Songs from The Past

In the late 1880s,when Marathi natyasangeet (musical drama) came into existence,it was common for playwrights such as Annasaheb Kirloskar and Govind Ballal Deval to compose music for their plays.

Written by Garima Mishra | Published: May 31, 2013 3:22 am

As the famous Marathi musical drama Vidyaharan turns 100 today,we look at a few members of the Society of Indian Record Collectors who have traced its original songs

In the late 1880s,when Marathi natyasangeet (musical drama) came into existence,it was common for playwrights such as Annasaheb Kirloskar and Govind Ballal Deval to compose music for their plays. The trend was broken when Krushnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar wrote Vidyaharan,a famous musical drama that was staged exactly a century ago, on May 31,1913,for the first time. Since Khadilkar was neither a poet nor a musician himself,he collaborated with four music composers — Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale,Balgandharva,Govindrao Tembe and Ganpatrao Bodas. The three-act play,which was originally over five hours long,had as many as 60 songs and they were based on classical and semi-classical bandish compositions. Moreover,they were performed by popular artistes such as Malka Jaan,Janakibai,Johrabai and Gauhar Jaan,among others.

A year ago,a group of classical music and theatre enthusiasts,who are also members of the Society of Indian Record Collectors (SIRC),decided to trace the original tunes on which the songs of Vidyaharan are based. The task — considering the bandish compositions were more than a century old — was not only time-consuming but difficult as well. “All the members have their individual collection of Vidyaharan songs but the real task was to first trace the original song and then find the person who possessed that particular record,” says Pune-based Pramod Thakur Desai. A lawyer by profession,Desai says that some of the songs of Vidyaharan were recorded in private and never sold in the market. For instance,Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale’s song Rajan ke raj maharaj in raag Bihaag became an inspiration for Ho tanay kaal,sung by Balgandharva in Vidyaharan. “None of Bakhale’s renditions were available on records. However,we found it with Mumbai-based Vikrant Ajgaonkar,a member of SIRC. He has four cylindrical wax records which were recorded in a private mehfil. This is extremely rare,” says Desai.

Likewise,the members traced the origin of each and every Vidyaharan song. For example,Janakibai’s Jamuna tat rama khelat hori provided a base for Vidyaharan’s Bin badal bijuri,sung by Mallikarjun Mansoor.

A week ago,their collection of the original recordings marked Vidyaharan’s centenary celebrations at Balgandharva Rangmandir,which was accompanied by the group playing the original renditions as well as songs from Vidyaharan. Apart from Desai and Ajgaonkar,other SIRC members who researched for the Vidyaharan project include Ram Page,Adwait Dharmadhikari,Shyam Sawant,Sanjay Raut and Raju Paranjape.

The play,originally presented by Kirloskar Natak Mandali,had several theatre groups of Maharashtra bringing their own improvisations. The last experiment was done in 1994. “Staging this musical drama was not simple. It was easy to get an actor or a singer,but Vidyaharan required an actor who could sing on the stage. Most theatre groups chose to drop the songs,” says Desai.

The play is based on the mythological tale about the battle between gods and asuras (demons),where gods are defeated again and again. Shukracharya,guru of the asuras,possesses the knowledge of sanjeevani,a medicine that can bring one back from the dead. This is when Brahaspati,guru of the gods,sends his son Kach to obtain Shukracharya’s knowledge of sanjeevani. The theme of Vidyaharan,which literally means abduction of knowledge,revolves around this.

“The larger message that the play gives is through the journey of Kach,who decides to use his knowledge for the betterment of his people and his land,despite the fact that he loves Shukracharya’s daughter,Devyani. In those days,it was common for students to go abroad for studies and

settle there. Khadilkar wanted to persuade youngsters to come back to their motherland,” says Desai.

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