Playing with Pandit Rasiklal Andharia

Playing with Pandit Rasiklal Andharia

It was 1979 or 1980. I was working as the youngest tabla teacher of the city at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal, one of the oldest music institutes in Ahmedabad. Our principal, Mr. Ravjibhai Patel, called me and said, “We are doing a national conference of Mahavidyalaya Mandal at Valsad for three days. I am very happy with your playing now and want you to play one solo and one accompaniment during the conference. We will all go to Valsad the day before the performance in the morning train, so be prepared for this event.”

At that time in my life, I did not understand the value of being able to travel with some of the greatest musicians of Ahmedabad and Gujarat. I picked up Jhalasaheb and Ravjibhai in my student’s car and we arrived at the station at 6am to catch the 7am Gujarat Express. At the station, we met up with Pranlalbhai Shah (one of the best violin teachers of that time), Laljibhai Patel (best harmonium player), Neena Shah (Ravjibhai’s student) and many young musicians.

Once we boarded the train, I was amazed to learn that all these senior musicians took great interest in eating snacks at each station. At the first stop, someone got off to get fafda and jalebi; at Nadiad, it was gota; at Baroda, yet another snack and the list goes on. Every stop was a new treat.

The accommodations for all the musicians was in a school and that was quite the nourishing experience. In one corner, someone would be singing, while a couple of beds down, another musician would be playing the violin. It was a great energy to be apart of. I was the youngest tabla player. Everyone gave me love and respect, which just increased my confidence.

The next day, the second performance was my solo. I played pretty well and got a lot of applause from the audience. After my solo, I went backstage. There, I found internationally-known singer Pandit Rasiklal Andharia. He was so impressed with my playing that he made me his accompanying artist for his program the following day. I was not too enthused about the idea, as generally for vocal accompaniment, the tabla player only plays theka.

I thanked him for the opportunity and told him that I was not in the practice of accompanying vocal. I believe he understood why I said no because he immediately said that he wanted powerful tabla in his vocal performance and that I had the freedom to play whatever I wished.

Excited at the prospect, we decided to practice in the morning to prepare and the the performance that ensued is what I consider to be one of the best performances I have given.

My First Meeting with Pandit Saxenaji

My First Meeting with Pandit Saxenaji

On first death anniversary of my first Tabla Guru, Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena, I wanted to take the time to reflect on the person who had great knowledge of tabla and great love for me and I too for him.


It was a evening in the month of February in 1971. My father told me that a big music festival, called Baiju Festival, was going on in the city, arranged by the Government of Gujarat. In addition, he informed me that tabla maestro Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena is coming to perform and encouraged me to attend. I was very young at that time, but I was learning and playing tabla for more than seven years. My teacher, Mr. Narmada Shankar Bhatt, was a senior disciple of Pandit Saxenaji. I requested my father to take me to festival as it would be great fun.

He took me to the newly opened Jai Shankar Sundari Hall. With great curiousity, I sat in the third row, waiting anxiously for Saxenaji’s turn. He was slated to play two items: the first, with Gujarat’s great vocalist Mr. Rasiklal Andhariya and the second with a sitarist.

When he entered on the stage, I was amazed by his presence and personality. He had a very small frame, nor more than 5 feet in height. He wore a very nice kurta and black koti. I would later learn that the koti was his signature style. Before him, I had already met many many tabla players. Amongst of them all, he struck me as the most sober, most learned and calm person. His playing style mirrored his personality: neat, steady and balanced.

In his first item with the vocalist, he played nothing in vilambhit besides theka. I found this disappointing as I was expecting rolls and powerful drumming. But when madhya laya began with Raag Megh, he played a small composition followed by a gat, which was enough to prove him to be the best student of Ustad Habibuddin Khan. In sitar accompaniment, he played some compositions, which I just could not understand at that time.

After the concert, I rushed backstage and touched his feet. I introduced myself. He told me he was coming back to Ahmedabad after ten days as a judge for the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya competition. I told him proudly that I was participating the same competition.

My father then arrived, did namaskar to Saxenaji and asked him about me. Very humbly, Saxenaji replied, “I will coming to Ahmedabad next week. Then I will get a chance to listen to him and give my remarks.”

With all mood and determination to make him happy in the competition, I returned home with my father and lasting memories of my first meeting with Saxenaji.

What happened next, I write at another time.

Postnote by Divyang Vakil’s Student:
Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena was one of the last Ustads of the Ajrada Gharana. He spent many of his years in the care and service of the great Ustad Habibuddin Khan. He was the first professor of music in a higher-education institution in India, serving initially as a Professor, then Head of the Music Department of MS University in Baroda, Gujarat. He passed away on November 30, 2007. He continues to live in the memories of his students and through his teachings.

To be a Master of Indian Music

To be a Master of Indian Music

I am amazed at how many students I get who want master Indian music or tabla. The desire is commendable, but the effort that is made to achieve this aim does not reflect this goal. The world has changed. There was a time not long ago, when students of music would practice 7, 8, 10 hours a day. Besides practice, they did nothing. There were no weekends, no days off. It was single-pointed focus to become a master. There were no birthday parties and movies, no social commitments. For a period of time, they left behind the world in order to achieve greatness. And once that level is attained, a beautiful world opens up that cannot be described in words.

Today, I believe that there great distractions and more ways that a person can have their attention diverted, but human capacity of focus and determination still exist. And without fully utilizing them, greatness cannot be attained. I am not speaking of greatness in terms of becoming a star, being a star and having true mastery are two different things and don’t necessarily go hand in hand. To be a master requires the same qualities it did centuries ago, decades ago and a few years ago: focus, devotion and ability to leave everything. While the world may change, these qualities don’t change over time.

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