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Pandit Taranath Rao

Tara_1.jpg (23006 bytes)"Practice of the art of music is an endeavour directed towards self-realisation. All endeavour irresistibly emanates from an inner urge, may it be obscure or evident. In the evolution of living beings from the beast to the perfect Guni, every individual represents a stage in the attainment of self-realisation.

The choice of the means for fulfilling this innate urge depends upon the individual's evolution and level of awareness. This explains the diversity of paths to self-realisation, which in the case of music may take the form of vocal music, instrumental music (such as sitar, sarangi, tabla, etc.), and the various styles of dance.

It is therefore not justifiable to discriminate between one path and another, for this is tantamount to criticism of the individual's state of evolution. The criterion of judgment, therefore, is not the attainment of the destiny, but the spirit behind the quest. The spiritual application of the endeavours to a particular form or style is like one of many roads terminating at the same destiny:self-realisation."

Taranath Rao [introduction to 'Pranava Tala Prajna']

(the preceeding and following text is from Shri Jef Feldman's edition of Pt. Taranath's manuscript on Tabla: 'The Tabla Legacy of Taranath Rao - Pranava Tala Prajna ' - an excellent textbook for learning tabla.)

Pandit Taranath Rao - Biography

Taranath  image 2The life of Taranath Ramarao Hattiangady (1915-1991) spanned most of the Twentieth Century and so unfolded during a period of radical change in Indian music. He was witness to the decline of courtly patronage, the passing of the traditional gharanas' of tabla playing, the advent of sound amplification and recording, the rise of governmental, educational and public sponsorship of classical music, and a new wave of western notice. The consensus of musicians, connoisseurs, and scholars of Indian music is that each of these modern influences has been predominantly detrimental to this ancient classical tradition. Some particularly dour musicians have even suggested that it would be better for the music to die gracefully than to be corrupted by unworthy musicians and audiences. Such an attitude was completely foreign to Taranath - he lived to teach. If a beginning student expressed self-doubt, Guruji would laugh and say, "Don't worry. I will make you play!"

Early years

Taranath Rao was born March 6, 1915 in Mangalore (Kannada), South India. Taranath's early years were rich in musical experiences. His uncle was a famous violinist, Prof. A. K. Rao. Young Taranath learned tabla from Vishnuji Goakar, tala with Laya Brahma Bhaskar Khapruji and mridangam from his father, Ramarao Hattiangady. Besides being a musician, Ramarao was an actor in the Yakshagana, the folk theater of South Kannada that features night-long performances of traditional stories with elaborate costumes and make-up. Ramarao was a specialist in the depiction of women's roles. A wealthy patron bequeathed to Ramarao a successful tobacconist business, enabling him to invite musicians from both the North and South to his home for extended visits, to the benefit of Taranath's musical education. (Incidentally, young Taranath displayed an aptitude for wrestling, and his father occasionally invited worthy opponents for him.)

While still in his native Mangalore, Taranath met his future teacher, Shamshuddin Khan, who was on tour as the accompanist to the legendary Abdul Kareem Khan. Shamshuddin was also Abdul Kareem Khan's vocal disciple. Shamshuddin cut a striking figure, and could easily have been mistaken for Clark Gable in a kurta. (Pictures of Khan-Sahib often show him with a cheek bulging with pan.) Shamshuddin Khan's hand was admired for its light, smooth, effortless touch,- it was said that if you sat behind him on the dais, you could not tell from his movements when he was playing and when he was not. Young Taranath must have been thoroughly infatuated, for he boldly confronted his idol and asked to become his student. "Anytime!" was the Ustad's reply. It was to be so, but not for many years.

In 1932, Taranath migrated to Bombay to study commercial art at the Sir J. J. School of Arts, where he eventually took a degree. Shamshuddin's busy schedule precluded him from taking on Taranath as a student at that time. Taranath's first main teacher in Bombay was Subbarao Ankolekar, a pakhawaj player and tabla player in the Delhi style, and a guru-bhai of Shamshuddin Khan, Taranath enjoyed a warm and rewarding relationship with Subbaraoji until his death in 1937. Finally in 1939, Shamshuddin Khan was ready to accept Taranath as his disciple. The long awaited ganda ceremony, which formally linked the shagird Taranath to his Ustad, Shamshuddin, was attended by many luminaries of the Bombay music scene. On this memorable occasion, Shamshuddin played a four-hour tabla solo, exploring many different tals. Thus began an association that lasted some twenty years, during which Taranath made a thorough study of Khan-Sahib's old compositions and rare tals.

A devout Muslim, Shamshuddin Khan made preparations late in his life for his haj, his pilgrimage to Mecca. His younger students were especially anxious about his departure, but he reassured them by saying that he had given to Taranath the "keys to the treasury," and they could rely on him as a teacher. Khan-Sahib completed his hajj, but tragically, died on the return voyage and was buried at sea.

To understand Pt. Taranath's position in the history of the art of drumming, it is necessary first to understand that his Ustad, Shamshuddin Khan, was a fellow student since boyhood with Ahmedjan Thirakwa. Together they studied in the Farukkhabad style with Thirakwa's uncle, Fayyaz Khan of Morodabad, and from Thirakwa's father's uncle, Karam lftal Khan. Karam Ittal was a student of the founder of the Farukkhabad gharana, Hajji Vilayit Ali. This remarkable figure was not only an exciting tabla player, he was also a renowned dancer of the Lucknow Court. Many of his compositions are included in the book, and are distinguished by the beauty with which a wide variety of strokes are employed. Hajji Ali (as he is also known) is also remembered for having married the daughter of Bakshu Dhadi, founder of the Lucknow Gharana of tabla, and thus for having received a large repertoire of compositions as a dowry. The main point is illustrated on the chart on page iv- Taranath stands in a direct line of discipleship from the founders of the Farukkhabad and Lucknow Gharanas.

Twentieth century audiences began to expect tabla players to perform in styles other than those of their own gharana, and Shamshuddin sought out Teghar Jaffar Khan for instruction in the Dehii style. Similarly, Taranath acquainted himself with the Ajrada style through his study with Kallu Khan.

Taranath's unique perspective on Indian drumming stems not only from his mastery of the tabla, but of the pakhawaj as well. His teachers Baburao Gokhle and Shankarrao Alkutkar provided the Dhrupad perspective on drumming to complement the Khyal and dance-influenced styles of playing gained from his teachers of tabla.

Performing career

Taranath  image 3During his long and illustrious career, Taranath performed at public and private concerts and conferences (festivals) with the major artists of the day, such as Abdul Kareem Khan, Allauddin Khan, Nissar Hussain Khan, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Vilayat Hussein Khan, Pannalal Ghosh, Fayyaz Khan,Sawai Gandharva, Kumar Ghandarva, Rais Khan, Bhimsen Joshi, Amir Khan, Krisnarao Pandit, Azmat Khan, Malikarjan Mansur, Salamat and Nazakat Hussein Khan of Pakhistan, Amanat Ali Fatali of Pakhistan, Rahimuddin Dagar and Ziamohiuddin Dagar. He performed and lectured on All India Radio

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