Set to voice divine tunes

Carnatic music

Set to voice divine tunes

‘U dgitha’. An appropriate name for the dwelling of a man whose calling in life is singing — singing the glory of the divine being through the compositions of the greats of Carnatic music. Chandogya Upanishad, a part of Sama Veda, identifies the Veda’s music, known as Saman, with the highest reality, Brahman. This Saman singing is also called udgitha, the very essence of the Vedas.

As one enters the living room of singer Vidyabhushana, one of the leading singers of Karnataka and perhaps, the unrivalled master of Haridasa music, the words of the polymath scholar V Raghavan spring to mind. “The muse yields only to those who can see her, not to others. Speech gets refined in the throats of men of intellect, just as grains are in passing through a sieve (Rig Veda). Whoever is thus blessed becomes truly formidable, a singer, a man of fine intellect.”

Musical influences

Talking to Vidyabhushana, the cumulative effects of the impressions of previous lives (vasanas) and the present dedication to his chosen field are quite apparent. The circumstances of his birth bear testimony to this. Born to a pious father Govindacharya, who was with the famous Kukke Subrahmanya Math and who was also a musician, Vidyabhushana was exposed not only to religious rites and practices from a young age, but also to various devotional hymns and Yakshagana music, of which his father was a regular participant. This informal initiation bloomed his talent further when he took over as the pontiff of Kukke Subrahmanya Math. 

His musical abilities were noticed, as he was requested to sing during religious observances. When asked whether it was not unusual for a presiding pontiff to deviate from the established practice of conducting rituals, expositions of the scriptures and guiding people, he says it is nothing new. He quotes the text Madhwa Vijaya, where the great Madhvacharya himself used to sing with his disciple Hrishikesha Tirtha.

He also mentions that other saints like Sripadaraja and Vadiraja used to sing, maybe not in a form that is seen now. Here, he fondly remembers his performances with Shri Shri Vishwesha Tirtha Swamiji of Pejawar Math, a combination of his music and expositions by the latter.

On being pressed to hone his musical skills further, he learnt from Narayana Aithal of Udupi, for more than six years, the aspects of Carnatic music in the midst of his responsibilities as the head of Kukke Math. Desiring to learn more, he sought the guidance of maestro R K Srikantan. This period saw him acquiring a grip over the finer aspects of Carnatic music. The Srikantan stamp of importance to ‘Manodharma’, the creative side of music in raga elaboration, delineation of select passages (neraval) and swara elaboration with clear pronunciation is evident in his music. Later on, he received guidance from another notable personality, T V Gopalakrishnan.

Capturing voice

The first thing to strike a listener of Vidyabhushana’s music is his voice. Resonant, sonorous, melodious and vibrant with a flexibility that allows for unhindered expression of musical ideas. Next is his intonation. Clear and precise, delivered with feeling and emotion. Here, his knowledge of Sanskrit and various religious texts stand him in good stead, enabling him to sing with an understanding of the lyrics.

Though perfectly capable of giving a full-fledged Carnatic concert, starting from varnam and proceeding to a pallavi, he has come to be identified more with the Kannada compositions of Haridasas. When asked about this, he says audiences greatly enjoy his renderings of these compositions that prompts him to satisfy their requests.

When the auditorium resonates to his ugabhoga, Jagava suttihudu ninne maye, or Kanakadasa’s Haribhaktisara Deena Nanu, or Purandaradasa’s Tamburi Meetidava, an ethereal atmosphere with divinity permeates all around that sends the audience into raptures.

If Haridasas saw music as a means of glorification of the Lord, Vidyabhushana sees his music as a soothing balm, to draw people’s attention to the path of righteousness and spirituality.

A doctorate from the Hampi Kannada University for his dissertation on Dasa sahitya and music, this internationally renowned artiste, through his organisation ‘Bhakti Bharati Pratisthana’, strives to popularise the Haridasa compositions, echoing Purandaradasa’s words ‘Hari Hari ennalikke hottilla’.

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