The song lit up his life
Music is simply too vital for Pandit Rajabhau Sontakke, the Hindustani vocalist, for any hardship to act as deterrent
DOGGED PURSUITPandit Rajbhau Sontakke: `I was completely possessed by the beauty of Pandit Omkarnath's music and decided I would learn from him.'
"Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance," Samuel Johnson had once said. This is true of Pandit Rajabhau Sontakke. A veritable encyclopaedia on the Hindustani ragadari system of music (encompassing its science and history), Pandit Rajabhau is one of the foremost disciples of Pandit Omkarnath Thakur legendary doyen of the Gwalior Gharana. Pandit Rajabhau is a leading light in the Gwalior gharana, having kept up the rich tradition of bhavapoorna gayaki of his guru.
An expert in Hindustani classical vocal music and a gifted violin artiste, Pandit Rajabhau's journey of music has been arduous, ridden with challenges, monetary and otherwise. Hardships began early in life for this son of Krishna Rao and Sharada Devi Sontakke, having been afflicted by blindness at a tender age. Barely ten then, little Rajabhau had to leave school and take on music to survive. Training under Shamarao at Nagpur for ten years reinforced the young lad's knowledge of khayal gayaki as well as instruments like tabla, violin, dilruba and sitar. A chance listening to Pandit Omkarnath Thakur's recording set-off the desire for studentship in young Rajabhau. As he recalls: "I was completely possessed by the beauty of Pandit Omkarnath's music and decided I would learn from him at any cost."
The hardwork of young Rajabhau led him to Surat where he sang Deskar in front of Pandit Omkarnath, replicating his master's voice and technique. Pandit Omkarnath is believed to have advised him to use his keen grasping skills to develop an original style and agreed to teach him right from the start. "It was the kindness of a few families who gave me food and shelter for three years." During this time, Pandit Rajabhau had developed a command over violin. Recalling an incident when he accompanied Aftab-e-Mausiki Ustad Fayyaz Khan from the Baroda durbar, he says: "Ustad Fayyaz Khan praised me for accurately following his vocals on my violin." He continues: "Pandit Omkarnath would teach according to the student's level. He insisted on playing the tanpura with one hand and keeping the taal (playing on the dagga) with the other as he sang," reminisces this guru. Later, Pandit Rajabhau followed his guru to Benaras where the latter was opening a music college. Pandit Rajabhau was appointed violin-instructor in Pandit Omkarnath's music college.
Pandit Rajabhau, who went through the 15 years of training at Benaras says: "My guru was so serious during class hours that I felt he was specially training me for it." Slowly, Pandit Rajabhau progressed from instructor to professor and from financial challenges to comfort. His music tuitions led to his meeting with Mani (Ms. Sontakke later). He says with a mischievous smile: "She had come to learn from me and adored my singing. I felt the need for a feminine influence in my life. I proposed to her." He acknowledges how her family supported the marriage despite his blindness. In a couple of years, his son Prakash was born, bringing light into their lives.
Attributing his deep knowledge of the ragadari system, both practical concert presentation and musicology, to his guru, he recalls his guru's last few days at Benaras when he (Pandit Omkarnath) said: "My son, I have given you all the knowledge that I have, practice it and take it forward. Teach students of music and guide them towards Ph.D. in music."
Speaking about the specialty of Pandit Omkarnath's well-researched music (his works Pranav Bharati and Sangeetanjali series are renowned for their path breaking concepts), he says: "My style is based on gayaki and not gatkari. While doing alaap, one has to use the 10 types of gamak with discretion; additionally, volume, breath control and intonation determine the effect of the alaap and the rasa. Even taans determine the rasa - for instance Malhar taans are very different from Kanada taans," explains this guru who has taught several students through the Music College at Benaras, and more recently at his Hindustani Sangeet Vidyapeeth, Bangalore. Speaking about dominance of the shringar rasa in Hindustani music, he says: "Love is the basis of this world. It may manifest in different forms though."
"Classical music will manifest itself in different forms, As for classical music, there be may be minor ups and downs, but it is eternal; the very fact that there are veterans/performing artistes as well as students is itself a positive trend!" beams the maestro, reminding me of Robert Browning's words: "My sun sets to rise again".
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