|CURRENT ISSUE AUGUST 09, 2004|
As he sits all by himself at his Ashtchaap Kirtan Sangeet Vidyapith in Ahmedabad, Vithaldas Bapodra makes for a symbolic picture. It is a lonely battle, but the 80-year-old exponent of Haveli Sangeet is determined to do his bit. Although there are few takers for this traditional form of devotional music, he is not deterred. It has only spurred him into trying to bring the dying strains back to life.
Started 500 years ago by Sri Vithalesh, son of Sri Vallabhachayra, the medieval saint who founded the Pushtimarg Vaishnav sect, Haveli Sangeet is a vocal style based on traditional genres like Dhrupad, Dhamar and Thumri. It derives its name from Krishna temples, traditionally called "haveli" by the Pushtimarg sect. Today there are only 10 Haveli exponents in India. Among them are Bapodra and his two sons, Manhar, 56, and Ramesh, 52.
Typically, a Haveli Sangeet group consists of eight-10 members-the main singer, four support vocalists and accompanists on the sarangi, harmonium, pakhawaj or jaanj. The verses, which are in praise of Lord Krishna, are in Brajbhasha, the language spoken in Brajpradesh, the region where Krishna is believed to have been born and brought up. As many as 1.25 lakh of these verses were written by Surdas, one of the eight followers of Sri Vithalesh. Only 33,000 of them exist.
In the early days, Haveli music was popular in the Pushtimargi temples thanks to the patronage of rich sect members, who belong to the trading community. Says Vandana Raj, a Pushtimargi: "Haveli Sangeet's rendition ignites spiritual ecstasy." Pushtimargi devotees do not perform pujas as they believe service to the Lord is more important. As Arvind Bosamia, a journalist who has studied the sect, says, "It is believed the Lord accepts seva only with gaan (singing)." In an effort to revive this practice, Bapodra wants to recruit students and is scouting for young boys from Brajpradesh because they would have a natural flair for the recitation of verses in Brajbhasha.
Equally important is the search for donors-Pushtimargi families include the Ambanis, the Khataus and the Thackerseys of Mumbai-who could fund the revival. Says Bapodra: "I invite families whose ancestors have patronised Haveli Sangeet to help us." It is an earnest appeal to save a dying tradition.