Priya Purushothaman – Hindustani Vocalist

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Gharana vs Paramapara?

Last month, Sursagar (a concert organization in Bangalore) began a concert series based on the theme of “Gharana,” which is scheduled to present various master musicians and their disciples throughout the year to showcase each gayaki. The year began with the Agra Gharana, for which I gave a short recital followed by a performance by my guru, Smt Aditi Upadhya.

Although, in my opinion, Gharanas  are hard to find in their pure form amongst contemporary performers, the essence of the gayaki (style) and the parampara can certainly characterize a concert. A parampara is the lineage of gurus and shishyas and the knowledge and style that each has shaped and passed on. A parampara may contain influences from multiple Gharanas, so it is not exactly a subset of a Gharana. A parampara is a product of individual thought and improvement upon a style, whereas a Gharana is a school of thought and aesthetic style that has essentially been fixed an popularized by legendary musicians and strictly adhered to by followers. A Gharana is static while a parampara is dynamic.

For instance, my guru and dada-gurus belong to a parampara that can be traced to Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, Pandit SN Ratanjankar, Pandit Dinkar Kaikini and presently Smt Aditi Upadhya. Pandit SN Ratanjankar was a staunch disciple of Bhatkhandeji but also studied with Ustad Faiyaz Khan. Pandit Dinkar Kaikini was most greatly influenced by the gayaki of Ustad Faiyaz  Khan, though his scholastic understanding and training were all under Pandit SN Ratanjankar. He was also influenced by aspects of the Kirana, Jaipur and Gwalior gharanas. He himself had told me not to write or say that he “belongs to the Agra Gharana,” because technically, only those born by blood into the Gharana family hold that claim. This all goes to show that the Gharana method of classification can get pretty complicated, and the parampara viewpoint can reveal the evolution of a style in a way that more accurately represents the actual style of music being performed nowadays. In many concert announcements, when we hear the artist’s pedigree, there are quite a few gurus and styles mentioned, and this is only natural, because artists want to imbibe the best of everything that they hear. The students of these artists will also be a product of this slightly mixed style, rather than the big Gharana headers that everyone clings to.

All of that being said, the concert was meant to highlight features of the Agra Gharana style, so I attempted one aspect of the Agra gayaki that is its trademark: the khyal-ang Nom Tom alap. The Nom Tom alaap is most known in the Dhrupad style of singing – it is a very gradual, meditative, progressive (melodically and rhythmically)  unfolding of a raag. In the Khyal-ang Nom Tom, the pacing of the alaap is slightly faster than in the Dhrupad style, and the treatment of the notes and timing of the meend are also more in the style and tempo of the khayal genre (faster than Dhrupad). The powerful and regal effect of a well-executed Nom-Tom alaap come across through the full throw of voice, open ucchaar, heavy gamaks, and laykari.

This was my first attempt at a Nom Tom alaap – I enjoyed the process of discovering the raag in all its melodic, rhythmic,and phonetic aspects. The Nom-Tom also brings the sound quality of the voice to the forefront – understanding the voice and its capabilities, textures, dynamic range, timbres, and countours. This area of vocal study is truly endless and self-exploratory in nature, especially because there is only so much that we scientifically understand about how vocal cords and their surrounding resonating cavities function. Finally, the abstract rhythm of a Nom-Tom alaap, which gradually becomes more concrete, is like an invisible and slow metronome that holds all the notes together into meaningful phrases, instead of allowing them to randomly tumble out into space.

The clip above is a short excerpt from the alaap, followed by the madhya-laya teen taal bandish by Pandit Dinkar Kaikini, Karam Ki Daro. Raag Shri.



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