Vishnu Digambar Paluskar

Vishnu Digambar Paluskar



Vishnu Digambar Paluskar
Vishnu Digambar Paluskar
        Vishnu Digambar was born on 18 August 1872 in the village Palus located in Kurundwad, a small state in present-day Maharashtra, to Digambar Gopal and Ganga Devi. His father was a well reputed kìrtans singer (singer of religious songs at gatherings).
The surname Paluskar is derived from the village Palus, where the family lived. His formal education was brief. He studied English up to sixth class. But he used to accompany his father and brother to kìrtans gatherings and was thus introduced to musical rhythm early in life, which is essential for a good kirtanist. An unfortunate incident occurred when Vishnu was in his early teens. During Diwali festivities a cracker hit his face and his eyesight was severely affected. His parents took him to Miraj, a nearby town, for treatment. Dr Kishore Bhirbhire, who was the chief medical officer at Miraj, tried to restore his eyesight but without much success. But when the doctor heard the boy singing Bhajans (religious songs) he was so impressed by the exquisite rendering of Bhajans by the young boy, that he told his father that the boy had great talent and that if properly trained he would become a great musician some day. This incident was significant in deciding the career of young Vishnu Digambar, and from then on, there was no looking back. With the help of Dr Bhirbhire, Vishnu became a pupil of the court musician of Miraj, Bal Krishna Buwa Achaljikar. For nine years, from 1887 to 1896, Vishnu received training in music from Achaljikar who was a reputed musician of that time, and an exponent of the Gwalior gharana.
The gnru-shishya (teacher-pupil) Indian tradition of education prevalent in India requires the student to live with the teacher as a family member. It is a tradition which is centuries old but has some drawbacks. For one thing, it has no regular hours and the student has to perform many chores for the teacher’s household. It also depends on the mood of the teacher to teach. Moreover, the teacher may not be versatile and may have some serious limitations, as music teachers were exponents of a particular gharana (style). Vishnu experienced all that during his stay with his guru. Then he started thinking of a better method of imparting music education. But several years passed before he could give practical shape to his thoughts. Vishnu was also concerned about the poor financial condition to the musicians, which resulted in their poor social standing. Except for the few lucky ones, who became court musicians, the others lived in rather deplorable conditions. Vishnu felt that musicians deserved better as they fulfilled a great cultural need of society. He left Miraj in Search of an ideal place to settle and to give concrete shape to his ideas. This was in 1896, when he was only twenty-four years old. To support himself, he used t0 give musical performances, capping them with Bhajans (devotional songs) as he was essentially a vocalist. These wanderings took him too many places, starting with Aundh. From Aundh, he went to Baroda, where he performed at the royal court and was suitably rewarded for his outstanding performance, which was appreciated more than those of the court musicians. From Baroda, Vishnu travelled to Saurashtra and then on to Gwalior, the seat of his guru’s gharana and stayed there for about four months giving musical performances for music lovers of all classes and status. Maharaja Madho Rao invited him to his palace and was extremely pleased with the musical renderings of ragas and Bhajans and bestowed on him several gifts. Prom Gwalior, Vishnu moved on to Mathura. There he studied Braj Sangeet, learnt Hindi and Sanskrit and acquired the intricacies of the dhrupad style of music which was very popular in Mathura. There he stayed for nine months, a very fruitful stay. From Mathura he moved on to Delhi and gave performances and met the most talented of musicians there. While in Delhi, he was surprised to receive an invitation to perform at the famous Hariballabh musical assembly at Jalandhar in Punjab, which is held in the memory of Sri Hariballabh Swami, a great saint and musician. It was a great honour for any musician to get invited to this function where musicians were respected and paid well. For several years, even musicians from Pakistan used to participate in this musical meet. The rendition of Vishnu was greatly appreciated and applauded there, and his fame as a great musician spread throughout Punjab. After visiting a few other places in Punjab, Vishnu Digambar reached Lahore, the capital of Punjab and a great seat of learning. Vishnu decided to put his ideas into practice there, encouraged by the response from the people. By this time, he was convinced that the guru-shishya traditional method of learning music was time consuming and did not always yield good results. He thought of starting a music school similar to the schools where subjects like science and literature are taught. As a result, the foundation of the first music school in the country was laid on 5 May 1901 by P.G. Chatterjee, the senior judge of the Punjab high court, and was named Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, college). Thus, music was brought within easy reach of the common man who aspired to be a musician. The Mahavidyalaya started in a rented building with fifteen students. The students paid a nominal fee like in any other college. As the fees were not sufficient to run the institution, Vishnu used to give music performances to earn money. Another source of income was donations from music lovers. The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir bestowed a grant of Rs. 150 per month.
To learn the elements of music, the students needed books. Vishnu wrote many books like Sangeet Bal Prakash in two parts; eighteen books on each of the eighteen ragas containing full gyaki (melody) of each in Rag Pravesh. He wrote some other books on music also. For some years he also brought out music monthly called Sangeetmrit Pravah. To publish his books and journal, he also established a press on the college premises. One of his most important contributions was the creation of notation for Indian music system, similar to the one used in Western music. The notation is called Vishnu Digambar Lipi (notation). He tried to find out the symbols for the notation which could serve for Indian music. The Indian notation system is classified in three octaves i.e. lower, medium and upper. He has used different symbols for notations of different octaves. He has also used symbols for representing the rhythm of tunes.  A similar notation was invented by one of his equally great contemporaries, Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, the founder of Bhatkhande schools of music, and is known as Bhatkhande Swar Lipi (notation).
In a short time the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya had earned great name as a respected centre of Indian music. When Prince of Wales (later King George V) visited Lahore in 1906, Pandit Vishnu Digambar was asked to give a performance of Indian vocal music (Bhajan) for fifteen minutes. It was greatly appreciated and Vishnu Digambar got an invitation for the evening dinner along with the elite of Lahore. Later, Gopal Krishna Gokhale visited the Mahavidyalaya and spent some time with its founder and was pleasantly surprised with the activities of the college. By then the college had prepared its own syllabus for a four-year course and an advanced nine-year course. Graded textbooks were published for each year and regular examinations were held for vocal as well as instrumental music. The four-year degree course was called Sangeet Praveshika and the nine-year course entitled the student to get Sangeet Praveen, the highest degree in music from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Vishnu Digambar thus prepared qualified teachers to teach in Gandharva Mahavidyalayas, the branches of which were started in various parts of the country. The greatest success came when a branch was opened in Bombay in 1908. The response was so good that Vishnu Digambar moved from Lahore to Bombay. Here, the number of students went on increasing and the number soon reached five hundred. About twenty-five teachers had to be appointed, who were mostly Vishnu Digambar’s students. An important contribution of Gandharva Vidyalayas was that female students could also join the Mahavidyalaya and become musicians, which was not possible in the gharana system. Vishnu Digambar trained his wife and two cousins to teach female students. As there was no provision for repairing musical instruments, a musical instruments repair shop was established under the name Musical Instrument Supply Company.
The Mahavidyalayas in the country became so popular that the number of students getting degrees was large enough to necessitate holding of convocation for the successful students. The first convocation was held in 1911. Lord Sydenham, governor of Bombay, awarded degrees to successful students. After that, convocations were held every four years.
        For years, the Mahavidyalaya had been running in rented premises. Vishnu Digambar decided to get a building constructed. Finances were arranged through fees, musical programmes, donations and loan from the government. The building was completed in 1915 and was inaugurated by the then governor of Bombay, Lord Wellington. A building for the hostel was added later on. National leaders like Gandhi, Tilak, CR. Das and Madan Mohan Malaviya visited the Mahavidyalaya and appreciated the contribution of its founder to Indian classical music. Unfortunately, the loans could not be paid back on time to the government and the two buildings had to be auctioned, causing great distress to Vishnu Digambar.The Mahavidyalaya again had to move to a rented building.
Pandit Vishnu Digambar was a nationalist too and used to attend the All India Congress sessions, starting with the 1916 session at Lucknow. He was always requested to sing Bande Matram at the end of the session. The Whole gathering used to stand up and join Vishnu Digambar. At the Cocanada session of the Congress in 1923, President Mohammad Ali, raised Objection to the singing of Bande Matram, Ignoring his ruling, Vishnu Digambar went up on the stage and started singing Bande Matram, getting a thunderous applause from the delegates. He also composed tunes for songs like Sare Jahan Se AcchaPagree Sambhal jatta and other nationalist songs which became very popular.
One of his greatest gifts to the music world was the crop of talented pupils he cultivated in his Mahavidyalaya. These included B.A. Kalashkar, Omkar Nath Thakur, B.R. Devdhar, B.N. Patwardhan and others. In1916, Mahatma Gandhi sent a messenger t0 Vishnu Digambar to recommend a music teacher for his ashram school. He sent his pupil, Pandit Narayan Khare, who served the ashram till his death in 1938. His services to the ashram were very much appreciated by Mahatma Gandhi.
Vishnu Digambar had a paralytic attack in 1930. He did not recover fully and died 0n 21 August 1931, leaving the music world much poorer.

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