Two Gujarati music maestros and Vande Mataram

Tushar Bhatt

Only a few would be aware today that Independent India's radio broadcasting on August 15,1947, was heralded by a rendering of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya's Vande Mataram by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, music maestro, from the Delhi station of All India Radio (AIR).More so, the little known fact is that the rendering had a Bhavnagari connection. A proud son of Bhavnagar was in the small party that rendered the song that morning.
Pandit Balwantrai, the oldest living disciple of Omkarnath, had accompanied Omkarnath on tanpura. Balwantrai says that Vande Mataram was sung with a unique devotion of heart by Omkarnath in an unusual raag.
Vande Mataram, sung in the classical mode,is still there in the archives of AIR, although in a bit damaged form. Pandit Vishun Digambar Paluskar had originally composed Vande Mataram in raag Bangiya Kaphi.
The more popular version of Vande Mataram that we sing today is in such a simple manner that masses too could sing it easily. However, Omkarnath evolved a special rendering of it with such depth and innovation that it became incomparable and could not even be effectively copied by others. It was so difficult that it was destined to remain beyond the pale of common people.
Nevertheless,it had always been an enchanting and uplifting rendering that it became a classic by itself. Omkarnath had turned down many requests for its rendering by him on numerous occasions. Subhas Chandra Bose wrote to him to sing it at the 1938 Haripura Congress. Omkarnath, who had very strong views on the song, would never agree unless the organisers pledged to have the full version of Vande Mantaram and not an abridged one.
Pandit Balwantrai,now in his eighties, hails from Bhavnagar, and presently lives in Varanasi,having been associated with music faculty at the Banaras Hindu University for years. A blind pupil, Balwantrai joined Omkarnath at the tender age of seven and stayed with him for more than three decades, following him like a shadow, singing with him and providing accompaniment on the tanpura.
Recalling how Omkarnath came to sing on AIR in 1947,Balwantrai told me some years ago that in August of that year, the master was travelling in south India and had gone to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. "As usual, I was with him. Arrangements were being finalised in those days for the formal transfer of power by the British. As if out of the blue, we got a message from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was then the home minister and minister of information and broadcasting too, that Omkarnath should sing Vande Mataram from the Delhi station of AIR."
Omkarnath once again expressed his desire to render the full version of Vande Mantaram. The Sardar agreed to this. "We reached Delhi on August 14. I remember there was a Kannad disciple, Laxmanacharya Puranik with us. At 5.30 a m the next morning, we went to the radio station. On the dot of 6.30 a m, the announcer told the listeners that Pandit Omkarnath Thakur would now offer tributes to the motherland on this first morning of Independent India by singing Vande Mataram.' "
Says Balwantrai: " I was, with a tanpura, on the left of Omkarnath and Puranik on the right.There was one more person, whose name I have forgotten, with a sarangi. We all stood as a mark of respect to the occasion and Omkarnath sang. As his full throated Vande Mataram issued forth, as if pouring out the Guru’s soul, sonorously, melodiously, the listeners and musicians all were in a trance. The full version created a divine atmosphere. After all, it was a maestro's master tribute to his country."
Later, at the time of the silver jubilee of Independence, a copy of the recording made then was buried in a Time Capsule, along with other mementoes, at the advice of the then Prime Minister,Ms Indira Gandhi. Still later,the capsule was taken out for different reasons.
In 1987, on the occasion of 40 years of Independence, duirng the prime ministership of late Mr Rajiv Gandhi, a request was made to replay the old recording. But authorities rejected saying the recording with the archives had been damaged. Balwantrai says: "I had pointed out that a disc recording of the national song was available and the undamaged portion was enough." Nothing came of it.
About the damage to the original recording, Balwantrai says this raises many questions about how we preserve documents and records of our historic events.
A record company, HMV, put out a few years ago a cassette containing cassical vocal recording of Omkarnath that features Vande Mataram. It is not a full form.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features