Music from 8 to 80
As Robin William once said “You have got a little spark of madness, you mustn’t lose it.” During our trip to Himachal, we surely celebrated that little spark with a group hailing from Kangra. We met this group earlier in Dharamshala and aftera along conversation, we realized that they know a lot about their culture which dazzled us. We were excited to document this group because we knew somewhere in our minds that we will do great and it they did. Almost ninety percent of the mebers in teh group were above fifty yaers of age. This group is led by Bishwanath. His group consists of both men and women, young and old, nut surely full of phenomenal energy. We felt grateful meeting such great people who have somehow dedicated their whole life to music.
Bishwanath Ji was born in 1965, in a small village in Upper Kuhan in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. He lives with his family; his wife; two children and four grandchildren. He has two brothers, one of them sings as well. He feels very proud of the rich cultural heritage of the state of Himachal and his own district Kangra but doesn’t deny that pursuing a career in singing in order to conserve heritage was and is still not easy. He learned to sing when he was a child, from his parents who were folk musicians and singers themselves. He says, “me apne pita ko ramayan aur krishna-leela ke natak prastut krte hue dekhta, bachpan me. isne mujhe haavi rups e prabhavit kara” (I used to watch my father performing dramas of Ramayana and Krishna Leela. That inspired me heavily) His family background was associated with music and therefore music ran into his blood from the very beginning. He further learned dancing and drama from his Guru Luku Ram Ji and singing from Kartal Ji. Both of them have played an instrumental role in the formation of his career. He talks about his childhood and teenage years which were too difficult for him. The major problem was poverty and lack of resources. Worship and Music were the two things which were the only source of income for his family, which was barely enough to meet both ends. He has seen tough times. Even when he wanted an instrument the family couldn’t afford it. Plus, living in a remote village in Kangra was tough due to the severe climate. It resulted in demises in his family which made it very tough for him. But Vishwanath Ji was always strong headed and always found ways to learn and found people who could give him the correct direction. “Me khud lalten banaata tha aur padhta tha, dusre se chize maang kar sikhta tha.” (I used to study by making lanterns of my own and borrow stuff to learn.) He used to go to dholru, which are similar to jagratas in Himachal and weddings, where his father was invited to play the shehnai. He used to play nagada with him at a tender age of 8. And then he started following singing and singing became his daily bread. He used to travel to different villages far off by foot to sing. On the way of travel, the leader used to teach them a song which the students used to rehearse the whole way to the next village. This was his life, tough but enriched experiences. Sometimes he used to feel that he didn’t get a platform to show his talents. He couldn’t ace interviews and audition due to several reasons but still, he is satisfied with his life everywhere he is. And for that, he thanks the almighty God.
It was a cloudy and a but windy as well. We chose a destination at the meadows of Khaniyara. It oversee the forests, valley and the city of Dharamshala. The group was all set. They were draped in traditional costumes, mostly in vermillion. We briefed them a bit of how things will happen. Next they sat on the location and the cameras were ready. They began their programme by lighting the lamp which is their typical traditional way to bring good luck. The musical instruments which the group were about to use were Harmonium, Tabla, kansi (cymbals) and dholki. The first song they sang were “Thande thande paniyo de” The song explains the beauty of Kangra, its lakes, coniferous trees and awesome weather. It especially depicts the lives of people, for example, children playing on swings and women plucking tea leaves.
The other group members were as hard working and dedicated just like Vishwanath Ji. When few were asked how did they learn music. They responded, “Ji hamne koi aise teacher ke under toh nhi sikha bas sunte-sunte, gungunate hue, sikh liya” (Yes, we didn’t learn it under a teacher. We learned it by listening to it and humming it.) While others learned it from their guru. Many of the group members were guided by Bishwanath Ji and Om Prakash Prabhakar Ji, who is the group in charge. Most of the members are above 50 years of age and have done numerous performance throughout their lives. A lot of father-son and father-daughter couples are also present in this group. It is truly delightful to see that there is more than one generation in a single group. Not only does the younger generation learn music and songs directly from their elders, but they also understand the values. In a rapidly changing world, such a system of transmittance of knowledge leads to close interaction which is very crucial to conserve the loss of traditions.
The second song they sang was a traditional Kangra song depicting its culture. The song was highly energizing. At the end two of the chorus singers started dancing to the beats of harmonium and dholak. We couldn’t help but join the group. One of them said, “I am 70+ years old but still can’t help dance when I hear music.” This group proved that learning has no age and when someone is passionate about something, he can surely do wonders. Drieven by music, Bishwanath ji says,”sangeet ke bina kuch nahi aur swar hi ishwar tak pohochne ka saadhan hai” (There is nothinhg without music and words are the only medium to reach the Almight)