The 13-km stretch from Bangalore to Bannerghatta is dotted with posh marriage halls, built with real estate money and each trying to surpass the other in opulence. The city has enough noveau riche to keep these in business, and the less affluent middle class take loans to hire them, just so that they can keep up with their neighbours.
You'd be forgiven if you thought Vadiraja Dhyanamandira and Kalabhavana was another of those marriage halls. It's huge, sprawling across 14,500 sq ft, and lies roughly at the end of this 'kalyana mantapa' belt. But its objective is far from mercenary. Shaped by one man's vision, it is a shrine meant purely for music. It has already hosted concerts, training camps, and workshops that have brought young learners face to face with seasoned masters.
R K Padmanabha, familiar to music lovers as a top-ranking vocalist on the
concert circuit, began work on the music hall in April 1988. It was
ready by November 1999, thanks to a team that worked at an inspired
pace. Prem Kumar, the structural engineer, took no money for his
services, and Kuppan, the god-fearing contractor, was so devoted to
the job and respectful of Padmanabha that he wouldn't even sit in
his presence. It was a fortuitous coming together, and the building
that hosted 3,000 people during a recent concert was built in a just
over a year. To date, the Srimanvadiraja Aradhana Trust has spent Rs
85 lakh on the building, and from what has been achieved, you can
see that this amount has been stretched
Padmanabha has named the building after Vadiraja, a composer he discovered late in his musical life. A friend gifted him a copy of a Mysore University publication on Vadiraja, a saint and composer who lived a major part of his life in the 16th century. It had some biographical details, and Vadiraja's compositions. "Their beauty changed my life," says Padmanabha, who set about composing tunes for them. Soon he discovered that some of them could be rendered like the "heavier" kritis in the classical repertoire. He also discovered some javalis, love poems, for whose tunes he borrowed from the Hindustani ragas. He has released Vadiraja compositions on seven cassettes.
Vadiraja lived for 120 years, between 1480 and 1600. He was one of Vyasaraya's prominent disciples, and concluded his compositions with his signature Hayavadana. He wrote in lucid Kannada, but for some reason is not as widely sung as Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. Padmanabha's efforts are slowly bearing fruit, and his compositions are getting better known. "He was a great poet, and a social reformer," says he.
Padmanabha's interest in Vadiraja led him to an exploration of Madhwa traditions. Being a Sanketi (the Sanketis are a Saivaite sect), he was not very familiar with how the Madhwa religious institutions worked. He discovered at an Udupi math that music had to be played during one of their ultra-orthodox rituals. He also found some antique instruments there, and developed a rapport with Sri Vishwottama Teertha Swamiji, pontiff of the Sode Vadiraja Math, whom he invited to inaugurate the hall on November 28, 1999.
Vadiraja Dhyanamandira and Kalabhavana is near a village called Hulimavu, in a new housing colony called Akshayanagar. You have to turn off the highway and drive for 10 minutes on winding roads before you get to the hall. The landscape is not exactly rural; it is bare, and the land around the village has been marked out into sites, and houses are coming up here and there. The hall is still not connected by bus. People who go there have to depend on autos or private transport, but that hasn't been a big detterent. Thousands routinely gather for the music concerts organised at the hall. R K Srikantan, M S Sheela, Kadri Gopalnath, Shashank and several other musicians have performed here. Sudha Raghunathan is scheduled to sing on November 25.
Beginning October 31, Padmanabha has organised a five-day workshop for advanced music students. Experts will help participants sharpen their improvisation, notation writing and rhythm skills. Stalwarts like R K Srikantan and T N Padma will guide them through the course. Srikantan, in a morning session, will teach them how to treat raga Kharaharapriya exhaustively. The 15 students, handpicked from Bangalore, Mysore and smaller towns like Hassan, also learn new compositions, and interact with the experts.
Padmanabha has also trained groups of music enthusiasts -- men and women who may know some music but are not professional performers -- to sing in unison the compositions of Purandaradasa, Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Mysore Vasudevachar and now Vadiraja.
Padmanabha worked till early this year with the State Bank of India, and put in his papers under the voluntary retirement scheme. An avid tennis player and theatre buff -- he donned the role of Dikshitar in a play based on that composer's life -- he is not particularly ritualistic in his religious life. "For musicians," he says, "there is no better worship than music". And for someone who puts together huge events and festivals that even government-funded academies would find hard to organise, he is nonchalant and unruffled. "Things fall into place, and I'm not too worried about how things will go," he says.
With D V Nagaraj, Padmanabha sings duets and has been a popular presence on the Karnatak music concert circuit. Within Bangalore, he goes to several extensions and teaches, without taking any fee, Dikshitar and Vadiraja compositions to groups of music enthusiasts. His circle of admirers and students is remarkably wide, and he manages the affairs of the hall with public contributions. His house in J P Nagar also serves as the office for Sharada Kala Bhavana, another organisation he has founded. It has no secretarial help and no funds to speak of, but has done the sort of work that would do a full-fledged academy proud.
Vadiraja Dhyanamandira is a small domed hall meant for music students. Installed in the centre is a huge electronic device that Padmanabha designed in consultation with Rajnarayan of Radel Electronics. It can play the scale of any of the 72 melakarta ragas. "There's no ritual worship here because it distracts from what this is meant for -- music," says Padmanabha. Students press a button on the clock-like dial and the educational device plays the desired raga. A problem that needs technical attention: at higher volumes the tones sound distorted. The room is bare now, and Padmanabha wants to fill it up with music books and recordings of the masters.
The Kalabhavana is a huge hall meant for concerts and workshops, while another hall on top serves as a place to serve lunch and dinner. The concert hall is named after Mysore Vasudevacharya, another composer close to Padmanabha's heart. With help from the Mysore Vasudevacharya's grandson S Krishnamurthy, Padmanabha compiled about 200 of his compositions and got the best classical talents in Karnataka to record them on 21 albums. This comprehensive project took him 10 long years of hard work, and the maker of such lovely kritis as Brochevarevarura and Bhajare manasa got to be known better. "Today, rare Mysore Vasudevacharya compositions in ragas like Jinjhoti are being attempted on the concert stage," says Padmanabha.
the other composers Padmanabha has taken the initiative to record
are Vijayadasa, Raghavendra Swami, Muthuswami Dikshitar and
Thyagaraja. Each tape is given out with a carefully notated booklet,
so that music lovers who want to learn and sing those compositions
can do so without having to hunt around for the words or the
notations. "Many people write in requesting these tapes, and I try
my best to help, but with no office to handle such work, I sometimes
find it hard to keep pace," says Padmanabha.
It's another busy day
for him as musicians and students arrive at the hall for the
five-day workshop, but it's something he takes cheerfully in his stride, and
something he enjoys. Everyone who has watched this musician at work will tell you: for him music is a mission. And he needs neither politicians nor godmen to carry on his good work.
S R Ramakrishna
on 31 October 2001
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