One of India’s greatest classical vocalists, Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe, performs music dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning and the arts, Saraswati, and to the goddess Durga, consort of Shiva and slayer of the buffalo demon Mahisha. In 2013, the late singer received India’s highest honor in the performing arts, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar, from the National Academy of Music, Dance, and Drama. This concert was recorded in 1999 in conjunction with the exhibition Devi: The Great Goddess.
A Legend of Indian Classical Music:
Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe, vocals
Subhash Karmarkar, tabla
Arvind Bhand, harmonium
Jayanti Sahasrabuddhe, tanpura and vocal support
Devi Durge in vilambit ektal
Ganpat vighan haran in madhyalaya teental
|Ragamala in teental
In praise of Durga
|Tarana in drut teental in Raga Rageshri||1:33:59–1:39:26|
This performance was recorded live in concert at the Meyer Auditorium, Freer Gallery of Art, on July 9, 1999, in conjunction with the exhibition Devi: The Great Goddess.
This concert by Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe (1948–2016) was presented in conjunction with the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery exhibition Devi: The Great Goddess. The exhibition’s 120 works, primarily from India, included examples from Nepal, Pakistan, and China and spanned a period of two thousand years. The exhibition included sculptures in bronze, stone, and terra-cotta and paintings on paper, cloth, and board, on loan from collectors and museums in Europe and the United States. The exhibition introduced the myriad forms in which Devi can be encountered, including the approachable “mother,” the detached “mother of the universe,” the benign and benevolent giver, and the most powerful of cosmic beings. Hari Sahasrabuddhe, the husband of vocalist Veena Sahasrabuddhe, added, “The Divine is complete. It neither has nor needs anything besides itself. Strictly speaking, gender just does not apply to the Divine. However, in Hindu mythology it is depicted in multiple forms, some male and others female. ‘Devi’ refers to any one of its female depictions.”
Durga is best known as the consort of Shiva. In her warrior manifestation, this Hindu goddess is the slayer of the buffalo demon Mahisha. In Indian music, Durga is also the name of one of the hundreds of Indian ragas, the melodic modes of Indian classical music that prescribe elements such as pitches and their relative importance, melodic figures, mood, and performance time. Two songs in praise of the goddess Durga are performed in this raga on this podcast.
The first song, “Devi Durg,” by Veena Sahasrabuddhe, is composed in a slow, twelve-beat rhythm (vilambit ektal). In translation, the lyrics are:
O Devi Ambika (Mother), have mercy, the blesser of devotees, Bhavani (Mother to the universe). You are verily an ocean of compassion, your vision destroys sorrow.
The second song, “Ambe Durge,” is in a medium, sixteen-beat rhythm (madhyalaya teental) and was composed by Veena Sahasrabuddhe’s brother, Pandit Kashinath Shankar Bodas. In translation, the lyrics are:
O Amba (Mother) Durga (Unconquerable), ocean of mercy, I bow to you, I remember you, I worship you. Goddess in the form of Mantra (Holy utterance), Singer of the Om, consort of the Master of Beings (name for Shiva), mother.
The third segment in Raga Durga is composed by Pandit Balwantrai Bhatt in a fast, sixteen-beat rhythm (drut teental) in the form of a tarana, in which rhythmic syllables taken from the ancient dhrupad musical style are used to articulate complex rhythmic improvisations.
Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of learning and music. Two compositions in praise of Saraswati are sung in Raga Hamsadhwani, which consists of five tones. This raga comes from the south Indian (Carnatic) tradition but has also become popular in north Indian (Hindustani) music. The first composition, Ganpat Vighan karan, is composed by “Gaan Saraswati” Kishori Amonkar. The second composition, Viharati Brahmanandini, is in a fast, fourteen-beat rhythm (drut adachautal) and was composed by Pandit Balwantrai Bhatt.
A ragamala (garland of ragas) in praise of Durga is performed in a medium-fast, sixteenbeat rhythm (teental), with a subtle progression through thirteen different ragas. The name of each raga is woven integrally into the lyrics of this traditional composition. Following the ragamala is a tarana composed by Veena Sahasrabuddhe, who concluded this concert with the bhajan (popular religious song) Siddha Bhajo. The second stanza uses yogic terminology.
O seeker, recite Om, the proven mantra,
That is the essence of cleaning yourself.
Inside the pinnacle (head) the sound rings, Atma (the real Self) ever witnesses
Hearing it again and again, in Atma your mind shall dissolve (bhori literally means bemused)
Awaken, O Hamsa (Swan, another name for Atma), drink at the fount of the Three (nerves or naadis according to yoga)
The five (fivefold vital airs) will know the Formless (Atma again) (but) there are no feet to fall at.
Only one door (way) for the mind to access the Beyond-Qualities (Atma again) -- worship of Om. Om.
(refrain: Awaken . . .)
—Notes provided by the artists. Translation of lyrics by Professor Hari Sahasrabuddhe.
Each concert of Hindustani music is a unique performance consisting of complex improvisations within traditional forms. These improvisations, although constrained by ancient rules like those governing the game of chess, are limitless in the hands of accomplished practitioners. There are two realms of improvisation. The melodic realm is embodied in the raga, the melodic structure (or mode) which in the common repertoire number more than one hundred, supplemented by hundreds of rarer ragas. The rhythmic realm is contained in the tala, a fixed, repeating cycle of beats and sub-beats that serves as the framework on which the melodic performance is improvised. In vocal music, a third improvisational dimension is added in the spontaneous manipulation of the poetry on which the performance is based.
A customary performance of a khyal begins with a short alap, which explores the distinctive melodic features of the raga without any rhythmic pulse. It establishes the distinctive mood of the raga through a kind of musical meditation on the raga’s primary and secondary pitches, ascending and descending patterns, ornaments, and melodic figures. The alap is followed by a bada (big) khyal in vilambit (slow) tempo, in which the tabla accompanist joins the singer. This section is based on a fixed composition that serves as a melodic setting for a poetic couplet. This composition, called a cheez or bandish (thing or construction), is used as a basis for improvisation in subsequent rhythmic cycles. In vilambit khyal, the composition is stated only once, as the full rhythmic cycle may run as long as a minute and a quarter.
Subsequent cycles will be largely improvised, always coming back to the sam (first beat of the cycle) with a lead-in phrase called a mukhda that helps the audience recognize the beginning of the new cycle. In this section, there is a clear dramatic progression from lower to higher notes as well as from slower to faster melodic movement and more complex variations with rhythmically subdivided flourishes.
The final section is the fast chota (little) khyal, based on a much shorter rhythmic cycle generally lasting five to ten seconds. In this section, there is a clear distinction between a complete statement of the composition and improvisational passages, achieved by means of a verse and refrain pattern. The tempo of the tala tends to build to a climax, enabling the soloist to demonstrate the highest degree of virtuosity and speed. Most full presentations of a raga in khyal style include both vilambit (slow) and drut (fast) compositions as the basis for improvisation, though a madhyalaya (medium tempo) composition may be used between or in place of the slow and fast sections.
The lyrics of most khyal bandish compositions are in the medieval form of Hindi known as Braj, or Braj Bhasha. In each, the melodic line for the first verse of the couplet is called the asthai and is usually set in the lower half of the central octave; the melodic line for the second verse is the antara and is usually set in the upper half of the central octave. While many musicians use the poetic words of the bandish as mere vehicles for musical virtuosity, the theme and setting of this concert allowed the artist to incorporate the meaning of the lyrics into her performance, which is essentially devotional in nature.
—Brian Q. Silver
Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe (1948–2016) was one of India’s leading classical vocalists, known internationally for her distinguished performances of khyal (literally, imagination), the dominant genre of Indian classical vocal music, as well as for her performances of popular devotional songs (bhajans). She began her study of the performing arts with classical kathak dance and later studied vocal music with her father, the late Pandit Shankar Shripad Bodas. He was a disciple of Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, a leading exponent of the regional and stylistic tradition known as Gwalior gharana, perhaps the oldest and most highly regarded style of Indian vocal music. Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe also studied with her late brother, Pandit Kashinath Shankar Bodas, and with Pandit Balwantrai Bhatt, who received the coveted Indian national honor, the Padmashri. Both musicians created compositions on which she bases her improvisations in this performance. Veena Sahasrabuddhe performed widely throughout India and at a variety of international venues; she received numerous honors and has more than two dozen recordings to her credit.
Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe is accompanied by Subhash Karmarkar, tabla (percussion);
Arvind Bhand, harmonium; and Jayanti Sahasrabuddhe, tanpura (drone) and vocal support.
This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Photography by Neil Greentree. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copy editing by Joellyn Powers. Special thanks to Professor Hari Sahasrabuddhe for granting permission to share this performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries and to Jayanti Sahasrabuddhe for her invaluable assistance. This performance was recorded live in concert at the Meyer Auditorium, Freer Gallery of Art, on July 9, 1999, in conjunction with the exhibition Devi: The Great Goddess.