When I was requested by N.M. Kelkar to write this preface to the biography of Pt Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale, I immediately agreed because thereby an opportunity to pay homage to a peerless artist was presented.
Pandit Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale died in 1923. As a thirteen year old boy, I attended two of his recitals in 1920-21. The first recital had been organised in Rasta Wada by Poona Gayan Samaj in honor of a visiting British dignitary. Bhaskarbuwa sat on the same bench I was sitting on. When he left the bench to begin his recital, his 'jari uparaNe' brushed against me. I have treasured the sacred memory for over 45 years now. God knows how much of Buwa's 20 minute recital registered on the chief guest but he appeared pleased. Really, to impress the foreign audience, a performer needs to be clever and must possess a charming personality like Buwa. I have never seen a vocalist like him.
The memory of the second recital is even more deeply carved in my memory. The venue was the same. Bal Gandharva was merely playing Tanpura and Master Krishnarao, then only 21 years old, was playing the other Tanpura and was assisting occasionally. What registered most was Buwa's vocal performance and Govindrao Tembe's harmonium accompaniment. Govindrao would listen to Buwa's improvisation carefully and reproduce it with same grace and his matching improvisation would inspire Buwa to improve on himself. The fascinated audience was acknowledging every sam from the core of their hearts. I was a mere boy then but this has been one of the most treasured of my memories.
It has been 45 years since Buwa passed away but I have not heard any vocalist make a single derogatory remark about his singing. On the contrary, all illustrious musicians whenver they had the ocaasion to refer to him, have done so with deepest reverence and affection. Among these are Tembe, Manji Khan, Kesarbai Kerkar, Vazebuwa, Savai Gandhrava, Vilayat Hussain Khan Saheb etc who belonged to different schools.
Since the days of Miya Tansen, India has produced many great musicians whose memories are held sacred to this day, but we do not have the tradition of recording their life-stories. In Marathi, the grand total of such books is five: "The Life of Balkrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar" by Ingalebuwa, "The Life of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar" by Deodhar and Patvardhan (independently), "The Life of Alladiya Khan" by Tembe and "Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande" by Ratanjankar. Even more tragic is the manner in which the life of the subject is portrayed. The hero spends his childhood at the home of his guru in humiliating circumstances, takes extraordinary pains to master his art and achieves success, fame...there are unforgettable recitals..successful tours.. that's about all! Take this very book. It fails to satisfy my curiosity in several matters. Faiz Mohammed Khan was Buwa's guru - but who was his guru? For how many years did he teach Buwa? Which ragas were taught? How old was Faiz Mohammed when he took on Buwa? For how many years did Buwa did his riyaz - how? What was the method of his riyaz? After a passage of so many years, there is no one alive to shed light on these matters.
One aspect of this biography needs special mention. It has several appendices at the end in which memoirs of other singers, disciples and friends are given. These have a status of direct evidence. I would like to reproduce some of that material to give the reader an idea of the reverence and affection fellow musicians have had for Bhaskarbuwa.
I shall first quote a person who prided on calling himself a disciple of Buwa, viz Govindrao Tembe. Tembe says: "A vocalist of such versatility and excellence is born once in a century...his music was noted for its extraordinarily high tonality, accuracy of raga and supreme mastery over rhythm..word articulation had a clarity and beauty rarely shown by his most proficient rivals...and boltaans had a fairylike grace". Says Govindrao Desai, "After listening to Buwa's music, wickedness, jealosy, selfishness etc bad traits would disappear." Pt Dilipchandra Vedi, Buwa's disciple from Punjab, notes, "When his rhythmic taan concluded in 'sam', the listener's eyes would be moist with tears and they would wonder whether it was a vocal recital or whether someone was playing on a stringed instrument." The great sculptor Annasaheb Phadke was of the view that the music which compelled the audience to cry was best avoided and hence the first time he attended Buwa's recital, it was with some reservations. But even he could not control his tears on listening to Buwa. As an afterthought, he remarked that the only improper word used was 'tears'. He further remarks that Buwa picked up the presentation of general outline and 'alapi' from Faiz Mohammed Khan of Gwalior, 'layakari' and 'boltan' from Natthan Khansaheb of Agra and the subtle, intricate, arcane gayaki of Alladiya Khansaheb. Harishchandra Bali recalls: "Ustad Zende Khan, in thirty years of his performing life, had accompanied on Sarangi stalwarts such as Aliya-Fattu, Alladiya Meherban, Bai Moti, Tanras Khan's son. When he accompanied Bhaskarbuwa, Zende Khan, unable to control his tears of joy, placed his Sarangi at Buwa's feet in complete surrender". Lamented Alladiya Khan, " Bhaskar is gone - who should I sing for now on?" Rajaballi Khan often told Ramubhayya Date, "Hindus have produced only one singer whom we all revere and he was Bhaskarbuwa". B.R. Deodhar has recorded the incident of Mubarak Ali Khan of Karachi. Mubarak Ali was sceptical when his father told him to attend Buwa's recital to understand what a vocal recital stands for. But, in his own words, "...that thoughful simple figure sat between Tanpuraas and as the Tanpuras were being tuned, his face began to shine with divine light. Once Tanpuras were in tune, he smiled at all of us and we felt as if somebody had cast a spell on us. I couldn't help exclaiming 'Subhan Allah' when he gracefully arrived at the first sam. Afterwards, I followed him like a mad man. In Shikarpur, I used to annoint his hair and took pride in it" (Note 1). There are many anecdotes in this book which sound like fairy-tales. It would be improper to cite them here. The reader should go through the book itself. Bhaskarbuwa was a unique vocalist beyond doubt.
To determine precisely where that uniqueness lies, it must be observed that different observers have pointed out different qualities. Since, those people were themselves accomplished artists, it is an inevitable conclusion that Buwa indeed possessed these qualities. It has to be true that Buwa had aquired high degree of proficiency in each aspect of music and that his presentation was quite balanced. Consequently, he must be described as a perfect musician.
Before analysing his qualities, let us see which aspects of music are regarded as important. Broadly speaking three are of prime importance: swara (tone), laya (rhythm) and vocalisation. These are present in every type of music. In classical music, these get further subdivided into tonal purity, accuracy of raga, presentaion of cheez, 'alap', 'vilambit', accuracy of rhythm, 'layakari', 'boltan', 'gamak taan', 'firat' etc. Besides, words in cheez should be clearly articulated. A master artist aught to be proficient in all of these aspects and must be able to present these in a balanced manner. But the common experience is that a musician is good in one or a few of these aspects. Sometimes, he is exceedingly good in those aspects and attains fame because of that. Even though he is aware of the other aspects, because of his excessive preoccupation with his main domain, he tends to ignore and underrate those aspects. For him the art form developed by him is the greatest. This philosophy becomes an article of faith and out of it is born a Gharana. If it succeeds in attracting capable disciples, that Gharana attains fame. It is a rare occurance to achieve proficiency of high quality in every integral part. Those who gave importance to tonal sweetness and 'alap' only established their Gharana (Kirana). Those who mastered the rhythmic play and 'boltaan' established another renowned tradition (Agra). Then there were those who perfected 'tan-phirat' and 'bol-tan' at the cost of dignified developement ( Patiyala and Quawwal-bacche : Vishwesh). The above discussion is to drive home the point that all-round proficiency is not an indispensible pre- condition for success and fame or for establishing a gharana. It is enough to aquire mastery in specific areas and treat the rest with scant courtesy. To quote Carl Seashore from his 'Psychology of Music',"Of course, a great musician of any degree of greatness tends to have these four trunks of capacity branching out in a balanced symmetrical form but such cases are rare. Many distinguished musicians are of one of these types. Their performa- nce and appreciation and their musical creations all give evidence favouring dominance of one of the trunk lines, although within these trunklines, large and distinctive sub-branchings may be recognised. Furthermore, great capacity in each of these types is not essential....Very extreme sensitivity in one or more of them may even be a drawback to balanced developement." This type of musician is the most common to come across. It is extremely rare to find a musician who has mastery on all divisions of music and can present them in a well balanced manner (Note 2). And no gharana can claim all-round and balanced proficiency in all fields.
The point I wish to make is that Bhaskarbuwa was unique in the sense that not only did he achieve proficiency in all fields but could present them in a perfectly balanced manner also (Note 3). To arrive at this conclusion, I have omitted to include testimonies of Buwa's admirers and have made use of only objectively descriptive parts. For instance, everybody has praised his 'alapi', 'layakari', design of cheej, 'boltaan', 'gamak-taan', the complexity of his music. Tembe has used the metaphore of a fully grown luxuriant tree with spreading braches and sub-branches to describe beauty of Buwa's fast passages. Some of these admirers were Buwa's close associates or discples. But there are several instances where the non-interested parties have expressed unreserved admiration for him. Pt Vedi, a disciple of Buwa, has given an eye-witness account of Buwa's mehfil on the night of Dec 26, 1911 in Jullunder. Buwa presented khyal 'Surzay rahi' from raga Hamir and fast cheej 'Mendere yar' from the same raga followed by a tarana. "...Dhrupad vocalists were pleased with vilambit, khyal-singers acclaimed fast taan passages with raised hands and cries like 'Subhan-Allah'. Expert percussionists excitedly applauded Buwa's 'layakari'. In short, everybody in the audience had something special to admire...when the recital was over, some people touched his feet, others prostrated themselves..."
If the above memoir is not convincing enough, I would invite attention to one more memoir of Pt Vedi. It concerns Khansaheb Alibaksha, the founder of Patiyala gharana (Alibaksha's name was invariably linked to that of his brother Fatteh Ali and they were known as 'Aliya-Fattu'. The duo made musical history. Owing to their aggressive style, they were fondly known as 'Jernel' and 'Kernel' - titles bestowed on them by the ruler of Tonk). On Jan 3, 1920, Prime Minister Raja Dayakisan had arranged a recital of Buwa for the ruler of Patiyala state. The account is as follows:
"On the occasion, Miya Alibaksha was present. Buwa started his recital with the slow khyal 'Phoolanake harawa' from raga Puriya followed by raga Kamod. In response to a request from Alibaksha Khansaheb, he took up 'Tu aiso hein karim' from raga Darabari followed by fast composition 'nain so nain'. The recital was punctuated by appreciative comments from Alibaksha - 'This is gamak-taan of Haddu Khansaheb... this is reminiscent of Faiz Mohammed's elaborate skill and khanapur... this is Rahimat Khan's firat all over... this intricate taan reminds me of Mubarak Ali(the famous son of Bade Mohammed Khansaheb - not the one mentioned earlier)..'. Then Alibaksha turned to Maharaja of Patiyala and said, "Your Highness, people say Alibaksha is conceited, he never praises anyone. But the truth is that they can't impress me. I was fearing that khyal-singing was a dying art but by the grace of God, there is one khyal singer alive in Pt Bhaskarbuwa. He has no equal - Hindu or Muslim. His music is excellently developed in all respects. May God grant him good health and a long life'". Miya Alibaksha was 77 years old at that time.
Perhaps, now it would be possible to appreciate Kesarbai's remark that Alladiya alone understood Buwa's music. It was perfectly developed and he was a complete vocalist. This conclusion is not made out of thin air and is based solely on the reminiscenses of experts. Keshavrao Bhole made precisely the same point on his radio-talk 2 years back with great earnestness.
It was this mastery spread his fame all over India and earned him accolades from even first-rate Muslim musicians. But his style, it must be sadly acknowledged, did not take root after him. May be the fact that it was dependent on his personal endowments not possessed by any of his disciples is responsible for that. His premature death at the age of 52 didn't help the matters either. Whatever may be the reason, his tradition was not continued by any of his disciples except for Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar and Bapurao Ketkar.
There are complaints that Krishnarao does not display power and verve of his mentor. The critics ignore an important point. Krishnarao's voice is delicate, his range is far too less that the over 3 octave range of his Guru and, in addition, he suffers from asthma which affects his breath. Despite these limitations, Master Krishnarao held Maharashtra in his grip for over 35 years - an achievement which would have been impossible but for the training and guidance of Buwa. Besides, the former could not have been an exact prototype of Buwa. That would have been an imitation and Master Krishnarao was an artist in his own right. His music was his own. He discovered his own soul while trying to understand the ramifications of his preceptor's music and therein lies the fulfillment of his life. This is what he believes in and openly proclaims. Otherwise, owing to his physical handicaps, he would have stayed a minor musician all his life.
Apart from Krishnarao, two other disciples of Buwa who became famous were Govindrao Tembe and Bal Gandharva. They were not formally trained by him though. They were in close proximity of him and received many cheejs. Although Buwa never regarded them as his disciples, per say, they took great pride in calling themselves his disciples. Even these two adapted what they learnt to develope their own artistic genius - one for harmonium playing and other for stage singing. In this process, they discovered their souls. And what else can one expect from a true guru? He doesn't make his own replicas but aims to bring out the best in his disciples.
Even though Buwa's style died with him, Marathi theatre or for that matter Maharashtra can never forget the one priceless gift received from Buwa. And that is stage music. The very beginning of Buwa's musical career was associated with stage music. He gave up acting while still a teenager but remained involved in stage activities. This dramatic quality was apparent in his classical recitals and made them very attractive. It was he who provided music for the songs in Khadilkar's plays 'Vidyaharan', 'Swayamvar','Draupadi' etc. Thereby he brought a revolution in stage music. The rather elemntary tunes of earlier plays suffered a decline. So powerful is the classical strain introduced by him that not only has it been intact for over 60 years but has the potential to stay so in future also.
This revolution was brought about by Buwa in 1916 when he wrote tunes for 'Swayamwara'. In a way, he was anticipated by Tembe in 1911 when he composed for Khadilkar's 'Manapaman' (Note 4). The only diffrence was that Tembe's tunes were lighter while Buwa's belonged to the realm of pure classical.
Popular numbers from 'Swayamwara' such as 'Nath haa Maza', 'Mam Atma Gamala', 'Swakulatarakasuta' have 2 features in common - their opening lines command attention and they are beautifully composed. Buwa took great pains to hunt for the obscure originals of these catchy tunes. These are easy to remeber and charming inspite of their classical nature. This captivated both the lay man and the expert and their hold is still intact. Buwa was inclined to favor simple raga - Yaman, Bihag, Bhoop, Bhimpalas, Bageshri (Note 5) etc but the tunes themselves were most carefully selected. Other great composers like Govindrao and Krishnarao too deserve credit for the popularity of stage-music. But Govindrao owes his insight to Buwa and it was Buwa who taught Bal Gandharva and Krishnarao.
What was the ultimate outcome of Buwa's mastery in stage music and classical music? In my opinion, Buwa reduced the gap between these two. He brought classical music within the reach of a lay man by adopting a gay and playful style and gave stage music the status of classical music. The credit for popularising obscure ragas like Shyam Kalyan, Bihagada, Suhagkanda, Gouri, Patabihag, Khokar, Savani Nat must go to him. It became a practice with all vocalists to include one or two stage songs in their mehfils and a stage artist was forced to begin with a khyal.
In addition, the present biography underlines his maganimous and noble nature. Keshavrao Bhole, as a medical student, had not even heard of Buwa's name. When he said, "Who is going to let us in?" in the latter's presence, Buwa gave him the infallible formulla for gaining access to concerts: "Stand at the entrace to the hall and when I turn up, enter with me". The anecdote of Rajaratna Tambe is heart rendering. The incident took place during a music lesson. Faiz Mohammd had a coughing fit. There was no spittoon in sight. Buwa made a cup with his hands and asked Faiz to spit in it and then went out and cleaned his hands. Tambe, disgusted by this incident, gave up music. After a passage of 40 years, the disgust is forgotten. He says : " My one-time fellow disciple had to serve his guru in servile manner but he became the greatest expert in vocal music. Having regard to his past and the glory he subsequently achieved, I think, Buwa, by his great devotion, became one with his God. Godliness can't be any different." Bhaskarbuwa had a most resolute nature. As a teenager, he was insulted by Bhaurao Kolhatkar in Kirloskar Co. when his voice broke. He shaved off the long hair grown for female part to tonsure and told Bhaurao that he would face Bhaurao only when he is worth of the title 'Bhaskarbuwa' as opposed to 'Bhaskar'. Such strong will is necessary for extraordinary achievements.
Buwa has joined the exalted ranks of Haridas, Tansen, Baiju Bawra and Sadarang as an immortal of Indian music. Many have composed such cheejs. An anonymous composer has composed this cheej in Buwa's praise in raga Hansa Kinkini and it was sung in Devi Talao mehfil at Julluder. It would be appropriate to close this approbatory account with the cheej:
Vidya bakhane guni, naman guna ko kare
Manapamana ko bhed na mano,
Naman kare Haridas, Baiju, Tansen ko,
Sadarang, Bhaskar ko nit naam dhyave.
------------* Note 1. I have described this anecdote briefly from B.R. Deodhar's 'thor sangiitakaar' and not as is given in Deshpande's article. But Deshpande has borrowed it from Deodhar, so it's ok, I guess.
* Note 2. Experts like B. R. Deodhar, V.H. Deshpande, Hirabai Badodekar and many others were of the opinion that Bade Gulam Ali Khan was one such vocalist. The only objection was that his presentation was not balanced.
* Note 3. Pt Vazebuwa made remarks of the same nature: "..there were musicians who had better tonal quality or stronger taan-firat or more theoretical knowledge. But he was incomparable in blending all aspects in a recital. Such a musician is produced rarely. Even the greatest Muslim musicians would say that they had not heard a vocalist like him..". Kesarbai, Faiyyaz Khan and Mallikarjun Mansoor too concurred that Bhaskarbuwa was unique and unsurpassed. Bhatkhande remarked "Bamman ne sur ko saadhaa" (Brahmin has hit the mark with 'sur'). Personally, I think Faiyyaz Khan's exact comment "Forget Hindus, even Muslims have not produced a vocalist like him", says a lot about Bhaskarrao considering the condescending attitude Muslim musicians adopt towards Hindu musicians.
Note 4. Even though Govindrao Tembe is given credit for 'Manapaman', it is believed that Pt Bakhale gave tunes for 14/15 songs of that play. Govindrao, himself, admits that Buwa examined his tunes when requested and reworked a few.
Note 5. H.V. Mote's "Vishrabdha Sharada" describes Pt Bakhale, the musician, in a vintage Marathi paragraph as follows. "Blessed were those who heard him. His voice was not heart-touching but it had an unsoiled sweetness. He had a connoissier's style and habits. Even the conversation had 'sur'. The pose during a recital would be up-straight with a lot of arm gestures. Usually, the choice of cheej would be of high standard and only a common raga would be taken up. But when the occasion demanded, an unheard-of raga would be brought out from the bag. First he would present 'sthaayii' in 'vilambit', proceeding with notes, never making it too slack. Then the attractive 'bol-taan' would start, hinting at the high-octave and with it division and subdivision of rhythm. It seemed so easy. He would be looking all over with a smile on his face. Not a single 'taan' would be left out but 'bakari-taan' (eeee) was to be taken only if needed. The treasury was full. He would be ready to sing anything be it khyal, Thumri, Dadara, ashTapadii, Garba, soj, giit, laavaNii. Bhaskarbuwa was a 'prasaad' but that realization dawned on after the concert. During the concert, it was just the incessant flow of 'naad-brahma' ".From: Vishwesh Kulkarni
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