Shubha Mudgal on Gwalior ‘gharana’ vocalist Neela Bhagwat’s exemplary act of generosity
Sometime last week senior Gwalior gharana vocalist Neela Bhagwat announced that she had scanned and uploaded on Wikimedia her entire collection of Gwalior gharana compositions, acquired over a lifetime of taaleem (learning) from scholar-gurus such as Sharadchandra Arolkar and Jal K. Balaporia. This is in itself an exemplary act of generosity, in the very spirit of vidya daan, or sharing of knowledge, that forms an intrinsic part of the guru-shishya tradition.
Bhagwat accomplished this massive task with quiet dignity and conviction, sending a one- liner on email to friends and followers informing them that her collection was now available to all under the title “Treasure of Gwalior Gharana”.
Bhagwat has shared four notebooks in which she painstakingly notated her collection of Gwalior gharana bandish/compositions. Hand-written and annotated, the collection has been organized raga-wise. Book 1, for example, has compositions in 29 ragas, starting with 21 compositions in Raag Yaman Kalyan alone. These include multiple versions of the same bandish at times. Take, for example, the majestic khayal composition Banre balaiyaan lyongi in Raag Yaman Kalyan. Bhagwat has two versions of the same composition noted in Book 1, one in the 14 matra Jhoomra taal, and the other in the 16 matra Tilwada.
Like most musicians, Bhagwat has devised her own method of notating, based on established notation systems that have been in use for some time now. She first mentions the taal, then the song text in Devanagari script, under which she puts down the melodic notation in two lines, the upper line containing the song text, and the line below mentioning the corresponding swaras. Following this, the song text is written in Roman letters, under which she puts down the count of the taal in numerics. Below the numerics are marked the vibhaags, or sections of the taal in columns. The song text is arranged in the columns in a single line without the usual symbols used as taal-related indicators.
The handwritten dedication on page 1 of Book 1 dedicates the collection to “All Lovers of Gwalior Khayal All My Students, Friends Specially Dean Morris and James Stevenson”. The material has been shared with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence.
As Internet technology empowers musicians to share their treasures with a global audience independently, and on their own terms, artistes like Neela Bhagwat, and the family and followers of vocalist and violinist Gajananbuwa Joshi, are sharing their work with a generosity that is both admirable and humbling.
While it is understandable that providing access to personal archives and collections is far less complicated than the red tape that continues to keep the archives of many of our premier art institutions and organizations under lock and key, the lethargy and administrative messiness of these institutions nevertheless provides a bleak and sad contrast to the speed and efficiency with which artistes like Bhagwat are able to provide access to their collections.
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