The strains of a long alaap and the tinkling of ghungroos greet us at the entrance to Gandharva Vidayalaya located at central Delhi’s Vishnu Digambar Marg. The heady harmonic surges open a world of notes and rhythms that are intrinsic to the cultural tapestry of the country. “The case was different in the first half of the 20th century,” says eminent vocalist Madhup Mudgal. “Musical concerts for people were unheard of and musical training in general was looked down upon,” he adds. Mudgal’s parents, Vinay Chandra Maudgalya and Padma Devi, set up Gandharva Mahavidyalaya on a shoestring in 1939. The school, which pioneered musical trends across India, became synonymous with training in Indian classical music and dance apart from showcasing some of the finest musicians in the country, has turned 75.
From the time when Maudgalya, fondly called bhaiji, went around town on his bicycle urging parents to send their children, especially girls, to learn classical music, to today, when the office is inundated with thousands of applications, the institution has come a long way. Mudgal, the present principal, recalls his days as a young boy when the institute was housed in Prem House, Connaught Place, also Maudgalya’s residence where he and his wife taught. To its students and visiting artistes, the institute soon became an open house for music, affection, advice, and even some delicious food. “It was not just about learning the sargam. It was about teaching value systems to those who walked in,” says Mudgal. The school moved to Vishnu Digampar Marg in 1974.
Maudgalya had learnt music in Lahore at the first Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, which was established in 1901 in Lahore by Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, a maverick musician who rendered the original hymn Raghupati raghav raja ram. In 1939, he decided to set up one in Delhi. This was the time when music was for the classes and not masses. Confined to royal chambers, the system did mot reach the general population. Musicians including Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan and Ustad Hafeez Ali Khan were all court musicians. As for the learning of it, the seven notes were to be explored at the feet of a guru in a rigorous system of guru-shishya parampara. “Music education in a school was unheard of. Gaana bajaana uss samay utna achha bhi nahi maante the (At that time playing music was not considered nice). Institutionalising music was a big step in allowing India’s heritage to seep into young minds,” says Mudgal.
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The institute also turned the gharana system on its head. Most gharanas or traditional schools of music were always strict about their kind of music and possessive about their bandishes and other music structures. “We invited many musicians to perform. You could take many things from so many gharanas,” he says.
There is hardly a name on the Hindustani music firmament that has not performed at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. The festivals by the institute have hosted Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (he was only 12 at the time), Pt Jasraj and Pt Ravi Shankar. There are also the rare concerts with Bal Gandharva, Kishori Amonkar and Gangubai Hangal.