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Renewed Interest In Braj Sangeet Gives A Shot In The Arm To Local Talent
VRINDAVAN || Thanks to new digital platforms and the rising popularity of YouTube channels, Braj folk songs, and classical singing traditions which were under threat due to loss of patronage, are back in demand and the classical streams witnessing a happy revival.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic has badly hit the local tourism industry, which is essentially pilgrim-oriented, interest in Braj culture has seen an upsurge. “Once this dismal phase is over, happy days will return and more pilgrims will visit the shrines associated with Sri Krishna-Radha,” says a local green activist Jagan Nath Poddar.
The CEO of Sri Radha Brij Vasundhra resort in Goverdhan Deepak Sethi says due to the pandemic “there is as yet only a partial reopening of the temples since the social distancing rule is in force. So far there is a slight pick up in arrivals but once Covid-19 cases drop, there is a huge hope that pilgrims will return and normalcy would be restored. The Braj circuit, Sethi said has become very popular as is reflected in the increasing footfalls in the past few years.
The rising number of visitors to Braj Mandal has triggered the revival of interest in religious content, Bhagwat Katha or Keertans or enactment of Sri Krishna Leelas has promoted local talent, many now a permanent feature on television channels.
Popular film actor Hema Malini, MP from Mathura has been supporting cultural expositions and talent shows. The Yogi government in UP has also focused on the development of the Braj circuit centring Mathura, which now sees a huge climb in footfalls round the year.
Pilgrims who visit Vrindavan or Goverdhan seldom forget to buy a couple of CDs with local music and songs. This has given a spurt to bhajan singing, Haveli Sangeet and Samaj Gayan paramparas in temples of Braj mandal.
Vrindavan’s Ras-Leela mandalies (folk dance troupes) and more than a hundred ‘Katha Vachaks’ and the popular Bhagwatacharyas ( Srimad Bhagwat storytellers) in demand globally, have given a big boost to the dying musical traditions of Braj area.
Sri Krishna temples in Mathura, Vrindavan, Goverdhan, Barsana, Nathdwara in Rajasthan, many Vaishnavite temples in Gujarat, are now promoting Haveli Sangeet or temple music, say musicians and aficionados.
Many temples like Sri Radha Raman, Sri Krishna temple in Nand Gaon, the Radha Rani temple at Barsana, are sincerely following the centuries-old musical traditions. The popular streams in Braj are Malhar, Dhrupad, Thumri, Kajri. Malhaar actually portrays nature in all its splendour and profuseness. Malhar excites the intense love for nature in our feelings.
The Braj Sangeet with Sri Krishna-Radha as its epi-center is heavily dependent on nature which sustains and nourishes a variety of Malhaars can be classical, semi-classical, and folk. Vrindavan is the place to soak into these soul-stirring variants of Malhaars at the Sri Radha Raman, Radha Ballabh, Tatia sthaan, Nimbark Kot.
The contribution of Asht Chaap poets has been tremendous to the growth of music in Braj mandal which now has a large number of practitioners. Haveli sangeet flourished in the 16th century when its exponents included the eight poets called 'ashta chaap kavis', and the blind bard of Braj, Sant Surdas. These exponents enriched the tradition and gave it a structure, Astha explained.
Haveli sangeet involves the daily worship of Lord Krishna with a special kind of singing, according to a set timetable of ragas that vary according to different hours of the day. The tradition is of specific importance to the Pushtimarg sect started by Vaishnavite saint Vallabhacharya around 945 AD.
Haveli was actually, a temple where the presiding deity was installed. Due to the intolerance of some Muslim rulers, temples were called 'haveli' or mansion. The main component of haveli sangeet is the Hindustani classical singing style, dhrupad.
However, dhrupad is often fused with folk music to produce songs that revolve around devotion to Sri Krishna and are rendered in 'keertan' form, as 'bhajans' and 'bhav nritya'. Instruments used in haveli sangeet are pakhawaj, tabla, harmonium, surpeti, jhanjh, majeera, sometimes a bansuri, and sarangi also.
Thr rich musical traditions of Braj Mandal can be sustained and promoted if the state culture department hires young musicians and allows them to sing and play at the popular temples of Braj Mandal. Economics is a major constraint in the promotion of classical music. Government agencies can lend a helping hand and save this precious musical heritage of Braj.