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The Quintessential Maverick

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The Quintessential Maverick

Manikbuva Thakurdas remains the quintessential maverick of Hindustani classical music.

Manikbuva admits that he has been swimming against the current. He is aware that his is a cry in the wilderness. But he is unrelenting.

The Illustrated Weekly of India, July 7, 1988 

“Our classical music is intellectural first and emotional next.” He intones. “The concept of Rasanishpatti (evocation of mood) was invented by Bharata, the author of Natya Shastra, but he did it only with reference to drama, not music. The concept later came into fashion in music, because of the presence of some elements of rasa in dramatic songs by dint of their situational character.

“If we must apply the raga-rasa theory to our classical music, then shanta, gambhira, shringaga and karuna are the only rasas which admit of evocation in classical music. There is nothing like nine rasas in this musical system.”

Observations such as these are apt to make any scholar-musician sit up and think Particularly when they come from another scholar-musician who has the courage of his convictions – and also the daring to express them on public platforms, without malice or fear.

The scholar-musician who sounds so courageously candid, even brutally frank, is Pandit Manikbuva Thakurdas who has just won this year’s fellowship awarded by the prestigious Sangeet Research Academy of Calcutta. Manikbuva has different images in the eyes of different people. Some call him a cynic with a rather negative approach to traditional music. Others dub him an espouser of wrong or lost causes. To this writer, the 77-year-old pandit has been a doughty crusader, genuinely saddened by the current trends in Indian classical music, specially the Hindustani tradition. Constructive in his approach to the problems besetting the future of the tradition, he offers several remedies to stem, if not reverse, the trends.

Manikbuva Thakurdas belongs to Indore, the once princely state in Madhya Pradesh. His forefathers hailed from Uttar Pradesh, but migrated to central India about three generations ago. His was a family of traditional kirtankars who had also made their mark as scholar-musicians. Their command over vocal music and the pakhavaj earned them enviable acclaim in their time.

Manikbuva’s grandfather, Vinayakbuva, was a saint-musician credited with spiritual powers. His erudition and scholarship attracted savants like Pandit Bhatkhande, who sought guidance from him. Manikbuva’s father, Yashwantbuva, inherited the kirtankar tradition but also devoted equal attention to learning and teaching Hindustani music. He was under the tutelage of Pandit Bhaskerbuva Bakhale, one of the most eminent Hindustani maestros in the early years of the century. Yashwantbuva acquired from his mentor an astounding treasure of popular as well as rare ragas and talas, rendered in styles that varied from dhrupad to dhamar to khayal.

Yet, Yeshwantbuva did not pursue music as a career. Instead, he devoted his time to teaching. Manikbuva, too, cast in his father’s mould, is a dedicated teacher.

In the course of his vidya-daan, Manikbuva has also found time to research the history of classical music, the many phases it has passed through and the rich contribution made by the old masters and scholars to preserve, enrich and popularize it. He has delved deeply into the artistic, scientific and aesthetic aspects of the tradition, and on the basis of his research, evolved a system of teaching which lays greater stress on the performing aspect of Hindustani music. He has also written books propounding an independent approach which challenges, among other things, several postulates put forward by other leading lights in the field and accepted as basic to music education almost all over the country today.

Pandit Bhatkhande, it would appear, is Manikbuva’s bete noire. He has questioned the very rationale of the system propounded by Bhatkhande for imparting education in classical music. He decries the late veteran’s classification of ragas under 10 thaats (adapted from the system formulated by the celebrated Carnatic vidwan, Vyankatamakhin) and holds that the Bhatkhande system, with its emphasis on vadi, samvadi, arhoa, avaroha and such other tenets and the “object” dependence on notation has been primarily responsible for the “progressive deterioration” of Hindustani music as an art form.

Manikbuva’s system of classification of all the ragas into 32 distinctive groups could, he vehemently asserts, make music education much easier. According to him, if the basic principles of raga and tala as propounded by him, were effectively demonstrated, the students would succeed in grasping them with much greater ease.

Manikbuva admits that he has been swimming against the current. He is aware that his is a cry in the wilderness. But he is unrelenting.

The maestro’s enthusiasm to forge ahead is unabated even at this advanced age. He has recently released his magnum opus, Raga Darshan, in Hindi, for those wanting to learn classical music and also for aficionados seeking further knowledge about the subtleties of ragas and talas.

The tall and hefty Manikbuva is well-preserved for his age, and has been at the helm of affairs at his institution, Rupayatan, at Dadar, in central Bombay, for over three decades. Affiliated to the Bharat Gayan Samaj established by Bakhalebuva at Pune. Rupayatan presently has about 200 students on its rolls – most of them students of vocal music, and the rest, students of instrumental music and classical dancing. Manikbuva divides his time between teaching, writing and holding lecture-demonstrations in and outside Bombay.

Behind the stern expression is an open mind and affable temperament. The maestro possesses the rare quality of being himself all the time, although his views and opinions always tend to trigger off controversies. And though it is after very many years, his contribution to Indian music is finally gaining recognition at the all-India level. As they say, better late than never.


1 Comment

  1. Excellent Reading

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