C.R. Vyas

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Veteran Hindustani
Vocalist & Composer

Essayist Joseph Addison wrote: « Music is the only sensual gratification which mankind may indulge in without injury to its morals or religion. » For Chintaman Raghunath Vyas, the veteran singer who passed away on 10 January this year, music was a life-long indulgence.

C.R. Vyas belonged to that generation of musicians who had witnessed the peak of glory which Hindustani music had attained during the first six decades of the 20th century. Not only did he get a ringside view of the great happenings, he was a participant too.

C.R. Vyas was born on 9 November 1924 in a Maharashtrian brahmin family in Osmanabad which was then under the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Even though the family did not have a musical lineage, he showed an aptitude for learning the art. Initially, he received basic instruction from Govindrao Bhatambrekar, an exponent of the Kirana gharana. Later, when he shifted to Bombay to earn a livelihood for himself and his family, he approached Rajarambuwa Paradkar. A saintly singer who was an offspring of a branch of the Gwalior gharana, Paradkar had links also with the keertana tradition which had a close bond with the classical music tradition in Maharashtra. Vyas learnt from him in the traditional gurukula system for almost 15 years.

There are many offshoots of the main Gwalior tradition which is believed to be the fountainhead of khayal music. The maestro who planted the seeds of the khayal gayaki of Gwalior in Maharashtra was Balakrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar, guru of the great music missionary Vishnu Digambar Paluskar. Among his pupils was Yashwant Vishnu Mirashi, aka Mirashibuwa, who became a name to reckon with. C.R. Vyas received exposure to the Gwalior gayaki through this respected singer.

Subsequently, as a teacher of music at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan which had direct link with the Bhatkhande scholastic tradition, Vyas came into close contact with S.N. Ratanjankar and his talented disciples like K.G. Ginde, Chidanand Nagarkar, S.C.R. Bhatt and Dinkar Kaikini. This association helped to broaden his horizons.

Vishnu Digambar Paluskar elevated the status of the musician in society and sought to hold the musician up as a role model to be emulated. He wanted musicians to be free of vices and lead a spiritual life. Vyas was not a full-time musician in those days, but his mind was obsessed with music all the same and it was his only addiction. Like many of his fellow Maharashtrians, he too was completely free of all vices and had a spotless character.

In the nineteen fifties, Vyas came in touch with Jagannathbuwa Purohit, a veteran acharya of the Agra gharana. He did not achieve fame as a performer, but he was a guru to many eminent performing artists, like Ram Marathe and Manik Varma. It will be true to say that it was Jagannathbuwa who gave the finishing touches to the music-making ability of C.R. Vyas and moulded his musical personality.

There was a curious blending of tradition and innovation in Vyas. As a product of the guru-sishya mode of musical training, he revered traditional values in music. In presenting a khayal, he was as much interested, if not more, in presenting the bandish or composition fully as he was in imaging the raga. « If you know the intricacies of a particular bandish, you automatically come to know the contours of the raga, » he told his disciples and explained: « The essence of a raga can be grasped only through the number of differently structured bandishes in that raga. »

I recall an incident when a popular female singer from Pune was giving a concert. I had the privilege of sitting next to Vyas. For the first 15 to 20 minutes, both of us could not ascertain which raga she was presenting, because she was moving round and round in a circle of sound which encompassed the komal dhaivata of the lower octave and the komal rishabha of the middle octave with suddha nishada thrown in good measure. We wondered: what was it: Bhairav or Todi? We figured out that she was actually singing Lalit when, after some 35 minutes of meandering, she gradually descended on suddha madhyama. Like me, Panditji too was upset. « We have been taught to show the face of the raga right from the first phrase, and now this, » he said to me. He was right.

The incident underlined his traditional moorings. That however did not mean that he was averse to experimentation. He himself experimented but he did so invariably within the framework provided by tradition. I recall a composition of his in the raga Hameer. It has a ‘mukhada’ concluding on the note pa, which sounds different from the typical Hameer composition. When I questioned him, he demonstrated that the traditional slow khayal in the raga Chameli Phooli Champa had its mukhada concluding on the note pa.
Kumar Gandharva used to say that we become so attuned to a particular movement of notes in a raga that we recognise only its frontal ‘face’; but the raga also has a profile which the musician should be able to see. C.R. Vyas could see the profile of raga-s; it was one of his great qualities.

Although he was exposed to three gayaki styles– those of Kirana, Gwalior and Agra– Vyas emerged as a musician with a distinct style and approach of his own. He won recognition from discerning listeners and critics with ease. He was invited to perform at all major music conferences and festivals in India; he was also invited to perform abroad. He was as well featured by All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Vyas was also a composer of merit. His guru Jagannathbuwa Purohit was also a composer, who used the signature of Gunidas. Jagannathbuwa had a tender rapport with his guru Vilayat Hussain Khan who called himself Pranpiya. For this reason, he addressed most of his compositions to Pranpiya. Vyas drew enormous inspiration from Gunidas and his devotion to Pranpiya. He felt the urge to compose. In the event, using the pseudonym of Gunijaan, he wrote, set to tune and presented many compositions, to the admiration of his listeners and students alike. In this context, warmly welcomed was Raag Sarita, a collection of about 121 bandishes out of 175 composed by him, for which he wrote the lyrics as well as the music, in mostly traditional raga-s but also in melodies of his own creation, like Siva Abhogi (a blend of Siva Ranjani and Abhogi), Dhankoni Kalyan, Sagera, Sanjogiya and Suddha Ranjani.

Salient Features Of His Compositions

The following is a free translation of music scholar K.G. GINDE’s comments written in 1984 on the compositions of C.R. Vyas included in his prefatory note in Hindi to Vyas’ book titled Raag Sarita.

lC.R. Vyas has composed most of his vilambit khayal-s in such a way that the sthayi and the antara fit into one avarta each of the specific tala cycle. This would enable students of music as well as up-and-coming performers to easily understand, grasp, learn and render his compositions.

lThe second important feature which comes to mind is that, in most of his drut khayal compositions set to Ek taal, Vyas has cleverly employed the feature of not starting the sthayi and the antara on the sama, but has set the lines in such a way as to provide an interval of two, three or more counts before the sama. This provides interesting and ample scope for manodharma while rendering alapa as well as taan and laya improvisations which would embellish the compositions.

lFew old traditional bandishes set to vilambit taal are available to us. And old bandishes in vilambit Jhap taal are rare. Traditional bandishes in Jhap taal were composed to conform to a fixed chhanda or metre. There is an increasing trend among contemporary composers to set the bandish in Jhap taal without conforming to its tala-anga, but loosely setting it to fit the count of 10 matra-s. This practice is now gaining ground in raga music, and C.R. Vyas has also composed a few such bandishes in Jhap taal probably as an endorsement of this trend. This could be considered as his contribution in this direction.

Vyas as well received recognition for his contribution to music from various authorities and awards like Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, and Tansen Samman (instituted by the Madhya Pradesh Government).

Basically C.R. Vyas was a contented person. He showed a rare magnanimity towards fellow artists. He listened to other musicians with interest and made efforts to promote them which is a great quality in the highly competitive field of performing arts. Even to his juniors he was courteous as well as full of encouragement. In a concert where he was present, Gwalior gharana exponent Neela Bhagwat sang a tarana in Suddha Kalyan which was his favourite raga. He liked the composition and asked her about its twists and turns.
The lady humbly told him that it was her own composition. « I would like to learn it from you, » he said with humility, and Neelaji was as embarrassed as she was thrilled.

C.R. Vyas has taught a number of singers, like: Alka Joglekar, Ganapati Bhat, Jitendra Abhisheki, Kunda Weling, Mangala Ranade, Neelaxi Juvekar, Nirmala Gogate, Prabhakar Karekar, Sanjeev Chimmalgi, Satish Vyas, Shripad Paradkar, Shripati Hegde, Shriram Shintre, Suhas Vyas and Suman Mate. Those who are still alive may be expected to carry on the tradition of his music which was full of life and effervescence.