HOUSTON, TX: Be it abhangs, bhajans and ashtapadis being sung in raagams like Behaag, Desh, and Khamaas, Carnatic music has adapted several Hindustani compositions into the kutcheri format. Except for an occasional Daasar padam of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi or a Charukesi of Pandit Ravi Shankar, the same cannot be said emphatically about Hindustani music.
“Meditative Moments: Guruguha – Dhruvapada” by Padmashri Gundecha brothers curated by visionary musicologist Kanniks Kannikeswaran was a unique, first-of-its-kind presentation that included South Indian composer Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s compositions that resemble Dhrupad music in structure and flow.
Experiencing this concert added credence to the idea that some of Dikshitar’s work might have been inspired by Dhrupad, possibly during his five year stay in Benaras with his guru Chidambaranatha Yogi. It should be borne in mind that traditional Dikshitar compositions such as Budhamaasrayami or Sri Kaalahasteesa in purely South Indian raagams would not be comparable to Dhrupad.
In Kanniks’ opinion, “regardless of whether Dikshitar was inspired by Dhrupad or not, some of his compositions and Dhrupad stutis seem to reach towards a common source, a syllable based approach to Indian classical music, something that both the North and South traditions of Indian classical music can relate to; something at the core of a pan Indian musical tradition.”
Asked how this idea came about, Kanniks said, “I heard some Shiva stutis by Gundecha in a CD recording in February 2002. I was blown away by how similar the stutis sounded to Dikshitar’s rupaka taala kritis. Ever since then I got deeper into the study of both Dhrupad and Dikshitar. I visited the Gundecha brothers’ Dhrupad Gurukula in Bhopal, India in 2011 and sang compositions of Dikshitar that resemble Dhrupad. They were very receptive to the idea of a unified presentation of Dhrupad and Dikshitar.”
The concert started with the well-known Dikshitar composition Ardhanaareesvaram after an elaborate aalaap in Raag Kumudakriya. Talking about this opening piece, Kanniks says, “Kumudakriya is a not very frequently heard raga; it is uniquely seen in Dikshitar tradition. When I first proposed this composition to the Gundecha brothers, they loved it. Ramakant Ji sang with me phrase after phrase when we first met in Bhopal; that was the beginning. What the brothers rendered in Houston was unforgettable.”
The natural choice for the next piece was Dikshitar’s Parimala Ranganaatham in Hamir, which is a common North Indian raga. When Kanniks had sung this composition to Dhrupad maestro Ustad Fariduddin Dagar at IIT Bombay in 2005, he had remarked “Yeh toh Dhrupad hi hai.”
The last two pieces were traditional and popular Dhrupad pieces that are not composed by Dikshitar but remind us of his compositions in terms of their lyrics and structure. The compositions were Jayati Jayati Sri Ganesh in Malkauns and Shiva Shiva Shiva in Adaanaa. The last piece “Shiva Shiva Shiva” is a megahit of the Gundecha brothers that they get requested to sing wherever they go.
The pakhaawaj support from their brother Akhilesh Gundecha especially for this finale was outstanding.
When asked about the significance of this memorable concert, Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha said that “We hope this will open new dimensions of Dikshitar compositions and also that more North Indian musicians will come to take up South Indian music. This concert is a sign of great possibility of accessing each other’s music.”
Reflecting on their collaboration, the Gundecha brothers said: “We are very thankful to Shri Kanniks Ji for proposing this project to us and to help us learn these compositions. It was a very smooth and productive experience to work with him. We hope we can carry on such work.” Kanniks adds that “it has been a joy working with the Gundecha brothers, trading notation back and forth, and the numerous skype sessions. I admire their simplicity, their willingness to explore, and the combination of their pure Hindi and their tech savviness!”
The next steps are to perform similar concerts at other locations and make a recording of a few Dikshitar compositions in Dhrupad style. However, a live performance is no substitute for a recording. To have experienced this unique concert featuring the best Dhrupad vocalists of our times singing Dikshitar compositions on the full moon night of Buddha Poornima was simply an unforgettable magical experience.
Kanniks Kannikeswaran is an award winning visionary composer, music educator and scholar whose work has been performed in and has had an impact in several parts of the world. Kanniks is the pioneer of the Indian American choral movement. His far reaching work in this area has led to the founding of Indian community choirs in several places such as Cincinnati OH, Allentown PA, Tampa FL, Houston TX, Minneapolis MN and more.
Kanniks has collaborated with artists such as The Gundecha Brothers, Lakshmi Shankar, Mallika Sarabhai, with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra to name a few and his work has been performed by large ensembles at the National University of Singapore. Kanniks has been teaching at the University of Cincinnati in the capacity of an Adjunct Faculty since 1994.
Kanniks’ award winning research and recording of the 18th century Indo Colonial music of India is beginning to have an impact on Indian musical pedagogy. Kanniks is often described as a renaissance personality who effortlessly traverses diverse disciplines such as music, spirituality and management. He has won prestigious awards such as the McKnight Fellowship and the Ohio Heritage Fellowship. He is the founder of the ‘American School of Indian Art’, an Institution committed to bringing the best of the East and the West to the Indian American Diaspora and beyond.
Prakash M Swamy