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The melodious raag Durga

Wednesday, August 15, 2018
By Amarendra Dhaneshwar

Very few people know that the harmonium is an instrument of Western origin. It has evolved from the piano, which has the keyboard as the main medium of sound production. The harmonium was invented by a Frenchman in the 1840's and it soon arrived in India. Till then, the sarangi was the main instrument for accompaniment to vocal music.

The harmonium, which was easy to handle, play and master, soon replaced the sarangi. Bhaiyya Ganpatrao, the brother of the Gwalior Prince Jivajirao, was acknowledged as the master of the harmonium as well as the thumri form. Another reason for the setback to the sarangi was the social stigma attached to it. It was wrongly equated with the decadent culture of the nautch girls and 'tawaifs'.

There were a number of objections raised against the harmonium. The main was its staccato nature and also that it was an instrument based on the tempered scale. However, soon these objections receded to the background and the harmonium began to dominate the concert platform although it was discarded by the West. Over the last few decades the harmonium has also been making its impact as an instrument fit even for a solo recital. Many veteran harmonists have been giving a solo recital which has found acceptance from the audience. Harmony Music Foundation,which has been guided and inspired by the senior noted harmonist Vishwanath Kanhere, reserves a slot for a solo harmonium performance at many of its events. On Sunday evening, it was Dr Dilip Gaitonde who held us spellbound with his hour-long performance on the harmonium. Dr Gaitonde is the son of the eminent tabla player Suresh alias Bhai Gaotonde. Although a practicing doctor, he has enviable command of the instrument. He played the raga 'Durga' which has innate sweetness. He extracted the maximum possible juice or 'rasa' out of it with his deft and nimble fingers. He also played a captivating 'Pahadi dhun' and a 'Pilu' bhajan popularised by the legendary singer-actor –  the late Ram Marathe.

Hemant Gandharva, a singer trained in the Rampur Saheswan tradition, sang a 'khyal' in the raga ' Rageshri Kauns'. It was an odd combination, but the singer could make an impact with his clarity of 'taans' and well-conceived 'alaps'. He also sang a breezy composition in the raga 'Gaud Malhar'. It was a competent and remarkable performance. He was accompanied with distinction on the harmonium by Sudheer Yardi. Omkar Agnihotri (harmonium) and Tejovrush Joshi lent superb support to the artistes of the evening. Smita Gavankar conducted the show with unparelled grace.

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