A genius music exponent (1933-2017)

Revered for his deep voice and expressive face among actor vocalists, senior Hindustani classical music exponent and vocalist Pandit (Pt.) Narayanrao Bodas of the Gwalior gharana passed away in Pune on 27 Novermber 2017, aged 84, after a brief illness.

Born in Karachi into a family steeped in musical aristocracy, connected with a gayaki steeped in the traditions of Indian classical music of Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Bodas got his musical initiation at the feet of his father Laxmanrao, and subsequently from Pralhadpant Ganu.

Like his father and his uncle, Pandit Shankarrao Bodas, both of whom were disciples of the legendary Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Narayanrao was also deeply influenced by the thought and musical vision of Paluskar.

The highlight of Gwalior gayaki is its simplicity in presentation. Lucidity is important to the Gwalior style that subscribes to the view that easy presentation is the simplest way to involve the listener. Here there is an emphasis on raga-s such as Yaman, Sarang, Bhairav, Bhup, Basant etc. These being raga-s which the listener can easily identify, ensures that they concentrate more on the finer nuances being displayed, rather than focusing their energies on identifying the raga and its basic form.

Beginning his career as an actor-vocalist in the play Saubhagyarama written by B.N. Purandare, he impressed senior actor and Indian theatre luminary Daji Bhatvadekar, who was spurring a revival of theatre in Sanskrit with his acting and singing skills so much, that he cast him in his Sanskrit play Sangeet Sharada.

With his thorough grounding in classical music, Pt. Bodas took like fish to water for Bhatwadekar’s plays in Marathi and Sanskrit. Bodas went on to act in several plays of Bhatvadekar including Sangeet Saubhadra, PatiGeleGaKathewadi, Buddha Tithe Harala, Sangeet Mrichhakatik, Sangeet Mahashweta, Sangeet Manapman, Sangeet Saubhadra and Sangeet Sanshaykallol.

His dedication to conserving the heritage of classical vocal music notwithstanding, Pt. Bodas devoted a considerable part of his career to the Marathi natya sangeet, acting in musicals on stage.

Pt. Bodas also remained devoted to the uncompromising art of Hindustani classical music — and promoted it in its purest form, spending a considerable amount of time in riyaaz and coaching future vocalists, despite his work in films and T.V.

The state government conferred him with the prestigious Balgandharva Award for his outstanding contributions to music.

He retired from theatre in 1993 at age 60, after giving a final performance of Sangeet Saubhadra in Goa. He then taught graduate and post graduate students in Mumbai University for 12 years, till 2006, after which he taught music at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Vashi for free.

The rhapsodic reception at a concert of his pointed to a pent-up appetite for mature, uncompromising art music. Infact, so much was his passion that he gave a stirring performance at the ‘Secret Masters Series’ held at the Ravindra Natya Mandir in Mumbai at the ripe age of 83, to packed audiences, where peers and critics averred that Bodas “maintained the purity of the raga-s and filled every avaratan (rhythmic cycle) aesthetically.”

Opined a rudraveena player, “Narayanrao did not perform for an audience, but presented his art. It led him to take ample risks. It was thrilling to see how he pulled it off each time. His singing was a good example of how riyaaz ought to be converted into great music.”

Another said, “Narayanraoji’s presentation was altogether a pleasing experience”, while an inveterate concert-goer who was learning dhrupad said, “It was music that you remembered for a long time.”

Pt. Bodas is survived by his family, including son Pt. Kedar Bodas, who carries forward his legacy and is also a luminary of the Gwalior gharana.

– A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance journalist, poet, short story writer.