In paintings and sculptures of Krishna, he is often seen holding a flute to his lips. But this Hindu god’s connection to music goes beyond the obvious. In his book Krishna: The Playful Divine, Pavan K Verma writes, “The attraction of Krishna lies precisely in the exuberance of his multifaceted personality.” Verma describes this personality by describing Krishna’s many avatars: the mischievous child whom the cowherds adored, the bewitching flautist who charmed adolescent girls, and the sage advisor whom every family wanted on their side.
“The godhood of Krishna was never supposed to be put on a remote and aloof pedestal,” writes Verma, explaining why the blue god has been such a big influence on Indian classical music and dance.
This fortnight features at least two concerts in praise of Krishna. Shyam Rang, organised by the Sahachari Foundation, will see front-ranking singer and music producer Shankar Mahadevan perform. Another concert organised by Banyan Tree events will host a vocal recital by Mewati gharana singer Jasraj. While Mahadevan will perform traditional as well as modern compositions in praise of Krishna, Jasraj’s performance will comprise mainly classical works.
One of these is the bhajan “Tum Bin Meri Kaun Khabar Le Govardhan-giridhari” which was popularised by Bai Sundarabai in the early 1930s. The bhajan describes a mythological story in which the young Krishna is believed to have saved a community of cowherds from torrential rain. After urging the cowherds to worship the Govardhan hill instead of the rain god Indra, the incensed Indra is believed to have unleashed heavy rain on the cowherds’ settlement. Legend has it that Krishna lifted the Govardhan hill on his little finger so the cowherds could seek shelter underneath. When Indra saw this, he accepted Krishna's superiority.
Jasraj believes that Krishna’s influence on musical compositions is just as powerful. He remembers the time he was trying to compose a bandish based on the god Shiva in the raga Kedara. “I composed the first line and in the second line ‘Krishna’ entered stealthily. What could I do? I let him occupy his rightful place,” said Jasraj.
The maternal instinct of Krishna’s mother Yashoda – for instance, the lullabies she would sing to put him to bed – has also been the subject of many songs and dance ballets. A beautiful traditional composition in the raga Bilawal describes the sentiments of mother Yashoda. “Kavan Batariya Gailo Mai De Ho Bata", describes her anxious searching for her son. “One can sing it for hours on end and invest it with one’s own life experience,” said Padma Talwalkar, a senior exponent of the Gwalior and Jaipur gharana.
In many bandishes, or compositions, the young Krishna has been described as “langar” or the one with an unsteady walk. In one such bandish composed in raga Todi, a maid urges Krishna not to throw stones at her water or milk-bearing pot, singing, “Langar Kankariya Jee Na Maro”. The song has been immortalised by none other than Bhimsen Joshi on one of his earliest HMV recordings. Singers of eminence such as Kumar Gandharva and Sharadchandra Arolkar have also rendered this composition movingly.
Krishna’s adolescent mischief has also inspired songs like “Dheet Mose Barjori Karat Mein Kari Karu” composed in raga Bhimpalasi. The song describes Krishna’s pranks like blocking the path of maids who are fetching water, leering at them from behind a tree, hiding their clothes when they bathe in the river, and how the maids complain about his incorrigible ways. Well known vocalist Malini Rajurkar often sings this bandish in her concerts. “It evokes an instant response from the audience because of the Krishna connection,” she said.
Krishna is also the embodiment of musicality thanks to his flute or bansuri. Sociologists and cultural anthropologists have described the bansuri as a phallic symbol. Vallabhacharya, the founder of the Vaishnavaite Vallabh sect, has written that Krishna’s flute not only evoked passion in women but even inanimate objects were susceptible to its magic. This flute-playing prowess has inspired a bada (slow tempo) khayal in the raga Asavari, titled “Ve Bhali Bajayi Tune Bansuriya Banavari”. Krishna’s own love for music is summed up in a verse of the Bhagwad Gita, in which he says that he would choose as his abode a place where his devotees sing. The blue god will get to choose between at least two abodes this fortnight.
By Amarendra Dhaneshwar on August 03 2012 4.19am