History in the making
As Gandharva Mahavidyalaya celebrates its 70th anniversary, ANJANA RAJAN walks down memory lane with its principal, Madhup Mudgal
Photo: Shanker Chakravarty
Melody Team Manisha and Madhup Mudgal
Next time you board a Delhi Transport Corporation bus, listen out for more than the hum of the vehicle’s engine. Could this bus conductor be the one who has done a course in Hindustani music from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya? Ditto for the carpenter crooning over his wood. For them and countless others, classical music made life richer, and it was Delhi’s Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, founded by the late Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya, that made it possible. Classical vocalist Madhup Mudgal, his son, feels his father deserves in good measure the credit for changing the public perception of music and musicians. When Professor Maudgalya, fondly known as Bhaiji to the music loving public, founded the Vidyalaya in 1939, Delhi was a cultural “desert”, states Madhup, principal of the Vidyalaya, now preparing to flag off a yearlong 70th anniversary celebration starting this August 1 with the annual Vishnu Digambar Jayanti.
Bhaiji personally persuaded parents to send their children, especially girls, to learn music. Among the earliest girl students was Kapila Vatsyayan, the veteran arts scholar, who went on to learn a number of classical dance forms and is known the world over for her books on dance, music and other cultural aspects. There was also the well respected Prakash Wadehra, the late flautist and critic. “He would sit on the steps practicing his flute,” recalls Madhup, “because there was a shortage of rooms. I remember him playing the flute and pedalling the foot-operated sur-peti flautists used in those days.”
Today, with 1200 students on the rolls, in disciplines including vocal music, Kathak, Bharatanatyam, tabla, sitar, flute and others, the institution has a roster of well known names among its alumni: Hindustani vocalists Krishna Bisht and Subhadra Desai, composer Satish Bhatia, flautists Prakash Saxena and Kailash Sharma come readily to mind. Not to mention Madhup himself, and his sister the eminent Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal.
Not everyone becomes a “name” though. The ineffable factors leading to stardom are often beyond training and talent, notes Madhup, and pitting institutional training against the guru-shishya system does not provide answers. “The lives of the students trained here have been influenced in different ways,” he points out. Some of them teach, so their music training helps them earn their livelihood.
“We get people from all walks of life. We’ve had a bus conductor, a carpenter too. And those who aim to become professional artistes are given further training,” says Madhup, who was literally born at the Vidyalaya, since it functioned from the Maudgalya home in Connaught Place till 1974 when it moved to the present premises on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg.
When the offer of land came from the government, the choice was between this and the institutional area in Chanakyapuri. Bhaiji opted for the more central location. In keeping with his wish to make the classical arts accessible to common citizens, he kept the fee structure reasonable, and this policy is still followed, says Madhup. Students currently pay Rs.500 per month for three classes a week. The Vidyalaya’s students were once eligible for a student’s bus pass on the DTC, but later this practice was discontinued as it was felt too many were on the rolls for this alone! Even as he feels that quantity sometimes replaces quality, he notices that today’s students tend to stay on for a few years, whereas earlier out of a batch of 20 beginners, at least 10 dropped out at the end of the first year.
Mingling with artistes has always been a strong point of the Vidyalaya experience. Besides the annual Jayanti, numerous workshops and seminars are organised. Even artistes otherwise at loggerheads dropped arms when invited to the Vidyalaya, says Madhup. “Imagine Ratanjhankarji and Omkarnath Thakurji on the same stage. It was possible at the Vidyalaya’s seminar.”
As for other historical snapshots, the institution has seen Amjad Ali Khan performing a sarod concert at the age of 12, Buddhaditya Mukherjee too as a teenager. Sitar exponent Nishat Khan was presented as an upcoming artiste. Stalwarts like Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pandit Jasraj had their first major performances under the auspices of the Vidyalaya. Pandit Ravi Shankar, Kumar Gandharva, Jitendra Abhisheki… hardly a name exists on the Hindustani music firmament that has not performed here. Or Carnatic for that matter. Artistes traditionally receive only expenses, since they see the Jayanti as a chance to pay homage to Vishnu Digambar Paluskar.
The great Carnatic flautist Mali — T.R. Mahalingam — returned Rs.50 as change from the amount Bhaiji gave him, recalls Madhup. Afterwards he dodged a scheduled concert where he would have been handsomely paid. Questioned by Bhaiji, Mali replied, “They can’t buy me with their money!” That was quintessential Mali, who knew quality and had patience for nothing less. But the rest, as they say, is not history. Because at the Vidyalyaya, history is still in the making.
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