Nonika Singh explores the tradition that is not only unique, sacred and inimitable but also one whose resilience or significance can never be undermined
I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for
living well ó Alexander of Macedon
the Indian context, especially in the world of classical
tradition, however, the debt of gratitude that students owe
their teachers goes way beyond ordinary mortals understand the
teacher-taught relationship. Considered the backbone of
classical tradition, the guru-shishya paramapara is not
only unique, sacred and inimitable but also one whose resilience
or significance can never be undermined.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's advice to his disciples is ó Be aware of your limitations; donít try to show off more than you are capable of.
Photo: Nitin Mittal
Sanjeev Abhyankar, disciple of celebrated vocalist Pandit Jasraj,
feels this unusual tie is unparalleled. Madhup Mudgal, a leading
vocalist, rates it above all other human ties, where he deems
the connection is spiritual.
exponent of Patiala gharana Primila Puri dubs her
interface with her guru Ustad Munawar Ali Khan, son of Ustad
Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, a life-changing experience. She recalls,
"In 1968, when I became Munawar Ali Khanís gandabandh
shagird, till then I was a completely westernised person,
totally oblivious of Indian values and culture." Learning
music from Khan sahib, she feels, not only transformed
her but her entire family.
doesnít know what he hasnít learnt from his great guru, the
late Kumar Gandharva. And he is not just talking of musical
influences but the entire philosophy of life. All of what the
legendary vocalist said is ingrained in him ó donít be
oblivious of your faults, more so, when you become successful.
Ustad Vilayat Khan
musician and creator of musical instruments Sarasvani and
Swarragini, Subhash Ghosh, too, shares how Ustad Amjad Ali Khanís
advice, "Be aware of your limitations; donít try to show
off more than you are capable of" has been a guiding light
for him. He also reveals that consciously and unconsciously he
has not only imbibed music from the sarod maestro but has even
copied ustadís impeccable traditional style of
dressing. Abhayankar may feel his perspective of life is
different from his guruís, yet he, too, canít help but be
suitably impressed when he finds his guru has an Facebook
account and opens one immediately.
gurus invariably borders on deification. Puri avers that she
never forgot the yawning gap between his greatness and her own
limited capability. Mudgal, who took immense pride in being
called Kumarjiís chamcha, doubts if any other musician
could match his guruís music and path-breaking ideology. Such
reverence, such dedication ó so what explains the murmurs that
often accuse gurus of being biased or discriminatory? One charge
that has always stuck on them is regarding favouritism towards
their own progeny whom they go all out to promote? Ghosh argues,
"When ustadji took me on, the promise was to teach
me not promote me." Puri remembers the words of her ustad
to dispel any such notions. She says, "He would say guru
daana dalta hai`85. It is up to the disciples who have the
courage to pick it up."
Sanjeev Abhyankar and Pandit Jasraj; and (right) Abhyankar during a concert
Shobha Koser, whose relationship with her gurus Kanhaiya Lal and
Kundan Lal Gangani, has spanned the test of time and even death,
says," Gurus donít discriminate; they only teach
differently. For they know each disciple has his or her own
potential and that has to be tapped." So though her guruís
son Rajendra Gangani is a noted performing artiste, never has
she felt that her guru withheld something from her.
Harvinder Sharma reminisces how legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat
Khanís children Shujaat Husain Khan, Zila Khan and he would
learn at the same time and there was no differential learning.
The only defining difference is that while his ustadís
children had the natural advantage of being with him all the
time all the year around ó a fact he envied ó he could visit
his guru only for a limited period of time. Mudgal asserts that
a true guru, who loves music, can never be biased. Rather, he
thinks, the guru-shishya relationship is a notch above
the father-son bond. So while Kumar Gandharva had problems with
Mukul, the son, but as a shihsya he held him in great
Kathak dancer Shobha Koser Photo: Pawan Sharma
Kumar Gandharva and Ustad Vilayat Khan had a tumultuous
relationship with their sons, is the guru-shishya bond
above reproach? Abhayankar deems that like all other bonds this
one, too, is human, which means there are ups and downs. How
bittersweet moments encapsulate this relationship is best
explained by Mudgal. He shares how six months after his concert
in Mumbai, his guru Kumar admonished him for not quite rendering
raag Multani in the right spirit. But seeing the crestfallen
look on his discipleís face, he immediately added, "Never
mind, I will create a composition for you in a lower octave in
gurus this indulgent, patient and concerned about their
disciples? Says Pandit Jasraj, "Jo deta wahi paata."
He observes that guru-shishya relationship is not a
avers that a guru canít demand respect; he has to command it
with his conduct. And only those who change with time are able
to bridge the gap. A guru has to learn to accept that if he
learnt raga Bhairav in seven years, doesnít mean his
tech-savvy disciple too, has to do the same. According to him,
any guru who harps on the beaten track, "Mere zamane
mein aisa hota tha`85.consider him dead." Fortunately,
great gurus not only move with the present but are often ahead
of their times.
Harvinder Sharma with guru Ustad Vilayat Khan
Primila Puri with guru Ustad Munawar Ali Khan
But do shishyas
change with times? Do they care to remember their gurus and more
importantly keep in touch with them? Koser has not forgotten her
debt to her gurus and tries to repay in whichever way she can by
remaining in constant touch with her guruís families.
Abhyankar makes it a point to remember his guruji on his
birthday, on Guru Purnima and whenever he is performing in Pune.
But he thinks all this is
immaterial for each time he picks up his taanpura, before he
utters the very first swar, he can see the image of his
guru. Mudgal can feel his guruís presence all the time, for he
muses, "Jo vichar deta hai, he never dies."
Therein lies the crux of this sacred and sublime relationship. Guru-shishya,
its English translation the Ďteacher-taughtí will never ever
sum up its all encompassing, multidimensional nature. But Thomas
Carrutherís thoughts, "A teacher is one who makes himself
progressively unnecessary," does underline how since, times
immemorial, gurus have inspired their disciples to excel on
their own dint. And what happens when shishyas race
ahead? Guru has the last word and the final victory even then.
Pandit Jasraj says, "In our shastras it is said that
a man whose children and disciples overtake him is blessed and
not only becomes immortal but goes straight to heaven."
About heavens and Gods who knows but on this mortal earth many a
guru and shishya do experience this heavenly
Gandabandh is a
traditional knot-tying ceremony, which cements the
relationship between a guru and his shishya.
Usually performed on an auspicious day, it heralds the
beginning of teaching. Akin to a mini religious function,
a token of appreciation guru dakshina that includes
sweets and clothes, is given to the guru. Since time
immemorial, the ceremony has held great sanctity and ghandabandh
shagirds take immense pride in their
"official" status. Ustad Munnawar Ali Khanís
words "Hope, the Almighty gives me the ability to
make you a partner in my talent" during the ceremony
are etched on Primila Puriís mind and musicalscape. In
21st century, sadly, while some gurus have become less
discerning about whom they choose as their disciples,
several shishyas, too, are not worthy of receiving
the treasure trove of knowledge that a guru possesses.
Left: Subhash Ghosh; and (right) in concert with guru Ustad Amjad Ali Khan
Left: Madhup Mudgal; and with guru late Kumar Gandharva. Mudgal is to the left of Gandharva