Music schools have been an integral part of the Hindustani music ecosystem for a long time now, but the first steps in institutionalising music education were taken in the second half of the 19th century in Calcutta, Bombay, and Baroda. This was a few decades before the two music educationists Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936) and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar (1872-1931) began their work in this direction. However, their educational activities were of a pan-Indian nature and had far-reaching consequences that are experienced to this day.

It was on May 5, 1901, that Vishnu Digambar Paluskar established a music school called Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Lahore. The school included a hostel for resident students, an instrument repair section and the Sangeet Printing Press to publish and disseminate musical material for easier and wider communication with the educated elite. In 1908, Paluskar set up a branch of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Bombay and soon moved the school’s headquarters from Lahore to India’s financial capital.

School days

Vocalist and music educationist BR Deodhar’s biography of his guru Paluskar entitled Gaayanaachaarya P Vishnu Digambar gives a detailed account of the school’s activities. Evidently, Paluskar’s attempts at attracting members of the intellectual elite to his school were apparent in his efforts at restructuring the process of music education by putting in place a series of administrative and teaching policies. Discipline and punctuality were closely monitored. Classes for those not staying in the hostel were conducted from 7 am to 10 am and from 3 pm to 9 pm. Female students were taught only between 3 pm and 6 pm.

As Principal, Paluskar remained present in the office and supervised the teachers during teaching hours. Teachers followed a strict dress code. A graded syllabus was put in place, examinations were held at regular intervals, and degrees such as Sangeetpraveshika were awarded on completion of the four years of coursework and Sangeetpraveen for nine years. Teachers conducted the preliminary examinations and Paluskar conducted the finals. Initially, these examinations met with criticism, but later, they became the order of the day and continue to be followed in present times.

According to Deodhar, Paluskar taught regularly at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya until 1915 and kept a check on the progress made by the students, many of who became prominent artists. These successful students were taught by and interacted with Paluskar primarily in the guru-shishya tradition, despite their enrolment as students in the school. Among these were Keshavrao Datar, Narayanrao Khandekar, VA Kashalkar, Narayanrao Khare, Raghunathrao Patwardhan, Vinayak Narayan Patwardhan, Shankarrao Pathak, Baburao Gokhale, Vamanrao Padhye, Dhondopant Paluskar, Shankarrao Vyas, Narayanrao Vyas, Vyankatesh Modak, Omkarnath Thakur and Vamanrao Thakar. But there were no students of any significance or repute after 1916-’17, as Paluskar was preoccupied with concert tours and other matters related to the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and teachers relying on textbooks taught new entrants in the Upadeshakvarg, a section devoted to needy students.

On the occasion of the Foundation Day of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, here is a track featuring two of Paluskar’s disciples in a duet. Narayanrao Vyas (1902-1984) and Vinayakrao Patwardhan (1898-1975) sing a verse in the thumri style. Composed in the raag Kafi and set to Deepchandi, a cycle of 14 matras or time-units, the verse includes the pseudonym of the saint-poet Surdas. (If the video does not display on your device, click here.)