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‘String’ operation: Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt,father of Mohan Veena

Once upon a time,Western innovations like the harmonium,violin and the mandolin were considered alien to Indian classical music. Over the years,however,they came to be accepted in the realm of Indian music and there were more that joined the list.

Written by Sukumarmtrivedi | Ahmadabad |
January 7, 2009 12:24:34 am

Once upon a time,Western innovations like the harmonium,violin and the mandolin were considered alien to Indian classical music. Over the years,however,they came to be accepted in the realm of Indian music and there were more that joined the list.

Grammy Award winner Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is the best known exponent of the Mohan Veena,an instrument that he himself developed. Surprisingly enough,the maestro did not pursue a career in music in his youth. Even the Mohan Veena was an “accidental” development.

Bhatt had been preparing for the Civil Services Examination and simultaneously learning the sitar from his father in Jaipur when he met a girl student who had a Spanish Guitar. “I liked the pretty German girl very much; but I liked her guitar even more and chose the latter for a lifelong relationship,” said Bhatt with a mischievous smile. It was this guitar that he eventually transformed into the Mohan Veena.

“As a young man,I was restless and energetic and always wanted to do things in a new way. When I saw the guitar,the first thought that came to my mind was that I must be able to play Indian classical music on this instrument,which obviously entailed some alterations in its physical structure.”

The maestro experimented with the instrument patiently,and what emerged eventually was a highly modified concord arc top guitar,which he started playing lap-style.

The Mohan Veena has 19 strings,which include three melody strings,four drone strings and 12 supporting or sympathetic strings. The instrument has a carved,spruced up top,mahogany back and sides,and a flat,fretless,rosewood fingerboard. It is under tremendous pressure: the total string pull is about 500 pounds.

“I have always strived to make some contribution of my own to the Indian classical music. The popularity that the Mohan Veena has achieved in India and abroad is a just reward for me and I find myself elated every time my efforts are acknowledged,” said Bhatt.

Whenever Bhatt plays,he keeps the level of understanding of the audience in mind. “The listeners of classical music are not homogeneous. While some are trained in classical music and know the nuances of raga and tala; others are not so well informed and some are completely ignorant. As an artist,I try to present my music in such a way that all these sections of the audience can enjoy it.”

But does this approach not amount to compromising with his conceptions of the raga? Bhatt differs and says he never took any liberty with the traditional structure of the raga. He feels that the Indian classical music has developed by leaps and bounds in the last 25 years.

Bhatt says during his learning stage,he regularly listened to all great classical musicians. “Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan,Ustad Amir Khan,Ustad Ali Akbar Khan,Pandit Ravi Shankar,Pandit Nikhil Banerjee…the list is quite long,” he added.

The maestro is quite familiar with the city of Ahmedabad,as he frequently visits his elder sister,sitar exponent Manjushri Mehta,who is also a guru at the Saptak School of Music,in the city.

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