The temple rituals linked with music started some 500 years ago by Shri Vallabha Acharya are indeed a unique part of North India’s musical tradition. Amazingly, Sant Vallabha acharya was a South Indian Telugu Brahmin, though he was raised in North India and he revolutionised the worship of Lord Krishna in North India. It is indeed an amazing tradition, that knew no geographical boundaries; the music travelled in its form from Vrindavan to Udaipur (Shri Nath ji temple) to Gujarat, Baroda, Surat, Mumbai and even Amritsar.
Wherever the “Pushti marg” (path of grace) temples were consecrated, the musical rituals followed too. Other temples too, of course, have a vocal dhrupad tradition attached to them; the Goswamis of Vrindavan were prolific composers, but the Chaturvedi or Chaubey singers of the “Pushti Marg” tradition are distinct. Vallabha Acharya’s son Vitthal nath is said to have started the eight musical rituals; “ashta yam”.
A trip to Mathura and Vrindavan in search of practitioners of the music tradition was disappointing. The original texts are there, the trained singers have slowly petered out. At Dwarikadheesh Mandir in Mathura, which is around 350 years old, the Lord is called The Lord of Dwarka, but His worship there is also that of a young boy when He was in Vrindavan. The four seasons have four different types of music “sewa” (offering), in fact each month has separate compositions. Each time of the day has a different musical “sewa”. Not only were the lyrics appropriate to the occasion, the time theory of the Ragas was strictly maintained. The usual talas remained chautaal, ara chautaal, dhammar, teen tala.
The texts even went into such detail as what to sing when the Lord was attired in different raiment! As Pt Govind Lal, currently doing “sewa” at Dwarikadheesh temple in Mathura said, “jaisa bhog, jaisa raga, jaisa shringar”. (For different times of offerings, there are different forms of singing, and different types of garments).
It is not easy to maintain vigil eight times a day, day in and day out, single handedly. No wonder there are no serious takers for this tradition in the next generation. The two Madan Mohan temples in Mathura which also used to have the sangeet tradition stand silent; there is nobody to sing to the Lord.
From before Lord Krishna awoke to the time He fell asleep, He was serenaded in a strictly classical format, in the old dhrupad tradition, meticulously maintained over the centuries from generation to generation. There were eight occasions to sing to Him – to wake Him, then during “kaleva” (breakfast) then mangala arti, then shringaar (called “osara”), palana (jhulla), Rajbhog, then in the evening “gau charan leela”, (taking the cows out) then evening arti, and finally “sayan” (sleeping). It is indeed a sublime experience to hear the “sewa”, with the musicians sitting right in front of the Lord, with a small fountain in front of them, made to entertain the young Lord.
The lyrics were composed over a period of time, by the disciples of the Saint, called the “Ashtachaap” kavis, (poets) the language was “braj bhasa”. The eight poets whose works are still extant were Kumbhan Das, Sur Das, Krishna Das, Paramanand Das, Govindswami, Cheetswami, Nand Das and Chaturbhuj Das – all of them lived and composed in the 15th Century.
Constant Mughal oppression after the time of Shri Vallabha Acharya resulted in wily protective innovations by the safekeepers of the Lord’s visable form, the signature black stone idols. The idols of Govind Dev ji and Gopi nath ji were smuggled to safe keeping in the Jaipur Darbar; Karauli received Madan Mohan ji, and Shri Nath ji went to Udaipur.
The purity of the dhrupad tradition was such, that even as late as the 19th century, a master of music, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan acknowledged his debt to his dhrupad Gurus, Pt Chukhe Lal and Pt Ganeshi Lal of Mathura, of the same Haveli sangeet tradition. Vidushi Shruti Sadolikar, currently Vice Chancellor at Bhatkhande University Lucknow, is a disciple of the grandson of Jaipur Attrauli founder Ustad Alladiya Khan, who apparently had also been greatly influenced by the Haveli sangeet tradition in the temples of Jaipur and Jodhpur.
Acharya Gokulotsav Maharaj, also a descendant of this same tradition, who additionally learnt in the khayal tradition points out how even as great a singer as Ustad Faiyaz Khan used to sing haveli sangeet compositions – some of the more well known ones are “seekhe ho”, and “sughar chatur baiyan” in Raga Kedara. “Vande nand kumar” in Raga Kafi is another well known piece immortalized by Ustad Faiyaz Khan he said, that too was from the haveli sangeet tradition. Pt Gokulotsav Maharaj said he probably learnt these during his residence in Baroda where there was the Goverdhan nath Haveli of the “Pushti Marg” tradition. Similarly, he recalled Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan used to sing a “sadra” composition in Raga Megh, also “sab din hot na ek saman” in Raga Multani – there are too many instances he said. He put the number of traditional haveli sangeet compositions that have been sung by various dhrupad singers at least 250-300. In his words, “Shastriya sangeet ka gayan utna ki pavitra hai jitna Bhagwan khud paritra hain”.The tradition of singing these authentic “haveli” (temple) compositions continues in today’s vocalists, with Pt Jasraj being in the fore front amongst the khayal singers.
Sadly, there are not many serious practitioners of this rich vibrant highly specific tradition among the inheritors of the tradition any more. Pt Lakshman Prasad Chaubey was the last well trained singer; his grandson Govind Lal is the only one in his generation with musical training. In the words of Pt Gokulotsav Maharaj, “jiske paas sur nahin hai, woh to asur (demon) hai” (he who doesn’t have, or doesn’t appreciate “swar” or sur is a demon) It seems in today’s world there must be many demons!
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