Striking the right chord

Striking the right chord


Striking the right chord

Tradition rules: A statue of goddess Saraswathi and an array of brass antiques draw attention at the musician’s home.  Photos by  the author

The goddess Saraswathi, in resplendent white marble, smiles benignly down at us as we stand before her. “Fold your hands and offer a prayer and she will bless you,” urges Shyamala Bhave. We are in the music school of this renowned musician who is known as Ubhaya Gaana Vidushi, adept at singing both Hindustani and Carnatic vocal music, and the resplendent statue occupies centrestage in the music school Saraswati Sangeeta Vidyalaya which is situated in Shyamala’s home. 

The custom-made statue was created by a well-known shilpi (sculptor) from Rajasthan with meticulous attention to tradition. So, the goddess who is described as Shwetambari wears white, she has her right leg placed over the left and is seated on a swan (Hamsavahini). “It was even installed in Moola Nakshatra, the birth star of the goddess, as ordained by tradition,” explains musician Vageesh Bhat, who is Shyamala’s disciple and cousin and an expert in recitation of Vedic mantras and other shlokas.

Of tablas, sarangis, veenas

The music-room is crammed with tamburas, tablas, harmoniums, sarangis and Saraswati veenas.

There is even a grand dual-gourd Rudra Veena, an instrument rarely heard on the concert stage nowadays. On another side is a western-style piano while a leg-harmonium is placed in another corner.

Once used by the redoubtable musician, Tiger Varadachari, the harmonium arrived here in a dilapidated condition and was lovingly restored.

Shyamala is not only a formidable vocalist but can also play five instruments: veena, jaltharang, sitar, harmonium and western-style piano, which accounts for the variety of instruments. The shelves are bursting with mementoes, souvenirs and  trophies, received by this much-feted musician.  

Brass everywhere

Tradition rules: A statue of goddess Saraswathi and an array of brass antiques draw attention at the musician’s home.  Photos by  the authorThe rest of Shyamala’s house is also as much about tradition. Though wood, glass, bronze, panchaloha and silver items exist, the overwhelming choice of material is brass, for which Shyamala has a fascination. There are scores of exquisite old-style brass objects from ornate lamps, and figures of gods and goddesses to small boxes in every conceivable niche and on tabletops.

From an exquisite antique Dashavatara lamp to a unique piece which has Meera on one side and Ganesha on the other, the home sports many beautiful specimens of traditional Indian brasswork.

Whenever Shyamala visits a temple, she heads straight for the stores selling brass items. “Often, you find these stores around Indian temples, especially lining the street leading to the temple.”

She even scours the dumps of brass stores. These heaps contain old and unwanted brass objects brought by their owners either to be sold away or melted. “Such dumps often contain some really beautiful pieces, and though most of them tend to be broken or bent, many items are intact and perfectly usable.” She points to an unusual Garuda lamp with dual niches for wicks which was found by her at one such dump in a small brass shop near Kanchipuram. “I got this beauty by sifting through so many objects and now it occupies pride of place in my  music-practice room,” she reveals.

Piece de resistance

The most striking object and an immediate eyecatcher is an antique hanging brass-lamp. It has Lord Vishnu in a reclining position with Brahma too who has arisen from his navel. Vishnu is fronted by Thumburu and Narada, both holding their respective musical instruments, and there is also, unusually, a Shivalinga before Vishnu. Around are intricately carved Dashavataras or 10 incarnations of Vishnu topped by apsaras (celestial beauties).   

Furniture and artifacts

There are lots of elegant wooden furniture and artifacts too. Like the painted sofa sets and chairs from Gujarat and Maharashtra.

A striking pair is the set of two chairs, resembling human figures, made of wood and painted colourfully. These chairs are Ekaandis, explains Shyamala, i.e made from a single piece of wood. The dining room entrance is edged by two large pillars in neem-wood made by an award-winning craftsman from Srikalahasthi temple town in Andhra Pradesh.

Wooden, brass, bronze and panchaloha idols of Madurai Meenakshi, Rama and Seeta, Vishnu and Krishna occupy niches in the corners of most rooms.

And yet though every corner of the house resembles a worship area with its profusion of statues of gods and lamps, there is also a separate puja room where the family deity is installed along with other gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon.

Even the entrance to the home has old-style teakwood pillars sourced from Kundapur. Above the pillars are wooden panels sourced at a throwaway price from Kumbakonam, Madurai and Chennai and assembled to form an arch. This design was Shyamala and Vageesh’s idea. The entrance is accessorised with a variety of brass objects.

The most striking piece when you enter the home is the large painting in the drawing room. Created by Umesh Mehta in the style of the Kangra School of Painting, it has human representations of the prahar ragas from Hindustani classical music. A total of 36 ragas are displayed here in miniature style.

For all the love of tradition, Shyamala does not much believe in Vaastu.
The house does not follow Vaastu rules except for the cardinal principle of an east-facing front door. Everything, from furniture to items of décor, is arranged either according to aesthetics or simply convenience. 

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