On a light note

Mood for music

On a light note

Music has always been the life and soul of this man — especially sugama sangeetha or light music. He moved towns, learnt music from different teachers, and finally gave up a decent paying job in pursuit of music. Meet Upasana Mohan, the man whose name today is synonymous with sugama sangeetha — being associated as a composer, singer and teacher.

Mohan’s music school known as Upasana School of Light Music has trained more than 10,000 artistes, and is responsible for popularising this musical genre. Over the years, his school has slowly and steadily progressed, and its popularity has earned Mohan the prefix ‘Upasana’.

Learning curve

Mohan was born in Mysuru to Bhagayalakshmi and Jayaram. He lost his father very early in life, and hence moved to Mandya to live with his maternal grandfather Srikantha Shastry. His grandfather was a purohit and also a music scholar who trained students. Mohan grew up listening to Carnatic music, but despite having a teacher at home, he did not learn from his grandfather. He explains, “I was not serious about music then.” It was when he turned 18 that Mohan realised he wanted to do something different with his life, and became keen on pursuing music. Both the classical form and the folk songs of Mandya ignited the passion for music in him. Mohan then learnt Carnatic music from his guru Srivatsa for almost five years. In the meanwhile, after completing a diploma course, he moved to Bengaluru in search of work.

Mohan set up an electronics servicing store. He attended music classes during the day and took care of the shop in the evenings. To expand his musical knowledge, he learnt Hindustani music as well. Mohan knew that a strong foundation in classical music would help him in the pursuit of sugama sangeetha. He also enrolled for light music classes with Sadhana Music Academy. He says, “Classical music is like the mother of all musical forms. It lays a good foundation and helps one to explore different ragas.”

When the store timings started clashing with his music activities, he did not hesitate to close the shop, and took up a job with Philips as a service engineer and devoted his evenings to music. During the seven years with Philips, Mohan was fortunate to meet light music exponent G V Atri and became his disciple. Later, when Atri started Sangeetha Ganga, Mohan left his job and joined him as an instructor. He then went on to become its principal. “Atri was a remarkable person. He introduced me to so many singers and composers. He is responsible for my growth as an artiste.”

Music for the masses

Spurred by his passion to do something meaningful in the field of light music, Mohan started his own music school in June 1999, which he rightly named ‘Upasana’, meaning worship. “I am thankful to all my friends who helped me set up the school, especially Harini Sathyaprakash, who lent me a prime space on DVG Road in Basavangudi to start the school,” he says. Today, as the school celebrates its 17th anniversary, Mohan continues to run the institute from the same premises. Thousands of students have passed through the portals of this institution, and several of them have become singers of repute. Mohan not only trained the students, but also provided them a visible platform to present their talent. Moreover, Mohan soon turned a composer. “I was quite impressed by the poems written by several Kannada poets and litterateurs, and soon started creating tunes for these poems.” His songs became hugely popular, so much so that no light music concert was complete without artistes singing at least one of his compositions.

Mohan wanted to popularise sugama sangeetha and take it to the masses. To achieve this, he started the unique programme of Maneya Angaladalli Sugama Sangeetha (light music in the courtyard), where the troupe visited a locality, and performed in the house of a resident. Other residents of the locality would assemble in that house and enjoy the music. This was a big hit and was extremely successful.  

Mohan also visited villages and towns to conduct workshops in light music. His other path-breaking achievement was to release a karaoke CD with recorded music for aspiring singers to sing along. He also penned a book about the leading stalwarts of light music — he researched and profiled 27 artistes in this book.

The underlying force behind this dedication is his passion and devotion to sugama sangeetha. As he says, “Bhava geethe is the art form I love and worship. I will do anything and everything to ensure that this art form flourishes!”A heartfelt statement from a true artiste.

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