Jayateerth Mevundi on the evolution of the Kirana gharana, and the greats who graced its music
Classical singer Jayateerth Mevundi explains the nuances of Kirana gharana and how some of its doyens like Ustad Amir Khan and Pt Bhimsen Joshi have had an indelible impact
Indian classical music is as much known for its elaborate and sophisticated structure as for its plethora of legendary artistes and their lineages — or gharanas, each of which have a unique identity.
Speaking to Jayateerth Mevundi, among the well known Hindustani classical vocalists belonging to the Kirana gharana today, we found out how this prolific school of Hindustani music evolved and gave India some of its greatest known musicians in the form of Ustad Amir Khan, Pt Sawai Gandharva, Bharat Ratna Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, to name a few.
The foundations of the revered Kirana gharana were laid by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and his cousin Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan during the early 1870s. Karim Khan is, however, the better recognised of the two because of his iconic disciples and also for the evolution of the gharana whose singing style bears many similarities to that of Carnatic music.
Mevundi says of this added dimension of Carnatic style in a rather prominent Hindustani gharana: "Those who have heard of [Karim] Khan saab's singing claim his style was very different during his initial days as opposed to what is known of him today. It was while living in the princely state of Baroda (now Vadodara) that he was introduced to the Carnatic style of music. Those days, many Carnatic musicians would come to perform in the king's court. Khan saab got deeply influenced by that music; later he went to Mysuru and learnt it. Thus, when you listen to his music you will find the influence of Carnatic style in most of his renditions."
"Being a sarangi player himself, he brought in the meend-influenced singing (a distinct way of approaching one note from another), much like the Carnatic style. His vision was to take the aalaap step-by-step (take one swara and progress gradually). You will find the touch of Carnatic style in Khan saab’s aalaap, khatka or murki etc. These elements of vocal style exist in other Hindustani gharanas too, but the ones of Kirana gharana sort of stand apart, as ours have that bit of Carnatic touch in them. You will find that in Bhimsen ji’s singing as well," adds Mevundi.
Having said that, Mevundi mentions how despite having been trained in the same school of music, each artiste in the Kirana gharana sounds different from the other.
"Every artiste has a different voice texture and adds a distinct dimension to the composition; there is a distinct voice culture. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan’s voice was very thin, so instead of singing in the lower pitch he tried to sing mostly in the higher pitch. He could sing effortlessly in the upper octave till the pancham (fifth note) or even the dhaiwat (sixth) note; he would sing in the F scale (white 4). That’s why one would find a lot of resemblance to the Carnatic style in his singing...listen to his recordings of ragas like Basant, Shudh Kalyan. On the other hand, Bhimsen ji's voice was very broad; he had an immense command over the kharaj. If you listen to Roshan Ara Begum’s singing you will think she's a Carnatic singer — her fast aalaap and taans are akin to that of any Carnatic musician. One could easily see Karim Khan’s style in her singing," he says.
Mevundi was born in Hubli in the year 1972. His initial training started at home under his mother’s tutelage. Despite not being a trained classical singer herself, she had a strong inclination towards that form of music. Hence, she trained young Mevundi in devotional songs, bhajans etc. "When I was very young, my parents would take me to Kundgol, a small village close to Hubli which was also the home of the legendary Pt Sawai Gandharva under whom Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal had received training at the same place. Abdul Karim Khan had also stayed there for a really long time. We would visit Kundgol for music concerts where Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal and others would come and perform. So, my introduction to classical music happened there under the samskara of my mother. Otherwise, there was no musician as such in my family; although they would listen to songs on the radio, identify the ragas and appreciate music in general, they had no classical training background."
By the time, he turned 13-14 he could only sing some basic sargam, alankar, jhantis etc. That was the time when he ventured out on a search for a guru in Hubli. He found two — one being Pt Arjunsa Nakod, and then Pt Shripati Padigar, a disciple of Bhimsen Joshi. "Those days, I could only sing bhajans and other devotional forms, but I had no idea about the ragamala or the more sophisticated aspects of classical music. When I started training under Nakodji, I understood the fine nuances of each raga, approaching the raga and expanding the recital — all of this I learned gradually. I took training under him for about 10-12 years, After that, I received training under Sripati Patekar who taught me the intricacies of Bhimsen ji’s style of Kirana gharana singing."
Today, Mevundi's vocal style is often considered reminiscent of that of the late Bharat Ratna awardee. Speaking about the influence of Bhimsen Joshi, Mevundi explains, "Whenever I listened to Bhimsen ji on the radio, it used to cast a spell on me and that really influenced me. His style of singing had completely permeated my mind, and hence I went to Padigar ji to teach me his music — his way of approaching the swaras, their expansion, his command over the lyrics while singing a bandish and the depth of his voice which was always full of emotions. I was deeply moved by his rendition of the taans — he would stay in the pancham (fifth note) and say a taan in a particular way — and then how he would sing the gandhara (third note) in the middle and the upper octaves. So all of this really drew me towards his style of singing."
Mevundi is credited for his effortless renditions of the complex Merukhand taan, the bol-taan and the bol-aalaap. In explaining what a Merukhand taan is, Mevundi also throws light on another legend: Ustad Amir Khan and his musical genius. "Merukhand taan is synonymous with Amir Khan saab; he is the one who did an in-depth study of the Merukhand taan. It is sung in three octaves — kharaj (lower), madhya (middle) and taar (higher). He sang it in various patterns, thus showing its beauty even further. He was tremendously influenced by the likes of Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan and Ustad Aman Ali Khan of the Bhendibazar gharana. He lived in Indore, hence the Indore gharana came into being. His slow aalaap, mainly sung in the deep kharaj is a reflection to Abdul Wahid Khan's singing. But he created his own style with his Swar-sargam, the Merukhand taan, the taraana and his clear aalaap...there is an innate serenity in the way he used to take the aalaap. Amir Khan saab's contribution to Indian classical music is immense."
On being asked what else consumes him apart from music, Mevundi turns reflective, and indicates his spiritual side. "In Kirana gharana, most of the swaras have an innate bhaava (feeling) associated with each one of them. Most of the compositions are soaked in the Bhakti rasa and are dedicated to the supreme lord, " he says, adding, "I am a very spiritual person and I like doing pujas, chanting Vishnu Sahstranam, Ram Raksha etc. I think it is very important to have a spiritual touch as it gets reflected in your music as well, because whatever we sing is also like a puja, an offering to the supreme god. I learnt from a very young age at my home that puja and rituals are a part of our daily lives. I have continued those practices even today. Whenever I go out to perform, I always make it a point to offer my prayers and do my regular puja before getting on the stage."
Mevundi, apart from classical music, is a huge admirer of playback singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, and the Kannada singers PB Sreenivas, Vani Jayaram and S Janaki. "For me, Rafi Saab, Lata ji are Gandharvas in real life. Lata ji is Goddess Saraswati reincarnated; most of her old songs have a classical touch and have a lot of feelings. We have grown up listening to their songs on the radio. However, today, I prefer to listen to raag-based songs, like the ones of AR Rahman," he says.
From the time he ventured onto the stage performing classical renditions 20 years ago to today, there is a definite difference in the way music is composed and consumed. While there is an interest in classical music among the general audience, the numbers are not very high. "I guess the audience lacks patience these days," shrugs Mevundi. "Moreover, with the advent of mobile phones, the attention span has largely reduced. Recently, I went for a performance at IIT Delhi, within 15 minutes of the performance I could see people looking at their mobile screens. The audience also doesn’t realise that by glancing at their phones during a performance, they insult the artist and at the same time do not let them concentrate."
Jayateerth Mevundi will be performing at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) at the ninth edition of its Indian music festival, ‘Bandish 2018 – A Tribute to Legendary Composers’ on 3 August. He will be performing compositions of Ustad Amir Khan (Sur Rang, that comprises Amir Khan's taan, taraana and compositions of Amir Khusro's poetry) and Ramashreya Jha (Ram Rang, that will present bandishes from his selected writings).
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