Purity makes this musician a class apart

WORLD POP icons Madonna, Sting, Biesty Bobby hold him in admiration. So did composer David Diamond. World-renowned classicists Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi find his recitals inspiring enough to send notes of commendation.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2006 12:24 IST

WORLD POP icons Madonna, Sting, Biesty Bobby hold him in admiration. So did composer David Diamond. World-renowned classicists Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi find his recitals inspiring enough to send notes of commendation.

While Pandit Jasraj felicitated him, the sitar maestro invited him to perform at his function in New Delhi few years back. His disciples have received Padma awards for enriching Indian classical music.

Besides, research students at Harvard and other leading western universities have sought his guidance on music, Tantra, theology and literature. He was invited to deliver lecture-performance at Harvard University by Dr Pramod Chandra, grandson of renowned Hindi litterateur Bhartendu Harishchandra.

Recipient of Hindustan Times Life Time Achievement Award and an outstanding exponent of Indian classical music, Dr Gokulotsavji has presented vocal recitals at Secra world music festival in Germany, Smithsonian Institute at Washington DC, Beverly Arts Centre at Chicago, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and Indian High Commission in UK.

One of the few distinguished Indian musicologists who composes lyrics and sets them to music, Gokulotsavji has composed 5,000 bandishes in khayal, dhrupad, dhamar, prabandh and other allied genres in Sanskrit, Braj, Persian and Urdu, besides composing 28 raagmalas.

However, it’s his effort to maintain purity of ragas without being pedantic or mired in mechanical precision that sets him apart from other vocalists. Say critics, “His Indian classical renderings take listeners to spiritual heights, sublimating the desires in process and landing them on a plane of internal bliss.”

With voice ranging up to three octaves enriched by evenness of tone, controlled flexibility and exemplary breath control, it touches a range of emotions, as though it moves from a smaller truth towards the greater truth till it reaches the ultimate truth of ragas and emotions.

His seasoned stage presence makes the presentations perfect. Nevertheless, it’s the distinct use of sargam sequences, which is the highlight of his gayaki. The only classicist to sing Sanskrit and rubaidar tarana (Persian couplets set in tarana style), he is adept at playing pakhawaj, rudra, kashyap and vichitra veena. He says it is the knowledge of different instruments that helped him generate a sense of rhythm and gave him an insight into shrutis.

Gokulotsavji, a descendant of Jagadguru Srimad Vallabhacharya, originally hails from Andhra Pradesh. As Telang Brahmins, his ancestors moved to Braj 300 years ago. True to Vallabh parampara (tradition), he learned his first music lessons in Haveli Sangeet.

Says he, “Haveli Sangeet dedicated to Thakurji is classical music that incorporates dhrupad, dhamar, prabandh gayaki, pracheen gayaki and nayaki. It’s the Haveli Sangeet that has preserved Indian classical music whenever it faced threat due to foreign influences. Moreover, Omkar Nath Thakur, Dagar Brothers, Ustad Alladiya Khan (Jaipur–Atrauli gharana), Ustad Faiyyaz Khan (Agra-Kirana gharana) also sang Haveli compositions. Its still sung in different gharanas but they are in incomplete forms.”

Impressed with their scholarship and Acharya lineage of Nathdwara temple, the ex-princely rulers bestowed his ancestors with title of His Highness. Like other princely rulers, Acharyas too patronised scholars, singers and artistes and in the process became accomplished musicians.

It was in this background that Gokulotsavji learned Hindustani classical music, a path well trodden by his forbearers for over 600 years. The Indore haveli, where he grew, was frequented by renowned maestros including Ustad Amir Khan, his father Shamir Khan, Ustad Babu Khan, Ustad Allabande, Ustad Zakiruddin Khan Dagar.

Young Amir Khan listened to the khand meru style, which Ustad Nasiruddin and his brother learnt at the haveli, and appreciated it. Often, Gokulotsavji was mistaken for Ustad Amir Khan, though he honed his skills under several masters. In 1980, he broke away from his motivator’s mould and modified his vocal style to suit his compositions. Nevertheless, he acquired late Khan Sahib’s technical finesse and skill to elaborate expositions of intricate taan patterns.

An authority on Bramha Mat, Rudra Mat, Hanuman Mat and Shudhha Bhinna Gaudi Sadharani and Vesara that distinguishes Gokulotsavji’s vocal style unknown to any gharana, his presentation of khayal, dhrupad gayaki and kirtan pad is directly connected to Sam Veda and Vishnu pad parampara.

His forte, however, are rare ragas in addition to khats, kaanadas, sakhs, sarangs, nat prakar, bilawal, gara kaanada, malhar, taksali, khandani and gharanadar bandishes.

A refined commentator on Upanishad, Veda, Gita and music, Acharya’s knowledge of scripture is reflected in books he penned. With the singular aim to propagate Indian culture and philosophy through music, he has set up Vrij Gokul Utsav Foundation in UK.

But the Foundation has no plans to develop as a gharana. “We only acknowledge Shastras and not persons or place,” Gokulotsavji, who has been invited for recitals in US, Canada, France and Germany next month, told Hindustan Times.

The musicologist, who performs with his son Vrajotsavji, is currently engaged in research on tarana. “Its each alphabet is a complete tantra and mantra in itself.

First Published: Apr 13, 2006 12:24 IST