Friday, July 4, 2014

What is Bhavageete (about Kannada Bhavageetegalu)

Bhavageethe is a perceptive song from a poetic heart !!!
Smt. H R Leelavathi

The year was 1950. The day auspicious, being the Gowri festival. The family was huddled around a radio. The air was filled with a sense of curious anticipation... Then came the announcement of the song by H.R. Leelavathi from All India Radio, Mysore. During the next ten minutes, there was an absolute stillness except for the melodious song “Haradi Parvathi Devi...” The flow was smooth like the subtle waves of a gentle breeze on a placid lake... The experience was thrilling... Little did anyone realise then that this would be the beginning of a long and eventful musical journey to culminate in the pinnacle of glory... thus writes K.R. Bapu Somashekara, the brother of Leelavathi, in the book ‘Nadaleela.’
Yes, it was a long musical journey which brought widespread praise and fame to H.R. Leelavathi, who can easily be called the ‘Mother of Sugama Sangeetha.’ The yesteryear listeners of Akashavani would enthusiastically remember Leelavathi who was synonymous with AIR and bhavageethe as it was she who nurtured the hitherto lesser known sugama sangeetha and introduced it to the world in all its poetic glory on AIR. Not only has she experimented and sung thousands of songs in both Karnatak classical and bhavageethe categories, Leelavathi has also penned poems, articles, books and composed ragas for poetry. A student and contemporary of great poets including Chennaveera Kanavi, Prof. M. Gopalakrishna Adiga, Dr. K.S. Narasimhaswamy, B.R. Lakshman Rao, Sumatheendra Nadig, Dr. N.S. Lakshminarayana Bhatta and other stalwarts in the fields of music and literature, Leelavathi is married to (late) S.G. Raghuram, also a well-known sugama sangeetha singer. After spending a lifetime serving Goddess Saraswathi, the couple founded Sugama Sangeetha Academy in city with a view to pass on the treasure of light music to the youngsters.

In a tete-a-tete with me at her home in Saraswathipuram, the singer-poet-writer-guru spoke on the life that she led, about music close to her heart and her fears on the future of music...
Swetha Halambi receiving Charaka Award from Governor 

Shwetha Halambi: Sugama sangeetha seems closer to heart than classical music.
H.R. Leelavathi: That is because literature (sahitya) is the soul and essence of sugama sangeetha while classical singing is mainly based on music. Bhavageethe includes all the emotions experienced by man — be it love, god, friendship, romance, affection, motherly love, all feelings are seen in the poetry, which is the main element of sugama sangeetha. Hence, it is liked by all. Music is the vehicle through which literature reaches the hearts of people. For example, people like hearing a story in song form than reading it. But while providing tune for a poem or song, a sugama san-geetha singer has to first un-derstand the words of the poet, his thoughts and feelings expressed in the poem. Anybody who sings cannot be a sugama sangeetha singer.
A singer should also have a good voice which can touch the sensibilities of the audience. In Karnatak classical music, there is neraval, swara prasthara, alapane and even though we may not have a good voice, we may reach the audience through our expertise. Sugama sangeetha ends in about 4-5 minutes. It is just a perceptive song from a poetic heart. As it is pure sahitya, the singer should sing with feeling, purity, articulation and pellucid words. Then it will be a successful song.

Shwetha: You first learnt Karnatak classical music and then stepped into bhavageethe sphere, which was unexplored till then.

Leelavathi: I and P. Kalinga Rao were the first ones to sing sugama sangeetha. He came in 1949 and myself in 1950. I used to give classical music kacheri earlier. According to me, a successful sugama sangeetha singer need not have complete maturity in classical music. But the roots of any form of music is classical music, where you will be introduced to shruthi, gati, laya... Our sthayi can be practiced through which our voice will attain purity. On the foundation of classical music, any other form can be learnt as they are just branches of the classical root.

In the professional theatre of earlier times, singing was mandatory for artistes — from the character of a servant to a king. They had to know classical music and there would be music teachers to teach rangageethe in the drama companies.

 love and respect all styles of music. May be we grew up in such an environment. My mother Jayamma was a disciple of theatrist Kotturu Basappa and learnt Karnatak classical music. She also sang ghazals, Hindi    and Marathi songs. My father Hassan Ramanna (well-known  in olden days as Athana Ramanna as he was fond of Athana raaga) was proficient in gamaka vachana and was B.M. Shri's disciple. He also sang many English poems after composing raga for them apart from bhavageethe. But then it was not formally known as sugama sangeetha.

All these forms have influenced me. When we were in T. Narasipur at a young age, I had seen many dramas and heard theatre songs.

I learnt Karnatak classical music along with sugama sangeetha. When I was studying in Christ The King Convent (CKC) in Mysore, all students had to compulsorily listen to radio. One day I heard two bhavageethe – Punyabhoomi Bharathi... and Jaya Jaya Jaya Vijayeebhava... Hearing those two songs, I was thrilled. I wanted to know who directed music for those songs. My friend Prabhavati, daughter  of Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sharma, said it was A.V. Krish-namachar, a disciple of her father, who had composed music for those songs. It was then I decided that I had to learn under Krishnamachar.

At that time, the Mysore Akashavani conducted a talent search. Four of us went to the contest from our school. I did not know any other song apart from what I learnt at home. Then I sang the Kannada translation of Thomas Hood’s 'Bridge of Sighs' taught by my father. At the age of 16, I started singing. I learnt classical music from Sangeetha Vidyanidhi late Chennakeshavaiah. Though I started singing both forms, I  fully shifted to sugama sangeetha due to throat problem, because of which I had to bid adieu to classical music as it needed a firm tone.

I listen to Chinese music, Jazz, Rock... I have music cassettes of about 12 languages. I have also sung in Bengali, Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and many other languages.

Shwetha: At a recent function, poet G.S. Shivarudrappa opi-ned that the cacophony of loud instruments was spoiling the beauty of sugama snageetha. What do you say?

Leelavathi: Yes, it is true. As I said, sugama sangeetha is literary and poetry-based. If the audience cannot comprehend poetry and its words, what is the use of singing it? We can sing any song and no one will understand it. In Gamaka, Bharatha va-chana, it was reading of epics and not based on musical laya but on poetic beauty. We were interested in the story and would keenly listen to the story.

Now loud instrumental music is killing sugama sangeetha and through this we are committing sacrilege towards poets. When I and Kalinga Rao sang, we used only a string instrument and a percussion instrument, a violin and a tabla. Each of us would sing for four hours, unlike now where many singers sing a song each on the stage and exit. People loved our singing.
Many people have written down the songs I have sung in Akashavani and learnt them, this was because there was clarity in singing and absence of too many instruments which blotted out singing.

Once Siddalinga Pattana-shetty told me that nowadays, when singers sing sugama sangeetha in orchestras and music programmes, we think we hear some words scattered here and there between loud music. There is no respect for sugama sangeetha where literature is not given any value.

Shwetha: You have been in music field since many years. What do you feel when you look back?

Leelavathi: Seeing a seed planted on earth, which grows to be a plant, a tree, yielding flowers and fruits, is a great feeling. There is happiness and sorrow in everyone’s life. When you achieve in a field, there will be people who feel happy, who pull your leg, who bless you... But we have to accept everything with a single-mindedness.
This is my chosen field. Art is like an ocean and we can take only so much water from it. There is no end to what I can achieve here. No one can reach the pinnacle of perfection which is a mirage in music field. But our attempts should not end till our last breath. A goal is that which can never be reached.

However, there is contentment in trying. When I walk forward and look back, there is the satisfaction of still carrying out my job with love. Saraswathi is unattainable. She comes nearer as we perform our penance, but we can never attain her. I believe I have done my work to my utmost capability.

Shwetha: You have met and interacted with many great personalities. Are there any instances that touched your heart?

Leelavathi: Shivarudrappa always praised me saying, "Leelavathi helped me in gaining recognition as a poet by singing my poems." He said Leelavathi is 'Uduganaveshtitta' and the song 'Uduganaveshtitta' is Leelavathi [Leelavathi sang this song many times in various programmes and also at Phoenix, USA, when she had gone to take part in the World Kannada Meet in 1998. The song became very popular and was aired by Akashavani many times].

In 1962, I sang D.R. Bendre's songs 'Kogile Cheluva Kogile...' and 'Hotte Hosedare Hasivu Hinguvudenu...' during a programme in Bangalore’s Town Hall. When I came out of stage, Ben-dre came to me and said, "How beautifully you sing, like Asha Bhosle." It was an unforgettable compliment to me. I regularly met Kuvempu. I am the only singer to have sung Kuvempu’s 140 songs. He would say that if I hadn’t sung his poems, they would be lying in the closet, unread, unknown. Poems should reach the public, at least through music. Karanth and Jayacha-maraja Wadiyar too appreciated my singing. Wadiyar always asked me to sing his favourite song Gopalakrishna Adiga’s Aaradiru aaradiru o nanna belake... at all his functions.

One incident which will always remain in my memory happened in Holenarasipura during a music programme when I was about 22 years old. I was giving a kacheri for about two-and-half hours. A woman bent with age came onto the stage and said, "How melodiously you sing. I felt as if I saw Goddess Saraswathi in you. I cannot sit for a long time due to my back pain. Hence, I am leaving." She left after giving me a rupee and blessing me. I will always remember this because I may have been honoured with hundreds of awards, but the happiness she got from my music made by concert worthwhile. If I touched the hearts of people with my music, their appreciation in turn touches my heart.

Shwetha: Were there instances which brought you sorrow?

Leelavathi: Sorrows are a part of life. There are many instances of injustice where my program-mes have been usurped by others because I never go to knock on anybody‘s doors and ask for anything. I have never done any work by losing my self-respect and will never do that. Many of my students have betrayed me. Life has both sweet and bitter moments. I accept everything.

Shwetha: Are present day poems by contemporary poets suitable for singing as bhava-geethe? Will there be the fragrance of sugama sangeetha?

Leelavathi: Poems of ‘Navya’ (modern) time written in a raw manner cannot be sung. Even in ‘Navodaya’ style, there should be beautiful themes in the poems. Many senior poets have written on some brazen topics which cannot be sung. They may be great poems from the viewpoint of poetry, but they are not poetic and emotional enough with  beautiful word structure to be sung as bhavageethe. Even the words should be melodic. We should be careful and intelligent enough to select suitable poems of short length. For example, Bendre has penned 'Jogi Ka-vana' which cannot be sung. The poets surely are great but the styles of some of their poems do not suit sugama sangeetha. Even prose can be sung, but they will not become songs.

You may ask that 'Kurigalu saar kurgalu...' and other such songs have been sung, but they are just experimental. If we sing such songs for three hours, there will be no audience left to hear us. There is no opportunity to savour the beauty of words.

Shwetha: You applied raga for nadageethe Jaya Bharatha Jananiya Tanujaathe... for the first time. But then it was changed and there was a controversy regarding the tune.

Leelavathi: Yes. I had sung that song when Kuvempu was honoured with Pampa award. My raga is in Ragamalike and Kuvempu had liked it. Hence, the then AIR Mysore Station Director had asked me to sing it on AIR. Later, Mysore Anantha-swamy applied a different raga for the song. I agree that my raga was suitable for solo singing but when nadageethe is to be sung, it is better to sing it in group. Nadageethe should be sung by everyone present on any occasion, be it in hundreds or thousands and Ananthaswamy’s raga made it possible.

Shwetha: What is your opinion about today's film songs?

Leelavathi: I don't understand why we have sunk so low. I am surprised that no one in the film industry knows anything about sahitya. Anybody can make a film, write songs and such an attitude is deplorable. Words have lost their value. Oldies were very good. Experts like Vijaya Nara-simha, K.R. Seetharam Shastri and others penned good and valuable lyrics. Some songs of today speak derogatorily about one’s own mother and father. Even in stone age, there may not have been such a lowly language. Film industry is culturally bankrupt now. Our children will be under a very bad influence because when they listen to the same bad songs everywhere, be it in loudspeakers, marriages, hundreds of uncensored TV channels, festivals etc... the repetitive words get stuck in their mind. But such songs are not aired on Akashavani because there is censorship. Every song is listened to first and then selected before deciding to air it.

Shwetha: In the midst of sugama sangeetha and classical music, is the value of sugama sa-ngeetha losing  significance ?

Leelavathi: Though the number of singers is increasing, no one at present has the capa- bility to sing for two to three  hours perfectly. To most people, it is just a way to gain fame. Anybody with money can bring out a cassette nowadays. Just like when Pandavas won Mahabha-ratha and all the five said to Krishna one day: I am king, he too is king and all the five are kings, here everyone is a singer.

All those who learn are not su-gama sangeetha singers. Shruthi should be pure, laya should be perfect, sahitya and bhava sho-uld be understood before anyone can sing a song and touch the hearts of others. A singer who does not understand the meaning of words in the song is never a sugama sangeetha singer. I ask meaning of the words with my students and many fail to answer because most don’t even know Kannada properly.

Many singers who come to Akashavani are unaware of even the basic knowledge about poets. They confuse Kuvempu’s poems with that of Bendre and Bendre’s as someone else’s.  Adiga is Lakshminarayana Bhatta to them. They just hear some song, write it down and come to sing. This is cassette singing, which is just sad.
Recently, there was Bendre songs contest at a city college. Many sang but each time I would get up and say, this song is Adiga's, this is Kuvempu's and  so on... Someone came and ask-ed me what is this, as most participants failed to sing Bendre’s songs. I said I have been singing since the age of 16 and I read, have knowledge about who wrote which poem.

Shwetha: What are your words for youngsters?

Leelavathi: As I said, they have to be ready for assiduous work. Any art, including music, is as huge as an ocean. What you can hold in the cup of your palm is yours. If you take up music for fun or to participate in a reality show and learn two songs, it will not carry you forward. Your face is seen on TV, your parents and neighbours feel happy and that’s it. It’s not growth; it needs commitment, penance, diligence. Only when art is taken up for art’s sake will it succeed.

Some parents today just want to see their child on stage — equipped with just two songs. In olden gurkula system, a disciple would not perform till the guru permitted. That was commitment, respect and love towards their guru. Even my students’ parents ask me to teach their kids two songs so that they can participate in a reality show.
Learning any art is not that easy. That is why I said, a goal is that which can never be reached. Youngsters should learn music with love and we ourselves should transform into that song and express its intricacies. Any art should be learnt through a guru and cassette is not a guru. Only those who have dedication towards music will become a  successfully singer.

Mother of Sugama Sangeetha: H.R. Leelavathi, A Profile
Born on Feb. 8, 1935 to Hassan Ramanna and Jayamma, H.R. Leelavathi studied her BA in the Mysore University in 1954 and Senior Grade in Karnatak Classical Music (Vocal). Leelavathi is the third daughter among four children — two elder brothers H.R. Bapu Seetharam (late) & H.R. Bapu Satyanarayana (retd. Engineer and city's well-known social activist) and younger brother Bapu Somashekar.

 An 'A' Grade Music Composer (retd.) of All India Radio, Mysore, she is married to sugama sangeetha singer (late) S.G. Raghuram and has two sons — Sunaad Raghuram and Sukumar.
A singer with a dulcet voice, Leelavathi trained in classical music under Sangeetha Vidyanidhi late Chennakeshavaiah; in light music under famous music composer and AIR violinist A.V. Krishnamachar (who wrote under the pen name Padmacharan), Jnana Prakash Gosh at Calcutta and Deben Sharma Gauhati and in Rabindra Sangeeth under Robin Ray in Calcutta.

Apart from giving hundreds of performances in India and abroad and being a playback singer, Leelavathi has served as the Chairperson of Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Academy and chaired many conferences on music.

She is the founder of Sugama Sangeetha Academy (1985), Mysore, for promoting sugama sangeetha and has trained hundreds of students who are now artistes of AIR and Doordarshan.

Leelavathi has penned many books including a play, musical feature Nisarga Vandana for AIR, short stories, poems and vachanas like 'Savirada Sanchaya' which received Rathnamma Heggade award and DVG Mukthaka award.

She has also written many articles on music. Her book Sugama Sangeethada Hejje Guruthugalu has bagged Sharada Ramalingappa Endowment Award by Sahitya Parishat.

The prestigious titles and awards conferred on Leelavathi are numerous including Karnataka Kala Tilaka by Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Academy, Rajyotsava award, Sree Santa Shishunala Sharief award by Karnataka Government, Ganakala Paripoorne, Kannada Gana Kogile', 'Ganakala Sharade'... the list goes on with honours and awards by hundreds of organisations in the State and USA.

Related: Kannada Popular Bhavageetegalu with Lyrics

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