by then begun to take roots.
The passing of Panditji, in 1931, however, brought to the fore many problems affecting the future of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and its subsidiary institutions.
Shankarrao Vyas, in collaboration with Pandit Khare, banded together all the past alumni of the parent institution and set up a general council which came to be known as the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal to co-ordinate the work of the Mahavidyalaya. The tradition laid down by Pandit Paluskar is ably carried on by his successors even to this day.
The manner in which the vast number of music schools, also known as Gandharva Mahavidyalayas, are being conducted all over the country testifies to the tact, co-operation and organizational ability of veterans like Shankarrao Vyas who had piloted the institution to safe landing in the hour of peril.
Although well-versed in the tradition of old masters, Shankarrao Vyas was a musicologist of modern outlook. His excursion into the domain of films was indicative of his desire to show that classical music could well serve the needs of the cinema.
His musical score in ‘Purnima’ ‘Bharat Milap’, ‘Ram Raiya’ ‘Vikramaditya’ and other films represented an experiment with new styles and vogues rooted in classical tradition. It was a pioneering effort, this use of the indigenous music idiom for cinema purposes. He had his own ideas on orchestration in Indian music and carried on systematic experimentation in that respect.
That was not all : Shankarrao Vyas was also a composer of no mean merit. His musical work entitled “Vyas Kirti” is a compenditious collection of over 350 compositions.
One finds in his compositions a happy blending of poetry, melody and rhythm. His song “Murli Ki Dhun” set to tune in Malgunji, had created a great stir and aroused keen curiosity among the musical milieu of the thirties.
Of medium build, Shankarrao Vyas was a man pf sunny disposition. In a sense he was a traditionalist among reformists and reformist among traditionalists.
The music world is full of feuds and does not take kindly to innovators. Yet the piety jealousies of a musical coterie were unknown to his temperament. His innate affability and sense of culture were unspoilt by his attainments.
He was shy of publicity and had a word of advice and encouragement for everyone who came to seek his guidance. He held contemporary musicians in great esteem.
The yeoman service this man of many parts has rendered to the cause of music will ever be remembered by all those who care for that priceless heritage of ours.