Thanks to new digital platforms and the rising popularity of YouTube channels, Braj folk songs and classical singing traditions, which were threatened by loss of patronage, are back in demand and are witnessing a happy revival.
Music shops in Vrindavan's narrow lanes are overflowing with CDs, pen drives or chips with recordings of local artistes singing Krishna bhajans or local folk songs.
"The revival of interest in religious content, Bhagwat Katha or Keertans or enactments of Sri Krishna Leelas, has promoted local talent, many now a permanent feature on television channels," music maestro Madhukar Chaturvedi told IANS.
Popular actress Hema Malini, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Lok Sabha MP from Mathura, has been supporting cultural expositions and talent shows. The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has also focused on development of the Braj circuit centering around Mathura, which has seen a huge jump 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 or Bhagwatacharyas (Srimad Bhagwat story tellers) are in demand globally, and have given a big boost to the dying musical traditions of Braj area.
Sri Krishna temples in Mathura, Vrindavan, Goverdhan, Barsana, Nathdwara in Rajasthan and 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 and the Radha Rani temple at Barsana, are sincerely following the centuries-old musical traditions, said Vrindavan's celebrated classical music exponent Astha Goswami, trained under Padma Vibhushan awardee Girija Devi at ITC's Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkatta.
Goswami said the popular streams in Braj were Malhar, Dhrupad, Thumri and Kajri. "Malhaar actually portrays nature in all its splendour and profuseness. Malhar excites the intense love for nature in us."
"The Braj Sangeet, with Sri Krishna-Radha as its epicentre, is heavily dependent on nature which sustains and nourishes a variety of Malhaars which can be classical, semi-classical or folk. Vrindavan is the place to soak in these soul-stirring variants of Malhaars at the Sri Radha Raman, Radha Ballabh, Tatia sthaan, Nimbark Kot," Goswami explained.
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, Goswami added.
Haveli sangeet involves the daily worship of Lord Krishna with a special kind of singing, according to a set timetable of ragas which 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 'havelis' or mansions. The main component of haveli sangeet is the dhrupad Hindustani classical singing style. However, dhrupad is often fused with folk music to produce songs which revolve around devotion to Sri Krishna and are rendered in 'keertan' form, as 'bhajans' and 'bhav nritya'."
The instruments used in haveli sangeet are pakhawaj, tabla, harmonium, surpeti, jhanjh and majeera, and sometimes also a bansuri and sarangi.
Thr rich musical traditions of Braj can be sustained and promoted if the state hires young musicians and allows them to sing and play at the popular temples of the region. Money 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, Goswami said.
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at email@example.com)
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