Continuities and Divergences: Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur and his Gayaki

Prof. N Manu Chakravarthy

[75th Birthday Tribute – Invited Lecture at BCCI, Bangalore on 6 Jan 2018]

Three things converge, the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, the great Mallikarjun Mansur and of course Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur. So when I deal with Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, I am also dealing with Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur and Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur. This is my trajectory, that you can’t turn to the whole tradition without naming people and when you discuss people, in particular, you are also dealing with an entire tradition. So, the introduction is based on my nearly four and a half decades of very intense listening to first Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur. Where do we begin? Is it enough if we just begin by naming Ustad Alladiya Khan Saheb, well known as Bade Khan Saheb or the two illustrious sons who are also the teachers, Ustad Manji Khan Saheb and Ustad Burji Khan Saheb? When we do that and then come to Mallikarjun Mansur and Rajshekhar Mansur, we are listening to stories of continuities and divergences, not discontinuities. The entire Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana is based on a certain sense of continuities, but it is not a linear, chronological progression. There are great divergences. So I also plan to show what those divergences are. So when we begin with Alladiya Khan Saheb, come through Manji Khan Saheb, Burji Khan Saheb, Mallikarjun Mansur and Rajshekhar Mansur, you are listening to a whole range of something from its source through several great articulations, to people who have changed the contours of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana. 

This cannot be explained, cannot be understood in terms of mere musicology, through grammar. Vyaakarana, Shastra is essential. But correct grammar does not produce great poetry. So correct Shastra, Vyaakarana in music does not produce great musical metaphors. Much as one deals with grammar as a starting point, you cannot hold on to grammar. You cannot just talk of dumb Arohana, Avarohana. You must imbibe and get it into its peak and therefore when you listen to a whole musical tradition, you cannot believe that certain things are fixed. They are not static, they have their own great dynamics and these dynamics keep altering and as the great Eliot said, ‘it is idiom that is altered by a genius’. So you must look at changing registers, changing idioms and how those registers and idioms change. Otherwise, it becomes mechanical, monotonous repetition. This is not the story of repetition and that is why let us look at how this journey began for Mallikarjun Mansur with the Gwalior tradition with Neelakanta Buwa, an ascetic. It was here that Mallikarjun Mansur began his ascetic training in music and converting music into a profound religious experience and the religious experience had this musical quality. Inseparable have this two been and I will come to particular Ragas and talk of those things. 

The kind of religiosity, not religion, not institutionalized religion, not jaati, it is not Samsthika Dharma, but a certain kind of religious vision. Look at the two integral components which are inseparable – Basavanna, Allamaprabhu, Akkamahadevi, great wanderers, great mystics. This formed one edifice for Mallikarjun Mansur that his music had this edifice of the great visionaries, of the great mystics and therefore not going by the shallow debates, he was a Lingayata, as a Dharma, not as a Jaati. What did it mean? That it meant the Linga as a physical object, substantial, but it is through that, that you go beyond, that you convert it into Atmalinga into Jyootirlinga. Listen to his Mrutyunjaya Suprabhata and you will see how the physical, how the concrete object transforms itself; it does not dissolve, it does not disappear. The Linga held on hand evolves into, metamorphoses into Atmalinga, into Jyotirlinga and that is why the concrete example is the Mrutyunjaya Suprabhata. Where did he get it from? 

I am talking of two stories when I deal with Mallikarjun Mansur, of the Nijaguna Shivayogi of Athani and Mrutyunjaya Swamy, he used to call him Mrutyunjaya Appa. Shall we develop this a bit? It means that the devotional, religious, mystical registers have to be underlined by concrete musical phrases – that his religiosity failed if his music did not transform; if his Shadja fails, your music fails and if your music fails, your religiosity fails. Look at the great consciousness, the great mind that worked. It is through the Shadja that you move into the other notes, into the other swaras, the value of Shadja that he learnt first from Neelakanta Buwa. This was the total holistic integration of this man. Listen to Bahaduri Todi – ‘He Mahadev’, listen to something that is not religious in this sense is Jaunpuri – ‘Hu To Jayyo Piya Ke Ghar’, the kind of organization of notes, the kind of combination of notes, whatever Raga he took, he was steeped in his understanding of the fact that the swara itself was God and that his sense of God, that his sense of relationship with God would fail, if his music was not perfect. So it was swara dhyana, it was shiva dhyana and if shiva dhyana failed, the swara dhyana would not succeed and mere swara dhyana without shiva dhyana would not lead him anywhere. This was the kind of integration; this was the kind of holistic integration that kept up Mallikarjun Mansur going. Then, what does he do with other things? And therefore for him, when he talks of Rasayatra, his autobiography translated by Rajshekhar Mansur, the Rasayaatra is bhaktiyaatra and there is no bhaktiyaatra without his Rasayaatra. This was the deep profound religiosity and in that sense for him the Lingayata Dharma and the Lingayata Dharma, as I have said is not part of any sect, it is part of a vision. It is part of a cosmological vision and if that failed, what he held in hand, you must watch all those things and to listen to his music is to watch, is to see, is to visualize the power of his music and the power of his religiosity. 

If this is the background, what was it that Rajshekhar Mansur inherited? Without being in the narrow sense, an atheist, anti-religious, Rajshekhar Mansur is like us carrying a modern sensibility. He is modern in the sense that he is one who transformed his father’s profound religious metaphors into aesthetic metaphors. In fact, if you turn to Rajshekhar Mansur’s music, you will see that without having that conviction, arrogance, without having that pompous self declaratory note that he is very deeply religious. In fact, in one of my interviews, he says, ‘I am not very religious’. That doesn’t make him anti-religious or an atheist. To claim to be religious takes a certain kind of conviction or if you don’t have that conviction, if you declare, it is a pompous statement of arrogance; neither of those in him, but to say that ‘I convert the religiosity of my father into modern aesthetics’. This is the first change of registers. 

Listen to Mallikarjun Mansur – rigorous, breathtaking, virtual ascents. Into those steep, virtual climbs, you have the horizontal, the mellifluous, the melodic and a different kind of musical register, already entering Mallikarjun Mansur’s music. Look at these shades, the pieces where Rajshekhar Mansur sings with his father. Khat – ‘Vidyadhar’, the cheez or Ek Nishad Behagda – ‘Bairan Be’, or Nat Behag – ‘Jhan Jhan Jhan Paayal Baaje’. I am talking about those things where both of them sink. You will see, if the father-Guru has one kind of a climb, one kind of an ascent, the son contrasts it, provides a counterpoint. So it is not just the Shagird, not just the shishya, but one who creates a different kind of a creative blossoming which is called Upaj. If there is one major register, predominant register, it is not a hierarchical entry or a hierarchical scheme. Even as the father is singing, you will notice that this son, the disciple, already introduces contrasting registers, counterpoints and those registers that are not mere mechanical continuities, nor are they discontinuities, but musical divergences and this makes for the beauty of the Atrauli Gharana. 

The Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana is not a single shade, colour or texture, it keeps varying. I was listening carefully to Rajshekhar Mansur’s Raisa Kanada and Sampurna Malkauns of the 2003 National Programme, All India Radio. You will see that it is not Mallikarjun Mansur, it is not a story of continuity, you will see new registers, new blossoming, new Upaj. When did this take place? Not after the father passed away. In fact, when singing Jogiya Asavari with Mallikarjun Mansur and if you look at the Shudh Kalyan piece, even as the father was creating a certain kind of an Upaj, singing, sitting beside his father was Rajshekhar Mansur creating new Upaj, stunning his father, startling almost his father who acknowledges that new creative blossoming was taking place. 

It was Taleem on one hand, it was Riyaz on another. You cannot just convert learning into mere mechanical Taleem that you just learn, pick up, mechanical, monotonous that you produce, reproduce. You will have to subject the Taleem received from the Guru into your own Riyaz and therefore you are in the Guru’s Footsteps, but you are also branching off, you are making your own take-off. It is like pure gestalt. So the story of learning is the story also of creating improvisation. It cannot be as we express it in Kannada mere Gilipaatha, that you repeat it avidly. Turn to Jogiya Asavari, turn to Shudh Kalyan. As far as I make the statement, I offer it with a concrete illustration. Where did this story begin of continuities and divergences? It began with Mallikarjun Mansur himself. During one of the concerts, a very old listener, avid, I believe accosted Mallikarjun Mansur and said this was not how Alladiya Khan Saheb took it up or Manji Khan and Burji Khan Saheb. There was no argument. Mallikarjun Mansur does it exactly the way Alladiya Khan Saheb did, repeated by saying, this is how Manji Khan Saheb did and this is how Burji Khan Saheb did. I am not a stenographer, I am not here to take dictation. If I can sing the way they did, where is my adhunikata, where is this Parampara? Parampara is not a dead thing, it is not static, it is not a lifeless river, it keeps flowing. If we receive from Parampara, let us also not forget that adhunikata transforms the Parampara. It is not a one way hierarchical, vertical structure. That is why I said, verticality itself finds different kinds of bases through horizontal patterns and we cannot create hierarchical structures. 

That is why Rajshekhar Mansur reflecting on his father’s music says that there are three components. I am turning to Rajshekhar Mansur not just as a performer, but also as somebody who has theorized on his Gharana, his father’s music and his own. He says that the three vital components which is what everybody who is creative, painting or music or sculpture or poetry must be acutely conscious of. He talks of three separate paradigms – the Manan, Chintan and Manthan. Manan is also the act of thinking, conscious thinking of what you learn, what has been taught. It is a very conscious process leading to Chintan. To learn, to acquire, to imbibe simultaneously, they are not separate categories. It begins as an act of learning where you get the basics right. You can’t do anything without the basics. You can’t have a vertical takeoff on faulty grounds. But then the act of learning itself should lead to thinking and then to Manthan. These are indescribable words, but we have to use terminology to communicate. 

Manthan is to learn, to get the basics, to think, to analyse, to split it, discuss it and then to subject it to your own being that it becomes a part of your being, that being carries both your conscious and unconscious registers, unconscious aspects. Where would you find these, if I am to make statements, where would you find it in Rajshekhar Mansur’s rendering? Look at his rendering of Miya ki Todi, Laccha Sakh, Meghavali, Barari, Sughrai, Godhan Gouri. Turn to Meerabai ki Malhar which Mallikarjun Mansur sang, which Rajshekhar Mansur sings. Meera Bai ki Makhar – ‘Tum Ghan Se Ghan Shyam’ or Khokar – ‘Aaj Aanand, Mukh Chandra’. Musicians who have been singing for forty-fifty years would not even have heard of Khokar. Contrast it, look at the juxtapositions there. 

I haven’t listened to, I don’t know if they are available, certainly not Alladiya Khan Saheb, Manji Khan Saheb, Burji Khan Saheb. But I can give you right now, at least thirty to, forty to, fifty hours of the music of Mallikarjun Mansur, at least twenty-twenty five hours of Rajshekhar Mansur’s music. Together, you will see the contrast. When he sings solo, you can also look at the manner in which the tradition comes alive, the manner in which tradition has been integrated. So there is that Parampara, that tradition. But when I listen to the tradition with at least two pieces of evidences, if not the progenitors, but then the later pioneers, you will see contrasting shades, you will see enormous counter points and these are not mere musicological elements, these are not mere grammatical elements. No chaste, pure grammar will ever produce poetic paradigms. Music built on Vyakarana cannot produce musical visions, it cannot become poetic, it cannot become a paradigm. I also see this because there is this fetish of fixing swaras, fixing notes, saying that these cannot be moved or altered. This is a kind of hierarchical Puritanism which will stifle, kill and choke the music. 

What does one turn to music as an experience, as anubhava? If music is learnt, if that is Gnyana or Knowledge, then for those who haven’t learnt it, who doesn’t have the Gnyana, how does one begin to understand music as an experience, as Anubhava? This again is the whole navigation, the journey between the Aahat, what is heard, out of which you move to the Anahat. If I am listening to something, it is up to me and it is up to the musician, the creativity of the musician to produce unheard things, the Anahat. That is to say, if you have a moorta, the concrete, the physical, it is out of the moorta, you cannot end up with just the moorta, the concrete, the physical which is essential. But, it is up to me, the point that I am to make is, it is also up to listeners. It is up to those who believe that they are interested in music. Out of the Aahat, can you journey into the Anahat? Out of the Aahat, can the performer move into Anahat, meaning out of the concrete, physical, substantial solidity of the note, can move into the metaphorical, can you move into the abstract? 

There is no abstract without the physical. But the physical cannot end up as just the moorta, it must lead to the Amoorta and that is when a Raga, that is when a swara becomes, to continue with Anahat, to push it further, it becomes Anahat, to mean that it goes beyond boundaries. Hat is within the limited frame, boundaries, marked out registers. But a great musical experience is Anhat, boundless, limitless, infinite. How many can we think of? How many can we summon to memory who would move from grammar to imagination, to Anubhava, to Anubhaava? How many move from the physical core, from the physical self, to the unheard, to the abstract, to the amoorta? I would like to know. That is why Mallikarjun Mansur said that there was a time when listeners were discriminating, but we have entered times when thanks to the media, we have people who are interested, but do not understand, who do not care to understand and in recent times, thanks to great reality shows.  

If these are in the realm of swara, the other great component of the Jaipur-Atrauli, of Mallikarjun Mansur, of Rajshekhar Mansur is the notion of Laya. Laya not just in terms of Jhaptal, ten matras or twelve matras or fourteen or sixteen, holding on or moving on in a mechanical manner, but laya as time, a sense of time and that time creating its space. To have a Bandish in a particular time frame, not just the scheme of counting the maatras, but do maatras become, do they convert themselves into laya, into time and it is in time that we create spaces, that we create musical registers. How does a Taala become Laya, become time and into which words are put and that you reach the Sam wherever you are, wherever you are wandering. 

In Rasayatra, Mallikarjun Mansur talks of how you reach the Sam, created an Upaj, the Mukhda, the opening piece, how it was difficult and it came to him through Manan, Chintan, Manthan, all of a sudden like gestalt, a revelation. You may have learnt, acquired it in a mechanical manner, you won’t get it unless you do what Rajshekhar Mansur calls it as the Manthan. At that particular precise moment when all your learning, all your industry, hard work, diligence produce a flash, what the psychologists would call a gestalt – there is an explosion. Unless you get that explosion, you are not going to get it. It is this sense of the swara creating harmony, in a time frame. Laya is to be understood as time, not just the mechanical structure. And once you reach the Sam, you are already gone into the Shunya, into nothingness, so you start afresh. So this does not come through mere mechanical, habitual repetitions. It comes only when you are able to visualize through the concrete essence of the abstract. Otherwise you only create frozen structures, fossilized structures which do not explain the quality of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana or Mallikarjun Mansur or Rajshekhar Mansur. 

To look at the fetish people make of, you must turn to Rajshekhar Mansur’s articles. What are the features of a Gharana? There are those who would pick three or four and make a fetish of it as if the Gharana is based on three or four. In the pieces written in 2013, 2015 and 2017, he discusses the kind of thinking that goes into the making of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana and into the making of the musician like Rajshekhar Mansur. He says, people make too much of the Aakar, whether it is the Aakar or the Taan or the Boltaan. Does one element constitute the sole living principle of a Gharana is the whole question. Do you reduce Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana to its Aakar, to its Taan or breathtaking Boltaans or does one think of a kind of synchronization, of a kind of harmonics? So ultimately, if you ask the question what is Jaipur-Atrauli Gahrana, three, four, five, does not work in singularities. It is the bahuvachana that can work, not Ekavachana. It can work only in pluralities, in multiplicities. And therefore, if you look at swara, the Bandish, the manner in which they come together, weaving enormous infinite areas of time and space would anybody pick. This is the question to be asked of music itself and I am foregrounding it because this has been the conscious attempt of people like Mallikarjun Mansur and Rajshekhar Mansur. 

Does one talk of one singular feature as the soul or as the criterion of my musical system? If the musical system has evolved for over a century, then how much or what is the journey it has made? Just as the Zen statement says, ‘the river that flows is never the same’, just as, the music is not the same. So the musical system has never been the same. What does it acquire, what does it hone, what does it sharpen, what does it leave out? What it includes also depends on what is left out and what is left out has to be redundant, irrelevant which does not figure. If poets make their journeys from their initial phases to the later phases, so do musicians. A single musician, man or woman does not operate with a single scheme. Two musicians of the same so-called Gharana don’t operate the same. Then, how much more expansive is the nature of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana? How does it change, how has it changed, evolved, transformed and what is it that you are going to listen to in fifteen minutes from now. So the journey into the past is to look at the past from the point of view of the present and there is no present without its stories of continuities. But the present is that which has already branched out in different directions. 

Turn to this sense of time, what it is to fuse swara, with the word, with the Taala as a time sequence. I will read out from Mallikarjun Mansur himself. Listen to him through these words and that is the journey, the dynamic journey from the past to the present and from the present back to the past. Here he is talking of what it is to arrive at the Sam and the Sam is not a mere mechanical count. It is to arrive at a certain space at that moment, Time and Space. He is talking of his experience with Burji Khan Saheb:

But I must confess that it is very difficult to express in words the finer nuances of his musical genius. The cheejas that Burji Khan Saheb taught were complex bandishes. To sing and elaborate on them within the framework of a tala (time) was indeed a difficult task. Even more difficult was the approach to the sam. It was a Herculean task to synchronize the words of the song with the taal and then conjoin it with the mukhda, (or the opening words of a bandish) and once again return to the Sam. However, Burji Khan rendered these upaj with natural ease. But for me it was like performing gymnastics on a tight rope. If I was able to string in the words, the mukhda would not fit in. I somehow felt restricted… several ragas – like Basanti Kanada, Basanti Kedar, Malwi, Bihari, Shuddha Nat and many more. However, my mind was always engaged ( Rasa Yatra, 54-55). 

So it is from Manthan, Chintan to Manan, Manan to Chintan, it does not follow in the same order. The act of Manthan is also the act of Chintan, the act of Manthan is also the act of Manan. While talking in our natural, normal discourse, we talk like this. But the act of learning is also the act of listening, is also the act of improvising. And therefore, 

… One day, as I was humming a raga walking down the Halgeri lake in Dharwad I suddenly found that I was able to deliver the upaj in a varied tempo and maintain the tempo when I reached the mukhda. I also glided back to the Sam smoothly and naturally. I was ecstatic! I had been like a bare footed traveller on the hot sands of the desert (55). 

Combination of mere words, the bandish, set to a Taala, we call it the Taala which is a time scheme and creating a space while coming back to time. The moment you arrive at the Sam, you have already moved into Shunya, into nothingness, so you have to reconstruct the same. This is why an ascetic, a greater teacher, a Rishi of music, Dattatreya Sadashiv Garud, one of the recipients of the Mallikarjun Mansur award said that it was almost impossible for anybody to hold a Theka for Mallikarjun Mansur. Because he would be wandering somewhere and just when you thought, this is the Sam, arriving, the destination, the starting point, where is this man! In one breath, miraculously he would be there at the Sam. So, moving into outer space, he would land and from landing, he would move into outer space and just when you thought he was wandering, gone, aimless, a Jangama and that jangama would come back and hold his Linga and Jangama who would move to his Ishtalinga. 

To listen to Rajshekhar Mansur, to name it in philosophical terms is antinomy. Two things that appear to contradict each other, but two things that recreate, reconstruct each other and are valid in their own right. When I conclude by referring to Mallikarjun Mansur’s practice and Rajshekhar Mansur’s singing and by reflecting on it as the other great component of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana, you will also see what a lot of thinking has gone into Rajshekhar Mansur’s music – the notion of the Jod Ragas. What are Jod Ragas? Are they attachments? Basanti Kedar, Basanti Kanada, Patmanjari, Khat. Is it a combination of one-plus-one-plus one making three or three plus two making five, four plus two making six? Are we going to reduce Jod Ragas to numbers? One-plus-one-plus-one does not total up to anything is Rajshekhar Mansur’s argument. It totals up to something; perhaps we would call it the fourth dimension. That is, it creates. It is not even a synthesis that you take two pieces and join them. It is not a synthesis. You don’t synthesise, but you evolve into something else. So numerical counts don’t work, you must only listen to Rajshekhar Mansur singing all these things. Therefore Rajshekhar Mansur argues which is his music, reflection, practice, that you have to see them as Sankeerna Ragas, something very complex and complexities are not arithmetic, they are not mere mathematics. It is almost like saying when you come to the world of music three plus three can be fourteen, fifteen, eighteen, one plus one can be four. So the notion of the whole is not just the dead sum total of different parts, four plus one does not add up to five. 

This notion of the Jod is to integrate, but what is this meaning of integration? That if you bring two, three, four together, each has its identity, specific identity, particular identity blending with another, merging into another. Merge into another is not to lose one’s identity. It is not a question of loss of identity. When the two come together, holding on to their identities that the spark of the third or the fourth or the fifth emerge. Then what are these Jod Ragas? Rajshekhar Mansur says reflecting on the Aprachalit Ragas – not heard and when you haven’t heard something, it means two things – that there aren’t people who are able to give expression, abhivyakti to them. It also means, the aprachalit, not known, not heard means that the Anahat becomes Aahat. You are giving voice to what is not heard and something that is not heard is not something that can never be heard. It doesn’t work like that, binary opposites don’t work. Jod as complex and complexities are heterogeneous, they are not homogeneous entities. They are diversities, pluralities. They move at horizontal plane. In and out of the horizontal plane, something springs up in a vertical manner and what is vertical creates its own horizontal space. So factors of time and space are not factors that are fixed or static. They are so dynamic and dynamism is something that cannot be controlled. If you try to control dynamic elements of nature, which is what music is all about, then you have stifled it, killed it, choked it. These are Rajshekhar Mansur’s reflections. 

A Jod Raga is to be understood as a very complex process, not a finished product.  Processes do not complete themselves. Their designs multiply, their designs go beyond imagination and their designs defy easy simplistic categorizations and to talk of the Aprachalit which is also what Mallikarjun Mansur commissioned his son, his shishya Rajshekhar Mansur to do is that the world must have more of the aprachalit which is another way of saying that the Anahat must become Aahat. Once it becomes Aahat, what is heard, what is shared goes to the Samudaya and then it enters the territory of the Hat moving into the Anahat, the boundless. Music has its grammar, poetry has its grammar and out of grammar, you create metaphors and the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana lives on with Rajshekhar Mansur through poetic metaphors that transform themselves into notes and become musical metaphors. 

At the end, I wish Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur a prosperous musical Journey for many more years to come and we the connoisseurs get the benefit of listening to his great music.  

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