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Biography: Vishnu Digambar Paluskar

by Mohan D. Nadkarni
First Online: February 01, 2007
Page Last Updated: January 03, 2018

There might have been hundreds of Musicians of varying qualities in the field of Hindustani Music. But none amongst them inspired more profound admiration in the minds of the masses in recent years than the late Gurudev Pandit Vishnu Digmabar Paluskar. It is to his life and times that we should turn to fully understand and appreciate the great work done by him.


Paluskar Brought Music to the Masses

In the days of yore, musical concerts were held before small gatherings in aristocratic homes. Public concerts were not in vogue. Musicians generally belonged to the lowest classes; and as time went on, music itself came to be looked upon as a degraded profession. The political subjugation of our country was marked by decadence in every sphere of our life. To start with, there was the elimination of the old nobility. Art thrived on state patronage and music was no exception to this. The native princes were slowly losing ground and they became indifferent to our art and culture. the rising middle class, on the other hand, still thought of music as a luxury of the princely order Music had thus ignorant populace and the indifferent foreign rulers.

It was at this stage that Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar appeared on the scene. He was an exponent of the famous Gwalior School of Hindustani Music and had made his mark as a musician or a very high order. Panditji was convinced that in the absence of private and state patronage no art would survive, unless the artists looked to public patronage and with characteristic far-sightedness, he set upon the work of redeeming music from this catastrophe.

Uphill Task

This indeed was an uphill task. It was beset with many impediments. Panditji was a Brahmin. The bigoted Hindu shuddered at the very thought of a Brahmin taking to music. There were occasions when Panditji's forbearance was put to severe test. But he had the zeal of a missionary; he had a mission to fulfill in his lifetime. Panditji braved all threats of ``ex-communication'' by his co-religionists and took to the life of a roving missionary.

The ignorant masses were aliens to their own art and culture. Panditjis's mission would have been of no avail unless the artistic sense was revived in the vast uncultured populace. That was why at the beginning, the permeation of music among the masses was bound to be slow.

Panditji started "Jalsas'' (public music concerts) for them, and made them the democratic patrons of the art. The success of his countrywide missionary movement soon became evident. The vast number of music institutions known as the "Gandharva Mahavidyalayas" all over Northern India, are monuments to his great work.

He also aroused our educated middle classes from their apathetic attitude towards music and instilled in them a desire to learn and cultivate it.

Devotional Music

Pandit Vishnu Digambar was a saintly musician. He preached the Gospel of Music through the devotional aspect of his activity. He had for his pattern distinguished predecessors like Tulsidas, Surdas, Haridas Swami and Mirabai, who shed refulgent glory in their respective periods by their devotional music. Panditji drew his spiritual inspiration from them and ably carried on their tradition. He was famous as a composer. But he always sang well-known `bhajans' composed by the ancient saints. His melody was lyrical, and the songs that Panditji sang were full of surrender and abandonment to the Supreme.

"Raghuvar tum ko meri laj
Sada sada main sharan tehari
Tum bade Garib Nawaz...
Patit udharan birud teharo
'' ---Tulsidas

Then again,

 "Mori lagi latak Guru charanon ki Charan bina mujhe kachhu nahin awe Jhooti Maya sab sapnon ki''.
 --- Mirabai

Such devotional songs were a source of delight of the masses. Panditji's music had a universal appeal among them. The reasons were obvious. The masses represented an enslaved nation. They were subject to untold miseries. With their defeatist outlook, they felt they had nothing to look forward to in this wordly existence. Their darkened souls naturally found solace in spiritualism and devotionalism. Panditji wandered from place to place calling on all to put their faith in a merciful God.

"Ankhivan Hari darshan ki pyasi
Dekhyo chachat kamal Nayan ko
Nisdin rahat udasi....
Tume re daras bin le ho karavat kasi".


For he is he Creator of this world: all are equal before Him: ``Racha Prabho tune yeh Brahmananda sara'' --That is why happiness lay in surrendering all and taking refuge in Him:

 "Sadho man ka maan tyago
kama krodha sangat durjan ki
tate ahanis bhago...
Sukh dukh donon sama kari jane
Aur maan apamaana''
-- Guru Nanak

Panditji's devotional sentiments had the humanizing effect on the minds of his listeners. Needless to say that his songs soon came to be sung in every Indian home.

Realisation Through Music

Panditji had drunk deep in the music lore of the ancient times. His outlook on life was philosophical. To him, music was a kind of Yoga. His ``Swara Sadhana'' was a combination of Yogic and Vocal exercises. Panditji believed that music had a divine origin, and that by persistent and systematic practice of this musical Yoga, one could have the Divine Revelation of the ``Nad-Brahman.''

Mahatma Gandhi had great respect and admiration for the late Panditji and his art. The famous song "Raghupati Raghava Rajaram" highlighted many a session of the Indian National Congress in those days of ``tremendous sacrifice and austere conflict''. When Panditji rendered the "Ramdhun'' in a serene voice, the whole congregation of thousands of men and women stood up spell-bound along with Gandhiji and other leaders.

Distinguished Disciples

Panditji's popularity spread far and wide in the country, and many young disciples gathered round him. Most of these disciples have been zealously conducting the music academies established by their "Gurudev". Pandit Vinayakbuwa Patwardhan, Waman Rao Padhye (Kolhapur), V. N. Thakar (Allahabad), Sangeet Martand Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, and D. V. Paluskar (Panditji's son) are known to the music world of today. Among his other disciples may be mentioned Prof. B. R. Deodhar, Narayanrao Vyas and Shankarrao Vyas.

The unremitting labors of Pandit Vishnu Digambar were largely responsible for the revival of ancient music on modern lines. He evolved a compact System of Notation which is capable of recording old classical songs in a remarkably precise and clear manner, with all their ascents and descents and rhythmic variations. The songs thus notated become complete units of continuous performances of Hindustani Music.

Popular Appeal

Panditji's greatness should be evaluated not only in terms of his contribution to the art of music but also in the context of the services that he so selflessly rendered to the masses. In a way, his life and work have a greater significance in our own times. We are a free people. These are not the days of private patronage. In the changed context of our Freedom, both the artists and the masses owe a duty to their common cultural heritage. The artists would do well to shed their lifeless virtuosity and ``touch-me-not'' complex, and look to the masses for patronage by considering themselves as public servants. It is quite possible that the aesthetic sense of the profane masses cannot be expected to possess that degree of fineness which a cultured mind is generally supposed to possess. But that does not mean that the artists should pander to the taste of their patrons by cheap music. By remaining true to their art and tradition, the artists should try their best to adapt it to new circumstances, give it a new life, and help the masses improve their artistic standards. Then only will their art have a popular appeal. The masses too, for their part, should treat their "protege" as their own and appreciate its services. That way lies the preservation and progress of our artistic heritage.

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