Category Archives: Indian classical music

Learning in the Guru-Shishya Parampara

Tabla like any other Indian traditional art (or I could traditional art period) has always been taught in the traditional guru-shishya parampara. According to Wiki –

The guru-shishya tradition, lineage, or parampara, is a spiritual relationship in traditional Hinduism where teachings are transmitted from a guru (teacher, गुरू) to a ‘śiṣya’(disciple, शिष्य) or chela. Such knowledge, whether it be vedic, agamic artistic, architectural, musical or spiritual, is imparted through the developing relationship between the guru and the disciple. It is considered that this relationship, based on the genuineness of the guru, and the respect, commitment, devotion and obedience of the student, is the best way for subtle or advanced knowledge to be conveyed.

From experience, as a foreigner, the concept and nuances of the guru-shishya parampara can be difficult to understand when looking at it from the outside. My own understanding has only really developed as I found myself within the system and was very fortunately taught the behaviour and attitude necessary to learn within this system.

In the West, when you think about education, the onus is on the teacher to ensure that the student learns. (Speaking in terms of general education, which is where most people’s perspective on education is developed as we are taught in that system).

In the Guru-Shishya parampara, the student must inspire the teaching out of the teacher. The knowledge they hold is sacred and powerful. The Guru has gone through their time of trials and tribulations, spend immense energy to prove themselves worthy and learn what they have learnt. They aren’t just going to give away their knowledge or their wealth to anyone. As wiki says, knowledge of astrology, arts, vedas, spirituality, etc are all imparted through the Guru-Shishya parampara. These arts all have a spiritual quality to them, a deeper level of knowledge that cannot be taught to just anyone.

Traditionally, parents used to drop off their child at a young age to a Gurukul or ashram of a Guru, where the child would stay for 15, 20 years until they were ready before they returned home. The child’s life was in the ashram, their development in the hands of the Guru.

When a teacher and student are tied together in the Guru-shishya parampara, a ever deepening relationship develops between them. It is a relationship built on trust, on understanding, on submission (on the part of the student), on love and so many other qualities. The Guru takes full responsibility for the students growth and well-being and the student takes surrender at the feet of the teacher.

As Guruji says, each student for him is a diamond hidden in coal. His job is to chip away the rock, unearth the diamond and give it shape to show its beauty and essence to the world. Unyielding rock does not give its sculptor the freedom to do his work, complete submission allows for the best form to come through.

Once one had made the decision to places one’s faith and one’s life into the hands of the wise Guru, you have to put aside your ego and doubts. You have to do whatever is needed with full committment and dedication. The greater your faith and devotion to your art, your work, your teacher, the greater the rewards one receives. There is space to have questions, but not questioning of the way. You don’t know best, the teacher knows best. Without obedience, progress is greatly hindered.

Under the auspices of love and respect, the relationship flourishes. As the student proves himself worthy, he is granted entry in the deeper, more subtle and more powerful aspects of the art. To get to this stage requires passing many previous and is another step along the path. Ultimalely, every genuine Guru wishes that his students surpass him and reach greater heights and in that finds his greatest achievement.

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Jo Bhaje Hari Ko Sada (Power of Sadhna)

Today an era of Indian classical music came to a close with the demise of the legendary and unequaled Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.   I have heard beautiful stories of a humble man who was passionate and completely lost in his music.  He was a true sadhak, true shishya and inspiration to countless around the world.

Guruji wrote a beautiful piece on sadhna and if someone exemplified a sadhak, it would be Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.

One of the Bhimsenji’s most loved songs was the bhajan Jo Bhaje Hari Ko Sada and what an appropriate song it is.  Guruji explained the meaning of this poem in in one of his writings, which I have copied here.  A rendition by Bhimsenji is found at the end.  It is a recorded version which cannot be compared to the live recordings of the same by him, but nonetheless gives you an idea of his mastery.

Here is a wonderful poem by Brahmanand that summarizes what a classical musician must do if they truly want to realize God through their music. Note that this can be applied to any field or work, if one desires to reach that level of mastery in it. This poem has been sung beautifully by Bhimsenji, who is a great model of a true sadhak.

Jo bhaje hari so sada
Wohi param pad payega
Chhod duniya ke majhe sub
Bhaith kar ekant mein
Dhyandhar guru ke charanaka
To prabhu mil jayega

Literal translation:

The one who remembers/praises God always
Will attain the Ultimate goal
Leave the pleasures of the world
Sit alone (in meditation)
Meditate upon the feet of your guru
And you will realize God

The actual meaning of the poem is:

The one who always and fully engages in ones work (this can be any work)
Attains the highest aim
Leave behind worldly pleasures
Sits alone with full concentration
Aspire to follow the path your guru(‘s feet) have walked (upon)
And you will realize God


Filed under Indian classical music, Spirituality

On the Road

Touring is an experience. It’s been great to reconnect with so many friends over the last few weeks. We’ve really been all over the place, but haven’t at the same time in comparison to what it is going to be like next time around (this time its been VA, NC, SC, GA, NY, NJ, PA and CA, while next time its going to be a more comprehensive US tour).

There have been many highs. One of them being the incredible response we are getting show after show. To see the years of practice that the Tabla Ecstasy artists have done being appreciated and to see the impact they are having on their listeners has been wonderful. The number of well-wishers that this group is just growing and growing. One of the responsibilities I have on the road is to get feedback from the audience after the show and many many times I have been so overwhelmed by the true heartfelt wishes and prayers for the success that people are giving for the group. I am reminded time and time again how fortunate I am to be apart of this wonderful family and to have Guruji in my life.

This week is our last week in the US. We have shows in Albany (tonight), Manhattan (April 17th) and Princeton (Sunday). Then we head North to Canada, where I have the privilege of opening for the group during our Toronto show.

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Weeklong Indian Music Workshop in India!

Its a common thing to hear that people are interested in Indian music, want to understand it a but better, but don’t have the time to dedicate themselves to a full study of it. Here’s a great program for those interested in learning about Indian music. If you are already practice Indian music, its a way to deepen your understanding, learn from Guruji (Pandit Divyang Vakil), work with the world fusion group Taan and Rushi and jam with musicians from around the world for a week!

Intrigued by Indian Music?
Want to learn how use Indian rhythm and melodies?
Explore the vast world of Indian music in India
Rhythm Riders invites you to
1 Week Indian Music Workshop in India
Aug 1 – 9, 2010 in Mount Abu, Rajasthan
*Experience India through its music amidst nature
*Explore Indian music, from its classical and folk to its contemporary forms
*Nightly jam sessions and concerts
*Learn to adapt Indian Music to your own music and instrument
*Special workshops on Indian percussion
*Special lectures with Tabla Guru Pandit Divyang Vakil
Final Concert Performance with World Fusion Group Taan
Open to musicians from around the world
instrumentalists and vocalists of all music genres welcome
Fees cover teaching, accomodations, local transportation, food and events.
**Airfare not included**
Register by April 30th, 2010.
Contact Rhythm Riders at
or call (201) 467 4431
For information on Rhythm Riders, visit

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The Commercialization of Indian Classical Music

When the Muslim dynasties came to India, the cultural fabric of the country dramatically changed. Food, clothing, architecture were all influenced and of course, music as well. Many beautiful forms of classical music emerged from the confluence of Hindu and Muslim cultures, including the khayal style of singing (prior to this dhrupad was the mainstay of vocal music) and the introduction of tabla.

Alongside these changes, came the commercialization of music. Until that point, classical music was found only in the temples. Music and dance were for the Divine. To hear it, the king went to the temple, the musicians did not come to the court. It is under Muslim rule, that music made its way into the courts, both Hindu and Muslim courts, and the objectives of the musician began to shift.

Classical music has always been described as a yoga or path to the Divine. Through rigourous and tirelessly worship of sound, a musician purified their notes and their souls, seeking to please and ultimately merge with God. In the temples, the human audience was not of importance – they sat behind the musicians; it was for God that the musician played. The power and depth of these artists, the energy they emitted has become that of legend. Their music was their devotion.

When the musician shifted his stage to the court, the King became the focus. If a particularly type of harkat or musical pattern invoked appreciation (which was often in the form of a gold coin), then more were added to the next performance. The King was to be pleased for he was the lifeline for the artist. The goal became materialistic and coinciding with this change, the power of the music diminished.

A story of Akbar and Tansen explains the phenomenon quite aptly.

Tansen was a legendary singer and the court musician of King Akbar. His prowess is still spoken of today and his influence and contribution to Indian classical music far-reaching.

Once the king said to Tansen, “I believe you are the greatest singer in the world.”

“No, my king, you are are mistaken. My music is nothing compared to that of my Guru Swami Haridas.”

“I wish to hear him sing, call him to my court.”

“I am afraid that is not possible. He does not travel outside of his place. If you wish to hear him, you shall have to travel with me on a long journey into the forest and that too, in the guise of a commoner.”

It was an unusual condition, but Akbar was adamant to hear the person who Tansen claimed to be better than him.

The king ordered for a disguises and the two set off. They travelled far into the forest, ultimately coming near remote hut along a river.

“We shall wait here,” Tansen said, asking the king to rest after the long journey.

Soon they hear the most divine notes from the direction of the hut and the king was lost in a state of ecstasy. Slowly he made his way towards the source and found himself in front of saintly man dressed in a simple dhoti outside the hut.

As the last notes faded and silence descended upon them, the potency of the music remained with Akbar.

The singer opened his eyes and greeted the visitors. “Welcome, O King of India. Your wish has been fulfilled.” Swami Haridas recognized the king, despite his peasantry clothing.

The king began to offer much wealth and land to him as recognition for his art, but Swami Haridas would have nothing of it.

Taking leave of his guru, Tansen and Akbar made their way back to the city.

“You sing magnificently, but there really is no comparison to that of your Guru,” Akbar pointed out.

“That is no surprise as there is one major difference between us. I sing for you, my guru sings for God. “

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Rhythm Riders – world of tabla, indian music and dance

As Rhythm Riders continues to grow, there have been lots of changes happening, including a makeover of our electronic presence. We’ve launched our newly-designed website. Please check it out at It’ll give you more information about the wonderful people I work with and the amazing environment of music that I am blessed to be apart of.

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Power of One

In a previous post, I wrote about one of the two steps needed to preserve Indian classical music, which was to cultivate an audience. I wanted to share an experience or realization I had last year that reminded me again that one person does have the power to change things.


In Oct 2008, I returned to Canada for the first time in over 2 years.

A lot had changed in those two years. When I had left, I had left with the intention to return in a year or two to start a master/phD program in Environmental Engineering. Alas, life had taken me through twists and turns and I was returning with a new goal in mind, something I could have never fathomed – to become a professional classical tabla player.

Over the previous year, family and friends had gotten pieces of information with regards to my career change and it didn’t make a lot of sense to many. The reality was that I come from a community that does not have a large majority of Indian classical music listeners. While cliched, it was true, generally Gujaratis are more enthusiastic about folk music than classical music. In fact, a lot of people in our family friend circle did not even know who Zakir Hussain was, who is considered to be one of the most well-known Indian classical musicians and tabla players of our time. In this scenario, it was understandably difficult to find many who understood what I was doing or why I was doing. But, I must also include here that even though they didn’t understand, they were be as supportive as possible.

The trip to Canada was important in many ways. It was a chance to explain firsthand what I was doing and why I was doing it.

A few months before I came to Toronto, I had performed my first solo, after 9 months of training, at Rhythm Riders‘ annual Guru Purnima function. Of course, I have lots of work to do, but it was nonetheless an important milestone for me. Soon after the performance, my tabla solo video was posted to Youtube as most of the people who wanted to see it were not in Ahmedabad for the performance. The outpouring of support and encouragement was incredible and hugely motivating, but it was only one step.

By the time I came to Canada, most had seen the video or heard of it. For many, watching my solo was the first time they had listened to a classical tabla performance. People were really impressed and asking about when if I would be performing concerts in Toronto during the trip. While the enthusiasm was incredible, it was midguided in the sense many understood what was very much an amateur performance to be one that could be quickly developed into one that could be put on a professional stage.

As I would explain how I had many years to go, I began to realize the wonderful opportunity I had in front of me. The reality was that many who watched my solo, watched it not because it was a tabla performance and they were interested in tabla, but they watched it because of me. They wanted to see what I was doing and were being supportive of my endeavours. Now I have the opportunity to open up the world of Indian classical music or atleast tabla playing to them.

I don’t expect that everyone is going to turn into an Indian classical music lover, but I do know that many will grow in their understanding of the music. As they follow my progress, as they watch me grow from solo to solo, they too will begin to discern on some level the differences between amateur and immediate, advanced and professional. Through my personal journey, I have the chance to change the world around me in some small way.

The epitaph on an Anglican bishop’s tombstone is very appropriate here:
When I was child, there was no limitation in my mind. I dreamt to change the world.

The more I grew up and tried to wise, I realized impossible to change it. And I decided to reduce my dream even a little and change my own country only but It was still impossible.

When I would an old man, in the last effort , I tried to change my own family. They were close to me. Unfortunately They ignored me.
And when I was dying, I realized (maybe for the first time) if I changed my self long time ago, I influenced my family by my examples and they’re supporting me, maybe could make my country be a better future and who knows, I could change the world.





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