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Music : December 03, 2000
Singing to Krishna
The writer is a Hindustani musician based in New Delhi.
In the innumerable Krishna temples that are spread throughout northern India, the word raag is often considered synonymous with kirtan, and raag sewa, or the practice of making a musical offering to Krishna, is an essential part of worship ritual. In these temples music is made and poetry written with the express purpose of pleasing Krishna, who, otherwise would not accept the bhog offerings of food, cash donations, clothes and jewellery made to him by devotees. This perhaps is then a living example of the synergy between bhakti or devotion and Indian music that is so often referred to in theory but not in practice.
So significant is music in the service of Krishna that the Padma Purana states that the name of the Lord rendered once in song with sincerity is unparalleled and far exceeds the power of japa or chanting, and yajna or ceremonial prayer ritual. It is no wonder then that music forms an integral part of worship in each of the five main Vaishnav sects, namely, the Vallabh, Chaitanya (or Gaudiya), Radha Vallabh, Nimbark and Haridasi (or Sakhi) sampradayas where "service of an image is commonly said to comprise three elements, namely food (bhog), music (raag), and finery (shringar)." Devotees are therefore encouraged to make personal contact with a svarup or divine manifestation, and serve him as they would serve a dear one.
Followers of these five main streams and their tributaries offer prayers to Krishna at eight significant times of the day in a daily worship cycle known as ashtayam sewa. Since no offering is complete without an offering of music, there are different verses that are rendered by hereditary temple musicians called kirtaniyas, kirtankars or samajiyas or rasiyas at each of these occasions. Thus the temples reverberate with the sounds of music that is rich and varied, with elements of classical and folk music, from dawn when the doors of the temple are thrown open to devotees for Mangala Aarti, to evening when the lord and his consorts retire from the public eye after Shayan Arti.
The sewa or service schedule is in most cases in the following sequence:
Mangala aarti between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.
These eight watches of the day form the daily service or nitya sewa performed in most Krishna temples, although the names may vary marginally from one sect to the other. For example, in the Gaudiya sect of Chaitanya followers, the eight services begin with Nishaant Leela, followed by Praat Leela bhajan, Purvaanh Leela bhajan, Madhyaanh Leela bhajan, Uparaanh Leela bhajan, Sanyam Leela bhajan, Pradoshi Leela bhajan and the concluding Ratri Leela bhajan.
What is more significant to music lovers is that through the day, each activity in the temple is inextricably intertwined and complemented by lyrics and music, written and composed for an audience that comprises of only the lord. The temples therefore contain and nurture within them a world of compelling texts and music, touching upon every aspect of life, love, the seasons, festivals, moods, and philosophy.
Mangala at the break of day would therefore begin with the kirtaniya singing "Jaago Gopal laal janani bali jayi.." to the strains of the majestic Raag Bhairav. The lord's morning shringaar or adornment would also be completed to the accompaniment of verses such as "Aavo Gopal shringaar banaaoon" set to Raag Bilawal that describe the fragrant warm bathwater used for the lord's morning bath, the garland of flowers that his mother lovingly strings to adorn him, his bejewelled headgear, and colourful clothes in shades of royal purple and red. An evening meal or dinner too is served to the accompaniment of verses known as byaroo ke pad where the text describes the golden cup in which warm milk is offered to Krishna. He is lulled to sleep with appropriate verses known as shayan ke pad or slumber verses!
There is also special music for utsavas or annual festivals and celebrations. Dasara, Deepavali, Holi, Makar Sankranti, Vasant Panchami, Akshaya Tritiya, Raksha Bandhan, Krishna Janmashtami and Sharad Purnima are some of the many celebrations of significance for Krishna worshippers, and Krishna's musicians have special compositions for each of these events. Not only do the texts of festival songs describe rituals connected with the celebrations such as the lighting of oil lamps at Deepavali, but they are also musico-poetic guides to the flora, fauna, food and clothing habits typical of North India. Winter verses therefore describe Krishna and Radha snuggling under a quilt or razai with a stove or angeethi warming the cold frosty air. Mewa (dry fruits) and mithai (sweetmeats) that are traditionally exchanged at Deepavali also find mention in the music of the season.
These and other temple texts are rendered musically in a variety of styles that reflect varied stylistic and regional influences. While the influence of the classical dhrupad and dhammar is most evident in Haveli Sangeet, the music of the Krishna temples of the Vallabh sect, the Naam-kirtan of the Gaudiya sect is unmistakably influenced by the folk music of Bengal. The use of the pakhawaj as accompaniment for kirtan or samaj is akin to the conventional accompaniment of the pakhawaj for classical dhrupad-dhammar singing. On the other hand, as the music moves away from the austere raag -bound classical forms towards community singing, the Chaitanya sect prefers to use the lighter sounding khol instead of the pakhawaj for accompaniment on the drums.
The music of Krishna temples thus includes a variety of instruments ranging from string instruments such as the been, sarangi, and tanpura; to drums like the pakhawaj, naqqara, dhumsa, dhol, and daff; wind instruments such as the shehnai, karnal and the shankh or conch; and percussion instruments like the jhanjh and manjira. The harmonium too is now accepted as part of the temple ensemble, although its addition is said to be only a hundred years old according to scholars such as Anne Marie Gaston.
Raags in the temple tradition are categorised both according to the classically accepted diurnal and nocturnal time theory, as well as by virtue of their being "hot" or "cold" raags. Thus raags such as Bhairav, Devgandhar, Bilawal, Vibhas and Suha are termed "cold" morning raags, while Purvi, Gauri, Nat and Kalyan are evening raags also with a cold temperament. "Warm" morning raags such as Lalit, Todi and Asavari are, on the other hand, considered appropriate for darshan or "occasions of visitation" during climatically warmer times in the year. Rhythmic structure in temple music follows the conventions of classical music. Thus taals such as chautaal (of 12 beats), rupak (7 beats), dhamar (14 beats), charchari (10 beats) and aadi (8 beats) are commonly used.
While the influence of dhrupad and dhammar is amply evident in the music of Krishna temples, the student of khayal will also come across texts that have been borrowed from Vaishnava temples such as the classic "Banre balaiyan lyongi" in Yaman. Contemporary exponents of khayal such as Pandit Jasraj and Shruti Sadolikar Katkar among others have extended their repertoires to include verses from Krishna temples thereby sharing the musical and literary treasures of Vaishnava temples with music lovers of today.
1. A. W. Entwistle, Braj: Centre of Krishna Pilgrimage.
2. Anju Sharma, Braj Sanskriti Mein Sangeet.
3. Anne-Marie Gaston, Krishna's Musicians.
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