In 1939, a lanky, strikingly handsome young musician arrived in Delhi from Pune, fresh from the tutelage of Vinayakrao Patwardhan, the Gwalior gharana master who had sent him with a mandate – set up a school for classical music in the city and take it to as many people as possible.
Delhi, in those decades, was a cultural scrubland. How was Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, all of 21, going to persuade the middle-class Dilliwala to allow classical music into her home? But somehow he did.
This year is the 100th birth anniversary of that visionary musician who democratised music in the capital city, teaching youngsters with a warmth and openness rare in the circles; hosting a free public festival every year; setting up its first classical choir group; and creating a simple syllabus to introduce schoolchildren to the joys of raga music.
Born on April 2, 1918, Maudgalya had passed away in 1995 and his birth anniversary was recently celebrated over four days at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, the institution he set up with nothing more than goodwill and passion nearly 80 years ago. The indomitable violinist N Rajam, 80, who recalls playing as a teenager before him at an Akashvani contest for teens, gave a concert in his memory.
Today, Maudgalya is part of the city’s cultural legend, but it hadn’t been an easy task in the years leading up to Independence.
“The only mehfils we had then were held in the homes of the elite – industrialists like the Shrirams or the city’s progressive Kayasth families,” said OP Jain, 89, an eminent cultural activist. “Classical music anyway was not seen as something for the masses. But like many pre-Independence Indians, Bhaiji [as Maudgalya came to be known] had this dream for a new nation and the junoon to reimagine Delhi as a cultural hub.”
A small, rented three-bedroom flat at Shanti Niwas, near the now-closed Regal cinema, became Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, a branch of the Lahore music school opened in 1901 by Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. Along with VN Bhatkhande, Paluskar is credited with “modernising” the Hindustani classical system.
But Maudgalya simply couldn’t find any students.
In a tribute to him delivered decades later, art scholar Kapila Vatsyayan recalled the fraught drawing room conversation on the subject between the Maudgalya family and her own in those difficult years. “Here, take my two children – they will be among your first students,” her mother and eminent Hindi writer, Satyawati Malik, had said, offering Kapila and her brother Suresh.
The two children and a few others that could be counted on the fingers of one hand were the first of Maudgalya’s pupils.
Gandharva cannot strictly take the credit for being the first music school in Delhi – Sangeet Bharati at Mandi House beat it to that record by six months. But it grew rapidly into a popular institution, fuelled by Maudgalya’s evangelism to create a more egalitarian interest in classical music. Soon the school moved to Prem Niwas near Plaza Cinema in Connaught Place.
Creating a legacy
In the decades that followed, music schools and the government-run akademis bloomed. Gandharva itself prospered, shifting to an impressive red brick building on Rouse Avenue (now Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg). And there is one remarkable aspect of Maudgalya’s vision that set it apart – he was a rare music educator whose aim was not just to create great performers, it was to create an ecosystem that supported classical music.
“In my view, music education should have three aims: to create professional musicians, to facilitate learning for those who learn music just for the love of it and can perform for pleasure in groups or as individuals, and to create a class of discerning connoisseurs,” Maudgalya had repeatedly said.
Even today, the national capital doesn’t quite rank among the top favourites for performers seeking a great audience – Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai grab that honour. But whatever musical sensibility it has, can be credited to the groundwork done by Maudgalya in the 1950s and 1960s and strengthened over the decades with its annual music festival, community singing events and choir work, especially for children.
He had started the Vishnu Digambar Samaroh, the city’s first big music festival – the popular Shriram Shankarlal Festival starting seven years later to celebrate Independence. The concerts were held in the small courtyard of the Maudgalya home in Connaught Place, marked by an intimacy and warmth rarely seen in the concert circuit today.
“In the morning we would roll up our bedding for the classes, in the evening the verandah would become a performance space, and at night we would simply stretch out and go to sleep there,” remembered daughter and Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal.
Bade Ghulam Khan, Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, Narayan Rao Vyas, Ali Akbar Khan, Nikhil Bannerji, DV Paluskar, Siddheshwari Devi, Hirabai Badodekar, Kumar Gandharva, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Vilayat Khan – they all came to this courtyard festival, drawn by the intensity of Maudgalya’s dedication to his mission, though there was nothing in it for them, certainly not money. The festival then moved to Constitution Club on Curzon Road (now Kasturba Gandhi Marg) and later, Sapru House.
“Delhi was a very difficult city for performers, hardly anyone used to turn up at concerts,” said vocalist Shanno Khurana, 90, who has watched Delhi’s cultural evolution. “The earliest non-elite audiences to attend concerts used to be the parents of kids learning music at Bhaiji’s. They didn’t understand this music but they came for the sake of their children.”
An entire generation of musicians, connoisseurs and amateur singers and instrumentalists who have livened the classical scene in Delhi is attached in some manner to Maudgalya’s work. “Vinay Chandra hai toh Dilli mein sangeet hai,” the avant-garde vocalist and a lifelong friend of the family, Kumar Gandharva, is believed to have said.
When the school outgrew the Connaught Place flat, Maudgalya started a campaign to collect funds for a new campus. The money came from the city’s music lovers, musicians like Siddheshwari Devi, generous barons and students who shelled out 50 paise per head. “You could say that every brick in this building is owned by the children my father taught,” said son and renowned singer Madhup Mudgal.
Classical music as a performance art is usually seen as an exclusive club for the highly learned and proficient. Maudgalya had the inclusive vision to recognise the importance of those who weren’t genius category professional artistes but who could still own this music. He set up the Gandharva Choir even as purists were outraged at the idea of turning classical music into a group event.
The choir has talent that covers a range of skills and proficiency, and people who hold jobs outside music. There are those who have been with it for decades while holding down other jobs, travelling with the choral songs, dhrupad and dhamar set beautifully to pure classical ragas such as Kalyan and Khamaj.
But many hold that his single-most important contribution to music was his work with children. Maudgalya is probably best known for children’s song Hind Desh Ke Niwasi, which, along with the much-loved Ek, Anek, became the rallying cry for multiculturalism in India of the 1970s. Those who recall All India Radio of the 1970s will remember the other hummable tunes composed to promote community singing among children – MB Sreenivasan’s signature tune for Subramania Bharati’s song Odi Vilayadu Paapa, and Kannu Ghosh’s Aakash Chandra Surya Chandra Tara among them.
In as early as 1959, Maudgalya worked on a CBSE syllabus to teach children music as an elective subject in higher classes. For primary classes in government schools he put together Gunjan, a collection of 20 songs and to this day it is an integral part of early student life in Delhi’s government schools. He also worked with the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, creating a bank of regional songs for children to learn and enjoy.
“His way of teaching was very lucid and playful: basic swara clusters were introduced very subtly and quietly so children just grew into music,” said music educationist Rita Bokil.
Above all, he was a Gandhian and a humane soul, said friend and associate Jain – “He was like water, clear, transparent and fluid. There was a certain simplicity about him but his strength of conviction that was infectious too.”