Keeping alive a fast-vanishing art form

Keeping alive a fast-vanishing art form

Keeping alive a fast-vanishing art form

At 81, Dharmik Pandya barely has the energy to perform an Aakhyan. But for the sake of keeping alive a dying art, Pandya never says no to an invitation which many a time come even from other parts of the country.

Travelling is difficult for Pandya and performing for two hours at a stretch is even more difficult. But for the sake of creating awareness among younger generation and for the love of the art, Pandya never refuses to perform even in the worst of weather conditions.

Aakhyan is a century-old tradition where a Leela of the gods or poems are presented by a person and sung in the folklore form. The performance lasts for over two hours and is done by an individual with a person accompanying on the tabla and another on the harmonium. The perfor­mance of Aakhyan is done throughout in Gujarati with sprinkling of Sanskrit. A favourite art form with the Maharaja of Baroda Sayajirao Gaekwad, it was encouraged not only by him but also the maharani and later the son of Sayajirao, Ranjitsinh Gaekwad, who passed away recently.

Speaking about the form of this art, the artist said: “When there were no tabla and harmoniums, a manjira was used.’’  He said that the narrator-- and at present he being the only one in Gujarat-- also performs with a mann (or ghada) and for that, too, the person gets a special training. The person also called the maanbhatt has to have a trained voice for singing as well.

For Pandya, he has been lucky that his father had given him an all round training beginning from the narration, reading of Sanskrit and playing the ghada. Pandya also received a training in singing from his father. The process of the narration was on from the time of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad, who would then invite Dharmik’s father to the palace and take him around if there were requests for  performances in other neighbouring kingdoms. “I would accompany him as a child to play the manjira and grew up with this tradition and that was like my formal education,” said Pandya.

He said after the maharaja even maharani Shantadevi Gaekwad, too, encouraged the performances and would call them if they had guests at the palace. He recalls as a child many a time they would be out of home for days. His father and he both specialised in the narration of proses of Narsinh Mehta and even of famous poet Zaverichand Meghani.
“Their poems are restricted to books and not many youngsters are aware of some of the
poems but through the narration of Aakhyan they do develop interest,” said Pandya.
People outside the state, who are not  aware of the poets of Gujarat, prefer hearing the Bhagwad Gita or parts of the Mahabharata in the folklore form.

Pandya said that the way his father had passed on the tradition to him of narrating Aakhyan, he, too, would have loved to pass on the tradition to his two sons. “I have taught them the traits of Aakhyan and they too have picked up, but they do not perform in public platforms and they do not have the time as well,” said Pandya.

He admitted that in the present day of the so many avenues of entertainment available it is difficult to sustain an art form like Aakhyan.

He said that though his sons who are engaged in alternative employment do
realise that they need to protect the dying form of art but they understand that they are not able to give the time and the attention that it requires.

“We are trying to help our father by taking him to various venues,” said his younger son Mayank Pandya. He said that recently he had been to Maharashtra and the performance was appreciated. “He has been touring many parts of Gujarat where members of royal families  still live, as they are the ones who are aware of the history of this form,” said Mayank. He said with the internet being a powerful medium they have uploaded a lot of their father’s performances on various websites which youth access so that they are at least made aware of this art form and not remain totally ignorant about it.

For an optimistic Dharmikbhai, he is glad that his sons are making some attempt to keep the art form alive but sadly concludes that there would be no one to talk about Narsinh Mehta which has been one of his favourite narrations apart from the Bhagwad Gita.

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