One family, one music
Niranjana, Nirakara, Parabrahma…Parmaseswara' the brothers in identical green kurtas unhurriedly dwell on...
Niranjana, Nirakara, Parabrahma…Parmaseswara" the brothers in identical green kurtas unhurriedly dwell on each note, unravelling the beauty of one without blemish or form, as they sing with perfect coordination each taking off from the point where the other pauses and in the process weaving an unbroken thread of notes that resonate with the sheer beauty of purity.
The audience is in an unspoken bond, a trance-like state, a worshipful countenance soaked in the melody of Dhrupad singing. This 'beyond words' experience undisturbed by glitches in the sound system at the Dhrupad Festival in Hyderabad stood out as an outstanding example of oneness forged by music.
The three Gundecha brothers Pt. Umakant and Pt. Ramakant Gundecha, of the singing duo and Pt. Akhilesh Gundecha, who enthrals with the 'Pakhawaj' are outstanding examples of music that has a hypnotic effect, connects you with your true nature and gives you glimpses of the divine.
Such is their commitment to music that the Gundecha brothers, who have never missed a single scheduled teaching session all their lives kept their date with the 'Dhrupad Festival' at Hyderabad despite losing their father who was the family's anchor days earlier.
Hailing from a Jain family with no musical inclinations it was the Senior Gundecha, who had encouraged the brothers to pursue music as a career giving them a direction to both sing and stay together.
''We live in a household, where there is a single kitchen for all and common finances. We brothers operate a single bank account and do not have any friend, who is a personal friend.
All our friends are family friends. If he is only yours then something is wrong," quips Ramakant Gundecha, the younger of the singing duo outlining something quite impossible for most people but implemented in the Gundecha household without any complaints.
"This has been the vision of our father and thanks to him 13 members of our family live together with our children learning Dhrupad music and imbibing values that he has set for us,'' he adds.
Moving to Bhopal from Ujjain their native place, Gundecha brothers trained under the Dagar brothers Zia Fariduddin Dagar and Zia Mohiuddin Dagar emerging as the foremost proponents of the Dagar Vani. Performing at prestigious venues all over the world they are recipients of the 'Padma Shri', the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and a host of fellowships and honours. They attribute their success to the blessings of their gurus and the grace of the divine and believe everything is pre-destined including our meeting for this interview.
"A guru is one, who connects you with your true self and allows you to see yourself as you are. His role is to cleanse the dust-covered mirror of the soul that enables this. Without a guru you are nothing," says Umakant, the older Gundecha brother. Concurs Ramkant, who recalls what his guru, the senior of the Dagar brothers had said when they approached him in a despondent mood unsure of their future early in their career.
"You are going to be the shining stars of Dhrupad in the future. If my prediction goes wrong, you are free to hurl your footwear at my photo (Mere tasveer pe jootha phekna)," the guru is supposed to have said. That was the confidence he had in the musical brilliance and accomplishments of his students and their rightful place in the musical firmament. This is the most unforgettable moment of their musical journey they say without hesitation.
The brothers have been performing together since 1985 and are teaching students at the Dhrupad Sansthan that they established in Bhopal where their teaching sessions extend to six hours each day.
About 35 students trained in their gurukul have become performers and teachers spreading the knowledge of Dhrupad in different corners of the world. Sticklers for purity they lay emphasis on voice culture and breathing where the voice emerges as a steady flow from the naval providing a meditative experience to listeners.
"A raag is not just 'aarohan' and 'avarohan', the ascending and descending notes. It is the amalgamation of the non-fluctuating 'swar' and the fluctuating 'shruti', which gives it a distinct flavour," Ramkant explains.
The maestro demonstrates with ease both the 'margi' (classical) and 'desi' (popular) styles of singing while elaborating the finer aspects of Dhrupad singing. What is it about Dhrupad that makes an instant connection with listeners I ask? "You and I are made of the same elements (panchabhoot).
When the singing is right, the vibrations are transferred, and an instant connect happens. However, it is only when the singer is able to connect with his own self that he can relate to the others," explains Umakant.
Dhrupad, which encompasses yogic techniques has often been described as 'nada yoga' (yoga of sound) and 'nadopasana' (worship through music) taking us to higher levels of consciousness. Taking forward the baton of the musical form revived from decline by their gurus, the Gundecha brothers have also broken barriers by training women in this form of singing that has been mistakenly considered difficult to master.
Establishing gurukulams and conducting dhrupad festivals all over the country is part of their effort to open up its repertoire and reach out to the contemporary audience. 'Shiva Shiva' and Kabir Das' 'Jeeni Jeeni Chadariya' remain a favourite with listeners, who are enthralled by the many beautiful compositions that the internationally renowned Gundecha brothers render with extraordinary lyrical beauty bordering on the meditative.
What is their message to lovers and learners of music? "Get to the root and learn it completely and thoroughly. Learn till you attain perfection. Whatever we are saying today is what we have discovered through music.
Music can bring unity, harmony, peace and oneness. It can help transcend differences. It is so powerful that all the problems of the world can be solved through music," said the brothers. These are words as magical as their music and worth contemplating on.