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Who was Nanasaheb Panse?

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Who was Nanasaheb Panse?

The Economic Times,

Who was Nanasaheb Panse? How many of us know that he was one of the most celebrated exponents of the pakhawaj, which is regarded as the most ancient – and also the most difficult – instrument?

The general lack of knowledge of a maestro of his eminence, who flourished in the last century, reflects a saddening and disconcerting feature of the very history of our classical tradition. It might sound cynical but true that even a stalwart of his fame is apt to be forgotten because the instrument of which he was the unquestioned master has now almost gone out of vogue.

The fact is that it is the performers who are seen to be unwilling to come forward to preserve and perpetuate the old styles of classical music – be they vocal (like dhrupad and dhamar), instrumental (like the veena or the surbahar), or percussion (like the nagara or pakhawaj). Indeed if we have, today, such a precariously small number of exponents of this age-old parampara in Hindustani music it is precisely because today’s generation of artistes lacks the requisite courage and determination to undergo rigorous riyaz, so essential to gain true mastery over the various ancient styles and vogues.

Mercifully, there still are virtuosi like Arjun Shejwal who are imbued by a spirit of dedication to carry forward the precious heritage with no expectations of material rewards. Shejwal is one of the topmost exponents of the pakhawaj of our time and is also engaged in perpetuating the percussion tradition by grooming his children and many other students.

Shejwal happens to be an eminent representative of the tradition of Nanasaheb Panse. And it speaks volumes for the gratitude and reverence he has shown for the great colossus by commemorating his birth anniversary in a simple but dignified way.

Nanasaheb was under the patronage of the then ruler of Indore state. By all accounts, he was one maestro whose magic fingers made his pakhawaj sing and speak. Needless to say, behind this unique achievement lay almost a life-time of unremitting sadhana of the kind one would only associated with a yogi.

Nanasaheb came of a venerable family of erudite kirtankars and he was being groomed by his father to pursue the vocation after him. As it happened, however, young Nana, while yet a boy, visited Varanasi with his father in the course of the latter’s professional tour of places of pilgrimage. It was during one such visit that the impressionable youngster met a learned Rajasthani Brahmin, named Jodh Sinha, who earned a living through presenting kirtans and bhajans. He also devoted part of his spare time to playing the pakhawaj.

It was the music and rhythm of his pakhawaj that made a decisive impact on Nanasaheb. He sought and obtained his kirtankar father’s consent to remain under the tutelage of the versatile Jodh Sinha and learn the intricacies of pakhawaj-playing. Predictably, the studentship was a rigorous as a penance, but Nanasaheb emerged through the ordeal to mature into a truly versatile genius in many ways.

Nanasaheb Panse was not merely a performer and teacher but also a thinker and innovator. He had drunk deep into the tala shastra and, in time to come, he discovered many deficiencies in respect of the conceptions of certain parans and bols, with an uncanny sense of mathematical accuracy and rhythmic precision, he plugged the shortcomings to fit them within the time-honoured shastric laws.

He enriched the already fabulous ancient repertory by innovating a variety of thekas, tukdas, bols and parans and generously shared them with his disciples. His manner of teaching, according to old-timers, was marked by simplicity and clarity.

Nanasaheb had an unquenchable thirst for more and more knowledge. That spurred him to gain proficiency in tabla-playing and even dance. It is said that some of the eminent dancers of his time benefited from his guidance. He thus built up an impressive following of tabla-players as well.

The maestro had a formidable appearance but he was kind and humble by temperament. Despite tempting offers of patronage from bigger and more prosperous princely state of the time, he remained loyal to the Maharaja of Indore till the last.

It is therefore an irony of our musical chronology that there is no accurate record of the dates of his birth and death. What is, however, authentically known about him is that he passed away in the seventies of the last century. He was believed to be in his late sixties at the time of his death.

Even though, the kind of functions held by his dedicated followers like Shejwal to pay homage to him are evidently based on surmises or broad calculations, such remembrances must be welcomed, if only because they serve us as timely reminders of many great lives and the work they have done for poverty.



  1. Great……..!!!!!

  2. Very informative article. I heard that Pt Gopal Das eminent pakhawaj player was the 12th generation player of his family and that he followed the tradition of Nana Panse. If as you write he died in the 1970s maybe Pt Gopal das learnt from him?

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