We have previously featured the majestic composition Sur Sangat Raag Vidya, which is in the raag Tilak Kamod and is set to Rupak, a rhythmic cycle of seven matras or time-units. On the first occasion, it was included in an episode devoted to vocal compositions that described elements from music or the music-making process. The second episode was related specifically to this particular composition and its interpretations at different tempi by various performers.
Today, we revisit this composition to understand its influence on Marathi natya sangeet or theatre music. A natya geet/pada (theatre song) with the same melodic and rhythmic framework was included by the composer Bhaskabuwa Bakhale, a prominent vocalist trained in the Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur-Atrauli styles in KP Khadilkar’s play Sangeet Swayamvar.
We begin with a rendition of the original bandish or composition by Kesarbai Kerkar, one of the best-known representatives of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana.
Actor-singer Bal Gandharva, known for essaying the role of female protagonist in many plays, sings the same composition at a faster pace.
In the final track, we hear Bal Gandharva singing the Marathi natya pada based on the Hindustani original. This was recorded for a 78 rpm disc and the tabla accompaniment may have been provided by Ahmed Jan Thirakwa, who is regarded as one of the foremost tabla players of all time. Thirakwa was engaged as a tabla player in the Gandharva Natak Mandali for a few years.
In an interview, harmonium player Purushottam Walawalkar, whose father Madhavrao Walawalkar served in the Mandali as an actor-singer, informed me that Thirakwa received a monthly salary of Rs.120, a handsome amount at the time. The Mandali also provided him with lodging, boarding, tailoring, and laundry services. Few other practitioners of Hindustani music were also engaged as accompanists in Marathi theatre companies. For instance, sarangi player Qadir Bux was also employed in the Gandharva Natak Mandali during the period that Thirakwa served there.