The Benaras tradition or gharana of Hindustani has its home in Kashi -- the nagari of Baba Vishwanath.
The passing on of knowledge in music -- from gurus to their children or disciples, works on two levels in Kashi or Benaras. Shiva the creator, bearer, the performer of tandav. It is in him that naad -- the eternal sound of the brahmand, laya and taal breathe. Ganesh, his son, the bearer and keeper of the deepest spiritual realities, music, naad, beauty. Buddhipriya, Kiriti, Naadapratisthitah, Sarvasiddhanta, Surupa, is Ganesh.
Ganesh, the son of Shiva, is the receiver of vidyas from his father, part of which are his deep insights on laya and taal. That's the first level on which knowledge in laya, taal and naad, flows.
The other level where knowledge in music and percussion is passed on from guru to shishya, is the guru shishya parampara of the Benaras gharana -- the tradition within the tradition of Hindustani music. Rasa, bhaava, bhakti -- the Benaras gharana doesn't think music without these. The gharana doesn't delve into percussion without keeping Shiva's taal and laya as the nerve of music "tapasya" and the performing arts.
In Benaras and Benaras gharana of the Hindustani music tradition, Ganesh -- the son of Shiva, is celebrated as the deity who is so immersed in the laya and taal that the devotee-musician himself becomes the voice and instrument of Ganesha's musical insight, his genius.
Ganesha is worshipped as the deity who stirs a deep spiritual evolution and gives answers to several mysteries that reverberate gently in laya and taal. He is understood and imagined to be the greatest percussionist. The descriptions of him playing the mridangam, pakhawaj and tabla have occupied the vocalists and percussionists of the Benaras gharana for generations. Percussion greats such as Pandit Ram Sahai, Pandit Baldeo Sahai, Pandit Kanthe Maharaj and Pandit Kishan Maharaj.
This author spoke to Shubh Maharaj, disciple of Pandit Kishan Maharaj, for this article. Shubh points out that his guru and the stalwart elders, the founders of the Benaras gharana of tabla, worked immensely on establishing the work on the baayaan and the daayaan (the two units of the tabla -- the left and the right). It was for this work, sprawled over centuries for thought and execution, that musicality, lyrical quality, bhaava, rasa, flooded into the repository of compositions in the Benaras style of tabla-playing.
Pandit Kanthe Maharaj, the great tabla artiste from Benaras and his disciple, Pandit Kishan Maharaj, represent that one pair in the guru-shishya parampara of Benaras Gharana where bhakti for the deities was essential to the learning of music. Pandit Kishan Maharaj said that when one receives knowledge and training from a good guru, even the tabla finds speech.
This, he has said in the context of the Ganesh Paran. He performed it at the end of his performance to become synonymous with the Ganesh Paran itself. Alongside his music tapasya in taal paksh, in alaap, jod, jhala embedded within the Benaras style of performing the tabla, he preserved, most religiously, the Ganesh Paran.
This is how the Ganesh Paran -- the celebration of Ganesh in percussion music -- exclusive to the Benaras Gharana, describes Ganesh in the beginning.
The template of the performance of the Ganesh Paran consists of three layers.
One: the reciting or the vaachan of the Paran.
Two: Maharaj ji's own explanation of the bols in the sahitya -- in which he dwells upon the deeper meanings of the percussive words in the way they were used in poetry to convey those deeper meanings.
Three: the performance of the Ganesh Paran on the tabla. The third and the final layer would lay open the rare blend of poetry, bhakti and percussive elements in the Ganesh Paran that are as inseparable as distinct they appear.
One distinct aspect to note here is that the Ganesh Paran exists as a self sufficient composition to be performed in the praise of Ganesh on percussion. It is not merely a collection of percussive sounds and bols that go on to embellish a larger another. This quality of the Paran on the tabla in general, and the Ganesh Paran in particular, makes it different and remarkably different from sacred compositions from revered poets. "Ek ek shabd tabla kehta."
Lambodar Sohe—will appear as they are on the tabla. They speak themselves.
Perhaps only the ears of Ganesh have the capacity to appreciate the virtuosity in the Paran dedicated to him when played by Maharaj ji.
Knowledge - spiritual, music, percussion, and the performing arts would not have thrived in Benaras in the absence of the guru-shishya parampara in Benaras gharana the way it did, without Sanatan bhakti as the pivot. Shiva, Ganesh, Durga and deities continue to be the reason and receivers of the gharana's continuing journey, even as several of its stalwarts have walked over.
Legacy in music is not built on musicality alone. As the vibrant eruption of younger generations embracing the Carnatic tradition and the thriving (surviving) gharanas in the Hindustani tradition indicate, deities worshipped in Sanatan dharma, themselves, protect the intangible heritage of bhakti-driven classical music. The Kalinga Nartana tillana is one such Krishna teertha in music.
Compositions celebrated in the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions, percussive sounds and sound sets, and in the vast, vast sound universe of the percussion instruments, reflect the thought, mind, and movement of Shiva and Ganesha as they behold the bhaktas and brahmand alike. The sagacious sound universe of the Avanaddh vadya, percussion instruments that consist of skin for the producing of sound vibrations, in particular, is considered to be the closest to the percussive language flowing between father and son -- Shiva and Ganesh.
The Benaras gharana offers the deities the grandest celebration of their inherent beauty, powers, strengths, and of the interaction with the bhaktas. Benaras is where the deities themselves seem to guide the most honest creators of sangeet -- vocal music, percussion and nritya (dance) -- as exists the definition.
Pandit Kishan Maharaj was taught the Ganesh Paran by Pandit Kanthe Maharaj ji. Pandit Kishan Maharaj was truly a prolific artiste, thinker and creator. The reimagination of the Ganesh Paran by Pandit Kishan Maharaj in another medium was inevitable. The Ganesh Paran kept him so occupied for several decades that he decided to give another expression, another dimension to his "tapasya" in music to Ganesh.
This medium was not music. Or was it? It wasn't laya and taal either. No. It was. There was laya-taal dimension and music to this other expression of the Ganesh Paran that Maharaj ji created.
What is it I am talking about?
A sculpture. Maharaj ji himself created a sculpture of Ganesh inspired by the musical details in the Ganesh Paran. This happened in the 1960s. He found that the attention to details and bhava came naturally. It took him four months of intense hard work to make the Ganesh Paran emerge in the sculpture in its "sakshat roop" -- truest form.
The sculpture was inaugurated in the presence of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Sitara Devi ji among others, in Benaras in 1966. These greats performed on the occasion. Such was the celebration of Ganesha vibrating in the Kashi of Baba Vishwanath.
In 2003, this author was in Benaras during summer. It was the time and year when a long patch of ill-health had hit Ustad Bismillah Khan. A visit to Kabir Chaura, the famous locality home to some of the greatest gems of the Benaras Gharana once upon a time, was essential. Fortunately, Pandit Kishan Maharaj was at his residence. Maharaj ji generously gave this author a tour of some spaces at his home, while narrating the moments and history that were made here and arrived here. These spaces had most mattered to his "tapasya" in music.
During this precious tour, he gave this author a glimpse of the murti of Ganesh -- a depiction inspired by the Ganesh Paran.
"Bhuja chaar, ek dantt, chandrama lalaat raaje..."
This author's sight, back then, first fell on Ganesha's forehead in Maharaj ji's creation. The "chandrama" on the forehead, the eyes, and the chandrama's own interaction with Ganesha's eyes, they seemed to indicate that the Ganesh Paran is reflective of the unity in Ganesh's perception of dhyaan, naad, laya.
The bhujas, the four arms of Ganesha playing the mridanga, are supposed to be the focal point of the visual depiction of the Paran because it is here that the action, the kriya of playing resides. Yet, Maharaji ji's vaachan of the Ganesh Paran, his performance of this Paran on the tabla respond directly to the meditative stance in Ganesha's posture as a percussionist.
Ganesh Paran is poetry depicted on a percussion instrument. Words of poetry interspersed in the bols of the tabla are played in the tabla in a way, in performance, in sound, as if the tabla is speaking those words in the praises of Ganesha to establish him as the entity and edifice of laya and taal.
The Ganesh Paran makes Ganapati emerge as the provider of an unparalleled musical experience to the devas themselves. Laya and taal come to him from his father, Shiva, the source of the tandava. Why should, then, Ganesh not immerse himself in laya and taal to hold and bind the attention of the Trinity by a pensive conversation with percussion and percussive elements?
"Brahma Vishnu Mahesh,
Ati Vichitra ..."
The Trinity doesn't just listen. They even give the taal -- the rhythmic accompaniment, they sing dhrupad to Ganesh...
Ganesh performs what is described as "ati vichitra".
Shubh Maharaj points out that Maharaji's bhakti for Ganesh and the immersive experience seems to come alive in the sculpture of Ganesh made by him. Shubh Maharaj himself does not perform the Ganesh Paran before the audience. Like several disciples who do not attempt some aspects, elements, ragas and compositions out of respect for the guru, Shubh, performs only the vaachan -- the recitation from the mouth.
The rendition of the Ganesh Paran by Pandit Kishan Maharaj has become synonymous with the Ganesh Paran itself. Maharaj ji's own take signifies its sound, form, aesthetics, character and expression as it exists in the spiritual realm. Pandit Kishan Maharaj's work on the Ganesh Paran is that episode of greatness in Indian classical music that appears as the most divine prasad to the deity himself. For Shubh to attempt it on the tabla would be, similar to attempting a redo of the same prasad.
Shubh points out that the legacy of Pandit Baldeo Sahai ji was passed on to Pandit Kanthe Maharaj. From Pandit Kanthe Maharaj the Ganesh Paran travelled over to Pandit Kishan Maharaj. He says, "Bachpan se Ganesh ji ki taraf shraddha thhee. There are some musical aspects that touch the heart. Aur jeevan bhar ka rishta ban jaat hai unse."
When Shubh heard Maharaj ji play the Ganesh Paran for the first time, it led to curiosity for the aspects enclosed in it. The first aspect to sift out quickly was that the Ganesh Paran was one of the unique renditions specific to the Benaras gharana alone. It is in the Benaras gharana where the gods are offered renditions on the tabla. "The musical greats and artists from Benaras were spiritually and religiously inclined. They had a spiritual and religious approach. The stutis dedicated to the Sanatan devi devatas on percussion instruments are exclusive to the gharana."
He adds, "In dance and tabla, there were artistes who were poets and they created great compositions. Benaras to teerth hai. Maharajji's gharana has preserved 25-40 such compositions. In a period of nearly 200 years, these aspects have filtered down and are moving towards extinction."
I asked Shubh Maharaj which part of the Ganesh Paran in its rendition by his guru fascinates him for how the particular set of words are interpreted on tabla and taal.
He answers: "Ati vichitra".
"Ati vichitra" -- Ganesh, the Ganesh Paran, the devotee in Pandit Kishan Maharaj and our intangible heritage emerging from the Benaras gharana.
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