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The Arts Lifetimes of Music

by Mohan D. Nadkarni
First Published in:   The Sunday Times of India
Date: October 4, 1992


The Madhya Pradesh government's prestigious Tansen Samman has been awarded this years to two octogenarian stalwarts of Hindustani music-Pandit Sharadchandra Arolkar and Pandit Ramarao Naik. Mohan Nadkarni profiles the maestros.

Pandit Ramarao Naik of Bangalore and Pandit Sharadchandra Arolkar, who is based in Bombay, have been awarded the prestigious Tansen Samman for 1992. The annual award, to be shared equally by the two stalwarts, carries a purse of Rs one lakh, free of tax, with a plaque and a citation, and is in appreciation and recognition of the recipients' contribution to the propagation and enrichment of traditional music.

The conferment of the award on Pandit Naik and Pandit Arolkar is significant, even coincidental, in many ways. The two maestros are the oldest surviving titans of the Agra and Gwalior gharanas, respectively. Both are octogenarians, and reclusive by temperament; yet. when they perform, their music comes as a revelation.

Pandit Naik was born at Mysore on September 15, 1908, in a middle-class family, and he inherits his love for music from his forefathers. Though his father was a military man and his grand father a jeweller, it was his father who saw in the impressionable boy the makings of a musician, and arranged for his training under a blind Carnatic vidwan, B.H. Srinivas Rao, Under whose guidance he acquired mastery over the Carnatic style of singing. The youngster also learned to play on the harmonium, and had a keen interest in devotional and stage music.

Meanwhile, Ramarao also developed a passion for the recorded music of Hindustani maestros. This proved to be a turning point in his quest for gaana-vidya, which spurred him on to switch over from the Carnatic to the Hindustani tradition.

Swami Vallabhadas, a leading exponent of the Agra gharana, and protege of Ustad Faiyaz Khan, spotted young Ramarao's talent during one of his concert tours in Bangalore, and readily took him under his care. After grooming him in the Hindustani way, Swamiji placed him under the care of Ustad Faiyaz Khan and his senior disciple, Ustad Ata Hussain Khan, at Baroda.

Under their tutelage, Ramarao assimilated all that was best in the Agra gayaki. He also accompanied his mentors on the harmonium, besides lending vocal sangat. With assiduous taalim, backed by long hours of practice and an unbending will to forge ahead, Ramarao Naik emerged as an authentic exponent of the Agra gharana. Not for nothing have some knowledgeable critics said that the truly authentic style of the Agra gharana resides in Bangalore!

It is typical, of Panditji's ascetic, approach to life that, when the Karnataka government decided to honour him and sanction him a monthly pension a few years ago, he was reportedly said to have observed that he was a contented man and such patronage should be extended to a more deserving artiste! Thanks to the persuasion of the government, he accepted the state award.

A family man, with two sons and three daughters, Panditji lives with his wife like a tapasvin, with all his faculties intact despite age.

Pandit Sharadchandra Arolkar, who will turn 80 on December 2 this year, is also the son of a military official, who had no ear for music but who sought relaxation in philosophical reading. Even as a youngster, Panditji, who was born in Karachi, showed a passion for music which asserted itself in many ways. He tried his hand skillfully at the harmonium and the tabla, and seldom missed an opportunity to attend music concerts. The recordings of Rahimat Khan, the great mystic-musician, once made a profound impact on him and much against the will of his elders, young Sharad sought musical guidance from Pandit Laxmanrao Bodas, a local vocalist and disciple of Pandit Vishnu Digambar.

Sharad's inquiring and inquisitive mind also made him a voracious reader even at that school-going age. This led him to read books of philosophical interest in his father's library and it was not long before he found himself in a totally new field.

So tremendous, indeed, was the influence of his spiritual reading on his mind, that he forsook his school and music lessons and ran away to Lonavla, a hill resort in Maharashtra, when he was only 13. There he met Swami Kuvalayananda, the eminent authority on yoga and himself a great mystic. Swamiji asked him to pursue his musical quest which, he assured him, would also bring spiritual fulfilment.

Pandit Arolkar soon moved to Gwalior, acclaimed as the Gangotri of Hindustani music. There be had the benefit of guidance from a master of the eminence of Krishnarao Shankar Pandit. Two other titans, Eknath Pandit and Krishnarao Mulay, the famous beenkar, actively helped young Arolkar in his quest for excellence. Not many people know that Panditji also plays the veena with practiced ease.

Today, Pandit Arolkar is a maestro who has drunk deep of the technique and aesthetics of khayal, tappa, thumri and other allied musical forms. If, over the years, his music has achieved a complete subjugation of technique in the service of a higher spiritual and intellectual purpose, it is because it has crystallised after a long and arduous I process of ascetic contemplation. He has an extensive repertoire of 600 rare and authentic bandishes, ranging from classical dhrupad and khayal to light classical tappa, thumri and dadra. He has also, to his credit, about 350 self-composed themes.

Recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1980 and the Maharashtra Rajya Gaurav Puraskar in 1989, Pandit Arolkar is a bachelor, content to live a strangely secluded life.

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