Body Sings

The Gundecha Brothers explain how a scientific exploration of the body is essential to the making of a musician.

Gundecha Brothers: The Body Sings

A conversation between Dhrupad students Sajan Sankaran and Janhavi Phansalkar and their gurus, Umakant Gundecha and Ramakant Gundecha

Guruji, it is said that Dhrupad is first a yogic exploration of sound and only then a music form. Please provide some insight into this theory.

Ramakant and Umakant Gundechas with their guru Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar. Photo: Ravi Williams

The material world comes into existence due to the Sun, and all that we perceive is only a manifestation of the Sun’s energy in different forms. It is possible to connect with this primary source through the human body. It manifests in the human body through ‘sound’, which generates at the root of the navel. With deliberate and concentrated practice, one discovers the ‘path’ through which the sound travels inside the human body. It travels through a channel that connects the navel to the cerebrum. He who successfully establishes this connection of the navel and the cerebrum automatically connects with the fundamental energy, since he is, by observing the sound that vibrates through his body, also observing the substratum of the material world. When he finds this connection, he is able to connect the listener as well! Any listener who is unprejudiced in mind, will, with unimpaired hearing, experience the same connection that the singer does. This process is therefore ‘circular’. One takes the energy from the Sun, and gives it back, thereby completing the circuit. This is the principle that governs Maargi Sangeet. Dhrupad (particularly of the Dagar Tradition) hinges on this principle.

What are the parameters of sound in this context?

The Gundecha Brothers Photo: Klaus Eiserman

It is laid down in the classical Indian texts on music (and corroborated by experience) that the (singing) voice produced in the human body consists of three layers of harmonics­ – the lower harmonics, the middle harmonics and the upper harmonics. These are generated in the three voice registers­ – the navel, the chest and the cerebrum – respectively. Our music, which we call ‘classical’ or ‘Maargi’ music, requires a voice that projects all the three layers of harmonics in a synchronised manner. If one of the three kinds of harmonics is missing from the voice, it means that the voice is not ‘natural’. What we find is that one is invariably cultured to produce voice that befits a particular ‘temperament’ or tradition, which may tend to overlook some aspects of the voice, focusing only on one element. The construction of the human body is not specific to regions or cultures, but is essentially uniform throughout. Hence, these principles are not a matter of culture or aesthetics, but a result of a scientific exploration of the nature of the body.

How does one develop the right kind of voice? What is the first step?

The Gundechas. The entire family takes part in the activities of the Dhrupad Institute in Bhopal as well as in the performances Photo: Avinash Pasricha

One has to practise in order to hear all the dimensions of the voice. The very first step to achieve this is to strengthen the larynx. The vocal chords are referred to as the ‘Shaarir Veena’ in the old texts. They have been compared with the ‘Veena’, the instrument which ‘plays’ one’s music. It is possible to produce the best ­quality of sound only when we utilise the instrument to its fullest potential. Aakaar gives this strength to the vocal chords. The sound which we spoke of above requires physical strength for execution. Such physical strength can be achieved only through aakaar. Once the projection from the larynx is perfect, it naturally reflects all the dimensions of the voice. Therefore, we say that ‘aakaar takes you to your own voice’. It reflects the natural voice, which the body is inherently designed to produce. Dhrupad demands the natural voice, and not a particular ‘kind’ of voice. The aakaar is therefore of prime importance for Dhrupad, or for Raag music.

How does aakaar help in drawing the multiple layers of harmonics that you just spoke of?

We may imagine the voice to constitute a triangle.

1. The base of the triangle­ represents the lower trachea – the constant supply of power that pushes the larynx up and maintains the tension necessary to keep the sur in position.

2. The apex­ – this is the nasal space, which allows the air to pass upwards and vibrate at the intersection of the two eyebrows­, the point of the ‘Aadnyaachakra’. The highest point has many names.­ We can call it ‘bindu’ (‘anuswar’ in practise, or open nasal). It is the highest point of sur, without which Sur remains incomplete. One cannot, therefore, compromise with the chest and the throat at any given point.

3. The base and the apex are held together by the larynx, where the aakaar first takes root. It is the very first practice in Dhrupad, to correct the aakaar. No voice can be said to be correct if it does not reflect the sharp resonance that comes from the tip of the larynx when both the vocal chords are lifted and brought closer.

The Gundecha Brothers with Bhimsen Joshi’s picture in the background Photo: Mandar Deshpande

Aakaar is complete only when the three elements are present­ – the steady pressure of the chest that directs the air upwards to the nasal cavity, the unbroken thread of vibrations from the tip of the larynx and the sharp resonance of the nasal cavity. Once you achieve this ‘triangle’ of aakaar, it automatically lifts the diaphragm upwards and draws strength from the navel. The voice naturally starts reflecting the lower harmonics, thus making full use of all the natural voice registers. This is how we develop the ‘Yogic’ voice we talked of, through aakaar.

Guruji, how do we make use of such a voice to create different moods? Where does the theory of rasa find place in the study of Dhrupad?

In Dhrupad, we firmly believe that effect is created by consonance or ‘samvaad’. If the voice is perfectly in consonance with the tanpura, one can hear any rasa in the note being sung. The tanpura is the ‘mirror’ of the human voice. The strings of a well­tuned tanpura collectively resonate to produce the tonic Sa comprising of all the three harmonics our voice is capable of reflecting. This makes it possible for the harmonics of the voice to ‘dissolve’ in the harmonics of the tanpura. This is what we call Samvaad. Now, effect is nothing but the sympathetic interaction between the voice and the tanpura. We may attribute any emotion to this phenomenon. Our interpretation of sound in terms of emotions is based on our subjective perception, driven by our experience with the world. This is the beauty of the Dhrupad voice, that it allows one to see the sur ‘as it is’ and yet has the potential to reflect various shades of emotions.

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