On Bhaskarbua Bakhale by V.H. Deshpande

When my friend N.M. Kelkar asked me to write this preface to the biography of Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale, I immediately agreed because thereby an opportunity to pay homage to a peerless artist was presented. Pandit Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale died in 1923. As a thirteen year old boy, I attended two of his recitals in 1920-21. The first recital had been organised in Rasta Wada by Poona Gayan Samaj in honor of a visiting British dignitary. Bhaskarbuwa sat on the same bench I was sitting on. When he left the bench to begin his recital, his 'jari uparaNe' brushed against me. I have treasured the sacred memory for over 45 years now. God knows how much of Buwa's 20 minute recital registered on the chief guest but he appeared pleased. I have often felt that a performer must be clever and must possess a charming personality like Buwa to impress foreign audience. I have never seen a vocalist like him.

The memory of the second recital is even more deeply carved in my memory. The venue was the same. Bal Gandharva was merely playing Tanpura and Master Krishnarao, then only 21 years old, was playing the other Tanpura and was assisting occasionally. What registered most was Buwa's vocal performance and Govindrao Tembe's harmonium accompaniment. Tembe would listen to Buwa's improvisation carefully and reproduce it with same grace and his matching improvisation would inspire Buwa to improve on himself. The fascinated audience was acknowledging every sam from the core of their hearts. I was a mere boy then but this has been one of the most treasured of my memories.

The important point is that it has been 45 years since Buwa passed away but I have not heard any vocalist make a single derogatory remark about his singing. On the contrary all illustrious musicians whenver they had the ocaasion to refer to him, have done so with deepest reverence and affection. Among these are Tembe, Manji Khan, Kesarbai Kerkar, Vazebuwa, Savai Gandhrava, Vilayat Hussain Khan Saheb etc who belonged to different schools.

Since the days of Miya Tansen, India has produced many great musicians whose memories are held sacred to this day, but we do not have the tradition of recording their life-stories. In Marathi the grand total of such books is 5: "the life of Balkrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar" by Ingalebuwa, "the life of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar" by Deodhar and Patvardhan (independently), "the life of Alladiya Khan" by Tembe and "Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande" by Ratanjankar. Even more tragic is the manner in which the life of the subject is portrayed. The hero spends his childhood at the home of his guru in humiliating circumstances, takes extraordinary pains to master his art and achieves success, fame...there are unforgettable recitals..successful tours.. that's about all! Take this very book. It fails to satisfy my curiosity in several matters. Faiz Mohammed Khan was Buwa's guru - but who was his guru? For how many years did he teach Buwa? Which ragas were taught? How old was Faiz Mohammed when he took on Buwa? For how many years did Buwa did his riyaz - how? What was the method of his riyaz? After a passage of so many years, there is no one alive to shed light on these matters.

One aspect of this biography needs special mention. The book has several appendices at the end in which memoirs of other singers, disciples and friends are given. These have the status of direct evidence. I should like to reproduce some of that material to give the reader an idea of the reverence and affection fellow musicians have had for Bhaskarbuwa.

I shall first quote a person who prided on calling himself a disciple of Buwa, viz Govindrao Tembe. Tembe says: "A vocalist of such versatility and excellence is born once in a century...his music was noted for its extra- ordinarily high tonality, accuracy of raga and supreme mastery over rhythm.. his word articulation had a clarity and beauty rarely shown by his most proficient rivals...his boltaans had a fairylike grace". The great sculptor Annasaheb Phadke recalls that Buwa picked up the presentation of general outline and 'alapi' from Faiz Mohammed Khan of Gwalior, 'layakari' and 'boltan' from Natthan Khansaheb of Agra and the subtle, intricate, arcane gayaki of Alladiya Khansaheb. Harishchandra Bali recalls: "Ustad Zende Khan had accompanied on Sarangi stalwarts such as Aliya-Fattu, Alladiya Meherban, Bai Moti, Tanras Khan's son. When he accompanied Bhaskarbuwa, Zende Khan, unable to control his tears of joy, placed his Sarangi at Buwa's feet in complete surrender". Alladiya Khan lamented, " Bhaskar is gone - for whom can I sing now?" Rajaballi Khan often told Ramubhayya Date, "Hindus have produced only one singer whom we all revere and he was Bhaskarbuwa". B.R. Deodhar has recorded the incident of Mubarak Ali Khan of Karachi. Mubarak Ali had some reservation about Buwa when his father had told him to go to Buwa's recital to feel what a real vocal recital is. But, in his own words, "...that thoughful simple figure sat between Tanpuraas and as the Tanpuraas were tuned, his face shone with divine light. When those were tuned, he smiled at all of us and we felt as if somebody had cast a spell on us. I couldn't help exclaiming 'Subhan Allah' when he gracefully reached the first sam. In Shikarpur, I used to annoint his hair and took pride in it". After such praise comming from his contemporaries, it would be foolish for me to improve on it. At any rate, there is no doubt that Bhaskarbuwa was a unique vocalist.

When one tries to examine precisely where his uniqueness lies, one immediately notices that different observers have pointed out different qualities. Since, the persons mentioned above were themselves great artists, it is an inevitable conclusion that Buwa indeed possessed these qualities. One is forced to conclude that Buwa had aquired high proficiency in each department of music and that his presentation was perfectly balanced. Consequently, he must be described as a perfect musician.

Before analysing Buwa's quality, let us see which aspects of music are regarded as important. Broadly speaking three are of prime importance: swara (tone), laya (rhythm) and vocalisation. These are present in every type of music. When one comes to classical music, these get further subdivided into tonal purity, accuracy of raga, presentaion of cheez, 'alap', 'vilambit', accuracy of rhythm, 'layakari', 'boltan', 'gamak taan', 'firat' etc. Besides, words in cheez must be clearly articulated. A master artist must be proficient in all of these aspects and must be able to present these in a balanced manner. But the common experiece is that a musician is good in one or a few of these aspects. Sometimes he is exceedingly good in those aspects and achieves fame because of that. Even though he has knowledge of the other aspects, because of his excessive pre-occupation with his main domain, he tends to ignore and underrate those aspects. For him the art form developed by him is the greatest. This philosophy becomes an article of faith and out of it is born a gharana. If it succeeds in attracting capable disciples, that gharana attains fame. Achieving proficiency of the highest quality in every integral part is a most rare occurance. Those who gave importance to tonal sweetness and 'alap' neglected other aspects and established their gharana (Kirana). Those who achieved mastery over 'layakari' and 'boltaan' etc established a renowned tradition (Agra). Then there were those who perfected 'tan-phirat' and 'bol-tan' and ignored the rest ( Patiyala and Quawwal-bacche : vishwesh). The above discussion is to drive home the point that all-round proficiency is not an indispensible pre- condition for success and fame or for establishing a gharana. It is enough to aquire mastery in specific areas and treat the rest with scant courtesy. This type of musician is the most common to come across. And no gharana can claim all-round and balanced proficiency in all fields.

The point I wish to make is that Bhaskarbuwa was unique in the sense that not only did he achieve proficiency in all fields but could present them in a perfectly balanced manner also. To arrive at this conclusion, I have omitted to include testimonies of Buwa's admirers and have made use of only objectively descriptive parts. For instance, everybody has praised his 'alapi', 'layakari', design of cheej, 'boltaan', 'gamak-taan', the complexity of his music. Tembe has used the metaphore of a fully grown luxuriant tree with spreading braches and sub-branches to describe beauty of Buwa's fast passages. Some of these admirers were Buwa's close associates or discples. But there are several instances where the non-interested parties have expressed un-reserved admiration for him. Pt Vedi, a disciple of Buwa, has given an eye-witness account of Buwa's mehfil on the night of Dec 26, 1911 in Jullunder. Buwa presented khyal 'Surzay rahi' from raga Hamir and fast cheej 'Mendere yar' from the same raga followed by a tarana. "...Dhrupad vocalists were pleased with vilambit, khyal-singers acclaimed fast taan passages with raised hands and cries like 'Subhan-Allah'. Expert percussionists excitedly applauded Buwa's 'layakari'. In short, everybody in the audience had something special to admire...when the recital was over, some people touched his feet, others prostrated themselves..."

If the above memoir is not convincing enough, I would invite attention to one more memoir of Pt Vedi. It concerns Khansaheb Alibaksha, the founder of Patiyala gharana (Alibaksha's name was invariably linked to that of his brother Fatteh Ali and they were known as 'Aliya-Fattu'. The duo made musical history. Owing to their aggressive style, they were fondly known as 'Jernel' and 'Kernel' - titles bestowed on them by the ruler of Tonk). On Jan 3, 1920, Prime Minister Paja Dayakisan had arranged a recital of Buwa for the ruler of Patiyala state. The account is as follows:

"On the occasion, Miya Alibaksha was present. Buwa started his recital with the slow khyal 'Phoolanake harawa' from raga Puriya followed by raga Kamod. In response to a request from Alibaksha Khansaheb, Buwa took up 'Tu aiso hein karim' from raga Darabari followed by fast composition 'nain so nain'. The recital was punctuated by appreciative comments from Alibaksha - 'This is gamak-taan of Haddu Khansaheb, this is reminiscent of Faiz Mohammed's elaborate skill and khanapur, this is Rahimat Khan's firat all over, this intricate taan reminds me of Mubarak Ali(son of Bade Mohammed Khansaheb - not the one mention earlier)..'. Then Alibaksha turned to Maharaja of Patiyala and said, "Your Highness, people say Alibaksha is conceited, he never praises anyone. But the truth is that they don't impress me. My Lord, I was fearing that khyal-singing was a dying art but by the grace of God, there is one khyal singer alive in Pt Bhaskarbuwa. He has no equal - Hindu or Muslim. His music is excellently developed in all respects. May God grant him good health and a long life'". Miya Alibaksha was 77 years old at that time.

One can now understand Kesarbai's remark that Alladiya alone understood Buwa's music. It was perfectly developed and he was a complete singer. This conclusion is not made out of thin air - I have carefully heard experts reminiscing over Buwa. Keshavrao Bhole made precisely the same point on his radio-talk 2 years back with great earnestness.

This mastery made Buwa famous all over India and earned him accolades from even first-rate Muslim musicians. But his style, it must be sadly acknowled- ged, did not take root after him. May be this was because the qualities which made him famous were his personal endowments not possessed by any of his disciples. Perhaps his premature death at the age of 52 was responsible for it. Whatever may be reason, his tradition was not continuedby any of his disciples except for Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar and Bapurao Ketkar.

There are complaints that Krishnarao does not display power and verve of his mentor but the critics ignore one important point. Krishnarao's voice is delicate, his range is far too less that the over 3 octave range of Buwa and, in addition, he suffers from asthma which affects his breath. Despite these limitations, Master Krishnarao held Maharashtra in his grip for over 35 years - an achievement which would have been impossible but for the training and guidance of Buwa. In any case, the former could not become an exact prototype of Buwa. That would have been an imitation - Master Krishnarao was an artist in his own right, his music was his own. Krishnarao discovered his own soul while trying to understand the ramifications of his preceptor's music and therein lies the fulfillment of his life. This is what he believes in and openly proclaims. Otherwise, owing to his physical handicaps, he would have stayed a minor musician all his life.

Apart from Krishnarao, two other disciples of Buwa achieved fame were Tembe and Bal Gandharva. They didn't take the 'taalim' from him though. They were in close proximity of him and received many cheejs from him. Although Buwa never regarded them as his disciples (though he had enormous affection for both of them), they took great pride in calling themselves his disciples. Even these two adapted what they learnt to develope their own artistic genius - one for harmonium playing and other for stage singing. In this process, they discovered souls. And what else can one expect from a true guru? He doesn't make his own replicas but aims to bring out the best in his disciples.

Even though Buwa's style died with him, Marathi theatre or for that matter Maharashtra can never forget the one priceless gift received from Buwa and that is stage music. The very beginning of Buwa's musical career was associated with stage music. He gave up acting while he was a teenager but remained involved in stage activities. This dramatic quality was apparent in his classical recitals and made them very attractive. It was he who provided music for the songs in Khadilkar's plays 'Vidyaharan', 'Swayamvar','Draupadi' etc. Thereby he brought a revolution in stage music. The rather elemntary tunes of earlier plays suffered decline. The classical strain introduced by Buwa is so powerful that it has been intact for over 60 years and has the potential to stay so in future also.

This revolution was brought about by Buwa in 1916 when he wrote tunes for 'Swayamwara'. But in a way, he was anticipated by Tembe in 1911 when he composed for Khadilkar's 'Manapaman'. The only diffrence was that Tembe's tunes were lighter while Buwa's belonged to the realm of pure classical.

Popular numbers from 'Swayamwara' such as 'naath haa maazaa', 'mama aatmaa gamalaa', 'swakulataarakasutaa' have 2 features in common - their opening lines command attention and they are beautifully composed. Buwa took great pains to hunt for the obscure originals of these catchy tunes. These are easy to remeber and charming despite their classical nature. This captivated both the lay man and the expert and their hold is still intact. Buwa was inclined to favor simple raga - Yaman, Bihag, Bhoop, Bhimpalas, Bageshri etc. but the tunes themselves were most carefully selected. Other great composers like Tembe and Krishnarao too deserve credit for the popularity of stage-music. But Govindrao owes his insight to Buwa. It was Buwa who taught Bal Gandharva and Krishnarao.

What was the ultimate outcome of Buwa's mastery in stage music and classical music? In my opinion, Buwa reduced the distance between these two and brought them closer. He brought classical music within the reach of a lay man by adopting a gay and playful style. The credit for popularising obscure raga like Shyam Kalyan, Bihagada, Suhagkanda, Gouri, Patabihag, Khokar, Savani Nat must go to him. It became a practice with all singers to include one or two stage sings in their mehfils. On the other hand, evry stage artist was forced to begin with a khyal.

The present biography also underlines the maganimous and noble nature of Buwa. Keshavrao Bhole, as a medical student, had not even heard of Buwa's name. When he said, "Who is going to let us in?" in Buwa's presence, Buwa gave him the infallible formulla for gaining access to concerts: "Stand at the entrace to the hall and when I turn up, enter with me". The anecdote of Rajaratna Tambe is heart-rendering. The incident took place during a music lesson. Faiz Mohammd had a coughing fit. There was no spittoon in sight. Buwa made a cup with his hands and asked Faiz to spit in it and then went out and cleaned his hands. Tambe, disgusted by this incident, gave up music. After a passage of 40 years, the disgust is forgotten. Otherwise he can't utter these words: " My one-time fellow disciple had to serve his guru in loath- some manner but he became the greatest expert in vocal music. Having regard to Buwa's past and the glory he subsequently achieved, I think, Buwa, by his great devotion, became one with his God. I do not think Godliness is any different." Buwa was a man of very resolute action. As a teenager he was insulted by Bhaurao Kolhatkar in Kirloskar Co. when his voice broke. Buwa shaved off the long hair grown for female part to tonsure and told Bhaurao that he will show him his face only when he is recognised as Bhaskarbuwa". Only men of such strong will end up with great achievement.

Buwa has joined the ranks of Haridas, Tansen, Baiju Bawra and Sadarang as an immortal of Indian music. Many composers have composed cheej on Buwa. An anonymous composer has composed this cheej in Buwa's praise in raga Hansa Kinkini and it was sung in Devi Talao mehfil at Julluder. It would be appropriate to close this approbatory account with the cheej:

Vidya bakhane guni, naman guna ko kare Manapamana ko bhed na mano, Naman kare Haridas, Baiju, Tansen ko, Sadarang, Bhaskar ko nit naam dhyave.